|Steam rotary snowplow crew, C.M. & St. Paul Rwy, 1916, Northwest Railway Museum collection.
The Cascades are noteworthy for heavy snow. The term “Cascade Concrete” was coined by the earliest railroad workers charged with keeping mountain passes clear of snow. So it was little wonder that railroads in Washington were early adopters of mechanized snow clearing, and steam rotary snowplows were found on every major road.
In the winter of 1916, just 25 miles from today’s Northwest Railway Museum campus, workers on the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railway’s Pacific Extension took a brief break from snow clearing operations to pose for a photo by A.J. Holzman of North Bend. However, a closer inspection of the image around the bottom of the rotary assembly suggests that some components are misaligned. Was some maintenance being performed on the plow? Perhaps repairs were underway? It was common for avalanches whether large or small to deposit tree trunks and rocks on the track. If struck by the plow, this foreign material would shatter one or more of the rotary blade elements and require an immediate repair.
Imagining snow falling at a rate of one foot per hour, you quickly get a sense of how vital steam rotary snowplows were to railroad operations. It was common for plow trains to have two rotaries, one facing in each direction. With such high rates of accumulation, without a rotary facing in the opposite direction, it was easy for a plow train to become mired in fresh snow on the return movement.