Are you ready for winter?

Atlantic storage Chances are you have started swapping out your summer clothing for winter wear. At the Iowa Department of Transportation, we’re doing the same, only with some very large pieces of equipment. While you’re pulling out jackets and scarves, we’re busy pulling out the plows and brine tanks in an attempt to get you where you need to go safely, efficiently, and conveniently throughout the winter months.

“Balancing our equipment needs this time of year can get a little tricky,” said Shawn Havick, highway maintenance supervisor in the Atlantic and Avoca Iowa DOT garages. “Once we pull a truck off summer maintenance work to get it ready for winter, it is difficult to use it for other activities until the snow flies.”

The Iowa DOT’s winter season officially began Oct. 15, with shops working to have half of their fleet ready for winter by that date. At Atlantic, that means four of their eight trucks have been in the shop getting ready for winter. In Adair, that’s five out of 10 trucks. But Iowa’s October weather can be fickle. Some years provide several weeks of good weather to complete summer maintenance activities, while others years, trucks need to be available for snow removal much earlier.

Installing belly blades2
Tanner Powers (left) and Rick Thompson (right) install belly blades on a snowplow truck in Atlantic.

Further complicating the balancing act is the time it takes to properly prepare each truck. Neal Torneten, garage operations assistant at the Adair shop, said, “Depending on the equipment that needs to be installed, it can take about two days to get each truck completely set up for winter, but we can shorten that time frame if the weather changes quickly. We want to make sure the changeover is done well so that the truck stands a better chance of making it through the winter with fewer maintenance issues. Every time a truck is in the shop for repairs during a winter storm, that’s a cost to the taxpayer. If we do our prep work well, we can minimize some of that down time.”

Just like many of us cleaning out closets when the seasons change, the Iowa DOT garages have to move all the winter gear from storage sheds to the shop floor. Havick said, “We store plow blades, V-plows, sanders, brine tanks, spinners, and blowers in our storage shed. Each piece of equipment needs to be checked over and moved to the shop to be installed on a truck.”

Checking the plumbing
Shawn Havick checks the plumbing on a brine tank installed inside the bed of a snowplow truck.

The safety of Iowa DOT snowfighters and the public is always the main concern when checking the trucks over for winter use. All plow blades are checked for wear, the hoses that carry hydraulic fluid that make the blades function are checked for leaks, couplings that hook the hoses to the truck are examined for rust and replaced as needed, and the truck frame and springs are check for cracks. When the brine tanks are installed and plumbed into the truck systems, these are also checked for leaks. Inspections are done after installing the underbelly plow blades, wing and front plows, and brine tanks.

Gps in cab of truck



Iowa DOT snowplow trucks have complicated electronics systems that require testing and calibration. Havick said, “Every truck in our fleet is equipped to send information about performance back to the computer in the shop. We can see how the engine is performing to allow us to diagnose problems early so the truck can be repaired and back on the road faster, saving taxpayer dollars. Many of the trucks also have systems installed that allow you to see where they are, what they are doing, and images from the windshield from our track a plow website. All these systems must be tested before we send the trucks out.”

Havick continued, “We don’t have spare equipment, so any time a truck is out of service for repairs, that’s a strain on getting the roads cleared and a possible safety issue. It is very important the pre-winter work is done well so we can keep every truck on the road when we need it.”

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