By Lynette Norris
Greene Publishing, Inc.
As Robert “Red” Henderson looks back on his 30-year career with the Madison County Road Department, the last four years as Road Department Coordinator, he talks about the Department’s future. Currently, the department has 23 people out working on roadways at any given time, and most of them work on more than one crew. Their official crew assignments are the basic structure most of the time, but that changes daily, depending on where the extra hands are needed. One crew, the rotating patch crew, is composed of whomever is available that day. Most people do multiple jobs because “we’re short-handed and we’re under a (hiring) freeze,” said Henderson.
This is especially critical when handling emergencies. During those times, everyone is out working wherever they are needed, clearing roads of storm debris, clearing clogged culverts, back-filling and patching washouts and any other necessary repairs. Whether the cause is adverse weather or serious traffic accidents, the focus is on repairing the damage as quickly as possible and getting the traffic flowing safely again.
In addition to serving on different crews, six or seven of the employees are “machine operator specialists,” meaning they can safely and proficiently operate two or more different pieces of the specialized heavy equipment. The Department provides on-the-job training for operating the equipment and cross-trains those who wish to learn more than one type of machinery – something that’s especially important now because, “a lot of those guys will soon be ready to retire.”
In fact, Henderson estimates that sixteen or seventeen of the workers will be retiring in the next ten years. However, news filtering out of Tallahassee about possible changes to the state retirement system have him a little concerned that those changes could hurt small counties and their employees. “I don’t know what the future holds yet…we’ve got guys who’ve been here for 30 years and they’re only in their 50’s.”
Henderson himself is scheduled to retire in September of this year, but his own retirement is already set; he signed up for the DROP program eight years ago. “I’ll be ready for it,” he says. “I’ve got it all planned if the creek don’t rise.”
As for how the department will carry on without him, “They’ll be fine. They’ve got Lonnie and Jo,” he said, referring to his assistant and right hand man Lonnie Thigpen, and Executive Administrative Assistant Jo Williams.
“The county’s been good to me and I thank the Lord for it,” he says. After September, it’ll be time to “do other stuff.”
To report road emergencies during the Road Department’s business hours (6:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday), call the Department directly at 973-2156. After hours, nights and weekends, including all day Friday, Saturday and Sunday, call the Sheriff’s dispatch office at 973-4001. The Sheriff’s Office will contact the Road Department’s “on-call” guys via beeper and/or cell phone.
Tag Archive for Madison County Road Department
By Lynette Norris
James Scarboro is a 29-year veteran of the Road Department, driving mostly dump trucks during that time. A lifelong resident of Madison, he and his wife Nancy (married 25 years) have a 22-year-old son named J.R., and a 20-year old daughter, Katie, who attends NFCC. Daniel McKnight, also a Madison native, has nine years with the Department; before that, he drove a truck for Gold Kist Poultry in Live Oak for four years. Steve Chaney, originally from Kentucky, came to Madison as a child and has lived here for over 40 years. He joined the Road Department five and half years ago, after a 25-year career driving semis for Arnold Transportation and Trailer Bridge trucking companies. It was during those 25 years that he logged an impressive total of over 3 million “safe miles” – that’s 3 million miles across countless American highways without a single incident.
The crew’s experience also includes operating various types of heavy equipment, as Chaney points out: “we do a lot more than just drive the dump trucks. All of us have run a backhoe, or a loader, or a grader…or whatever comes up.”
Scarboro agrees, emphasizing the skill needed to safely operate any piece of heavy equipment. When it comes to the dump trucks, he says, one of the most important safety issues is that the operator must know exactly what is above his truck once he maneuvers it into position for unloading. When the truck’s back tilts up, it can rise as high as twenty feet or more – about the height of a two-storey building. If the crew is working on a narrow dirt road, bringing in material to fill in a washout or low spot, that means making sure there is enough room underneath any overhanging tree limbs or other obstruction, and definitely making sure they are not directly below any power lines.
Their day begins first thing in the morning when they come in to get their orders for the day. Each man drives his own truck (“I drive the big white one!” says Scarboro enthusiatically), and each is responsible for making sure his truck is properly maintained and serviced, and that it is in good running order before heading out for a load of dirt, clay, lime rock, gravel or any other material needed for the job at hand. Sometimes they operate the frontend loaders themselves and fill their own trucks if no one else is available. Other times they might have to make a trip to the Blue Rock Company in Mayo for a load of lime rock, and depending on where in Madison County they need to deliver it, this could be a hauling trip of 30 to 45 miles, one way.
Currently, the crew is preparing Flowers Road for paving, bringing in loads of lime rock, dirt and clay to build up the base. Once the road is ready, Madison County will take bids from private paving companies and contract out the actual paving. The Road Department doesn’t own a paving machine; it’s far too big an expense for a small county like Madison.
Between the big jobs like Flowers Road, there are many other jobs like bringing in dirt and clay to stabilize those soft, sandy spots in roads. Other times there might be uneven roads that need to be leveled out, after-storm washouts that need filling in, right of ways that need to be cleaned and the debris hauled off, road sections that need patching material, trees that need to be hauled away from job sites, slippery hills that need gravel so car tires can get better traction…the list goes on.
Of course, their crew wouldn’t be complete without their spreader, John Pinkard, to evenly distribute and smooth out the material they deliver to the site – a huge job that Pinkard does well, say his crew mates. He has been with the Road Department so long that, right offhand, he’s not sure whether it’s 34 or 35 years, and he is yet another Madison native and lifelong resident. In fact, the Pinkard family has been in the Madison area since 1841. He has a father who is still living, along with five daughters, six granddaughters (one of whom attends the University of Florida) and three grandsons.
As usual, it’s another busy day, and the men head off to their trucks in the early morning. Once in a while, though, there may be no hauling needed, and “no use for a truck driver (that day),” says Chaney, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to do. The men will simply be assigned to other crews, and “they’ll put you to work doing something.”