Copeland retires after 41 years with county

Dwight Copeland with his blade.
Dwight Copeland with his blade.

After four decades with Jefferson County, Dwight Copeland has decided to hang up his spurs.

Copeland has worked for the county’s secondary roads department for 41 years. He was born and raised on a farm north of Fairfield. While still a student at Fairfield High School, he began working at Blue Bird in Mt. Pleasant building buses.

He went to a different company where he built stove pipe, and within a few years he learned of an opening with Jefferson County Secondary Roads Department. For the 22-year-old Copeland, the job offered a step up, and in a field he was comfortable working.

“I worked with heavy equipment from growing up on a farm and helping my parents,” he said.

Copeland has a second job tending to row crops on the side, after work and on weekends.

“I don’t have much time off, especially in the spring and fall,” he said.

For the first 12 years with the county, Copeland ran a back hoe and bulldozer. Twenty-nine years ago, he switched to running a blade and being in charge of a whole district, in the northwest part of the county containing Packwood. Copeland said his favorite part of the job is running heavy machinery.

As a blade runner, Copeland’s job includes keeping dirt roads as smooth as possible and maintaining a nice crown on gravel roads. The crown ensures water runs off the road and into the ditch. Without it, water pools on the road and creates potholes.

“Maintaining gravel roads is the biggest part of the job,” Copeland said.

Copeland said the job hasn’t changed much in his 41 years. Some years require more rock than others depending on the tricks Mother Nature plays. For instance, this winter the county dealt with a large number of frost boils.

A frost boil occurs when frost in the gravel road melts but can’t drain away because of frozen ground below it. The soggy roadbed heaves, softens and fails. Frost boils can easily immobilize a car or even much larger road graders. Copeland said the only thing the county can do is put rock on it so at least it’s traversable.

Copeland is also in charge of snow removal in his district, something he did a lot of this past winter, too.

“We put in a lot of overtime this year,” he said.

Now that he’s retired, Copeland plans to travel more, but he’ll still farm on the side. He’ll keep himself busy restoring antique tractors, of which he has 15, and old gas engines. Most of all, he looks forward to spending more time with his wife Anna of 45 years, sons Justin (in Fairfield), Jason (Keosauqua) and Jacob (Pella), and of course his eight grandchildren.