NAMPA — When Idaho was hit last year with the snowiest winter in decades, Doug Eakin sometimes worked around the clock to make sure Nampa roads were as clear as possible.
Eakin has worked in the Nampa Streets Division for the past eight years, following 25 years as an equipment operator in the military.
Operating large equipment is second nature to Eakin, and he loves it. He was 7 years old when his father first put him behind the wheel of a tractor on his grandparents' farm and had him move hay bales.
"I can't even imagine putting a 7-year-old on a tractor now," Eakin said.
Eakin starts every day at around 5 a.m. He lives in Caldwell, so he has to wake up early to make it to Nampa by 7 a.m., when his shift begins. Typically, his shift runs from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, but his hours can change if the need arises.
During last year's harsh winter, Eakin raked in roughly 110 hours of overtime clearing snow off the roads. In one especially snowy two-week period, he and other staff traded 12-hour shifts every day until the snow stopped.
Eakin's job can be unpredictable in the winter, because it really does depend on the random snowfall pattern.
"If it just drops and then quits, then you can take care of it," Eakin said. "But if it continues to snow, you have to just keep hitting it until it quits."
Nampa has four snow plows and one grater to handle snowfall on the city's roads. A grater is able to apply more downward pressure, so it can pick up heavier material, and Eakin is one of the only people in the department who can drive one.
Eakin's boss, street Superintendent Don Barr, called Eakin a "jack of all trades" and said he was pretty much the only person he could rely on to operate any piece of machinery.
"He's going to give you what you're asking for," Barr said.
Last winter, when the city sent snow plows and graters into residential areas, Eakin said he remembered taking his grater through a cul-de-sac, with one resident watching in awe as he expertly piled the snow into the center of the circular pavement to forge a path for the residents' cars.
"He's like, 'Man, you are an artist with that thing,'" Eakin said.
When he's not clearing snow off the roads, Eakin tends to the other needs of Nampa's streets. This could include everything from chip sealing to training other staff to operate the heavy equipment he has mastered.
The city owns a large dirt lot in south Nampa along Lake Lowell Avenue. It is used as a place to dump fallen leaves but also operates as a training ground where the streets division can train staff to use graters, bulldozers, backhoes and other equipment, Barr said.
Eakin stands beside the vehicles, walking slowly alongside the employees to monitor their progress as they move heavy material out of the way or slowly transform a bumpy soil path into a smooth dirt road. To him, the work is as easy as breathing, but he said it's harder for first-timers. Some employees comment that the vehicles need an air conditioner, because the pressure gets them sweating.
On the grater, Eakin has new drivers go back and forth along a straight path until it gets to a point where most standard vehicles could drive on it. Even when Eakin is behind the wheel, it takes several passes to get there. Once the employee has driving in a straight line down, they move on to more difficult formations, like a figure eight, to practice for sharp corners, twisting roads and cul-de-sacs.
At the end of the day, Eakin takes pride in what he does. He said when he and his wife take drives through Nampa, he gets a strong sense of satisfaction when he can show off the roads he helped restore.
"When you get that road done, it just looks awesome," Eakin said. "It's so nice. It really helps improve the look of the city and adds life to the road."