As falling snow blankets the sidewalks and roadways, a stillness takes hold and quiets the neighborhood. There are few people on the sidewalks and only the most necessary errands coax us onto the streets. Indoors, where it is warm, the sound of a metal blade hugging the asphalt is the only noise that reaches us.
The reassuring rumble of the plow is familiar to Chicagoans, but in Forest Park that comfort is perhaps greater than most. For decades now, the village has received wide praise for the efficiency with which Old Man Winter is thwarted.
“It’s the only community I know that runs the Bobcats down the sidewalk as a service,” Scott McAdam of McAdam Landscaping said.
For almost three decades McAdam has been clearing snow during the winter months to supplement his company’s revenue during the spring, summer and fall. His crews cover an incredible swath that extends from Lake Michigan to Interstate 294 and North Avenue south to Interstate 55. Nowhere, he said, are the flakes cleared so well.
For John Doss, director of public works, this winter is his first as the head of the department but for years he has shared in the long hours put in by the plow crews. Nine trucks on the streets, two in the alleys and one in the parking lots handle the lion’s share of the work that is to be done when snow is falling. But as McAdam pointed out, it is the clearing of sidewalks in Forest Park that elevates the standard.
So long as two inches of snow accumulates, Doss dispatches a trio of mini tractors, known as Bobcats, to plow the walkways.
“I don’t even have to tell my drivers this stuff. They’ve been doing it as long as I have,” Doss said.
This season’s total snowfall is already above average for Chicagoland, and the month of January isn’t yet over. Municipal crews can easily work 14 hours or more during periods of heavy precipitation, said Doss.
“These guys work endless hours,” Doss said. “I can’t take any of the credit.”
In the private sector as well, heavier-than-normal snowfalls have had a big impact. For most of the year, McAdam Landscaping employees work with property owners on designing and maintaining green space. In the winter the focus shifts to the blacktop.
Some 25 percent of the company’s profits last year came from plowing, he said. Given the amount of snow in the last month, McAdam is expecting a similar outcome this year.
Snow removal isn’t as simple as warming up the truck and pushing a blade, according to McAdam and Doss. In fact, for the public works department the task is the most challenging work of the year. Physically, the labor isn’t as intense as some of the back breaking projects that occur during warmer months, said Doss, but the eight-hour work day goes out the window. Equipment can also break, gas prices fluctuate and this year salt has proven to be extremely expensive.
This being Chicagoland, snow removal also has its place in political lore. In 1979, former Chicago mayor Michael Bilandic lost the primary when plow crews were too slow in cleaning up after a storm. In Forest Park, council meetings often provide the stage for accolades regarding snow removal.
Commissioner Mark Hosty helps oversee the public works department and is quick to compliment Doss’ crew. That snow removal is arguably the most visible function of local government does not provide any more incentive to do the job, said Hosty.
However, the commissioner is familiar with Bilandic’s defeat.
“I think it would reflect poorly if it wasn’t done well,” Hosty said of clearing the pavement. “You have to look at it from the opposite angle. If it’s not done it could certainly come back and haunt you.”