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Think Buffalonians are good at dealing with snow? Thank plow drivers

We take it for granted. We’re Buffalo, after all. We can handle snow. We scoff at the idea of a few inches shutting us down.

It is, in fact, a point of pride that it typically takes a good snowfall at just the right time to close schools and shut down travel. What’s a good snow? Oh, you know, a foot or two, maybe seven.

So when a fellow reporter heard plow drivers from Boston going on last week on National Public Radio about how tough last winter was, this is what came to mind: Who are they to complain?

“If it snows again like it did last winter, I will quit,” one of the drivers told a reporter from WGBH. “You will find the truck on the side of the road running, and I will be done, never to be seen again.”

You think winter in Boston was tough last year? Try Buffalo. Better yet, try Orchard Park or Hamburg or East Aurora. Then tell us about a tough winter, the kind that dumps snow day after day and makes you invest in one of those fuzzy hats with the ear flaps, fashion be damned.

Boston did get a legitimate, Buffalo-worthy winter last year with 110.6 inches of total snowfall that left behind one of those crusty mountains of gray melting snow well into July. It’s a phenomenon we know well.

Boston’s snowfall even surpassed the average 94.7 inches of annual snow here in Buffalo, but that’s at the airport, which doesn’t get saturated with as much of the lake-effect precipitation that buries the Southtowns. Try 185.3 inches logged in East Aurora from November 2014 to April last year. Now, that was something to complain about.

But there’s a secret to surviving a Buffalo winter, and it’s not really as much about knowing how to drive in the snow as we like to think. It’s the plow drivers. We take it for granted, but there’s an entire cadre on the roads at night that makes it possible to claim our snow cred. Guys like Eddie Cunningham III, whose Reliable Snow Removal LLC kept 97 properties cleared in the midst of the November storms.

“We went five 20-hour days – four hours of sleep, 20 hours of work,” the Hamburg snowplow driver recalled. “Five days we did that.”

Cunningham told me he first took the wheel of a snowplow when he was 10. His grandfather, Eddie Cunningham Sr., was chief engineer at a local school district and would bring young Eddie along for the ride on some nights. “When I hit 10, he offered to turn me loose,” Cunningham said. “He paid me off in McDonald’s cheeseburgers.”

I spoke with Cunningham by phone last week because he and his guys had taken his fleet down to Greenbelt, Md., to help out with the monster nor’easter that slammed the mid-Atlantic region over the weekend. Cunningham could have been relaxing at home with no new snow, but instead was planning to plow through the night, 360 miles from home. Now, that’s tough.

The thing about plowing is, it’s one of those jobs that’s overlooked until something goes wrong. But in reality, it’s the solid, dependable, night-in, night-out work of plow drivers that keeps this region going in winter.

“It’s really basic maintenance and upkeep and trying to get by,” said Nick Reinhart, who runs Reinhart Enterprises. “But it’s not as easy as people think, either.”

So to all those plow drivers working the cold winter nights: Thanks for keeping us running.