Evanston native’s drive “to do more” inspires job as city plow operator

Marshall Cohen

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Elliott Hall grew up on the southwest side of Evanston in the 1970s, where he admired the “friendly folks” who cleared the roads after winter storms.

“The guys who plowed the streets were good friends with my parents,” Hall said. “When I was young, I always thought it would be nice to get in there and do what they did.”

Four decades later, he is exactly where he wanted to end up.

Hall, 43, is an equipment operator who plows the roads into and out of Evanston during major snow events, including the Friday storm that dumped 5 to 6 inches in the area.

On his designated route, Hall also travels by the Northwestern campus along Sheridan Road and plows around downtown Evanston. He is called up to clear the roads whenever there is a snow event in the city and often works from 4 a.m. to noon.

“It’s fun – I’m like a kid again,” he said. “It doesn’t seem like work when you’re out here since you have access to the street in the middle of the night.”

Hall has plowed Evanston’s roads for 10 years, but he started working for the city’s Public Works Department as a street sweeper in 1997. He later collected garbage and recycling and never abandoned his goal of being part of the snow cleanup crew.

“Sanitation became too one-dimensional as I got older,” Hall said.

After working public works jobs over the years, Hall noticed a “close-knit” group developing – even a few of his childhood friends currently work in the department.

The familiarity of the snow cleanup crew was most visible when the older, more experienced equipment operators mentored the new employees, he said.

“The guys who retired earlier on were great teachers,” Hall said. “They knew every aspect of the job and they were very, very solid. They knew everything about the city.”

Elaborate training, preparation and coordination are critical for a successful snow cleanup. Public works crews are regularly the first on the scene during major snow events, according to Jim Maiworm, the city’s superintendent of streets and sanitation.

“Public works professionals probably have an equal amount of risk in some aspects as police and firefighters,” Maiworm said. “There are many, many times where public works employees are in fact the first responders.”

Clearing city streets can be dangerous for both snow removal professionals and pedestrians. Before Friday’s storm arrived in Chicago, it slammed the Pacific Northwest and eventually rolled through Billings, Mont., where three separate accidents involving cars and snow plows injured several residents. A city-owned snow removal truck in Chicago struck and killed a 44-year-old pedestrian in the midst of the record-breaking blizzard last February.

Maiworm said he faced challenges during that massive storm. At that time, he was still working as the director of public works in Hawthorn Woods, Ill.

“We were the ones leading the way for the police and fire response,” Maiworm said. “They just don’t have the equipment to clear the roads.”

He recalled a time in Hawthorn Woods when his public works crew needed to drive in front of an ambulance during a blizzard, paving the way to the hospital.

Hall said his wife and two young children do not worry much about his safety. Rather, they are excited to see him behind the wheel of the city’s snow plows.

“Sometimes I’ll call my wife and ask her to meet me in a certain area with the kids,” Hall said. “They’ll see me whiz by a few times and wave. They love it.”

Regardless of the risks and early hours, Hall said his sincere love for Evanston and his desire “to do more” make his line of work a lot easier.

“Evanston was so close-knit growing up, and I always wanted to give something back,” he said. “There is nothing that I wouldn’t do for this city.”