These days the plowman is king after it snows, but more than a century ago Mainers had a different way of dealing with a heavy snowfall. Instead of clearing away the snow, towns would contract with people like the two hardy-looking characters shown here to pull a snow roller through town, compacting the snow and providing a smooth surface for the sleighs and pungs that were used in winter before the invention of the automobile. The system had the added benefit of not creating snowdrifts, allowing customers to easily access Walter Remick’s grocery store and Willis H. Folsom’s furniture shop, in the Fogg Block building at left.
Photographer Fred Philpot captured this impressive draft team as they caught their breath on Bridge Street in Springvale around 1900; judging by the melted snow on the porch roof at left this was probably the roller’s second trip through town in as many days, as the melting snow needed to be repeatedly tamped down. Ironically, the compacted snow under the team’s hooves covered one of the town’s most important assets — the trolley tracks that ran from this spot to the mills in Sanford — with the only evidence of them being the arm extending from the power pole just right of center.
The double roller shown here was one of the largest used in Maine, constructed of hardwood planks and requiring this team of six strong beasts to pull it.
While the attendant on the right might have ridden where he is standing to help clear snow jams, the driver clutching the reins at left would have controlled his team from the metal seat faintly visible behind the last horse, just right of center. The identities of this road crew are unknown, but the team may well have belonged to Elmer E. Wentworth, Springvale’s road commissioner, who owned the white house in the background as well as a livery stable. Whoever owned these impressive animals took pride in them, judging by their polished chrome hames and studded bridles.
This stunning scene in Springvale would not last long, though, as in 1905 a fire destroyed the Wentworth House, Fogg Block, and the even more impressive Dirigo building that stood beside it. These were rebuilt, of course, but with the advent of the automobile the snow rollers were put away for good, replaced with plows, salt, and sand. Snow, once preserved on Maine roads by devices such as this one, would never again be welcome by Maine drivers.
- By: John Falk