CHOKEPOINTS

Sullivan: My apology to Plowie McPlow Plow

Dec 5, 2023, 7:34 AM | Updated: 8:49 am

Image: A Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) tow plow is seen in action on a snow...

A Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) tow plow is seen in action on a snowy road. (Image courtesy of WSDOT)

(Image courtesy of WSDOT)

Lost in all the jokes about the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) giving its snow plows ridiculous names is that these tow plows really get the job done.

We’ve all chuckled at the names. Plowie McPlow Plow. The Big Leplowski. Sir Plows-a-lot. And the newest tow plow, Betty Whiteout. When the naming began a few years ago, I thought these were just new plows and not something new, which they are. So once again, I have been caught not paying attention.

More Chokepoints: Major disruption ahead for Sound Transit riders

But I found myself behind a tow plow for the first time over the weekend. It was on Interstate 90 in western Montana. It was impressive. At first, I wasn’t sure what I was looking at. The truck was in the left lane. The tow plow was jutting out into the right lane, throwing sand and plowing the second lane.

And that’s the magic of the tow plow. It can do two lanes at once, with only one driver.

“It extends out about 30 degrees to the side of the vehicle using a hydraulic system with a 26-foot moldboard,” WSDOT’s Ryan Overton said.  “You can clear two full lanes from fog line to fog line of I-90 at the exact same time.”

All four of the state’s tow plows are headquartered in Eastern Washington. Overton said these plows have improved the efficiency of clearing the roads in big way.

“You might think in snowy conditions having a secondary piece of equipment slid out at some sort of angle with one driver being more difficult to drive, but it actually acts as like an anchor to keep the truck planted in the lane itself,” he said.

I asked Overton why these plows aren’t used at Snoqualmie Pass, which did close during last Friday’s snow storm. He said they been used in emergency situations during bad storms, but towing these plows up hills isn’t ideal.

“They do have some more difficult terrain, as far as the hills go, and it is a very heavy piece of equipment to tow,” Overton said. “I don’t know if it would be the best utilization of that product to get it up and down Snoqualmie Pass.”

These tow plows work best on flatter terrain and where there are only two lanes, but Overton said they are used in downtown Spokane in tandem with another plow.

And while Eastern Washington drivers might have rolled up on one of these bad boys and are prepared for it, I certainly was not. Our cars stacked up behind the one in Western Montana, and I thought we were a little close.

This is Overton’s advice: “If you can see the plows mirrors then they can see you, and that’s the biggest struggle that we have is people following too close to our plows they can’t see behind them,” he said.

But it’s always better to give plows more room than you think you need.

And I will never make fun of Plowie McPlow Plow or his siblings again.

Check out more of Chris’ Chokepoints.

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Sullivan: My apology to Plowie McPlow Plow