March 12, 2010

Old plow does big job with style

— At first it was felt more than heard, but then the winter stillness was broken by a low, throaty growl that grew rapidly into a roar. Down the road, a billowing cloud of snow rolled closer and closer, frightening snow birds into flight. Then a huge red truck emerged from the cloud, its ''V'' plow steadily ripping through the blanket of snow, clearing the road.

click image to enlarge

click image to enlarge

It could be an old movie about snow fighting from 50 years ago, but it isn't. It was an antique Oshkosh snowplow with Alan Greene at the wheel, clearing the heavy snows that we get here in Maine.

All winter long, Greene opens private driveways, parking lots and roads in Sebago, Baldwin and South Bridgton, spreading salt and sand where needed.

''I needed something big enough to push back the snowbanks when we have a heavy winter like last year,'' Greene said. ''This old Oshkosh is slow but it has all the muscle I need to push this big 'V' plow through the biggest drifts, and the 11-foot wing will push back banks up to 4 feet high without even slowing down.''

The bright red steel plow towers over Greene's head at nearly 7 feet tall.

''I can adjust both the plow and the wing up and down with these levers in the cab,'' he said, climbing up into the truck and firing up the big diesel. ''The Oshkosh has two Fuller transmissions that offer a combination of 20 forward gears and four reverse gears. We don't go very fast, but I haven't found anything that will stop us!''

''I bought the Oshkosh from the town of Laurens, N.Y., in 2003,'' said Steve MacLean. ''As far as I can tell, it has been in continuous use plowing snow there since they bought it new in 1963. It sat on the lot with several other old Oshkosh plow trucks until Alan Greene bought it in 2008.''

Steve owns and operates S.A. MacLean Inc. in Limerick. He knows the history of every one of the hundreds of snowplows, excavators, dump trucks and fire engines in his storage yard -- where they came from, when he bought them and what their price tag is.

''I have dozens of Oshkosh plows here,'' he said. ''They are built solid and will last forever, given a little loving care and maintenance.'' The Oshkosh plows are lined up in several snow-covered rows in the yard, from the oldest 70-plus-year-old models to huge yellow monsters only a dozen years old.

When Alan Greene bought his Oshkosh from MacLean in 2008, the faded letters ''Town of Laurens'' were still faintly visible on its doors. The original Waukesha 145GZ gasoline engine had been replaced with a 290hp diesel engine, but everything else on the truck except the tires was original and in good operating condition.

''Sebago was like most towns in Maine,'' said Ted Greene, Alan Greene's father and former snowplow driver for the town. ''We used to use big snow rollers drawn by horses to keep the roads open, and most cars were put up in the barn during winter.''

Snow rollers were the standard in Sebago until the winter of 1928-29, when snowplows mounted on trucks started being used there. The town has seen an evolving series of snowplows, from ''V'' plows to ''dustpan''-styled plows to straight plows.

''V'' plows like the one on Alan Greene's Oshkosh haven't been seen in Sebago for years, and when older residents see it lumbering down the road, it brings back memories.

The process of plowing roads has changed over the years. Rather than waiting to plow until a storm was over, truck-mounted snowplows started plowing when a few inches had fallen and continued throughout the storm to avoid having to deal with the deep snows and big drifts all at the same time.

''I used to ride around with my father when he plowed roads for the town,'' Greene said. ''I was only 3 or 4 at the time, and as I got a little older, sometimes he'd let me operate the wing plow. I got hooked on plowing snow, and this old Oshkosh is fulfilling one of my boyhood dreams! I'm like a kid with a new toy!''

Allen Crabtree lives in Sebago. He can be contacted at:

crabtree@crabcoll.com

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