×

Northampton DPW’s ‘go-to’ mechanic retires after 40 years of keeping the city’s fleet running

  • Mechanic Richard Scott talks about his nearly 40 years repairing equipment in the Highway Division of the Northampton Department of Public Works during an interview in the tool cage of the garage on Friday, July 14, 2017, his last day on the job. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Retiring mechanic Richard Scott, center, visits with Northampton Department of Public Works Highway Superintendent Rich Parasiliti, left, and foreman Michael Antosz Friday, July 14, 2017, his last day of work. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Retiring mechanic Richard Scott, left, has a picture taken with his boss, Northampton Department of Public Works Highway Division foreman Michael Antosz, on Friday. GAZETTE STAFF/KEVIN GUTTING

  • DPW mechanic Richard Scott presents Richard Parisiliti, the highway superintendent, with his plow hammer that Scott used to put plows on the department’s trucks for decades. Scott had a shadow box built for the hammer and a plow pin with a note on the glass that reads, “In case of emergency, break glass.”  —Submitted photo

  • Mechanic Richard Scott, left, talks with Northampton Department of Public Works Highway Division Superintendent Rich Parasiliti on Friday, July 14, 2017. Scott, who retired Friday after nearly 40 years at the DPW, was going over with Parasiliti the details of some of the tasks he regularly did so that they'll continue to get done after he's gone. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Richard "Scottie" Scott reminisces about his nearly 40 years repairing equipment in the Highway Division of the Northampton Department of Public Works during an interview outside the garage on Friday, July 14, 2017, his last day on the job. GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Mechanic Richard Scott replaces a bolt he noted missing on one of Northampton's street sweepers on Friday, July 14, 2017. Scott retired Friday after nearly 40 years repairing equipment in the Department of Public Works Highway Division. GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Mechanic Richard Scott looks over the newer of two street sweepers the city of Northampton operates. Scott retired Friday after nearly 40 years repairing equipment in the Highway Division of the Department of Public Works. GAZETTE STAFF/KEVIN GUTTING PHOTOS

  • Mechanic Richard Scott retired Friday after nearly 40 years repairing equipment in the Highway Division of the Northampton Department of Public Works. GAZETTE STAFF/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Mechanic Richard Scott retired Friday, July 14, 2017, after nearly 40 years repairing equipment in the Highway Division of the Northampton Department of Public Works. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Mechanic Richard Scott holds a specially designed, and hard to find, "chrome bar" tool that he passed on to his boss, Michael Antosz, upon retiring after nearly 40 years repairing equipment in the Highway Division of the Northampton Department of Public Works. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Mechanic Richard "Scottie" Scott stands amid some of the equipment he has repaired in his nearly 40 years with the Northampton Department of Public Works Highway Division. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING



@amandadrane
Friday, July 14, 2017

NORTHAMPTON — There’s only one piece of equipment that’s served the city’s Department of Public Works longer than Richard Scott: a 1971 Sicard snowblower.

It still works, Scott said, “and so do I.”

The go-to mechanic and “street sweeper guru,” 61, retired from the department as the junior equipment foreman Friday after 40 years on the job.

A Northampton native, Scott graduated from Smith School — the former name of Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School — in 1974. He’d learned about fixing cars from his father and from his vocational training in high school, and so picked up a few different jobs at dealerships before landing the DPW gig in 1976.

During one of his last days on the job, Scott emerged from the depths of the DPW building, Gorilla tape in hand. With an eye to impending precipitation, he’d been fixing a hole in the top of one of the department’s vehicles. Sweat dripped steadily from his brow onto his blue collared button-down shirt. He said decades of work with the department is hard on the body, and after decades on the job he has carpal tunnel syndrome in both hands.

“They laugh at me when I try to get up, like a turtle in a shell,” he said, smirking.

His handlebar mustache masks the emotion on his lips, but in his piercing blue eyes it’s unmistakeable.

“The mind is willing, but the body’s not,” he said.

Scott started at the department in the era of the classic machine and has evolved with the department’s equipment, which has became increasingly mechanized and computerized.

“Mechanics are really the backbone of this operation, because without them we wouldn’t have any equipment,” Highway Superintendent Richard Parasiliti said of the 160-plus pieces of equipment requiring regular maintenance and repairs.

Scott has seen some things in his years with the department. He’s the only person working for the DPW who endured the infamous blizzard of 1978. “From a historical perspective I wouldn’t call him a dinosaur, but he does come from an historic era,” Parasiliti said with a smile.

Scott shook his head slightly at the remark as air whistled out of his smirking mouth.

“He was 12 years old when I first started here,” Scott said, pointing with his thumb toward Parasiliti, who sat next to him.

“When I call him in the middle of the night, I never get a no,” Parasiliti said, adding he’s worked “more overnighters than I can count.”

“His dedication hasn’t wavered.” Though “he’s done just about everything” there is to do in the department, his colleagues say he’s made his mark as “our sweeper guru.” He’s the only one who knows what angle the side broom belongs in and how to get the complicated machines back in order.

“It’s a mechanical nightmare,” Senior Equipment Foreman Mike Antosz said of the sweepers, mentioning the time he tried to fix one while Scott was out getting surgery. “We took it apart, and Scottie put it back together. Let’s say that.”

His sweeper knowledge is such a specialty, his colleagues half-kid about the possibility they’ll need to take him on as a consultant the next time one breaks down. “Everyone runs away from them,” Scott said. “I run toward ’em.”

He said he’s always had a knack for fixing things.

“There’s a hundred ways to fix the problem, you just gotta find one and act accordingly,” he said.

Antosz said Scott has always had a keen eye for ways to make things work better. He cited disc brake pads as an example. Years ago, he said, they used to make a terrible squeaking sound and Scott discovered if he beveled them at both ends the noise stopped.

“Today they come that way,” Antosz said. “But he used to do it by hand.”

The men said years ago people looked down on them for the dirty work they did for the DPW, but now more people realize how much skill goes into their jobs.

“Whatever is moving, our group is responsible for,” Scott said, looking around at the sea of vehicles in the DPW’s rear bay. “That in and of itself is an accomplishment.”

The work he’s most proud of is erecting the stop-log structures for flood control. To accomplish this, they go out as a crew and each person has a specific role they play each time. Scott’s piece of the puzzle has been the most important: he has to crawl into a small hole to place a pin inside to keep the beams in place.

“The work is pretty speedy because you’re doing this while the water is rising,” he said, explaining he was first picked for the role because he’s small in stature.

He said he’s most proud of this work simply because of the fact that without it, the city could flood to dangerous levels. “That is the most important job that we do here — make the city safe,” he said.

“It’s a very important job,” Antosz agreed. “It takes a group of individuals who are on-key with each other.” And now “they need a new pin guy,” Scott said with a smile.

Antosz said Scott is leaving with a tremendous amount of knowledge. He’s seen the shift to digital, and knows how to fix everything — new and old.

“Back then it was sight, hearing, sound, feel,” Antosz said. “That’s how you diagnosed a vehicle back then.”

He’s seen historic floods of the ’80s, and worked under seven directors, six mayors and “more superintendents than I can count.” Parasaliti said, “he’s the old man of the sea, here — the old man of the DPW.”

In the dead of the winter, in the middle of night, these are the guys who have to figure out a way to make the machines work so they don’t lose a route.

“It’s flying by the seat of your pants,” Scott said.

Scott and Antosz recalled one night during a snowstorm when an axle broke on one of the dump trucks. They brought it into the warm garage to fix it, and all the snow, ice and sand started melting all over the place. They had to put on raincoats and goggles in order to get under the truck and get the job done. “This is not worth it,” Scott recalled saying.

Then there was the time Parasiliti nearly blew him up with a 24-volt battery pack. It was about 15 years ago, and Parasiliti was driving a plow during a storm. “I went to go up the hill and the truck just stopped,” he said.

So he called Scott for help.

When they figured it out and Parasiliti started it back up, there was a big “boom!”

“It was like a bomb went off,” Antosz said. “And I’m like, what the heck just happened.”

Scott dove into the snow, frantically sweeping the white stuff into his face in order to get the battery acid out of his eyes.

“They’re like the cavalry,” Parasiliti said of Scott and Antosz. “They come to the rescue.”

Scott said he may be a small guy, but he’s never worked like one. He’d “huff and puff and make things go.” And after four decades of doing so his body is tired. “When they say hard work doesn’t hurt you, they’re lying,” he said, adding he’s lost three inches on the job.

“The weight of the DPW has crushed me,” he said, feigning a seriousness that gave way to laughter.

For Parasiliti, it’s hard seeing Scott go.

“He kind of gave me a leg up a lot of times when I needed help,” he said. “I can go visit, but I’m not going to see him everyday anymore. He’s not there to lean on.”

In a fit of nostalgia on Scott’s last day, Scott realized he’s been working alongside Antosz for as long as he’s been married to his wife, Diane. But “she’s better lookin’,” Antosz said, gazing into Scott’s eyes and then descending into laughter.

There’s a lot of banter, but his colleagues got emotional when they talked about him leaving.

“We spend more hours awake here together than we do with our own families,” Parasiliti said. “Especially during the winter.”

In addition to passing down his street sweeper skills to “Little Jon” Sullivan, Scott passed along two of his most sought-after tools to Parasiliti and Antosz: his hammer and his specially bent chrome bar, which “they don’t make anymore.”

While the department faces life after Scott, “my problems end at 3 o’clock,” Scott said during his last shift on Friday.

“My new problem? I need clothes,” he said, scruffing his button-down uniform he wears with denim jeans.

Scott also took time during his last shift to give one last vacation slip to Parasiliti.

It read: “from now until forever.”

Scott said he’s unsure of how he’ll use all of his free time, but there’s no shortage of things that need fixing around his Florence home, and he has five grandchildren with whom to pass the time. He knows one thing for certain: “I’m not going to sit still.”

Amanda Drane can be contacted at adrane@gazettenet.com.