When a 100-year blizzard dropped massive amounts of snow, the response had to be just as big: 35-ton payloaders designed for quarries, an army of round-the-clock workers from across the state, $750,000 of contract labor—and a mountain range rising on the East Shore.
Company President Jeff Laydon went to the 20-foot (and growing) snow mountain again Thursday, as did his drivers, on the sixth-straight day of around-the-clock work for a construction company that transformed itself into New Haven’s Nemo muscle, or a big part of it.
It wasn’t an easy task.
On its own, New Haven didn’t have the equipment and manpower to deal with a blizzard like Winter Storm Nemo, which deposited 34 inches of snow on the city over the weekend. It had to call on contractors like New Haven road work company Laydon Industries, which has a fleet of vehicle and access to even more equipment through a network of subcontractors.
Laydon, which has been in New Haven since the 1940s, was the first company the city called as the snow started to fall. This week, Laydon has had eight large payloaders out removing snow, along with a half-dozen smaller pieces of heavy equipment, more than 50 tri-axle dump trucks, and about 160 workers deployed in 12-hour shifts.
As of Thursday morning, Laydon had performed about $750,000 worth of snow removal for the city, according to the company’s president, Jeffrey Laydon. That’s a significant portion of the $20 million Laydon takes in annually.
The operation has been working constantly since Friday, keeping the heavy equipment running so many hours that the company has had to do payloader oil changes on the fly on city streets, and diesel tanker trucks have had to refuel equipment in the field.
Laydon (pictured), who’s 31, shared those details during a Thursday afternoon interview at his company’s headquarters off of the Boulevard.
“We have practically every asset with a blade or a bucket working for the city of New Haven,” Laydon said.
His company’s main business is road work: paving, grading, installing water mains. But all that is on hold since Nemo hit. “We shut our entire company down.”
His wife, the company vice-president, was in a nearby office with their 5-month-old daughter, Whitney. Laydon’s sister, brother, mom and dad also work at the company. Even the family dog, a white Bichon Frise named Samantha, was in the office, yapping at people who came in the door. “A good manly dog for a construction worker,” Laydon said.
Laydon said he has been working 15-hour days since Friday. For the first couple of days, the biggest challenge was getting his guys to work. People were stranded at home. Laydon went home for dinner on Friday night and got stuck himself. He had to call a company payloader to come dig him out.
Short-staffed for the first couple of days, Laydon was behind the wheel of a payloader himself. He said he started on heavy equipment at 8 years old, driving a steamroller for his dad.
By Thursday afternoon, he was driving his GMC Denali pickup. He headed out to inspect the work his guys were doing in the East Shore.
Laydon stopped first at the snow dumping-ground (pictured) off of Woodward Avenue, one of three in the city. A public works staffer stood guard at the entrance; private companies had been dropping off snow without permission.
In a parking lot behind a baseball field in East Shore Park, a steady stream of tri-axle trucks was depositing loads of snow, more than 18 cubic yards each. “They just keep rolling in,” Laydon said. The snow piles were 20 feet high, and climbing.
Using an iPad connected to a GPS tracking system, Laydon saw that he had a crew working nearby at the corner of Kneeland Road and Hervey Street: Two payloaders and a backhoe were scooping up snow and depositing it into trucks.
“They’re doing a good job,” said neighbor Bob Trotta, who was out walking his neighbor’s Rhodesian Ridgeback, Koby. He took pictures of the action with his iPhone to send to friends and family in snowless states like Georgia and Florida.
Laydon pointed out the chains on the back of one of the payloaders. They’re normally only put on temporarily for towing, but the payloaders have had to pull out so many stranded police cars, fire trucks, and ambulances that the operators just leave them on now, Laydon said. He said he pulled out 10 police cars himself over the weekend.
Driver Dominic Coppola (pictured) was on the tail end of his 12-hour shift driving a CAT 980 payloader. He said he lives “in the woods” on the border of East Haven and North Branford, on a road that wasn’t plowed for days. He had to leave his truck on a nearby road and walk three-quarters of a mile through the snow to get home each night, he said.
“I have to apologize; I’m a little tired,” Coppola said. He said it’s exhausting work running the massive payloader in a tight urban environment. You have to watch for wires, for parked cars, and sometimes for Yale students who dart out in front of you, he said.
Equipment operators earn in the mid-$30 per hour range during regular hours, Laydon said. Truck drivers earn in the upper $20-per-hour range. His staff and subcontractors are making good money on overtime, but “they’re definitely tired,” Laydon said. They don’t stop for more than 30 minutes during a 12-hour shift, he said.
Laydon said he hopes to move to two eight-hour shifts starting Monday: “You can’t push them forever.”
At 6 p.m., Laydon headed back to headquarters for the shift change. His wife had organized a dinner of sandwiches to reward the staff and subcontractors for their long hours.
Paul Matos, a 52-year-old equipment operator, was getting ready to start the overnight shift. He said he put in 22 and a half hours last Friday. The long hours are starting to take a toll, he said.
Outside the garage, a fuel truck from Santa energy was topping off trucks and payloaders. Coppola pulled up in his CAT 980, finally done with his 12-hour shift. It was a good day, he said. No accidents, and “a lot of snow moved.”