Cleaning Up With Straight Blades on Skid Steers and Pickups
Before deciding whether to strap a blade onto your pickup or onto a skid steer, consider what types of jobs you will be doing and under what conditions. Choosing the best machine for the job will save you time and effort.
The snow-removal contract was snow-cone sweet—42 Minneapolis public-school facilities with 24 hours to plow. But the contract came with a bitter bite. No plowing could start until official notification came from the superintendent—no matter how much snow fell during the night (or how late he slept in)—and no plowing could take place during school hours.
Sometimes, the call wouldn’t come until 7:30 a.m. This meant JLM Landscaping crews were plowing the schools’ parking areas after they had been driven and parked on all day long. Ruts and hard-packed conditions were the rule.
What kept the contract successful was this contractor’s ability to combine the use of snow plows mounted on both skid-steer loaders and pickup trucks and give the vehicles the tasks best suited to them. “Use the truck on the open areas and the drives where they can maximize speed, “ advised Jerry Holman, who landed the contract.
And what work do you assign to the skid steer, a vehicle that at best has a two-speed transmission and a top speed of 12 mph?
“In these circumstances, a snow plow blade on a skid steer is worth its weight in gold because it will clear the hard pack,” Holman said. “Put the skid steer to work clearing the packed snow, moving the heavy loads and maneuvering in the tight areas. You’ll get the quality of clearing you want with the productivity and the efficiency you need.”
In fact, you can pick up the pace substantially by plowing both coming and going with the skid steer. For example, the skid-steer can plow to the end of the lot, turn 180°, angle the opposite way and plow back the other way. A pickup truck, on the other hand, plows to the pile, raises the plow and backs to the far end of the lot to start another pass. So even though the truck can go faster, the skid steer can double the productivity.
Because they can turn on a dime by skidding to one side or another, skid steers can clean around obstacles such as light poles and parking islands in no time. Push directly up to the pole and scoop around it in a circular motion, cleaning the snow away completely. With a skid steer, the operator has visibility over the whole blade, so you can judge distances more accurately and get nearer to obstacles.
Don’t worry about hurting the skid steer. Trucks cost $30,000 or more, and if you rub a light pole with your fender you can have $1,000-$3,000 in damage. The skid, however, you really can’t hurt. At most, if you rub the side of the pole, you leave a black mark from your tire.
Consider using the skid steer to plow the ins and outs of dock areas, then go into the parking lot and clean around the light poles and parking islands. Feed the snow to the pickup plow, which can stay out of harm’s way and do what a truck does best: high-speed, long pushes. It relieves the truck driver of an immense amount of stress. He is not exposed to high-risk areas near or between obstacles. Another point: the skid can stack the snow higher than a truck. Put it to work at this end of the job, too, and you’ll have more snow storage on site before hauling is required.
Back to that school parking lot. Cars and busses have all been driving on it all day. How do you clear to the pavement under the packed, frozen tundra? This is a job for a skid steer with a snow plow designed to allow down pressure on the blade. With this feature, the front wheels of the skid loader can actually be lifted off the ground, applying the full weight of the skid onto the blade to clear the pavement completely. Whether a skid steer can do this depends upon the plow’s trip design. Those with a full trip will “trip forward” or release the blade when it catches on a surface edge. They have a tendency to “false trip” when they bear a heavy load and allow little use of the skid’s down-pressure ability. Plows with the trip confined to the bottom edge will trip only when an immovable object is encountered. The skid’s weight can bear down on the blade to clean the surface of hard-packed snow and icy ruts. Additionally, an edge-only trip allows you to stack snow as high as the skid can reach because the plow will remain upright and solid as you go into the pile.
Remember, the skid is made to work in rocks and soil, it certainly can take anything snow can dish out. If you have rough conditions such as freezing rain causing a crust on top of the snow, hard pack or drifting, you can use a skid without fear of damaging it. The challenge is to get a snow plow as tough as the skid steer. There are some out there, but they’re heavy. The quality lines are more than 100 lbs. per foot of width. Unlike a truck, which has factory limitations of how much weight you can put on the front, skid steers have no such restrictions. Snow plows built for skid steers can be, and should be, heavy-duty. This is why a truck plow adapted to a skid-steer loader will not work very well.
Because of the short wheel base of a skid steer, the weight of a snow load will push a skid steer sideways more easily than it will for a pickup. Because of the low speed of the skid, snow also will tend to come off the wrong edge of the blade more than it would off a pickup plow, which moves faster. To correct both of these scenarios, some manufacturers have increased the turn angle of their skid-steer plows. This keeps the loader going straight when you are pushing a large windrow of snow.
Before you decide which jobs are best for the pickup or skid steer, remember that the skid steer is rigid. It does not have the springs or suspension of a truck. One corner of the plow can be digging into the pavement and the other corner can be 3 inches off the ground and leaving unplowed snow behind. However, there have been improvements in this area. Some manufacturers of plows for skid steers have corrected this suspension concern with an oscillating frame, allowing either end of the blade to plow higher or lower than the other side. This feature is automatic and does not require input from the operator.
In snow removal, as in most aspects of grounds maintenance, recognizing and utilizing the full ability of your equipment is a key element of successfully maximizing efficiency.
Mary Jo Schueths is a freelance writer and public-relations consultant associated with the outdoor power equipment industry.
PICKUPS PICK UP THE PACE
There are several advantages to strapping a straight blade onto your pickup:
- Ease and speed of moving from one site to another. There is no need to load an extra piece of equipment onto a trailer when the blade is attached to your pickup. This can be a real time saver when you’re expected to complete multiple jobs.
- Passenger and operator comfort. When you’re using your pickup truck, you have the option of turning on the heater, radio and adjusting your seat. Many skid steers are not enclosed and do not provide the same level of comfort.
- Power. When it comes to long, straight runs, pickups definitely have the advantage in light snow. A pickup can complete a light snow-clearing job faster than a skid-steer because it has a much higher mph capability.
- Ease of use. If you can drive a pickup, all that’s left is learning how to operate the blade controls. It takes additional practice to learn how to drive a skid steer.
SKID STEERS STAY STRONG
The skid-steer straight-blade combination is the better choice under tough conditions:
- Packed snow. The skid-steer will clear hard-packed snow by applying its full weight onto the blade to clear the pavement completely.
- Heavy loads. Skid steers will move heavy loads and have no restrictions as to how much weight you can put on the front.
- Around obstacles. By skidding to one side or another, skid steers can turn on a dime and clean around obstacles. Skid-steer operators also have visibility of the blade and can better judge distances.
- Can’t hurt it. Make a wrong move while clearing snow with a pickup and you’re out a thousand dollars to fix the fender. But you can’t really hurt a skid steer, which is built to handle the toughest conditions.
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