If the good Lord had wanted people to blow snow all day with their necks twisted 180 degrees to the rear of the tractor, He would have made their heads face backward.
That’s one good reason for converting a combine into a snow blower when tasked with windrowing snow. The human neck can take only so much twisting before permanent damage sets in.
Safety is another good reason. When loading snow into dump trucks with a front-end loader, the repetitious forward/backward momentum creates a potentially risky rhythm, especially if cars or pedestrians are around.
Those factors weighed on Kevin Ford’s mind nine years ago when he told his foreman he felt close to the end of his job blowing snow for the town of Kelvington in northeastern Saskatchewan.
After 20 years on the snow clearing crew, Ford says the stress of safely loading trucks was taking its toll.
Like most towns, Kelvington windrows snow to the middle of the street. Ford then used a loader to shovel the ridges into a dump truck for removal. But motorists and pedestrians often don’t understand the potential danger of proximity to snow clearing operations.
“I was starting to have close calls. I never had an accident loading snow, but I started having near misses. I put it on fatigue and age,” says Ford.
“I didn’t feel I was old at that point, at just 46 years. But the odd near miss was starting to give me the willies. It was getting on my nerves. I just didn’t want something bad to happen.”
Today, Ford is still working and his record is still clean as fresh prairie snow. Innovation made it possible.
The solution for his problem could have involved the town’s purchase of an expensive commercial snow blower designed for truck loading high snow ridges. But that wasn’t in Kelvington’s budget.
Ford says they could have bought a three-point-hitch blower for a bi-directional but the tractor cost was prohibitive, and putting a big blower on the back of a tractor raised safety issues.
“A good used bi-directional would have been $60,000 to $80,000. For a small town like this where the budgets are always really tight, it just wasn’t possible. Plus we’d have no other use for it.
“I’d looked at the combine snow blower Herb Hallman had built over at Fosston. He used an International 815 and he put a small blower on the front. I saw that and I thought, ‘wow, that’s pretty awesome.’
“Herb suggested I get a 915. It’s got a bigger motor with a turbo and a heavier final drive. They’re really well adapted for blowing snow because at the back of the engine, there’s an angle drive and it’s the final drive for the pumps. They’re not driven with belts. They come right off the crankshaft.”
On the 915, the engine, radiator, hydrostatic pump and hydraulic pump all are mounted on a skid that’s easily removed for relocation.
Ford decided the combine frame wasn’t strong enough, so he started assembling the combine/snowblower on a truck frame. This allowed him to put the self-contained power plant toward the rear to counter balance the weight of the 110 inch Schulte hanging off the front of the machine. He narrowed everything in the drive train to fit within the 110-inch wide blower swath.
There’s large straight through pulley with an on/off clutch at the end of the crank, which once ran the separator. He took the pulley to a machine shop, where they converted the splined center into a U-joint driveshaft connection for the power take-off unit he salvaged from a Case 2670 tractor.
The snow blower is mechanically driven by the separator drive using the original lever control. When he shoves the separator lever forward, it would have previously engaged the threshing unit. But now the 1,000-r.p.m. p.t.o. turns and the snowblower jumps to life.
For his three-point-hitch, Ford used the original header lift cylinders and mounted them to the truck frame so they push on a rocker shaft, thus lifting the Schulte.
Inadequate pressure for the hydrostatic transmission forced Ford to split the hydraulic and hydrostatic systems so they each have their own pump and reservoir. He has electric-over-hydraulic switches on all valves.
“The 915 is only 110 horsepower. I thought about upgrading to a 466 or something, but I didn’t want to spend all my time fixing and re-engineering. And that’s what happens when you crank up the power.
“In all these years I haven’t had any failures, not even a clutch. Of course you always want more power, especially when you’re moving heavy wet snow, but this does the job just fine.”
Ford says the combine cost him $2,800. A new Schulte was $14,000 to $16,000.
An equipment dealer had a good used one that had the tall chute for loading trucks. It was advertised for $6,500 so he made the five-hour drive to buy it.
“But when I got there, it was junk. Pure junk. I finally did buy it for $2,000 but I spent a lot of time re-building it. Now, it’s a lot more heavy duty than when it was new. Everything is heavier.
“This is something any good farmer could put together if he wanted something like this on his own farm. I’m an old farm boy.
“I don’t feel I’m any smarter than anyone else. But I saw the need was there to do something about moving snow, so this is what I did.”