When the phone rings at the County Highway Commission office, you never know what will be on the other end of the call thereby creating the duties bestowed upon the highway maintenance work force. It could be a sheriff’s deputy or dispatch calling about a downed tree or sign along the roadway; maybe a local farmer or contractor questioning if they can cross a load posted bridge with certain machinery; a citizen with a concern about a staff member; someone unsatisfied with the county’s mowing policy; a question about the relocation of a driveway and associated permit requirements; a request from a surrounding county for assistance or to borrow equipment; a landowner requesting help with or repairs of a fence; a request for information relating to the highway right-of-way; a request to pick up debris scattered across the highway from a passing vehicle; a committee member questioning how the budget looks; a concerned citizen requesting assistance with the removal of livestock in the road; my mother calling about meeting her for lunch; maybe a washed out or collapsed culvert; someone wanting to take their sixteenth birthday driver’s test; perhaps a pothole causing a flat tire or bent rim; a pavement blow-up due to heat; perhaps a utility company with questions about a highway construction project; an engineering consultant with questions about an existing or upcoming project; an equipment supplier asking about the county’s specifications; a taxpayer asking if the Department did some spraying along their organic property; someone requesting the department to spray an invasive weed along the right-of-way; the state patrol requesting assistance with an oversize/overweight load on the system; words of praise after a snow storm for a job well-done without incident; a truck in the creek due to flooding or a roadway washout; a landslide along the Wisconsin River; or one of many other events. Often the Department is the outlet of discontent from a concerned citizen over the replacement of fences; harvesting of trees; plowing of ditches; flying chip-seal stones, missing or damaged mail boxes, mowing of flowers or prairie; or untimely road construction. So too, the Department receives praise for clearing winter roads of snow after a three day, 24-inch plus snow event. All of the events listed above have one common denominator; involvement of some branch of the County Highway Department.
The County Highway worker performs many tasks within a narrow band of work space measuring thirty-three feet wide between 55 MPH traffic and a 5 strand barbed wire fence. The conditions can be ideal, envious to some; during a summer Friday off as part of the summer four day work week. However, the Friday off seems a faint memory to the working staff called out to deal with a Christmas Eve or New Year’s Day snow storm. Many stories circulate the lunchroom ranging from rescuing trapped passengers in an overturned car in the creek, delivering babies in the back seat of a car along the side of the road during a spring snow storm, plowing a path from someone’s home to the hospital in times of emergency, to fighting off sleep in the early morning hours of a rain/sleet/ice/snow event for a third consecutive night. The proverbial fly on the wall could tell of many more stories surrounding incidents, mishaps, near misses, what-ifs, and probably shouldn’t have done that(s). The day-and-night operations of a County Highway Department is a twenty-four hour, seven day a week juggling event of public concern, public safety, money, equipment, labor, and nature with the sole goal of the responsibility for the proper maintenance repair, improvement, and construction of the system of roads and bridges, which we call Iowa County, Wisconsin.