No More Snow Days

When you’re a child, the sight of roadways
clogged with snow is one of winter’s greatest delights. Piles of the white stuff are a sure sign
of a day off from school — but not, as adults soon find, from work.

And so it is that one of winter’s most controversial figures comes into
play — the snowplow driver, a person who ensures that roads are clear,
the parking lots are passable and that schools stay open. The
proliferation of snowplow users and operators was once memorably
lampooned on an episode of The Simpsons, but the fact is that the
snowplow market is a booming business.

“The commercial snowplowing industry is getting
more competitive every year,” says John Berlowski, sales
manager for plow manufacturer Hiniker.
“We estimate that there are over 400,000 plows in use
at any given time during the season,” says Mike Stevens,
vice president of sales and marketing for Sno-Way International.

“Most people who buy plows do so for vocational purposes, but there are
a growing number of personal or non-vocational plow operators,” says
Pete Robison, marketing manager for Meyer Products.

Most are bought for commercial use, but that’s still a lot of plows
moving a lot of snow. It looks like your neighborhood’s “Mr. Plow” may
have some rivals waiting in the wings. If that plow person happens to
be you, it’s important to know a thing or two about choosing the right
equipment for the job.

While they’re not the only options available, straight blade and
V-blade plows are the most popular. “Straight blade plows have been
around for a long time, more than 70 years,” says Rick Robitaille,
marketing manager at BOSS. “Straight-blade plows are used for
windrowing, back-dragging and stacking snow.”

“Straight blade plows are the most popular,” says Nels Niemela, vice
president of sales and marketing at Blizzard Snowplows. “They are less
expensive and weigh considerably less. Straight blade plows are
normally purchased by home owners in rural areas and are used to clear
snow from driveways and small parking areas.”

While the attachment
has a simple, basic design, both designs and accessories can help to
make straight blades a bit more versatile. “Straight blades come in two
different styles — one type relieves the force caused by an obstacle by
tripping the whole plow forward,” says Stevens. “The other style trips
the bottom edge of the blade up and over the obstacle. Either of these
are preferred by most users in every type of plowing situation.”

As far as attachments are concerned, “you can add wings to a straight
blade plow that come off at approximately 30 degrees, creating a bucket
plow or scoop,” says Robitaille. This can help make a straight plow
more applicable for certain situations, but for even more flexibility,
some operators turn to V- or multi-position plows.

“The V-blade offers greater versatility,” explains Berlowski. “Designed
with a hinge in the center of the moldboard, each section or wing, is
allowed to move independently. Pulling both wings back puts the
blade into the V position, which is most effective in making the first
pass through a snowdrifted area. Pushing both wings forward sets the
plow into the scoop position, which lets the operator push a larger
amount of snow. This position is also very effective in stacking snow.”

“V-plows
actually offer the operator three different blade positions:
wedge-shaped, straight across and inverted scoop,” says Robison. “So
depending on what the operator needs to do, the V-blade gives him or
her versatility.”

The independent movement of each wing improves the ability to control
where the snow goes, an advantage over a straight blade. The V also
forms an effective wedge to ram through snowdrifts. “V-plows are more
commonly used in commercial applications where large areas need
clearing. They offer more carrying capacity than straight blades by
virtue of being able to cup or scoop the snow when the wings of the
plow are inverted,” says Niemela. “V-plows are also used in heavy
snowfall areas where the blade can be used in the V position to plunge
through deep, heavy and drifting snow.”

For those who may need a combination of piercing and stacking snow, a
multi-position blade may be the way to go. “A multi-position plow can
do everything a straight blade plow can do and more,” says Robitaille.
“For example, a multi-position plow can achieve the ‘V’ position, the
scoop position or any position in between. The advantage a
multi-position plow has over a straight blade plow is that you save a
lot of time.” That could be a selling point all its own — the sooner
you finish your job, the sooner you can get out of the cold and grab
that hot cup of coffee.

Depending on styles and options, a straight blade plow can cost between
$3,500 to $5,000. V- and multi-position plows can vary between $4,000
to $7,000. Part of the price discrepancy in blades not only comes from
style, but material. While most people are familiar with steel blades,
polyethylene and polycarbonate blades are also becoming popular
options. While this option can increase plow price, it’s generally
agreed that poly blades are, in the end, more efficient. “It’s easier
to push the snow load, making it easier on the vehicle’s drive train
and easier on gas,” says Robitaille. “That’s because of the slick,
self-lubricating surface of polyethylene.”

“Steel vs. poly is a matter of personal preference,” says Robison.
“Many plow users grew up using steel moldboards and just aren’t
comfortable making a change to alternative materials such as poly.
Others appreciate the plowing performance and durability of poly
blades.”

“Our company uses a material called polycarbonate,” says Stevens. “Most
poly materials are slippery — and snow does not stick to them. Plus,
they do not rust.” Additionally, poly boards are saturated with color
throughout the material, making nicks and scratches less noticeable.

Of course, options galore will be of no use if the plow is not placed
on the proper vehicle. “Each truck manufacturer identifies items that
should be added to a new truck that is going to be used to plow snow,”
says Berlowski. “This is a snowplow prep package. The dealer should be
able to help in selecting the recommended options. The required size of
the truck is dictated by the type of plow that will be used.”

“Professionals typically use 3/4 and 1-ton trucks with 8-ft or 9-ft
snowplows attached,” says Robitaille. “People using their plows for
personal use use 1/2-ton and down-sized 4x4s or compact trucks with 7
ft or 7 ft, 6 in. plows. It is important that the plow size be matched
to the truck size. You should never exceed the truck’s axle ratings.”

“One of the biggest concerns when using and transporting a plow is
overheating,” says Brian Birch, membership administrator with the Snow
and Ice Management Association (SIMA). “Sometimes the plow can block
air flow to the engine, causing it to overheat. Some contractors will
install an additional electric fan to help keep the engine cool while
plowing or transporting the plow.”

It’s
important for operators to keep in mind that while they may not be
using typical heavy equipment, safety is still a primary concern.
Before plowing, drivers should check the vehicle’s manual, as well as
the vehicle’s condition. This will help lessen the chances of putting
undue stress on a truck, which could lead to mechanical failure. When
traveling longer distances between plowing sites, it is important to
remove the snowplow from the vehicle for transport. While it’s
acceptable to keep the plow attached for short distance travel, there
are a few things to keep in mind. SIMA recommends that operators
position the blade so the auxiliary plow headlights are not being
blocked and to angle the blade to the right, toward the curb, to reduce
the chance of hitting a snow bank and being pulled into it. According
to a SIMA training video, “Overheating is unlikely under normal driving
conditions, but occasionally the plow may be positioned where it
deflects air away from the radiator. If this occurs, stop the vehicle
and raise, lower or angle the snowplow to correct the overheating. The
damage from overheating can be costly, so check the truck’s temperature
gauge often.” Other important points include wearing a seatbelt,
keeping the blade in a stationary position during transport and turning
off the plow controls to prevent any accidental movement.

Equally important is keeping your plow in good working condition.
“Prior to the start of the season, replace any damaged parts,” says
Berlowski. “Hook up the plow to the truck and check all hydraulic
connections for leaks. Check the lights and plow controls, change the
hydraulic oil and check all electrical connections both on the plow and
the truck. Also, check the truck’s plow mounting hardware and tighten
all the fasteners to the proper torque specifications listed in the
operator’s manual.”

“Storing plows inside or at minimum under some type of cover is a good
idea,” says Niemela. “Always wash your plow after each use, cleaning
off the salt residue and grime from attacking the paint, wiring, etc.
Use plenty of dielectric grease during the plowing season and during
the offseason. This will reduce having problems with corrosion on
connections, IE plugs, lighting harnesses, etc.”

Finally, it’s important to remember proper plowing techniques once
you’re out on the road. “Always square off corners unless they are
naturally round, and don’t leave clumps or trails of snow behind,”
advises SIMA. “Re-plow the curb line if sidewalks were shoveled after a
lot was plowed. Lastly, take one last look at the entire jobsite to
make sure the entire area is clean.”

Of course, there’s always a question of where to put all that snow that
you’ve just pushed off of the pavement. SIMA literature advises
operators to build snow banks far enough back to accommodate future
snowfalls. Also, pile snow on the opposite side of the property that
the wind is blowing, so snow doesn’t drift back into the plowed area.
If you’re plowing snow in a parking area, push it to the back, away
from the street. You’ll also want to avoid staging snow in the middle
of a lot. Doing so will prevent difficult removal later. It’s important
to keep snow away from streets, sidewalks, building entrances/exits,
steps, cars, mailboxes, dumpsters and fire hydrants. Taking extra care
around utility boxes is also highly recommended.

As the weather cools down, some are predicting an unusually cold and
snowy winter. Though it’s impossible to know what the future holds,
it’s always a good idea to be prepared. By assessing your area now, you
can have a better idea of what sort of snowplow will be right for you,
as well as what sort of obstacles will be in store once plowing season
comes. So hop in your truck and take a jaunt around the neighborhood,
then go home and research which plow options are right for you. By the
time the snow starts falling, you’ll be ready to tackle nature’s worst
and make the roads clear for traffic. Sorry, kids.

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