Granted a tribute luncheon Dec. 29 at Thurman Town Hall were highway workers (clockwise, from left rear): Bruce Dingman, Bill Arnold, Ed Brown, Pat Wood, Jeff Ackley, and Tim Arnold.
Finishing off a home-cooked meal in the Thurman Town Hall, local highway workers reminisced about the mayhem they had to deal with seven months ago, when pounding rains and resulting floods washed out virtually every road in Thurman and swept away entire bridges.
As they talked, the town highway employees enjoyed forks full of ham, pot roast, mashed potatoes, velvet cake and other fixings cooked up and donated by people whose safety and access they work all year long to protect — as a gesture of thanks.
The occasion was the annual highway workers’ luncheon held Thursday, Dec. 29.
Thurman Superintendent of Highways Pat Wood recalled the progression of the events on Saturday, May 28.
Wood got a phone call early that Saturday, alerting him that roadway shoulders on Mud Street had washed away.
Wood and several other workers — Ed Brown, and Tim and Bill Arnold — responded and worked in the rain to rebuild the shoulder there, constructing “rip-rap,” or a wall of boulders, secured to withstand flooding.
As the group was finishing up their work, Mother Nature gave them an ominous warning, Wood said.
“It started raining like hell again,” he recalled.
Concluding the work, the four went home. As Wood was making dinner that evening he got a lot of phone calls, describing roadways that were washed out.
“I went out to Mud Street and saw that all the work we’d just done was gone — it was all washed away, plus a whole lot more.”
Pat said he called every member of the road crew, and they went out to survey damage throughout town, based on the flurry of phone calls.
The crew members found bridges washed downstream, replaced by gaping canyons. They found culverts swept away, leaving perilous drop-offs. Elsewhere, asphalt roads were turned into raging gravel riverbeds.
Most all their initial work was setting up barricades to divert traffic.
In what has since been called a miracle, not one motorist careened into the gorges or gullies left by the floodwaters.
After a few hours of sleep, the round-the-clock road repair work began, first to restore access to those totally cut off by the floodwaters and later to rebuild the less critical roadways. Nearly every one of the dozens of town roads were washed out at one place or another.
Wood and others recalled that a dozen or more college students were stranded at Camp Dippikill for three days, while they worked hard to get at least one lane passable with a temporary gravel surface. Many others elsewhere were stranded, and hundreds faced treacherous travel, or inconvenient, lengthy detours to get to civilization.
For days, the Thurman town highway workers were joined by about 90 others from Queensbury, Warrensburg, Chester, and Lake George, worker Bruce Dingman said.
Before they sat down to the tribute luncheon Dec. 29, the workers were finishing up rebuilding a bridge on Sky-Hi Road, a 10-week project. Wood said the crew hopes to have it open by Jan. 10, Wood said.
“Now, we’re hoping for an easy winter — so the money normally spent on salt can go towards more roadwork,” he said.
Resident Jessica Christoffersen, whose mother baked a ham dish, looked at the highway workers talking about the great flood of Memorial Day weekend, which caused an estimated $7 million in damage.
She said all the townspeople deeply appreciated their work — not only for the response to the May flood, but for clearing the roads of snow so efficiently each winter
“All this food is cooked up with love,” Christoffersen said, gazing at the entrees set up on a counter in the town hall.
Town Board member Rebecca Hitchcock, who helped with the tribute luncheon, noted that in a normal year local residents are thankful for the efficient road clearing — but this year, their appreciation is far more extensive.
“The road men are fantastic,” Hitchcock said. “They work really, really hard, especially this year. They’re a bunch of really good guys.”