Preparing for winter. It’s a rite of passage here in New England. Finding those snow shovels you’ve buried somewhere in the shed. Hauling out that bucket of sand that’s been sprouting a patch of grass over the last three seasons. And above all, making sure that the snow blower is ready to go before the snow flies. These are all tasks best completed in the fall – while you can still feel your fingers and before icicles form on the tip of your nose. You did complete all that preparation ahead of time this year, didn’t you?
Of course, you did. But not I! While I successfully uncovered the shovels and the sand in November, it was only a few days ago – as we sit here in January – that I rolled out the snow blower. And only because we were expecting the third real snowstorm of this early winter – in less than 24 hours. I’m a slow learner.
Now mind you, this snow blower is an old friend of mine. Twenty years ago, he entered our lives on a high note, when my neighbor and I chipped in $1,200 to purchase the old guy together. It was a shiny red Toro, with posi-traction wheels, five forward speeds, two reverse speeds, and an assortment of other manly options. It could slice a 24-inch wide path through the heaviest snow, as easily as a hot knife through butter. We even built a little shed for it, a veritable masterpiece of architecture constructed entirely of pallets that straddled both our properties. It was a beautiful machine. The only thing it lacked was a name. We just called him…“The Snow Blower”. That had a nice ring to it.
Several years into our ownership of The Snow Blower, a crisis developed. As popular as it was with us, that snow blower was even more popular with the local mouse population. Without even a discussion about rental fees, a family of the little rodents took up residence under the engine cover. They built a nest packed so tightly with grass clippings and assorted materials from several stuffed animals in the shed that the engine overheated and threw a rod during that first snowstorm. I finished moving the eighteen inches of snow from that storm with my trusty shovel.
The next day, we hauled the machine down to our local Toro dealer, where they put in a brand new engine – for only $400. However, that new engine wasn’t nearly as powerful as the old one. We were never again able to blast snow twenty feet across the driveway. More often than not, it just dribbled out the chute. So much for replacement parts… And we had now put $1,600 total into our $1,200 snow blower.
Of course, we only encountered mechanical problems whenever we really needed to use the snow blower. Like the year we sheared off a cotter pin, which prevented the auger from turning. A thirty-cent part that again left me shoveling fifteen inches of snow, during that year’s first snowstorm. A few years later, one of the belts gave way – and we spent four hour pulling the thing apart to find and change that belt. This was of course, after an hour spent trying to locate an open hardware store the day of that 20-inch blizzard – which I ended up shoveling by hand too.
And then, my neighbor move away. Our deal was that whoever remained would pay the other guy $300, for his partial ownership in the snow blower. Just a few more bucks of mine sucked into that cursed machine. But now I owned it all by myself. There wasn’t really any consolation in that…
For the next ten years, since the snow blower was more a pain than not, I pretty much shoveled the driveway by hand – all two hundred feet of it and all uphill. I rationalized that it was good exercise. Usually, if my neighbor across the road saw me struggling during a particularly brutal storm, he’d run his snow plow down the driveway, saving me about two hours of work in just under two minutes. That’s what good neighbors do. But I always hated to impose on him, because he was already busy enough plowing out six family properties each and every storm.
And that’s why, this weekend, when we were expecting up to a foot of snow, I thought the morning before the storm would be as good a time as any to get the snow blower ready once again. I dragged it out of the shed (a new Rubbermaid shed these days; the ‘pallet palace’ had long ago given its life to the carpenter ants) and set it up in front of the garage, so it would be ready to just zip down the driveway next morning.
But alas, as I stood out there in the five-degree temperature, alternating between the electric starter and a few hundred manual pulls of the engine, it became apparent that the old boy wasn’t going to turn over for me that day. And maybe never again. The engine coughed a few times and sparked up once, but it just didn’t catch. I fooled with the choke, the key, the spark plug, the fuel regulator – every gauge and lever on the thing. All to no avail. It was almost as if the old boy was saying “Look, I’m old. Just leave me here to die.” So I covered it with a tarp that night, leaving it outside, where I’d probably pulled its starter cord for the last time.
Sure enough, our three-day storm whipped in that night. And I got out there with the shovel, making a first pass at shoveling the driveway by hand. When darkness fell, I went out to shovel again, as the snow continued to fall. And again the next day. Now shoveling is great exercise, but truthfully, I’m getting just a bit too old for this crap.
Sometime next spring would probably be an appropriate time for me to fit the ol’ snow blower up for a coffin and bury it deep. And then invest in a plow or a new snow blower to get me through the next decade or so. Because the only plowing I’d like to do after that is to plow my feet in the sand on some sun-drenched Caribbean beach – and enjoy winter without snow for a change. Until a hurricane blows through…
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