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Canadians Know Snow, Eh?

TORONTO, Ont. - Canadians are no strangers to snow and ice. And like most drivers in this country, I've pulled my share of trailers with piles of snow on the roof. It's actually quite magical watching...

TORONTO, Ont. – Canadians are no strangers to snow and ice. And like most drivers in this country, I’ve pulled my share of trailers with piles of snow on the roof. It’s actually quite magical watching the plume streaming onto the fields and highway. As for ice, it’s often invisible to us. You don’t see it until it comes crashing onto your cab or catwalk, or you can watch sheets of it lifting off the trailer in the sideview.

But the days of driving with uncleaned trailer roofs may be coming to an end. Every year we hear of tragic accidents involving blocks of ice smashing automobile windshields. Snow-laden trailers can also put other drivers into a white-out.

Ontario has no law against it, but provinces like Nova Scotia and Quebec are among jurisdictions handing out fines and demerit points for littering snow and ice, as are some states south of the border. With increasing public awareness and more work cultures adopting diligent practices, transport companies and distribution centres are looking seriously at acquiring snow clearing machines.

Just like the Zamboni, leave it to Canadians to be at the forefront of such inventions. Years ago, I recall Ron Martin, a mechanic at Eaton’s in Toronto, welding a steel blade onto a makeshift forklift attachment. He had the drivers pull their wagons inside the shop and ran the elevated plow blade along the trailers. This worked alright for light stuff, but heavy snow eventually twisted the blade, not to mention the piles of melting snow in the garage.

The simplest device I’ve seen is at the UPS depot in north Toronto. It’s nothing more than a steel bar attached to an upright frame. The bar can be adjusted with pegs for different heights. I watched their A-train pups and a container pass under it, scraping an inch or two of powder snow. It seemed to loosen up the crust before the units went on the road. There were also big piles of snow beside the lane, so it’s doing something.

Searching around the Internet, I found several manufacturers who make trailer snow clearing machines, most located in Canada.

Although the prices of the units vary a great deal, and the mechanisms may range from static and mechanical to electrical and electronic, the designs are mostly similar.

Some sort of elevated plow or scrubber, either stationary or adjustable, is mounted on an ‘H’ frame which in turn is fastened to concrete blocks, steel rails or footings. Usually, a synthetic rubber blade, often V-shaped, rides just over the surface of the trailer roof. Some products also come with a kind of roller or drum attachment, acting as a beater bar to loosen the packed snow.

In most cases, the driver stops just before contact and adjusts the height of the plow platform. He or she then pulls through the lane as the snow is scraped to the ground.

The driver may have to make several passes to loosen stubborn snow. A plow or loader is also needed to take away the accumulated snow on the ground.

After a significant snowfall, this may have to be done after every three or four trailers, except in the case of the high-end Yeti, whose blower launches most of the snow away from the area.

Most of the manufacturers have been around five years or so, but new prototypes are arriving on the scene all the time.

Here’s a quick look at what’s on the market:

The SRS 200-S Avalanche made by Leevin Design of Barrie, Ont. Completely static and mechanical,theV-shaped plow blade is set at a certain height and locked in. This is good if your equipment is all the same height including your fifth wheels. Price is $12,500 plus installation. Representative Kevin Brookes says it can be installed in three hours if the footings are in. About 20-25 are in service, including at customers like SLH and Warren Gibson.

Reed Screed of New Jersey has an interesting product that purports to be “portable.” It’s your basic rubber V-Blade with an adjustable height function that runs off a truck battery or solar trickle charger. The inventor Mike Reed has been in production five years and has about 12 machines in operation at places like New England Motor Freight and Sysco Food Distributors in the northeastern US. None have been sold in Canada yet, although he’s been getting inquiries. It costs US$19,500 not including freight or installation

Scraper Systems was invented in the US but has good representation in Canada with two machines that are installed at inspection stations in Amherst and Enfield, Nova Scotia. This is aV-Blade design which can be raised and lowered electrically. There are about 200 of these in existence in North America at operations like SCM (Wal-Mart), Cornwall, Ont., and Reimer in Mississauga. Price including installation comes in just under $25,000.

J & D Trailer Protection Company of Waterford, Ont. makes the Rooster One system invented in Canada by James Quinn. It’s a fully mechanical system with a counterweight and angled blade directing the snow into a chute on the side of the frame. Installed it’s about $26,000.Customers in Ontario include Frito-Lay and Maple Lodge Farms.

The Robot 2000 is manufactured in St-Hubert Quebec and has nine of its machines at locations in that province including at Purolator, Canada Post and HBC. The machine is the invention of Germain Bouchard and features a plow and drum combination which is raised and lowered by electric winches. The machine costs $36,000 installed in the Montreal area (more for other cities).

The Yeti Snow Removal Systems manufactured by Rainville Industries of St-Jean-sur-Richelieu is the gold standard of snow removal machines, and the only one that can remove ice as well. It’s been on the market since 2006 and uses an auger, brushes and a powerful blower. It also has a function which automatically raises and lowers the platform to accommodate trains. Clients include Normandin, Manitoulin and Transport Bourassa. It costs $73,000 with installation extra.

Buyer beware, of course. Truck News couldn’t test any of these systems, but we did see one trailer top cut open from stem to stern by an improperly-installed device (see photo).

If you’re in the market for one of these machines, be sure and do your homework.

When it comes right down to it, trailer snow is the responsibility of all parties, including the shipper if the unit is sitting at a dock for a weekend.

It’s going to cost about $50 to get one cleaned off unless you want to get up there yourself like an acrobat.

Groupe Robert offers a snow clearing station for drivers at its Boucherville terminal.

The trailers first pass under a mechanical brush and then park beside a raised platform constructed on top of a van.

Cleaners are tethered and harnessed as they push snow off the trailer.

In the case of ice, they’re provided with six-inch steel plates on the end of poles to pound off the tough stuff.

“There’s no excuse for anyone to leave this yard with snow or ice on the trailer,” says preventionist Francois Rochon.

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