Ripley County Garage: More than just winter event preparedness
HarleyJo Kennedy Photo
One may take the condition of our county roads for granted, unless faced with a winter weather event. However, upon visiting the Ripley County Garage, it is noted that they are out patrolling and practicing interventions daily!
Who is Jason Edwards besides the Ripley Co. Garage, Superintendent? Well, he worked for the County Garage, took a break and then applied for the superintendent position when it opened. He is a tournament cat-fisher. Who one might see on TV on a fishing channel one day. He competes in some really big events.
Previous to his cat-fishing interests, he was really into hot rods. His daughter, a RN in KY, enjoys fishing with her father. Edwards’ wife is not a fishing-widow either and supports his interests. Their two sons are in the military and are helicopter mechanics in Fort Hood, TX.
One thing Edwards has implemented is a high level of accountability. When taking a truck in/out of the Garage, one signs it in/out. And in a “call out” or, weather event, all hands are on deck.
The two foremen: Tim Sides and Mert Huntington, both of Versailles, as well as Edwards, Superintendent, Versailles; are out in the trucks as needed.
Another part of the “accountability” is always wearing their bright yellow shirts daily, provided by the employer. Also required, appropriate protective gear (county supplied) when needed (i.e. hard hats, safety glasses, gloves, and vests or other as necessary).
Not only things to protect each other, but also these extend to the public. Each County Garage Crew member is CPR certified. Edwards makes sure this certification is kept current by providing the required training during working hours.
Another, county-provided, training is “Chainsaw Safety” provided in conjunction with the Purdue Extension Office. There may also be another required class provided soon: “Blood-borne Pathogens” to keep the workers safe, as well as, anyone else that might need help along the county roads.
Ripley Co. residents may not be aware, but when needed our County Road Crew is out cutting tree limbs at night.
During the spring, summer, and fall, these dedicated crews traverse the assigned “snow routes” and make repairs as needed. When not in a winter weather event, they continue their assigned routes and (seasonally appropriate) repairs throughout the winter.
Each truck is equipped with necessary materials and equipment to repair pot-holes or other damage. Edwards emphasizes “if they do not have the equipment they need, just come back to the garage and get it. Then go back and fix it. No excuses.”
There are people assigned to the “mowers and/or graders.” Ripley Co. has approximately 13 miles of gravel roads that are graded daily, or as needed. There are three mowers in Ripley Co. These mowers, mow from Baseline Rd. to Countyline Rd. There is a larger side/boom-mower for problem areas that is utilized when foliage protrudes into roadways.
Those chip-and-seal projects that we all love coming upon after freshly implemented. Those are done by our County Garage crew too. They use RS2 asphalt materials that must be mixed exactly, in order for the gravel to adhere to the “sealer” and not just spread off the road and into the ditches. They are also spread at a rate of 42 gallons/mile.
Rainy days are not light or indoor days for the Co. Garage. On rainy days the crews drive their assigned routes and look for missing signs. It seems sign stealing is a problem in Ripley Co. One might also note: road sign stealing IS a crime.
Bridges and culverts present common problems for commuters. One might need a new culvert installed in their drive. Or a bridge might be unsafe and reported by county commuters.
Are you aware, if a culvert in your drive is required, the Ripley County Garage will provide the labor? All the property owner must do is fill out a FREE driveway permit. The permit assures the property owner is using the correct size culvert and required materials. The only cost will be supplies/materials required. There are no labor costs to the landowner.
The mowing crew comes out and mows it. The grading crew grades the incline to specifications. The bridge crew comes in and installs it. The foreman comes to inspect it and clears it for use, or orders required repairs and they are also implemented with no charge, except for materials. Then it would be inspected again and approved.
Where does all the money come from to blacktop the county roads; do all the repairs, monitoring and replace signs; or install bridges and culverts? This is where the invaluable office crew, Cassandra Arney and Maggie Miller, Versailles, come into play. They often are working on grants to provide necessary materials, equipment, and to pay for specific projects.
One grant from Rising Sun Regional Foundation provided a grant to put a stone shoulder (to prevent drop-offs) on CR700S. Another grant from Community Crossing Match Grant, provided a 75%:25% (matching) grant of up to $1 million to black top county roads. Cassandra and Maggie also take care of day-to-day operations, billings, time records/management, scheduling, and payroll.
One (May/June, 2023) implementation in the Ripley Co. Garage is a Trimble Line GPS System that uses information from the crews traversing their assigned routes.
The Trimble Line GPS System, numbers each culvert and bridge in Ripley Co. for accuracy. There is currently 1200 culverts and bridges documented. The equipment used, size of culverts, materials in use and location are all identified. The condition is continually monitored and updated in the data base. Edwards’ estimates it will require another year to complete the identification and updates to the records and data base.
There is a book frequently updated, called Trimble Connect. In it there is a picture with multiple views of the numbered projects, location and all data collected so when repairs are needed identification of current materials and wear are noted and corrected or re-implemented in the necessary project.
Another implementation Edwards has made is daily meetings (Edwards reports “it may only be five to fifteen minutes”) with his foremen, mechanics, and crews. Edwards calls these meetings integral to knowing the concerns and needs of each team member. Edwards describes all his team-members as integral and necessary for the daily function and success of maintaining Ripley Co. roads.
Edwards seeks out the opinions of the foremen, mechanics, and crews (including the office crew) when changes are being discussed. One project he has embarked upon is moving the breakroom.
The Garage uses picnic tables for a seating area. These are now being moved upstairs to an area previously used to store unused equipment and sundry items. The Ripley Co. Garage crew are building an area and moving the picnic tables to their new location in “freed up time” between monitoring roads, projects, repairs and replacing signs.
Edwards describes this new area to be more user friendly and have monitoring equipment for when a winter weather event is in process. He states “it will have a television. Oh, not for them to “watch” but to monitor this.” He turns a laptop away from his line of vision to display the radar currently covering Ripley Co. and surrounding areas for in climate weather. It can switch from national (with a weather system) to specific locations in Ripley Co. and throughout the state. Or rotate each locale as programmed to monitor the progress of a weather event.
To the season at hand … winter weather events:
The grader does not have a dedicated snow route. They drive a 14’ plow, on the front of the truck. This is the plow that busts open roads that are drifted over. They are on-call for the entire lane miles that cover Ripley Co. They are sent to wherever the other drivers cannot get through, open the road and continue to the next destination.
The Garage crew usually work 10-hour shifts, four days a week. However, in a winter weather event they work 10 hours (or until roads are clear). They are called in upon each noted event; no matter the time of day or night, or the day of the week.
At the end of each scheduled shift the Foremen and Superintendent decide if the shifts proceed, or are able to be discontinued, dependent upon current forecasted weather and radar.
The Sheriff’s Department will usually notify the Superintendent of needed interventions. Often, the Superintendent is aware of a projected winter weather event and is already communicating with the Sheriff’s Dept. about road conditions.
Ripley County Garage crews are divided into three districts. Edwards insists that it is “Ripley Co.!” If one crew is finished and another district is “snowed under” trucks will be utilized where most needed. It is a team effort for everyone to get finished and go home safely and, if possible, timely.
The road salt is kept in the “Salt Barn” or a pole-barn in Ripley Co. at the garage location. Ripley Co. Garage uses “O1-slag” (pronounced: oh – one – slag) to supplement cinders. O1-slag is comparable to “steel gravel.” The slag, is mixed with the salt and cinders, then spread directly onto the roads. As the cars travel, they help with spreading it.
O1-slag is a “refuse” product produced from steel mills when processing the metal. They had to implement O1-slag due to cinders (now) being unavailable. Even with mixing the product, Edwards estimates Ripley Co. only has about four to five years of cinders left.
Edwards estimates there are 17 or 18 people on the County Garage Crew. There is one person that is the loader, for these events. Salt from the salt barn; cinders and O1-slag (from the “pad”) are mixed in a “sort of, big concrete mixer” describes Edwards. Then it is loaded from a shoot, into the trucks, for spreading onto the roads using a “cinder box” every truck is equipped with.
“The main focus are “the problem areas” such as: hills, curves, and intersections,” Edwards’ explains. Again, the cars traversing these areas continue to spread the salt/O1-slag/cinder mix, distributed by the County Crew.
Ripley Co. and Ripley Co. Garage are fortunate to have Edwards. But equally as fortunate to have the strong crew members he has built into a cohesive team. A team that functions as one entity, to monitor and maintain all Ripley Co. roads, to keep commuters safe and traveling at will.