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Union Pacific's Snow Plows

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This page was last updated on September 27, 2015.

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Union Pacific has owned and operated a variety of snow fighting equipment. As early as the 1870s, the earliest examples were large wedge plows mounted directly to the front of locomotives. As technology and engineering techniques improved, separate wedge plows were mounted on flat cars, and by the mid 1880s, Union Pacific and its subsidiary companies was one of the earliest users of rotary snow plows.

The blizzards of 1949 resulted in Union Pacific building a fleet of wedge snow plows mounted to retired steam locomotive tenders. In late 1949, an experimental "Snow Loader" was tried, with an added "Snow Melter" to aid in the removal of large amounts of snow from switching yards where it was more difficult than simply blowing the snow to the side of the tracks.

The following was published in 1998 by Andrew Toppan on various web sites:

The first successful rotary plow was designed by Canadian Orange Jull. He had it built by the Leslie Brothers, owners of a machine shop, and tested it in the winter of 1883-84. The Leslies' soon purchased the manufacturing rights to the plow and went into business building 'Leslie type' rotaries. This is the type of plow most people think of when you say 'rotary.' It has one large circular plow blade rotating on a shaft parallel to the tracks.

Between 1885 and 1903 the Leslies had 62 plows (plus 2 for export) built by several locomotive works. They then sold the rights to the plows to ALCo. However, the Leslies' company exists to this day. From 1905 to 1937 ALCo built 67 plows (plus 4 for export). Lima-Hamilton built the last four commercially produced steam rotaries (and the last commercial Leslie types) in 1949-50, under license from ALCo.

Wedge Snow Plows

Wedge Snow Plows -- A roster listing of Union Pacific's wedge-type snow plows.

Russell Snow Plows

Based on Union Pacific records, and available photographs, Union Pacific is not known to ever owned or operated a snow plow like those built by Russell Car & Snow Plow Co. These wedge-style plows were built until 1951 by the Russell Car & Snow Plow Company of Ridgway, Pennsylvania. The design was patented in 1903 by James Russell. (link to patent) (link to Mid-Continent Railway Museum description) (link to HO scale model produced by Walthers)

Rotary Snow Plows

Rotary Snow Plows -- A roster listing of Union Pacific's rotary-type snow plows.

Snow Loader / Snow Melter

Snow Loader / Snow Melter -- A listing for Union Pacific's unique Snow Loader / Snow Melter combination.

Jordan Spreaders

At times, UP used its Jordan spreaders as snow plows. Although purchased as ballast spreaders, these unique machines became surplus as UP began using smaller machines to spread ballast.

Jordan Spreaders -- A roster listing of Union Pacific's Jordan Spreaders


"Rotary Snow Plows ... The Leslie Brothers Had a Better Idea" -- An article from the December 1971 issue of Union Pacific INFO magazine. (PDF; 4.8MB; six pages, with photos)

"Rotary Snow Plows, Union Pacific Style." -- An article from the January 1972 issue of Union Pacific INFO magazine. (PDF; 4.8MB; six pages, with photos)

"Union Pacific Unveils A New 3000 HP Diesel Electric Rotary Snow Plow" -- An article from 1966, by Harold Rees, about Union Pacific's snow plows.

"Fighting Snow" -- An article from Railway and Locomotive Engineering, January 1913

"The Development of Snow Fighting Equipment" -- An article from Railway Maintenance Engineer, December 1920

"Rotary Snow Plows" -- An excerpt from Trains and Technology, Volume 2, Cars, by Anthony Bianculli

More Information

"Engine Tender Snow Plows" by James L. Ehernberger, The Streamliner, Volume 6, Number 3, 1990, page 3

The Streamliner, Volume 14, Number 2, Spring 2000; page 37 (review of newly released Walthers HO scale model)

"The Titans Of Winter" by Robert P. Krieger, The Streamliner, Volume 13, Number 1, Winter 1998, page 9

"The Leslie Brothers and Their Giant Snowblower", Trains magazine, January 1987, Volume 47, Number 3, page 27

UP equipment record book, r3-300, r3-302, r3-632, r3-633

Original rotary snow plow patent, by Orange Jull, U. S. Patent 297408, April 1884

Original screw-type "Excavator" snow plow, by Orange Jull, U. S. Patent 393240, November 1888