Friday, May 13, 2011

True museums mark things up properly... this damage to the back of a Galloping Goose train car marked "rotary 02 Vance Junction 1949" at the Colorado Railroad Museum in Golden, CO. In February 1949, during one of the snowiest winters on record, one of the rotary snowplowers at the Rio Grande Southern Railroad exploded at Vance Junction in Colorado and destroyed some other trains cars like this one (and itself). Rotary snowplows were steam-driven plows run first in a train set, being pushed by steam locomotives behind it, The plow boiler powered a giant lamprey-shaped sucking 'mouth' at the front, working like a giant drill/snowblower through deep snowdrifts in the Rockies and the Plains.  The general model is still used today on diesel trains. Here is a great video of a steam rotary snowplow in use in this area of Colorado.

I think this is from the paper at the time, cited on the Narrow Gauge Railroad Forum:

"February 10, 1949, Thursday
Rio Grande Southern Rotary Explodes
The RGS was dealt a severe blow last week when its only rotary snow plow blew up. A crew had brought the rotary in from Ridgway Thursday, leaving it at Vance Junction while they spent the night in Telluride. About 5:30 Friday morning, they received a call that the rotary had exploded.  The plow was extensively damaged, possibly beyond repair. Holes were blown in the boiler, the grates, and chuck were blown out, and the cab was pretty well wrecked. The rotary was to have gone on toward Rico Friday. Left with only a flanger for snow equipment, it is now very uncertain when the road will be opened. "

This happened at the worst possible time:

"1949 was a particularly harsh winter, and the northern/western railroads were buried. The then-standard steam rotaries proved incapable of dealing  with the snow. The railroads looked at several possible solutions to the problem of insufficient plowing ability."(link)

And rotary snowplows are still used nowadays:

rotary snowplow
(Diesel driven old rotary snowplow at the Colorado Railroad Museum.  Doesn't the front look like either an intestinal parasite ready to burrow into some flesh, or a lamprey or leech ready to take a bite?

"Heavy snows in January 1997 hit the northern/western US very hard,  crippling BNSF operations. BNSF called out at least 6 plows (5 ex BN, 1  ex ATSF), but two plows had severe mechanical problems, so they could not  plow. [...]  In addition to the BNSF and UP plow, two SP rotaries were  called to clear Donner Pass on 23-24 Janaury 1997. This extent and  duration of rotary use has not been seen since 1949."  (link)

Proof here that rotary plows are still being used:

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