Have you ever wondered how townspeople traveled around town in the early 1900s when it snowed? Did they just stay home? Before automobiles were popular, before there was a snow plow, when most travel was still done with horses, towns like Westford used snow rollers.
The snow roller is an interesting piece of transportation history. They are built with an iron core and wood panels around the wheel. Attached is a seat for the driver. Typically, oxen pulled the rollers, but horses were also used. The roller would pack down the snow on the roads so that horse and sleighs could travel on the roads. This contrasts with a snow plow that cleared the roads of all snow, which would be easier for automobiles. As there weren’t many automobiles in Westford in the early 20th century, the snow roller was a better option. Rollers could also be used on a farm as a seeder, one Vermonter used his to help plant oats. Snowrollers were popular pieces of equipment in the northern parts of Vermont and New Hampshire. We have found only a few mentions of snow rollers in Massachusetts.
The Snow Roller Today
In May of 2022, Leslie Howard, President of the Westford Historical Society connected with some motivated and enthusiastic people, Jim and Nancy Beckwith of Phaze II Autobody and Mike Heffernan of Heffernan Build & Remodel. They were able to extract the snow roller and some of its accessories from the cellar of the “Scott Barn” on Forge Village Road and transport it to the Historical Society grounds.
Fall of 2022, Westford Historical Society, Board Member, Steven “Beaver” Rogers started restoring the Antique Snow Roller and we hope to have it restored and on display at the Westford Museum by the Summer of 2023.
We need your help, please consider making a donation towards the Westford Museum’s Snow Roller Restoration Fund today. We thank you for your generous support.
Help restore the Westford Museum’s Antique Snowroller
The following is a story about a wonderful couple from Westford and the legacy they left our town through their snow roller. I want to introduce you to David and Agnes Scott. By Leslie Howard, President, Westford Historical Society
David Scott was born in 1897 in Carnoustie, Scotland. The 1940 United States census indicates he only finished school through the 8th grade. On July 1, 1913, David arrived in Boston from Scotland on the ship Numidian. He was listed as traveling with a friend, John Scott. He was 15 years old.
Agnes Kjelvik was also born in 1897, but in Norway. Shortly thereafter, she moved to Sweden. She came to the United States in 1914, landing in New York. Agnes’s original destination was the Midwest (North Dakota or Minnesota). She had relatives in Woburn and Carlisle, and thought she’d like to be close to them. Agnes intended to only stay a short while in the United States, as her trip was just for “killing time” before she could begin her next stage of schooling back in Sweden. World events interfered with her plans. Due to World War I, she was unable to return home to Europe. She saw a job listed to be a ladies maid for the Abiel J. Abbot family. Abiel J. Abbot, was President of Westford’s Abbot Worsted Mill. In 1917, during the Spanish Flu epidemic, she accompanied the Abbots on their trip to the South Seas, including Hawaii, Fiji, and New Zealand. The hotel at which they stayed in Fiji still exists. Abbot family postcards and photographs from the trip are in the J.V. Fletcher Library archives. An incredible opportunity for a young girl, their trip began with a train ride across the country to San Francisco.
As a ladies’ maid, Agnes said she would take care of Mrs. Abbot’s clothes, pressing and sewing them. During the South Seas trip, she also helped Mr. Abbot. After the trip, she lived in the Abbot house on the corner of Main Street and Graniteville Road. It was there that she met and fell in love with David Scott, the Abbot’s chauffeur.
Agnes and David married on April 12, 1919 in Woburn at her cousin’s house. When they were first married, the young couple rented an apartment from the Seavey Family on Main Street in Westford, near the library. They purchased the Oren Coolidge House, at 17 Forge Village Road, in 1923.
After his time with the Abbots, David Scott became a farmer owning several horses, cows, and pigs. On the property was a milk house.
Continuing their service to the town and country, on February 16, 1942, at the age of 44, David Scott registered for the draft. Agnes also worked at Fort Devens during the war. Their children, Margaret and David, were plane spotters. Along with several other children in town, they would take turns sitting in the cupola of Town Hall trying to spot enemy planes.
They led a quiet but involved life, touching the lives of many in town. David Scott passed away in 1971. Agnes Scott lived to be 101, and died in December 1998.
Snow Rollers in Westford
In 1902, Westford’s Selectmen voted unanimously to use snow rollers, saying they “made a good road,” but were impractical, except for main highways and villages. There are articles in the Westford Wardsman that mention the roller and frustration by some of the residents, or at least the journalist! Saturday, February 23, 1907: “The snow roller for our roads has been tried before a jury of 2600 people recently, and while in all probability the jury will not return a unanimous verdict in its favor at the annual meeting in March, yet there is one of this jury that is so unanimous in its favor that he will vote away the people’s money to build another.” At the 1908 Town Meeting, the town appropriated $250 for 2 snow rollers. A year later, in March 1909, the town dismissed the article that would have appropriated funds to purchase a third roller. On Saturday, April 10, 1909, the newspaper reported, “One of the expensive snow rollers built for the town two years ago is being sheltered from the wear, tear and warping of the weather by the sky that is stretched over Westford Corner… It is reported that Chelmsford wants to buy a roller. Why not push this roller over the line, and tell Chelmsford folks to help themselves? It will save our repairing the roof where it is housed.”
In 1910, the Wardsman reported “effective work” done by Mr. Frank Miller of the Highway Department. He used 4 horses to pull the roller. The last Wardsmen mention of the roller is in February of 1916, with Superintendent Alex McDonald operating it. Town reports do not differentiate between funds used to pay for the snow rolling and other labor.
The town of Westford used snow rollers for several years, but found them to be inefficient after a while. It is unclear exactly when the town stopped using snow rollers. The town’s rollers were much larger than the one owned by Mr. Scott. The rollers generally varied in size from 2 to 6 feet in diameter and from 4 to 12 feet in length. The larger the roller’s diameter, the greater the depth of snow it could handle. A roller could compact a snow accumulation roughly equal to half its diameter. The number of pairs of horses used depended on the terrain and depth of snow. For the larger rollers, two men would sit for safety and for a “change off.” Mr. Scott’s roller was not large enough for two men to sit. Mr. Scott’s roller is approximately 7 feet long and 3.5 feet in diameter (91 inches x 41 inches) and is considered a small roller. To us, this indicates that he probably built this or had it built for his personal use. His prior jobs as a chauffeur, farmer, and carpenter lend itself well to this indication. In Vermont, the towns would supply the roller and the men in different sections of town were supposed to use their own horses and keep their section of road clear.
It seems Mr. Scott also felt that he had a responsibility to keep his road clear for the residents. It was during the early 1920s that David Scott used his snowroller. Friends in town remember him rolling the snow on Forge Village Road all the way to the train station in Forge Village. He did this so neighbors could travel safely to greet their relatives arriving by train, and also to clear the roads for the Abbots and other mill employees to get to work safely. According to Ginny Moore, the Scotts thought honoring family was important so Mr. Scott probably rolled the roads of his own volition, not hired by the town.
When the roller was no longer used, the Scotts stored it in the basement of their barn. Here it stayed for many years. The story is that the town asked Mrs. Scott to store the roller in the barn, however, we have no record that this roller belonged to the town. Mrs. Scott always intended to donate the roller to the Westford Historical Society, but found removing the roller from the barn prohibitive. When the Eckergs purchased the property in the early 1990s, it became their intention to honor Mrs. Scott’s wish that the roller belong to the Historical Society.
From the Westford Wardsman, The Westford Wardsman was published weekly as part of Turner’s Public Spirit, an Ayer-based newspaper
Saturday January, 13, 1906.
About Town. The snow roller that the town voted at the last annual meeting is being built in the wheelwright shop of J. A. Walkden. The vote should be reconsidered or the weather reconstructed, to bring forth a blending of conditions. As the weather won’t mind us, it is moved to reconsider the vote until there is a snowstorm.
Saturday, February 23, 1907
The snow roller for our roads has been tried before a jury of 2600 people recently, and while in all probability the jury will not return a unanimous verdict in its favor at the annual meeting in March, yet there is one of this jury that is so unanimous in its favor that he will vote away the people’s money to build another. With wider roads at less expense the verdict should be an easy one for the jury to agree on.
Saturday, April 10, 1909
One of the expensive snow rollers built for the town two years ago is being sheltered from the wear, tear and warping of the weather by the sky that is stretched over Westford corner. This roof certainly didn’t leak much last summer, but it is hoped for the sake of farm crops, it will commence to leak more this season. It is reported that Chelmsford wants to buy a roller. Why not push this roller over the line, and tell Chelmsford folks to help themselves? It will save our repairing the roof where it is housed.
Saturday, January 1, 1910
We wonder if even the oldest inhabitant has anything to say just now about not having the winter weather that was experienced in former times. Sunday’s storm seemed the real thing. In places on our hill top, where the wind has full sweep, the drifts were something to be remembered. There were few pedestrians or teams out. All who could were glad to make it a fireside day. The board of selectmen and road superintendent Miller had several gangs of men out Monday shoveling and clearing roads, and Tuesday Mr. Miller had the snow roller with four horses abreast making rounds, and they did effective work. The car service on the branch line has been tied up and has been seriously missed
Saturday, January 20, 1912
Cameron school held but one session on Monday, owing to the snow storm. The town roller was at work to facilitate the traveling for the school children.
Saturday February 19, 1916
Storm. The hard snowstorm of last Saturday and Sunday proved the worst of the season, fully twelve inches of snow falling. There was cause for gratitude that there was no serious amount of wind to cause too heavy drifting. It was a hard proposition for the branch line electrics and the faithful crew worked valiantly up to their limit of strength until it was inadequate to the situation. About noon Sunday, Supt. McDonald, with the town teams, was called out and went over the route, but the body of snow, which was damp and freezing to the rails, was so much that it was not until Monday morning when Supt. Cushing had the big snow plow sent across the grade crossing at Brookside that the line was really cleared. Monday being town meeting day this was especially desirable. Supt. McDonald also did a good amount of work with the big snow roller purchased by the town some years ago, going over the roads.
FLORIAN WOITOWICZ (1921-2010 ) A great storyteller
June Kennedy, Recollections
The Trolley from Ayer & Snowplowing
I do remember the trolley cars. Just for a short time, because we used to take the trolley cars to go to a place to see a man that they called Sihan, which meant “gypsy.” He was a real horse-trader, at the time, but I don’t know what nationality he was. Probably a mixture of quite a few different nationalities, but he was quite a horse-trader. He would sell butter. But he mixed it with margarine. When margarine first came out, apparently, we knew nothing about it. And he would mix it. One time he got to feelin’ good over to our house, and tellin’ my father about it. And my father was quite put out because he used to buy butter from him. Ha- ha!
I remember the hill, Story Street, sometimes wouldn’t get plowed for three days in the wintertime. Sometimes Abbot Worsted had horses. A fella by the name of Lamy used to drive a pair o’ horses. They had also what they called an outside gang at Abbot Worsted. They maintained the roads, and the houses, and everything else. I have never seen ’em with a [snow] roller. I had seen ’em with a plow, a pointed plow that they would pull. And then they got the trucks later on, but I never saw ’em with a roller.