Friday, September 12, 2014


“Call out the flanger!” was a call on Southern Pacific’s mountain lines such as the historic Donner Pass or the Cascade Line that meant snowfall was beginning to slow down operations.  SP employed four levels of snow removal: pilot snowplows, flangers, Jordan spreaders, and a rotary snowplow.  Pilot snowplows have been fairly effective at removing modest snowfall from the tracks.  Operations could proceed at nearly their normal pace as long as the pilot plows could keep up.  As snow levels rise and ice forms along the rails, the flanger would be called.

A flanger is a dedicated piece of snow removal equipment.  It employs a pair of plows mounted under the carbody that can be lowered between the rails allowing it to clear out snow and ice accumulated there, particularly along the sides of the rail—the flangeways.  This is where the raised flange on a railroad wheel rides, keeping the wheel on the track.  The close-to-the-rail geometry must be maintained, so the flanger rides on trucks with no springs—a solid (and bumpy!) “ride.”  Flangers typically are operated at or above posted track speed, as they work best when running fast.  As a result, flanger operations do not slow down railroad operations by much.  They are seen as just another train, albeit a speedy one, occupying the track.

The heavy-duty snow removal equipment—Jordan spreaders and rotary snow plows--impact the pace of railroad operations, as they operate at much slower speeds and can not be passed or run-around when they are in use.  The railroad operating department tries to keep ahead of a snow storm enough to not have to call out either of the heavy-duty snow removers.

Flanger operations have long been part of my planning for my dream model railroad.  Their operation screams “mountain railroad” to me.  I have a Lambert Models flanger model, representing an SP flanger with a wooden car-body as operated into the 1960s.  A steel-body flanger has been on my wish list.  Albrae Models ( just imported brass models of rebuilt SP flangers, including the one routinely assigned to Oakridge.  I just received mine!

My new flanger sits on the snow equipment track at the end of the Oakridge wye (right foreground).

Close-up of the flanger. 

Close-up of the other side of the flanger.  One of the highly curved flanger blades can be seen underneath the car-body.  Albrae Models version is pre-painted and lettered and comes equipped with Kadee couplers.  It’s ready to go!

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