North American Snow Conference in Peoria, Illinois: Where bigger was better!

Patricia A. Kutt, CAE
Director of Education
APWA Kansas City Office

Could there be more to know about snow removal, anti-icing and chemical applications? You bet. And, we heard it all at the 46th North American Snow Conference held in Peoria, IL, April 30-May 3, 2006.

Hosted by the Illinois Chapter of APWA, the show set a record attendance and for the first time ever, thirteen companies brought motorized equipment to the show floor and an additional nine companies displayed large equipment. New also to the show were thirty-three companies and their products. The 125 companies covered over 21,700 square feet of space in the Peoria Civic Center.

For the first time, Snow Conference exhibitors displayed heavy equipment and motorized vehicles.

From the giants like the tractors of Caterpillar and John Deere to the salt spreaders of Schmidt North America and the skid steer loaders of the Bobcat Company, attendees could see state-of-the art snowfighting equipment and services all in one place. The name of the game seemed to be touch and feel—and exhibitors like Cargill/SafeLane, Dow Chemical and Perma-Patch had samples to show of their product lines. The technology companies were represented too: Fuelman with its fleet tracking system to RouteSmart Technologies with its software that evaluates and implements ice/snow control in a GIS environment, all showcased their latest tools for helping beat the dilemmas caused by snow across North America. Attendees could even work a computer simulator with joystick controls to replicate snowplow driver training at the VISTA Training booth.

Education sessions were overflowing. Even the two anti-icing programs—one beginning and one advanced—in adjoining rooms had over 120 attendees each. Comments like, "...has raised many questions for me on what I want to start in our community" and "good practical experience you could relate to" were common throughout the evaluations.

Terry Hough, Morgantown, WV; John Habermann, Indiana LTAP; and, Jerry Pickett, Greeley, CO conducted an interactive session where audience members were grouped and each presented with a storm scenario that they had to strategize for best solution. All results were shared and discussed at the end. Lucas Hooijenga, Schmidt North America, and Brian Burne, Maine DOT, presented studies on the salt-saving formula used in Europe and now being tested in DOTs in the U.S.

Speakers, or who we prefer to call "Knowledge Experts," gave graciously of their time in preparing outstanding presentations and staying around afterwards to answer questions. States you wouldn't expect to hear from, like Arizona, brought new value to the conference. Arizona State University is conducting research, sponsored by ADOT, to evaluate the effectiveness of simulator-based training for snowplow drivers.

Larry Koehle, Region V Director, Brampton, Ontario, chats with the Snow Conference co-chairs: Dave Marshall, Peoria, IL; Dave McKinley, Peoria, IL; and Dick Paulson, Bloomington, IL.

A lot of the teaching covered the "should do it this way" format while others with stories from experience followed the "don't do it this way" formula. Don Davis, from the Wilderness Survival Institute, mesmerized the crowd with his stories of ordinary people who did not survive snowstorms because they failed to follow some basic rules: 1) tell someone where you are going if you are heading off for long trips or especially camping/skiing in the mountains; 2) stay on the course you set or notify someone when you are changing course; 3) don't ignore the weather reports; and 4) if you are lost or snowed in, stay in one place—never leave your vehicle.

The knowledge gained from the presenters and peers alike continues to be the main drawing card to attend the annual show.

The General Session "Talk Show" continues to be a big hit. This year's panelists, with over 92 years of combined experience, shared many tips and strategies. The entire room was stunned by the size of the infrastructure budget in the province of Alberta, all due to the oil royalties that are now affording the province billions of dollars in surplus. Terry Ream, City of Edmonton, explained how this actually is bringing its own unique set of dilemmas to the area, including an influx of more than 1,500 people a day coming to stay. While many cities press their solid waste vehicles and drivers into snowplowing services at critical times few go to the level of service Bobby Richardson from the City of Chicago described. They drive the plows through the alleyways to create truck pathways for the waste disposal trucks to allow them to keep their regular pickup schedule.

Michael Silvestri, Lake Forest, IL and Steve Collin, Minneapolis, MN rounded out the panel. Highlights from this interactive exchange suggested the following trends: an increased use of GPS in snow activities; major changes in methods of weather forecasting that are providing more sophisticated and timely data; ideas for fuel economy such as setting up material and supply stations throughout an agency's district so trucks don't have to be go back to a central garage to refuel and reload; and ways to improve agency morale through mentoring programs and maintaining a positive attitude if you are the supervisor.

Attendees actively engaged in the open roundtable sessions

The mid-day roundtables each day were a particular hit. The variety of topics ranging from electronic vs. hydraulic controls, to fuels, to recycling of winter street sand attracted the crowds with a need to know. It was clearly evident that many who came are actively engaged in the profession of snowfighting and receive as well as give valuable information in these roundtables.

The highlight of the conference was the closing dinner and fireworks extravaganza at the nearby Caterpillar Worldwide Training Center. Caterpillar also used this venue to roll out their new motorgrader—now with only two joystick controls and impressive visibility from the cab. It was a very big hit even though the writer resisted her strong temptation to get in and give it a whirl.

But the climax event for this spring night was a "Yellow Truck Ballet." Well, Caterpillar didn't call it that, but it fell nothing short of it with 37 pieces of equipment moving in from both sides of the demonstration field, all choreographed with fireworks lighting the way as they moved. The coup de grace was the giant D11 Track-Type Tractor with a 22' blade coming over the hill in all its HUGE and magnificent splendor. It is hard to believe that man can build and move a vehicle of this size with just a few levers! The entire program was set to music and fireworks and all provided through the great hospitality of Caterpillar.

The 2007 Snow Conference in St. Paul, MN promises to be equally exciting. It, too, will have heavy equipment and new and innovative programming. APWA is requesting submissions from those who would like to speak. Visit our website at www.apwa.net/speakatsnow.net. Please also note that all handouts from this year's event are now on the website for viewing and download by members for free.

See you next year at the only place where snow rarely falls but snowfighting solutions can always be found—the North American Snow Conference.

Patricia Kutt can be reached at (816) 595-5211 or pkutt@apwa.net.


Snow participants get first look at Caterpillar equipment

Fireworks light the way for 37 pieces of Caterpillar equipment as they move down the demonstration field.

As a grand finale for the 2006 North American Snow Conference, which heralded record attendance and the debut of heavy equipment on the exhibit floor, Peoria-based Caterpillar Inc. opened the doors of their worldwide training and demonstration facility to host the Snow Conference closing dinner. Caterpillar unveiled their new M-Series Motorgraders, giving APWA members a first look at the new equipment. As if that weren't enough, the evening ended with a bang as choreographed equipment displays and a fireworks show lit the night sky.

"The evening event at Caterpillar's Worldwide Training Facility was a success thanks to APWA and its members," said Eric Turner, manager of Caterpillar's Governmental Sales Division. "We were very honored to host this event and the timing could not have been better as we were able to launch our new M-Series Motorgrader line, along with opening the doors of our all-new training center to our customers. We value this customer base along with associations such as the APWA and are very committed to continue to grow this relationship. In the end it was a great way for Caterpillar to say thank you to the men and women that enable our country to operate day to day."

Contributed by Becky Wickstrom, APWA Manager of Media Affairs.