Workers withstand nature’s cold shoulder

Photos by Carolyn Van Houten/The Herald
Brian Gentry of Jasper, dressed as the Statue of Liberty, waved to passing cars outside Liberty Tax in Jasper on Saturday. The high in Jasper reached 42 on Saturday and 54 on Sunday but tonight’s low is expected to creep below zero and Tuesday’s forecasted high is 14. “Being in the cold is the hardest part, but they let me come in to warm up,” Gentry said.  “A lot of people who pass me out here are friendly, honking and waving.  One lady even brought me coffee.”

By CANDY NEAL, CLAIRE MOORMAN, JONATHAN STREETMAN and TONY RAAP
Herald Staff Writers

At the Y in Jasper, the Statue of Liberty cheerfully waves at passersby through the biting wind and cold. Inside the costume, Zack Gilbert, 20, of Jasper, is bundled in three coats, a thermal shirt and a pair of gloves.

As one of Liberty Tax’s rotating band of outdoor advertisers, Gilbert joins many other local men and women who earn money by working outside no matter what the weather. Tonight’s low is minus-2 degrees. Tuesday’s forecasted high is just 14. Gilbert works four-hour shifts throughout the weeks leading up to tax day in April. To Gilbert, braving the cold is just part of the job.

“It kind of keeps the wind from getting through,” he said, holding out the fabric of the Statue of Liberty’s blue robes. “It isn’t too bad. It’s starting to warm up now.”

Gilbert enjoys being handed cups of hot chocolate from drivers who see him standing outdoors. He sometimes receives several hot drinks per shift. Gilbert and his fellow statues duck inside to warm up every 25 minutes or so, and tax preparer Noll Staff said hand warmers and coffee are part of the job description.

Still, Gilbert said he looks forward to spring weather.

“After it starts to warm up, I actually like being out there,” he said of the job. “I don’t have to wear all these jackets.”

Zach Cowan of Orleans worked while Mike Moiser of Springville operated an excavator Friday as part of an ongoing water main project along Third Avenue in Jasper. Crews bundle up and continue to work as temperatures sink into the single digits. Friday’s high was 24. Tuesday’s forecasted high is 14.

This winter’s prolonged cold has also wreaked havoc on the water main project along Third Avenue in Jasper causing unforeseen delays.

“It definitely slows us down,” said Ivan Smith, site supervisor for Infrastructure Systems Inc., the Orleans-based company working Friday in the road’s southbound lane while temperatures stalled in the low 20s. “We can’t dig the top of (the dirt). We’ve got to bust the ground first.”

Smith said the top 13 inches of the ground has been frozen solid. His crew has to first use a special excavator to break through the top layer, and that process costs them time.

The City of Jasper recently allotted Infrastructure Systems a 30-day extension to complete the project because of weather-related delays.

Smith said his crew has responded well to the extreme temperatures but special precautions do need to be taken.

“You’ve just got to watch your workers, check for signs of frostbite,” he said. “They’ve handled it pretty well, though, dressing in layers to stay warm. They’re construction workers. They’re not new to this game.”

On days like today and Tuesday, with the high temperature not expected to creep out of the teens, the Jasper Street Department tries to minimize the amount of time the trash and recyclables collection crews are outside.

“So for today and (Tuesday), we are running double the trucks, two crews” instead of just one,” Assistant Street Commissioner Jeff Theising said. “We want to get them out there and get them back in as quick as possible. And we tell them, ”˜If you feel like you’re getting cold, get back in the truck and warm up.’”

Most of the work the department is doing today is inside. “We’re going through equipment and cleaning projects,” Theising said. “We have outside projects to work on. But it’s not worth the guys getting sick.”

Ernie Hinkle, Jasper’s Gas and Water Utility Manager, said that his crews are also encouraged to work indoors when temperatures are so low. “It’s definitely a situation of priorities,” he said. “There is always maintenance to be done on the trucks and in the shop. But there are times when we do have to get out there for water leaks, main breaking, going out with gas regulators.”

In those cases, his workers are encouraged to use common sense to keep warm, he said.

“It’s a matter of layering your clothing, staying dry, having the right boots and gloves, knowing the symptoms of frostbite, getting inside a warm truck at different intervals. A lot of it is common sense. You just take the proper precautions.”

Hinkle said his crew gets calls from residents about the water freezing in their pipes.

“I’ve heard people who have had water freeze in their pipes say they’ll do without until it thaws. But freezing water expands,” Hinkle said. “If it freezes  in your pipe, it could crack or bust the pipe.

Now as long as the water stays frozen, you it won’t leak. But once it thaws, you could have a major leak and water all over your floor. It could cause considerable damage.”

He offered some advice to try to minimize that from happening.

“With these frigid temperatures, especially in the single digits, leaving a faucet dripping or at a very low flow helps,” he said. “Moving water does not freeze as quickly as standing water. Even if it’s just dripping, it’s still moving water.”

He also suggested that the cabinet doors where the water lines are should be left open, so that the heat from the home reaches the pipe.

Farmers also have to contend with the cold. Dan Buechler, who raises hogs south of Jasper, tries to limit his time outside when a cold snap blows through.

He also bundles up, wearing as many as four layers of clothing at a time.  

“You have to dress really warm for the weather,” Buechler said. “You are outside a lot, and it’s really cold right now.”

So far, his livestock has held up well. Each day, he makes sure the heaters in his pig barn are working properly and that the water line hasn’t frozen.

“We haven’t had any trouble with anything like that,” Buechler said.

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