Sunday, April 1, 2012

Chasing Water

On Friday, with water levels climbing quickly, I spent the day chasing high water. Chasing water means you load up a truck with high water signs, barricades, rakes and shovels, and randomly drive around the county looking for water over the road. Dispatch didn't quite have their act together, since usually they'll call on the radio and tell you what locations need signs or drains dug out. They didn't call us at all, so we just drove around. Started in the hills in the South County, worked our way over to Stayton, then went up past Woodburn. Maybe it's because we were newbies, we didn't find ANY high water.

Finally, around 2, Dispatch called and asked us to help flag for a flusher truck. So we went back to the shops, swapped trucks for one set up as a flagger truck. It had all of the signs we needed plus flagging paddles (the stop/slow signs you turn around). Off we go to a really busy road near Aumsville. Really really busy, plus it was rush hour. The flusher truck clears out the drainage ditches. Takes two guys to work it, and since there wasn't a wide enough shoulder, they needed to basically close a lane while they worked.

I've never flagged before. I took the class, so technically I am qualified to flag. I was flagging with a gal who's dad is in charge of the sign shop, and has been around the county since forever. Since it was his darling daughter standing in front of fast moving traffic and he knew we both didn't particularly know what we were doing, he came down and got us comfortable. First, we screwed up the order of the signs we put up. It's supposed to go "road work ahead," then "be prepared to stop" then "flagger ahead (we had a figure of a person flagging, so flagger man)." We didn't have any "road work ahead" signs, we thought, so we figured we'd just order it, be prepared, flagger man, be prepared. That's not ok, evidently, and it turns out we had signs that had a picture of a worker with a shovel, "digger man," and that can stand in for the be prepared signs. So we had to redo the order of signs on the southbound side. Putting up signs takes forever, and the flag stands are crazy heavy. So we set up our three signs on each direction, then pulled up to the flusher truck, and away we went.

I stood in front of the flusher truck. When I was going to stop the traffic in the oncoming lane, I'd step into their lane and turn the sign to STOP. That way, the moving cars would move into the right lane before they got to me. When I was going to let my cars go, I'd step back into the flusher truck's lane and turn the sign to SLOW. We had two way radios to communicate when we were flipping signs...and also to gossip and joke with each other. When the flusher was finished with one ditch, they'd drive forward to the next piece of pipe that, in this case, went under someone's driveway. They'd signal to me, and I'd switch my sign to SLOW, and start walking forward. It was quite a process.

The paddle with the signs was super tall. They hadn't trimmed it down to size, so the stop/slow was about a foot or two over my head. And the pole was a pvc pipe, so it jiggled around a bit. By the end, my pole hand was cramping and cold. Couldn't really change hands, since it'd be awkward to stand that way. I'd left my leather gloves in the car, which would have kept my hands warm. It was about 45 degrees with rain and gusty wind. I was wearing jeans and rain pants, boots, a tshirt, fleece, rain coat, and reflective vest. And a hard hat, which wasn't necessary, but was the best, according to everyone, at keeping the rain off our faces. I wanted to use two hands at one point, to take off my hard hat, pull up the hood on my rain coat, and put the helmet off, but I couldn't, since I had to keep one hand on the pole all the time. I thought about leaning the pole against my shoulder, but I didn't want it to inadvertently flip from STOP to SLOW.

We flagged for about 90 minutes. Once we finished, we started picking up our road signs. The guys in the flusher truck called us on the radio and basically said, "We're heading up outside Silverton to Forest Ridge Rd, we'll see you up there." We thought we were done for the day!! We finished picking up signs and headed up to Silverton, but the truck had a good 20-30 minute lead on us. Supposedly it was just one plugged driveway, so we were wondering if we'd even make it there before they finished. Sure enough, as we were pulling into Silverton, still 15 minutes to the truck, they called into dispatch that they were finished! We called in to make sure they didn't need us anywhere else, and hooray, headed back to the shops. I put in two and a half hours of overtime, and didn't make it home until 7:30.

The next day, Saturday, every muscle in my body ached. Mom came up and we wandered the mall a bit, but I could barely lift my left arm (which held the paddle). My legs ached from standing for so long. Everything was just tired. It was a good tired, but daaang.

The river is still really high. It's going to peak sometime tonight or tomorrow morning, and then start making it's way down over the next week or so. Maybe I'll actually get back to the ferry in two weeks or so? I'd really like to. I like being in the shops and hanging out with my friends, but it feels like everything is just up in the air. I'm ready for my schedule back, for the three day weekends, and for getting back and watching spring happen down at the river.

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