Nice spread

Features - 2013 Snow and Ice Report

How to choose the best salt shaker for your ice mitigation services.

September 6, 2013
Kristen Hampshire

It’s the icing on the job – rather, the job that removes the ice. The final touch after plowing a property is spreading salt, says Jason Dickey, director of operations at Schill Grounds Management in North Ridgeville, Ohio. “If the customer sees the salt truck on their property, they know they’re taken care of for the day,” he says.

When a single spreader is down, that loss can affect up to 15 properties in one night, Dickey says. And you can plow all night long, but salt is what stops the ice from forming.

Efficiency, dependability and durability top the list of qualities that spreaders should provide. That means considering a product’s construction, its power source, its controls and ease of use.

Contractors looking for productivity should seek out spreaders that are fleet-friendly and flexible, says Craig Kemmerling, national sales manager for Meyer Products.

Consider this scenario: You’re salting a retail parking lot and a mother and her two children are walking from their car to enter a store. They’re going to cross in front of your path, but how easily can you stop salting? A feature like auto-stop will stop applying materials when the vehicle brake is activated.

But the buying decision ultimately depends on your budget and your typical job.

“A business that mainly services residential driveways would lend itself to a walk-behind spreader or a small tailgate spreader, whereas larger applications like parking lots, roadways or bridge decks call for mid-sized hoppers or tailgate spreaders,” says Andy McArdle, product marketing manager for Fisher Engineering.

Power Plays. CSB Contractors in Suffern, N.Y., includes 21 spreaders and a fleet of 60 trucks. Most of those spreaders are hydraulically powered, though George Stoll, president, has a handful of electric conversion models for smaller pick-up trucks that manage touch-up jobs.

He’s plowing big snow, salting major expanses – mainly municipal accounts. So his needs are different than a contractor who will provide snow services to a few neighborhoods of landscape clients.

His advice when buying spreaders: Know your materials usage, and be careful not to underestimate your spreading capacity. Stoll is running 10-yard spreaders, “We do highway roads,” he says. “But (buying up) can’t hurt. Know how much material you’ll need. You don’t want to do a lot that needs 4 yards of salt spread with a 1½-yard spreader.”

Power is also a major concern for Stoll. Hydraulic-powered spreaders suit his operation for a couple of reasons. “As long as that truck is running, the hydraulic system is running and we don’t have to worry about blowing a fuse in the (vehicle’s) electrical box or running out of gas if it’s a gas-powered motor,” he says. “With hydraulic, you hit a button and you’re working.”

Schill runs a combination of hydraulic tailgate and electric-powered insert spreaders. The insert models are convenient for trucks that work several jobs.

“We can quickly switch the truck over from summer maintenance into winter snow service, and we like the center discharge on the insert spreaders because the discharge is set pretty low to the ground,” Dickey says, noting that the excess salt spray is minimized this way.

But as Stoll notes, hydraulic power is literally turnkey: When the truck is on, the spreader is ready to operate. There’s no extra electrical drain on the truck either. “If you are relying on a truck’s electrical system to power the plow, to power the truck and then to power the salter, that’s an awful lot,” he says.

Still, the electric motor drives are convenient, flexible (it’s fairly easy to remove those insert spreaders), and cost-effective. And, you don’t have to add the extra vehicle expense of getting hydraulic controls.

Keepin’ Up. Spreader construction plays into maintenance requirements – and equipment longevity. There’s a big cost factor here, too. As Stoll points out, “You get what you pay for.”

Spreaders face the toughest elements, so Stoll invests in stainless steel and galvanized components wherever he can. He is also gradually phasing in auger-drive spreaders as he replaces the equipment. (He still has many chain-drive units in the field.)

“With the auger-drive, instead of four bearings (as with a chain drive) you have one,” he says. “You have no take-up slack adjusters, and as long as you have a good maintenance and cleaning program in place, that auger will last you forever. You’ll never have to worry about a slight bending in the chain causing the spreader to jam up.”

Dickey says that his team replaces drive chains every two years, no matter what. It’s part of their maintenance practice. That means properly cleaning spreaders and tending to their hard-working components (replacing chains, cleaning the hopper after use, greasing those moving parts).

Stoll also likes the enclosed spreader so no material drops down onto the driveline, air cans or U-joints. “That way, excess product doesn’t rot out your truck,” he says. “In a chain drive, all the residual material drops down on everything – electrical wiring, everything.”


The author is a freelancer based in Cleveland.