Credit: Ankeny (Iowa) Operations Division of Public Works — Streets Division

Lead Equipment Operator Joey Almond takes pride in his truck, and it shows. The three-year-old vehicle is in mint condition.

Credit: Ankeny (Iowa) Operations Division of Public Works — Streets Division

According to Ankeny, Iowa, Street Maintenance Division lore, the “snow goblin” (left) brings good luck to the operator and the overall snow removal operation. Another good-luck charm, the “wing man” — a King Kong Bundy wrestling doll — (right) looks like he's using chains to hold up the snowplow wing.

Come winter, Ankeny, Iowa, residents will have something to chuckle about as city snowplows clear their streets. How can they not grin at an alien with flashing eyes gazing at them from the passenger seat? “That's an attention grabber,” says Public Works Administrator Al Olson.

Adding personal flair to vehicles is the norm for the Ankeny Public Works Operations Division. It also boosts morale. In addition to maintaining 203 centerline miles of roadway, the division's 14 or so street maintenance operators log extra hours to keep those roads open during winter storms.

Their spruced-up vehicles take the bite out of working overtime. “It's my home away from home,” says Lead Equipment Operator Joey Almond, whose surname is displayed across the door of his three-year-old tandem-axle plow truck. “And if you're happy with what you're doing, you perform that much better.”

With an in-house sign-making shop, getting customized decals is easy. Some drivers show off their favorite universities; one pays homage to the National Football League's Green Bay Packers. Harley Davidson seat covers, chrome lugnuts, and stuffed animals are also common adornments. One cab has mood lighting: Day-Glo blue lights that make the interior glow like a disco at night.

“Some of the guys get superstitious about their mascots,” says Almond. “They've got to have their ‘snow goblin' [stuffed animal] strapped to the front-end loader, or their ‘wing man' [caped wrestling figure] standing on the snowplow wing.”

Operators began personalizing their vehicles about 10 years ago. “One of the guys asked if it was OK to place something with his nickname, Sparky, on the side of his truck,” Olson says. “I thought it was fine.” Soon, others started doing it.

“It gives me ‘new car syndrome,'” says Almond. “I take pride in that truck. It's mine. It has my name on it.”

Almond's is a common sentiment. “It's a real pride factor among the guys,” Olson says. “It's almost competitive — whose truck looks the sharpest and the cleanest.”

A spotless truck has multiple advantages. At the end of a snowstorm it's critical to clean salt off to prevent corrosion. Operators not only detail their vehicles, they also polish them and touch them up with paint. When stored in the shop, the vehicles appeal to visitors; when out on the streets, the public sees a city department that takes care of its equipment, opening the door for approval of additional purchases.

From a safety standpoint, taking such care of vehicles means leaks and other problems are found sooner, minimizing breakdowns. There's also a comfort level in that drivers know exactly what condition their vehicles are in because they're the ones who maintain them.

“My objective is to make this a fun environment, because when the job is fun you will be more productive,” says Olson. “I have no personnel issues and the guys have become more innovative when resolving issues.”