After four decades with the county, Roadmaster Dan Crumley is hitting the highway.
He told county commissioners earlier this month he will retire next August; he gave such a long notice in hopes the board can find someone he can train on the quirks and idiosyncrasies that are Curry County’s roads.
“It’s been a long tenure,” he said. “And it all started because one (commissioner) board took a chance on me.”
In retirement, Crumley plans to work on some family projects, visit his daughter in South Dakota and volunteer in the community.
“I don’t plan to sit down and read a book,” he said with a laugh. “I think retired people need to be able to give back; we still have our wits about us. We’re not one foot in the grave. A lot of us have a lot to offer, and I want to be part of a group that can help do that.”
Crumley said he always envisioned retiring when he was 62.
“Mostly, there’s other things I want to do,” he said with a laugh. “I have grandsons I want to spend time with, I have my own kids. My wife wants to travel a bit. I’ve got adequate stuff on my plate. I don’t intend to be bored.”
He has reasons for not retiring any earlier.
“There were things here I really wanted to see this department through, which is the hard times we’ve had for the past couple of years,” he said. “That job probably isn’t done, but many someone else can take a fresh perspective on it.”
The Gold Beach native got started in Curry County’s engineering department — his first job, on summer breaks from college — conducting land surveys throughout the county.
“Back then, people could petition to make their road a county road,” Crumley explained. “If they’d donate the right-of-way, we’d pave it. We did a lot of surveying for that.”
Much has changed: demographics, politics, attitudes, road standards and the economy among them. There were 55 to 65 employees in the road department in; now there are 19. Surprisingly, the number of road miles — 225 — has remained the same over the past four decades.
“We used to have a road department shop in Brookings, Gold Beach, at Pacific High School (in Port Orford) and crews at all those locations,” Crumley said.
Crumley was the roadmaster by the mid-1990s, predicted the decline in timber revenue and began setting aside a reserve for the department. He’s amassed about $32 million in the road fund — enough, he hopes, to provide a buffer in case the county is hit with an extraordinary act of nature.
His favorite part of the job is seeing things get fixed; his least favorite is watching county commissioners take his road funds for other county services.
“I like seeing a project completed,” he said. “I like seeing bridges, as they became in need of replacement, replaced with modern, maintenance-free bridges. Slides getting a permanent solution. We’ve got quite a bit done over last three, four decades.”
His most challenging job was overseeing the construction of 3 miles of road between Foster Bar and the Agness Road in 2005. Obtaining the funding alone took 10 years.
“There were multiple landowners, user groups; it ended up being a real compromise with environmental concerns, scenic concerns,” he said. “Even the federal highway people who supervised the project took a variance to their own standards.
“But it was a special circumstance,” he said of the 1.5-lane corridor that features “intervisible turnouts” whereby drivers can see the other end of a blind curve. “This was one of those projects we didn’t think would ever happen. Ten years later, it finally did.”
The job was almost done when a major winter storm moved through, tearing up the job and requiring more rock work and rebuilding of the road.
The political climate has changed over the years as well, he said.
“Most of the roads you see here were built for logging activity, and the spotted owl put that to a end,” he said. “People moved in and private timber started up and they weren’t accustomed to that. We started getting complaints: ‘They drive too fast; they’re too dangerous; they’re tearing up the road.’ We’d tell them this road has seen more log trucks than you can even imagine — this road was built by log trucks, for log trucks.
“By and large, people are very thankful,” he added. “That’s always nice to hear.”
The new guy
Crumley learned his job on the job, and that has commissioners a tad worried about who will replace him when he leaves in August.
“We don’t have that person to whom we can turn over the job,” noted County Attorney Jerry Herbage. “Dan is the most quality department head we’ve ever had.”
He ticked off some fields in which Crumley deals that don’t usually fall under the job description: real property, emergencies, flooding and legal proceedings.
“They’ve given me a lot of other tasks,” Crumley said, adding management of the county fleet and maintaining the communications tower and budget among other hats he wears. “Maybe they think the road business doesn’t take up enough of our time.”
“Dan’s up on all that,” Herbage said. “We can’t take someone who’s unfamiliar with that and give them a week transition. I don’t know how you’d do that at all.”
The county hopes to hire someone by the first of the year to learn Crumley’s work.
Crumley acknowledged that there is a lot to learn in his job, but some of the seemingly innocuous elements are among the most important.
“It’ll depend on their background,” he said. “If they’re from outside the county, it would help to learn the demography, learn about the road system and its historic issues, where fragile drainage is — ‘This drainage is good the way it is, but if you do anything to it. …’ — learn where the sacred areas are that (weed) mowers know about.”
Those “sacred areas” are where citizens are adamant about no-spray zones, or how to avoid the rhododendron at the end of someone’s driveway.
Crumley said he couldn’t do anything without the dedication of a crew that works for hours on end during floods and sticks around despite better job offers elsewhere.
“The things they do in the rain, at night, in the snow — they’re what make the roads passable,” he said. “The road crew is the heart of the organization. The people who work here are committed, dedicated and highly skilled. It makes it fun to come to work.”