26 October 2012

1884 Snow Plow

Living in Summit County means you have to deal with snow. Sometimes, a lot of snow.

One of the heaviest winter's recorded was that of 1898-1899. The piles were massive, trains and supplies were stopped, and many of the mountain's small communities were cut off for weeks at a time. From the Breckenridge Heritage Alliance's website:
A record snowfall hits Breckenridge and residents are forced to dig snow tunnels to get around town. Rail service resumes on April 24th, after a 78 day blockade.

Miner's cabin in snow. Colorado, taken between 1882-1900.
Photographer: W.H. Jackson
Source: Denver Public Library Digital Collections
 So, it was a tough way of life. Miner's were known to build doors and/or window's into the roofs or upper eaves of their cabins, and then use that as their primary entrance during the winter. There was no real reason for them to continually shovel around the ground level entrance; that was certainly a lot of work, and removed helpful insulation from around the home.

There were some folks who were determined to do something about the labor intensive task of keeping town streets clean of snow. If you look at any of the photos from that era of our high country communities, you will see snow piles lining the streets, at times as high as two story buildings! That is a lot of shoveling. Not only where the streets and residential areas a concern, but the railroad tracks became extremely important in this matter. If the train could not get through the snow, and avalanches over tracks and trains were common occurrences  burying both, then supplies, mail, passengers and other necessities were unavailable.

I recently came across a patent record issued in 1884 by a resident of Red Cliff, Colorado. One Mr. John Q. Day issued Patent No. 299750 for a "Snow-Plow".  His design requires the machine to move along the tracks, and;
"...The snow is gathered on the curved mold-board n ... and is shoveled or scraped therefrom into the wheel groves by the shovels..." 

snow-plow snow Colorado railroad RedCliff weather winter
Partial Image from Patent No. 299750
United States Patent Office
If you have not included a patent search in your own genealogy process, I highly recommend it. You can do this easily through Google (what else?), by using the Google Patents Search. Filters include filing date and type of patent. In the past, I have found a few connected with my family tree, including one for a design of a head lice remover.

Even if you don't find one submitted by an actual family member, you can certainly find other ideas from their neighbors, giving you a great look at the problems they experienced in every day life, and the solutions they were trying to come up with.

I do not know if this snow-plow was ever used by any railroad companies, but I do not think it would be difficult to find out. It does, however, make for a very interesting topic around the dinner table!

Have you had any success searching patents? Do you have any interesting stories? I would love to hear them.


  1. Wow. I put the Google Patents Search website on my list of resources. Thank you! The photo of the snowed-in cabin is seriously impressive. When I was a kid, I always wanted us to be snowed-in like Lulu and Tubby were, in the "Little Lulu" comics series. They dug snow tunnels and had lots of fun. Now that I'm grown up and have just been through Sandy, I don't feel that way so much any more!

  2. Isn't this great stuff!?!?! I love the patents. I learned about them a few months ago, and have found all sorts of great stuff, both for my regional work and my family. As for the snow... I'll have to post some pictures of my yard later this winter. Not quite snowed in, but close enough for me. And, we've got a new snow blower on the Christmas list this year. Thanks, as always, for reading and commenting. ~ Jen


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