Get a Front-Row Seat to a Snow Plow Ride-Along in Marathon County

Written by Katie Rosenberg


Across the street from the Marathon County Highway Department, I sat with my car idling trying to figure out how to get through — or over! — the ever-growing snowbank now blocking the entrance to the parking lot. I’d made it through the worst of it already, creeping along at a pokey 15 miles an hour, slipping and sliding en route to my first snow plow ride-along. I decided to really give ’er, figuring if I needed help pushing my car out of a snowbank, I was in the right place.

Like a stuntwoman from The Fast & the Furious, I busted through the snow pile, fishtailing perfectly into Marathon Highway Commissioner Jim Griesbach’s parking spot in front of the building. I figured since he set up my snow plow ride-along for an early Saturday morning, he wouldn’t mind if I parked in his spot.

Snow had been coming down since Friday, but the really serious stuff fell overnight — blanketing central Wisconsin in a cumbersome foot of heavy, wet snow.

A crackly voice over the radio echoed into the hallway just as I walked inside. As I neared the office, I saw a man holding a walkie talkie, a phone, and another phone, and there was a mobile ringing off the hook…

“You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t! Yeah, this is 16, have you been scraping or…?”

He looked up at me as I stood at the doorway of his office, clearly out of place.

“Yeah, I’ve got Clark County on the horn and they’re doing the same thing.”

Operations Superintendent Dan Raczkowski soon hung up and shook my hand. After brief introductions and several more intermittent radio calls, he directed me to the garage to see  Kody Carr, a plow driver. Kody had stopped in for some quick maintenance on his truck, after being out working since 4:30 am. One of the joints on his wing (what I’d call the actual plow part of the truck) was freezing up.

As we headed outside, I realized I’ve never been in close contact with a snow plow truck before. When I got to the passenger side, the door was about a foot above my head! There were some steps leading to the cab on my side, but as a person of shorter stature, even the first step started at my ribcage.


I hoisted myself up and found the inside of the truck to be surprisingly cozy. Kody was already in the driver’s seat, pressing buttons on the computer pad in the center console. Someone from the garage crew came out to look at the wing and sprayed it with an industrial-grade grease. Kody moved the wing up and down, gave a quick thumbs-up, and we were on our way.

At the very first intersection, a car traveling perpendicular to us went careening through the intersection, running a red light. It was the first of a handful of red-light-runners we saw during my 3-hour tour. {Yes, a 3-hour tour… Anyone else got the Gilligan’s Island theme song in your head now?}

“People are in too much of a hurry. They should respect the plows,” Kody said as we continued on our way. “A lot of people don’t give us enough room to operate.”

This winter is his sixth as a plow driver for Marathon County, and in that time, he’s been hit twice. He said some conditions are more difficult than others.

“When it’s a whiteout, it’s tough. Ice storms aren’t fun either.”

The first county road we hit was R. As Kody dropped his wing to the road, a torrent of snow WHOOSHED from the road into the ditch.


The ride was much bumpier than I had anticipated.

“You aren’t sitting in an air ride seat,” Kody noted, pointing at his seat.

The driver’s seat on a plow has a suspension system that keeps drivers more comfortable during their up to 16-hour shifts. Even with those special seats, the ride can still be tough on the body. I suggested that he and the other drivers might benefit from yoga. He laughed politely, but said he does know of some helpful stretches for plow drivers and truckers.

As we finished plowing County Road R, I asked if he had a favorite route to plow.

“County Highway NN,” he said without hesitation. “Eight miles of paved shoulders; you just drop your wing and go.”

As if on cue, we turned on to Double N. The houses stretched farther and farther apart as we ambled down the road, seeing residents working on blowing out their driveways.

“We try our hardest to keep them standing,” Kody said pointing at an already-downed mailbox. “And garbage day is the worst day to plow.”

As we passed a man working at the end of his driveway, we slowed down, trying hard not to cement his just-cleared driveway closed again with packed snow from the road. The man gave us a thankful wave.

As we neared Marathon City, he pointed out the local points of interest.

“If I’m plowing during the school day, all the little kids run up to the fence and wave,” Kody said as we passed MAES (Marathon Area Elementary School). “It’s always nice making a little kid’s day.”

Kody is a Marathon City native, and he takes great pride in working to make his community safe.

“Expectations have changed,” he said. “People are more mobile and — for better or worse — they expect to be able to get out on the road, even in conditions like this.”

After 2 ½ hours, we were finally back to County Road R. While we scraped our way back to the Highway Department, I asked Kody what his favorite part of the job is.

“Seeing what you’ve accomplished is one of the fun parts. Not seeing anyone in the ditch is a good thing, too. You take pride in your section of the road.

Kody dropped me off at noon and headed back out again. He had 6 more hours to go on his assigned 68-mile section of plowing our county roads…

Katie Rosenberg - County Board Supervisor District No. 1Katie Rosenberg

Marathon County Board Supervisor |  District 1

Katie Rosenberg is a Marathon County Board Supervisor representing District 1. She is passionate about engaging the community and is active on social media and in organizing neighborhood constituent meetings with her Wausau City Council counterpart, Alderman Pat Peckham. In her free time, you can find Katie enjoying the outdoors with her husband on bike, on roller skates, and in trail shoes. She also enjoys attending all manner of political events, traveling the world, and cooking up a mean vegetarian soup.  Email Katie Rosenberg  

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