Rick Van Anken, who blows the snow from some of Bloomington’s 250 miles of sidewalks, used to worry about being injured if his vehicle hit a quarter-inch irregularity in the sidewalk and came to an abrupt dead stop.
“Many times, the driver will be thrown into something when the snowblower hits an obstacle,” says Van Anken, 26.
No more. Thanks to Minnesota inventor Grant Hanson of Glenwood, commercial snowblowers can now glide over obstacles such as raised sidewalk sections or manhole covers and keep going. That should protect drivers, reduce damage to equipment and, it’s hoped, get sidewalks cleared a little faster.
This winter, Bloomington and St. Paul are putting the new mechanical technology, called the Snowalker, to the test. The device is a mechanical connection that sits between a city vehicle and its snowblower. When the snowblower hits an obstacle, the Snowalker redirects the force of the collision to lift the snowblower over the obstacle and give it a push forward, all so quickly that an observer can barely see what happened. Some city workers say the Snowalker may have changed city snow removal forever.
“There is nothing else like it” for the small municipal vehicles used to move snow on sidewalks, trails and parking lots, says John Hall, equipment services manager for St. Paul’s Parks and Recreation Department. “I don’t expect he’ll be in business long, because somebody like a snowblower manufacturer will buy that invention from him. And then it will be part of a snowblower and not a separate attachment. I think Hanson will make himself rich.”
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– By Steve Alexander