We have been gritting contractors for the local authority for over 30 years, at one time we had nearly 30 items of plant on the winter maintenance list, including 6×6 motorway gritters, side ploughs, ploughs, snow blowers, wheeled loaders, crawler loaders and tipping vehicles fitted with snow ploughs.

During the winters of the 1970s and 80s they were all hired regularly, clearing the four trans Pennine passes in our area, Buckstones, Standedge, Isle of Skye and Holme Moss but also working out in Kirklees East, the Batley and Dewsbury area from our point of view though, the Colne Valley area was our priority.

Nowadays only six vehicles are called upon with only four routes between them, these cover over 80 miles of priority routes, these routes are rigidly adhered to without deviation. The gritters are calibrated to spread between 15 and 40 grams of salt per square metre of road, 40 grams being the maximum allowed, usually in snow conditions, 15 grams is a miniscule amount and spread over 1 square of road is barely visible. If you can, imagine a vehicle trying to clear both sides of 80 mile of road in snow conditions, thats 160 miles of hills, country roads, trans Pennine passes and village centres, it is an impossible task, add then rush hour traffic, grid locked, trapping the gritter in constant queues, all the while the snow is falling on these 80 miles of road, covering the salted road within a very short time.

The local paper headlines the next day? Gritters caught out again! The reality is that we are very, very rarely caught out, it is the task that is impossible, particularly with the volume of traffic present on todays roads. There are times when, at our location in the hills, it is snowing and at lower levels it is raining and we can’t get permission to turn out, without permission we cannot, indeed, must not turn out, very frustrating, especially when local people point the finger of blame at us, we have not got any input into time, frequency or location location that gritting takes place, we can only do what we are told when we are told.

After a heavy snow, side or secondary roads are cleared. Just as each vehicle is allocated a fixed priority route, each priority route is split into sectors and cleared a sector at a time, however telephone complaints to Kirklees (not to us!) are also dealt with wherever possible, this sector method should ensure that everywhere gets cleared, the reality is that parking problems caused by poor and selfish parking means that we frequently can’t get through many roads, a snow plough is 10ft wide, it needs a wider gap than other vehicles, this in turn leads to other complaints of uncleared roads, to make matters worse, when it snows an awful lot of motorists cant be bothered to clear their own drive and park on it, they leave their car in the road adding to the usual parking problems.

As you may have gathered gritting isn’t straight forward, another problem is the actual grit, grit is just rock rock salt, nothing else, it dissolves in water which is why it disappears after we have applied it, rock salt also freezes in sub zero temperatures, the salt will freeze solid in the gritter body or on the stock pile, this causes immense problems for the gritter operator, with the salt refusing to exit the gritter body, once on the road surface the salt is much less effective at very low temperatures. You may have seen the grids on top of gritter bodies, well one of the reasons for these grids is to prevent large pieces of frozen rock salt entering the body and subsequently blocking the belt or chute.

I keep seeing gritters gritting in the rain I hear you say, well yes, you do occasionally, unfortunately weather forecasting is not a precise art, all of the Kirklees area responds to the same forecast, the trouble is that rain in the Holme Valley can be snow in the Colne Valley, snow at 800ft is rain at 600ft, clear spells in broken cloud can lead to frost and ice in Marsden but not in Slaithwaite. A forecast that says rain will clear by 7.00pm may be true in Denby Dale but not in Golcar, unfortunately we have to be given a start time, someone has to make a decision and with the best will in the world mistakes will be made.

Our men and machines are on call 24 hours a day from November to mid April, if a vehicle breaks down late at night we have to be able to repair it or swop it, we spend a lot of time and money maintaining these vehicles both in and out of season to keep them as reliable as possible, we only run premium heavy vehicles, Foden and Erf, they aren’t new but they are reliable, we would like to run newer vehicles, unfortunately the income doesnt justify the expense, we only get paid when we are working, no cold weather equals no work equals no income, there is no guaranteed return from these vehicles.

To Be Continued