By Sue Tiffin
Highlands East roads superintendent Earl Covert has retired after 46 years from a job that all started because of a snowfall.
Covert, who has lived in Highland Grove his entire life, graduated from high school in Bancroft and then began working at Wilberforce Veneer and Lumber Company for about two-and-a-half years after school.
“I got laid off on a Friday night,” Covert told the Echo. “And I knew they were looking for somebody here on the township, so on my way home I stopped in and I saw the former roads superintendent – Tom Elliott. I asked him for a job and he said, ‘well, I don’t know, I’ll see.’ We had a big snowfall on Saturday, and on Sunday morning he phoned me and asked me if I could come to work.”
Covert was called back to the veneer plant about six weeks later, and so he went to Elliott to ask how long the job with the township might last.
“Tom was very non-committal, so he said, ‘I don’t know, could be a day, could be a week,’” said Covert. “And since I liked it outside better than inside, I said, I’m going to try it. And remember, at that time I’m making $2.20 at the Veneer plant, and I got $2.35 from the township. Big difference in pay, eh? Well, 46 years later. But that’s how it happened.”
Covert said he started “at the bottom,” following the grader in the summer, throwing stones from the roads, that he said were “like cow paths,” at the time. Then in the winter, he said, “we had two men and a snowplow so I went on the wing.”
Over time, Covert was given a chance to learn to drive a truck, then ran the grader for a little more than a decade until Elliott retired and Covert was hired in his role. After amalgamation, Covert became lead hand, but then after another retirement, again was hired for the roads supervisor role in 2009. Over the years, as expected, there have been some changes.
“I’ve often told my guys, I’ve said, too bad you couldn’t go back to a couple of days when I started,” said Covert. “For example, you know why we have rules today. I remember at that time, a freezing rain storm, we had to put down the back tailgate on the truck. Two men stood on the back tailgate – and they just did the hills, which is prit’near everything in Haliburton County. One man would throw a shovel of sand, and then I’d throw a shovel. He’d throw a shovel, I’d throw a shovel. That’s what we did in freezing rain storms, it was terrible. Now, you know, you’d get [killed] if you tried something stupid like that today, eh?”
“Everything has changed so much,” he added. “You know back when I started, people just made do with what they had, eh? Today, you chase snowflakes for example in the wintertime, because the laws have changed … Now we’ve got the minimum maintenance standards. Back then it was different.”
On the roads in earlier days, help when needed wasn’t a phone call away.
“There were no radios, no phones, so if you got stuck, hey, it was ankle express from then on,” said Covert. “You had to walk until you met a neighbour or whoever and get back to the yard. If you got plowing or sanding and you got stuck, we had to walk to get help.”
Though he spent plenty of time in his own company out on the road, Covert said that what he will miss most about the job is his opportunity to mingle with the people of the area.
“That’s the biggest one right there, the everyday interaction with the public, there’s good people,” he said. “I’m not going to say there weren’t irate people, but for the most part, there were nice people.”
Covert said he retired because, “everything’s computers and electronics, I’m too old for learning all that stuff,” and because “you’re only going to live so long.” Kim Covert, Earl’s wife, retired from Scotiabank in December, and now they plan to ease into retirement together spending time at their trailer in Madawaska.
David Armstrong, public works manager for Highlands East, said Earl’s years of service and dedication to the municipality show in the public works staff.
“The staff in public works are thorough, thoughtful and carry themselves with an exceptional professionalism,” he said. “The traits I see in this staff are a testament to Earl’s commitment to the prosperity and sustainability of the infrastructure in the Municipality of Highlands East.”
Shannon Hunter, Highlands East CAO, acknowledged Covert had devoted his entire career to the Township of Cardiff and through amalgamation of the Municipality of Highlands East. He received a distinguished service award in March last year in appreciation and gratitude for his dedication as an employee.
“Whether through day-to-day operations or weekend tours of the roads, Earl knows every inch of the municipality and the history,” Hunter told the Echo. “Earl took pride in his work and the level of service provided on the municipal roads. Although his retirement is well deserved, he will be dearly missed.”
Covert said he appreciated that Tom Elliott gave him the chance to get to this point in his life.
“I always liked that job,” said Covert. “What I always liked is you could always see an improvement you’d done when you’d done work. You could always see the improvement, and I liked it outside. If I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t have been there. That’s one way of looking at it, eh?”