Warm weather brings potholes

Published 7:11 pm Friday, March 18, 2005

By By RANDI K. PICKLEY / Niles Daily Star
Winter just can't seem to make up its mind. It comes and goes this time of year with unpredictable regularity. The constant change in temperature and precipitation is hard on those who are longing for spring, but even harder on the roads and the vehicles that drive on them.
Road crews begin their rounds about now to fill potholes and cracks that come in all sizes and shapes.
Delbert Cooper, foreman of the City of Niles road crew was working on potholes in front of the Silverbrook Cemetery on Thursday. He said, in regard to the pavements, "This freezing, then thawing is rough on them. Every spring it's about the same, lots of repairs on the roads."
Cooper ought to know. He's been doing this job for 35 years. He explained, "When the weather warms, we get numerous potholes. You can go back the next week and find new holes next to the old holes." Roads, especially those paved with asphalt, require a lot more maintenance because of the water that seeps in under the pavement, according to Cooper.
"Warm weather causes thaws and then water gets into the cracks in the paving material. It just pops up the asphalt," he said.
Ray Scott, of Niles, is a utility man who works on Cooper's road crew. He added, "Cars and trucks drive over those spots and chip away the broken asphalt."
Scott has been on the crew for three years and enjoys the job. "I came from a welding factory that had lots of welding smoke," he said. "Working on the road crew is much better than being stuck inside."
Scott added that he liked being outside, even in inclement weather. As for cold days, he said, "We dress for it. You get used to it after a while."
When discussing pavements, Cooper says there is a big difference between asphalt and concrete. "Cement is harder. Blacktop is softer than cement but doesn't cost as much," he said. And most of the roads are paved with asphalt, which doesn't hold up as well in fickle weather.
The Silverbrook Cemetery has weather-related problems, too. Although the asphalt roads that wind through the cemetery are maintained by the City of Niles, grave markers are often affected by the weather as much as the roads. The weather doesn't affect the grave markers themselves, however, but the foundations on which they rest.
Ruth Ann Small, superintendent of the cemetery for the past five years and the first woman in Niles to hold that position, explains the difficulties in keeping markers upright. "With the snow melting, many people are anxious for us to put the foundations in so they can put up the markers, but we can't do that yet," she said. "The frost line is still two inches thick. I can't break the ground with a shovel," Small explained. She has to dig the foundation area by hand with a shovel since the marker size usually isn't that large.
According to Small, there is a thin layer of soil just beneath the surface of the ground which, when frozen, is like rock. Once you get past that layer, digging isn't so difficult. But two inches of frost line and shovels just don't mix, so Small must wait for warmer weather.
Small says it's part of her job to dig the foundations for the grave stones. She also mixes and pours the cement for the foundations. Once the cement is set, the grave marker can be put in place.
But the weather can wreak havoc on the foundations because the ground expands and contracts each time it freezes or thaws, and that can cause the foundations to shift and make the marker lop-sided.
The weather also makes Small's job of finding the grave site more difficult.
But when it snows, she said, "You have to clear away the snow to see anything."
Preparing a site for burial is not as dependent on good weather, however. "I use a backhoe to loosen the soil before the grave is dug," she said. The frost line isn't a problem for the backhoe.
She not only prepares the foundations for the markers but also prepares the burial site.
According to Small, she does a lot of the burial and maintenance work herself, even to lowering the casket into the ground after the funeral service is over. Small operates the equipment and machines and does most of the funeral preparations.
Cemetery visitors can also be inconvenienced by the weather. Locating a grave site can be difficult when the snow builds up. And sometimes reaching the grave can be tricky if the ground is mushy from a recent thaw or there are slippery patches of ice.
This is particularly true for elderly visitors to the cemetery. Ed Radewald of Niles was at his parent's grave on Thursday to remove a Christmas wreath from the site before the April 1 deadline.
But with a cane needed for balance and a combination of soft, wet ground mixed with patches of ice, getting back to his truck was a bit tricky for Radewald.
Yet the spring thaw doesn't seem to stop most people from going about their business.
The road crews continue to patch the roads, the funerals proceed on time, and the visitors still come to remember their loved ones.
Even though Small has these elements of nature to deal with in her job, she added, "I enjoy it. The cemetery is a nice, quiet place to come."