Before an arctic cold front blew through central Wyoming late Wednesday, J.B. Wollen blew some searing acetylene-oxygen heat to cut the eroded pads of the "wear shoes" from one of the blades for a front end loader used for plowing Natrona County's roads.

The replaced shoes will keep the edge of the blade, or dozer, from direct contact with the pavement, which saves money in other repairs, said Dwayne Larsen, shop foreman for Natrona County's Road and Bridge Department.

Wollen's primary job is a heavy equipment operator, but the county can't afford the luxury of a separate welding crew, so he'll don a face shield and pick up a torch when necessary, Larsen said.

"We [service] cars to heavy equipment," he said. "We're just a jack of all trades."

This week, other trades have included hauling sand and salt mix from the Casper/Natrona County International Airport to the shop in Mills, loading the mix into trucks, last-minute welding, and attaching dozers to trucks and road graders.

County residents are counting on the Road and Bridge Department's performance for the next few days.

The storm that arrived in central Wyoming late last night -- a collision of a moist Pacific front with the arctic cold front -- will drive temperatures down to the single digits or lower and wind chills to minus 30, and probably dump at least a foot of snow, with higher amounts predicted for the mountains.

All of which will cover more than 800 miles of mostly unpaved roads in the 5,400-square-mile county.

Road maintenance logistics are complicated with the shop being only 15 miles to the Converse County line to the east, but about 75 miles northwest to the Washakie and Fremont county lines.

So the department has parked equipment at Waltman, Alcova, Casper Mountain, Willow Creek and Poison Spider Road, Larsen said.

Twelve drivers command the trucks and graders, he said. "Some are truck drivers, some are heavy equipment operators, some can bounce back and forth."

The crews will head out when county residents call the department to report snowy road conditions, and drivers know to arrive at 5 a.m. for their runs if snow was falling the night before, he said.

Natrona County sets priorities for snow removal, Larsen said. "We concentrate closer to town."

The main roads are Zero and Robertson because of their proximity to Poison Spider School, South McKinley Street and Cole Creek, with 33 Mile Road further down the list, he said.

Once drivers have cleared the paved roads, they will turn their attention to the gravel roads, Larsen said.

Regardless of the roads or their conditions, he asked county travelers to extend some courtesy to the equipment operators.

"Snowplow drivers can't see any better than you can, and probably even less because they're looking beyond the dozer," Larsen said.

The snowplows also will be moving slower than other traffic -- they're pushing snow, after all -- so other drivers should be patient, he said.

The equipment is big, too.

The Road and Bridge Department's fleet for snow removal includes a 1983 front-end loader, which was having its bucket removed Wednesday so a dozer, or a plow blade, could be attached.

It also has a group of 2009-10 trucks capable of being fitted for dozers, and was able to purchase them before the county slogged through its budget crunch of the past year, he said.

Newer vehicles ultimately save the county money, Larsen said. "The older they get, the harder they are to repair."

But winter can play rough with machinery, and that has consequences, he said. "If there's a bad winter, then we're not going to get stuff done in the summer."

Reach Tom Morton at (307) 266-0592, or at tom.morton@trib.com. Read his blog at http://trib.com/news/opinion/blogs/morton and follow him on Twitter: @GTMorton

 

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