During the late 90s, everybody and their mother was building subdivisions. I’m not going to lie… it was a pretty good deal for us. One of our customers was a large developer that put subdivisions in pretty much any farm field that wasn’t tied down. And, they were building neighborhoods so fast that we never knew when or where we’d be called to plow the next one.
The cities had it worked out so that the builder was in charge of clearing the streets in the subdivisions until the roads were finished, the utilities were in, and the units were ready to be occupied. The tax man wants his money.
One night, during a big storm, my boss (the owner) got a call asking us to go clear the mains in one of these not-yet-occupied subdivisions. The customer wanted their carpentry crews to be able to get in and work on some of the near-complete models in the morning.
My boss swore he had been there before, and hand-drew me a map of what the main roads looked like. Remember, this is before the internet was mobile, so we were working with a pen and some scrap paper. His map was basically a rectangle with round corners and a line going through the middle. He told me to “feel my way around” because the curbs were in and they would “guide my way.”
When I got there, I soon discovered that, yes, the curbs were in, but that was it. The roads hadn’t been plowed that season, there were no markers, the roads were a gravel/dirt mix, and every twenty yards or so, there was a manhole cover sticking out by four inches. Plus, it was dark, snowing, and there were no street lights.
I plowed a couple of passes around the outside perimeter with no problems and then went to find the inside edge. When I got to the point that was supposed to be the road running through the middle of the neighborhood, I let the curb "guide my way” around a right-hand turn.
This road seemed a bit rougher than before. There weren’t any manhole covers, and I couldn’t feel the curb with the plow after about 30 yards, or so. But, I kept pushing forward knowing that the road had to be down there, somewhere. I just figured it was still pretty undeveloped and plowed a few passes — wide enough to get a couple of work trucks through it.
I finished up and went on to the next account.
The next morning, we got a call from the angry builder asking if we were blind. It turns out the curb that I followed was actually a driveway — not the middle road — and I had just missed driving through an open foundation by about eight inches. The path I plowed was about 20 feet away from the actual road, and I also just missed plowing right through a utility box.
In the end, nobody got hurt, there was no property damage, and their carpenters got to where they needed to go, just fine.
Plus, I learned a valuable tip: sometimes curbs lie.