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Pass the salt, please

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County road department keeping busy this winter

By Alix Mattingly

Directing two tons of metal through treacherous conditions sounds like a nightmare for most, but for Andy Rankin, it’s just another day on the job.

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Rankin sits behind the wheel of truck 38 as a four-year veteran of the Oldham County Road Department. This winter, he and the department have gone out to salt or plow five times to head off wintery conditions on county roads, Rankin said.

“It’s not a hard job, it’s just tedious,” Rankin said. “Your mind has to be in the game.”

Rankin is just one operator for the fleet of 15 trucks the county uses in its efforts. He urged other motorists to be aware of salt and plow trucks and to avoid parking in cul-de-sacs when inclement weather is approaching. The weight of the truck and the difficult road conditions make it hard for truck drivers to stop quickly and vehicles in the street make salting and plowing difficult, he said.

“I have to go slow,” Rankin said. “I have to be at a pace where I can control what that salt does.”

The crew at the Oldham County Road Department is responsible for clearing approximately 300 miles of road, Rankin said. Each driver is tasked with clearing and salting around 30 miles of county roadway. Weather conditions dictate the time each route takes and each driver does everything they can to keep their truck on the road, Rankin said.

“Sometimes you can be in this truck for hours and not do any good in it,” he said. “It just depends on how mad Mother Nature wants to get.”

The road department fights the weather battle with a store of salt. During their five trips out this season, the county has used approximately 450 tons of salt and recently ordered 600 more tons, Rankin said.

That salt is used to treat roads that are already wet. Once the salt melts the ice, it makes a brine that then flows off the road, Rankin said. This washing away is the reason multiple applications of salt are needed during one bout of snow or sleet.

Rankin said if the department knows that a storm is coming and the roads are still dry, they apply their own brine. The water from the brine evaporates, leaving behind a salty road. The department does their best to treat all roads before the temperature drops below 20 degrees, so the salt has a better chance of breaking down ice, Rankin said.

When he isn’t in truck 38, Rankin fulfills his new duties as county road inspector. But despite the title, Rankin knows his biggest role this time of year.

“No matter what your job title is,” Rankin said. “In the winter you’re a plow driver,”

Email us about this story at amattingly@oldhamera.com.