To Plow & Protect
Preventing damage on both sides of the snowplow.
Fall, especially in the northern tier of the country, marks the time to get ready for snowfall. Early preparation allies with prevention to protect your equipment and your customerís properties from damage. Given the capriciousness of Mother Nature, youíre rarely going to be able to predict exactly when to be ready for a storm. So there is no time like the present to become aware of safety, maintenance and preparation guidelines for the arrival of Olí Man Winterís precipitous gifts. Whether attaching a v-plow or straight blade snowplow to a truck, tractor or a skid-steer loader, you should take action well in advance of the first snowfall.
Ron Silvernail, director of marketing services for Meyer Products, recommends becoming as educated as possible in the business of snowplowing by joining the American Public Works Association and Snow & Ice Managerís Association (SIMA), both non-profit organizations that provide resources, information and networking.
Next, become thoroughly acquainted with the ownerís manual for your equipment and make sure the equipment you have is suited to the jobs you will be doing. For example, Bobcatís Gloria Palm suggests that a snow blower might be more effective than a plow to move snow that is 3 feet or deeper. Use suggestions in the ownerís manual to make sure that all of your plows are operating correctly. You can do this by raising the plow off the ground and running it through all of the control positions with the blade in the air.
Vehicle Check-up. But before moving anything, a complete vehicle and plow checkup is in order. For the vehicle, check as you would for optimal operation anytime. This includes checking:
- Tire pressure, critical for traction in slippery conditions;
- Engine belts for cracks and tightness;
- Hoses for leaks;
- Fluid levels including engine oil, brake fluid, transmission fluid, battery radiator coolant and windshield washer fluid;
- Battery terminals for corrosion and tightness;
- Windshield wipers and defrosters for proper visibility; and
- Headlights, brake lights, turn signals and strobe light to ensure they are operating.
Plow check-up. After checking your vehicle, check the plow.
- Make sure the plow lights and turn signals are aligned and working;
- Check for cracked welds, hydraulic fluid leaks and a worn cutting edge blade; and
- Check plow pins and hoses.
Donít forget the fasteners. John Berlowski, outside sales manager for Hiniker Co., says you should check the mounting kits, the hardware that attaches the plow to the truck, for cracks, making sure all bolts and fasteners are tight. When replacing fasteners, be aware of the grade of your bolts. Donít tighten them more than is recommended because some are designed to shear away to prevent damage.
Also, adding dielectric grease to the pins of the electrical plug-ins will prevent corrosion.
Know thy plow
Once youíve established your periodic maintenance practices and that your plow is operating optimally, you should take time to understand the trip mechanism that your plow employs to deflect obstacles. Rick Robitaille, marketing manager for Boss Engineering, says there are two main styles of tripping mechanisms in the industry that protect your snowplow and vehicle from damage: the full moldboard and the trip edge or base angle trip.
The difference between the two is considerable. With a full moldboard, if you hit an obstacle such as a manhole cover or curb, the full blade will roll over. The top will come down and actually touch the ground. If youíre using a trip-edge blade, the only thing that will trip is a small cutting edge, 6 inches high on the bottom of the plow. The moldboard does not roll over. It just stays ridged in the up position. Robitaille explains, ďThere is a reason for that kind of plow. It was developed in New England. They get a wet heavy snow and a full moldboard wants to keep tripping on you because itís so heavy. But a trip edge is designed so it wonít trip the whole moldboard over. Just the little piece on the bottom is tripping and the blade is holding the load. But the snow is different on the coast line from the inlandís drier snow where a full moldboard is popular.Ē
Even if your plow has the built-in trip safety mechanism, you still need to watch your speed to reduce the chances of damaging your plow. Plow manufacturers recommend plowing no more than 10 to 14 miles per hour. ďIf you stay within those speedsĒ Robitaille concludes, ďgenerally your equipment will last a lot longer and so will your vehicle. You see people plow a lot faster. You see them in these big parking lots and theyíre just flying. They hit something and thatís where they do the major damage. Or theyíll drive into a snow bank and stack the snow and drive it hard. Itís all hard on the equipment.Ē Plus, driving faster than the recommended speed can blow snow up onto the windshield and reduce visibility.
Another built-in protection on a straight-blade plow is that the blade can angle a certain amount through the hydraulic pressure relief system. Make sure you adjust it and that itís working properly. Gary Dwinal, product manager for Fisher Engineering, explains, ď The crossover relief valve allows the blade to move after overriding the hydraulic pressure setting. What it is set at will allow the blade to reverse angle if it hits an immovable object like a tree or stone wall.Ē
Other snowplow safety mechanisms are markers: wands atop the blade at each end that guide the driver, who canít see the moldboard. The markers indicate to the driver the edge of the plow. Itís important to replace these markers should they get broken. To help prevent surface damage, runners or shoes behind the support system keep the blade level when on gravel or uneven areas of asphalt so it doesnít dig up the driveway.
Also be aware that the plow will change the performance of your vehicle. The added weight of the plow will change the time required to stop when breaking. ďWhether carrying a snowplow or a load of bricks,Ē says Silvernail, ďthe driver must account for it in driving habits.Ē
The curvature of the plow rolls the snow up and over. The angling of the plow allows that roll of snow to fall to the side in windrows. Itís a beautiful design, depending on the wind. With each pass, be aware of the direction of the wind so that you arenít rolling the snow towards the wind. Be aware, too, of buildings and cars nearby because in instances of ice or some obstacles, when the plow is angled to the left, the front end can be pushed to the right and vice versa.
Once a storm hits, there is no ground visibility. The best precautionary measure is to go out on all contracts, with each customer, and walk and inspect the site youíll be plowing before the snowfall to identify the edge of driveways as well as utility boxes, gas meters, sewer vent pipes and any other obstacles. Besides obstacles, know where catch basins and drains are to keep them clear of snow piles. Then, mark the area with pipes or wooden dowels topped with reflectors so you know where you can and cannot go with a snow cover. And find out if the property owner has a preference as to where to clear the snow.
Youíve checked the vehicle, the plow and the site to be plowed so youíre ready for the big white blanket. Right? Wrong! Though youíve done what you can to prevent mishaps, be prepared for the unexpected with safety equipment for emergencies: Fire extinguisher, tool kit, tow strap, flashlight, flares, first aid kit, fuses for vehicle, jumper cables, an ice scraper, lock deicer, extra washer fluid, a shovel, bag of sand or salt, extra warm clothes, sunglasses, a cell phone or two-way radio and a snowplow emergency parts kit that includes extra hydraulic fluid, hydraulic hoses, a pump solenoid, extra cutting-edge bolts and a trip spring. In addition, donít forget to make sure you have a full tank of gas!
For good traction while plowing and to comply with federal weight distribution regulations as listed on the inside edge of the driverís door, make sure your vehicle has the proper amount of ballast and that it is secured in place.
Ready to roll
In addition to equipment and site, another element in the equation is you, the operator. You must be rested and alert when operating equipment. Needless to say, even one drink of alcohol can impair judgment of response time. So donít operate a plow if youíve had any alcohol. Also, while operating the equipment, wear your seatbelt and operate alone in the cab.
Transporting plow. When driving to the site, there is no need to change positions of the blade while traveling, so keep the plow controls turned off. To prevent overheating, check the temperature gauges often. Also, donít block the truck headlights with the plow.
While plowing. To begin a pass, lower the blade while moving into the target area to keep momentum up. As you come to the end of a pass and approach a snow pile, raise the blade to prevent damaging the turf and to help in stacking the snow.
In lieu of a blower for deeper snow, you can raise the plow several inches off the ground to shear off the top layer. Push just enough snow with each pass to get the job done efficiently without overloading your equipment. A good rule of thumb is to use a full blade width for 2 inches of snow or less, three quarters of the blade for 4 inches of snow and half a blade for 6 inches of snow or more.
Keep a 2-foot distance between the plow and cars or buildings. When going in reverse, turn and look behind you when backing up. Come to a complete stop before shifting into reverse. If you get stuck, call for help rather than cause damage.
At the end of a plow, itís good practice to completely inspect your vehicle and plow, replacing any emergency items you may have used.
When you know your equipment and it is in peak operational form, you know the landscape youíre clearing, youíre alert and prepared for the unexpected, then youíre ready to add snowplowing and revenue to your service offerings.
Clare Adrian Day is a freelance writer who lives in Columbia, Mo.
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