In the ongoing battle to keep Oregon’s highways open during winter, snowplow drivers get much of the credit.
But the unsung heroes of the road clearing effort are the mechanics who fix the plows and snowblowers as they break — and they break frequently.
We visited the Oregon Department of Transportation’s Bend repair shop where most of the state’s snowblowers are serviced.
“Get a straight edge on it and get it back to the press.”
Blaine Florence, a heavy equipment technician is fixing a bent impeller on one of ODOT’s large snowblowers used to blow deep snow off the shoulders of the mountain passes.
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“That fan has gotten out of balance. So when it’s spinning it vibrates really bad. It’s also bent so when it’s spinning. It goes like this as it goes around. So we are trying to straighten it and rebalance it.”
Blaine Florence has fixed everything from weed sprayers to million-dollar snowblowers in his 32 years as a mechanic with ODOT.
Teams of mechanics work 6:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. repairing and maintaining state highway equipment that operates under severe conditions.
“These things runs 24/7. We always have to fix and maintain, constantly,” said Rian Gant, ODOT Fleet Maintenance. “I don’t care if its Ryan or Dave or Kelly or Tim who is driving them, they are going to break down at some point. That’s just the nature of the beast. They get used and abused and that’s the cost to maintain the roads.”
We saw a snowplow truck that broke off it’s front plow and bumper after hitting something, possibly a curb, buried in the snow.
“We need fabricators. We need engine people. People who can work on big trucks and little cars. We have so many types of equipment, it’s crazy.”
Gant says supply chains are improving and ODOT is able to obtain parts but they cost much more than a few years ago.
What parts they can’t order, they build themselves in their metal fabrication shop.
From highway snowplows that occasionally suck up things like tires and boulders that clog the works to incident response vehicles like one that got hit by a deer, ODOT’s Central Oregon repair shop fixes pretty much everything.