If the plow pictured above looks like two different plows welded together, it’s because they are.
Minnesota Department of Transportation snow plow operators in southwestern Minnesota have invented an experimental plow that uses the wind to cast snow from the road without impeding traffic or the operator’s view.
Manufactured for MnDOT by Fall Plows, the plow incorporates half of a traditional bull-dozer style plow with half of a Batwing-style plow. It eliminates the large “ear” on the driver’s side of a Batwing style plow that can stick out into oncoming traffic during center-line snow removal.
District 8 Willmar Maintenance Supervisor Dennis Marty said he was looking for a reversible-style plow that could be used in the heavy winds and reduced visibility from blowing snow that are prevalent in western Minnesota.
When drivers are plowing against a northwest wind in rural Minnesota, the snow coming out of the chute will sweep across the truck and blind drivers, so operators needed a plow with a reversible system so they could throw the snow with the wind.
While an express plow with chutes on both ends (batwing-style), pictured above at left, was great for throwing snow to the right, when snow plow drivers took it down narrow two-lane roads, the plow stuck 2.5 feet into the oncoming lane and its big barrel partially blocked the headlights and the operator’s view.
So operators tried a regular one-way plow (pictured below), which resembles a funnel laid on it side, and put it on a reversible system that would allow operators to turn the plow both directions, so it could throw snow to the right or the left. However, this plow couldn’t blow snow high enough to the left, so snow piled in the left traffic lane.
Marty said he spent four to five years looking for a plow that combined the batwing and bull-dozer designs, but he couldn’t find anything sturdy and maintenance-free enough. Finally, he and Maintenance Research Program Administrator Ryan Otte sat down with Falls Plows in Little Falls, Minnesota and asked the company to build one.
The plow will be useful on low-volume roads that have little traffic during the middle of the night, which allows plow operators to cast the snow with the wind.
The Willmar office began using the experimental plow last winter and will be replacing all of its plows with it. Snow plow drivers from other areas of the state have been so impressed that at least two other maintenance districts have also ordered them.
MnDOT’s Office of Maintenance has its own research program designed to let maintenance personnel test innovative ideas to keep our roads smooth, snow-free and safe. They even put out a monthly bulletin featuring new ideas and technologies. (You can find the back issues here.)
Other winter maintenance research projects are featured in MnDOT’s 2011-2013 Maintenance Operations Research Report (PDF, 9 MB, 98 pages)