It was one of those snowstorms — the kind where the snow fell in fast heavy clumps, where a day’s worth of snow piled up in an afternoon.

Plow truck driver Bob Knowlton of Belfast Public Works Department was making the third of what might be six or seven passes along his usual route — a 35-mile circuit that starts just north of downtown and courses the winding roads that straddle the inner bay and Head of Tide.

“I probably won’t go home ‘til tomorrow afternoon if it does what they say it’s going to do,” he said.

The snow had started falling around 9:30 a.m. and the plows were on the road by late morning. A weather report on the radio said the snow would taper off sometime the next day.

Belfast has eight plow trucks and as many drivers. There is no second line waiting in reserve, so the drivers plow until the snow stops. And then they plow for another two or three hours until the roads are clear.

Knowlton said he dreams of sleeping for three or four hours, but in the middle of a snowstorm he often has to settle for an hour-long catnap.

“It doesn’t always work out that way,” he said as the truck came over a rise on City Point Road. He appeared to be saying that sometimes he doesn’t sleep at all.

Inside the cab, the heat was blasting to keep the windshield from fogging up. Knowlton had his window rolled all the way down. He was wearing a T-shirt. There were three boxes of cigarettes on the dashboard. As he drove, he grabbed one and used the edge to scrape an ice-crusted mirror outside the cab.

After a moment, he spoke up again to answer the question, unasked, that seemed to be hovering in the air.

“We drink a lot of coffee,” he said.

Knowlton, who lives in Searsmont, has been driving the same plow route for three years, and has been with Belfast Public Works for eight. In summer, when the hours are more regular and weather more agreeable to his temperament, he drives an excavator.

Asked if he likes the work, he joked it was better than being unemployed, then fished around for a better answer. Working alone was good. The summers made the winters bearable.

“I guess I do like it,” he said. “I’ve been here eight years. If I didn’t like it, I guess I’d be somewhere else.”

When it snows, Knowlton drives a “wheeler,” the name given to a dump truck with 10 wheels, a front plow and a side wing. The department has five of these trucks, two of the more descriptively named “six-wheelers,” and a grader, the biggest of the trucks, which mostly does the wider roads, in town.

Some of the newer trucks have heated mirrors and the newest has a heated windshield. Knowlton’s rig has neither, and on this day the passenger-side mirrors — a bug’s-eye array designed to give the driver a view of plow wing — had iced over. But the lack of visibility didn’t seem to faze Knowlton as he guided the plow to within inches of guardrails, signs, rocks and other obstacles.

“I just kind of guess,” he said. “You do it for a while and you usually figure that out.”

On the age old complaint of mailboxes taken out by snowplows, Knowlton was unemotional.

“We try not to hit ‘em. Sometimes we do,” he said.

Faced with a choice between hitting an oncoming car and hitting a mailbox, Knowlton said he would avoid the car, come what may. He offered that sometimes just the snow coming off the plow is enough to level a mailbox.

“We don’t hit ‘em on purpose, let’s put it that way,” he said.

Knowlton has been running the same plow route for three years — long enough that he can easily list a dozen annoying, and sometimes dangerous, obstacles he sees on a regular basis.

Among them, most fall under a single category.

“People get mad at us because the roads aren’t clear,” he said. “We can’t clear them because there’s too many people out.”

Drivers take to the slick roads in flimsy cars. Sometimes they drive too fast. Sometimes they drive without their headlights on. Sometimes they get stuck.

On steep section of Patterson Hill Road his wheels began to spin. He gained traction but was soon forced to stop as a car ahead of him went perpendicular in the road. A moment before, Knowlton had watched it fail on the steep incline and now he waited as the driver turned around then came to a stop facing the plow truck.

The passenger got out and ran to Knowlton’s window.

“He don’t think he can make it,” the man said, as the driver of the car leaned out his window and shouted something to his proxy.

Knowlton turned his head toward the man but didn’t seem eager to talk. He hadn’t been doing much better on the hill than the car and he shrugged at the man.

“I don’t know if I can make it,” he said. “I’m not going in that ditch with this truck.”

The negotiation, like the two vehicles, appeared to be at an impasse. But a moment later Knowlton put the truck in gear and inched it over just enough for the car to pass.

On the far side of the hill, he reconnected with Robbins Road. His work of less than a half hour ago was already mostly erased, but Knowlton wasn’t discouraged.

“I like it this way. Makes you feel like you’re doing something instead of scraping an inch,” he said.

As Knowlton accelerated on the straightaways, the plow sent a steady conical jet of packed snow onto the side of the road.

“I’ve had kids come right out in the road. They want that snow to hit ‘em,” he said. “All they see is that big wave of snow. They don’t see that the wing is coming.”

He stopped talking, letting the visual sink in.

“I did it when I was a kid,” he said. “It weren’t that much fun.”

Knowlton said he has never been stuck, though he said occasionally a driver needs to be pulled out of a ditch. His truck, among the larger ones on the job, was fully loaded with sand, but the heavy rate of snowfall on this day had leveled the playing field.

On East Waldo Road, Knowlton pointed out he was having trouble steering the truck. Lifting the front plow would put more weight on the road but he didn’t have to resort to this as the truck regained traction.

At an unremarkable point the road that was the end of Knowlton’s route he fronted into one of a handful of dedicated turnaround areas.

As he backed out, the truck rolled into an adjacent driveway, but when he tried to go forward, the right front wheel dropped off the shoulder trapping the vehicle at an awkward angle, half in the road, half in the driveway. The engine roared and the truck rumbled and bucked as Knowlton tried to clear the rut. If there was anyone in the nearby house, they weren’t coming out. He gunned the engine, but the tires continued to spin. It was no use.

“Guess I shouldn’t have said I never got stuck,” he said, getting out of the cab.

He dug the snow away from the front and rear wheels with his boot in what seemed like an exercise in due diligence before calling for help. But when he returned to the cab he was able to rock the truck back onto the road.

“Got lucky,” he said, deadpan, as he headed back into town. 

After a moment, he spoke again, though his voice was different. He sounded lost in thought.

“It’s alright,” he said.