I REMEMBER...

Horse Drawn Snow Plows and Snow Rollers


| September/October 1984



Rest 60 with steel plow

Rest 60 with steel plow, location unknown. Courtesy Caterpillar Tractor.

Caterpillar Tractor

Snow Horses and Early Tractor Snow Plows

Beach Hill Road, New Ashford, Massachusetts 01237.

Today we complain if we have to wait two hours for a snow plow or sander to come through. I remember when it was normal to wait two days, some inhabitants of back roads waited a week or more, and some roads were not plowed at all. Families even those living in town stocked up the pantry and cellar, put the car up on blocks, got out the cutters, sleighs and bobsleds, had a horse or two shod with calks, butchered a beef critter or a couple of hogs, then worked over the wood-lot for the next winter's wood supply. If your road was not immediately plowed out, so what!

I was only a farm kid with that type of interest when the last of the locally made wood horse drawn snow plows and snow rollers was used. I never actually worked on one but do remember seeing them in operation. Two and four horse hitches were used on the plows and four and six horse hitches on the snow rollers. Snow rollers were peculiar to the New England states and upper New York state. Most were made locally; however, there was one manufacturer of farm machinery who would make them on special order. The advantages claimed were that it could be hauled in a straight line directly over the underlying roadbed, it did not leave a windrow on each side to develop more drifts, and two or more lanes could be rolled down to widen the road. On the other hand a horse drawn type snow plow would wander from side to side. If it encountered a compacted snow drift on the left side of the road, the plow would be forced to the right side and vice-versa, resulting in a snake-like passage and a great deal of hand shoveling to keep it in the roadbed. It was also difficult to widen the lane as the resistance of the windrow forced the plow back to the center. The snow rollers required more horse power because snow would build up ahead of the rollers. Also, where the snow roller encountered drifts, the compacted snow layer was thick, and where the snow was light or wind-swept it would produce a thin compacted layer so that the road had a built-in series of waves. As the winter progressed the layers built up. Then when spring thaws came, the plowed roads were soon bare but the rolled roads had alternate series of snow mounds in the drift sections and bare ground in the light sections, resulting in a combination of snow and mud road impassable to either sleigh or wagon. At times MUD time was even worse than snow time.

For power the farmers on the route furnished the teams on a tax write-off basis. Competition was high for, unless they were working in the woods, there was a winter surplus of horse power and allocations were necessary to give everyone an opportunity. If storms were frequent and the town ran over the allocated budget amount, farmers supplied teams on their own section free.

Here is where snow horses came in. I remember the old timers talking and arguing about them. It seems in belly deep snows and drifts a horse has a tendency to leap ahead while an ox or heavy well-trained older horse will waddle from side to side as he steadily pushes ahead, thus making his own pathway. Therefore a team of proven snow horses was used as leaders as, one might say, to break trail for the rest of the hitch. If one had a riding horse that was also a good snow horse it was a highly prized possession. However, the day of the horse passed on, being replaced by the mechanical horse.

Tractors of all types were released to the public after World War I. Also the government gave surplus military tractors, some still having the protective armour plate, to the states and the state in turn assigned them to needy counties primarily for improving roads. These were mostly Holt 45, occasionally a 75, and also Holt 5 and 10 ton models. The first snow plow was a crawler pulling a road grader that worked in light snows but bogged down in heavy snows. Obviously the place for the plow was in front of the tractor. Numerous companies started manufacturing push plows as the military type surplus tractors were soon accounted for. Dealers of the two main manufacturers, Best and Holt, went all out to sell states, counties and towns throughout the snow belt a complete snow plowing outfit tractor, cab and plow. Our town bought a 5 ton Holt. Early in the 20's the state bought a Holt 10 ton and a Best 60 for use in Berkshire county. The Holt was stationed in the north section (our section) and the Best 60 in the south section. The Holt had a steel V plow with wings, the Best 60 a wood V plow with wings.