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Wing man

People who live in Skaneateles earn their summer. From mid-November to somewhere in April residents wage a personal sort of snow war with weapons like shovels, four-wheel-drive SUVs or maybe a plane ticket south.

The really big guns are the dinosaur size municipal snow plows thundering around town and country roadways in the small hours of the morning. Like man-size Tonka Trucks, menacing and threatening, but oh-so cool to any guy who had a toy one as a kid, pedestrians can't help gawking a little when the monster trucks pass by. The heavy steel blades curl the snow and forcefully fling it to the side.

Oddly, as heavy and brutal as they appear on the outside, on the inside, driving the 400-horsepower, stick-shift beast while manipulating the winged plow is an experienced coordination of delicate feel and precision few often know. Usually, it's a solo act.

Allan Wellington, foreman of the town highway department, has been plowing his route for more than 17 years.

"I've lived in Skaneateles my whole life, I raised hay, straw and grain on my family's dairy farm," Wellington said, his eyes steady on the road, right hand constantly working the plow and wing lever controls. "I'm still a farmer, but now the crop is snow. And it's a good crop this year."

In the 2009-2010 winter season, the department logged about 82 plow runs. This season has seen better than 162 runs.

Wellington, part of a five-man crew, is pounding down Fuller/Franklin Road pushing heavy snow. The huge steel plow and wing take up two-thirds of the road. There's a high wind making visibility poor and a car is coming at him. He shifts gears, pulls the wing and raises the plow all at once. That's one effortless, instinctive move, like an elephant doing ballet.

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