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WAG Plow Operations

Plow Operations


A number of features set a Russell snow plow apart from other snow plows.  Most noticeable perhaps is the pilot house which accommodates the Russell's two-man crew who operate the wings and flanger.  In this regard a Russell is similar to a Jordan spreader.

There are mechanical differences as well.  A Russell's bit (the cutting edge just above the rails) cannot be raised or lowered with turnbuckles or some other means as is the case with so many railroad built snow plows.  To raise the bit the plow must be lifted so that three inch thick center bearing and side bearings can be inserted between the front truck and body bolster. 

The front truck is unusual with its short 4' 3" wheelbase and asymmetrical sides frames.  This short wheelbase permits the truck to be tucked as far forward as possible for best tracking and load bearing when bucking heavy snow.  Rear-hung brakes are applied to the rear axle only on the front truck.  Typically, railroads have removed the brakes from the Russell's front truck, no doubt because they were so difficult to reach for service.

The underframe of a Russell is made up of four 15" x 33.9 pound channels which run the length of the plow.  Pushing forces are transmitted directly to a point immediately behind the front truck by a 12 inch square bar, referred to as a "power bar" in Russell Snow Plow Company literature.  The coupler attaches to this bar at it's rear and the bar attaches to the frame of the plow at the front with a two inch pin.  About four inches of side play permit sufficient lateral movement on curves.

The flanger and elevating wings are operated with 70 psi air pressure which is similar to a Jordan Spreader. Two 26" x 6' -1 1/4" air reservoirs are charged from the train line and provide sufficient air for the six air cylinders - two for each elevating wing and two for the flanger.  The flanger is held in the up (retracted) position by strong springs.  The pilot in the right side of the pilot house operates the right wing and flanger. The other pilot operates the left wing.   

The wood-lined interior of a Russell somewhat resembles the interior of a caboose.  Across the rear is a large tool box.  On the left side near the rear is a stove while the two air reservoirs occupy space along the right side near the pilot house.  A brake wheel on a shaft which runs through the plow from floor to ceiling is across from the two air reservoirs.  The interior is narrowed from about the middle to the front because of the space required for the retracted wings.  Light is admitted through five small windows - two in each side, one in the rear and one in each door. 

The air cylinders for the wings are mounted on the floor and just under the ceiling.  A false floor over the bottom two cylinders allows passage from front to rear.  The two vertical flanger air cylinders are located on either side just to the rear of the wing cylinders.

A gear locker is placed against the front wall to the left of the steps to the pilot house.  Three steps lead to the pilot house deck.  Below and in front of these steps is a small door which provides access to the inside of the upper wedge should repair or maintenance be necessary.  Another step up on either side leads to the elevated pilots positions.  Visibility is afforded in every direction through two windows in the front, two in each side and two more to the rear. 


Snow clearing machinery comes in many forms among which are rotary snow plows, wedge snowplows, sweepers, snow eaters - devices to scoop up the snow, melt it and carry the water away, snow jets which melt the snow on the spot, various switch heaters using gas burners, infared lamps and so on, bulldozers and other non-rail earth moving equipment and, finally, section laborers with shovels.

Wedge snow plows can be divided into two types:  single wedge and double wedge.  A double wedge snow plow first lifts the snow with its leading edge and divides the snow with the second wedge and throws it to either side of the track.  (In the case of a double track plow the snow is thrown only to one side.)  In order to be really effective a double wedge plow must move at about 35 to 40 miles per hour.  It helps, too, if the snow is dry and powdery.  Among the most famous double wedge snow plows were, of course, those of the Russell Snow Plow Company of Ridgway, Pennsylvania. 

Snow plows are prone to derailments.  The principle cause appears to be ice in the flangeways of grade crossings but ice in a snow drift or more snow on one side of the plow than the other can also cause derailment.  If the plow derails there isn't much the crew can do but hang on.  Reverse movements allow snow under the plow to lift the front off the track.   

Most derailments aren't too serious.  There is probably little or no damage to the plow but the railroaders know they may spend hours in the cold getting the thing back on the track.  Sometines, but not often, the plow is so badly damaged that it is scrapped.  Generally, in this case, it is cut up on the spot and hauled away in pieces.

The front end of a snowplow takes an awful beating during its lifetime.  Sometimes bent parts are simply cut off but, more often, everything is repaired as soon as possible if the plow can't be operated otherwise or at the end of the snow season if the plow can still be made to work. 

Each Russell snowplow wing was extended and retracted by two air operated cylinders.  The top cylinder had a bore of eight inches and a stroke of three feet, six and one half inches, while the bottom cylinder had a bore of ten inches and a stroke of three feet, eight inches.  The flanger was operated by two cylinders, each having a bore of eight inches and a stroke of twelve inches.  All cylinders were normally operated at 70 psi by valves located in the snowplow's cab.

Two men were required to operate a Russell in addition to the crew on the locomotive(s).  Two valves on the right side of the cab operated the right wing and flanger and one valve on the left operated the left wing.