HALFMOON, N.Y. — After years of getting up long before dawn in the middle of heavy snowstorms and natural disasters to supervise the clearing of the town’s roadways, Highway Superintendent John Pingelski has retired.
After 32 years with the town Highway Department, his last day was Monday.
Too young to retire to the trout stream or the golf course, Pingelski said he’s leaving town employment to take a position in the private sector.
At the Oct. 21 Town Board meeting, board members along with Supervisor Kevin Tollisen accepted Pingelski’s resignation with appreciation for his years of serving the town and wished him well.
Moments later the board approved the appointment of William B. Bryans Jr. as acting superintendent of highways and Michael Hickok as deputy superintendent of highways. An elected position, the superintendent of highways’ salary is $89,898.
It was in the Highway Department where Pingelski, a native of the town, began working on Nov. 14, 1988. He started as a laborer, was promoted to MEO (mechanical equipment operator), foreman, and eventually highway superintendent for the last 13 years.
“I’ve been with the Highway Department the whole time. When I first came here all I did for the first few years was haul dirt to the landfill where we used to bury garbage,” he said earlier this week. “Now we have a transfer station and the stuff is shipped out.”
Asked about all the changes he’d seen in the Highway Department Pingelski said the equipment is much more computerized than when he started and much more environmentally friendly. Though there has always been a lot of motorized equipment in the department he couldn’t recall anything that completely eliminated the use of any hand tools.
“There are still picks and shovels,” he said.
In discussing some of the work done by the highway crew in the winter Pingelski said one of the biggest changes was in 1995 when the department switched from two-man trucks to one-man trucks.
“I was one of the first to go from the two-man trucks to the one-man truck and now everybody is,” he said.
With the residential growth in town coupled with the increase in more road miles and the switch to one-man trucks, Pingelski said the number of trucks used for plowing snow had definitely increased as has the number of employees in the department.
Asked to recall the most difficult time in his 32 years Pingelski didn’t hesitate a moment before describing a two-vehicle fatal accident 17 years ago this past Tuesday. The accident took the life of a 17-year-old Shen student from Halfmoon and injured five others. He, along with many members of the Highway Department helped get everyone out of the vehicles.
“That’s one of the worst things that happened in my 32 years,” he said. “I remember the date because it was on my birthday. It happened right out in front of the Highway garage. There was a bunch of us here and we all ran out to do what we could do.”
Asked to recall the best thing, Pingelski said it was every day for him as he tried to assist the residents of the town as best he could while answering or responding to every phone call himself.
“I never passed it off,” he said. “I got back to anyone who called. That’s just the way I did things.”
Discussing other changes he’s seen in his 32 years Pingelski laughed and said the public has certainly changed refusing to say any more while chuckling to himself.
“Thirty-two years is a long time to be someplace and I’m sure I’ll certainly miss it,” he said. “I always tried to do the best I could do. I really enjoy helping and dealing with the residents. I tried to treat each day like it was Election Day.”
Looking back on his time with the town he said it was a good 32 years, one that allowed him to raise a family despite the odd hours.
“Winters are tough for sure,” he said. “My wife and I have two girls and it’s difficult when you never know if you’ll be there on Christmas Day. But I have no complaints.”
Looking back on his 13 years as Highway Superintendent he gave credit to the department’s crew saying they made his work easier.
“It helps when you have a good crew like this one where everyone was always eager to do what they did,” he said.
Pingelski noted that during his time as a town employee in the Highway Department he served under six supervisors.