Snow Plowing 101
Selecting a vehicle
A cautionary tale…by guest author
I was new to the Pinedale area and had zero knowledge of snow plowing. The main plowing I needed to do was all on uneven dirt ranch fields. 700 feet from the road to the cabin and a football field size courtyard with the farm gasoline tank on one side, the cabin and tool shed on another side, and the tack shed on the other side. I reached out to friends, and received confusing and contradictory advice.
- By a used $35k Skidsteer and put on a $10k snow blower attachment. Get a tracked one, get a wheeled one with chains) Skidsteers move slowly.
- Get an old truck, because you don’t want to ruin your “good” truck by using it for plowing. Get a Boss V-plow for about $10k. With a truck, you can go 30MPH or even 40MPH and get done much faster.
- Get a farm tractor with a PTO drive. You will have to drive in reverse, but they work well and you can use the tractor for other things.
I finally decided on an old 2002 F-250 V-10 Super duty gasoline truck for about $10k from an old man. I took it to a mechanic for a pre-purchase inspection, and he gave it a clean bill of health, if we had about $1,800 in work done. I went for it!
I noticed a clicking sound in the front left area, so I took the truck to Angry Irish mechanic in Pinedale. It turns out the old man had left the front hubs locked in 4×4 for probably a long time, even when driving freeway speeds, which caused bad things to happen. Something else needed to be done as well, but $1,500 later, all was well… except, if I was going to use the truck for plowing, I should have heavier duty leaf springs installed. Less than $2k later, all was well … except the plow installers had removed a leaf spring support bar so that the plow mount would fit. I could have the plow installers add a Boss mount (if such a thing existed) or I could have Angry Irish fabricate the needed parts for about $600. Plow-installer Bucky’s said that what they did was as it should have been done, and that the support bracket was not needed.
Oh yeah, and the new heavy duty leaf springs? They make the truck sit much higher, so it is likely that I will now need to have the truck plow mount re-mounted. Let me guess, $500 and $1,500 seem to be popular amounts… we shall see…
Selecting a plow
I went into Bucky’s in Pinedale, admitted my ignorance and asked them to guide me. I explained that I knew nothing, and that I didn’t have money to waste but that I wanted high quality. The sold me a plow for my plow truck ($9,600 including install) and another for my main truck to have as a backup. Within a couple of months and a couple of snows, the first plow was ready to be installed. Awesome Bucky’s employee Karen happened to live near me, and helped me shuttle the truck in at no charge, thanks neighbor! 🙂
It was ready in less than a week and Bucky’s owner Sandy showed me the Boss quick attach system on the flat street out front. He warned that it would not always be as easy to attach, especially if it was on an uneven surface and especially until it was broken in. Boy oh boy was that the truth! I practiced attaching and detaching multiple times, typically it took between 30 minutes and 45 minutes each time. (For any of you who heard the cursing, sorry about that.)
Finally the first “real” snow came. “Don’t go too fast until you have a base built up,” had been some advice. That sounded great to me, forget 30-40MPH, I wouldn’t even go over 20MPH. As a matter of fact, I wouldn’t go over 10MPH! I warmed up for about an hour using the “float” mode and noticed that a lot of dirt was being dug up.
The next morning I continued, and was not very impressed. The plow flipped up and down and one side would not retract. I didn’t know what “normal” was, but this didn’t seem right. I finally examined the front where the plow mounts to the truck mount, and it was detached! I sent pictures to Karen at Bucky’s and within an hour their awesome mechanic Mike had arrived at our remote cabin with parts. He had never seen this happen before, two huge pins had fallen out, who knows why? He got it out together, and helped me use the Boss Quick Attach system to change plows from one truck to the other. Because of poor engineering on the part of Boss, the Quick Attack system is NOT quick. Even experienced Mechanic Mike had to beat on the pins with a hammer, swing the blades in and out and waste a bunch of time. (Thanks to Bucky’s for comping this service call)
Snow plowing 101 suggestions that I was not told about
Once your plow is installed, pay another plow mechanic to inspect it before using it. Because the pins in mine had not been properly attached (Or, in Bucky’s opinion, because I had used it incorrectly), the pins came out and caused more damage to the hydraulics and pins to the tune of $500-ish. The plow installer does not cover this expense. I think that paying someone to make sure that all bolts and pins are tight could be worth the hour of labor cost.
Know that the folks selling you a plow will not tell you about recommended accessories. One of these is a rubber strip that runs along the top of the plow to keep snow from flying onto your windshield. Smart thing to have, and less than $500 additional! Oh yeah, and the problem with scraping dirt? I needed “shoes” that attach to the bottom of the plow and keep the blade off of the ground.
At the beginning of the season, don’t remove the first 6 to 12 inches of snow. Instead, pack it down by driving on it until you have a few-inch thick “base.” Then, for the rest of the season, as you plow snow, your shoes will slide on this snow pack rather than gouging your expensive gravel driveway.
“Don’t go too fast” evidently means 5MPH or so? This would be different on a paved surface or a nice packed gravel road. Wait, the whole reason I went with a truck and plow was to get done faster!?! Like most people with expertise, snow plowers don’t know what to tell newbies. They assume that everyone obviously knows stuff, and will not think to tell you if “take it slow” means 1MPH or 20MPH. You will have to learn another way, in my case by having a junk “Boss” brand plow fall apart… IF (nobody knows) that was the cause.
Either do or don’t have chains on certain tires. My neighbor, a rancher and trucker who works on his own bulldozer, semis and other farm vehicles and has plowed for over 30 years, warned that chains should only be on the rear tires. If they are on the front, it will wear out the truck’s front end, which is expensive to fix. This neighbor recommended me to the Angry Irish mechanic. This mechanic said to definitely have chains on all four tires, because without them in the front, if the tires are spinning and then catch, it will not be good for the front end. Who knows? I ran my first season with chains only in the back and am doing the same in my second season.
Be conservative in terms of how much space you will need. In my neck of the woods, “real” snow happens between Dec 1 and April 30. The meteorologists are evidently excellent at knowing to the exact degree what the earth’s temp will be in 100 years, but they are clueless about this coming winter. It is wise to assume that it will be a “worst in 50 years” winter. As you plow snow off of your driveway, it will have to go somewhere. In my case, it is wise to push the snow to the downwind side of my driveway, and I start the season (VERY important) by making the driveway over 50 yards wide. I big snow dump could add 6 feet of snow to the edge, leaving me with a 48 yard wide driveway.
Snow catchers. On the upwind side of your plowed areas, if you have the space, build a couple snow catchers. These are lanes about 2 vehicle widths wide, with a mound of snow between each. As the winds blow, some of the blowing snow will be caught in these catchers.
Each swipe you make should have a goal of either removing snow volume, or getting rid of lines. My 9’6″ plow, when removing volume in V mode, only removes a width of about 5 feet of snow, and leaves a line on either side of excess snow. If I put the center of my hood on a line, and plow it, I wind up with another line on each side. I ought to only tackle a third on each new swipe. When removing volume, don’t even think about lines. Your goal is to get 95% of the snow off of the ground. After doing this; then get rid of the lines.