What It's Like To Be a Snowplow Driver
Brian Tuckfield shares his experience with driving a snowplow.
photo by Zach Bauman
Driving a snowplow is not for the faint of heart. The big rigs you see on the road can weigh more than 40,000 pounds, and sometimes you’re driving that bad boy on solid ice. Brian Tuckfield, the equipment operator for the City of Lee’s Summit Public Works, has been behind the wheel of a snowplow for almost two decades, and he says working 12-hour shifts to plow the roads has taught him a lot of respect for Mother Nature.
► I drove my first snowplow for the City of Lee’s Summit back in 1999. I was put in one of the oldest trucks the city had at that time. It was pretty intimidating at first (Tuckfield had one wreck that year), but actually it turned out to be a little easier than I expected.
►It’s not a bad job. It can be hard and easy depending on the severity of the snow or ice that comes in. The fun part is knowing that the public and all emergency personnel in your city need and depend on you to make it as safe as possible to get around. Without us, I do believe you may not be going anywhere anytime soon.
►Just like any large truck on the road, in snow it takes a lot of extra stopping distance and then some. Plus, we do have multiple things going on in the cab — along with watching for traffic, pedestrians along the roadway, anything in the roadway you need to be prepared quickly to get around — such as answering radios, controlling the plow, and monitoring the salt rate, spinner speed, truck gauges, etc. And just like anyone, the scary part is driving and losing control and trying to regain control so nothing happens.
►To me, there are multiple levels of ice and snow and how you go about treating it. We all deal with freezing rain that adds up, and there’s not a lot you can do until temps get warmer except continue to treat it with salt until the roads are better. Wet snow seems to me to be better to plow, and dryer, “fluffy” snow is easy to plow but packs down even after plowing it off so still can remain slick even with treatment until salt or temperatures break it up.
►There are some pretty nice ice and snow deicing chemicals that are used now that really help, including salt brine, calcium chloride and even beet juice, and our snow plows now have carbide blades on our trucks which last longer. There are also computerized systems in the truck to regulate how much salt you need to put out while controlling the rate with ground speed to minimize salt waste. And, of course, newer trucks are a lot more comfortable, and heated mirrors are a good friend to have as well.
►Slow and steady is the best way to drive a snowplow. Pre-treating for an event on dry roads keeps the speed way down below the posted limit — that way we keep the salt concentrated on the road and not throwing it into yards and driveways. Plowing snow is pretty much the same. On 45 mph roads, we usually cut the speed sometimes in half. That way we know we are clearing the road properly and not throwing the snow so hard and fast that it can damage private property or city infrastructure.
►I personally look at the weather apps whenever I hear about a possible event coming. Even though it can change hours before predicted, with my job at Lee’s Summit, they prepare days before no matter what, getting trucks ready and setting up shifts so we are ready when it hits!