Loudon County Highway Department honored one of its own last week even as road crews prepared for a season of inclement weather.
Although temperatures dipped into the single digits, a lack of precipitation kept the roads relatively safe during the Christmas weekend, Road Superintendent Billy Pickel said.
Pickel said crews worked hard Monday night to clear and salt as many roads as possible.
“They’re slick and we’re still working on it,” he said Tuesday morning. “It should be pretty clear by noon today.”
Precipitation was expected on Christmas Day, and Pickel had to scramble to get crews on the road Monday after a forecast of no accumulation. Some slick roads caused wrecks, leading to some delays getting trucks out to all roads.
New Year’s Day weekend is predicted to be warmer with a strong chance of precipitation.
“We’re watching the National Weather Service forecast closely and are prepared for whatever nature might send our way,” Pickel said.
He said his department also keeps in close touch with the Loudon County Department of Homeland Security and all public safety agencies to address specific problems that might emerge. The worst weather usually hits later in the season, he said.
“We will have a lot more winter weather opportunities on the calendar,” Pickel said.
Elected this year after 22 years with the department, including 10 years as assistant superintendent, Pickel is facing his first winter in charge. The routine has been pretty well established for years despite that winters seem to have become milder, he said.
Preparations for winter weather began in the fall.
“In October, we started pulling the trucks in, changing the oil and making sure they were mechanically sound,” Pickel said.
The department also ordered 100 tons of salt, which was delivered recently. The budget for salt is about $20,000 per year, and a mild winter last year meant some salt was left over, hopefully easing stress on the current budget.
At headquarters last week, trucks were being loaded with salt in preparation for the weekend. The department has four single-axel dump trucks with plows and three four-wheel-drive, light-duty salt spreaders equipped with plows and capable of servicing smaller roads.
The county is divided into four sections. While main routes are prioritized, historic trouble spots get extra attention, Pickel said. When schools are in session, additional effort is made to keep bus routes clear and safe.
Pickel said his 18 employees are always on call but remain especially vigilant when bad weather is predicted. He said many people don’t realize road crews are often out working while their families are at home.
“We’ve got to prepare for the worst,” he said.
In recognition of sacrifices made by employees, Pickel created the “Hawkeye Award” to be given each year to the department employee who shows dedication to the job above and beyond the normal call of duty.
“I said when I was elected that I would create this award,” Pickel said.
The award, which will be given to a different employee each year, is named for Kenneth Brown, a dedicated road department employee who died in an accident last year. Friends and coworkers knew Brown as “Hawkeye.”
“He was a model employee and a good friend to everybody,” Pickel said.
The award was presented for the first time Thursday at the annual Christmas dinner at the department’s headquarters.
The first recipient was Marty Goodman, a 32-year employee of the department who displays many of the same characteristics of the person for whom the award was named, Pickel said.
Pickel, whose grandfather was road superintendent more than 30 years ago, said he remembered Goodman from when he would visit his grandfather. He thanked Goodman for his service.
“I appreciate what you have done here over four administrations,” Pickel said as he handed Goodman a smaller version of the larger plaque that will be engraved with the names of future recipients of the award.