Farmers come to the rescue in aftermath of snowstorms

By Lynn R. Parks

Farmers who banded together to help plow Delaware's roads following last week's two snowstorms "undoubtedly saved lives," said Department of Transportation spokesman Jim Westhoff. "They prevented disasters," he added. "And most of all, their selfless activities showed all of us why we love Delaware so much." Many farmers across the state started plowing roads before they were even asked, Westhoff said. "They saw a need and saw that they had the resources to help and just went to work," he added. "For us at DelDOT, it was inspirational to see that kind of support." Westhoff was unable to say how many farmers throughout the state helped to plow roads. Among those Sussex farmers who took to the roads were brothers R.C. and J.C. Willin from near Seaford. Their farm has had a contract with the state to clear snow-covered roads since 1979. The Willins were called out by the state at 9 a.m. Sunday, Feb. 7, and ended their work a week later, at 5 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 14. They used two John Deere tractors, one 300 horsepower fitted with a 16-foot blade and the other 250 horsepower with a 14-foot blade. "Our tractors perform a service that trucks can't do," J.C. said. He and his brother not only cleared roads from the state line to U.S. 113, Greenwood to the Nanticoke River, they also pulled out vehicles, including state road trucks and in one instance a National Guard truck, that were stuck in the snow. "If it hadn't been for our two tractors, a lot of people still would not be out on the roads," J.C. said on Monday. "They are just a great asset," said Bill Tyndall, supervisor at the DelDOT station in Seaford. On Saturday, Feb. 6, before being called out by the state, the Willins helped clear some area roads for the Seaford Volunteer Fire Department. Chief Mark O'Bier believes that in at least two cases, their road plowing helped to save lives. "With their tractors, they are able to go in and clear out a path for us," O'Bier said. "That saves us a lot of precious moments when we are responding to an emergency." O'Bier said that when R.C. Willin was plowing Neal's School Road west of Seaford so that members of the fire company who live on that road could get into the fire hall, he and volunteers who were with him pulled out four cars that were stuck in the snow. In one of the cars were a teenager and a small child. "They had been out there for six hours," O'Bier said. "If we hadn't come upon them, they would have probably been there 24 or even 48 hours. That was maybe a life-saving moment there." Later that evening, the ambulance was called to a home on Boyce Road, also west of town. Access from Atlanta Road was impossible, O'Bier said; volunteers had to use Shufelt Road, previously plowed by R.C. Willin, to get to Boyce Road. The patient, who was taken to Nanticoke Memorial Hospital, had a bowel obstruction and needed emergency surgery.

"Had we not plowed that road, I don't know when we would have gotten that patient out," O'Bier said. "That was probably another life-saving event." On the other hand, when the ambulance was called to a residence on San Filippo Road east of Seaford, it took the crew two and a half hours to get the patient out. They were accompanied by a DelDOT truck and a National Guard truck, both of which got stuck several times. Even after the Willins were called to plowing duty by the state, they took time out to help the fire company, O'Bier said. "J.C. had a radio, so we were able to contact him directly. They would suspend their activities and come help us." Jay Baxter, a Georgetown-area farmer, along with farmers from Kruger Farms and Johnson Farms, also near Georgetown, plowed Delaware 24 from Millsboro to Route 1 and roads to Long Neck and Angola. With four pieces of equipment, they started plowing at 10 p.m. Wednesday and finished their route about 27 hours later, at 1 a.m. Friday. They went back to work at 8 a.m. Friday, plowing roads west of U.S. 113. They finished up at around 9:30 that evening. "We can do as good a job as the state's road plows," Baxter said. "We know our equipment and are very efficient at what we do." Baxter and Paul Kruger of Kruger Farms both said that they were happy to help out. "We saw that there was a need," Kruger said. Baxter also had equipment at the Georgetown Fire Hall to help clear its driveway. In Sussex County, 16 farmers responded to a call from the Emergency Operations Center to help clear roads ahead of fire engines and ambulances. "Emergency planners are in critical need of heavy-duty machinery, such as large tractors, that would lead the way for fire trucks, ambulances and EMS trying to respond to emergencies down snowdrift-covered roadways," center director Joseph Thomas said in a statement released at 9 p.m. Wednesday. DelDOT spokesman Westhoff said that in Kent County, a group of teen farmers responded to his call for help getting access to a radio station between Harrington and Milford. "Saturday night, I received a call from the studios of Eagle 97.7 and Cool 101.3 saying that they had been snowed in their studio since Friday," Westhoff said. The station is located on a side road, off Delaware 14. Westhoff checked with the DelDOT crews in that area and found out that the road was not going to be plowed for some time. He called the home of Lake Forest High School student J.T. Robbins, whom he knows through an area 4-H group, and asked Robbins if he could help. "Within minutes, J.T. led an armada of Felton farm boys to rescue the DJs," Westhoff said. "The three boys plowed about mile of road and the parking lot. The boys were put on the radio, and they each received an armful of gifts like shirts, hats and concert tickets." Westhoff added: "You've got to love those Felton farm boys."

News tips wanted
Call us with ideas for news and features. We're always looking for good stories to share with readers. Call Bryant Richardson at 629-9788.