It’s not yet dawn on this early February morning as I’m out for my daily walk.
Overnight brought a freezing drizzle and a skim of snow to the road. It’s a bit slick so I’m carefully walking on the shoulder where I can feel some gravel.
Suddenly I hear a rumble and know it’s not the wind. Then I see light coming from around the wide curve in the road ahead. An orange behemoth appears with its bright yellow flashing lights—a snowplow clearing and salting our road before 6 a.m. Thanking the driver, I salute him with my flashlight and wave.
I’ve been fascinated watching snowplows in tandem plowing freeways and airfields with blowing snow almost making them invisible. How many of us appreciate the efforts of these drivers and snowplows out there late nights and early mornings clearing our roadways, making them safer for us and our vehicles? That question triggered my interest in the history of snow plowing and those early efforts to clear streets and roadways.
It’s been an interesting journey. In the 1800s, streets were cleared by dozens of men shoveling them. Before the Civil War, the state of the art was snow rollers—big rolling cages pulled by horses that flattened out the snow so sleighs and such could get over it. The first snowplows were horse-drawn wedge plows made of wood. As early as the 1840s, the first snowplow patent was issued, and the first snowplow deployed in Milwaukee in 1862.
In 1913, the first snowplow was built specifically for use with motor equipment. Manufactured by Good Roads Machinery in Kennet Square, Pennsylvania, it was designed to meet the exacting requirements outlined by the engineers of the New York City Cleaning Bureau. Good Roads is unofficially credited as the originator of the modern snowplow, though their horse-drawn steel blade road graders were used to clear roads of snow as early as the company’s founding in 1878 under the original name American Road Machinery. Good Roads patented the first four-wheel grader in 1889, making it the first pull grading apparatus patented in the U.S.
In the early 1920s, Good Roads advertised that “three out of every four snowplows in use through the whole U.S. are Good Road Champions.” By the mid-1920s, Good Roads was manufacturing snowplows of various shapes and sizes for use on a wide variety of motorized equipment. Throughout the first half of the century, Good Roads manufactured 75% of all snowplows used in the U.S. They continue to manufacture snow removal equipment today under the name Good Roads Godwin, now located in Dunn, North Carolina.
Tractor, truck and car-mounted snowplows weren’t common until the late 1920s. Often make-shift, do-it-yourself affairs, they were constructed by putting tracks and a plow blade on a Ford Model T. In 1923, brothers Hans and Evan Overaasen of Norway constructed an early snowplow for use on cars, proving to be the start of a tradition in snow-clearing equipment for roads, railways and airports. Carl Frink of Clayton, New York, was also an early manufacturer of auto-mounted snowplows. His company, Frink Snowplows, now Frink-America, was founded as early as 1920.
Today’s snowplows can be made of steel, polyethylene (poly) or stainless steel. Each material offers different benefits, such as treated with special coatings to resist rusting, scratch and dent resistant, slick surfaces and cost differentials. They are available with multiple options—one-way and two-way plows, hydraulic pitched-forward wings, self-adjusting box wings, straight plow blades as well as with a variety of spreaders.
I’m thankful for those drivers and snowplows when I see them on the roads, doing their best to make our roads safe. So when you see one ahead on the highway, have patience, give them a wide berth, and remember, ”Don’t crowd the cloud!”
Linda Hommes lives on a small farm on Camp Lake in Kimberly Township. An outdoor enthusiast, she writes nature essays, memoir and poetry.