Snowplow truck driver John Kimball of Albany Township, seen Feb. 2 with his granddaughters Kimball Burrill, 7, left, and Lily Burrill, 9, says plow drivers sacrifice holidays and birthdays and can never plan winter vacations. Rose Lincoln/The Bethel Citizen

ALBANY — At age 16, John Kimball’s grandfather, Albert Kimball, gave him a CJ-5 Jeep with a 6-foot blade on the front and three driveways to plow.

That was in the winter of 1978 and he has been plowing ever since.

“If we don’t see each other out there, then something’s up,” Kimball said of David Luxton of Bethel, who has plowed snow in the area even longer than he has. Luxton said he was about 23 when he started plowing around 1973.

Until about five years ago, Kimball, of Albany Township, was plowing 75 driveways. “Every time it snowed I was in that truck 18 to 20 hours,” he said.

Now in his 60s, Kimball has halved his work, because recovery times after sleepless nights are longer.



In 1985, Kimball was newly married, doing construction and selling firewood while leaning on plowing to help pay bills. “Plowing was always there, it always felt natural to do,” he said.

Besides, he could raise a little bit of hell in the middle of the night. “Come out of a driveway, give it throttle and fishtail down the road, come completely broadside … no one is around … I still do it today,” he said with a smile.

As his children grew, they would get excited to plow with him, even if they had to leave in the middle of the night, he said. When they were still in car seats, he would strap their bobbing heads with a scarf, and they would be plowing so long they would take two naps, he said.

They are grown now, sometimes work plowing driveways, too, and all agree that some of the best times plowing are when you can’t tell where you are.

“In a blizzard there is a eerie silence. It’s a whole different feeling,” Kimball said. “Your senses are so hyped up … Sometimes you can’t hardly see the snowbanks if it’s whiteout conditions.”

He uses a beacon light on the top of the truck cab and power lines to guide him on snowy nights. He said when conditions are difficult, he hopes he doesn’t plow someone’s back yard as a fellow plow driver did.


Communication was also an issue.

“In the middle of the night there were only about two radio stations you could get,” Luxton said. “And one of those you needed a tinfoil hat to listen to because it was somebody that got sucked up into an alien spaceship … a bunch of nut stuff.”

Kimball said they wore turtlenecks, not for the cold, but so they could breathe into them to keep the windshield from fogging.

John Kimball of Albany Township has been plowing area roads and driveways since he got his license in the late 1960s. Rose Lincoln/The Bethel Citizen


Kimball said as he ages, he appreciates the life lessons he learned from men like his grandfather and family friend, Bob Anderson; lessons sometimes gleaned around an ice fishing hole. For instance, when he knows someone is struggling, he’ll plow them in the middle of the night, so they can’t try to pay him.

However, he can remember times when older folks would come outside at odd hours insisting he take cash or a check on the spot. They would say, “‘I don’t want to die owing anyone anything,'” he said.


Sometimes he’s had to do battle over payments. A man who was plowing in frigid temperatures in an open tractor with use of just one leg insisted on paying Kimball, after he figured out who was plowing him. They compromised and he paid for “expenses,” Kimball said.

Kimball has been rewarded with many treats over the years. Sometimes he’d be plowing and see house lights flick on, “the woman is in the kitchen, stove’s going, before you get done, she’s outside handing you hot donuts and coffee at 3 in the morning,” he said.


Plowing dangerous intersections is very difficult for the drivers of the large town plow trucks. “If I’m running ahead I sneak some of that in for them,” Kimball said. The support and camaraderie among drivers extends to carrying each other’s phone numbers in case someone is stuck in a snowbank and needs to be towed out.

But sometimes no one is around, as was the case one day when Kimball drove for 4 1/2 miles in reverse with a broken transmission.

Trucks are better now and plowed surfaces are smoother. When Kimball started plowing, the state’s trucks all used tire chains and little or no salt, just sand on the roads. The tire chains dug grooves. For those weeks at the height of the winter, “you never saw pavement. It would be like running on washboards,” he said.


“If you wanted to change the (plow’s angle), you had to pull a pin in front, swing the plow and then drop the pin back in,” he said. The job of pulling the pin went to Kimball who was assisting in the passenger seat of his grandfather’s cab by age 8.


Kimball’s grandfather put him to work in the plowing business when he was just 6. “He would set me on snowbanks to motion to him whether it was safe to back out of the driveway or not. In the 1960s, he said, the vehicles were smaller. “They were mostly Jeep pickups, lower to the ground and you couldn’t see backing up into the road.”

Kimball’s son and daughter back him up on plowing jobs and plow their own long driveways.

His daughter, Jillian, sent him a photo recently of her plowing her driveway with 18-month-old Calla asleep in the cab beside her.

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