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City’s only female snow plow operator ‘just one of the guys’

SALEM – The young woman who describes herself as “The City of Salem’s only girl snow plow driver” is just one of the guys.

Unless people are up during the middle of the night when the snow is falling, they probably don’t realize one of people clearing snow off city streets isn’t a guy.

Jessica Schaaff is the only woman who drives a snow plow for the City of Salem. Photo by Meg Hibbert
Jessica Schaaff is the only woman who drives a snow plow for the City of Salem. Photo by Meg Hibbert

Like all the city employees who clear snow off Salem City streets, Jessica Schaaff’s main job isn’t plowing snow. Since September 2007, she has been a Tech I mechanical helper in the Building Maintenance Division, maintaining heating and air conditioning in city and school buildings.

It’s a job she grew up doing. “My dad owns a heating and air conditioning company, and I’ve been doing heating and air forever,” said the 25-year-old, referring to her father, Wes Schaaff of Floyd.

“Daily, she typically works in and around heating and air conditioning equipment doing preventive maintenance, so driving a plow truck just seems easy for her,” said Mike Tyler, head of Salem’s Streets and Maintenance. “Jessica is not afraid to perform whatever tasks are assigned to her,” he added.

Schaaff seems like she’s ready to tackle anything. The ring tone on her cell phone is “I like to move it, move it,” from the movie, “Madagascar.”

She’s been pushing snow for six years. When she’s on snow duty, Schaaff drives Truck No. 70, one of the smaller dump trucks. “It’s not a Gigantor,” she said. She’s accustomed to driving big vehicles, though. Her personal one is an F-150 pickup.

She’s on a crew of three – with a salt truck in front of her and a salt truck behind her – who drive the section of Salem from Fourth Street to College to Boulevard, past the Salem Veterans Affairs Medical Center and East Salem Elementary, Salem and Lynchburg Turnpike and up around the Salem Family YMCA, and then does it all over again, Schaaff said.

So far this year, her crew hasn’t gotten called out in the winter’s first two snows, she said, but she expects to be one some of those 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. plowing duties before this season is over. “I don’t ever remember a winter when I’ve never had to push snow,” she said, standing for a photograph by one of the city’s dump trucks with a pink undercarriage and pink lug nuts. “I don’t know why they’re spray-painted pink,” she said, adding that the truck she usually drives doesn’t have anything pink on it.

Schaaff doesn’t expect to be treated any differently from any of the men she works with, and she isn’t. “Except if I break stuff, they fix it faster,” she added. “There’s not really any advantage to being the only girl. I’m apparently just one of the boys.”

“Pushing snow is fun,” she said. “Working for the City of Salem has its good points. The city takes good care of us.”

Schaaff moved to Salem in the fourth grade, but now lives in Roanoke County, at Meadow Woods Stables. When she’s not at work at her city job, she’s training Saddlebred horses and teaching horseback riding lessons at the stables. “I’m one of those workaholic people,” added Schaaff, who lives with a mixed basset-terrier dog, Chance, and spends time with her own horse, Song and Dance, a chestnut Saddlebred mare.

Someday, she wants to be a professional horse trainer.

She is the daughter of Ron and Pat Matheus of Salem and Wes and Wanda Schaaff of Floyd, and granddaughter of Audrey Personette of Salem.


About the author

Meg Hibbert

Meg Hibbert held the position of editor of the Salem Times-Register and The New Castle Record from July 1999 - July 2014. She won more than two dozen awards from the Virginia Press Association for feature writing, columns, business articles, health and environmental writing and education coverage. She and her husband, Bill, live in Salem and are avid University of Georgia Bulldogs.

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