Tuesday, February 21, 2012

How to Make a Snow Roller
The winter of 2011-12 has been pretty snowless so far.  We usually get annual total snowfalls ranging from about 60 inches to over 100 in the greater Bangor area, but this year we are falling far short of that.  We had just a trace of snow here in the Bangor area in February so far, but of course we can still get significant snowfall in March and April, so, no counting chickens. 
Thinking about the lack of snow this year (which is cause for celebration among some and cause for mourning among other Mainers), I got to thinking about how people got around in the snow in the past, before the plow and sand trucks were invented.  I noticed in our collection several mentions of a “snow roller,” so I thought I would look into it.  Here is what I found.
In 1976 Linda Madden interviewed Geraldine Hale in Lisbon Falls Maine. Mrs. Hale described snow rollers:
They were still using the snow rollers when I came to town. Most people put their cars up for the winter, because the roads weren’t cleared so they could run cars. They used to have these big rollers drawn by several horses, two to four horses, and they would roll the snow down; pack the snow down hard on the road so that sleighs could be driven and the horses wouldn’t sink in.  The first year I was here in town it was quite an open winter (1921).  But the next winter we had a lot of snow and they used the snow rollers and packed it down.  We had so much snow and it got packed down so hard that I can remember downtown in front of some of the stores they had cut steps in the packed snow and ice so that you could to go from the sidewalk up onto the top of the roadway and go across and then down the other side and we wondered how on earth they were going to get rid of all that ice when spring came. (Accession 1068 page 6).

Linda Madden also interviewed Leon Bard in Lisbon Falls, Maine.  Mr. Bard talks about driving the snow roller.
I’d take a set of double horse sleds. Put two to four to six horses on it according to how much snow you had to plow through. Put a pole across under the sled, generally a small log, probably six inches to eight inches through, about ten feet long. The sled was about five feet long. It would stick out on both sides. Take a small fir tree, about six feet high. Had one on each side, chained it right to the end of the pole so the snow went over the pole. It’d load up in the branches. Then go along and pack the sides down. These big lumps of snow would come over and we’d break them up. We’d hook a chain in back to drag it out. (Accession 1067 pages 115-16).

 In 1996 UM history graduate student Mary Ellen Barnes interviewed Herb Eastman in his home in Chatham, New Hampshire.  Their interview covered several topics relating to Mr. Eastman’s grandfather’s career as a carpenter, farmer and logger.  Mr. Eastman described several processes, one of them how to build a snow roller.
{My Grandfather] made snow rollers. He made two for the town of Chatham, one for the town of Stow.  He got a hundred dollars each for them. There were many hours of hand sawing.  He made them out of oak. I’ve kicked myself time and again that I didn’t get hold of one and preserve it…His was made of wood. Some of them they just took a good sized metal wheel and bolted planks to it. Then put weights on. His was made out of oak and he made the spokes out of 6x6 oak. He cut the pieces to make the rim. There was three pieces bolted together to make the rim and to make it into a circle, so that there was three pieces wide so that the rim came out six inches wide across the face of it. Then the planking was put on with lag screws --that was 3 inch oak. It was put on with lag screws, so the roller was heavy enough so it didn’t have to have a counter weight on it or anything. (Accession 2493).
Not sure I could make one from that description, but I did get an idea of how they work.