Amherst Magazine

Snow Man

By Samuel Masinter ’04

144320060

Grounds supervisor Bob Shea on prevailing over the white stuff

  • “Sometimes, I’ll get a phone call in the middle of the night,” Shea says. “But I watch the radar, and I try to get to campus well before the snowstorm.” If all goes according to plan, the students wake up to a campus blanketed in snow—everywhere but on the roads and sidewalks. “It’s usually a two-day project. [We] get the equipment ready, clean the campus, and when we’re done, post-treat everything and get all the spots we missed. There’s always a student calling us about a new [patch of ice].”
  • There’s not much ice, thanks largely to vodka. When a distillery in Europe noticed that the stream its remnants were dumped into never froze, a new ice-melting product spilled onto the market. Students call it “soy sauce” because of its color and smell, though it’s now mostly an extract from sugarcane. Shea says that it works by lowering the freezing point of water from 32 to approximately zero degrees Fahrenehit. “Salt only gets it down to 23 degrees.”
  • During a normal winter Shea’s team will truck about 200 loads of snow to a dump spot in the college’s bird sanctuary. Come spring, they’ll rake out what’s left from the melt—mostly blacktop and sticks. “And a lot of student IDs. And cell phones. And umbrellas... and a lot of beer cans.”  

Photo by Jessica Mestre '10