Rotary Snow Plow SPMW #207 & 8207 rebuild 4/2012

Winter of 2011 set records for snow depths in the Sierra dating as far back as 1982.

After the storm of 2011, it was determined that Rotaries weren’t going away. Shortly after the storm, Union Pacific’s Roseville Locomotive Facility embarked on a monumental task of rebuilding one Rotary set from the frame-up, bringing the historic workhorse into the 21st century.

Historical Background of the Rotary Plow:

The first Rotary plow was designed in 1869 by a Toronto dentist J.W. Elliot. His design, similar to but more primitive than the later Leslie type, was never built.  The first successful Rotary Plow was designed by Canadian Orange Jull.  He had it built by the Leslie Brothers, owners of a machine shop, and tested it in the winter of 1883-84.  The Leslies’ soon purchased the manufacturing rights to the plow and went into business building ‘Leslie type’ steam powered Rotaries.

Steam powered Rotaries were used in the Sierra Nevada until they began being converted to diesel powered in the 1950’s by the Southern Pacific Railroad. After being converted, each Rotary Plow was assigned an EMD F7 1,500 horsepower (1,100 kW) Diesel-electric locomotive F7 B-Unit to provide power for rotating the 11′ fan. All four traction motors were removed from the locomotive and placed on the floor inside the Rotary. Two traction motors to a shaft, both shafts run forward to the main bearing/transmission. A single shaft then exits the transmission and runs the Rotary fan for plowing snow.

Dennis Magures, Senior Manager of Locomotive Maintenance facility, came up with a new design for the Rotaries after witnessing the 2011 operation. Engineers had to become “contortionists” in order to operate the controls along with the throttle. He carefully observed the operation and came up with a new design for the cab. In our Part II of “Rotaries,” he explains just how this plan will be implemented beginning with the SPMW #207 and, if successful, others to follow in short order. The F7 B-Unit #8207 will also be overhauled. Here are the plans:

  • Rotary A-Unit:
    From the frame-floor up, the whole car body  comes off – including the cab from the rear of the blade housing – aft, stripping cab interior, D57 traction motors – all friction bearings will be removed throughout the system including drive shafts and main shaft – 15 total, oil lubricators, steam generator, water tanks, all the electrical and the plowing blade. The exterior body will remain the same for the most part.
  • The interior cab will be enlarged by 4 feet from front to back wall, all new controls, seats, window sets on both sides (similar to new spreader windows) and a total of 5 rotating windows facing forward for engineer to see, one engineer seat (instead of two) a table for all controls, wing-man stations stay same.
  • 4 traction motors will be replaced with 2 D-87 BTR motors with roller bearings.
  • New steam generator, air compressor, water tank, all electrical and lights
  • F7 B-Unit:
    Will lose 1950′s vintage 16 cylinder 567C engine, main generator, which will be replaced by an AR17 out of a GP60, a  12-cylinder 645 E engine, Tier O plus compliant, MP15AC cooling system, new air compressor, water tank, steam generator, along with all new electrical controls. The sound of the engine will be a little different, but the nostalgia “stays with the equipment.”

The Rotary Plow #SPMW207 along with its F7 B-Unit were out for bid in late 2011 for several months. A company in Washington, Relco in Albia IA, and NMI Industrial were the three who submitted RFPs. All three had never rebuilt a Rotary Plow before, so taking on this monumental task was a first. NMI Industrial in Sacramento, California had been rebuilding Spreader Snow Plows for Union Pacific since 2009, so they had experience with the snow equipment, the ideal location being close to the Sierras in Sacramento and close to the man who was going to manage the whole project with his idea.

The lowest bidder was Relco, and was awarded the contract in early 2012 for the complete frame-up overhaul. It took several months to acquire a flat car (KRL 152) that could handle the weight, height and load of the Rotary Plow. Finally on March 5, 2012 the Rotary #SPMW was loaded up on the KRL-152 car using two mammoth portable cranes. On March 18th, 2012 the consist got its orders and rolled out of the Roseville Yard en route for Albia IA via Donner Pass, the very location where #207 had worked to keep the pass open! Although early 2012 Winter was near drought all Winter long until late march where it only picked up 3′ of snow.

The expected completion date for rebuilding is expected to be late November or early December 2012. Will they deliver on time as promised? Check for updates on this blog………..


Rotaries, Avalanche on the Mountain Part I – available now here
The story of the storm that forced the railroad to bring out the big guns to fight the snow! The Rotary snow plow slept dormant in it’s comfortable lair in the Roseville rail yard since 1998 until Mother Nature summoned the beast into action in March, 2011.


21 Responses to “Rotary Snow Plow SPMW #207 & 8207 rebuild 4/2012”

  1. MICHEL BOUCHER November 6, 2012 at 11:07 am #

    Hi! 1- the contact tab does’not work 2- I am looking for Part 2 of Rotaries Avalanche on the Mountain. i was told earlier this year that it would be available in the fall.

    • Brendan January 23, 2013 at 5:28 pm #

      Hi Michel,
      Rotaries, Avalanche on the Mountain is being worked on now. We hope to have a release date sometime this Winter. Sorry to hear about the Contact Tab on our site not working ( It seems to be working fine now.

      Keep checking back.

      Brendan Compton
      BA Productions

  2. Brendan December 25, 2012 at 10:03 pm #

    Rotary update coming soon.

  3. Dave Feath March 30, 2013 at 9:27 am #

    Hi Brendan,

    We enjoyed watching your first Rotaries DVD. Fantastic, especially the avalance at Shed 10. We have been waiting patiently for the release of Rotaries Part 2. What happended to it? Did it get “flanged”, causing a delay?

    Thank you for your response.


    • Brendan May 29, 2013 at 8:38 pm #

      Hi Dave,
      Thanks for waiting so patiently for part II of Rotaries. We had to put the brakes on it just for now. We pitched part I to a PBS affiliate in San Francisco a little over a year ago and they said they would be willing to air it. They actually prompted us to look at going national with our show on the NETA network, so we pitched them a few months ago. Just last week they got back to me and said they would be happy to show it. So, we can’t come out with a part II before Part I airs on TV.

      We’re looking at an October air date for the snow show. Keep checking back on our website for actual air date and times!

      Best Regards,

      Brendan Compton
      BA Productions

      • Brian July 23, 2013 at 8:34 pm #

        Hi Brenden-

        I noticed Big Steam 844 airing on the RFD channel this week withut any fanfare. Does this indicate a change in plans for airing the Rotaries Pt 1 (and release of Pt 2), and either way does this mean more titles will end up on RFD?


        • Brendan November 11, 2013 at 12:51 pm #

          Big Steam is airing on RFD TV without my permission. Been trying to get a hold of the guy in charge there.
          Rotaries part I will be airing on PBS starting in February of 2014. After it’s initial airing I’ll have part II out within a few months. Part II spreaders – hoping for some snow this season, so I can get them in action. It’s been very dismal snows past two years and they haven’t been out but once each season since 2011.

          Thanks for writing. Sorry to take so long to get back with you. I don’t check this too much. Email is best.


  4. Dave C July 21, 2013 at 1:08 pm #

    Did the rotary and power unit ever get rebuilt? Last I read, they were torn apart by the contractor and then they were sent back to UP.

    • Brendan November 11, 2013 at 12:48 pm #

      It’s all rebuilt for the most part. The Rotary is getting close to being shipped back to Roseville for the blade to be put on.

  5. leon November 6, 2013 at 10:02 am #

    Good morning Mr. Compton,

    I would like to purchase snow on the mountain parts one and two.

    if would be so kind, can you can to let me know when they are both

    available so I can call you and order them?

    Have you made any plans to visit europe in winter to see the Beilhack snow clearers work in any of the EU countries and Russia? They have at least fifty units in operation there and japan as well.

    Thanks much in advance


    • Brendan November 11, 2013 at 1:04 pm #

      Hi Leon,
      To get your copy of Rotaries, Avalanche on the Mountain visit us here:

      Part II should be available in 2014.

      Haven’t got any plans to visit Europe in near future.

  6. Chase Freeman November 29, 2013 at 3:59 pm #

    Hey Brendan,

    Have you heard anything about when the rotaries are coming back to Roseville? I would like to see what they look like now. I can’t wait till the part 2 of the rotaries comes out. The first one was awesome.

    • Brendan December 6, 2013 at 10:39 am #

      The SPMW 207 and its F7 B-Unit are back in Roseville at last!! It arrived a week ago and needs to have some work done on it before it’s ready to roll out for the first time in early 2014.

  7. Chase Freeman January 6, 2014 at 10:04 pm #

    Could you get some pics of it and post them?

  8. Kent Loudon November 17, 2014 at 5:19 pm #

    I’m confused. The PBS show seemed to indicate the rotaries were steam powered. What’s the whole story?

  9. Ben Johnson January 21, 2016 at 7:02 pm #

    Is the remodel complete? Are the rotaries back from Iowa? Are there pictures of the units?

  10. dmacleo January 16, 2017 at 11:54 am #

    so its been years since rotary part 2 was just waiting on narration (per your email) and nothing?
    we ever going to get to see the finish of the stuff we purchased?

    • Brendan January 23, 2017 at 11:11 am #

      Of course! we’re playing a draft copy to an audience this Thursday night for feedback.
      It will be more Rotary action than you can ever imagine on Part II

      • dmacleo February 5, 2017 at 5:34 am #

        that is awesome to hear

      • dmacleo August 11, 2017 at 11:56 am #

        any updates?
        its now august, 6 months since draft supposed to be played.


  1. Missed in History: The Long Winter – The Blogs at HowStuffWorks - December 25, 2013

    […] Donner Rails. “Rotary Snow Plow SPMW #207 & 8207 rebuild 4/2012.” […]

Leave a Reply