Laser-Guided Plow May Save Snowbound Mailboxes The public works crew in Hooksett, N.H., has a new high-tech weapon in its arsenal. The town is one of several around the country mounting lasers on its plow trucks. The lasers are designed to let the plow drivers take on the drifts without taking out mailboxes and other obstacles.
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Laser-Guided Plow May Save Snowbound Mailboxes

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Laser-Guided Plow May Save Snowbound Mailboxes

Laser-Guided Plow May Save Snowbound Mailboxes

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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The public works crew in Hooksett, New Hampshire, has acquired a new weapon in its snow removal arsenal - lasers. More from Elaine Grant.

ELAINE GRANT: It's 6 a.m. and 17 degrees.

Mr. SCOTT BROWN: I started at 4 o'clock this morning. This is our - I think our third time out.

GRANT: In sweatshirt and jeans, coffee cup by his side, driver Scott Brown sits a dozen feet up, a king looking down over his roads. As the wind gusts to 40 miles an hour, snow swirls, softening the snow banks and blending pavement and yard. On the front of his mammoth truck is an 11-foot blade; on the right is a second blade, 10 feet long. It's called the wing. Brown moves both with a bank of controls in the middle of the cab.

The end of the wing is behind the driver - one reason mailboxes become storm victims. Towns used to employ wingmen whose whole job was to watch the wing and help the driver avoid accidents. Now, without a wingman, a driver must be a bit of a contortionist.

Mr. BROWN: When you're trying to get back as far as you can, you're hunched over in the seat. You're not paying attention to what's in front of you. So if somebody stops or there's a spin-out in front of you and you don't see it in time, it could be a problem.

GRANT: But Brown no longer has to tie himself in knots. A vivid-green laser beam now guides his plow. From the top of his truck, the laser beams a line down through the snow six inches to the right of Brown's wing. The beam ends in a two-inch circle on the ground, 30 feet in front of the truck. Although the beam disappears in daylight, it's a huge help now, before sunrise. This ghostly ruler shows Brown exactly where to drive.

Mr. BROWN: I know that where that beam is, I have six inches from where the edge of my wing is. So as long as I keep that beam away from whatever it is -mailbox, curb - I know that I won't hit it.

GRANT: And that's important because taking out mailboxes? It's not exactly a career-making move.

Mr. BROWN: One of the guys that's no longer here actually took out, I dont know, I think it was 80-something mailboxes in one storm.

GRANT: Hooksett Public Works Director Dale Hemeon says the lasers don't simply save mailboxes; they could save lives. The beam lets a driver watch the road and avoid hitting a child or a dog running out from a driveway. Still, some townspeople have squawked at the $2,500 price tag. Those gripes don't seem to be shared at Robie's Country Store, where early risers gather.

Twins Roger and Robert Duhaine run their own, private plowing business. They say they have replaced their fair share of mailboxes. And so Roger, the boss, has a certain perspective on the laser and on the town's plow drivers.

Mr. ROGER DUHAINE: They have less excuses because why? Well, it's another tool to go, well, did the laser hit the mailbox? Well, then why did you hit the mailbox? That's a hard one to explain to the boss, right?

(Soundbite of laughter)

GRANT: Now that he's got a laser to guide him, Scott Brown is hoping he never has to have that conversation again.

For NPR News, I'm Elaine Grant in Concord, New Hampshire.

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