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Nuttall Patrol Wings at PennDoT

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The Nuttall Floating Wing and it’s influence on snow removal at PennDoT

There was a reference in a discussion thread recently about the floating (or patrol) wing designed and sold by Nuttall Equipment of Sherman New York. I thought I’d put together an unofficial history about the use of patrol wings by PennDoT.

The use of wing plows was always in the fabric of Pennsylvania snow removal. Many of the old photos from the 30’s and 40’s show trucks with benching wings, both single and doubles, being used across the state. Nuttall Patrol Wings at PennDoT - walter linn oshkosh fwd

When I started in 1971 we had a few benching wings mounted on FWD’s and an Oshkosh. Wings on road graders started to show up at that same time, beginning with two Austin-Western Pacer 100’s purchased with reversible style dozer blades up front and benching wings. The county fleet of rented trucks had been without any sign of a wing plow until right around then when a contractor from North East, Pa started to provide a tandem with a patrol wing and Marmon Harrington 4WD Ford conversion with a benching wing.

Around 1975 we received two Mack tandems with Nuttall patrol wings. They certainly were the pride of the fleet as we were just then making the full switch to diesel power and these trucks could plow effortlessly at a reasonable speed, unlike the trucks and graders with benching wings. It was about this same time that H.K. Nuttall Equipment started the patent process for their patrol wing design and it started showing up on occasional state truck purchases.

Nuttall’s was the local Oshkosh dealer and the place to get whatever it was you needed in the line of parts, repairs or a complimentary lunch (they ran an open tab for customers at the eatery across the street there in Sherman). They sold new Oshkosh trucks, Frink plow equipment, fire fighting equipment and provided full repair service. Nuttall’s also had a refurbishing shop where they took trade-in Oshkosh and restored them to like-new condition for resale. I remember talking to John Kargas (one of the original designers of the wing) about the refurbs and questioning their resale value. John told me they basically couldn’t get enough used trucks in to meet the demand for the reworked trucks. That’s how little I knew about it.

In about 1976 we got a pair of International single axle model 1850’s with DT466 engines, Allison transmissions and left hand Nuttall patrol wings for use on I-90 and I-79. This combination of power train and plow equipment proved to be unequalled in performance and durability up to that time. Of course the patrol wing was the key.

The governor’s election of 1978 brought in a whole new regime at PennDoT, as was always the case. Roger Burgeson was recruited to come in to Erie County in 1980. Roger had a long history of working with good (Frink/Oshkosh) snow removal equipment and techniques. He was a professional engineer, the former superintendent of highways for Chautauqua County New York and also worked for Nuttall Equipment. His name is on the original drawings for the patrol wing. Burgeson came into Erie about the same time I took over my duties in the garage. He was appalled at what he saw at PennDoT. We were plowing with mostly single axle trucks, many of which were gas engine IH’s and with the exception of a handful of patrol wings, the majority were wingless and snow removal was a mess. At that time we were plowing with about 40 state trucks and probably 30 rental units. The results were poor at best with road closures a common thing.

Burgeson made an unprecedented move by declaring that he was taking county maintenance money to fund a contract to install wings on the existing fleet. This was met with a storm of resistance but he stood his ground. The main arguments from PennDoT establishment types were that that process had never been used (bean-counters) and that the truck frames could not withstand the side-load of the wings (equipment division). This last fear is spite of the fact that we already had trucks in the fleet set up that way. Roger knew better on both counts and won the debate. He wrote the specs for the contract and bid 15 wings kits (installed) on current fleet trucks and some anticipated purchases. I can’t verify the price but it seems the contract was well over $100,000. Nuttall Equipment won the bid but it was not awarded until after some serious protests from the unsuccessful local bidders. One of the biggest complaints was that an out-of-state company was awarded the bid and the money should stay in Pennsylvania. This award didn’t break any purchasing policies, but the local vendors tried to make it the main point to rebid the contract. That didn’t work. The contract was awarded and we were on our way.

Pretty much immediately after the contract was awarded, the local state senator initiated an investigation into purchasing made locally, basically of my shop operation. We co-operated and had great support from our district office. There was nothing to hide. After about six weeks they closed the case. As a result of the failed investigation, and in an effort to save face, the same senator arranged for a purchasing presentation scheduled for vendors and suppliers from the local area. It was billed as an introductory primer for doing business with PennDoT. This was an effort to calm down the Pennsylvania vendors still upset that the contract was awarded out of state. The stage was a local hotel dining room. Someone paid for the breakfast (I was to nervous to eat). The program included a number of speakers from Harrisburg talking about state contract bidding for materials purchases and equipment. I was on the speakers list, charged with describing how we did business locally for equipment parts and repairs. In the end it went well for me, reported even smiling a bit when the television cameras started rolling as I spoke.

Installation began and the wings put into service ASAP. Many of the trucks were already 4 or 5 years old when the wings were installed. Only diesel powered trucks got the wings. After some initial resistance from the drivers, they became the standard. One of my favorite stories has to do with how well the drivers loved the wing trucks. For a long time the trucks were purchased separately from the wing plows. A new truck would be delivered and then scheduled for the wing install. The drivers would let a new wing-less truck sit. They preferred to run the older units with the wing.

Roger Burgeson’s tenure was not very long lasting. He had serious health issues and was reassigned to a less stressful position. His eventual successor, Dave DeLosa, recognized the impact of wing trucks and instituted a policy that we would put wings on all future purchase trucks. The first phase was to move existing wings on to new trucks. Each Nuttall wing ended up going on two trucks. I say this was only possible because of the outstanding welders I working for me at the time. By the late 80’s Erie County was able to eliminate rented plow trucks completely. This was made possible in no small part by the wing policy in affect. We were able to provide good snow removal with only state equipment and operators. This was an astonishment for many in other areas of the state where the use of rentals is still a fact of life. The success of the wing program in Erie spread to the other counties in District 1. A number of years later it was instituted state-wide on all new tandem truck purchases.

Nuttall Retractable Wing and Mounting

The specifics for the Nuttall wing are all included in the patent listed here:

The patent was applied for in 1976 and approved in 1978. The plow included the use of a Frink wing blade and common hydraulic components. Both hydraulic cylinders were single acting. The rear cylinder lifted the wing to a carry position along the side of the cab and the front post cylinder/sheave/cable combination raised and lowered the front of the blade. The wing could be set up so that it would just carry above the road, making it easy for the driver to just drop down and not worry about excessive blade wear. They were equipped with rubber blades as originally installed. One of the key features was the trip block used on the front post as designed up at Nuttall’s. It was dual purpose with a spring loaded option to take up the shock of hitting something hard without causing damage, or able to lock in to position for pushing heavier snow. This trip block saved a few other manufacturers lesser designs over the years, believe me. The following are a few notes about the wing. Nuttall Patrol Wings at PennDoT - walter linn oshkosh fwd
The above print shows the rear cylinder (123) extended to drop the plow. The cylinders had the feed orifice (121) brazed and then drilled to control the speed at which it would raise, trying to eliminate cab damage. Nuttall Patrol Wings at PennDoT - walter linn oshkosh fwd
This front view of the trip block shows the pin (#55) that could be used to lock the wing into a stiff position. Good operators could actually do a little bit of shelfing with this setup. Nuttall Patrol Wings at PennDoT - walter linn oshkosh fwd
This is the front view of the post. Earlier trucks at PennDoT had butterfly doors in the hoods. This allowed for PM and pre-trip maintenance by the operators or mechanics. In later purchases of trucks the butterfly hoods were eliminated for cost-saving reasons and the wing post had to be lowered to allow the tilt hoods to open. This did not adversely affect the operation of the wing for it’s original design for patrol work.

So that’s my very unofficial history of patrol wings at PennDot, specifically Erie County.


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