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Snowplow Apparel

photoProper clothing is imperative in winter. Bob Spiwak photo

The snow had been falling for over a week with no end in sight, according to the NOAA forecast. Some dumps had been relatively minor, an inch or two. Mainly they were from four inches upward, and to me four inches means getting on the plow. It means doing three places, my own, the neighbor across the road who is rarely here in winter but does come and the other neighbor whose equipment I use. This is a marvelous and generous arrangement: keep their place cleared and use the machines.

The tractor is open to the wind and cold, and when it was twelve below zero last year I was considering retirement. But the neighbor and I talked about an enclosed alternative and he came up with a Dodge ¾ ton truck with a blade that will point in any direction, any aspect, operated from within. With a heater in the cab, it is a posh environment compared to the open tractor. I could operate it wearing a golf outfit.

Not so with the open tractor. The proper clothing is imperative for not only an efficient workplace, but for health, relative comfort, and safety which we’ll get to in a bit. I must confess to feelings of inferiority when I am in view on the tractor and not wearing Lycra Spandex apparel. Right out there in the open I can imagine people in passing cars sneering at any one of my collection of coats and parkas. Which of these adorn me is weather dependent. My favorite is a maroon parka with a flannel lining, an ancient hooded garment I bought at Eddie Bauer, Seattle in about 1973. It is semi-falling apart which makes it not too warm for mild temp snowfalls. If the snow is heavy and wet I don my waterproof rain jacket over the coat.

The rain suit has matching cordura pants, again ideal for wet snow. When the temperature is much colder I revert to my heaviest parka, U.S. Navy surplus with a double fur ruff on the hood. (Everett surplus, 1981.) Hoods are actually a pain when operating a plow forward and back because they obscure all peripheral vision. I do have some tight-fitting downy hoods, but they clash with the parka. Footwear is entirely dependent on snow depth. To change the plow from side to side requires dismounting and manually turning and locking the blade. If there are two feet or more of snow alongside, my normal boots won’t suffice. For deep snow I have a pair of knee-high Neos brand boots.

The Neos are wonderful. I wear my fuzzy warm bunny slippers over wool socks and the boots over these and my tootsies are toasty. They are of cordura nylon, (not my feet) have a knee to toe zipper with a velcro flap over it and a velcroed strap over the instep and a tightening cord at the knee.

But the most important item of clothing is headgear and this can range from a baseball cap to a crash helmet with variations in between. For normal above-freezing temps I like a German army surplus cap with a small bill, earflaps that cross over the top to a velcro rendezvous: This for exposed ears, or drop them down and fasten under the chin with the same type closure. When it is very cold I don what I call my “wife hat.” These are called Ushankas in Russia, here they go by a variety of names. Like Trooper. Heavily furred on the up-or-down ear flaps and the bill, I call it wife hat because with the flaps down, all exterior sounds become muffled or non-existent. When the cold is bitter, a balaclava covers all but my nose beneath the hat. The downside of these is that unless I stop breathing, they fog up my glasses. If I remove my glasses I am apt to ram your Mercedes.

The hands require the ultimate in warmth. Having frostbit them twice in Montana in my youth they are very sensitive. I have a pair of huge Dutch army surplus mittens, camo cordura on top, leather on the palm and fuzzy stuff inside. Into each goes a chemical handwarmer packet for ordinary use, and if bitter cold, another goes into each thumb container.

I have saved the crash helmet for last. There are huge lumps of snow that get caught in the branches of trees. Any trees, but especially pine and fir. When these get too heavy, or an errant breeze or wind comes up they drop. If the snow is fluffy, it is only a matter of getting blinded and doused in a whiteout. But when the blobs turn to ice and come plummeting down from up to a hundred feet high they can be lethal.

Keep all these logistics in mind. Here in the Methow we need plowing every winter and whether you do your own or have it done for you, always dress well for the occasion.


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