Published March 29, 2022

For the Farmer: “The Road Greater”

Written by
Charlie Adams
| The Dakotan
Bottineau County Caterpillar Motor Grader [Photo: courtesy Bottineau County]
Bottineau County Caterpillar Motor Grader [Photo: courtesy Bottineau County]

It is March Madness! What do basketball referees and County Motor Grader Operators have in common?

They are both out there going back and forth and have lots of angry people criticizing the job they are doing. There is nobody pulling them aside to say “Hey, splendid work! We are so thankful for you!”

It is true that refs and maintainer operators get a lot of grief. However, somebody must do those jobs and we can all agree that we depend on both. Without referees, a basketball game would be a chaotic free-for-all. Without proper road maintenance, farmers would eventually lose access to their fields and not be able to make a living.

Up near Antler, North Dakota, there seems to be an exception to the rule on the County Blade Man.

Everyone appreciates Brian Jorgensen. Brian is coming up on 25 years of service as a motor grader operator for Bottineau County.

Brian Jorgensen [Photo: submitted]

I had a chance to talk with him about his years of service under the intense scrutiny from farmers that comes with the job. He started with the County in September of 1997 after he had worked as an equipment operator and truck driver for a construction company. He also worked at the elevator in Lansford.

He says the biggest thing that prepared him for a successful career was growing up on the farm and learning to operate different types of equipment as a young man.

Right after he was hired on at Bottineau County, they put him right in the saddle, and fortunately for him there was work to do on County Road 2. The crews were doing a major safety upgrade by building up shoulders and ditches. Brian was able to run the grader moving dirt and if he made a mistake, he was able to try again with little repercussion. No better way to learn than just being able to play in the dirt.

Dirt work at Antler Memorial Park [Photo: courtesy Antler Outlaws]

Obviously, it was not always this easy over the years. As we can all imagine, for a dedicated professional like Brian, the job can result in a lot of stress.

When asked about some of the biggest challenges over the years, Brian pointed out the most brutal winters we have had in this area. In certain winters, the snowfall was so great that sometimes it seemed like the road was blown in just as soon as he finally got it opened.

“I put a lot of pressure on myself,” he said. “You know people depend on you in order to get to work.”

Also, springtime can be just as stressful. “With the soft spots from the frost, you struggle to get it passable, and farmers are needing to get out to the fields at the same time.”

Brian’s “big-picture” perspective on road maintenance is valuable for local taxpayers. He commented about how grass shoulders on gravel roads are always a challenge to maintain. He feels this is particularly important to keep manageable so different types of farm equipment do not have to fight large sod and gravel chunks, and it is also vital for the road to drain water properly.

Brian, being the quiet and humble professional that he is, shied away from my question about why everyone likes him so much.

In fact, years ago, one of the townships in his territory approached him to be the township weed officer. Being on the township roads every day, it seemed like a good fit. Brian would put in extra hours in this capacity, because there were minimum maintenance roads in the township that he would not be able to check as often. He naturally put in a lot of his own time in his pickup or four-wheeler to monitor the township for noxious weeds.

Bottineau County Commissioner Nathaniel Buynak described Brian’s approach to road maintenance by commenting on his obvious personal dedication.

“He feels bad when he leaves to go on vacation. He is worried about the farmers getting taken care of.” Buynak said. He went on to say, “Whether it be a farmer moving commodities or a kid being able to get on the bus, Brian is always wanting to do the best possible job. That goes for if he is mowing ditches or turning gravel.”

“Whether it be a farmer moving commodities or a kid being able to get on the bus, Brian is always wanting to do the best possible job.”Nathaniel Buynak, Bottineau County Commissioner

Undoubtedly, Brian is approaching retirement in the future. Rural counties struggle to find good equipment operators. When asked what advice he would have for a new guy starting out, Brian acknowledged that it is a difficult job at times, but he says the retirement benefit is worth staying in the job and sticking it out.

He also said that learning who to communicate with can make the difference in daily operations. While staying connected with local residents is important, he cannot just jump all over the area to fix a spot from a single call. He says he keeps in close contact with the township supervisors, because they are the ones who pay for his time and effort on the maintenance and repair work.

“He’s forward thinking.” Buynak concluded. Thank you, Brian, and congratulations on 25 years of dedicated service to Bottineau County.

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