In this report we’ll look at a strange Rube Goldberg-esque device, a jet powered railway snow blower, used to clear out compacted ice that has accumulated between the rails. Surprisingly that material can be quite hazardous and can even cause a train to leave the tracks. This odd piece of equipment makes short work of ice and using its powerful blower, it blasts that offending material to kingdom come.
We present to you the Essco Snow Jet.
Since railways have existed on this planet, they have had to combat winter. Many novel and interesting approaches have been used to fight back. To remove snow, there are wedge shaped plows, either mounted on the locomotive itself or for larger accumulations, built as a special snowplow cars. Regardless of the size, the principal is the same and they simply throw the material aside as the train moves forward.
Sort of similar is the Jordan Spreader. It is a directional plow with large movable side wings that help cut a wider path, if needed (note: some full sized wedge plows had this feature too). As a side bonus this car can be used to spread ballast and profile the trackbed when not fighting old man winter.
To get through really deep drifts, there are rotary plows. Think of them as a larger sized version of your sidewalk snow blower. Blades bite into the drift, chopping up the snow and blowing it to one side.
Then there are devices called flangers that remove any ice or packed snow that has built up between the rails. Flange rail: the inside of the track where the wheel lip – or flange – rides. In most cases ice tends to accumulate at switches or at level crossings. Now that hardly sounds threatening but in fact it can cause a freight car or even a locomotive to ride up and derail. Ice is that strong. The flanger was a small blade that cuts into the frozen stuff and shoots it aside. Doing the same job but with a modern high tech twist, is the jet (or I guess technically, turbine) powered snow fighter, which we’ll explore in this report. These have for the most part replaced the stand alone flanger car.
In simple terms the Snow Jet or Jet Snow Blower, is a self propelled rail car with a turbine engine mounted on board. The hot fast moving exhaust is directed to a nozzle that shoots a blast of air at the rail and roadbed. That’s pretty much it – a quick and easy (and noisy) way to deal with pesky ice build up
This machine was made by a company called Essco (not Esco, a similarly named business) of Berwick PA, and they are (or were) one of at least a few makers of this type of equipment. I guess the market for jet powered snow blowers was or is big enough to support many players. It appears that Essco has since been bought up one or twice in the last decade and has sort of fallen of the map. Are they out of business?
The CN seems to have a good number of these blowers. This one is number #616-34. The lowest number found by us when researching this article is #616-08 and the highest, #616-39, suggesting that if the numbers are contiguous and if they started at 616-01 (which makes sense), that there are at least several dozen of them on the roster. It’s not known when this one was built (no maker’s plate was seen) but others we found online seem to date from the late 1980s or early 1990s, so perhaps ours is from around that time too.
I can only assume that the turbine is simply a modified airplane engine. But I’m guessing, which is happening a lot in this report, telling us that information in regards to these machine is spotty and scarce at best.
Other Canadian Railways (of course) uses similar blowers.
It must be amazing to see these machines in action. The noise much be incredible and I am certain huge qualities of dust, litter and loose debris must be stirred up in the process. In fact, given the velocity of air exiting the nozzle, it must be dangerous to be close to the machine. Flat rocks and bits of wood and the like could easily be sent flying out at high speeds. Duck!
When in operation, it’s not known if the blast of air from the turbine does most of the work, blowing the ice away, or if the exhaust heat gets to it first and simply melts the ice and then evaporates resultant water. Either way it’s effective.
One can’t help but think that just a hint of “redneck” ingenuity went into the design of this machine. Who would consider using a jet engine to do work? Yeehaw, let’s blast that snow and ice back to the stone age!
One thing to clarify: while these snow jets are self propelled they typically don’t travel far and tend to hang around large yards and the like, where they are needed most. Rarely are they seen outside that environment. If they need to move them long distances they are loaded up on a truck flat bed. I guess they could also be put on a rail car, but we all know how unreliable train service is. Even the railway’s themselves are aware of that. Power to move the unit comes from a separate diesel engine although if you could direct the turbine output right, you could get anywhere you want, real fast.
This machine was found in the small community of Beiseker Alberta and it’s not known why it was here. One thing is for certain, it’s temporarily unemployed until next winter. I imagine it will be moved out of town at some point, back to its home base, where ever that is.
To see a nearby railway museum that never really got off the ground, go here…
Alberta 2005 Centennial Railway Museum – what’s going on?
To see other interesting pieces of railway equipment and infrastructure we’ve encountered in our travels, go here…
Canadian Pacific Railway octagonal water tower.
Rosebery BC railway barge slip.
Pyke railway crane.
If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: April, 2014.
Location: Beiseker, AB.