The Free Press, Mankato, MN

February 25, 2014

Sweet corn trucks are night's fleet for snow

At $10,000 a night, snow removed to clear downtown roads, sidewalks

By Dan Linehan

---- — When the snow crowds out sidewalks, streets and storefronts, the city of Mankato calls Jason Schroepfer.

For more than 30 years, Schroepfer, Inc., from Comfrey has herded a small fleet of trucks into downtown Mankato in the dead of night. They’re gone before most drivers hit the road.

In a given night, they haul the rough equivalent of perhaps five Olympic-sized pools off to a farm field on the north edge of town. The operation costs about $10,000 a night, but it’s essential if downtown sidewalks are to remain usable.

“Downtown businesspeople definitely want us to do this,” said Jim Braunshausen, deputy director of public works. “It really cleans up the downtown.”

It’s happened twice so far this season, which has been slightly snowier than average. Forty-seven inches has fallen on Mankato so far this winter, he said. According to the Midwestern Regional Climate Center, Mankato saw an average of 41.3 inches of snow a year between 1984 and 2000.

Another haul is slated to begin Wednesday night, though in this case the city will be using its own vehicles and employees.

That saves money, but it takes a day of preparation to convert the city’s trucks into snow haulers, he said.

Schroepfer said his father started doing this work around 1982. Since then, the partnership has saved the city plenty of money in labor costs, he said.

His company is in the trucking business, and for this job he relies on sweet corn trucks and the moonlighting farmers who drive them.

The operation starts when the snow is plowed into rows in the middle of the street. Then, a massive snowblower loads the trucks. An individual truck (about 10 are used) can be filled quickly, in only a few minutes, but will make about 40 or 50 trips a night, Braunshausen said.

If each truck held 40 cubic yards of snow and made 45 trips a night, it would move 1,800 cubic yards a night. If 10 trucks did the same work, they would move 486,000 cubic feet of snow — or more than five pools with a depth of two meters.

The snow ends up in a giant pile near Industrial Road, next to a BMX track.

The works begins around midnight, when traffic is sparse, and wraps up before 7 a.m. It’s limited to the downtown area — between Madison Avenue and Liberty Street and Riverfront Drive to Broad Street. To get cars off the road, the city calls a “downtown snow emergency.”

North Mankato tackles the downtown snow problem a bit differently, in that it uses its own trucks. And instead of calling snow emergencies, it puts up signs a day before the snow is to be removed.

“You can shove it in the boulevard, but in the valley downtown, the boulevards only take so much,” Public Works Director Brad Swanson said. If they didn’t haul the snow out, it would eventually crowd out pedestrians and parking spots, he said.

North Mankato deposits snow at the city shop, at 610 Webster Avenue.