When I was a kid growing up in Michigan, a buddy and I would go out after a big snow storm and offer to shovel the neighbors' sidewalks...for a super-cheap price. No snow blowers, not old enough to drive plows...but all with snow shovels. And it was not easy. Sometimes we would get conned into shoveling an entire driveway for not  any more money.

Now there are easier ways to remove snow from sidewalks, driveways, highways, and streets. But what did they do about the roads back in the 1800s when all they had were horses and buggies?

Before there was such a thing as snow plows, there were snow rollers. The rollers didn't remove or plow snow, they simply packed the snow down to make a smoother surface. Roads back then were not smooth to begin with – there were ruts, potholes, crevasses...all getting filled with packed snow by snow rollers to make the roads maneuverable.

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A snow roller was basically a large wheel that was pulled by horses or a team of oxen. Once the roadway was flattened, it was easier for carriages to get through, once they attached planks that resembled skis.

Other methods included horse-drawn plows, snow blowers from trains, and the tedium of using shovels. The horse-drawn plows were first used in Milwaukee in 1862; even so, snow rollers continued their use well into the 1900s. Although manual snow removal was tough, people still rejected the use of salt due to the damage it caused with clothes and footwear.....we finally caved and now salt is a big part of snow and ice removal. With mechanized snow removal becoming the accepted mode, horse-drawn snow rollers and plows became obsolete.

The gallery below shows a good many snow rollers, used in Michigan and beyond.

Snow Rollers: Michigan Snow Removal, 1800s-1900s


Vintage Michigan Winters

Michigan Blizzards: 1880-1920s

Wintertime in the 'Hood

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