Ice Breakers

Attendees of the International Lawn, Garden & Power Equipment Expo get a lesson in snow removal from industry experts.

Snow and ice may have been the furthest thing from their minds when they arrived, but by the time attendees of the International Lawn, Garden & Power Equipment Expo left the show, they had been reminded that the next snow season is right around the corner. The Expo, which was held in Louisville, Ky., last July, featured an all-new Snow & Ice Pavilion, where manufacturers displayed their snow-removal equipment and supplies. As a special part of the new Snow & Ice Pavilion, Expo coordinators joined efforts with Snow & Ice Manager magazine to sponsor a series of educational sessions called "Ice Breakers." These sessions focused on topics that are important to the snow and ice industry.

Two of the features speakers for Ice Breakers were Joe Althouse and Dwayne Shaufler. Althouse is a technical service specialist of deicer products for Dow Chemical. He provided information profiling and comparing deicers, and offered an analysis of each. Shaufler told attendees that proper equipment maintenance and servicing is the key to the life of their equipment. Here is a synopsis of what each speaker had to say.

Joe Althouse: Deicers

Iíve been associated with Dow calcium chloride business for about two years. In those two years, Iíve spent a lot of time studying how deicers work as well as what some of the issues are, and would like to discuss the biggest issue facing end users at this moment, which is also one of the biggest opportunities.

The biggest issue that I see for end users is that there is a tremendous amount of conflicting performance data out there in the literature, in the advertising and, for your particular end user, Iím sure that itís a very confusing situation. Everybodyís product seems to be the best at everything, and itís very difficult to sort that out. One example: A lot of ice melt literature will include information on how much ice that product will melt. Dowís literature for calcium chloride deicers includes this information, as do other competitive products, such as magnesium (mag) chloride and sodium chloride. One of the issues that youíll see is that, if you compare them, youíll see a conflict. Youíll see the mag chloride literature making mag chloride look good, and the calcium chloride literature making calcium chloride look good. Itís not a commonly known fact that a solid mag chloride is 50 percent water. It is a mag chloride hexahydrate salt. And when that ice melts, data can be presentedto show that that water is part of the melt volume. When Dow presents ice-melting data, we subtract out that water of hydration. So thatís one example of how youíll see conflicting data in the literature.

Another example of conflicting data in the literature is associated with environmental issues. (Some literature) compares the toxicity of calcium chloride to ant and roach spray. I can testify that the ants that live in my house in Michigan are thriving quite well even though my sidewalks were treated with calcium chloride. So youíll see a lot of square pegs trying to be fit into round holes and apples to oranges comparisons. So conflicting performance claims is a big issue and about the only way to get out of that is to start spreading the word about third-party standards and testing. We really need objective testing and we need objective standards to measure performance so that we can work through some of these conflicting issues. I take every opportunity I have to kind of plant seeds to see if consumers and producers can group together to establish an independent testing organization so that end users really know what the product is going to do.

One of the biggest opportunities in this industry might be for marketing anti-icing to individuals who already use deicers. I know that departments of transportation (DOTs) are doing anti-icing, which consists of applying a liquid chemical to a surface prior to the snowstorm. In doing so, you prevent a bond from forming between the snow and the ice and the surface that youíre apply the chemical to. The benefits of doing this are that you use a lot less chemical, and when you plow that surface or shovel that surface, it comes off like a pancake off a hot griddle thatís had butter on it. If you donít anti-ice and you go to shovel and plow, youíre going to have a slippery surface underneath there, and youíll have to apply more deicer to melt through that slippery surface.

Dwayne Shaufler: Snowplows

The key to the life of your equipment is service. Itís vital that plows be serviced during the season and after the season. All too often we come along at the end of August or early September to find that "Iíve got parts missing; Iíve got to get this; my sanderís not working, itís frozen up; Iíve got a broken chain," or any number of problems. At that point in time, you start to scramble because your service dealer is already booked during that time.

We recommend very, very strongly that when the season is over, you take a good, hard look at your equipment. Service it. Start by getting the salt and sand out of the hoppers. Be sure that everything is greased and oiled to protect it, and youíll have a lot fewer problems when it comes time to put the plows and equipment back on the trucks and get them ready to roll come September.

Driver training is another important component to successful plowing. Donít forget that a fully equipped, ĺ or 1-ton pickup can easily get up into that $35,000 to $40,000 range. Itís a major investment. And when you let crews come in and drive that equipment without ample training or ample knowledge of just what a vehicle is all about, you could find yourself out a lot of money. The same holds true for the plow equipment and the sander that you put on that equipment. All of it is expensive, even by todayís standards. A fully equipped hopper/spreader, V plow and 1-ton truck can come pretty close to costing you $50,000. You turn that over to a young man whoís never plowed before, and youíve got a lot of potential problems that youíre looking at.

Training drivers is important. And from a manufacturing standpoint, I cannot stress that enough. If youíve got drivers who are inexperienced in the plowing business, take the time to show them how to use the equipment and how to work with the equipment. Show them how to remove snow from parking lots, in and around vehicles, away from buildings and wherever they are going to the plowing.

Something else to keep in mind as we approach the snow season is communicating with customers. When you take on a new job, one of the first things to do is to communicate with the owner about the property. What kind of snow-removal job or salting or sanding job is he looking for? Does he want it wiped, cleared, scraped and cleaned, or is he looking just to gain access in or out. Communication is a major factor, and a little sit-down discussion with the owner of the property can save a lot of problems later on. Does the owner want your crews on their property at one inch of snow? Two inches of snow? Do you come back when you get three more inches? All of these things should be talked about with the owner of the property. You also need to take a good, hard look at the property. Do you have areas where there is gardening taking place? Are there curbs, obstacles that might be a hindrance to you when you plow? And if youíve got a number of accounts, itís a good idea just to take a few notes. "Tomís place has a 3-inch ground hole in the middle of the parking lot, better watch for that." "Joeís place is a service station and heís got the tank." Itís necessary that, if youíve got a few accounts, to make a note or two. And the very first time you go out and plow that property, you go slow and you take a good hard look at what youíre plowing, because everything looks different when itís got a coating of white on it.

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