By Robert Lucke
Some folks say that spring has come when the robins return. Others claim that it is blue birds who are the true harbingers of spring. Not so in Havre. In Havre, when Darvin Nessland gets behind the wheel of his street sweeper and begins to sweep the tons and tons of winter sand off the streets, that is when spring officially begins in this part of the world.
Riding the streets of that sand which has been such a God send all winter is a trial this time of year. Particularly on the hills.
"Maybe the worst of all is the 12th Avenue hill," said Nessland with a smile. "And then the Pike Street hill is short but bad because they put lots of sand on it."
First to get cleaned of the Havre hills each spring is the hospital hill, because it has such a large volume of sand on it.
There is no set time for spring to start around Havre, but it can be early.
"Sometimes I can do a little in January or February if it is not freezing," added Nessland. "Then there will be more snow and you have a start all over again."
That happened this year. There was an early thaw and lots of time to get sand off the streets but then another snow and freezing conditions so city streets were worse than ever and it is now starting all over time with the sweeper.
Even if everything goes right and there are no late snow, sweeping is a never ending job.
"Right now we are sweeping every street in town from curb to curb. We do that after every winter," said Nessland. "We try to use two sweepers but working in the sand and dirt one is usually broken down most of the time so that first cleaning will take from a month to a month and a half."
And while the city streets are getting cleaned, the operators of the sweepers are not.
"With the old sweeper you have to have your head out of the window to see, "related Nessland. "The new one is supposed to be airtight but it isn't but at least in that one we don't have to wear masks like in the old one. And when operating the old one, it tries to stay behind the other so the driver does not get so much dirt and dust. It sweeps real good for as old as it is, but it is sure not much fun to run."
Year after year, it is the same sand put on city streets.
"We bring the sand up to the city shop that we sweep and then screen it to get all the leaves and trash out of it and then we will use it again," said Nessland.
And the only thing that makes the sweeper job really done is the advent of snow next fall on Havre streets.
"When the winter sweeping is over, then you just start all over," said Nessland. "Every day every week all summer, I just keep sweeping but I don't have to do like now and go curb to curb, I can make a couple of passes. And every Friday morning or Thursday too, if there is lots of dirt, we start at 4:00 a.m. and do the downtown area. We try to be finished there by 7:30 a.m. when the traffic gets there."
But for now, there is no thinking about summer winds and dust. It is still working on winter and wondering what winter will leave yet this season.
"Right now we have about three quarters of the hills done but are a good month away from being finished. And after that it will take a month to a month and a half each time we go through the whole town," and Nessland. "And you know Havre and the wind. It blows all the dirt back in."
Grass is green. Tulips are up and Nessland's winter job is getting done. But not really. Like he says, the wind takes care of that.