Life Without Snow Plows: The History of Snow Removal

1800s-snow-nyc

It seems that these days most people understand the troubles that come with snow. But have you ever considered how it was done before we had hundreds of trucks and fancy plows? Imagine tackling this past winter only using shovels and horse-drawn equipment. It might make you appreciate just how far we’ve come with snow removal.

So where do you even begin without the snow plows of today? Well just like how a horse would have been used on a farm, they had to drag plowing equipment. Needless to say this was incredibly tedious because the horses couldn’t push the snow, but rather they would walk over the snow and pull the plow. It was less of a way to push the snow to one area and more of a way to scoop up the snow so that it could be dumped somewhere else. Think of it as a giant horse-drawn shovel, and once the horse has gathered up enough snow, they would haul it away to another location, much like what is done now just on an entirely different scale. Using a horse drawn plow proved to be an effective method of snow removal, but it never worked on its own.

For those who think shoveling a driveway is difficult work imagine trying to shovel a whole street. This is exactly what was done in most cases. Hundreds of men would take to the streets during after a winter storm and shovel snow into carriages which could later be hauled away by horses (as shown above). It would take days to clear snow from a single storm and because it was so difficult to quickly and effectively clear snow, deaths were not uncommon in these situations.

During the late 19th century railroads were booming and provided the best transportation around the United States. Initially trains encountered issues with snow and ice on the tracks, but most trains were fitted with plows on the front which usually worked great. However, there were always situations where snow drifts would get to heights of ten to twenty feet or even more at which point the trains would become stuck and would have to be shoveled out. The real issues arose when smaller trains used in cities for public transportation became stuck in the snow. These small engines weren’t as powerful as the ones going across the country, and weren’t very effective at clearly their own paths. Cities were forced to take matters into their own hands and create a system that would avoid the snow altogether, which we now know to be the subway. Logistically it makes sense for public transportation to be underground for the sake of saving space but arguably the biggest influence on the introduction of subways was frozen winter weather. Underground railways had been considered for a while, but after the blizzard of 1888 where hundreds of lives were lost due to a lack of reliable transportation, decisions were finally made to take action. In 1899 Boston became the first city to install underground subway tracks which paved the way for many other cities to follow.

As the automobile emerged snow removal became increasingly easier and more effective. Plows could be attached to vehicles and snow could be removed similar to how we do it today. Conveyor belts attached to plows were used to fill dump trucks which could haul away snow. This method has evolved into using loaders and heavy machinery which can quickly fill trucks to remove snow. Once machines were introduced into snow removal the entire process made incredible strides with snow storms becoming less of a burden on society.

However there is one aspect of snow removal that is often forgotten and can make the greatest difference. Weather forecasting. Only recently has weather forecasting been so accurate so that preparation can take place for storms. This is one reason why we are so effective today. Not only is our equipment significantly better than what it used to be, but we can also prepare. Imagine having no idea snow was coming and trying to take immediate action to clear it. Now imagine trying to do it with only shovels and horse drawn equipment. Not an easy task to say the least.

So appreciate the snow removal efforts we have in the 21st century, because there was a time not too long ago where people didn’t have it so easy. Snow will always be a hassle, it seems like no matter what we try to do winter always gets the best of us. But who knows, maybe in the generations to come some other method will be discovered that will end all our frustrations with the snow. For now though, get your snowblowers ready and stock up on rock salt. Winter is coming.

Credit: JohnstownHistory.blogspot, Jalopnik.com

 

 

 

 

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