• Heroes along our roads
    December 23,2013

    I’ll never lose the rush I get with the first real snowstorm. I don’t mean little flirts with the flurries but honest to goodness accumulations where you can get out there and do a little wallowin’ — something substantial that’ll bring out the plow guys, our true Vermont heroes. Yup, if those guys needed an official creed, it would certainly include the “neither snow nor gloom of night” part, but they’ve already got a waist-deep attitude. They just need nature’s cooperation and a good truck. Brings to mind one plower in particular, Sterry Leno.

    There’s room to speculate on what makes a real Vermonter — some folks weigh it in “generations in these parts,” preference of syrup, or numbers of cows in the barn. For me, the real deal is cinched by the truck a guy drives and Sterry’s truck says it all in “Ayups” and “B’gorys.”

    It’s a Ford F-350 “built up” so that it sits high — high above the Toyotas and Subarus that dart our roadways these days. It has a full eight-foot bed filled with a thousand tools, well-oiled, and ready to use. A rugged cap covers the tools and atop that cap rests a full array of ladders on a steel-frame rack.

    Sterry, a short, stocky guy, is more than just the finish carpenter par excellence that defines his work life; he’s an ex-volunteer fireman, a husband and dad, a respected landlord, and a plower of snow. His truck sports an eight-foot Fisher plow from November to April, and it’s this part of Sterry’s life that highlighted both his adeptness at the controls and his heroism one day.

    It was one of those early winter storms that finds the roads dotted with snow plow trucks of every size. Sterry was heading down the long, steep hill that leads to Gospel Hollow over toward North Calais. He had a long list of driveways to plow that day but drove cautiously, well aware of the sudden instability a heavy plow in its raised position can cause to a moving truck. When he reached the hollow, a kid on a sled darted down a steep hill and right into Sterry’s path.

    Sterry’s hand shot for the control handle which lowered the plow. He knew the dire result of doing nothing and that the only chance the kid had was to be “rolled” up like snow by the curved plow. Sterry got the rig stopped and hurried to the front end, fearing the worst.

    “I got there and saw the kid lying against the plow,” he said. “I shouted, ‘Are you OK, are you OK?’ but there was no answer — thought I’d killed that child.” His next words came with the hint of a cracking voice and, yes, tears formed at the corner of his eyes: “Suddenly that little girl moved and started crying and, boy, that was the best sound I ever heard in my life.”

    He went on to say that, after being rushed to the hospital and checked out, the girl’s only injury was a shiner under one eye. “Her mother called to thank me,” he said, “and told me her daughter’s only regret was that it was vacation time and the shiner had disappeared before she went back to school.”

    This incident happened more than 10 years ago and, except for a short newspaper account the day after, it has been long forgotten. Every year, though, when the first real storm comes and the plow guys are out and around, I think of it. This year I made a point to seek Sterry out, curious about how a real hero would respond. Sterry quickly put down the hero part. “Just did what I had to,” he said.

    As I complete this story, snow’s coming down in good shape. Those trucks’ll be out there snowflake-thick. Be good to those guys. Give them wide berth, pay them well, and thank them for the great job they do. And if you see Sterry Leno, shake his hand — he’s a real hero.

    Burr Morse lives in East Montpelier.

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