More than a few inches of snow fell on Barron Tuesday night--a snowfall perhaps most remarkable for the fact it was the last snow Dave Hanson was responsible for clearing from city streets.
Hanson is retiring as Street Department Commissioner Wednesday, Dec. 31, after 42 years working for the City of Barron.
That longevity speaks to the dedication and pride Hanson put into his work.
“I’m going to miss it,” said Hanson. “A lot of memories—good, bad, but mostly good.”
Those memories span back to 1978 when Hanson was hired by the city--his hours split between the sewer and street departments. His first boss was Shorty Anderson, the shop was east of the hospital and there were seven workers in the department--now there are five.
Hanson later moved to full time in the Street Department and became Street Commissioner himself in 1988.
Hanson started in the winter, so plowing snow was among his first jobs--a tough job that has become slightly easier over time.
Hanson said that in those days some plow trucks required two operators, one to drive and one to shovel salt manually into a hopper.
“We have much better equipment for handling snow now,” he said. “Back then you were fortunate to have a truck that ran well and had brakes that worked.”
He started with a truck plow before moving to the grader, a piece of equipment he likes using to this day.
But the transition from sand/salt mix to straight salt and under body plows have made the biggest difference, not to mention having skilled equipment operators.
“As far as handling snow, I think we’re the best in the area,” said Hanson. “I’m real proud of all the employees.”
All the same, Mother Nature dishes out plenty of challenges, on top of never-ending infrastructure maintenance.
Hanson remembers during one snowstorm he was in the grader helping get a squad car unstuck by the high school when a call came in about a chimney fire south of town. He had to plow the way with fire trucks close behind in white out conditions. Hanson said he couldn’t even see the road, and had to guess where it led by gauging distance from the telephone poles.
In some storms, roads drifted over so bad, they had to be cleared bucket by bucket with a front-end loader.
Hanson remembers three “really bad” summer storms, one in 1978 that uprooted numerous elm trees, another in June of 2001 and, worst of all, the 2019 storm.
“I was home when it hit, and had to drive down the ditch on Oak Avenue to get to the shop,” he said.
Though it wasn’t his first choice of equipment, Hanson jumped in the skid steer and went to work clearing streets.
He worked from about 6 p.m. to midnight, came back in the morning and continued for several days straight.
In the weeks and months following, Hanson said he was fortunate to find good private contractors to assist with the cleanup—a job still unfinished.
“A lot of lessons were learned in that storm. Hopefully, those will carry on with the crew,” said Hanson.
But big storm cleanup doesn’t rank as the toughest part of the job.
“One thing I’m not going to miss is telling people to shovel their sidewalks and mow their lawns. That has been a thorn in my side for years,” he said.
Hanson said adjusting to new City Councils and mayors every couple years can also be a struggle.
“Budget time is always tough,” he said. “Everyone wants brand new, but you can’t always buy brand new.”
Hanson said keeping up parks, equipment and 22 miles of streets will continue to be a tough test for the city.
With two city building projects and the La Salle Avenue reconstruction ahead in 2021, Hanson figured it was time for someone else to head the department.
That will be Ben Cole, who has been with the department for eight years.
Hanson said his biggest piece of advice was to make a point of returning messages and phone calls from citizens right away.
“One of the most important things is catering to the public. They’re the ones paying you,” said Hanson.
He will have work to do in retirement, but answering mainly to his wife, Sue.
“My wife has plenty for me to do,” he said.
More family time is deserved.
“There has been 14-, 16-, 18-hour days,” said Hanson. “My family has sacrificed. I probably missed a few things because I had to work.”
They have two daughters—Katie and her husband, Anthony, and their child, Orlando; and daughter Lehn and her husband Kyle and their child, Brooks. There is another grandchild on the way this June.