Before the snowplow, there was the bombardier

Before the snowplow, some children took the bombardier to school – an enclosed tracked vehicle that could travel across the snow.

I began attending Colgate School in Grade 1 (there was no kindergarten in those days) in the fall of 1955. The school was a brand new seven-classroom building that had just opened the previous winter. The school was also part of a brand new initiative of the Saskatchewan Government called “Centralized Schools,” where several rural one-room schoolhouses were amalgamated, and students were bussed to a centralized location.

Bussing, in rural Saskatchewan, in 1955 had the additional challenge of country roads that tended to become blocked whenever it snowed. The use of snowplows had not yet become widespread, so the solution was an enclosed tracked vehicle that could travel across the snow-covered landscape.

The Radville School Unit used bombardiers (pronounced “bom-ba-deer,” manufactured by a Quebec company called Bombardier (“bom-bard-yeah”).

The winter of 1995-56 was a particularly stormy one. I rode this vehicle for three months with Art Mackay as driver. Because of the desire to keep the vehicle as lightly loaded as possible, the routing was arranged so that I ended up being first on and last off. I travelled about 90 minutes at each end of the day, even though I only lived three miles from school.

Photos from Chris Boyle’s family photo album.

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The Bombardier had bench seats on each side and across the back of the cabin. It also had a centre seat that we called the horsey seat. There was also a passenger seat at the front beside the driver. Because of my first-on/last-off status, I had the privilege to ride there!

There were adventures: like a broken fan belt on a bitterly cold morning – no phones or radios, so we had to wait three hours until we were missed and they came looking for us. Also, the rounded front end was designed to plow through new snow drifts on the route. One morning we came up out of a gully at full speed and hit a concrete-hard drift that had formed overnight. I remember flying forward in the passenger seat.

By the winter of 1956/57, snowplows had become more numerous, and the bombardiers were used far less frequently.

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