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Byline: Rebecca Woolington The Register-Guard

Silk or nylon long johns?

It may seem a trivial question, but for Mark Boyce, a project inspector with the Oregon Department of Transportation who spends much of his days outdoors, wearing the proper gear is essential when working in freezing temperatures.

"I prefer nylon, but that's just me," he said Wednesday while also wearing jeans with fleece lining, three shirts, a jacket, a vest and an orange construction coat.

Finding appropriate apparel, however, isn't the only challenge faced by construction workers in such weather: Water freezes, muscles tighten, productivity slows and bodies dehydrate. But despite the challenges, the job must go on.

Initially, things didn't go so well for Tim Downard, an American Concrete Cutting employee who was cutting asphalt with a wet saw on Coburg Road near the eastbound Belt Line Road on-ramp on Wednesday.

"It was hard to keep the water from freezing," he said. "Everything I'm cutting has to be wet."

But by the end of his 90-minute job, Downard was sweating and so warm that he was sipping an iced, not hot, coffee.

For Boyce, working in the cold is mostly a psychological battle.

"I just have to find the desire to get out of the truck - to muster up the courage to get out in the cold," he said.

But things could be worse. Both Boyce and Downard said they are thankful the recent weather has been a dry cold, without ice or snow. When there's precipitation, Boyce said, things can get really challenging.

"Then you have to worry about cars sliding all over the place," he said. "That slows us down a lot."

While humans shiver, Boyce and Downard both said their heavy equipment has functioned well in the recent weather. How cold does it have to take to shut them down?

"About 85 below," Boyce said.

One advantage of road work, Boyce said, is that the warmth from the road radiates and can help keep workers warmer.

Another challenge in such weather, he and Downard said, is that it can be difficult to drink enough fluids. Cold water doesn't sound very appealing while working in freezing temperatures, and muscles tighten and grow sore.

But they, and everyone else, may not need to endure the cold for much longer. While tonight's low is again expected to drop into the teens, clouds are forecast for Friday and rain for the weekend, pushing overnight lows to "only" the mid-30s.

Not every outdoor worker claimed to be slowed by Wednesday's cold. Jason Seppa of Sperry Tree Care, who was pruning trees outside The Register-Guard offices, said the cold makes him and his fellow workers more productive.

"We work and move more quickly to stay warm," he said. "The day goes by much faster."

The recent spell is some of the coldest weather he's faced in 14 years of tree cutting, but Seppa said he'd take it over rain any day.

"At least it's sunny and bright out," he said. "It keeps us smiling."

Wayne Hense, a supervisor with Lantz Electric Inc., said he and his workers, who were installing a traffic signal on the EmX bus line on Pioneer Parkway and Q Street in Springfield, were also fighting the freezing temperatures as best they could.

"We're all on the coffee stuff, and we stay moving," he said. "You get climatized."

Hense said the temperatures aren't too bad to him - he used to work in Alaska where it would hit 40 degrees below zero.

"You just go with whatever - whatever Mother Nature throws at you," he said.

Boyce said he tips his hardhat to all the workers who report for work outside, not inside an office.

"All in all, everyone who works outdoors is working really hard," he said. "They know what they have to do, and they get it done. It says a lot about the people doing the job."


The Egan Warming Center's four sites for homeless people will be open again tonight:

First Christian Church

Valley Covenant Church

Hosea Youth Services

Ebbert United Methodist Church, Springfield

During the day, the city of Eugene encourages people to use some of its buildings to stay warm, including:

Downtown, Sheldon and Bethel branch libraries

Amazon, Campbell, Hilyard, Sheldon, Peterson Barn and River House community centers

Atrium Building lobby
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Title Annotation:City/Region; Local workers with a job to be done outdoors amid this week's subfreezing temperatures make sure to bundle up as they battle on
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Dec 10, 2009
Previous Article:It's been far chillier around these parts.
Next Article:Commissioners OK funding for personal aides.

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