Dealing with Snow at the Sawmill

Sawmill operators describe how they cope with heavy snowfalls in the yard and in the woods. September 5, 2011

From Professor Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
Well, it looks like this winter is going to be a very high snowfall year in the US and Canada. The editor at Sawmill & Woodlot has suggested that maybe next fall (we are almost done with the March issue for 2011, so it will have to wait until next fall) we run an article about how people handle snow (especially heavy or unusual snow) in the woods, in transit, at the log yard and at the mill. [At home here in Wisconsin, I bought my wife a little Toro Pup snow blower with electric start that is easy to handle for her and works real well.]

Can you share some ideas and practices that you have used (both effective and not so good) that others would find helpful or interesting and that I can incorporate into an article? Happy snow shoveling.

Forum Responses
(Sawing and Drying Forum)
From contributor K:
We use a small Kubota 4x4 37 hp for our sawmill operations because it allows us the option of cheaply clearing our snow here in central Michigan. Other loaders I looked at, Skidsteer, off road forklifts, shooting boom and full size articulated loaders, all lacked the ease of snow removal and helping with other sawmill chores, like sawdust removal. You can get a blade for a Skidsteer, but it's big bucks! We use a simple box blade for logging operations and switch to a 3 point grader blade of high quality for snow plowing. If it gets too deep to just drive forward with it angled (quickest way), I find that driving backwards with it angled is enough to move all the snow we come across. I clear my drive and log yard and a few neighbors while I'm at it. Once you are set up for it, it's a snap and you get lots of points from the neighbors when you plow that heavy ice the road graders leave in their driveways!

In the woods we've added tire chains all around to get extra grip when hauling logs on the loader forks, as that takes the weight off the rears and puts them on the fronts. We usually skid an oversize log on the rear and have one in the forks to kind of balance out things.

We also skip using our large crane truck, which hauls most of our logs, when there is snow on the roads. We switch to multiple small loads with our 3/4 ton 4x4 truck and trailer. This is much slower, but the only safe option when dealing with slick roads. We get a lot of freeze/thaw action here so roads are really undependable from day to day. The 2WD crane truck can't get back to where we skid logs to, while the 4x4 is real handy there.

We spread ashes from the woodstove on the drive after plowing, as this gives us better traction for the customer's vehicles when they come pick up lumber. You don't want them being afraid of getting stuck and not coming to shop! Plus it helps out the family and friends. We have a 1/4 mile long drive to take care of.

From contributor T:

We have a unique way of handling snow down here in Texas. If we hear any of it is on the way, we immediately shut down all schools, businesses, and government institutions. We then shut ourselves inside and eat chili, take naps, and catch up on reading, knitting, and making more family members. This might sound like a tall Texas tale, but it's actually pretty accurate.

From contributor B:
I am 64 and after running the mill since 1985, I just don't work until it is more comfortable.

From contributor I:
We don't get a whole lot of snow, but when we do I shovel out as much as I need to be able to get around and do the best I can. I'll use it to make skidding logs easier, but that's about the only advantage. The cold makes things more dangerous; heavy things seem heavier, and slippery conditions don't help. When the snow falls I slow my work pace down to match what I feel is necessary to stay safe, and simply do what I can until things get better.

From contributor Z:
We have a 1963 Massey Ferguson 35 that we put a 1950s era front end loader on. I use it to plow our driveways, including the one that runs to the mill building. This year I have 5000+ board feet of logs piled in the yard so it is harder to push snow. When I am sawing a custom order for somebody, I plow or shovel a space beside the driveway and carry the boards out to it by hand about 30 or 40 feet. This does slow me down, but it is not too bad. In the summer I have the forks on the tractor and park it by the mill to move lumber, but in the winter with the bucket on, it is not handy. To get logs off the pile and to the mill I use a 1949 Farmall H which seems to do fine driving through up to maybe 18-24 inches of snow. I find it is easier right in front of the mill to pack the snow down than to try to push it away. We are in the snow belt off Lake Ontario, so we do get a lot of snow. I have taken the Farmall out to the woods to skid in logs in up to about 18" and it has done fine, I just stay away from slopes. Both tractors have tire chains and calcium loaded rear tires. The snow on the ground actually keeps the logs cleaner than skidding them on dirt. When I roll logs onto the mill with a peavey, I have trouble sometimes with the log accumulating snow like a ball for a snowman, then I just take a shovel and scrape off as much as possible.

From contributor S:
I have a small Thomas Skid Steer that I use to move logs (roll them when they are too heavy) and plow snow in the winter. It works much better with new tires. The old ones were bald and the rubber was hard, so I would slip in the snow and ice. No chains. The plow works well for anything less than a foot of snow. Beyond that, I just take smaller passes or plow more often. I also use a big walk-behind snow blower to get to some of the smaller places. And the shovel gets a workout along with me. I try to keep the trails that lead to my stacks clear, but they get plowed less often. I cut much less often in the winter. Everything is so much more difficult when it's cold and snowy... and dark!

Thanks for all your wonderful advice to us. I continue to learn every time I visit this site.

From contributor M:
Plowing snow is just part of the day for about 4 months of the year at my mill. I thought long and hard before I picked the site. It is in the windy spot and I set up everything in rows so the wind blows between them and does not form drifts. For plowing I use an old Cat blade I got free. I welded two pieces of 12 inch pipe on it to slide the forks into. Works like a charm.