Union Pacific's Snow Plows

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This page was last updated on February 15, 2019.

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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

Although no photographs have yet been found, the UP Equipment Record shows that UP owned two Russell snow plows. Numbered as UP 03009 and 03010, they were both retired by 1929.

Both Russell snow plows used by Union Pacific were built in October 1905 by Russell Car & Snow Plow Company. UP 03009 was retired in August 1929. UP 03010 was retired in August 1927. (The UP 03010 number was reused for a flat car in November 1946, renumbered from UP 56200.)

The Russell snow plow design was patented in 1903 by James Russell. These wedge-style plows were built until 1951 by the Russell Car & Snow Plow Company of Ridgway, Pennsylvania.

Wm. K. Walthers, Inc. produced an HO scale model of a Russell snow plow, but the model is no longer available from them.

(View the U. S. patent for the Russell snow plow)

(Read more about the Russell snow plows at Mid-Continent Railway Museum)

Rotary Snow Plows

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

Jull Snow Excavators

UP had two Jull snow plows, more properly known as the Jull Snow Excavator. The first Jull plow on Union Pacific was also the first Jull plow built, of a total of 11 machines built between 1889 and 1892. This first machine was a standard gauge version built in 1889 that remained in service on Union Pacific until 1949.

The second Jull plow on Union Pacific rails was also the second Jull plow built, and was a narrow gauge version built in 1890 that tested on Denver Leadville & Gunnison (formerly Denver South Park & Pacific). It was a failure in those tests and was converted to standard gauge the same year. This later plow remained with UP's Colorado subsidiaries as they were separated from UP during UP's bankruptcy in 1893, and it later became a Colorado & Southern machine, remaining in service on C&S until 1929.

Jull Snow Excavator no. 1 was built in 1888 by the Southwark Foundry & Machine Co. as a prototype of Jull's design. It tested on Rome, Watertown & Ogdensburg Railroad, then was sold to Union Pacific. The first Jull plow on Union Pacific was numbered as 065. In its general system-wide numbering of all of its equipment, the Jull plow was given number 03004 in June 1918. It was retired in March 1949 and was sold for scrap.

Jull Snow Excavator no. 2 was built by Rogers Locomotive Works in February 1890, receiving Rogers construction number 4256. The second Jull plow on Union Pacific was numbered as 066. It was equipped with narrow gauge trucks (three feet) and tested on Denver Leadville & Gunnison. After failing in its test, the machine was returned to Denver and the standard gauge trucks were re-installed. It was renumbered as Union Pacific, Denver & Gulf no. 025 in 1893, then as Colorado & Southern no. 0200 in 1899, then renumbered as C&S 99210 in 1912. It was retired and sold for scrap in April 1929.

(Read more about UP's Jull snow plows)

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

(Additional information from John Taub, email dated October 17, 2017)

Snow Loader / Snow Melter

Snow Loader / Snow Melter -- Information about Union Pacific's unique Snow Loader / Snow Melter combination.

Snow Melter (Challenger)

Roadway Locomotive Snow Melter -- Information about Union Pacific's Challenger locomotive that was equipped as a snow melter in North Platte, Nebraska.

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