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'You see the weirdest things': Snowplow driver takes a break to talk shop

Don Carpenter started plowing at 11 a.m. Tuesday when the snow bands were just beginning their fickle crawl through Western New York. With more than an inch of snow falling per hour, Carpenter wanted to make sure he and his team of seven plow drivers stayed ahead of the storm.

“They wrapped up by 10 or 11 so they could get some sleep," Carpenter said. "I told them I’d see them at 3 a.m. and we’ll start all over again.”

Snow days are busy times for plow operators, who rise before the sun to clear snow from roads, parking lots and driveways. But there’s more to this job than you think, said the man behind Monster Snowplowing & Lawncare.

"The last two weeks we’ve been out nonstop. It’s annoying, actually. It was just enough to plow and salt,” Carpenter said during a gas stop in North Buffalo.

“Now, the snow is so heavy and it’s piling up fast. We make the best of parking lot space because we’re running out of room. There’s no room to put it anymore,” said Carpenter. “People are losing parking spots.”

Monster specializes in commercial contracts, serving stores, restaurants and 24-hour businesses in Buffalo and the Northtowns.

“Buffalo stores are tough. There are more people. You see the weirdest things,” said Carpenter. “Last winter I had a guy come out of a dumpster. You see people pull in parking lots just to do doughnuts — while I’m plowing. They’re in your way. You’re trying to back up and the people are swerving around, more so in the city.”

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If this plow driver has a pet peeve, it would be drivers who do not abide by travel advisories.

“Stay at home. Let us get our job done. They issue the travel ban for a reason. People need to stay home. Tractor-trailers need to keep off the Thruway. They get stuck in the smallest amount of snow,” he said.

Don Carpenter plows a parking lot on Maple Road in Amherst on Jan. 30. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

Carpenter, a Lockport resident, graduated from Starpoint Central and Niagara County Community College. He works full time as correctional officer at the Niagara County Jail. Carpenter started Monster as a moonlighting job to earn additional income.

Naming his business took longer than expected, Carpenter said. His surname complicated the process. If he used his last name, it could confuse potential customers. His initials, “DC,” appeared to be popular among business names, Carpenter discovered when he registered his business at the Erie County clerk’s office 15 years ago.

“It took two hours,” he recalled. "There are all kinds of ‘DC’ companies. The clerk kept on typing in all these names and found they were taken. The night before, I was watching 'Monster Garage' on TV. I suggested Monster Snowplowing — kind of joking around — and she typed it in. Bingo.”

[Complete coverage of the January 2019 blizzard]

The cold temperatures that have enveloped the area reduced the effectiveness of one of Carpenter’s critical weapons — rock salt. Rock salt will still melt ice, but it refreezes within 15 to 20 minutes, said Carpenter.

Negative temperatures can also freeze the hydraulic fluid that operates the plow blade, noted Carpenter. “You need to change the fluid regularly so you can lift and turn the blade. Sometimes it gets stuck on the ground. Lately, I’ve been into the 'Western Wide-out.' The blade stretches from 8 to 10 feet with hydraulic-powered wings. You’ll save a good 45 minutes with this blade because you can angle it in any way.”

Carpenter estimated he’s poured $1,000 in fuel into his fleet. His essential fuel, meanwhile, remains Gatorade. A six-pack rides shotgun in his Dodge Ram 2500.

On Wednesday, he combined it with Cheez-its.

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