Milky Way Driver Mike Jalomo calls it the winter that never ends. Another driver said, "I’ve thrown on more jewelry (truck chains) in the last month than most people put on in a lifetime."
Winter is never an easy season for the transportation industry, but some years are more challenging than others. "It feels like Mother Nature hasn’t backed down this year," says Kevin Greiner, Central Milk Dispatcher in Lynden, WA. From freezing rain and mountain pass closures to high winds and towering snow drifts, it’s been a tough few months for Lynden employees.
"We have seen close to 24 inches of snow at one time in Whatcom county this year but when the Northeast wind out of Canada blows 50-60 mph for a week straight, 2 inches of snow can drift up to 8 feet really quickly. At that point the county essentially shuts down," Kevin explains. "The only way we are able to get around is to put our own snowplow to work to open roads up."
To prepare for winter each year, LTI, Inc. incorporates winter driving awareness into monthly safety meetings starting in September. Everyone takes chain-up refresher classes – from brand new drivers with no mountain pass experience to 40-year veteran drivers. Coming to work prepared is heavily promoted in anticipation of the first snowfall.
"Mother Nature never sends us an email saying that a storm is headed our way," Kevin says. “We try to watch forecasts as much as possible but sometimes you go to bed and everything is normal only to wake up to the wind howling and the snow blowing sideways. Our LTI, Inc. team is made of professionals who understand that rain or shine, commodities still need to get there."
Driver safety is always a concern. If conditions warrant, two drivers will be sent out in one truck so the primary driver has a spotter and an extra set of hands. According to Kevin, "Our line of work is more than just getting in the truck and driving down the road. Local farm pickup drivers could be in and out of the truck 20 times during a shift so we really stress the importance of slowing down. Making smart decisions instead of knee jerk reactions when things get tough is what sets us apart from our competition."
Lynden is known for having some of the best drivers in the industry. "They are seasoned, know the local areas, and know exactly what to watch for when they are out in the field. We always tell new hires that this is a 24/7 company and the cows don’t care that it’s Christmas. As a company, we do a really good job of focusing on our critical customers and areas."
Mike Jalomo was stranded on the west side of Washington when both mountain passes closed. He laid over in Mount Vernon and went to work helping out Whatcom County drivers on their routes until he could make it back over to home base in Moses Lake. "I don’t think the average person realizes how much it takes to get the milk over the pass," he says. "We don’t have the luxury of sitting out a storm."
"Mike and so many others are all stars who have gone above and beyond this winter," Kevin says. "The LTI, Inc. office in Lynden, WA lost power in January for about six hours and several administrative employees were still here working. At the beginning of January, there was a record snowfall in Caldwell, ID and Jason Jansen and Bob Griggs both suited up in insulated coveralls and rode around with Milky Way’s Caldwell drivers helping chain up and navigate roads until 2 a.m."
"Our drivers and the team supporting them did the extraordinary, working safely through tough conditions and long hours to serve our customers," says Lynden CEO Jon Burdick. "I’m proud of their dedication and what they accomplished."