Archive for Tuesday, January 30, 2001


January 30, 2001


Make that a flannel sheet, goose-down comforter and bear-skin rug -- all at once.

"We want four foot, five foot," said Smith, owner of Dean's Trucking & Excavating, 747 N. Fifth St. "If we had even two foot we'd be in business."

He isn't kidding.

Smith's firm is among more than a dozen area contractors and small operations that cash in when ice, sleet and snow pile up on Lawrence roads, parking lots and driveways.

This weekend's precipitation -- which started Sunday morning with up to two inches of snow before giving way to sleet and freezing rain -- threatened to add to a winter that already is paying off for snow-clearing operators.

While the latest storm didn't deliver much business, the 11 inches of snow that fell last month gave contractors a solid head start.

"All of last winter we billed $3,000," said Frank Male, co-owner of Lawrence Landscape Inc., 600 Lincoln St. "This year, from one storm, we did $30,000."

The seven inches that fell Dec. 13 kept contractors busy for days.

Lawrence Landscape's dozen pieces of equipment all were in action back then, billing $100 an hour to clear private streets, apartment parking lots and driveways in industrial areas, including the Heinz pet foods plant north of the Kansas Turnpike.

Such businesses cannot afford to be hampered by slick passages, both for vehicles and pedestrians, Male said. Productivity, convenience, safety and liability issues all surface when the black pavement turns white.

And fast.

"It's like a commodity," Male said. "Twelve hours after the snow, nobody has any want or desire (for a snow-clearing service), because they've already got someone. If we have a heavy snow, you have to be done (clearing) in 10 to 12 hours. That's about as long as people can wait."

Lawrence Landscape has a couple hundred regular customers, Male said. Some need only a couple shovels to clear a walk; others require tractors or Bobcats fitted with plows on the front.

For treating private streets, the company runs a sand spreader out of a two-ton dump truck bought at auction from the Kansas Department of Transportation.

The bulk of Lawrence Landscape's business relies on planting trees, caring for lawns and installing retaining walls, Male said, but the plowing operations give employees something to do when the weather turns bad.

"If it's cold and snowing outside, you don't want to get out of bed and neither do I," Male said. "The only thing that keeps you going is that hopefully you'll make a dollar or two."

With about 30 clients in Lawrence, Smith is prepared to turn loose a fleet of 10 trucks, each big enough to handle nearly 20 tons of snow. Last month his trucks lined up downtown to haul away rows of snow that had been plowed aside by city crews.

It was a welcome sight, he said.

"It's a good business, if it snows," Smith said. "If it doesn't snow, it's no business."

-- Business editor Mark Fagan can be reached at 832-7188.

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