Nevada City Public Works Director Verne Taylor will retire after 20 years
If you took a drive through the residential areas of Nevada City with Verne Taylor, you would be hard pressed to see a household he hasn’t helped.
“It may have been a three-hour job for me, but for them it was a big crisis that I solved,” he said. “I’ve just met a ton of really nice people, and I remember their dogs’ names. I know just about every dog in town.”
After serving as Nevada City’s Public Works Director for more than 20 years, Taylor, 65, will retire from his post next week, leaving a legacy of historic projects and life-long relationships he has built for the city from the ground up.
“Verne is an institution for Nevada City,” City Manager Mark Prestwich said. “He’s an encyclopedia of information, and he’s been able to communicate his knowledge to his staff, but unfortunately we’re going to see a wealth of knowledge that isn’t going to be available anymore as he retires, and it’s a loss for the city.”
Originally from the Bay Area, Taylor moved to Nevada City with his family in 1968. Taylor worked as a Cal Fire firefighter on Ridge Road at the age of 18, and got involved in forestry work.
He left the area for a few years to pursue a degree in forestry at Humboldt State University, then came back to run his own nursery where he grew forest tree seedlings.
“But I was always a builder,” he said. “My dad worked for a construction company in the Bay Area, so I started working for his company when I was 12 putting in nail bags. I always had carpentry skills.”
As a local contractor, Taylor also worked on a number of buildings in Nevada City, including several on Broad Street. In 1990, Taylor began looking to make a career change after seeing what construction work was doing to his body.
With a wife, two sons and a mortgage, Taylor said he knew starting over in a new industry wasn’t an option. As a self-described “chronic volunteer,” at the time he was working on local park projects with the Nevada City Lions Club.
While working on a playground project at Pioneer Park in 1995, Taylor said the city’s soon to be retired Public Works Director George Hill gave him the opportunity he had been waiting for.
“I was running the city crew showing them how to form up concrete steps from the playground down to the bench area,” Taylor said. “And he came over and said, ‘I want you to apply for my job.’”
Taylor was hired on Aug. 1, 1995 by then city manager Beryl Robinson Jr.
His first month on the job, he started on the city’s Pine Street bridge project, tearing down the 1906 bridge and building a new one. Taylor said, at the time, it was the largest public works project in city history.
According to Taylor, while digging gas lines near the six-pin iron bridge, workers hit a cable buried a foot under the pavement.
“This cable was from the 1863 bridge,” he said. “So when they tore this bridge down to build the 1906 bridge, that we were tearing down, they just cut this cable and dropped it down … The nuts on this cable were tightened when Abraham Lincoln was president, and the American civil war was going on.”
Taylor said he realized that his job would continue to place him “knee-deep” in history. Like an archaeologist, he has dug up historical artifacts throughout the years such as old keys, toys, bottles and Derringer gun frames.
“You never know what you’re going to dig up. So it’s always fascinating. It’s hard work, but it’s like, what mystery are we going to find today whenever we go to work,” he said.
As the years progressed, Taylor said he built relationships with contractors and local merchants through not only his work with the city, but his volunteerism, working hours on projects just “for the love of this town.”
Taylor remembers beginning work on putting basketball courts in Pioneer Park, which took him more than 10 years to complete, because his son and friends had no place to play basketball.
In 2007, Taylor held a ceremony to dedicate the courts, and invited his son, and friend (T.J) who had been going through some rough times.
“We were dedicating the courts, and on the center two hoops, it says ‘T.J.’s house’ on one, and ‘J.T.’s house’ on the other,” said Taylor. “And I got to see (T.J.) standing in front of this hoop and his girlfriend taking his picture with tears running down his face. And I thought. ‘OK, this was worth it.’”
Taylor has compiled a collection of thank-you notes, articles, and awards that have been given to him over the years that he says help him get through rough days.
“I would come in, I’d pull this out and start going through this till I teared up,” he said. “You come in and you read 200 people thanking you for what you did, and then you go back to work.”
Throughout his time with the city, Taylor says he has had the freedom to do work he believed needed to be done, while working for five different city managers.
He says he specifically enjoyed working with City Engineer Bill Falconi in re-purposing old materials for new projects, and on Measure S projects that helped repave the streets of the city that he says previously looked “like a third-world country.”
Taylor says he is leaving the department in good hands with newly promoted Superintendent of Public Works Chris Schack.
“The kid understands what I’ve done. He understands you build for 30, 40, or 50 years down the road,” said Taylor. “That the things we build, the things I build are going to be here a generation later.”
Schack has worked with Taylor for more than nine years and sees him as a father figure whose work he hopes to replicate.
“His influence is going to be with me for life whether I work for the city or not,” Schack said. “In his work, he puts his hands in it, and designs things to carry the historical aspects forward; I want to carry that on.”
For Taylor, his job has allowed him to give back to a town that he loves. And that labor of love can be seen whenever he goes to Pioneer Park with his granddaughter to play beneath the 40-foot tall maple trees he and his Eagle Scout crew planted as seedlings more than 20 years ago.
“I see dozens of things that I’ve built over the years that to me were made better, and made prettier,” Taylor says. “So it’s always nice driving through town.”
To contact Staff Writer Ivan Natividad, email email@example.com or call 530-477-4236.
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