By WAYNE CARHART
In New England when people lived mostly on farms, snow removal was limited to clearing a path from the house to the barn Ñ if the two buildings were not connected by a series of sheds, as they often were. Most of the occupantÕsneeds were met within the confines of their house and barn. Food, firewood, and silage had been stored so there was little need to travel over snow-covered roads.
After the railroad and streetcars came to Brattleboro, snowplows and teams of men were hired to clear the tracks. No thought was given to actually removing the snow from the roads until after the arrival of the automobile.
When roads were paved and people became more dependent on the automobile, the thought of not being able to use it in the snow was simply unacceptable to most citizens. Telegraph and then telephone and electric lines that were felled by a snowstorm had to be repaired. As communication and transportation became an essential part of
everyday life, keeping the roads open became a major civic priority.
Rather than packing the snow down for a better sleigh ride, it was pushed to the side by a snow plow, pulled by a team of oxen or horses, making it easier for the wheels of the automobile to travel on the snow-covered road. However, in areas of heavy automobile use, this process caused the snow to turn to ice, making for a slick road service which was often hazardous for the automobile. To deal with this new problem, sand was trucked and spread on the roadway and tire chains were attached to automobile tires to provide greater traction.
Now snow and all-weather tires serve this pur- pose. Enterprising motorists started to place bags of sand in the back of their rear-wheel-drive truck or car to put more weight over the drive wheels of the vehicle, creating better traction. If this failed and they got stuck, they had a supply of sand to throw on the slick surface. This technique is still practiced today.
As the automobile took over as a means of transportation and sleighs were reserved for old-fashioned sleigh rides, the idea of clearing the road surface altogether took hold. To accomplish this, better plows were designed. First, simple V-plows were used and then winged plows that had the ability to move the snow to the side of the road. With the aid of the wing, which was originally controlled by a man using a block and tackle (now automated), a shelf was formed in the piled snow, making room for more snow to be removed from the road without narrowing the lanes. When the snow blower made its appear- ance, it enabled the snow to be blown from the ground right into a truck and carted away.
What the snowplow and blower could not do was done with a mixture of imported salt and sand from a local sandbank. Salt continues to be spread on the plowed surface today because it lowers the freezing point of water which causes the ice to turn to slush and therefore not as slick. Powers recalls that the salt would arrive via boxcar at Brattleboro Union Station and his job, in addition to running a plow, was to shovel it into a wheelbarrow, push it up a wooden ramp, and dump it in a truck. Later a motorized augur was used to accomplish the task.
Keeping a community roadways clear for automobile traffic has become part of the winter experience. In fact, the Volkswagen Company once ran an advertisement showing the VW Beetle traveling through unplowed snow higher than the Beetle itself. When it reached its destination, the townÕsgarage and snow plow, a voice-over said: ÒDid you ever wonder how the guy who drives the snow plow got to the snow plow?
When travel was necessary, horse-drawn sleighs and heavier wagons, equipped with runners and drawn by a team of oxen, were used to get about. To combat heavy snow drifts a snow roller was used to pack down the snow, making it easier to travel by sleigh. Lester Powers, who worked for Brattleboro Public Works department for 50 years, remembers his dad using a snow roller on Stratton Hill in the late 1920s and early 1930s.
ÒHewould hitch up his team of oxen and guide the roller along the road a few miles to the next farm, where the job would be taken over by his neighbor and a fresh team,ÓPowers said. A double snow roller was used on Main Street Brattleboro, which enabled people to travel to town to conduct business.