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January 29, 2013 | 02:21 PMLINN —"I'm probably not like a normal, 30-year-old kid," said Mike Schaid, the town's highway superintendent.
A 30-year-old kid?
Schaid smiled, then corrected himself.
"People refer to me here as 'kid,'" he said.
It's true. Moments before meeting Schaid Jan. 23 in his office at the town hall, one of his employees, Dan Pitt, called him a "good kid."
Schaid took over the spot formerly held by Jim Wolfgram in May 2012. Schaid said they used to call him "kid" when he was highway commissioner in his hometown of Hebron, Ill.
"You'd expect an older person doing this job," he said.
Perhaps his youthful energy was what prompted the Linn Town Board to select him to replace former superintendent Jim Wolfgram. It could also be, as Schaid speculated, because he's easy to deal with.
"I don't get upset," Schaid said. "I mean, you really got to do something to me to piss me off. Something major has got to happen to me to get me upset."
Again, he seems to speak the truth. Schaid comes off cool-headed, happy to converse, confident but not cocky. A self-described "people person." Someone who can improvise his way around a problem. Someone who said if a person gets in his face and screams at him about a problem, what good would it do to react the same way?
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Because being the head of the highway department doesn't merely require an ability to perform what some still call "grunt work." People skills are required.
So is flexibility.
"It's something kind of different every day," Schaid said about why he enjoys his job. "It's dealing with separate issues people have, doing some paper-pushing, then going out to run the machines. I'm fine with plowing snow."
Maybe that's because he's been doing it for pay since he was a child.
Schaid said when he was younger — much younger — he would remove snow for between 10 to 12 driveways in Hebron before he had to be at school.
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"I was cutting lawns when I was 8 years old, and plowing snow," he said. "I had my own little gig going. I did that until I was 16."
Small town life
Schaid said growing up in Hebron was "nice."
Nice? He said everybody knew him, so if he wanted to sneak off to go play in "downtown" Hebron — a city-block stretch along Highway 47 now populated by antique stores and several unoccupied buildings adorned with for sale signs — it was hard not to get caught.
"Plus both my grandparents lived on either side of my house," Schaid said.
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Despite growing up next to downtown Hebron, Schaid said his family's background is in farming.
Both his grandparents and his father grew up on a farm along the edge of Hebron Township, at Thayer and Kemman roads.
Schaid said he worked on a farm through his middle and high school years, as well as helping out in the shop of his dad, Mark, who worked for the village of Hebron.
"That's where I got my mechanical ability," Mike said.
He also started working for the village's highway department in the winter of 2004-05. Schaid got his start plowing roads.
One key difference in being the head of a highway department in Illinois versus heading a department in Wisconsin is, down south, it's decided by election.
Schaid ran for highway commissioner, which holds a four-year term. In April 2005, he won.
One year to go on his second term, Schaid decided it was time to try a change of scenery. That's when he saw the Linn job opening. Now, Schaid and his wife, Wendy, live in the town with their three sons — Hesston, 6; Jackson, 5; and Oliver, 4.
And he has no complaints, especially these days.
"It's been nice this winter, where it's not go-go-go pressure, but we've had ice (and) it takes a lot to melt it off the road," Schaid said. "I'd rather deal with 6 inches of snow than ice."
Last winter, Schaid's first in Linn, provided "a couple of bad situations," but none as rough as the Groundhog Day blizzard of 2011.
"I worked that in Hebron," he said. "I was in a piece of equipment for 24 hours straight."
Apparently, that was a true test of a veteran snow plower's endurance.
"When stuff started jumping out in front of me and it wasn't there, that's when I knew it was time to park," Schaid said.
Today, Schaid's greatest challenge, he said, is learning all of Linn's roads.
One interesting development on the horizon may come in the form of what he called an "anti-icing agent," something he said he started experimenting with on the roads in Hebron.
"When the snow hits it, it melts," Schaid said. "It forms a really thin layer of film. Theoretically, it's not supposed to bond to the road, so when you come by with a plow, the blade is supposed to just take the snow right off."
He said if results are good, he wants to use it more next year.
"It's 100 percent bio," Schaid said. "It's got corn, soybeans and beet. It's got no chloride, it's noncorrosive."
Then, as early as April, the road projects may begin.
"We're going to redo the parking lot at the Linn Road boat launch this spring," Schaid said. "That will be closed for two weeks."
He said signs will be posted a couple weeks prior to the beginning of the project, which involves repaving and some ditch work. This will be the first project of the season, he said, because the hope is it will be finished before use of the launch reaches full swing.
Throughout the summer, other road projects include resurfacing Maple Ridge Road, Parker, Orlando, Locust and Lakeview Park drives, and Wilmot Boulevard. Schaid said there also will be 8 miles of sealcoating done this year. This summer also may mark another accomplishment for Schaid. He said he plans to become a certified firefighter for the Town of Linn Fire Department. Linn, Schaid said, has that same type of small-town atmosphere in which he grew up, where "everybody looks out for each other."