When Steve Kruse sees white in the weather forecast, he also sees green.
Green, as in the color of money.
Sleep is something he hasn’t seen much of lately.
Kruse is one of many in the Elkhart area who attach plows to the front of their pick-up trucks and earn cash plowing snow from residential and commercial driveways and parking lots. He’s had so much work, he’s had to turn some callers away, unless he happens to be nearby when they call.
Lately he’s been grabbing just a couple hours of sleep at night.
“Anybody that’s in this business this time of year, when you do get a chance to sit down and watch the news or something, talk to your family, I think in about five minutes you’re probably asleep,” he says.
But he isn’t complaining.
For the past six years, the owner of Kruse Farm Supply has found snow clearing to be a nice supplement to his income during the winter.
“It’s a nice change of pace,” he says recently while plowing the Zion Evangelical Church parking lot, one of about 40 contracts he and an employee maintain. “I work retail and I love retail. But it’s nice to get away from the counter a little bit, get out here and just listen to the radio and think.”
Kruse says he had this church lot cleared to almost dry pavement just two days ago. Now it looks as though it’s never been touched, thanks to the recent high winds and daily snowfall.
“You can make some good money running a truck in a winter like this,” he says. “A couple weeks ago my other plow driver, his paycheck for the week, he took home well over a thousand bucks. That makes it kind of worth it getting up at 1 in the morning.”
Kruse said he feels fortunate that he has suffered few major equipment breakdowns, unlike a friend of his in the business who has three of his four trucks in the shop.
“If you have some smooth operators, guys that don’t abuse your equipment, with the weather we’ve had this year, there’s a chance us plow operators are going to make a little bit of money. Not only plowing the snow but spreading the salt on the driveways, sidewalks and parking lots. January’s been a great month.”
On this day, Kruse and his employee started clearing the Lexington Corp. lot at about 1 a.m., after going to bed at 10:30 p.m. the previous night. They were still working on the lot when the client’s employees started arriving for their shifts at 3:30 a.m. By 4:30 a.m., Kruse and his employee were finished.
From there they went to another factory lot on C.R. 6, near the Elkhart Municipal Airport. About 8 feet of snow buried the building’s loading dock, and the client was worried because deliveries were scheduled to arrive that day. Three hours later, they were finished.
At 7:30 a.m. Kruse cleared the First State Bank branch near Cobblestone Plaza, then came an investment firm, then a health food business, followed by a few residential driveways.
“Every business I went to today took twice as long as normal because the snow was so deep and packed in,” he said.
Some of the area’s larger factories have their own employees plow. But even those businesses have had to hire contractors to haul the snow away because they have run out of places to put it.
Kruse says driving a plow for six or seven hours at a time is tiring work because you’re always on the watch for other vehicles and things buried in the snow. He says he finds it easier to stay awake by keeping hydrated with water rather than caffeinated drinks.
“No time to be tired,” he says. “You might be exhausted but this girl who does the books at my store, she says, ‘Suck it up, cupcake.’ That just makes you laugh, and away you go.”