Pushing Old Man Winter around.
Anyone who experiences winter weather on a regular basis knows the following situation well: news feeds warn of an incoming winter storm. You settle in with a mug of cocoa, content to ride out the storm at home, but then something comes up while the roads are a complete mess and you have to set out into the blizzard. Thankfully, there’s a group of hardworking individuals dedicated to keeping those roads clear so you can ideally get there safely: snowplow drivers.
While plowing snow might sound straightforward in theory, that undersells the efforts of those who do it professionally, with big trucks and giant powered blades mounted up front. It’s not as easy as shoveling just a few hundred cubic feet of snow from your driveway. To demonstrate the skill it takes and the capabilities of the trucks that power small snow-removal businesses, Chevrolet and leading plow manufacturer, Boss, invited journalists up to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to see what doing battle with Old Man Winter is really like.
“Most people don’t realize how stressful and taxing driving a truck and plowing snow can actually be and how hard some of these people work as professional snowplow drivers,” Mark Klossner, the vice president of marketing at Boss and one of the drivers responsible for clearing the lots at the company’s Iron Mountain, Michigan offices. “They work tough hours and long shifts, often in the wee hours of the night and at periods of 14 hours or even longer sometimes.”
Plowing Good Time
When it comes to one’s choice of pickup truck, there’s no shortage of options. But since we’re driving with GM, we used the new Chevrolet Silverado HD 2500 to help clear the taxiway and parking lot at Marquette County’s Sawyer International Airport.
Our day started at the crack of dawn, the thermometer reading a cool 15 degrees Fahrenheit with periodic lake-effect snow projected to drop several inches of fluffy stuff across the area. This far north, and with the world’s largest body of freshwater (by surface area) as a neighbor, snow is common in the UP. In its worst winter, the peninsula could see up to 250 inches of snow, making it one of the snowiest regions in the midwest.
As our convoy arrived at the airport’s grounds, the snowfall went from a gradual dusting to nearly blinding, with just several feet visibility. For we amateur snow plowers, that’s not a good sign. The heavy-duty Silverados, though, performed were unfazed by the conditions. The Boss crew already mounted up the company’s latest and greatest gear to the front ends of the trucks, including its flagship EXT straight-edged plows and DXT and XT V-Plows; prices for these plows range from $6,800 to well over $10,000, depending on what materials Boss uses and the accompanying accessories.
Unlike previous versions of Chevrolet’s HD pickup, engineers made sure to pre-drill the front bumper and frame for easy, universal mounting capabilities for front-end accessories and equipment, such as a Boss mounting bar. Previously, outfitters had to drill holes to install the gear themselves. From there it’s easy peezy, as all of Boss’s plows come with remote-controlled hydraulic actuators wired through to the truck’s cabin.
Going For Gas
Conventional wisdom might suggest the Silverado HD’s 445-horsepower, 910-pound-foot, 6.6-liter turbodiesel V8 is the ideal powertrain for plow duty, but that distinction goes to the gas-powered 6.6-liter V8. While the gas engine is less powerful (401 hp and 464 lb-ft) it’s also several hundred pounds lighter than the diesel, and because of the larger gross axle weight rating, owners can mount larger or heavier snow plows.
Drivers operate the plow blades with a controller that could be confused with a gaming joystick, while a pair of buttons open and close, raise and lower, or extend and retract certain parts of the blades, depending on the model. The logical layout meant we could start pushing snow with minimal instruction on the controls.
But simple interfaces don’t make this job easy. We had a cordoned off section of airport, but drivers in real-world conditions have to contend with curbs, speed bumps, raised manhole covers, and other hidden landmines that could result in an awkward phone call to a client about some unexpected property damage. According to Boss, though, drivers won’t need to worry so much about damaging the plow itself.
Like A Boss
Boss snowplows feature special breakaway and collapsible points that prevent the snowplow from being damaged should one hit a hidden obstacle. For example, if the plow strikes a raised curb, the flexible rubber moldboard at the bottom of the plow pivots forward at impact to avoid damaging the entire system. The other trip point is at the blade’s edge where the plow meets the pavement. If you’ve ever broke a shear pin on a snowblower, you’ll be familiar with the value of this sort of engineered failure point.
As our demonstration wrapped up and the snowfall began to subside, it’s clear that this job is a lot tougher than one would think, especially when most people often fall asleep to a dark winter wonderland, only to wake up and find that somehow, the roads are ready and clear for traffic once again. It’s not often that one thinks of the brave and hardworking souls that dedicate their working lives to help make the world carry on even after a crippling snowstorm. But it's from this effort and dedication that makes snowplow drivers the unsung heroes of winter.