Behind-the-scenes Technical Tour: Customized snowfighting equipment of Minnesota

Barb McKane
Office & Administrative Specialist, Senior
Minnesota Department of Transportation
St. Paul, Minnesota

Editor's Note: Mn/DOT's Central Services Shop and fabrication facility are included in the Snowfighting Equipment of Minnesota Technical Tour during APWA's 2007 North American Snow Conference. On April 25, the final day of the conference, attendees can either tour the Central Services Shop and fabrication facility, or tour the Regional Transportation Management Center and see a demo of the pump house and in-pavement equipment (see the related article in the February issue on page 16). Both of the Technical Tours are included in the registration fee as a part of the Snow Conference educational program. See pages 13-16 for more details on the conference or visit the Snow Conference website at

One of this year's Snow Conference Technical Tours on Wednesday morning, April 25, will be hosted by the Minnesota Department of Transportation (Mn/DOT) Central Services Facility, and will feature a variety of snowfighting equipment used by cities, counties and the State of Minnesota. City and county agencies from around the state will bring their equipment and staff to the Mn/DOT facility.

You'll also have the opportunity to go behind the scenes at Mn/DOT's unique fabrication facility to see state-of-the-art customized snowfighting equipment used to battle the harshest snow and ice conditions in North America. Mechanics, operators and frontline staff will learn how Mn/DOT builds their customized trucks, while directors, engineers and managers will learn processes to evaluate for their own fleet in order to create an efficient and customized snowplow operation.

"This Technical Tour will walk you through the entire process from start to finish," said John Scharffbillig, Mn/DOT Fleet Manager, and member of the APWA Fleet Services Committee and Winter Maintenance Subcommittee. "From the factory cab and chassis that are built to Mn/DOT standards, to the use of factory and prison-built components, in a process that is 60% in-house and 40% outsourced, you'll experience it all."

Approximately 60 snowplow units are built each year, with Mn/DOT responsible for everything from writing the specifications for the cab and chassis and drive train, to tracking costs to make sure they are competitive within the industry.

Fabricators will be at each station to explain the combination of internal and external processes used by Mn/DOT to create a customized snowplow. Included in the tour are front plows, underbody plows, wings, box assembly, standardized electrical systems, trailer hitches, emergency warning light systems, hydraulic systems and cab configurations.

"Some components are factory built and some are built by resources from other state agencies," said Scharffbillig.

Custom wiring for the rear lights has been designed by Mn/DOT staff for brake/signal, warning and trailers for all snowplows and class eight trucks. You'll learn why Mn/DOT removes the factory wiring to achieve standardization and quality control. Trailer connections and rear lighting have been standardized as well.

When the plow truck is returned from the box and hydraulic vendor, the remaining components are added, including temperature sensors, sander and material controls, and the safety and warning light package. Final assembly and testing includes standard settings for hardware and software for all operating systems.

Equipment on display from several Minnesota cities, counties and the state will include:

  • Customized snowplows and components
  • Heavy duty trucks, graders and snow blowers
  • Medium duty trucks for parks, city streets, parking lots, and ice rinks
  • Light duty trucks to clean parking lots and cul-de-sacs
  • Small sidewalk cleaners

Ron Mundahl, Municipal Garage Supervisor II from the City of St. Paul, explains operations: "Employees from drivers and mechanics, to foremen and managers, are looking forward to the opportunity to compare notes with their counterparts from around other states. This will be a chance to see what works for other agencies and gauge how it would fit into our own operations. We plan to take full advantage of the opportunity to network with our peers from around the area and other states and countries. We'll see how we compare in operational techniques and equipment types and learn how we may be able to improve our own snowfighting capabilities."

Mike Kennedy, Director of Winter Operations, Minneapolis Public Works, said: "We look forward to attending the Snowfighting Equipment of Minnesota Technical Tour at the Mn/DOT Central Services Shop. This is a great opportunity to see a wide variety of equipment, visit with other professionals, and learn about trends in fleet design and environmental considerations from one of the leading agencies in the field. The concept of their fabricating and assembling equipment to their own specifications is particularly interesting in that they may have insights and experiences that our staff, as well as equipment vendors, may want to adapt."

"Attendees will have a unique opportunity with this year's Snowfighting Equipment Technical Tour," states Mark DeVries, Vice-Chairman of the APWA Winter Maintenance Subcommittee and this year's Chairman of the Snow Conference Program Committee. "This may well be one of the best Technical Tours we have ever offered. We will have vendors with equipment on the exhibit floor again this year, but what the Minnesota DOT, cities, counties and the chapter have put together is going to be something special.

"Mn/DOT builds and maintains all their snow equipment and uses some very unique methods," continued DeVries. "I have toured the facility and attendees are in for a treat. If it moves snow in Minnesota you will see it here...and not only will you see it, but you will meet the people who build it, maintain it and operate it. I really believe that the conference is worth attending, just for this tour alone, because opportunities like this don't come along every day."

Tour participants will also see the specially designed Mn/DOT Incident Response Trailer, which was built specifically to respond to the requirements of Minnesota field operators and is stocked with safety equipment to allow for multiple lane closures.

Mn/DOT's Central Services Shop also houses the state Electrical Services, Environmental Services, and the repair and inventory functions of the facility. Water quality and air quality testing is conducted by environmental staff. Electrical Services include statewide and metro-area signal systems, highway lighting and freeway camera monitoring.

Some of the equipment that is repaired at this facility includes portable labs, deflectometers, friction testers and penetrometer trucks.

To allow interaction with the operators, fabricators, spec writers, purchasers and fleet data managers who will be on hand to answer questions during the tour, space is limited. Be sure and register early for this fascinating hands-on tour to take place the morning of Wednesday, April 25, 2007. For any questions about the tour please give John Scharffbillig a call at (612) 725-2354 or e-mail

Barb McKane can be reached at (612) 725-2352 or