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Rotary snow plow (2002)
Snow Plow 1 Historically, winters have proved to present formidable challenges to the Canadian railway industry. As a result, Canada’s railways have made great strides using specialized equipment and winter operating plans that have resulted in significant improvements to wintertime operations. A pioneer Canadian invention — the rotary snow plow — is an excellent example of ingenuity developed to help Canada’s railway’s deal with winter operating challenges.

Snow Plow 2The rotary snow plow employed a large steam-powered cutting wheel and a specialized fan to blow the snow clear of the right-of-way. The first rotary snow plow was built using the designs of a Mr. Orange Jull and was assembled in the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) shops at Parkdale, Ontario in the 1880s. The Leslie brothers of Ontario are credited with spearheading the production and improvement of this machine.

Snow Plow 3Each rotary snow plow has a steam boiler and a two-cylinder engine to power the snow-cutting mechanism. Each plow had a tender for water and fuel (coal). Steam locomotives were then used to push the plow. The rotary snow plow crew consisted of an engineer and fireman who were in charge of the boiler and engine that powered the massive cutting wheel, and a plow foreman and two assistants who operated the snow cutting mechanism. A plow could burn 3 to 4 tons of coal operating on a 24-hour-per-day basis.

Snow Plow 4

The rotary snow plow was used by railroads in the western United States as well as by the CPR. The first six CPR rotary snow plows were used in the Selkirk Mountains of British Columbia in 1888. The Selkirks were a formidable obstacle for the CPR, with record snow falls and avalanches occurring on a regular basis, closing the main line for days. The plows proved extremely effective in both wet and heavy snow in the clearing of the main track, especially in the snow-bound Rogers Pass. By the winter of 1889, the CPR had a full fleet of rotary plows in service on the Prairies, in northern Ontario, and elsewhere in eastern Canada. Although the rotary snow plows were expensive to operate, they were considered a reliable and effective way of keeping the CPR open across the country on a year round basis until replaced by newer forms of snow removal equipment in the 1950s.

Photos: S.I. Smith (1)  CPR (2-4)

 
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