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February 27, 2007

Snow and Ice

Roy Meachum

Whether over hot coffee or cold beer, the ONLY subject bashed about in recent days was the state of the streets and highways. Not good.

A number of local observers wanted newcomers to believe "This was nothing." They went on to swear street crews were much better in the old days. They claimed the series of storms were child's play compared to the winter of (fill in your year).

Which old days are they talking about? Between signing all the papers and our moving into 107 East Fourth Street, this area was swallowed by a 30-inch blizzard. But then-city public works director Bob Strine moved things right along. The 1983 dislocation rates as little more than a blip, in his memory.

The worst winter for Bob came in the late 1960s. For five Thursdays in a row, he recalls, regular as clockwork Mother Nature whistled up the white stuff, each worse than its predecessor. Or so they appeared at the time.

The retired public works chief said so much grungy frozen stuff compacted around the much smaller city, "We were running out of space," he remembered.

Old quarries, the brick yard and Carroll Creek were all enlisted to get rid of the guck. "As fast as we would get a place cleaned-up the snow started again," he said. While his house was scarcely a mile away, Bob spent several nights sleeping on his office floor.

The blizzard that swept in and out on St. Patrick's Day, 1993, caved in Leggett's roof, in the Francis Scott Key Mall. The worst snows frequently come within spitting distance of Spring, one way or another. The reason is not hard to figure out; winter's exit takes along the dry cold, replaced by heavy moisture.

When ex-city engineer Jeff Holtzinger moved into City Hall's highest perch, one of his first acts was to fire Bob Shrine's successor; the mayor never said why.

One story bruited about recent snowbound days charges the Dougherty administration with buying equipment simply too light to move aside the storms' leavings. Nobody should fault the ex-mayor. Who could have imagined the current icy mess?

Reaching for comparisons we had to go back 40 years, which testifies that Frederick seldom converts into a winter ice palace. On the other hand, the erstwhile hunting dog that lives with me had troubles in the past two weeks. The pushed back snow down North Market Street has doubled for the frozen Alps, in miniature, for Pushkin.

Jeff Holtzinger said the city was acting on the advice of four public works employees: "They've been around for years."

Contrary to a widely circulated rumor, he did not give city employees off the recent weekend to stroke the crews. They had reached a point their equipment could no longer move anything else, including themselves.

The ice crust was so formidable the truck-pushed blades were sweeping right over the frozen snow. That made me feel better: At over 200 pounds I made no impression. That has not happened very often in my life.

Whatever: Nobody needed the most recent slap in our beleaguered Frederick's face. No way.

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