Into the fray — a new plow to the rescue


Westport's gaining snowplow team has taken a beating this winter but reinforcements have arrived in the nick of time.

A new Freightliner heavy-duty custom dump truck rolled in last week and will be ready for its first action if snow arrives Thursday.

"It's a beauty — shiny new, no rust," said interim Highway Surveyor Chris Gonsalves. "We're not used to brand new around here."

Especially painful was having to leave the new arrival parked during last Wednesday's snow, especially with so many of his other aging plows suffering from one malady or another.

"It was here, all ready to go but no plates." Tempting as it may have been to set out anyway, he didn't risk it. "Got to follow protocol. That probably wouldn't have been a great idea."

But by Friday, plates were in hand, Westport town logo was ready to be applied and the truck was set for whatever Thursday's storm delivers.

Westport Town Meeting voters approved the $141,000 purchase last spring in a near-unanimous vote. The bidding process produced a truck whose price came in just within that amount.

"It comes with everything needed for the job," Mr. Gonsalves said. Most important, "It's built strong, built to last."

Heavy equipment operator Andrew Sousa played a key roll in assembling the specs for the new truck (and will get to drive it). Since a new truck is a rare event, they wanted to get it right, both said.

The six-wheel custom-made dump truck is heavy duty in every way, he said, has superior load capacity, and can switch between missions with ease. A nice touch is a load covering mechanism that can be operated from within the cab.

"With the other trucks, someone has to climb up there and cover the load — and that takes time," and isn't always safe, Mr. Sousa said.

The new truck, unlike its mostly green predecessors, is jet black.

"We've really got all color trucks down here — green, white, blue. I think the black looks pretty good, don't you?" he added.


Crippled fleet

The need for a new truck is evident inside and out at the Highway Department yard.

The last storm, though not major, took out three of the fleet's six heavy-duty plow trucks whose ages are mostly mid-to late teens. One had been fixed as of Friday, two were still in the garage awaiting work.

"The worst was a broken hanger bearing," Mr. Sousa said. That part holds the drive shaft up — "It's pretty important. The truck barely limped home." Broken wheel rims is another common malady.

And as usual, most of the 1950s vintage plow blades were in for repairs. Even days after the storm, a welder was working on them.

"This happens every time, even little storms," Mr. Gonsalves said. The blades are so old and corroded that it's hard to find solid steel to reattach parts that break off.

"The crazy thing is that we always spend way more time fixing broken things than we spend plowing snow. It's not very cost effective," Mr. Gonsalves said.

He led a quick tour down below the highway yard. Parked there in the snow are six elderly vehicles of different types.

"All of them except one died this year … pretty sad," Mr. Gonsalves said.


Brine sprayer

One improvement that has had to wait is the new brine sprayer that Mr. Gonsalves had hopes would be ready to help deal with this winter's snow and ice.

The system is used to spray brine onto roads as pre-treatment to prevent a layer of ice from clinging to roads as storms begin.

"It would enable us to get a head start on the snow," both by slowing the rate at which it accumulates on roads and causing it to melt away faster.

The sprayer, when obtained, will be attached to an older tank truck obtained from the Fire Department. It's a solid truck with stainless steel frame and tank — just needed repairs.

"We've fixed that truck up but it has taken time and we aren't quite there yet," he said.

They think they may be able to devise a low-cost spray mechanism to attach to that truck.

Westport Highway


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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.