A Bit of BC History: Jet-Setters in Winter Maintenance

Have a good look at the picture below. It’s a shot of a snow plow on Kootenay Pass on Highway 3 between Creston and Salmo in the mid-sixties.

highway winter maintenance

Notice anything unusual? Probably not, because what makes this plow so unique isn’t immediately obvious. So here’s a hint. Ever hear of a Pratt and Whitney? The company manufactures jet engines. Getting visions of the Batmobile rocketing down the road, a blast of flame jetting out the back of the car? Well, it’s not quite that exciting, but it’s not far off, either.

This plow was an experiment the ministry did in the 1960s, and it was fitted with a Pratt and Whitney ST6A – a free turbine turboprop engine. Our very own jet-propelled snow plow. It was a great example of “engine-uity” (ha, see what we did there?) and believed to be the only example of its kind in the world.

The truck itself weighed 31,100 pounds (unloaded). By contrast, the engine that powered it was only 285 pounds, 59 inches long and a diameter of 19 inches. It ran on anything from furnace oil to gasoline (but diesel fuel was normally used), and it put out 320 horsepower. Compare that to the typical diesel engine a truck like this would normally use, which would weigh 2,000 pounds and produce 250 horsepower, and you get a good idea how effective this little engine was.

Some of the tests at the time showed this plow had fast acceleration/braking abilities. It could do 0-50 km/h 10 seconds (without gear changes) and come to a complete stop from that speed in 5 seconds. It could also climb 16 kilometers of six per cent grade while keeping a constant speed of 65 km/h. And that’s under actual working conditions.

So why did we stop using it? Why aren’t all plows equipped with engines like this? Well, one of the big issues was fuel. It burned though a lot more than the typical diesel engine did, so fuel costs were higher, and the plow couldn’t go very far without needing to be refuelled. Also, the truck also wasn’t very agile. It was good for long, straight stretches, but not so good for manoeuvering tight curves or around obstacles. That can be a problem, especially in the winter.

After a few years of use, it was found the added power the jet engine provided just didn’t make up for the versatility of the diesel engines all the other plows were using, so we switched back.

Did you know about this plow or ever see it in action? If so, we’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment below or connect with us on Facebook and Twitter and tell us your story.

Page 1 of 21 comments on “A Bit of BC History: Jet-Setters in Winter Maintenance”

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  1. I started with hwys in 1974 in Revelstoke. Both S5000(jet) and S5003 were based out of here. The jet while sounding impressive was not very practical. It came with down facing twin very large exhausts.The very high stack temps would cause ashpalt to soften quickly and soon start to smoke in a short time if it was not moving.This was changed to top discharge much like regular stacks on a semi except very large(12-16 inch diameter). It was a definite head turner when out on the hwy. They could not have picked a worse truck to try this on its center of gravity was high it had air bag suspension and did not appear to have any check or limiting valves to restrict air volume shift from side to side. It had a very large sander which compounded this issue. The truck would start to rock side to side to the point if you did not stop you would lose control. The large reversible front speed plows where very good. Being over 6 ft tall at the discharge end they could throw snow a long distance. I beleive the turbine engine was removed and donated to BCIT. Not ever practical but left a lasting impression to any one who was involved with this pair

    Reply
    • Wow Bob! Thanks for sharing this bit of history with us. I think this just goes to show we have always been keen to try new tools on BC highways. Sadly, they don’t always end up as we’d hoped.

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  2. The operator in the picture although you can’t see is Harry Ronmark.He was the first operator and trained me to operate it.
    Your right about fuel consumption, 40 imperial gal/hr. However, your wrong about how fast it could stop. It took about 5 seconds just to slow the turbine output shaft down before the brakes became effective. Even then it would take about a city block to come to a stop at that speed. It was a great plow though. It was the only one we had that could throw snow rather than just pushing it up those 6 and 7 % grades.

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    • Thanks for sharing your information with us Bill – we appreciate the history. Glad you enjoyed the blog and let us know if there is anything else you would like to learn more about. Cheers!

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  3. I worked in Quesnel for Highways from 1980 till I retired in 2006. Earlier in Prince George 1973 to 1975. Our shop foreman in Quesnel before privatization was Al Henke who now lives in Prince George. Al was one of the mechanics that worked on the turbine. I think he said he worked on it when it was being built. There’s only one Henke listed in the phone book in PG. No answer right now. Another unit that you might be interested in exploring was # S-5003. Go to http://www.hankstruckpictures.com/bob dingsdale Pictures of Pacific trucks. Scroll down till you find the COE plow truck. After I left pg I went back for a visit and saw this very odd plow truck being readied for the auction block.I looked for its engine but I couldn’t find it! Looked like a cab over engine with sleeper.No sleeper just a solid wall behind the driver’s seat! At the back of the cab where you’d expect to see an engine in the tunnel was a fan belted from below!Looked under the truck and low and behold I saw a pancake Cummins!! I didn’t know such a thing existed!! Check it out! There a number of good pictures of it! I think I read that a Budd Car /dayliner had two of those engines in them.

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    • I guess you’ve discovered the link to the 1961 Pacific Snow Plow that I put in my previous email doesn’t work. Sorry! Try this http://www.hankstruckpictures.com/bob_dingsdale_2011-09-02c.htm Then scroll down the page until you find the picture of the snow plow. When you click on the picture the link has this added to it /large_red_album/scan 113.jpg There are twelve pictures 113 to 125. 123 is missing and I wonder if that picture would have been of the engine. I’d liked to have seen it! Go to forums.aths.org/Attachment15687.spx to see the Cummins pancake engine and some more ineresting pictures and facts! Sincerely, Forbes.

      Reply
    • Hello Dave,

      Thanks for connecting with us. The photo belongs to us and you are free to use it, perhaps saying “Photo courtesy of the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure”. We would love to see where you use it!

      Reply