This story was originally published Feb. 4, 2014
Kansas City area drivers may not love multi-inch snowfalls but since 2005 they have stood a better chance of getting through it. That was the first time something called a “tow-plow” showed up on highways and it was created in Kansas City as one-of-kind. Since those days, its use has spread to other parts of the county.
The contraption is pulled behind a truck instead of pushed from the front.
Efficiency of the 'tow-plow'
The blade of a regular snow plow in Missouri is 14 feet wide. That’s one lane of interstate, edge to edge. Most states don’t plow that wide in one pass. Want to plow all four or five lanes of a highway, it takes four, five or six plows running side to side in a gang
“We built more and more lanes and we had to provide snow removal services on those lanes,” says Bob Lannert. So he came up with a better idea: use fewer than half the people and trucks.
Lannert was a farmer, and worked his way through engineering college as an ironworker. He knew how to make things out of metal and joined MoDOT and had an idea in the late 1990s.
“The thinking was, lets double the production of an operator, plow at least twice as wide so that we can get more done and release some of those trucks out of the gangs or the multiple truck gangs and go plow ramps and other things,” says Lannert.
Those are words of the inventor.
The plow stuck out lengthwise behind a dump truck. A throw of some switches and it was coming out from behind the truck like a big wing. Twenty five feet wide, about double the width of a regular front snowplow.
“You could make a trailer of steering axles and steer it into the other lane and it looked like a jackknifed truck going down the road safely," Lannert says. "So, I want to be able to go through a 10 foot tollbooth and then unfold and clear 24 feet wide. That’s the goal.”
Spreading the word
One driver, not five. Economical. Other states are using them too, like Minnesota and Tennessee.
“The tow-plow started in Kansas City, Missouri and was duplicated in St. Louis and rural interstates and Missouri has 80-some on the road now, the most of any state in the nation,” says Lannert.
Steve Porter at MoDOT’s area office says as good as it is, a snow packed traffic jam can spoil the whole Bob Lannert concept.
“Now, a tow-plow is very effective as long as it’s moving," says Porter. "What we are urging people to do during the snowstorm is get off the highway. Don’t go out.”
Porter says even the best snow moving system in the world won’t work when the highway is choked with unmoving cars and trucks.
Bob Lannert got a patent on his plow, retired he now oversees private making of them and teaching new owners how to use them.
Even though he is retired, Lannert keeps track of what the weather is doing. It’s more like a mission, looking for newer and better ways to combat highway snow.
“I intended to change snow removal across the nation because we have to provide that level of service no matter what," says Lannert. "And Mother Nature is sometimes not kind.”
A look out the window may give you a better view of the picture he draws.
See the tow-plow in action: