Wicked Winter Tests Sarris Snow Removal
During winter of 2014-2015, Boston, Massachusetts, broke an all-time season snow record. A record 110.6 inches of snow fell on the city, beating the previous record of 107.6 inches during the 1995-1996 winter. For reference, the average seasonal snowfall recorded at Logan International Airport is approximately 43 inches. All of the snow meant lots of work for snow removal contractors like George Sarris, his employees and his equipment.
Sarris and his family own and operate Sarris Auto and Truck Equipment, Inc., based in Waltham, Massachusetts, on the west side of the Boston metropolitan area. The town sits adjacent to the Interstate 95/Highway 128 loop around the Greater Boston area.
Sarris Snow Removal is a division of Sarris Auto and Truck Equipment, and specializes in snow and ice removal in Waltham and the surrounding areas. Sarris started his snow removal business in 2001, but he jokes that he has been in the snow-clearing industry for a long time. "I have done snow removal since I was a kid, with a snowblower and a gas can," he says.
When the Boston area was smacked in January and February with back-to-back snowstorms named Juno and Marcus by The Weather Channel Sarris fought back with an assortment of snow and ice removal equipment to help his customers maintain their daily schedules as well as they could with the record snowfall and little room to place it along streets or in parking lots.
Sarris invested in wheel loaders more than three years ago when he began renting them to handle large snow removal tasks. A relationship with a local equipment dealer that stocked wheel loaders in its rental fleet was the natural transition for Sarris to add the machines to his winter-weather arsenal. It turned out so well that he purchased his first wheel loaders for the following winter.
"I bought two Doosan wheel loaders after I had a successful winter because they are productive machines," Sarris says. "The quality of the machines is what impressed me. They do an excellent job of removing snow, and the cab is roomy and comfortable for the operators."
The wheel loaders have a sealed and pressurized cab to keep operators relaxed and focused on jobs like snow removal, which can require them to be in the wheel loader for extended hours to clear snow.
"In the snow removal industry, you have to have good equipment to be able to do the work," he says. "You have to have dependable machines and you have to do a good job. Any kind of edge you can get is a good thing."
With a mix of residential, industrial and commercial snow removal accounts, Sarris and his equipment operators clear snow from large municipal parking lots, big-box home improvement stores, area shopping malls and even a few residential neighborhoods in Waltham. To handle bulk snow removal, Sarris has purchased five Doosan wheel loaders with buckets from his local Doosan heavy equipment dealer, Equipment East, located in Dracut, Massachusetts.
"The Doosan DL200-3 and DL200TC-3 (tool carrier) are the perfect size for me," Sarris says of the 12-metric-ton wheel loaders. "The DL200-3 wheel loader with a pin-on bucket can easily handle the snow. We use a three-and-a-half yard bucket on one machine and a four-yard light-material bucket on another machine." Both buckets come standard with a bolt-on cutting edge.
Sarris's DL200TC-3 wheel loader has a hydraulic quick coupler for making non-hydraulic attachment changes without even leaving the cab. This makes it easy for the wheel loader operator to quickly switch from one bucket to another while staying warm inside the heated cab. Additionally, he says operators report that the tool carrier's parallel-lift linkage design provides good visibility to the bucket when they are connecting or disconnecting the attachments to the wheel loader.
For both wheel loader models, he connects 14- to 16-foot-wide snow pushers to the wheel loader buckets with chain binders to efficiently move large amounts of snow. "I clear streets and a neighborhood with the wheel loaders and snow pushers," he says.
Strategic Planning Pays Off
It sounds simple: Planning pays dividends when done properly. Sarris is a big believer in planning for winter snow storms, having his equipment ready and employees on call, available to respond after a storm blankets the area with fresh snow.
"I have all of my equipment onsite and ready to go," he says. "It is serviced and fueled. I call my operators and put them on standby when a storm is approaching. I have dedicated employees at certain locations and they go to work as soon as they can."
Commercial centers want their parking lots free of snow and ice before they open each morning. That can present a challenge for Sarris and his operators, depending on the timing of the snow storm, but they do their best to have the lot as clear as possible before employees and customers start arriving.
"We try to clear as much as we can before the stores open, depending on the timing of the snow event," he explains. "We attack the parking lots when the cars are not there. We do a lot of our work after hours and in the early morning. When you get snow early in the morning and the store has to open at 7 a.m., you need to move quickly.
"We had a crazy winter this past year. There were several big snow storms. It was a test on a lot of our equipment and our mental abilities. It was very challenging."
Where to Put All the Snow?
Winter storms Juno and Marcus ranked sixth and seventh for Boston snowstorms, based on snowfall. Juno brought 24 inches in January and Marcus dumped 23 inches in February. With all of that snow and little room to put it, Sarris had to think outside of the box.
"We hauled some of it onsite and stockpiled it," he says. "In Watertown, we joined forces with another company that has a snow melter and we melted the snow from an entire parking lot."
Wheel loader operators filled buckets with snow, then emptied them into the snow melter. Snow melters melt snow using burners or hot water, allowing the snowmelt to discharge in a storm drain. They are critical in areas where there simply is not any more space to stack or pile snow, a common occurrence this past winter. Sanitary landfills are another option, but as Sarris points out, it can get expensive fast and there is the risk of a truck getting stuck waiting in long lines to dump the snow.
After the storm hits and his operators are clearing snow, Sarris is in his pickup, driving from site to site to check on his crews and deliver fuel, as needed. "I run around with my truck, fueling the equipment and managing the operation," he says.
Sarris has 40 pieces of equipment to maintain at his various snow removal sites in Waltham and Cambridge. They include many trucks, some with salt and sand spreaders in the cargo box and plows on the front, to clear snow for his customers. He also owns Bobcat skid-steer loaders and snow-removal attachments to handle areas where his larger machines and trucks can't fit. He currently has four Bobcat skid-steer loaders, S185s and S570s, with turf tires that he purchased from Bobcat of Boston.
"I have a snowblower attachment that saved my life this past winter," he says. "I cleared three- or four-foot snowdrifts on sidewalks that were miles long. This was the first year I purchased a snowblower attachment for the skid-steer loaders. I have buckets, snow blades and snow pushers for the skid-steer loaders. We put approximately 500 hours on each of them this winter."
Many of his employees are truck drivers or workers who get laid off in winter due to seasonal employment. "I have a lot of work in winter, so I keep them busy."
Snow removal can be a challenging business because of the unpredictably of the work. Unlike planned construction jobsites, Sarris has to be prepared 24/7 in winter to respond to a snow storm.
"Because we own our equipment and we don't hire out, we can do snow removal and have access to the equipment when we need it instead of having to subcontract. When the big snowstorms strike, you need to get things done quickly. If you don't have the right equipment, you are not going to keep up."
Stocking the right type and amount of equipment, preparing it at various locations and having dependable employees on standby are three reasons why George Sarris survived the worst winter in Boston's history. He will undoubtedly be ready for whatever Mother Nature brings this winter.