Cathy Pingree has a system.
Standing Thursday morning in the steel-and-glass booth at Exit 42 of the Maine Turnpike in Scarborough, the veteran toll-taker displayed her three-way defense against the bitter cold that only got worse as the day wore on.
Heaters churned on full blast from three directions: Two permanent heaters pushed hot air from under counters at both ends of the booth, while a miniature portable unit hummed in front of her feet.
“As soon as the cars are coming and the door is open, it gets cold,” said Pingree, 56, of Buxton, who was wearing jeans, boots and a thick, navy-colored Maine Turnpike Authority sweatshirt. “Normally, I have more on.”
From ferry crews and fishermen who feel the sting of frozen sea spray to the groomers who comb the slopes of Maine’s ski resorts before dawn, many workers have their own ways to ward off the cold.
Pingree, whose job offers the relative benefit of a permanent shelter, keeps a blanket handy, and alternates between standing and sitting to keep the steel floor from chilling her toes. And she always remembers how much colder it could be.
“I used to work at Exit 52 (in Falmouth). I thought those (booths) were cold,” Pingree said.
One day at the toll plaza in Scarborough, she said, “It was so cold, my daughter was coming through, I told her to go to (nearby) Cabela’s and get me some wool socks. I took my shoes off and put them on.”
Bobby Wood is a fisherman on the Jamie & Ashley, a boat that off-loaded its catch of pollock and cod at the Portland Fish Pier on Thursday. He coped with the cold by wearing waterproof overalls, a balaclava and multiple sweatshirts, including one with a hood.
Wood seemed less bothered by the weather than most. He said he fished in the 1980s in the Bering Sea, where temperatures dropped to 70 degrees below zero. “That prepares you for this,” he said.
Pat Griffin, 22, and Eric Storey, 19, of Storey Brothers Excavation do snow plowing and maintenance. Their workload grows during cold weather and leaves little time for breaks. With this latest snowstorm expected to last more than 24 hours, they have little choice but to wear many layers of clothing and hope for the best. Experience is little solace for Griffin, who has been plowing and doing maintenance for six years.
“It’s just as hard every year, and it’s just as cold,” he said.
At the Sugarloaf ski resort in Carrabassett Valley, Jake Charles, 26, goes out before the sun rises to groom trails. He spends the better part of his 10-hour shifts outdoors, and has learned to be strategic about exposure to whipping winds that drop wind chills to 50 below zero.
Dressing in layers is the key. Charles tries not to wear cotton clothing, which holds moisture, he said. Instead, he wears clothes that wick moisture away from the body. He tries to spend only short bursts of time in the cold, with breaks to warm up in between.
“We try to be smart when it’s really cold like this,” Charles said.
Jonathan Cagney’s work-wear is often far more formal, although he often can’t wait for better weather to do his job.
As funeral director at Hobbs Funeral Home in South Portland, Cagney is on call through snow and cold. Families may wait until spring’s thaw to bury loved ones, but they can opt for faster interment, which means workers must dig through a 6-inch layer of frost to create the grave.
“The cemetery crews use jackhammers,” Cagney said. “People tend to do it right away, rather than wait for the spring. It’s tough on the family (to wait); a lot of emotions kind of come back.”
Dr. Alison Gorman, a part-time staffer at the Portland Community Health Center, said cold weather often exacerbates existing health problems, particularly asthma. For anyone who has to work outdoors in bitter cold, Gorman suggests using common sense.
“The bottom line is eating well (and) taking good care of yourself,” she said. “If things get tingly, go inside and warm up, and if it persists, see a doctor.”
Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at: