Russ' Vintage Iron

Vintage Road Maintainer: a Link to the Past

Russ Quinn
By  Russ Quinn , DTN Staff Reporter
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In the last couple of weeks our area has seen several winter storms push through region dropping measureable snow in its wake. I should say some areas had heavier snow, where I live we really didn't have much snow so I didn't have to push snow recently.

I would be completely fine if this pattern were to continue all winter long, although I have had to push snow once already and I'm guessing we will catch a few more snows before winter is over. It's a long ways until spring.

When it comes to clearing snow, there is a lot of different equipment that can get the job done today. You have tractors and loaders, skid loaders, snow blowers and various blades and buckets to get the snow moved quickly.

But what about more than a hundred years ago? Since there were not many tractors yet, what did they use? They farmed with horses before tractors so they also removed snow by horsepower as well.

I have written about my great-grandpa, James E. Quinn, in the past. Although he died even before my dad was born so I never met him, he seemed like a very interesting individual.

He farmed and was a two-term representative in the Nebraska State House of Representatives, this was before Nebraska when to the Unicameral Legislature in the 1930s. He and his older brother, Martin, also contracted with the county for many years to maintain some roads in their area.

These would have been dirt roads considering this was 1900s and 1910s and they had to maintain these roads all-year round. This would have included removing snow in the wintertime, I would imagine.

Because of this contracting business, the brothers owned several horse-drawn road maintainers. We have a few old photos of their rigs at work grading roads.

At some point I believe in the 1920s they stopped maintaining roads for the county. I would guess at this point they probably sold the road graders -- expect for one smaller one which we still have today.

This one was manufactured by Western Wheel Scraper Company. A quick Internet search yielded the company operated in Aurora, Illinois, from 1877 to 1934. The company merged with another company in 1901 and changed their name so simple logic would dictate our scraper must be older than 1901.

At some point, my great-grandpa or maybe even my grandpa altered the maintainer. To be pulled by a tractor, they removed the driver's bench on the front and changed out the tongue.

This is how my grandpa pushed snow in my dad's early childhood. My grandparents, being the good Irish Catholics they were, had seven kids and one of the three boys would drive the tractor (they had a John Deere A and a John Deere B at the time) and grandpa would stand on the platform on the back of the maintainer operating the blade.

My dad figures the first time he drove a tractor as a little kid was pulling this maintainer up and down their lane. My grandpa would holler out instructions to where he should drive and my dad would then follow his dad's commands.

After World War II, my grandpa bought a new International Farmall M tractor. He also bought some related Farmall equipment, including a loader. He would use both the road grader and loader to maintain their lane which was fairly important as they operated a dairy and the milkman had to make into their place regularly.

Various tractors, loaders and three-point blades were bought and traded over the years to push snow but the road maintainer stayed and was spared a couple times from the cutting torch that cut up old farm equipment. We still have it today and it now sits in the middle of our farmyard as a decoration.

I have often thought about getting the maintainer operational once again or maybe even fully restored but it just hasn't happened yet. It would be kind of cool for me to pull my dad while he operates the grader and my kids to pull me while I run the blade.

Maybe someday.

Russ Quinn can be reached at russ.quinn@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @RussQuinnDTN

(CZ)