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Minn. SNOW PLOW Pictures

this is a re-post of my original web page that I wrote in 2001, and the slides were taken in 1977.
I will try to leave this one on this site for a long time.

In December 1977 I took a vacation late in the year because work was too busy to leave in the warmer days of Summer. Railfan magazine reported that the Chicago & North Western Alco locomotives were still in use in south-central Minnesota.

It is Monday, Dec. 11, 1977. The crew in the office in Tracy said a turn had already left for Marshall.

It was an RSD-4, six axle Alco, numbered 1516.
And surprise, there was a gondola plow on the rear of the train.
It's pointed back South toward the junction of the line to Milroy.

A quick map of the area

Sure enough, after switching the local industries in Marshall, and delivering most of the cars to the Burlington Northern, they made up a short train and went back south a mile and took the junction to Milroy.

The train stalled in a hundred yards. It took a dozen jerks back and forth to gain a few inches of slack. Then they broke free and backed up and uncoupled the tank car, boxcar, and caboose.

Now just the engine and plow went ahead. All this plowing happened at less than 7 mph. (That's the way it ran all afternoon earlier, too.) The engine in the Alco sounded slow, maybe 400 rpm, with a "KER-LANG-LAng-Lang" sound and lots of ALCO SmoKe. I thought the pistons slapped sideways as much as they moved up-and-down!

There was a story I heard years later that a retiring engineer chose a snowplow job for his last run. Considering this plow derailed so much in just a mile, it makes you wonder if an engineer would make the decision to retire before or after he made the run.

If you walked on the snow, it gave way and bogged you down to your knees. If you walked in the bare fields, the mud clung to your shoes until they felt like lead weights.
Apparently, the train ran to Milroy maybe two weeks earlier and plowed a ridge. The snow and blowing dirt (some people call this SNIRT) blew back in and made the mess you see here.

It was getting to be a photographer's dilemma, almost too dark for good pictures. And the tripod was in the car a half-mile away. This was an un-intentional pan at maybe 1/15 second.
(and this was the days of 35mm, i wouldn't know what I captured for a week)

Here's the plow up in transport position earlier in the day. The plow derailed twice in less than a mile, once after dark. To get it back on the rails, they had to put a crowbar in the turnbuckles to raise the plow (to get weight back on the wheels?) and place a re-railing frog. It wouldn't re-rail otherwise, they tried.

After a half mile of the worst drifts were cleared, they coupled onto their train and moved it up a half mile. Then they cut off from the train again and plowed with just the engine and gondola plow. This run east on the branchline started about 3 pm.
Sunset was before 5 pm.
By 8 pm they covered about two miles.

It was a long day for them, having started out at maybe 8 am, and ending at 8 pm. About 7 pm a lot of section men and others showed up, and waded through the snow to help. At the end of the 'day' about 15 employees assisted the five man train crew.

The next morning everyone was gone. The train was parked, separated from the plow, at a town road crossing. I didn't investigate, but I suspect the plow derailed going across the road, and was cut off so the train could be backed clear of the road crossing for the night. I didn't know when a fresh crew would arrive, but the daylight surely would help them. And I had plans to head further west on my vacation.

In response to my pictures, Loren Johnson replied (in 2001):

Boy did those pictures bring back memories. If the fields were mud, that
snow must have been full of water and it's a wonder they got the job done.
(no, the snow was quite 'dry' for plowing, but wet enough to stick to me, 
being un-prepared to go 'off road'.  The NEXT time I see plow action, I'll
try to stick with it more.  At the time, I was young, branchlines were 
common enough, and I didn't realize how few plow opportunities I'ld see 
in the future.)
(all the track seen here is now gone, abandonned and removed.)

Loren wrote: 
I remember a similar 'adventure' on the Milwaukee Road in Minnesota. The
Mankato-Farmington line at a point where it was in a stone cut, parallel to
the 'Omaha Road' just north of Mankato. They had two GP-9's, a plow and
the snow was hood high. It was very cold that day and the snow was packed
but there was no derailing. I and the conductor were wielding cameras as
the others in the crew manned the throttle and shovels. I rode the cab part
of the time to warm up and found that you must hang on when hitting those
drifts. Another day I watched them bury an RS-3 in the drifts farther
east and I took the crew back to town. Yes, that was snow country out west
too. Thanks for posting.


The CNW had a 'solution' some years later to snow plowing on branchlines.
They embargoed shipments from November to April.
Cost saving, but no service.

. . . . . to My Index Page on the TrainWeb site.

wrote Dec 11, 2001, updated and re-posted Jan 2008,and again 2017, every time a web server changes