January 13, 2001
Volume 3, Issue #01
Chuck's Snowplowing Newsletter
I am proud to be writing this newsletter for the third year. Not exactly three years, but my first series, Volume 1, was written in 1999. There has been quite a bit of information discussed in previous issues, and I try not to repeat myself as far as topics go. In this issue, I am attempting to address some relatively "new" developments in our industry. If there is a topic you would like discussed in a future issue, please let me know.
It has been a long time since my last issue, considering it is the height of the snow and ice removal season, and I feel long overdue writing this issue. I have been busier than usual, and haven't spent as much time online as in the past. I have been trying to come up with good topics for this issue, and it has not been easy. In previous issues, I have covered so many topics. With that said.......
Let's face it, there hasn't been much change in the tools, supplies and techniques used in our industry since it began at least 50 years ago. The first major change that comes to mind is the V plow. Don't get me wrong, the concept has been around a long time, it's only recently that they have been improved. For the most part, V plows were "stationary" plows. By that I mean they stayed in the V position, deflecting snow to each side of the plow. They have been in use by many railroads for nearly a century or more now. While reviewing plow patents, I even came across a V plow that is towed behind a vehicle, attached to the rear bumper with a 10 ft. long chain! I've never seen one in use, but it is a patented design.
Enter the "hinged" or adjustable V plow. These are V plows that are hinged in the center. They can be used in the V position, like this /\ or in the "inverted V" or "scoop" position, like this V. They can also be used in any position in between, such as this \__ or even this __/ and including like a straight plow ____. Adjustable V plows are clearly the largest improvement in our industry since it began. Users of V plows report as much as 50% savings in time on particular jobs, and an average of time savings of 35% overall compared to plowing with a straight plow. One of the main reasons a V plow is so much more productive is the fact that it can be used in the scoop position. When plowing parking lots with a straight plow, snow is typically pushed to one side, in a "windrow". Often, a little more than half the blade's width is used, to prevent "trail off" or spillover. This is unproductive, but there is no alternative when using a straight plow. Trail off means you will have to make another pass, to clean up the trail. Plow "wings" help when added to a straight plow, but they don't increase efficiency as much as a V plow does. For instance, with a V plow, you can make several passes with the blade in the straight position, angled to one side, creating a windrow. Then change the plow to the scoop position on the next pass, and scoop up and move the windrow you created, to the end of the push. Remember the less you have to "handle" the snow, the better. If you can make each pass once, instead of making extra passes to clean up trail off, you will save time. Over the course of several accounts, that time adds up fast.
There may also be some areas where you don't want to leave a windrow on either side. By using the scoop position, you can move all the snow to the end of the pass. This is great when plowing between rows of parked cars. No complaints of people being "plowed in" and no one shoveling out their cars, onto what you already plowed, making a mess. It just might help you win an account over a contractor who runs all straight plows. Especially at condos and apartment complexes. Property managers know how many residents complain of being plowed in, and if you can easily limit the amount of snow left blocking parked vehicles, it just might win the bid for you. You can also move piles of fresh snow using the scoop position. You can "shave" off windrows and piles too in the scoop position, after clearing an area, but before the piles freeze up. You can move piles, and shave off windrows and piles with a straight plow, but we all know what a task, and how time consuming that is.
About the only negative thing about V plows that I have heard, is that they don't backdrag as well as a straight plow. Let's face it though, most plows are not designed to backdrag though some manufacturers are making changes so that their plows backdrag better. This is typically accomplished by adding a "downpressure" feature to the plow. Basically a way to use some of the vehicle's weight to press down on the plow, much like a front end loader can. Others are mounting the hydraulic pump on the plow's A frame, to add more weight to the blade.
Rear mounted plows are another relatively new tool for our industry. Rear plows are often used on properties that would require a lot of backdraging with a front mounted plow. They often have a downpressure feature, and are typically used in conjunction with a plow on the front of the vehicle as well. Specific areas that rear mounted plows work well in, are loading docks and "dead ends" on commercial properties, and near garage doors on residential properties. Rear mounted plows attach to a receiver hitch, that most trucks already have. They have their own hydraulic power unit, which only requires running power wires up to the battery, and control wires to the cab. They can be moved from vehicle to vehicle easily too. The only requirements are a receiver hitch rated high enough, and a vehicle charging system that can handle the load the hydraulics place on it. In a pinch you could even put one on your wife's SUV. (NOT that she would like it!)
Urethane Cutting Edges
Sooner or later you will need to replace the bottom edge of your plow, also known as the "cutting edge". For years, steel has been the standard, with an occasional rubber one here and there. Steel is available in various thickness and with various carbon content. Typically, "mild" steel has a low carbon content, and is very "malleable", or bendable. Also, mild steel is much softer than steel with a high carbon content, and will wear out much faster than "carbon" steel. The higher the carbon content, the harder the steel is. Rubber is also used as a cutting edge, but it's characteristics make it a poor choice for many applications. It's most prominent characteristic is that it has a "memory". After much use, or after the weght of the plow has sat on the edge during storage, the rubber begins to lean back, in the opposite direction that most of your pushing has been done in. Letting the plow sit on the rubber edge when not in use adds to this problem. Once the rubber is leaning back to begin with, it doesn't clear as well, and the face of it begins to wear, instead of the edge of it. As the face wears, the rubber gets thinner, and bends easier. This escalates the problem. Shoes are a must with rubber edges, and most road plows that use rubber edges, use wheels to support the plow instead of shoes. Rubber edges ride right over hard packed snow, and the rubber wears out much faster than steel. Rubber edges are great on paver stone driveways, and even concrete driveways. Any place you don't want to leave scrape marks on the surface being cleared. Parking decks are often sealed with a special coating, and steel edges would damage it if they were used.
Enter the Urethane cutting edge. Urethane has been around a long time. It has not been used as a plow edge until recently. There are many different types of urethane, which includes polyurethane. There are urethane paints used to paint automobiles, and clear urethane used on hardwood floors and on bowling alley lanes. There are many plow moldboards made out of polyurethane, and some made out of "poly". There is a reason I use the term "poly". The definition of the word poly is "many: several". The definition of polymerization is "a chemical reaction in which two or more small molecules combine to form polymers." So keep that in mind when you think of poly. All polymers are different. Just because something is made of poly, doesn't mean it can stand up to what you intend to use it for. If a company designed it to be used what you intend to use it for, then you should have no worries.
Urethane edges made by MTS, have been researched, developed, and have evolved into the types of urthane plow edges they sell today. They sell three different grades of edges. Each grade is made from different materials, with different uses in mind. The easiest way to tell the edges apart that MTS sells, is by color. Yellow is the most popular one. It is designed for most applications. There is also red, and blue. Yellow is for light duty applications, (light duty blade) on pickups, tractors, and small dumps. It is not for high speed plowing. It is for parking lots, driveways, and private roads. Blue is (special duty blade) for municipal plows. It was designed for cobblestone roads, going over manholes, and roads with raised reflectors. Red is (heavy duty blade) for heavy industrial equipment, that clears at high speed. It's superior in it's resistance to cuts and abrasion, extended wear, and resiliency. Ideal for interstates and highways. It is also obviously the most expensive.
Users of urethane edges are very happy with them. They all report little wear after many hours of plowing. They seem to not be able to agree on all the benefits of urethane, but wearability is one they all agree on. Another is shock absorption. When hitting obstacles, such as manhole covers, and tank fill covers in gas station parking lots, the users plow does not trip. Some even hit low curbs, and the plow rides right up over the curb without tripping. Another factor they agree on is how quiet the urethane makes the plow when plowing. No loud scraping sound. The sound of the plow dropping is much quieter too, a definite benefit when plowing residential driveways at 3 AM. These edges also plow crushed stone without tripping the blade, and without moving the stone too. Pea gravel seems to get scraped up much like it would with a steel edge, but the plow doesn't trip, or "bite into" the surface. I know with a steel edge as soon as the plow hits the gravel it wants to trip, or stop the truck dead in it's tracks. Some users report that they can plow over frozen grass areas without tearing up the turf. I would imagine as more and more contractors begin using these urethane edges, the facts will be clearer. Just the benefits I described so far, make urethane a much better choice than steel. They seem to cost as much as four times that of a steel edge, but they also seem to last at least four times as long, plus, if an edge "wide" enough is used, it can be flipped, making it last up to eight times longer than one steel edge would, with all the added benefits that urethane gives. I imagine in the next ten years, most plows will have urethane edges on them, and rightfully so.
Recently I won bids on several accounts in my area that are part of a chain of banks.The contract I signed makes all the specification and the scope of the work very clear. There are many other branches within a few miles of where I live. The contract makes clear, that the only acceptable conditions of paved areas and walkways are "black and wet". By that they mean under no circumstances is there to be any accumulation of packed snow and or ice on paved surfaces. Naturally, while snow, sleet or freezing rain is falling, accumulations are likely, and understandably so. After plowing and shoveling / blowing is completed however, enough de-icer must be applied to all areas to ensure that they are ice-free and safe for employees and patrons. Even small patches of ice must be addressed.
During the tenure of my contract with the firm who is handling the management of snow and ice removal at these sites, I have done my best to ensure that these properties I am responsible for remain ice-free and safe, even if it means I have to go out and check them at 3 AM. I drive through the parking lots on my way to the convience store, going to get gas, on my way out to dinner with my family, whenever snow is still on the ground. Conditions of the sites can change rapidly, and I keep this in mind. By signing the contract to maintain these accounts, I have agreed to maintain them according to the specifications I was given. I am compensated any time I perform a service at these properties, so naturally it is in my best interest to do so, not to mention liability issues in the event that someone is hurt due to unsafe conditions.
Last week, I had an odd noise when engaged in 4wd. I went to a friend's shop to put my truck on the lift to check out the noise, and repair the cause. It was a Saturday morning. The day before, a Friday, we got 2" of snow. It had stopped snowing about 7 PM. All of my (bank) accounts were cleared by 11 PM. I drove through them on Saturday morning, on my way to my buddy's shop. They were all ice free. I had my wife with me, figuring we'd go to the diner next door to my buddy's shop, and have breakfast while they fixed whatever was wrong with my truck. We found a bad U-joint on my front axle, so I told him to replace it. The cost would be well worth it, to avoid having to do it myself out in the cold, on my only day off that week.
I needed some cash to buy breakfast, so I ran across the street to the bank. It just happen to be another branch of the same banks I am plowing. I was shocked at the condition of the sidewalk up to the main entrance / ATM. It was clear that no de-icer was applied. Some of the walkway was bare, but most of it had a thin film of compacted snow on it, from foot traffic it seemed. A light application of Calcium Chloride would have taken care of it easily. I still don't know why the contractor would leave a walkway in this condition. Why chance losing such a valueable account? Every time a service is performed, no matter how small, the contractor is compensated. Only services that are required due to contractor error are not paid for, which I can fully understand.
A week before this, we had a big snowfall of 17"+. I lost my front brakes while plowing, so I had to take my truck to my buddy's shop. I didn't go to the bank across the street that time, or even notice that it was one of the chain that I plow for. I had to use my wife's car while my truck was being repaired, and it was a holiday weekend, so I had to rent a car for her to drive. A few doors down from the car rental agency, lo and behold, another one of these banks. Again I was shocked at the conditions. It was clear the contractor didn't do the best job clearing it. The driveways weren't opened their full width. The parking lot was not "black and wet" like the specifications say. There were patches of packed snow all over the lot. I didn't see the walks, but judging from the lot, I would guess they weren't in much better condition. One of my subcontractors passes by this brach on his way to another account, and he tells me it is not plowed long after my three are cleared. In fact, he wants me to bid on it next year if I can, since it's on his route anyway but that's another story.
This is why I mention all this. I don't know why these contractors handle these accounts in this manner, but I want to make clear to all of you that it is not worth it to lose such accounts. When a contract is as clear as this one is about what is acceptable and what is not, and you "sign on the dotted line", please remember to live up to your obligations. Don't make the rest of us look bad. A contract such as this is an excellent chance to prove that we are professionals at what we do, and that we take our work seriously. A few bad apples can make us all look like "plow jockeys" in the eyes of the public, not to mention this bank chain.
You can buy Urethane edges here. Tell them Chuck sent you!
The Snow & Ice Management Association has just redesigned their website. If you are not a member, please consider joining. The benefits of joining far outweigh the membership dues. I can assure you by joining you will help your business grow more than you ever thought possible. When you join, tell them Chuck Smith sent you!
Accessories for plow vehicles
Tow straps, tire chains, loading ramps, lights and a ton more.
Hanson Snow Blowers - For 4wd trucks
Hanson makes snowblowers for trucks!
Hydraulics.com - the name says it all - hydraulics
Pacific Northwest Snowfighters
These guys are dedicated to learning all they can about fighting winter weather.
M T D --- Y a r d M a n
They make snowblowers under many different brand names.
Why Choose Honda
Dual Battery Installation
This guy has many articles full of great info!
Paul Foster's The Snowplow Homepage
Paul has a great webpage on snowplowing.
Public Works - Engineering, Construction and Maintenance
Public Works Magazine.
©2001 Charles D. Smith
All Rights Reserved
May not be reproduced in whole or in part in any format,
without the author's express written permission to do so.
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