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He weathers the storms

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By Lisa King

You would not think so at first glance, but like an ice storm or a huge snow drift or even a tornado, Carl Henry is a force to be reckoned with. His soft-spoken ways and easy grin conceal a determination as fierce as the storms he weathers, even those as powerful and  frustrating as the paralyzing ice storm that pelted Kentucky with a vengeance a year ago this week. He just doesn’t look all that fierce. Shelby County’s Road Supervisor for the past six years, Henry dresses for the office in his usual outfit of jeans and work boots, necessary attire for his daily activities, he says. “I don’t send my guys out to do any job unless I look at it first,” he said, leaning back in his chair and pushing aside a stack of photos of huge snow drifts. “So every day, I go out, and I check those jobs, see what the guys are doing, make sure they’re doing the right thing, and make sure they’re doing it like they were doing it in their own front yard,” he said. Henry said that he and his crew cleared out the snow in record time on Saturday, so he was disappointed and frustrated that he got two people who called in to complain about the road department’s efforts. “One lady said she still couldn’t get out of her driveway and she needed it shoveled out,” he said. “Why, if we shoveled out everyone’s driveway, it would take us a year.” The other disgruntled person was a man who told Henry he parked his truck on a county road and got stuck. “I’m going to be diplomatic,” Henry said.  What he does Despite the frustrations involved in not being able to please everyone, Henry loves the challenge behind the diverse variety of things the road department does. That’s what inspired him to leave a higher-paying job of 18 years at the state highway department to head up the Shelby County’s crew. “Honestly, I was getting bored with my job at the state,” he said, adding that he had been in charge of maintenance and wanted more of a challenge. Henry, 42, a Shelby County native, went to work at the State Transportation Department right out of high school, even though he said he had wanted to be a farmer when he grew up. In his spare time, the outdoorsman in him comes out, in his passion for fishing, camping and hunting. “I don’t like to play golf,” he said, with a grin, even though he said he told he should take up that activity in order to be more sociable. He likes the opportunity that the road department offers him to be involved in more than just maintenance. What does that encompass? “It could be anything,” he said. In addition to clearing the road during inclement weather, the road department works year-round on all sorts of projects, from repaving to pot-hole repairs to emergencies. “I’ve got direct contact with dispatch, and if there is a bad accident, house fire, major ambulance run, or the roads are bad, they call me if they need me, and that turns into a priority,” Henry said.  In the wintertime, the road department is especially busy, and all 15 employees work as a team, with Henry at the helm. “The way I look at my job, my main purpose is to supply a good and safe roadway for the traveling public,” he said. Henry relishes things that would intimidate a lesser man. “Sometimes when there’s a tornado or an ice storm, and the whole town is in a critical situation with no electric or water, and we go out there and make a difference, that gives me such a big adrenaline rush,” he said. “Cleaning those roads, getting those trees out of the way, moving a huge drift of snow, those things are the most exciting, because we are helping the people who live out in the county to get things back into shape for them.” Public is hard to please But sometimes the very people he is trying to help get impatient, Henry said. “No matter how hard you try, you just can’t satisfy the public with the roadways,” he said. “You just can’t do it.” It takes from four to eight hours to salt and plow every road in the county road system, and Henry said it’s frustrating to him when someone calls in complaining because he said he knows his crews are working just as hard as they can. “You should have seen my guys when we had that big snow a few weeks ago,” he said. “They were here waiting for me at 4 o’clock in the morning, just waiting for me to say, ‘Go!’ “It was snowing from an inch to an inch and a half, and that’s the comments you hear! If they [the public] could just get in that truck and ride with them, they would see what it takes. “If they could get in that dump truck loaded down with salt, getting ready to go down a big, steep hill, and I’m on the radio telling them, ‘You can do it,’ they’d think twice about calling in and saying that about those guys.” Shelby County Judge-Executive Rob Rothenburger said he is pleased with Henry’s rapport with the public. “One of Carl’s best attributes is his ability to deal with frustrated residents who call the road department to complain that his or her street has not been cleared of snow,” Rothenburger said. “Carl has the ability to reassure them, and they appreciate the fact that he takes the time to talk to them in a respectful and courteous manner.” Henry said he appreciates the faith Rothenburger and Deputy Judge-Executive Rusty Newton have in him. “Those guys, they’re just great,” he said. “They let me do my job and make my own decisions, and I appreciate that.” But questions about his decisions are abundant from his 9-year-old son, Cole. The thing is, Cole doesn’t want his dad to be quite as diligent about getting the roads cleared. “He gets on me about cleaning the roads because he wants school to be closed,” Henry said, with a chuckle. And the residents aren’t the only ones who depend on Henry to keep the roads safe. “My daughter, Brooklyn, calls me all the time to check on the road conditions,” he said. “And I can always tell her pretty much the way it is.” Henry said that one thing that helps him a lot is having an understanding wife. “Amy knows that sometimes I have to be here a lot in the wintertime,” he said, pointing to a fold-up cot in the corner of his office. “Sometimes I even sleep here when the weather gets really bad.” Dedication and sense of humor Emergency Management Agency Director Charlie Frazee said he also appreciates Henry’s dedication. “He comes to every meeting when we have an emergency, and he is always well-prepared,” Frazee said. “You can depend on him.” In return, Henry says he also appreciates those he works with, especially his road crew. “Those guys, I can’t say enough about them, they listen to me, and they don’t give me any trouble.” Sandra Ashcraft, Henry’s administrative assistant, who operates the phones, has worked for Henry for the entire six years he has been its supervisor. “He’s easy to get along with,” she said, adding that she has known Henry for a long time. “We went to school together here in Shelby County and graduated together,” she said.  The employees seem to appreciate Henry’s laidback ways and his tendency to accept his share of the blame when things go wrong. “One time we had to cut down this big old tree,” Henry recalled. “Well, I went out to look at it, and I said, ‘Oh, my goodness, they’ve cut down the wrong tree.’” He shook his head as he spoke. “Even though I had the right tree marked, the tree they cut down did have to go, too, because it was really too close to the roadway, but it was still quite embarrassing to me,” he said. Henry’s sense of humor even permits him to laugh at himself. “One time we were getting some new pickup trucks when I worked at the state,” he recalled, adding that he had lectured his men that morning about taking care of their vehicles just like they were their own. “Well, I went to Frankfort to pick up a new truck, and I had a wreck and totaled it,” he said, laughing. “And I had been standing there that morning preaching at those guys, so you can imagine what they had to say when I got back to the office.” That’s Carl Henry - in the face of a storm, he still finds humor.