There’s a white storm coming. Reports that Old Man Winter has been prowling city streets again, spreading his mischievous powers of wind, ice and snow crackle over your radio. You are waiting in a Zen state, sipping coffee, cleaning your blade and relaxing confidently in your plow truck. Across the dusty passenger seat, Doppler radar printouts, weather models and your Magic 8-ball offer interesting
distractions of prediction as you patiently anticipate the first flakes of the winter battle.
This is the way of the snowplow samurai.
Years of experience, a keen understanding of your iron and the strict discipline of safety, patience and hard work have prepared you and your crews for this mission — keeping the treacherous winter roads traversable for the populace. You have confidence in your warhorse, outfitted with the right plow to tackle anything Old Man Winter decides to spill in your path.
Every season presents new tests of endurance, and keeping your plow business sharp is a constant challenge for every professional plow warrior to prevail. Having the right weapons for the battle is essential, which is why picking the perfect snow blade for your truck is the bedrock of the Code of the Samurai. Armed with a straight or V-plow, steel or poly
configuration, wire or wireless cab control option, your snow troopers on the ground can wield their blades safely and efficiently, enhancing productivity and giving your company great honor in the local
contracting community. Elevate your status to a
master sansei of snow (that’s a white belt) with these helpful snowplow pointers.
Bushido (Way of the Warrior)
Before riding into battle, snow samurai must be trained and armed with the knowledge of their weapon and a general code of conduct (safety, ethics and gobs of snowplow know-how). Ancient Japanese samurai used Bushido to expand and formalize their standards of work, loyalty and honor in action.
First on the list, warriors must be equipped with the right weapon to battle a fierce and challenging foe like ice and snow. Before strapping your warhorse with any rusty truck plow, you will first need to decide what size, design and construction best fits your job, battlefield constraints and coin purse.
Step onto the dealer lot of any of these snowplow manufacturers today (THE BOSS, Hiniker, Sno-Way, Meyer, Fisher, Blizzard and Western, among others) and you will discover two main configurations
dominate the truck snowplow industry.
1. Straight Blades — These blades clear snow quickly and easily in environments as narrow as a sidewalk or as expansive as a parking lot, using a heavy-duty blade that is straight and respectful. For increased maneuverability, a straight blade can be angled 30 to 45 degrees right or left for exact plowing. Price range is $3,000 to $4,000
2. V-Plows — These plows increase the warrior’s
ability to plow snow more efficiently and carefully. The V-plow is a multi-position plow (V-position, scoop position, straight position and angle position) that gives your operations more versatility and
accuracy. Price range is $4,000 to $6,000.
“The V-plow is the most versatile of any plow
system,” explains Jim Kost, manager of engineering of Meyer Products — a manufacturer of snowplows and salt spreaders based in Cleveland, Ohio. “By its nature, it functions as both a straight blade as well as adding
the additional functionality of V and scoop positions. On the opposite side, the V-plow is typically more expensive, more difficult to learn to use and has
the potential for more mechanical issues. In general,
V-plows are great for doing a larger area like a parking lot when the operator needs to take a number of first-cut passes in deep snow. The inverted scoop position is often used at the end of a job to clean up spill-over created by snow falling off the leading edge of the blade.”
While V-plows are the most versatile blades, straight blades are still the most popular. V-plows are typically utilized by
professionals and cities, while straight blade plows are used by both contractors and consumers. Smaller-size straight blades (popular with homeowners) usually size from 6 to 7 1/2 ft wide and are intended for non-commercial use with down-sized 4 by 4s, SUVs and light 1/2-ton pickups. Conventional straight blade plows are typically sold in 7 1/2-, 8-, 8 1/2- and 9-ft sizes, as well as some 10 footers for medium-duty trucks.
“[Conventional straight-blade plows] are the most
common type of plow for commercial use. They are lighter in weight and less expensive than the more specialized types of plows,” says Mark Miller, marketing manager
at Hiniker Co., a snow and agricultural machine
manufacturer based in Mankato, Minn.
V-plows are usually sold in 8 1/2- or 9 1/2-ft widths. Typically used in the forward facing position to capture and move snow when plowing parking lots, streets or
other travel ways, the V-plow can also be operated in the
V position to break through deep unplowed snow or as a conventional windrowing plow. “V-plows are significantly heavier and more expensive than a straight blade plow,
but are more versatile,” says Miller.
Sometimes snow samurai may have the choice of two different types of V-plows (choose wisely!). First there is a rigid V, which is a blade that does not change positions. Generally this plow is used for big jobs clearing county roads and highways. Then there is a multi-position V-plow that can change from the scoop-position to the V-position to the straight or angle position or any position in-between (most impressive!). This blade is usually used for parking lots, apartment building complexes and intersections.
“To change the position of a multi-position plow, you simply touch a button on the snowplow control inside of the vehicle cab,” says Rick Robitaille, marketing manager with THE BOSS snowplow — a blade and spreader maker based in Iron Mountain, Mich. “It’s like having several plows in one. You have a scoop to control, carry and stack the snow. You have the V-position to break trail or punch through snow drifts and hard-packed banks. And you have the straight or angle position for windrowing.”
While V-plows are the most versatile instrument of
battle, straight blades should not be dismissed; they are
the most popular for a reason. Even with a straight, fixed-configuration moldboard, the straight blade can be angled to deliver snow to exact spots powerfully and efficiently. This adjustment is done hydraulically from the cab with most current plows. Both pros and homeowners love a straight blade’s ease of use and cheaper cost.
Besides the main straight blade and V-plow configurations, each manufacturer has its own unique plow design options. For more information on these innovative concepts, check out the Snow Ronin sidebar on page 26. All of these products can be found on Class 1 through Class 8 vehicles — although the majority of snowplows are
configured for large pickup trucks (3/4 ton and 1 ton) or medium-duty trucks (Class 4-6).
Samurai of old used various weapons, but the katana
was the weapon that was synonymous with samurai. Bushido taught that a samurai’s soul is their katana, so selecting the perfect blade for your snow samurai will be a matter of business survival. Steel plows have always been the traditional blade of choice for professionals (a most powerful and durable metal), but modern science has introduced polyethylene snow blades to the market (using a polymerized ethylene resin).
“Poly won’t rust. Poly is lighter. And poly is slicker,” says Mike Stevens, vice present of sales and marketing for Sno-Way — a plow and spreader manufacturer based in Hartford, Wis. “You can move more snow and roll it out of the way faster.”
Whether your snow blade is a straight or a V-plow, your dealer will typically have a choice of material construction — steel or polyethylene. Poly plows continue to grow in popularity each year because of their slick self-lubricating surface, which allows snow to slide off the blade quickly (like a ninja!). Snow and ice tend to stick to the surface of steel plows. Another advantage of poly is that the blade material is saturated with color all the way through so nicks and scratches don’t show as much as on a steel plow that has seen years of fierce battle.
“The end result is that a poly blade tends to look new longer and it’s easier on your vehicle,” says Robitaille. “But poly plows usually cost $200 to $300 more than steel plows.”
Of course, steel blades have been around longer and they have many loyal users. Many of today’s grizzled samurai masters grew up using steel moldboards and just aren’t
comfortable changing to fancy alternative
materials such as poly. Others really appreciate the plowing performance and durability of poly blades. Steel blades will require more maintenance, as unpainted steel exposed to the open air will eventually begin to rust, but they are cheaper and more traditional, having much honor.
Hagakure (In the Shadow of Leaves)
Every snow samurai needs practical instruction to install and wield their winter blade with the utmost competence. Hagakure was the most famous ancient manual that focused on functional and spiritual teachings that guided warriors in life goals and endeavors. Your Hagakure will be your snow blade’s owner’s manual. Your mission will be to install and maintain your blade for battle.
When purchased, most plows come with lights, hydraulics, blade, vehicle undercarriage and controls. Popular options can include snow deflectors (which attach to the main blade or plow wings to deflect snow away from the windshield) and plow wings (which attach to the sides of the plow and make it more of a scoop). Instructions for installation of a plow onto your truck typically look like this:
1. Open all cartons and verify all parts are there
2. Follow all instructions precisely
3. Install the mount to the truck
4. Assemble the frame to the mounting
5. Assemble the frame to the moldboard
6. Assemble accessories to the moldboard
7. Install the wiring harness
8. Install the plow lights
9. Attach the plow to the truck mount
10. Plow snow!!!
“The plow type and size are primarily driven by the application of the vehicle. Vehicle OEMs provide specifications for adding vocational equipment to both the front and rear of vehicles, and we conform to each vehicle’s specific guidelines,” explains Craig Kemmerling, business development manager with Meyer Products. “If the contractor works within the limitations set forth by both the vehicle OEM and plow OEM that should ensure no vehicle damage.
To ensure no exterior and interior systems get damaged, installation instructions and limitations should be followed.”
Selecting the right-sized plow is as important as installing it correctly. After assembling the blade and mounting it to the truck (per the instructions of your brand’s Hagakure), you will need to set up your controls. The standard controls of today are installed directly into your truck’s cab and give the operator the ability to fully operate the snow blade from within the comfort of a cozy, heated enclosure.
“Functionality and ergonomics help set cab
controls apart,” says Kemmerling.
Cab controls are typically part of the system’s main wiring harness and are usually plug and play (although today, some manufacturers even offer wireless controls). Most companies offer a standard cab control and then a second style or upgraded cab control. A good controller should be compact and easy to use. The controls should be raised so an intuitive warrior can see and feel them, rather than lowering their eyes, distracting from the job at hand. The controller can often be Velcro-mounted to any surface in the cab for easy use.
“There are keypad- or joystick-style cab controls — both sit in the cab,” says Stevens. “They allow you to easily function the plow. Left, right, up and down for straight blades and wings in, wings out, scoop and V for V-plows. Good controls need to be durable, ergonomic and responsive. There are also wired and wireless versions.”
To actually arm and disarm your truck with a snow blade (after you’ve already installed the mounting frame to your truck), just drive into the plow, flip the lock pin levers to the “on” position, connect
two electrical plugs and raise the light tower with the touch of a button. Many companies promote quick-attach plows too.
“The Hiniker Quick-Hitch system is a very simple and effective mechanical hook-up system. You simply drive into the plow, then pull and pin a lever to attach the plow to the truck,” says Miller. “Hiniker plows also utilize a steel lift-link system rather than lift chains. This gives our plows a smoother ride with less bouncing when they are in the transport position.”
Along with mounting parts and cab controls, snowplows will have a variety of wear items that samurai will need to maintain, including cutting edges, plow shoes, hydraulic hoses and trip return springs. Cutting edges are the most expensive and can cost $150 to $300, depending on the size and model of snowplow. Plow shoes generally cost around $50 to replace. All of these items can be replaced in the field with basic tools.
Buke (Warrior Nobility)
Over time, powerful samurai clans can become warrior nobility (buke), who are influential and well-respected
aristocrats of their societies. This is the goal of every snowplow samurai. Like any expert, you will need to wield your blade with honor and accuracy to become a noble warrior in your community. Slicing through snow drifts, piling embankments, clearing lots and roadways – you need to be quick and safe, plowing like a pro (or a sansei master).
Plowing techniques are as crucial as the blade you use. First off, know the lay of the land. You’ve most likely worked out your big plow contracts before the winter, so survey the parking lots, roads or driveways while they’re still uncovered. A lot of malls and restaurants will have parking lots that are chopped up by little islands, big curbs and other plow dangers.
“Know where the raised manholes, curbs, holes and
fire hydrants are. Scout and take notes before it snows,” says Miller. “And watch your speed when plowing. Speed magnifies the force of any impact.”
When using a straight blade, professionals tend to angle the blade either to the left or right position for windrowing or widening on the first pass. With the blade angled, make consecutive passes — each time throwing the snow forward and to the side. This technique is used to clear large areas such as parking lots. When using the straight blade in a straight position (i.e. directly in front of the vehicle), you can back drag, removing snow from areas such as walls, doors or truck decks. You should back drag only two or three truck lengths before turning around and pushing the newly created snow piles.
Handling a V-plow is a bit different than a straight blade, as these plows have a variety of different positions. Application will determine the plow position.
1. V-Position — In this position, the blades are retracted toward the truck. This position is normally used for
making the first pass. It’s ideal for plowing a lane through deep snow or punching through snowdrifts, hard-packed piles and windrows.
2. Scoop Position — This position is used for
carrying or controlling snow — with the blade pushed out to form an inverted V shape. It’s most useful for clearing parking lots or other large areas where you need to put the snow exactly where you want it (not just where it falls off the blade). It’s also useful for cleanup work after the job.
3. Angle Position — This position is used to angle either left or right of the vehicle for windrowing or for widening on the first pass.
4. Straight Position — In this position, the blade is directly in front of the vehicle. Use this
position for back dragging or cleaning up at
the end of the job.
Generally speaking, when you pull into a parking lot, driveway or any plow battlefield, you will move snow from the front outward, piling the snow somewhere near the edges (like embattlements). Remember to keep a good line of sight around corners and near entrances and exits. If you pile snow drifts where vehicles turn or exit, drivers can’t see around them. An 8-ft pile of snow at the end of the fast food drive-thru leading into the street
is a dangerous and bad idea, and you do not want a
furious Ronald McDonald calling the Better Business Bureau. This will dishonor your reputation and clan.
Just as important as sharpening your plow skills is
correctly and safely maintaining your warhorse.
“As far as the vehicle goes, the customer should purchase a snowplow preparation package when buying the
vehicle,” says Robitaille. “They should then perform
regular maintenance on the vehicle and follow the vehicle manufacturer’s recommendations for plowing snow. Special attention should be paid to the vehicle transmission, as overheating the transmission can cause serious damage to this very expensive vehicle component.”
For more information and even more snowplowing tips, true buke should join other noble clans (kuge) at local or national snow communities like SIMA (the Snow and Ice Management Association). SIMA is a nonprofit trade organization ensuring professionalism and safer communities by helping those who manage snow and ice master essential skills and practices. By mastering such skills,
picking the best blade and joining great organizations like SIMA, you can become a snow samurai and noble winter warrior in your community.
Keith Gribbins is managing editor of Compact Equipment.