NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

January 9, 2013

Recalling the days of snowshoveling in Port

As I See It
Robert 'Boots' Chouinard

---- — When older folks hear of a coming snowstorm, they begin to fret. They worry about what kind of problems it could cause. Mostly the concern is about the slippery conditions, fear of falling as well as fear of driving accidents.

Unlike the aged, youngsters look forward to a good snowstorm with glee! They see the fun they will have in it. When I was a kid, it was a great time to get out onto a hill for some sledding.

As one grows up, a snowstorm brings a different kind of interest, an opportunity to earn money. During the Depression, money was tight, seldom having any in your pocket. Should you ask your dad for money for a movie, he’d say, “Forget it, go outside and play, it’s better for you.” At least that was my experience.

After a snowstorm, we neighborhood kids would take care of the snow around the walkways at our houses. When we finished, we’d throw the shovel over our shoulders and walk down the street. In those days there weren’t many cars on the road. It was a common sight seeing boys walking out onto the street with their shovels. You’d go all around the neighborhood knocking on doors to see if anyone wanted to be shoveled out. When you got an approval, you would not ask about payment. However, if the chance came your way, you’d probably suggest 50 cents an hour. Most times you would shovel them out and let them know when you had finished. Some were fair, some not. In the future you would simply avoid the unfair households.

In my high school years there were bigger jobs available: the state barn that was located under the overpass that crossed Merrimac Street. It was rather a large area where they housed some equipment. I’d get hired sometimes to shovel off the sidewalk on the old (Gillis) bridge that went over the river. Local people must remember the former old steel structure with iron girders and the metal floor. You’d have to hold the steering wheel tightly while driving over it. The walkway ran along one side of the bridge. Throwing snow up and over the railing proved to be a tough workout; being young, I did not mind.

When completing that job I’d go to the freight yards up by the mall. They had rail switches to clean out, to keep them from freezing. It wasn’t a big job but paid well. I remember later in life looking to see if I had any Social Security credit from the railroad. I was quite impressed that they had a record of me.

One big job that was available to older high school kids was shoveling for the city of Newburyport. In those days they didn’t own big equipment to handle the snow. All the work had to be done during the evening hours when cars were not on the road downtown. Guys looking for work would show up at the city barn about 6 p.m. There were so many fellows looking for work that it got quite crowded.

The boss would come into the room and point to chosen fellows and say, “Get in the truck.” It was such a pleasure if you were pointed out. You’d get on the back of that open truck with your shovel and head for downtown. We’d shovel off State Street first. The trucks would back up to the curb. The shovelers on both sides of the truck would begin throwing shovelful after shovelful into the truck. When the truck got full, it would pull out and another would pull in. That system continued from Market Square up through Pleasant Street. We would work all night until daybreak. Depending on the storm, it could take a couple of nights to complete the streets.

I don’t see kids today going around the neighborhoods with a shovel looking to earn money. I don’t wish for those days to return; however, as I get older, I certainly would welcome a young lad knocking on my door. Times have certainly changed!

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Robert “Boots” Chouinard lives in Salisbury.