Sunday, December 31, 2006

Maintenance of the Winter Road

In the three camps along the winter road; Dome Lake, Lockhart, and LacDeGras, there is a wide variety of road maintenance equipment as well as operators to run the equipment and mechanics for maintaining same. An expereinced "lead hand" is also situated in each camp to oversee the maintenance activity. The first picture is a "profiler" which pulls a "profiling instrument" (a radar unit) which measure the thickness of the ice to first of all establish the strength of present ice so heavier snow movement equipment can go to work or ongoing profiling to ensure thicknesses of the ice is sufficient to handle the heavy loads being transported on the road.

The first picture is a "Hagland" manufactured by Mercedes Benz and I understand was purchased from the US Military. The above picture is a Toyota diesel landcruiser with track units pulling a profiling unit. As a side note I was told a Saskatchewan farmer was the inventor of the track units that replace each wheel. I drove one of these units with the profiling operator in 2005 and it was interesting to drive up to a snowbank the height of the vehicle and climb up over into the snow beyond. Behind this second profiler picture there's a grader with a V Plow following cutting out the new road where the profiler has confirmed the ice thickness is sufficient for the grader's weigth. When a piece of machinery was cutting a new another vehicle and person would be close by to maintain a watch for safety reasons.

Graders are the mainstay for opening and maintaining the winter road however Haglands and snow cats are often needed to open the road because of their much lower weights.

This picture is of a snow cat manufactured by Bombardier ("That's MY snowcat" - another idea for a TV commercial for Bombardier)? The pads on each side of these snow cats are about 36 inches wide.

This snowblower situated at LacDeGras camp is powered by a V12 diesel engine and it creates a spectacular rooster tail of snow which on a clear day with a beautiful blue sky is a glorious site. In the packed snow alongside lakes above the tree line the operator could only "bit" off a strip along the bank about 2 feet wide.

To "flood" the ice in order to build up ice thickness and heal weak spots "school" buses were with large diesel engines would suck water from the lakes and an equally impressive stream of water was produced that pumped several gallongs on water a minute out as far as 150 or so feet. Ice augers, both hand held and 6 foot long hydraulic units mounted on the rear of a pickup would preceed the buses. Often "hurricane pumps" which sat in the holes made in the ice were used for flooding as well. As one an imagine, a huge anount of ice fog could be produced with 100's of gallons of fresh water being pumped onto the road surface so the vehicles were slowed to 5 km/h when going through these zones or passing cres working on the road surface.

Crawler tractors and loaders were used as well for clearing snow on the portages.

An impressive task to clear some 400 kilometers of road in a time frame of about 3 to 4 weeks between the time of there being sufficient ice to support the construction and maintenance equipment and the time the loads start to travel.

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