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1937 Oshkosh four-wheel drive truck with V-plow and wing plows

Snow Removal History And Forty Years Of Truck Development

This is the second in a series of interesting photos showing vehicles used for snow removal between the years of 1916 and 1956. After researching the subject it was found that keeping the streets and roads open was a major problem for towns, cities and states up until around the mid-1920s. At that point, heavy-duty machines were beginning to be produced that were able to deal with most of it.

Even after the machinery was developed to plow snow, it was found that the only way to deal with a heavy accumulation was to continue to plow throughout the storm. If the snow was allowed to pile up, the limited horsepower that early trucks, tractors, and crawlers had, was not enough to push through a heavy accumulation. If the snow was not too deep for horses to get through it, the animals were still used first pull a drag through it and reduce the depth.

If the accumulation was too much plow, sometimes a truck could get through, but only by ramming into it until being stopped, and then backing up and repeating the maneuver as can be seen here on a video. If the plow rig could not get through, a truck-mounted snow blower or shoveling by hand was still the only alternative. Up until the 1930s and on through the Great Depression, some hand shoveling continued and was assisted by machinery.

In the first part of this coverage, you can learn more about some of the early methods and machines used on up until the mid-teens.

early streetcar plowing snow in Boston

Since the electrically-powered streetcar came on the scene in the late 1800s and became powerful and reliable enough to clear its own way, it was equipped with a front-mounted plow. If the streetcars were kept running through a storm, in most instances the vehicles could keep the tracks clear. With the use of a wing plow, the vehicles could keep the width of a city street clear. The streetcar fitted with such a plow above is seen clearing snow on Berkeley Street in Boston, Massachusetts on March 2, 1916

 Kelly-Springfield truck with a V-plow

By the mid-teens, the heavy duty truck had been developed enough so that it was capable of keeping up with a big storm if the operation was repeated and the snow was not allowed to build up. This January 1918 photo in the Motor Age shows a 3 1/2-ton Kelly-Springfield with a V-plow that used in the city of Chicago. In the photo, it is hauling away hand shoveled snow.


The Automotive Industries February 3, 1920 issue pictured one of the early conveyer systems in New York City that was used for loading snow into trucks. This self-propelled unit with a full-width conveyer could feed itself, but often the snow and ice was broken up and piled or shoveled into them by laborers.

This machine invented by Dr. Samuel Friedman would fill the ten cubic yard top compartment with snow. When it was full, a door on either side could be opened, and the snow would fall into a waiting truck and be hauled away.

Indiana truck with a snow plow

This photo taken in 1930 shows a Virginia Highway Department dump truck made by the Indiana Truck Corp. of Marion, Indiana. Oddly it is equipped with acetylene headlamps at this late date. Indiana manufactured the trucks between 1919 and 1932 when it became a subsidiary of the White Truck Company. Production continued under the Indiana name until 1939.


The late 1930s photo above shows how many cities dealt with snow that built up at the curb after being plowed by heavy equipment. Laborers still shoveled the snow by hand into the trucks that then hauled it away for dumping elsewhere. Some large cities like New York that had large-sized sewage tunnels with an adequate flow would dump the snow into them to save on trucking.

1937 Oshkosh four-wheel drive truck with V-plow and wing plows

This huge 1937 Oshkosh four-wheel drive truck is also pictured in the lead photo at the top of the post, shows how far the truck had been developed by that time. This unit had enough power and stamina to push the large V-shaped plow and is also equipped with wing plows for pushing back the snow banks. It continued to be used on Oregon highways for two more decades.

SNOGO snow blower mounted on a Ford Truck chassis with a Marmon-Herrington

The first snowblowers that were referred to as rotary plows were developed for use by the railroads. The SNOGO shown here mounted on a postwar Ford Truck chassis with a Marmon-Herrington four-wheel drive conversion was a further development of this concept.

The three front mounted augers moved and pushed the snow back into a blower that discharged it into an incomplete rectangular chute visible just in front of the right front fender. These snow blowers took quite a bit of horsepower to run, and a separate rear-mounted engine powered the unit.

1956  Ford Truck plowing snow

And finally from our state of Vermont with its beautiful Green Mountains showing in the background is a 1956 or earlier Ford Truck plowing snow in February 1958. You can also view many other snow plows, snowmobiles, and winter scenes with vehicles in them here on The Old Motor.

10 responses to “Snow Removal History And Forty Years Of Truck Development

  1. Hi, just turned on to the site a short time ago. Really enjoy the vintage pictures. This snow removal thread hit a spark with me. While visiting the UP of Michigan, we stumbled on the Houghton Co. Historical Museum in Lake Linden, Michigan. While most of the outdoor exhibits were railroad pieces, they had a huge “Snogo” machine from the 40’s or early 50’s that was twice the size of the Ford shown here. The truck was an Oshkosh, or FWD, with a huge Buda 4cyl. engine on the back. The thing that amazed me, aside from what a beast it must have been to operate, was the aux. Buda engine was HAND cranked to start! Thanks for a cool site.

  2. Maybe it’s because I live in northeast Connecticut, but I think these recent articles on snow removal vehicles and methods have been some of the most interesting subjects on The Old Motor.

    Thank you!

    Tom M.

  3. The last photo appears to be a rwd with no chains or traction type tires. One wonders how well that would work!! We all know how tough those Fords are, though. It does appear to have tire chains hanging on the side of the bed.

  4. I grew up in Fayetteville, NY in the Onondaga County snow belt. One of the (many) delights of winter was watching the big V plows rolling down Rt 5 with the wing plows throwing the snow yards off the road.

  5. Plowing without chains was preferred as the chains could cause road and truck damage. And if a link broke it would damage the truck unless repaired on the spot. Icy roads did require chains though and I can tell you from personal experience that chains were not always pleasant to deal with.

  6. The streetcar in the image is actually a dedicated snow sweeper, most likely built by McGuire-Cummings. These sweepers had a large brush made of rattan canes at each end, usually covered with a tarp to keep chunks of snow and ice from hitting pedestrians and other vehicles (you can see the tarp here, on the trailing brush. Streetcars themselves were generally not used to clear snow as they lacked the power and adhesion to do the job.

    The northern systems that retained street-running streetcars (Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Boston) kept examples of these snow sweepers in operation well into the postwar years.

  7. I owned a 1937 Sterling that had a 12 foot V plow with a fully hydraulic 10 foot wing on each side. It had a 5 speed main trans and a 4 speed aux trans. One time I was asked to open a stretch of road that was not on my route , that was important to get trucks and buses through, and it took me 80 gallons of fuel to go a half of mile in a cut in a hill. I could not widen anymore than the width of the V. The vehicles had to wait for one another to get through for quite a while until I could finally wing a few cut outs for them.

  8. Great pics!
    Do you have any photos of The Red River Lumber Company snow roller? They pulled a heavy tube with horse teams to flatten a way through the snow.

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