AURORA, W.Va. – Winter doesn’t officially start until Dec. 21, but crews from the Division of Highways are ready for whenever snow hits, especially in Preston County. They’ve been using the same machine to clear their roads since the ’70s. DOH officials said the Governor of West Virginia at the time had set aside money to re-gold leaf the capitol but instead spent that money to buy the “Idaho Norland.”
“We get so much snow up here that normal plows can’t remove the snow,” Aaron Stevens, Deputy District Engineer WVDOH said. “We need something massive like this to blow the snow out of the road. We don’t have anywhere to push the snow when we get that amount of snow.”
The nearly 45-year-old snow removing machine is much bigger than the average snow plow and tears through the worst that mother nature throws at us. It’s equipped with a 12-cylinder Detroit engine and 750 horsepower. Drivers need special training to be able to use the Idaho Norland but right now, there is only one DOH worker who can use it.
Harlin Wolfe has been with the DOH for 20 years. He’s seen the machine run around the clock for weeks at a time during bad storms. He said it was a critical piece of machinery for the state in the 2003 Presidents’ Day storm.
“We were getting 911 calls, a lot of them, because no traffic can get around,” Wolfe said. “This and a greater was the only machines that would move up here.”
He said the most important thing while driving it is safety.
“You have to be very aware of your surroundings you have to be, just very cautious you can take transformers off the power poles and things like that with this, blow windows out of houses and things like that, so you need to know your surroundings and just be very cautious,” Wolfe said.
The machine sucks up the snow and blows it out the shoot. It can throw snow nearly 200 feet. Crews said the terrain up in Preston County is way different than the rest of the state because of the higher elevation.
“I think average snowfall around Clarksburg area is 80 inches, 80 to 100, were usually double that and some winters upwards of 300,” Wolfe said.
It’s an old, rare machine so parts are already hard to find. With the ongoing supply shortage, even regular parts are sparse. Crews are trying to stock up on all types of parts to try and keep them on hand so that they can get everything back on the road quickly. Stevens said the way budgets are now, new machines are too expensive. It’s a lot more costly to maintain the Idaho Norland.
When heavy snowfall hits, workers said regular trucks are useless. When they are responsible for getting the roads open quickly in a storm for first responders the Idaho Norland is the best way to do that. And it doesn’t just come out during heavy storms. It can make an appearance on the road anytime, especially when there’s a lot of drifting snow.
“Even a light snow like 6 inches with the wind can cause 6-foot snow drifts,” Wolfe said.
“It’s critical,” Stevens said about the Idaho Norland. “We need this to get the roads open for safety.”
The Idaho Norland is stationed in Aurora, West Virginia.