173rd FW Vehicle Maintenance braces for heavy snows

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Jefferson Thompson
  • 173rd Fighter Wing

The Klamath Basin sits at more than 4,000 feet of elevation and typically sees a fair share of snow during the winter months. Thanks to plowing operations, the 173rd Fighter Wing continues to train pilots all through the winter months without delay. 

If a snowstorm deposits more than one-half-inch, plowing operations begin no matter the time, and quite often it’s the middle of the night.

A significant part of winter readiness is having all of the snowplows ready for that next big storm, and the mechanics at the vehicle operations work hard to ensure they are ready.

It’s a job that is growing increasingly more interesting as the years pass; for one thing, many of the parts for the older plows are not available any longer and these mechanics cast a net far and wide trying to find a vendor, and even look to other bases to see if they can scavenge for parts.  

However, the vehicle maintenance team is quick to point out how valuable these machines really are. “They are easy to work on because they are all-mechanical and they rarely break down,” said Senior Master Sgt. Isacc Nunn, the 173rd Fighter Wing vehicle maintenance superintendent.

However, the natural enemy of snow plows are the uneven surfaces hidden beneath smooth snow, and when a plow inevitably runs into them it causes damage that these mechanics have to fix.

A day in early January is an example as Nunn flags in an O.D. Green snowplow with damaged roll-over gears. The “roll-over”, as the plow operators refer to it, is the mechanism which rotates the plow and allows it to push snow either to the right or left by rotating vertically 180-degrees.

For this repair, Master Sgt. James Childs points to several parts waiting by the snowplow.  “We were able to find these from a company in Canada,” says Childs. However, there is one part they couldn’t find and he’ll make that in-house.

The ability to do that stems from a depth of experience few shops share. Tech. Sgt. John Walling quickly tabulates some of that experience. “If you add up me, Sergeant Childs, Sergeant Nunn, [Master] Sergeant [Michael] Krouse—we probably have at least a hundred years of experience between the four of us.” Each of those four grew up working on cars and machinery long before they were old enough to join the ranks of Kingsley Field Airmen.

The fact that they have the equipment to make the parts is also rare, and stems from a time when they needed a part that was damaged in the line of duty and they couldn’t find it anywhere. Childs is an accomplished machinist and he knew he could make the part with the proper tools.  Their commander at the time agreed and they purchased a milling machine and metal lathe that get used quite often.  

The team points out that innovative thinking and planning is key to keeping these pieces of equipment operating.

“I think we are pretty fortunate not only to have the background experience that we all bring to the table, but also having management support us and buy us this equipment,” said Childs. 

“We’re set up so that we can pretty much deal with anything that comes through our door,” added Walling.

Getting this particular plow out the door requires Childs to build a new support beam with brackets and a shaft support. It takes several days, as he works around his primary responsibilities, to cut, weld, and machine a new part. Unless the next big snowstorm arrives with in a day, this snow plow will be ready for it.