Snow was just one of the obstacles the Cass County Highway Department had to overcome when clearing roads during last weekend’s blizzard.
There were the stranded drivers they assisted. Abandoned vehicles often blocked the path of plows, forcing them to stop until a tow truck could make it out. Making the situation even more difficult were the mechanical problems brought on by subzero temperatures.
Several who set out to travel county roads through the conditions slid off the road or got stuck in the middle of the road as snow continued to drift. Highway workers would then plow out to them to retrieve stranded travelers.
“If somebody did get stuck in a vehicle, it became a life-threatening situation,” said Cass County Highway Superintendent Jeff Smith. “That diverted our crews responding to those emergencies instead of trying to make progress on the roads.”
Further delays were created when vehicles stuck in the middle of roads prevented plows from getting through, Smith added.
Not long after more than 9 inches of snow fell on the area, temperatures plummeted to the negative teens with windchill readings in the negative 40s.
“Equipment just did not want to work in that extreme cold,” Smith said.
Smith went on to say that at one point, two-thirds of the department’s 21-truck fleet was incapacitated because of the cold, whether it was fuel gelling, lines on air brake systems freezing or air filters packed with ice. When this would happen, trucks would have to return to the highway department on Ind. 17 to warm up and receive repairs.
“Our mechanics worked feverishly to get trucks back online,” Smith said, adding that mechanics would often finish with a truck right as another pulled into the shop.
Fire departments in the area offered their bays for highway department trucks to pull into for a thaw or a quick repair as well, Smith said.