UP Snow Plow Articles

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During the years 1887 to 1922 the Union Pacific and connecting lines, which later became part of the Union Pacific system, acquired a total of 17 rotary plows constructed along the above lines.

Of the first five rotaries built in 1887 and 1888 for the Union Pacific or its later acquired connecting lines, none were officially retired until 1958. In that year two were retired and two were stored unassigned. As of 1966, one was stationed at Rawlins. It was the first rotary constructed at the Cooke Works. It was seldom used because rotaries built at a much later date were stationed at Green River and Cheyenne and were used in preference. But it still served as standby protection -- just in case it is needed -- 80 years after it was constructed.

Rotary Snow Plows; The Leslie Brothers

"Rotary Snow Plows ... The Leslie Brothers Had a Better Idea" -- An article from the December 1971 issue of Union Pacific INFO magazine.

Rotary Snow Plows, Union Pacific Style

"Rotary Snow Plows, Union Pacific Style." -- An article from the January 1972 issue of Union Pacific INFO magazine.

Union Pacific 3000 HP Rotary Snow Plow

"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

Railway and Locomotive Engineering, Volume 26, January 1913, page 18, 19

In a paper submitted to the Canadian Society of Civil Engineers, in December [1912], Mr. H. H. Vaughn presented a very exhaustive illustrated paper on Rotary Snow Plows, in which he followed up all the steps by which the rotary reached its present efficiency, that enables the machine to cut through snow slides that besides snow have ice, trees, rocks and other obstructions that must be removed.

The rotary snow plow was originally in Canada by J. W. Elliott, a dentist of Toronto. It consisted of a wheel having a number of flat arms supported on a shaft rotating in line with the track. This was a very crude apparatus, but it was improved materially by Jull and then all rights in the invention were purchased by Leslie Brothers who put it on the market.

A working model of the rotary snow plow was exhibited at the Exposition of Railway Appliances held in Chicago in 1883 and attracted favorable attention of railway officials. The first full size rotary snow plow was erected at the Canadian Pacific shops at Parkdale during the winter of 1883-1884, and its trial clearly demonstrated that the Elliott principle of a revolving wheel could throw the snow clear of the tracks. Since that time a great many important improvements have been affected on the rotary; but its efficiency demonstrates the soundness of Elliott's idea. All the railroads liable to be snowed under now use the rotary snow plow and it is extensively used in Russia and other countries that suffer from heavy snowfalls.

The Development of Snow Fighting Equipment

By W. H. Winterrowd
Railway Maintenance Engineer, Volume 16, Number 12, December 1920, pages 458-462

MACHINE PLOWS -- On roads which have to fight deep drifts, snow slides, or other conditions beyond the capacity of push plows, the rotary machine plow is used, and to date is the most effective instrument that has been developed for the purpose. These plows can work their way through deep cuts and slides where it would be impossible for any type of push plow to lift the snow and, in addition, can throw the snow clear of the track. If the snow is much higher than the top of the casing it is only necessary to loosen it and throw it down in front of the plow in order to have it picked up and thrown clear of the track.

J. W. Elliott was the original inventor of the rotary principle. His invention was improved by Orange Jull, who applied a knife or cutting wheel in front of the Elliott fan wheel. In 1883 the Leslie Brothers built the first rotary embodying the Jull modification. The fan wheel was mounted on a hollow shaft in which revolved a solid shaft supporting the knife wheel. The fan and cutting wheels were revolved in opposite directions by means of a gear system.

During the winter of 1883-84, the Canadian Pacific gave this model a trial at Parkdale, Ontario. This preliminary trial, in which snow and ice were thrown over 300 ft., demonstrated the practicability of removing snow with a revolving wheel. This trial, however, indicated that the plow should be constructed so that snow could be thrown to either side of the track and that a flanger was necessary to prevent derailment in hard snow and ice and to leave a satisfactory rail after passing.

To overcome these objections the Leslie Brothers developed a wheel with manually reversible knives which could be changed in position to enable them to cut in either direction. They also applied a movable hood to the cylindrical portion of the casing through which snow could be thrown to either side of the track. In addition they designed an ice cutter, and a flanger, which were applied to the front truck of the plow.

A plow containing these improvements was built for them by the Cooke Locomotive Works of Paterson, N.J. One difficulty, however, was experienced. The friction caused by the snow passing between the knife wheel and the fan wheel absorbed more power than that required to cut and throw away the snow. The principle of opposite revolving wheels was then abandoned and the Leslie Brothers designed a single fan wheel with adjustable cutting edges. These cutting knives were attached directly to the wheel and reversed their position automatically as the direction of rotation was changed.

The Cooke Locomotive Works rebuilt the plow, embodying these improvements, and during the winter of 1886-87, it was put into service on the Union Pacific, doing particularly good work in opening up one 70-mile branch which had been blocked for some time and through which no plows of other types had been able to proceed. J. S. Leslie personally operated the plow during the trial. The operation of the "rotary" was so successful that the railway company not only purchased it, but three others in addition.

In Canada, in 1888, the Canadian Pacific Railway, through the Polson Iron Works Company of Toronto, built eight of these plows in their Montreal shops, applying a fan wheel which had been still further improved by the Leslie Brothers.

Although there has been considerable development, the general arrangement of the modern rotary is very similar to that of the improved Leslie plows. As development progressed, the plows became heavier and were made more powerful. The size of the cutting wheels has increased to such an extent that on the heaviest and most modem plows the knives will cut through small trees and successfully open up snow slides containing a very large proportion of dirt, rock and gravel.

The first rotary plows with the improved Leslie wheel were equipped with a 17 by 24-inch two-cylinder engine. Steam was supplied by a locomotive type boiler carrying 180 pounds pressure. The cutting wheel was supported by an 8-1/2 inch diameter shaft geared to the engines. The shaft was supported in a main bearing 34 inches long. The back of this wheel consisted of steel plate to which the fan blades, or partitions, were secured. The fronts of the partitions were supported by heavy inner and outer rings. The reversible cutters were supported by trunnion riveted to these rings. When the plow was in operation the revolving knives cut the snow and delivered it into the space between the partitions. The snow was then carried around the casing until the top opening was reached, through which it was thrown in a straight line by centrifugal force.

On the four rotary plows built for the Union Pacific, the cutting wheel is built up around a cast-steel center, 50 inches in diameter. The center contains a number of spokes and is secured in the usual manner. On three of these spokes the small center cutting knives are hinged. the outer ring of this center casting forms the inner ring of the wheel. the outer ring is of mild steel 1 by 4-inch section. Between the inner and outer rings are riveted two types of cast-steel arms. Each alternate arm is provided with bosses for hinging the knives. the front edges of the 1/2-inch plate partitions are riveted to the arms without bosses. The plain arms also serve as stops for the knives, which are double-edged and of cast steel, and which adjust themselves independently without connecting links.

The boilers on these plows are equipped with superheaters. The use of highly superheated steam provides a substantial increase in power and reduces the consumption of fuel and water, enabling the plow to remain out longer without running for an additional supply.

Rotary Snow Plows

Trains and Technology, Volume 2, Cars
By Anthony Bianculli
University of Delaware Press, 2002, pages 169-172

It was Orange Jull, a flour mill owner in Canada, however, who is generally credited with the invention of the modern rotary snow plow. Jull's idea was to drive a high speed cutting wheel into the snow ahead of a second, fan wheel, whose function was to discharge the snow by throwing it to the side of the track. Jull's machine was patented in April 1884, and he subsequently assigned the patent to the Leslie brothers, John and Edward, who made the first working model. The Canadian Pacific Railway expressed an interest and subsequently contributed a boiler for the model. Testing of the machine on the CP was successful and the Leslies decided to turn to a manufacturer with the capability to produce the plows in quantity.66

The Cooke Locomotive and Machine Company of Paterson, New Jersey was chosen to build the "Leslie Rotary" plows, and on 28 March 1885, the first plow was tested on the tracks of the Buffalo Creek Railroad. More exhaustive tests were conducted during the winter of 1885-86 on the Fremont, Elkhorn and Missouri Valley Railroad. These tests disclosed several faults that were speedily corrected, and in 1887 an improved model was tested on the Oregon Short Line, a road controlled by the Union Pacific. The Union Pacific's experience during trials of the Rotary in 1887 banished all doubts regarding its efficacy. During the month of February, the plow covered 3,000 miles and cleared snow as deep as fifteen feet in some places. For example, on the Wood River Branch [OSL, Shoshone to Ketchum, Idaho], 69 miles of which had been blocked for ten days, the Rotary raised the blockade promptly. The cost-effectiveness of the machine was also proven as evidenced by the fact that the road purchased the trial machine and several more thereafter.67

The Rotary was adopted more quickly and extensively in the West where the snow problem was greatest, and within a few years, most major western railroads owned rotary plows. The eastern roads were slower to move from bucker type plow to rotaries, a situation that caused Scientific American to lament after the eastern blizzard of 1888, "The parsimony and shortsightedness of the great railways that center here ... is such that they cannot be depended upon to ... have such machines [rotary snow plows] on hand in readiness for use."68

At the end of 1888, there were about fifty Rotaries at work in the United States, with the New York Central being the only eastern road with a Leslie plow. The superiority of the Rotary, was so obvious that, despite its cost, its application spread east and to Europe where it was eventually adopted. Cooke continued to build "The Rotary" until its amalgamation into the American Locomotive Company after the turn of the century. Other locomotive makers, including Brooks, Grant, Portland, and Schenectady, as well as individual railroads, were also granted licenses to build Rotaries. 69

Although the design was essentially Jull's, the Leslie brothers made many important and significant improvements to it, and advertised and sold the commercial machine as the Leslie "Rotary." In short order, Orange Jull was no longer remembered as the inventor of the plow. Jull became embittered (even though he was not their partner) because the Leslies had not included his name on any of the patent applications that they filed. Perhaps of more substance, he also believed that his royalties were inadequate. As a consequence, he invented another rotary plow [the Jull Excavator-type], operating on a different principle in order to avoid infringement or the payment of royalties to the Leslie firm and organized a competitive concern to build it. 70

Like his original rotary design, the first Jull machine was successfully tested on the Union Pacific railroad. The Jull plow, like other imitators of similar design, never attained the popularity of the Leslie Rotary. All told, eleven Jull "Excavators" were built, but by the time that they were ready for sale, the Leslie Rotary was solidly entrenched in the marketplace.