While many people were snoozing during the nor’easter’s howling winds and snow, Kyle Gatchell was up at 4 am Saturday, ready to start his day of clearing snow off the Island’s roads. Driving a blue Ford F-250 pickup truck, Gatchell started his snowplowing duties at the Post Office in Vineyard Haven during the early hours of Saturday morning.
I met Gatchell a little before 8 am to join him on some of his snowplowing routes. As he was driving, we talked about his years of snowplowing experience as the wind gusted and snow blanketed the ground outside. We went to West Tisbury, where he planned to clear snow on three privately owned roads. A few trees bending over the roads from the ice weighing them down forced Gatchell to slow down or maneuver around them to get safely to his destinations.
Gatchell started plowing snow in 2006. He told The Times he bought a truck that came with a plow, so he decided to give it a go. Currently, he operates a company called KG Construction, and is subcontracted with Case Facilities Management Solutions, which acts as a middleman between clients and workers. Through Case Facilities, Gatchell clears snow for the Post Office, Stop & Shop, and Santander Bank.
“I’ve got a good working relationship with all of them. Instead of them calling corporate and saying, ‘Hey, can you have him come shovel the sidewalks?’ they’ll call me directly and say, ‘Hey, come on back, will you?’ It’s corporate. But it’s just me and the truck,” Gatchell said. He has a system of clearing the snow based on when the shops open: “I learned the patterns.”
Learning the layout and patterns is an important part of the job. Gatchell told The Times when he cleared snow for Bailey Park Road, he accidentally damaged the dirt road with the truck’s shovel, “like a little bulldozer.”
“You start to learn,” Gatchell said.
Other than Bailey Park Road, the other roads Gatchell clears snow for are Trotters Lane and Stony Hill Lane. He told the Times that for the private roads, the snowplowing was primarily to make sure emergency responders, such as police officers or firefighters, can access the houses. Gatchell also clears snow in all of the down-Island towns and in West Tisbury.
According to Gatchell, snow on state and town roads is cleared by subcontractors hired by each town respectively. “It’s a lot of moving pieces. It’s a lot of players,” Gatchell said.
When asked about the risk trees bring to the job, Gatchell said manhole covers are more dangerous.
”Really, what hurts are manhole covers. Just a little piece of metal when the blade’s down, and it catches you and will throw you,” Gatchell said. “It’ll bring you to a dead stop.”
Once Gatchell finished up with West Tisbury, he returned to the Vineyard Haven Stop & Shop to clear the snow that piled up again.