Betsy, The Rotary
By Harry (Happy) Fuller, Snow Plow Operator
Your editor informed me that the readers of Nature Notes from Crater Lake National Park would be interested in a short article about snow removal. Now since my original home was in Boston, I should be better fitted for writing this little story of the snow plow than for its actual operation. But with eight months of the last four years, from October 1 to June 1, spent on the snow plow and not at a desk, you may judge for yourselves.
As for Betsy, my pal the plow, she's really a lady of two parts for she has a plow unit, and a truck unit. She looks it too, since she's twenty-three feet long, eight feet wide and ten feet high. Her staunch old six cylinder heart has a pulse beat of one hundred and sixty-five horse power and furnishes the power for both her units. She can get around on her four-wheel drive in ten different speeds. She can travel from one quarter of a mile an our p to fifteen miles an hour. The plow unit consists of a big scoop or bucket with two revolving augers to gobble up the snow for the fan. This fan disperses the snow through a spout to either the right or left of the cut. It spews it out in a mighty stream that will carry over banks of snow twenty-five feet high. With the banks, or walls, of the cut only ten feet high, the snow will be thrown a distance of one hundred feet. While working, the plow consumes an average of nine gallons of gasoline an hour. Last winter we used ten thousand and nine gallons.
But plowing is only a part of the work. The plow must be kept thoroughly greased and oiled. Some parts must be greased every day and the others every week. Falling back on additional statistics from last winter, I find that we used one hundred and fifty-nine gallons of oil and three hundred and seventy-six pounds of grease. Excellent lubrication lessens the possibilities of break downs. However, the heavy work occasionally results in mishap and spare parts are kept on hand. Any lengthy delay, especially during a storm, would probably result in the complete blocking of the roads for the winter.
Twenty-five miles of two-way road are kept plowed throughout the winter, and it's no small task. Last winter we had a total snow fall of sixty-five feet 10-1/2 inches and this winter to date, March 31, the snow fall has been sixty feet and seven inches. But a great deal more snow than that must be plowed for terrific winds will fill the cut with blown snow, even when it's not snowing. Enough snow was plowed last winter to make a ski track three feet wide, six inches deep, and long enough to encircle the world at the equator. When it starts snowing we wait, which is not for long I can assure you, until there is a foot of snow on the road before we start plowing. We must then continue to plow through the storm and for approximately four days afterwards before the roads are clear. It is not unusual to plow for thirty-six hours without a break; then a hasty meal, a couple of hours sleep and back to plowing. This seems more credible when the violence of our storms is known. For instance, in one storm this winter that lasted for eleven days, thirteen feet, nine inches of snow fell. After another storm that lasted for one day, we found thirty-five inches of fresh snow on the roads. And then perhaps there only will be one clear day before the start of another storm. From this you can see that Betsy and I are pretty close companions. There is something binding about facing a fury of driving snow and sub-zero temperatures together.
There are bright spots to everything and plowing is not an exception. The work is interesting and moments of fun enliven a hard day. In relating the following amusing incident, I must mention that the plow is a two-man machine since I have a helper to manipulate the controls of the plow unit. One of the helpers I had for the major portion of this winter, Bert Long, was an efficient fellow and something of an amateur photographer. He was one day going to take a picture of the plow in action. We were working between Headquarters and the Rim, a side hill cut and subject to frequent snow slides. Bert had just opened the door of the cab and was stepping out to take the picture when a slide started. Snow poured into and over the plow and Bert, in haste to get back in, landed in my lap. Fortunately it was only a minor slide. Occasionally we have a slide that will bring down thousands of tons of snow and carry everything before it. Such a slide fills the road with trees and packed snow to such a depth that long hours of work are necessary for its removal. Needless to say, and I'm knocking on wood, I have never been in the way of a slide of those proportions. This part of my story concerning the bright spots of the work would not be complete without the mention of the animals encountered. Because of the depth of the precipitous walls of the cut, most animals that enter are unable to get out if the snow is soft after a storm. We see squirrels, mink, marten, snowshoe rabbits, porcupines, and numerous other small animals as well as an occasional coyote. Most of these animals, if they remained in the cut, would either freeze to death or be devoured by the more agile carniverous species. Consequently it is one of our duties to remove them to safety. To do this we must pursue them down the cut with the plow until they are completely exhausted. This may seem heartless, but have you ever tried to catch a fresh snowshoe rabbit? Porcupines are easily caught but present an embarrassing difficulty in getting them up and out. Once in a while we take home a rabbit or a squirrel and give them the freedom of our quarters until spring. At the present time we have a young snowshoe that is gentle and friendly but has the annoying habit of curiously watching our cook. He jumped into a pudding the other day and Jesse threatens to show him the inside of a stew pot unless he behaves.
After reading this little story of the plowing of the roads, perhaps you wonder why you are not permitted to use them and participate in winter sports on the rim of Crater Lake all winter. Barriers of snow are left to plug the roads at the park boundaries. Although we travel the roads, they are not fit for tourist travel. During a storm they are sometimes impassable an hour after the plow has passed. To keep them in condition for tourist travel would require one more plow and in addition two blades mounted on trucks. But the park has neither the equipment nor the money for its purchase and operation -- therefore the barriers. Why all this work then if you can't come in until April? As the winter progresses the snow continually becomes packed more solidly until by spring it is almost ice. Such snow is difficult and expensive to move. Before we started this winter plowing, it was very often the first of July before you could drive to the lake. Since we started plowing the roads are opened to travel on the first of April. The park is still very beautiful well into April and nearly approaches the grandeur of mid-winter. Remember the maximum snow accumulation comes in April. Drive up and see the glory of Crater Lake in early spring.
The Winter's Greatest Storm
By D. S. Libbey
The snowfall at Crater Lake comes in storms. The great snow storm of January 1933 at Crater lake will probably go down in the records of the park as one of the greatest ever experienced. The storm starting on January 20 continued until the last day of the month. During the storm one hundred sixty-five inches of snow fell and at no time during the period was there very perceptible break in the continuous fall of snow.
The rotary snow plow (was) in continuous operation each day from early morning until twelve o'clock at night and on many occasions until 2 o'clock in the morning. Snow plow operator Harry "Happy" Fuller and his helpers during the period performed a really Herculean task. Once during the period of the storm they worked in relays and the plow was kept operating throughout the night without stop except for fuel and oil.
As you drive your car into the park in early April with vertical walls of snow and ice on either side 15 to 20 feet high, remember it is only through the constant and skillful application of the winter crew that the early opening of the park is possible. But for the snow plow operation which is now maintained at Crater Lake, the opening of the park to visitors would be delayed for months each year.
By D. S. Libbey
The following members of the feathered fraternity spend the long winters at Crater Lake:
Bald Eagles, Great Horned Owls, Sierra Grouse, Oregon Jay -- commonly called the "Camp Robber", Clarke Nutcracker, Stiller Jay, Hairy Woodpeckers, and the mountain chickadees are the birds which comprise the winter group. The majority of the summer birds migrate to more agreeable localities with the coming of winter snows and raging blizzards.
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