By Tom Barnes Emmett for idahopress.com
The great blizzards of 1949 caught the Union Pacific poorly prepared to deal with the amount of snow on the railroad tracks. Large wedge snowplows were mounted directly on the front of retired steam locomotives. The Idaho Northern Pacific Railroad’s UP 900005 single-track wedge snowplow turned 70 years old in July. It is located at the north end entrance of the Gem Island Sports Complex.
The blizzards in 1949 caught the Union Pacific Railroad poorly prepared to deal with the amount of snow. Most of their snowplows were old and in poor shape causing a high failure rate.
After the blizzards, the Union Pacific took a look at their snowplow needs. Since steam was in decline at that time, there were extra retired tenders available and some were rebuilt into plows. These were placed at various locations through the system often at terminals for branch lines such as Columbus, NE. Research shows that UP 900005 (see photo) was often at Columbus.
Originally, the UP 900005 was basic black, then at the end of the 1950s or early 60’s, the black and aluminum “barricade stripes” were added to the ends for visibility. Later the plows were painted aluminum overall retaining the “barricade stripes” on the ends in black.
The tank part of the plow was filled with sand or other types of material for additional weight. As far as the opening cab function, it was for the rail operator to control the flanger. In some cases, the plows had “wings” that could be extended left or right for plowing sidings or widening the path along the right-of-way. Flanger operators have to be able to see the flanger warning signs so they can raise them before countering switch rails, crossings and motor car set outs.
The snowplow in Emmett is a single-track wedge plow, tender with cab and flanger. This plow was built from a retired Vanderbilt Steam Locomotive Tender in July 1940 as UP05; then renumbered to UP900005 in June 1959 and was last assigned to Columbus, NE; retired in the early to mid-1980s. It was originally purchased for use on the Idaho Northern Pacific Railroad.