The alarm buzzes. The clock reads 5 a.m. Jerry Raguse gets up for a long day of work. He takes his time getting ready, pulls his blue Concordia College Facilities Management hooded sweatshirt over his clothes, dons his blue stocking cap, and is ready to go. Day one of eight.
Today is a Saturday. The day after Christmas. Most people are recovering from a day of family, feasts, and frivolity. But not Raguse. He has a job to do.
Raguse climbs in his blue Ford F150 and begins the 13-mile drive from his home in Harwood, N.D., to Concordia College. Drifts of snow blanket the road, but it’s no issue: He has four-wheel drive. The truck, in fact, is usually reserved for such an occasion. He reaches his destination: the shop in the Mugaas Plant Operations Center, marked by a sign which says “Grounds.” Raguse is the Grounds Supervisor at Concordia, and there’s a lot of white on the ground. Time to work.
Over the past three days, the landscape has changed. A massive storm that started in the Rockies has hit the Red River Valley. And it hit hard.
The National Weather Service says 17.6 inches of snow had fallen in Fargo since three days before Christmas. If that number alone isn’t staggering, compare it to the NWS’ average snowfall total for December in Fargo: 7.3 inches. It took three days for it to snow more than twice as much as it normally does in 30. And somebody’s got to clean it up.
That’s where Jerry Raguse and the rest of the Concordia Grounds Crew come in.
Nearly 20 inches of snow blanketed all of Concordia’s campus—parking lots, sidewalks, building access—and they needed to move it. So they set out on the Dec. 26 at 8 a.m. and started clearing campus access points.
Every time campus is hit with a snowfall, it is up to the Concordia College grounds crew to take care of the snow. The task is an arduous one when there are only a few inches of snow on the ground, and as this year’s Christmas snowstorm shows, the crew is sometimes called upon to move unbelievable amounts of snow.
That first Saturday and Sunday, the six-man crew, made up of five groundsmen and one mechanic, worked 10 hours straight. Split into groups of three, one man would operate the Bobcat 2410 articulated loader or the John Deere 344H loader, the other two would drive trucks, hauling snow to a new destination.
According to Raguse, the grounds crew put about 300 miles on the trucks over break. No small feat, considering the trucks would drive about a mile at a time to dump their load at Jake Christiansen Stadium on the south end of campus.
Although Raguse and many of the workers will make it seem as if 17 inches is commonplace, mechanic Nick Maynard is quick to keep things in perspective.
“It’s the most snow we’ve ever had to haul over break,” Maynard said, “and I’ve been here 25 years.”
The goal for the grounds crew was to get as many parking spots open before Jan. 3, when most students would be returning to campus.
According to Raguse, clearing a medium-sized parking lot, if everything goes to plan, will take about one eight-hour day of work. You can see the problem, then, when there were eight days until school resumed and about 20 parking lots to clear.
“A little bit of snow makes a lot of work,” Raguse said. “We’re just thankful the students were so good about moving their cars. It really helps us a lot.”
Luckily for the workers, the elements aren’t that big an issue. Most employees operate “pretty decent” vehicles equipped with heaters, such as the trucks or loading machinery. The grounds crew also tries to rotate people as much as possible to avoid being overworked.
“There’s a fatigue factor,” Raguse said. “It gets really tiring after awhile.”
As snow was hauled, a worker marked each lot depicted on the grounds crew’s map with a red X to indicate it was done. Each sidewalk got a blue line to show it had been cleared.
While clearing lots was the main goal of the crew, there were many other things that demanded their attention. Things that people normally wouldn’t think about, Raguse said.
Dumpster corrals must be cleaned out immediately; otherwise the city won’t come and pick up the trash. The crew also had to clean out several bike racks so students would be able to use them, something the crew wouldn’t need to worry about until the third. The timing of this storm was ideal, according to groundsman Dwight Flaten.
“In this snowfall, we were really fortunate because school was out,” Flaten said. “Cars were at a minimum; it helped us tremendously.”
After the initial weekend of work, the crew broke into two shifts. One crew would come in at midnight and stay until 8 a.m., when the second crew would relieve them, working until 4 p.m. The shifts were drawn up this way because hauling in the middle of the night would help the crew avoid traffic, according to Flaten.
“It’s actually quite peaceful at night,” Flaten said. “You really don’t have any distractions.”
Flaten also said that with temperatures around zero at times and the wind speeds as high as 30 miles per hour, the crew made sure at all times to keep their own well-being in mind.
“When it’s so cold, you’ve got to think of safety,” Flaten said. “It doesn’t take long to get in trouble.”
The crew members weren’t the only ones threatened by the cold. According to Raguse, it’s hard to avoid problems with equipment when so much wear and tear is put on them, a sentiment echoed by Maynard, the mechanic.
“The biggest problem for me is keeping the equipment running,” Maynard said.
The crew worked straight through from Dec. 26 until Jan. 4, when classes resumed. Only on New Year’s Day were they given a break. And with Jan. 4 came another Monday, and another week of work. Each worker put in about 55 hours of work over the stretch, Raguse said. You won’t hear any of them complain, however.
“It just kinda comes with the territory,” Raguse said. “We live in a part of the world where we’re gonna get snow.”
If worse comes to worse and Concordia sees a high snowfall total, Raguse asks for one thing from students.
“Just have a little patience,” Raguse said. “We can’t do everything at once. We’re hauling as fast as we can.”
Since the Christmas snowstorm, there have been more than 10 inches of snow in the Fargo-Moorhead area. Each night before the snow came, Jerry Raguse has gone to sleep knowing the day will be busy. He settles into his bed, knowing he’ll be up around five the next morning, like always. Or maybe he spends the night in his office, something he’s been known to do when campus is in session and a snowstorm hits. Either way, when he gets up in the morning, there is only one thing left to say:
Time for work.
Position at The Concordian: Editor-in-Chief
Year in school: Senior
Hometown: Bertha, Minnesota
Favorite Newspaper: The Star Tribune
Favorite Writer: Mitch Albom
Catchphrase: See what I did there?