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November 29, 2016 • Headline News
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Trucks and graders ready to cover 720 miles
County readies for old man winter

Mary Mattingly

Indiana’s state climatologists anticipate the state won’t see much extreme cold or precipitation this winter because of the Pacific Ocean’s weak La Niña system. Purdue University’s Dev Niyogi said he believes southern Indiana will likely stay within a below normal precipitation pattern, while northern and central Indiana could be wetter than normal. Local residents have been a bit spoiled by November’s unseasonably warm temperatures, but don’t doubt that winter is on its way. No one knows better than the staff at Ripley County Highway Department as to what Mother Nature can bring in the next few months. The department, with some 26 employees, is responsible for treating and plowing our county roads, making sure school buses, police squad cars, emergency personnel and the general public are safe to travel on the icy or snow covered roads.

Ripley County Highway Department stands readyMARY MATTINGLTY PHOTO
The Ripley County Highway Garage stands ready with a fleet of snow plows attached to their trucks to keep the roads clear for the residents of the county when the snow flies.

The county has 14 trucks — county trucks are painted red and state ones are yellow — plus three graders, one for each district to cover 720 miles. The county is divided into three districts for the highway department to manage with each covering about 140 miles. District one is Batesville, Morris and Penntown with foreman Steve Schnoegg. District 2 with foreman Bob DeBurger is north of US 50, and district 3, with foreman Ray Toops, is south of US 50. In anticipation of the winter, the highway department staff has made sure the trucks are ready to go. They’ve checked the truck chains, the blades, tires, and plows to make sure they are up to speed and ready for 16 hour days if necessary. Ray Toops, district 2 foreman, said they will probably make a practice run before Dec. 1. “We’re ready,” Owen Heaton, superintendent, said.

The first of December is usually when the cold comes in, but three years ago winter arrived the second week in October, and in 2014, in November. Heaton has been at the department for 24 years and said he thinks the worst winter was in the late ‘90s. Last year, we had a mild winter, according to the highway department. “Ice is the worst,” Heaton said. That’s because they often can’t keep up with the salt treatment to melt it. They have on order for 600 tons of salt from the state, but also have salt stored. It’s mixed with cinders, on a 1 to 4 salt / cinder ratio. The mountain of black cinders in the back of the highway department garage on Hasmer Hill is some 60 feet tall. And, the salt storage is bursting at the seams, full of the white stuff to treat the roads.

The county crews treat the main arteries first. There are a half a dozen main ones, such as Finks and Spades Roads. “I think Michigan Road has more traffic in the county than any other county road,” Ray Toops said. Secondary roads are treated next, and the dead end ones, last. A few trouble spots include Cave Hill Road in Versailles and where CR 350 and 200 S meet, commonly called “Five Points.” The S curve on US 50 near the state park is also a trouble spot, but that’s a state road. The highway office often fields calls in the winter from residents asking for priority for their roads, but they have a schedule with priority given to the main arteries.

The past several months, the department has been involved in 15 miles of chip and seal projects, and also have done patch work throughout the county.
The highway department has many employees on call seven days a week. The crew reminds motorists they can help by being considerate when the plow trucks are on the road. “Stay out of the way as best you can,” said Toops. “And slow down when you see the trucks.” He advised to stay at least 300 feet behind a truck.


Local Bulletin Board

Nov. 30: Public meeting for NMLRA
The National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association (NMLRA) will be hosting a public meeting Nov. 30 at 7 p.m. in the NMLRA Education Building. This meeting is to discuss upgrades to the Walter Cline Range in connection to a Pittman-Robertson Federal grant request.

Dec. 3: Santa’s coming to Versailles
Versailles residents and guests can come visit with Santa on the Square on Saturday, Dec. 3. Santa arrives at 10 a.m. and there will be free pictures taken with Santa in the Lions building and hot chocolate served. There will also be goodie bags for the kids. A Live Nativity scene will be sponsored by the South Ripley Ministerial Association. There will also be caroling by local school groups at 10:30 a.m. The programs are sponsored by the Main Street Versailles group.

Polar Plunge seeks sponsors

Special Olympics Indiana’s largest signature fundraising event, the Polar Plunge, has raised more than $3 million dollars since its inception in 2000.
The 18 Polar Plunges around the state feature 2,900 plungers braving the icy cold waters in Indiana, as they fundraiser to support athletes with intellectual disabilities. Over 5,000 spectators and volunteers watch as both individuals and teams in costumes jump in freezing water to participate in this incredible team-building, bucket-list challenge. Sponsorship opportunities for the Polar Plunge are available for companies that want to partner with Special Olympics Indiana. Contact Greg Townsend at 812-584-6861 or by email at, or visit to download a sponsorship form.

Jan. 7: First responder breakfast with legislator
Police, Fire, and EMS members please join State Representative Randy Frye for a breakfast to discuss public safety issues for the upcoming legislative session. The breakfast, sponsored by the Aurora Volunteer Fire Department, will be on Saturday, Jan. 7 beginning at 8 a.m.

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