Tetonscapes: Plow Fleet

Meet the machinery that keeps the valley’s roads open (almost) all winter.

by Maggie Theodora

Photo by Ryan Dorgan

The Wyoming Department of Transportation (WYDOT) Jackson area isn’t the largest in the state, but it has the state’s busiest and snowiest roads. Led by Bruce Daigle, Jackson maintenance supervisor, the WYDOT-Jackson snow removal crew has up to 16 drivers. The crew is responsible for clearing 86 miles of roads and highways including “two of the worst canyons [in the state] and Teton Pass,” Daigle says. Here are the machines that allow them to do it.

Sterling 4-yard snowplow 

The smallest truck in WYDOT’s Jackson fleet is used only as backup when one of the larger snowplows is out of commission. Its blade is about 12 feet wide and 2.5 feet tall and the truck can carry about 8,000 pounds of sand. “It probably gets used about half a dozen times a winter,” Daigle says. 

8-yard snowplows

Nine 8-yard snowplows made by Freightliner or Mack Trucks are the heart of WYDOT-Jackson’s snow removal fleet. These 10-wheeled trucks date from 1999 to 2014; each weighs about 40,000 pounds, can carry about 12,000 pounds of sand, and has a steel blade with a ¾-inch carbide tip at the bottom of the plow. Plows range in height from two to six feet and the steel blades last only about one to two weeks each.

Rotary plows

Each of WYDOT-Jackson’s two Kodiak rotary plows features a 600-horsepower John Deere engine. “They can eat up a bunch of snow really quick,” Daigle says. These are used on avalanche debris (most often in conjunction with a front loader) and when snow banks have gotten too high for the department’s 8-yard snowplows to pile snow on top of. The rotor on the front is six feet tall and more than eight feet wide and can throw snow up to 20 feet high.

Front loaders

WYDOT-Jackson has three front loaders. One lives at the base of Teton Pass and two live at the WYDOT shop south of town. They are used to move avalanche debris, which can set up almost as hard as concrete; to load sand into plow trucks; and, in the spring, to dig holes in high snowbanks to catch rockfall before it reaches the highway. 

Caterpillar grader 

“This probably gets used about eight times a year,” Daigle says. “It comes out when we get a real hard ice pack.” The grader has a 14-foot-wide blade with ice teeth on the bottom. The steel teeth create grooves in the hard ice to provide cars better traction. It is possible to go through two sets of teeth during one eight-hour shift. Daigle says he keeps about 80 sets of teeth in stock at the WYDOT shop. JH

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