Bringing out the big guns... ‘Mad Max’
Inside Madison County’s secret snow weapon
ENNIS—They call him Mad Max.
Madison County’s District 3, which includes Ennis, Big Sky, Cameron and the surrounding areas, is home to a piece of equipment few other counties in Montana are fortunate enough to have. New, they cost somewhere around $3 million. Madison County got Mad Max for a song.
“The guy selling it just didn’t know what he had,” says Hugh Croy, one of District 3’s road crew members who spends his winter days making sure county residents can get where they’re going safely. “We had to do a lot of work on it, but it’s hard to find even a used one for less than $1 million.”
Mad Max is a snow blower, but not the kind you’d use in your yard. With 1000 horsepower—650 in the rotor in the front that crushes through snowdrifts and 350 more in the vehicle’s engine—it can toss snow and debris up to 150 feet through an adjustable flute.
The District 3 crew, headed by Foreman Roy Hill, work throughout the year to make sure Max is ready when he’s needed. After purchasing the machine three years ago, they completely refitted its body, painted it bright orange, made some necessary repairs and christened it “Mad Max.”
“When the wind comes up and things are in danger of getting really bad, that’s when we pull this out,” says Hill. They’ve had Mad Max out every day, all day for most of the past two weeks. Where he goes depends on where the combination of wind and snow creates the largest, most impermeable snowdrifts. Last week, that was Jeffers Loop Road, where Max sliced through snowdrifts that were four feet tall—created by one of the county’s newer snowplows that also cost nearly $1 million by itself.
Max slices through the drifts with his rotor, breaking them down and shooting the snow—along with the occasional rock—into a neighboring snow-covered field.
“You can see marks out there where it’s caught a rock,” says Croy. “There’s a reason the sign says to stay 100 feet back. That rotor could chew up a small car.”
But, he says, when it’s bad for drivers, it’s also bad for road crews. That’s why it’s so important that drivers leave crews enough space to drive snowplows and other equipment, especially on days with low visibility and snow-covered roads.
“Some days, we’ll be out here wearing three pairs of sunglasses trying to change the glare on the roads,” says Croy. “If it’s bad for you, it’s bad for us.”
But just maybe, having Mad Max around makes things a little better. One thing’s for sure: Madison County is getting its money’s worth out of this investment many times over.