Have Snow, Will Shovel

12 Jan

This past week, there was a big storm here in Alberta. Right where I live, we actually got about the best of it … lots of wind, blowing snow and drifting roads, but not too much new snow. Other places weren’t so lucky. There were closed highways, power outages and nine foot drifts. The cars abandoned on the highway were drifted completed under when their owner’s came back for them. I watched on the news about a small town restaurant that stayed open all night so that stranded motorists would have somewhere to stay until the highway reopened.

So, as I tend to do, I was thinking about a storm like this blowing in a hundred years ago, before there were snowplows and graders to clear the roadways. Even today, huge amounts of snow are a problem to deal with. I keep hearing stories of huge drifts that even the biggest tractors struggled with, and took hours to clear.

Of course, my first thought was of getting up to pee in the middle of the night and having to take a shovel to clear a path to the outhouse!  Yikes … just in case I haven’t said it recently, I’m very grateful to live in the era of indoor plumbing. Very.

So off I went to research “horse drawn snowplows” and the internets didn’t let me down! 

This is a sidewalk plow in use at Princeton University, circa 1910. Pretty efficient for a reasonably small amount of snow, but not much good for drifts … I imagine a shovel would be involved there! Snow plowing would be hard work for a horse. Snow is heavy! Even in this photo you can see the horse is really working.

Because the roadways were then usually travelled by sleigh in the winter time, rather than plowing them free of snow, big, horse drawn “rollers” were used to pack and groom the snow for easy sleighing.  Any ‘Little House On The Prairie” fans? Remember the book where they got so much snow they were looking out the window and could just see the hooves of the horses as they went down the street in front of their house?  I always wondered about that, reading it as a little girl. I mean, I grew up with snow  I know that with the exception of drifts (which are often hard like cement and routinely allow our horses to walk over fences) freshly fallen snow is soft, and I wondered why the horses didn’t fall through. Maybe the snow had been rollered, like in this photo. Course, it’s pulled by six horses that would have to go on the fresh snow, pulling the heavy roller and struggling through the snow. Guess that’s why they needed 6 horses.

This was fun research! That horse drawn snow roller is definitely going to become a part of Stella’s 1910 adventure …

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Posted by on January 12, 2011 in history, horses


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