Scandia City Council member Patti Ray was scrolling through Twitter in December when she started seeing tweets about Scotland’s snowplows.
Each of the 230 plows in Transport Scotland’s fleet has a name. They hold contests to name them, and they are just as punny and clever as one might expect.
There’s Sir Salter Scott, Megameltasaurus and Mr. Plow. For movie fans, there’s Buzz Iceclear, Snow-be-gone Kenobi, For Your Ice Only and License to Chill. Music fans might like Sled Zeppelin, Spready Mercury and Sweet Child O’ Brine.
In Scotland, they call their snowplows “gritters” because they mostly spread sand and grit. Many names are a takeoff on “grit,” including Grit Expectations, Gritty Gritty Bang Bang, Gritney Spears and Gritter Thunberg.
Ray — and officials from the Minnesota Department of Transportation — thought the naming of snowplows should be brought to this side of the pond.
“I thought, ‘Scandia is full of witty and clever people. We could do this,’” Ray said. “I figured it would be a great little distraction during this long, pandemic winter.”
Scandia, in northern Washington County, has three snowplows. The city put out a call for names and received 130 suggestions. The city’s public-works employees highlighted the ones they especially liked, and then the Scandia Tourism Committee “painstakingly narrowed the list down to the best 35 names,” Ray said.
Now, the city is asking for help in picking the three winners. Anyone can vote for their top three names; voting ends Feb. 25.
“No More Mr. Ice Guy is right up there at the top,” Ray said. “And Dala Dozer and, of course, Ole, Lena and Sven.”
About 200 people, from as far away as Sweden and Wyoming, have voted. “I liked Bette Davis Ice,” Ray said on Tuesday as she scrolled through the list. “There is Salty Dog. Snowzilla is right up there. So is Vinter Vengeance — spelled with Vs — because we call winter ‘vinter’ because of our Swedish heritage.”
Speaking of that Swedish heritage, Flicka, Ricka and Dicka are on the list. Those are the names of fictional triplets depicted in a series of children’s books by Swedish author/illustrator Maj Lindman. Carl, August and Oscar also made the cut; Carl Fernstrom, August Sandahl, and Oscar Roos were the first pioneers of Swedish descent to settle in the area.
Winners will get “bragging rights for being the most witty and clever among us” and the honor of seeing their name affixed to the snowplow, Ray said.
When MnDOT officials solicited names for plows in December, they didn’t know what to expect. They received more than 24,000 submissions.
“The response has been overwhelming,” said Jake Loesch, MnDOT’s director of communications and public engagement. “We thought it was a great idea in what has been a really challenging year for so many people. It was just something fun and lighthearted that we could do.”
MnDOT officials narrowed down the list to 50 names. “It wouldn’t have been practical for people to sort through thousands of them to pick their favorites,” Loesch said.
“I’m already anticipating that a lot of people who submitted ideas they were really excited about will be bummed when those aren’t on the final list of 50,” he said. “Ultimately, there were just way too many good names for us to include them all.”
Among the submissions were a number of Minnesota-themed names, according to Loesch. “We got a lot of plays on Minnesota Twins players’ names,” he said. “There was Joe Plow-er, Justin More-snow, Kent Brrr-bek.”
Prince got some love with Raspberry Brrr-et and Purple Snow. Other names of note: F. Salt Fitzgerald, Duck Duck Orange Truck and Lake Snow-be-gone, Loesch said.
MnDOT, which has more than 800 snowplows in its fleet, plans to name eight of them — one in each district in the state. Starting this week, people will be able to vote on their top eight names. The winning names will be announced within the next few weeks, Loesch said, and the names should be on the plows by March.
Loesch is hoping that one of the newly named snowplows might be on display this summer at the Minnesota State Fair. He also is hoping that the naming contest might become an annual event.
One day, as in Scotland, the named plows might even be able to be tracked online via GPS.
“We figured we would start by getting the names on, but (tracking) may well be something we can incorporate on 511,” he said.
Other state transportation departments have launched their own snowplow naming contests, including Michigan and South Dakota, but Loesch believes Minnesota was first in the U.S. He said he has been interviewed by news agencies in Scotland, including the Scotsman and the Glasgow Times.
“We don’t always, at MnDOT, get a chance to do fun things,” Loesch said. “A lot of times we’re the ones inconveniencing people, so, in this case, it has been fun to have the feedback from folks and the good ideas.
“After some of the really horrifying stories we’re seeing from Texas and other places right now, I think we’re more grateful than ever for the snowplow crews we have and the equipment we have to get people around this time of year,” he said.