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DOH tests its metal for winter

ELKVIEW, W.Va. -- If you're driving a snowplow, the middle of a snowstorm is a bad time to find out your salt spreader doesn't work.

So road-clearing crews with the West Virginia Division of Highways have spent much of the week testing their snowplows and salt trucks to make sure they're ready when bad weather arrives.

"They're already having snow in some parts of the state," said R.J. Scites, maintenance engineer for DOH District One, which includes Kanawha, Putnam, Boone, Clay and Mason counties. "You have to be ready beforehand."

Scites said District One operates about 100 salt trucks, each with a two-person crew that works 12-hour shifts. Before each winter season, crews have to test each truck to make sure the equipment is operating properly.

On Thursday, crews checked out eight salt trucks at the Elkview station. Inspectors went over each vehicle, then directed drivers to the salt pile to take on a load of salt. Crews want to make sure the salt spreaders are working, and are properly calibrated so drivers know how much salt they're putting down.

Scites said it's important not to waste salt.

"Generally, we have about one-fourth to one-half of the salt we need [in a season]," Scites said. This year, though, crews are preparing for the coming winter with more salt than usual because last winter was unusually mild.

Scites said the DOH operates several sizes and makes of trucks, and a couple of spreading systems. It is important for maintenance crews to be able to work on each type of equipment and know when it's time to fix or replace something. The metal facings of snowplow blades should be replaced when worn down to within a finger's width of the main blade, for instance.

The first truck tested Thursday didn't read the amount of salt being dispersed from the hopper on back. The problem was quickly traced to a faulty cable.

Scites said that's why truck crews test their equipment in advance of bad weather, so problems can be corrected. The trucks also will be taken on dry runs, and new drivers will be taken over their plow routes so they'll know where to go when the time comes.

"Practice makes perfect," Scites said. "We want to get ready for when the snow comes."

Reach Rusty Marks at rustymarks@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1215.


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