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Claremont public works idea wins state award

  • Bruce Therrien cleans up his workspace at the City of Claremont’s Department of Public Works, where he has worked for 43 years, on Thursday, July 21, 2022. Therrien, who was part of the team that won the Better Mouse Trap contest, is working on adapting a used piece of equipment that will lay down road shoulder material after paving, saving the city over $60,000 for the cost of a new machine. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Valley News — James M. Patterson

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    Ted Wadleigh, assistant director of public works, left, and shop foreman Warren Mordenti, right, were part of a team from the City of Claremont’s Department of Public Works that adapted a truck mounted salt and sand spreader to fill the hopper of a smaller sidewalk spreader mounted to a skid-steer. The product of their work won the New Hampshire Build a Better Mousetrap Innovation Competition which recognizes projects that "increase safety, reduce cost, improve efficiency, or improve the quality of transportation," in roadway maintenance. “The guys in the shop are smart and creative and always doing something ingenious," said Wadleigh on Thursday, July 21, 2022. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Valley News —James M. Patterson

Valley News Correspondent
Published: 7/24/2022 11:01:20 PM
Modified: 7/24/2022 10:58:18 PM

CLAREMONT — As the familiar saying goes, to come up with a new idea you sometimes have to think outside the box; or in this case, outside the hopper.

Filling the small sand and salt spreader hopper on the back of the city’s two sidewalk Bobcats when there is snow and ice can be hazardous with the ever-present risk of injury. But now, with a new design that recently won a statewide award, hoppers will be filled faster with a reduced risk of injury to the operator.

“Before, they were getting in the back of a dump truck and shoveling salt, sand or a combination of both into the sander of the sidewalk machine,” Ted Wadleigh, assistant director of the Claremont Department of Public Works, said.

Depending on the conditions, Wadleigh said either the operator of the truck or the sidewalk sander, would have to climb a ladder into the truck numerous times as they work to clear ice and snow from the city’s 36 miles of sidewalk. Now, when sidewalk Bobcat operators call for more material, a small truck arrives, maneuvers into place and using controls in the truck funnels the material directly into the hopper in about 30 seconds with neither worker having to exit their cab.

“We came up with this,” Wadleigh said, standing before a previously unused hopper in the city’s DPW yard. “It is a repurpose of an old sander we had. All we did was weld a chute on the back. We had to change the chain (on the conveyor) and some hydraulic components. So now we can effectively fill up the sidewalk hopper safely and faster.”

Though it only took about five minutes before to shovel material into the hopper, which is about a third of a cubic yard, it is less than a minute now with significantly reduced risk.

“The biggest piece of this is the safety aspect,” Alex Gleeson, DPW’s director, said. “The operator had to get out in the middle of the night in inclement weather to shovel it out.”

Climbing in and out of the vehicle presented the potential for falls and shoveling the material could also risk back injury, he said.

“We have had some close calls,” Gleeson said. “With this there is less chance for back injury, slips and falls on glare ice or getting hit by a vehicle.”

The department, which completed the design in late winter, submitted it to the University of New Hampshire T2 Build a Better Mousetrap competition in May and was selected last month as the winner among several entries in the Pioneer Award category. The award looks for “a locally relevant product/tool that is among the first to solve a maintenance problem with a homegrown solution.”

Claremont’s entry was selected as the winner “for its low-cost (reused materials), innovative approach to improving safety and efficiency in winter operations,” Marilee Enus, with the UNH Technology Transfer Center, said in an email. “Winter operations are a significant aspect of the work that New Hampshire’s dedicated highway and public works professionals do for our municipalities, and this innovation has the opportunity to help many other teams in their winter sidewalk maintenance operations as it did the Claremont team.”

The competition emphasizes creativity and low costs over spending a lot time or money on new products and Claremont’s entry fits both those criteria. The team of Wadleigh, Bruce Therrien and Warren Mordenti used scrap metal and an old damaged V-box salt spreader.

“It is about reusing what you have and trying to make it better,” said Wadleigh.

Wadleigh said the team of three spent about 12 hours fabricating the chute and doing other work with a total cost of no more than $700.

Gleeson added that the competition challenges entrants to “recycle what they have.”

“It is a simple but effective idea that will go a long way toward saving manpower and reducing risk.”

Claremont’s idea has been submitted to the national competition with the Federal Highway Administration’s Build a Better Mousetrap program.

Gleeson said that while this innovation won an award, his mechanics are always looking at ways to improve operations.

“It is common among the mechanics in the shop that if people have a good idea, let’s run with it and try it out,” Gleeson said.

A video of the new hopper in action is on the Facebook page: UNH T2 Center LTAP.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at

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