Crater Lake National Park

“A place where rotary snow removal vehicles come to die.”

Located at the top of the Cascade Mountains in southern Oregon, Crater Lake National Park is one of America’s national treasures. The combination of the lake’s pure, deep blue water and its nearly two thousand feet high sheer cliff surroundings make it a breathtaking locale. The scenery is spectacular, with elevations that range from 5,000 to nearly 9,000 feet. “Crater Lake is about 100 miles north of the California border,” said Matt Shaefer, roads and shop supervisor for Crater Lake National Park. “It’s a volcanic caldera that erupted and collapsed about 7700 years ago. The top of the cone fell in onto its magma chamber below and, over the course of 550 years, filled with water.”

Crater Lake, like Mount Rainier, Glacier, and Yellowstone – is one of the big western snow parks. Annual winter snowfall at Crater Lake averages more than 45 feet, so clearing and reopening these roads is not for the faint of heart. The responsibility for clearing all that snow, as well as acquiring and maintaining the snow removal equipment, falls to Matt Schafer and his team. “Last year, we got over 650 inches of snow. We move snow from October through July,” said Shaefer.

Shaefer has been with the national parks for three years, and has no regrets about making the move from the heavy construction business. “I decided that by joining the Parks, the places our family could live were a lot better,” said Shaefer. “In a nut shell, that’s why I decided to make the switch. And I tell my guys that people pay to come here and see these parks. Some of the finer aspects of the job you can’t beat.”

Spring Snow Removal

The park’s north entrance road and the Rim Drive that runs around Crater Lake are closed for the winter. “The snow on the north entrance is pretty hard, because it’s used for snowmobiles and they groom it all winter long,” said Shaefer. “We usually hit that area of roadway in mid May to open it up, and so you’re talking four to five feet of snow there at that time.”

Enter the Oshkosh Road Blower – a machine built on the proven H-Series chassis and engineered specifically for high altitude snow removal. The Road Blower joined a pair of Oshkosh P-Series plow vehicles already in service at Crater Lake. “The Oshkosh Road Blower was actually one of my first acquisitions,” recalled Shaefer. “We had a piece of equipment that was up for replacement. And a couple of my operators observed an Oshkosh Road Blower that was being demonstrated down in Meyers, California. That was right around the time I was coming into this job in April 2009.”

Shaefer continued, “My operators are aficionados, so to speak, of snow removal trucks. A lot of what we have is quite custom or heavy-duty because of the amount of snow that we get. We started talking about the Road Blower, and I figured we’d go ahead and put the specs out there for a new rotary truck. After a thorough evaluation, Oshkosh got the contract to build the truck for us.”

The Oshkosh Road Blower

The Road Blower plays an important role throughout the year, but especially when opening the seasonal roads. “Once we get down to around 5000 feet elevation, and the snow is around five feet deep, that’s when we like to use the Oshkosh Road Blower,” explained Shaefer. “That’s where the bulk of our road miles are located. It’s a workhorse and pulls its share.”

The Road Blower features special planetary axles and powerful blower and chassis engines to allow it to operate and blow snow at speeds from 20 mph down to as low as one-half mile per hour. “The planetary gearing allows the unit to operate at very low speeds,” Shaefer said. “It creeps along at maybe one or two miles per hour through that kind of snow.”

After a winter of snowfall, downed trees and large rocks are mixed in with the snow; therefore, the Road Blower’s ribbon auger and blower system have to be heavy-duty… and then some. Its diameter is massive, and there are shear bolts on each auger shaft flange to prevent damage. “Because of downed tree branches, our guys always strap a chainsaw to the catwalk and hope that they’ll see the tree before hitting it,” said Shaefer. “And you’re going to get rocks that come down the mountainsides mixed into the snow. I’ve chucked a few out of the Oshkosh in the six-to-eight inch range. They’ll definitely sail out into the canyon a lot further than the snow will. You have to be careful where you’re shooting this stuff!”

Running in the max power band

The blower head engine is rated at 575 horsepower @ 2100 rpm, and delivers more than 1900 ft./lbs. of torque. The team at Crater Lake puts all that power to use. “During the road-opening process, we run the engine in the power band most of the time and it gets a good workout,” Shaefer stated. “A couple of Oshkosh engineers plugged their diagnostics into the Road Blower and told us we were running the engine in the max power band most of the time. It does the job and moves down the road very well.”

It’s no surprise that operators spend a lot of time inside the cab. So, visibility and comfort are important. “Our operators spend a lot of time in the truck,” said Shaefer. “A comfortable cab with excellent visibility is vital to stay focused and alert.” The cab features a panoramic windshield for an open view of the road ahead, and large rear three quarter windows; so, outward visibility is excellent in all directions. There are even twin of lower front windows enable the operator to have a clear view of the attachments. Inside, there are two comfortable, full-size seats (one for the driver and a second for a supervisor or trainer). The 55,000 BTU heater and defroster system with digital climate control maintains a comfortable temperature. And the twin cup holders and power roll down windows add an extra measure of convenience.

Creating a buzz in high elevation snow removal

The Crater Lake team stays in touch with Oshkosh, and appreciates the company’s practice of listening. “There are things that I have suggested on the vehicle that would make it a bit easier for us, and Oshkosh has been good at listening and coming up with solutions,” said Shaefer. “I’d say they have responded affirmatively and proactively the vast majority of the time. The Oshkosh team is dedicated to making their equipment work in this environment.”

In the fraternity of high elevation snow removal, the Road Blower has quickly earned a following. “Actually, it seems like everyone comes out of the woodwork to see the Road Blower when they want to spec a new snow vehicle,” said Shaefer. “They all seem to be interested in it.”

So what’s the bottom line for Crater Lake’s road maintenance team? “This place is a place where rotary blower snow removal vehicles come to die if they aren’t outfitted correctly. Rotaries are high maintenance vehicles. All of them. Across the board. And this one is no exception. But what we ask the Road Blower to do is a lot more than almost anyone else.”