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The Mercury Bulley Tractor And Early Snow Removal


While enjoying a nice old-fashioned New England snowfall yesterday, the thought came to mind about what might have been the first commercially available motorized piece of snow removal equipment. The earliest is likely to be one used for clearing railroad tracks and the oldest patent we could find for a Railroad Track Cleaner was dated as first being filed in 1856.

  • The 1902 C.W. Carter Snow Roller
  •                                    The C.W. Carter Snow Roller – Patent filed – November 19. 1902.

The first practical snow plows used for roads were home-made or manufactured plows, the road grader, and the snow roller all pulled by draft horses. The impressive six-team Carter Patent Snow Roller above, built in Detroit, Michigan, was pictured in the winter 1906 Good Roads Magazine. After each snowfall, a road would be rolled, and the snow when compacted, formed a solid and firm ice-like base that was good for all forms of travel until it melted.

  • Horse-drawn snow plow in Chicago 1903
  •                                   Horse-drawn snow plow in Chicago – 1903 – Library of Congress.

After a limited search, the first engine-driven snow removal operation on a street or road we could find was an article in The Automobile February 18, 1909 issue. It told of the Milwaukee Branch of the White Automobile Co. at Madison, Wisconsin, using a White Steam car to pull a plow on the streetAnother White was also used by the same Branch to clear all the walks at the Schlitz Brewing Co. in Milwaukee.

  • Model T Ford used for plowing a river
  •                  “Automobile Topics” – January 27, 1912 – A Model T Ford used for plowing a river.

The Model T Ford pictured above was owned by Fred Waters of Red Bank, New Jersey, who used it to plow the Shrewsbury River. Automobile Topics reported in the January 27, 1912 issue that he also used it for high-speed runs on the river. It was supported on runners and driven by the cleats mounted on the rear wheels.

  • 1914 Mercury Bulley Tractor
  • The Mercury “Bully” Tractor – the “Automobile Trade Journal” November 1914.

The first commercially available engine-driven snow removal machine that we could find a photo of is the Mercury Bully Tractor pictured above, manufactured by the Mercury Manufacturing Co. of Chicago, Illinois. It was powered by a rear-mounted engine equipped with a self-starter that was located over the rear axle. Drive was through a dry clutch to a Cotta constant mesh transmission that was in unit with the differential and jack shafts. The final drive was handled by double chain drive.

The single front wheel was mounted on a steering axle that was located below one of two heavy cast steel members. Large ball bearings between these two cast pieces  provided for easy steering. Foot brakes on the jack shafts and hand brakes on the rear wheels were provided. It was also available electrically-powered. The patent that was filed on March 25, 1915 can be viewed here.

The V-plow shown mounted on the machine in the lead photo of the post and below was of the railroad type. It was stated in the Automobile Trade Journal that the plow was free to articulate and conform to the road surface regardless of the position that the tractor may assume. It could be installed in ten minutes and removed in five, which would leave it free for other duties. It proved its worth by being able to keep Michigan Avenue in Chicago open during a three-day storm when other methods failed. You can look back at earlier posts on snow removal and for more snow removal machines here in the near future.

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5 responses to “The Mercury Bulley Tractor And Early Snow Removal

  1. Another fascinating bit of history. Thank you The Old Motor!

    I’d never have thought that just “rolling and compacting” the fresh snow cover would be beneficial, especially in the days of narrow tires and animal traction.

    Tom M.

  2. Very interesting that I never really considered how streets were kept clear in those days of the transition to automobiles. I think we take for granted that our roads are cleared in one 50mph pass these days. Thanx for the education.

    I was really looking at that simple snow roller. I see it uses three horses pushing (with incentive riding on the skis behind), and one horse pulling and steering through the heavy drifts. Though I wonder it’s effectiveness, I guess it at least made streets look like the mayor did something about it.

  3. My belief that the “Model T Ford owned by Fred Waters of Red Bank, New Jersey, … to plow the Shrewsbury River…” probably did so in order to allow a higher-speed activity – that of ice boating, a popular sport in the area.

  4. The only other place I have seen any reference to the snow rollers is in Slim’s Restaurant in Booneville, NY. They have a lot of nice historical pictures on the walls there and several of these snow roller being used in town. Very good egg salad sandwiches too.

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