- Bear Cieri
- Paul Goodrich
The snow is flying — and so are we, the saviors of the streets! Our snowplow is formidable: a 50,000-pound vehicle girded with two mammoth plow blades and hydraulics to control them and carrying a ton of salt in the truck bed. Paul Goodrich, 74, in shirtsleeves and a white hard hat, nimbly threads the red bruiser through serpentine developments, then guns it on the town's straightaway streets, the twin curved blades hurling huge, concave waves of snow curbside.
In February, one of those white tsunamis obliterated my mailbox, providing my introduction to Shelburne highway superintendent Goodrich, 55 years on the job and counting. This wasn't a meet-cute from the rom-com playbook, but it certainly sparked my interest in a rare species of public servant: Shelburne's king of the road.
In March, I was riding shotgun in Goodrich's plow, transfixed by the sight of an 11-foot-long, 2,400-pound blade scraping the road bare like a nerveless barber wielding a straight razor. Carbide "shoes" lift the blade edge to prevent gouging the pavement. The main roads are swiftly cleared, but the narrow, twisty development streets are a time suck, requiring much backing up and tight turning.
Despite the speed, the turns, and the occasional slip and slide, I was sitting high in the cab feeling safe as houses, as the Brits say.
Of course, that was before I knew that my driver had died 16 years earlier.
Being dead didn't suit the stubborn Goodrich, so the grim reaper took a rain check — more on that in a bit.
Our talk veered to Pond Road, the last remaining dirt-and-gravel street in Shelburne's nearly 60 miles of roadway. Goodrich and successive town managers have pushed for years to get it paved — it's tough to plow.
In the early 1980s, his plow's front blade caught in soft dirt on that road. The truck kept moving, however, until all four wheels were off the ground and the damn thing did a handstand, with Goodrich 15 feet in the air.
"I jumped down," he explained. Next month he's scheduled for a knee replacement.
"I wish there was a Hall of Fame for municipal workers so Paul Goodrich could be in it," said former Shelburne town manager Bert Moffatt. All of the town officials and colleagues I interviewed praised Goodrich for his diligence and willingness to work many extra hours without putting in for overtime — and for how strictly he controls the Shelburne Highway Department budget.
Over the years, Goodrich has been particularly popular among working parents of school-age children. Why? "Because we never had a friggin' snow day," said Bryan, second of Goodrich's three sons.
Driving an industrial-size plow is not without risk. On Christmas night 2021, Goodrich was clearing hilly Barstow Road when the truck slid and kept sliding until it went ass over teakettle into the brush. Goodrich was trapped in the cab, eventually extricated by the Shelburne Volunteer Fire Department. Deputy fire chief John Goodrich texted his mother a photo of his father next to the prone plow as proof of life. It was his first rollover, and no one even thought of suggesting to Goodrich that walking away from the job while he was still able might be wise.
"I expect to move him from the plow to a hearse," said Mike Murray, regional sales manager for plow parts manufacturer Viking-Cives in Williston. "I don't know a lot of people in their job that love it as much as he does."
Vendors Goodrich has done business with over the past half century are among his biggest fans. Dissatisfied with the town's plans to mark Goodrich's 50th work anniversary in 2017, Lynn Wilder, president of Able to Supply in White River Junction, contacted Gov. Phil Scott's office.
"They flew a flag over the Statehouse in his honor and presented him with it," she said.
"We do business with hundreds of municipalities in Vermont and upstate New York, and no one maintains their trucks as well as Paul," said Russ Clark, sales manager at Clark's Truck Center in Cambridge. "When he trades in an older truck to get a new one, folks are lining up to buy Shelburne's trucks."
- Bear Cieri
- Paul Goodrich plowing
Goodrich likes the winters — he's always first of the three- or four-person crew out plowing the road — but he's a man for all seasons. When the weather is fair and the roads are dry, Goodrich drives each day to a different point in town, parks, and walks a mile or two down the road. He carries a shovel, inspecting the pavement, marking frost heaves and potholes for the repair crew. He said that drivers passing the familiar figure in the inevitable white hard hat love to tease: "Need a lift back to the truck, Paul?"
By summer's end, Goodrich has walked the town. If you see a pothole two days running, the joke goes, someone must have dragged it over from Charlotte or Hinesburg.
Born and raised in Shelburne, Goodrich started working summers for the highway department as a teenager. On June 1, 1967, he became a full-time employee, but his new career was interrupted in 1968 by a draft notice from the U.S. Army, which shipped him off to Vietnam for nearly 16 months.
When he returned to Shelburne, Goodrich married Linda, his high school sweetheart, who was working for the telephone company. All three of his sons were born during December snowstorms.
"I took her to the hospital, and after she kicked the boys out I went back to plowing," Goodrich said.
Linda knew her man when they married.
"He's just a unique person," she said during a chat in the living room of the modest house off Route 7 where they've lived their lives together.
Many days he still rises before 4 a.m. to make the three-minute drive to highway department headquarters on Turtle Lane. Although Goodrich passes the Shelburne Community School on his commute, Linda said her husband would drive home in his department truck and swap it for his own car to pick up the kids from school.
Goodrich turns 75 on July 12, one month after he marks 55 years working in the highway department. During his tenure, Shelburne's population has grown from fewer than 2,000 to 7,700, and the town's 15 miles of highway have nearly quadrupled. New housing developments like the one rising near the Kwiniaska Golf Club can take an hour or more to plow.
"I don't have any hobbies," Goodrich observed.
One day in February 2006, Goodrich abruptly stopped plowing and returned home, saying he didn't feel well. This was highly unusual for her husband, so Linda, who had worked on the town rescue squad after retiring from the telephone company, alerted their son John, who lived a short distance away.
"He was white as a sheet when I got there," John recalled, "so I told my mom to call an ambulance. My father objected. I said, 'Tough shit.'"
Four miles from the University of Vermont Medical Center, Goodrich went into full cardiac arrest and his heart stopped. John, who was riding along, said he and the EMT crew did a few chest compressions and shocked his dad with the defibrillator. After being clinically dead for about two minutes, Goodrich regained a pulse. At the hospital, surgeons installed two stents. Not long after they transferred him to the intensive care unit, Goodrich asked for a phone.
"He was ordering salt for the town from the ICU!" Linda said.
Goodrich was back at work a month later.
"I tell people I had a heart attack and they put the jumper cables on to start me back up — and 30 days later I'm back in the friggin' hole," he said, referring to a catchment basin being built to collect road runoff.
The episode changed Goodrich. He cops to having mellowed, though, "I still think my way is the right way to do things," he said, "and nobody can tell me otherwise."
He's more willing to take time off, particularly to visit his grandkids. He went on a Caribbean cruise even though, as Linda said, "He's petrified of water."
Relaxation for Goodrich includes operating heavy machinery. "When he visits us in Fort Wayne, [Ind.,] I have to rent a mini-excavator so he can work around my property," his son Scott said. "He even taught his granddaughters how to run it."
When they were growing up, his father "always stressed [that] it's not what you do, it's how you do it — and how what you do is perceived by others," Scott recalled. "His mindset does not fit with modern society."
When my mailbox went down and I called Goodrich, I had no knowledge of the man to whom I was speaking. He was understanding and agreed to replace my flimsy plastic post with a sturdy wooden one when it got warmer. Apparently, there are a dozen or so mailbox murders every winter, but until the early 1990s Shelburne's policy was not to repair or replace such plow victims.
"You are lucky," former town manager Moffatt said, laughing. During his six-year tenure, a town plow knocked down a mailbox belonging to the late governor Richard Snelling, who lived out on Shelburne Point. "Snelling came into my office the next morning, laid the box on my desk and demanded it be restored by the end of the day," Moffatt recalled. "So I called Paul in and told him to get it done.
"Paul said, 'I don't care if it was a governor or not. We don't put mailboxes back up,'" Moffatt continued. "He was standing by our policy, when I was giving in to the politics of the thing."
However, Moffatt admitted, Snelling's mailbox was eventually restored: "I paid for it out of my own pocket."