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Sunday, December 14, 2008  

Three Decades of Snow Removal (Part II)

I didn't want the snowblower. It was Trash who made me get it. Just as ministers' kids have a reputation for being hellions, I have a manifest distrust of internal combustion engines, and don't want to have to own any more of them than is absolutely necessary. I just hate the expense and inconvenience of maintaining them, and the frustration I feel when they inevitably quit working. I even cut my grass with an old reel lawnmower that belonged to my grandfather. It's older than John McCain, but guess how many times it's broken down?

In 1994, we went to Las Vegas, where we basked in the sun on the roof of the Union Plaza. The next day I was shoveling snow out of our driveway. Same deal when we went to Mexico the next year, and seemingly every other warm-weather vacation after that. Finally Trash got tired of me having to spend one to two hours outside every time it snowed, and insisted on investing in the snowblower.

Which broke down after the very first time I used it.

I realize it was my fault. It seems you have to mix a little engine oil in with the gas before you put it in the tank. Well, I didn't have any engine oil, and it was dark and cold, and I couldn't get my car out to shop for some anyway, so I figured, heck, what harm can one session on pure gas do? Plenty, as I learned a couple of weeks later when I was helping my dad overhaul the engine in his garage. You know how people who've had their cars repaired after an accident say it's never the same? Well, I can't really say that, since I didn't have much of a pre-breakdown standard to compare it to, but it was always pretty rickety after that. I remember spending one frigid evening in the garage, trying to replace a tiny little engine part that looked like a pencil tip that I'd had to pick up from an outer-ring suburb for about thirty dollars. I actually spent very little time replacing it and a great deal of time fishing it out of the tiny spaces where my frozen fingers had dropped it. After several years I just gave up on the thing and got a new one. I gave the old one to my dad, who at the time was clearing his own driveway with a tractor attachment and probably used my machine to clear sawdust off the floor of his pole barn.

The new one has worked out much better. In fact, I haven't had the cover off of it once. It's done its best work over the past few years, when I just leave the garage unlocked and the gas/oil tank next to the snowblower so the neighbor kid could come over and fire it up whenever we had a blizzard.

But now the neighbor kid is off to college, and this past weekend, the discharge chute on the front just fell clean off when I was in the middle of clearing the front sidewalk. In case you don't know what a discharge chute is because you live in a climate that's fit for humans, it's the part of the snowblower that allows you to direct where the snow goes when it gets picked up from the pavement. Without it, the snow simply flies straight up into the air. Which is fine, as long as you don't have a big area to cover. You just do it quickly and hurry back inside before the snow comes back down again.

I called the help line that's printed on the sticker attached to the snowblower, to see if I could order a replacement chute. The help line is open during business hours, Monday through Friday. This was on Saturday morning. Well, how were they supposed to know that it was going to snow on the weekend?

Monday morning, I sort of got through to an automated line that would only recognize the numbers I was pushing if I mashed them down in long, repeated bursts. Which made entering my zip code problematic, unless I wanted to move to Young America. I ended up just finding the number for a local dealer, who referred me to a distributor, who referred me to a parts warehouse, who gave me the part number, which allowed me to order a new chute online my own damn self. And then we got half a foot of snow that night before it was even shipped.

I was still hopeful I could work around it, though. I still had the old chute. I had a roll of duct tape. Unfortunately, that fell through. Even after scraping away the ice and snow, there wasn't enough surface area to tape the old chute back into place. And then the blade wouldn't work either, but I'll worry about that once I get the new chute delivered and installed.

So there was nothing for it but to get out there with a shovel. The neighbors (actually, their houseguest) had done part of it early that morning, so that helped. I had always thought that a nice thing about telecommuting was that I'd be able to clear the driveway out during the day, instead of always having to wait until I got home at night. I forgot to factor in having a broken snowblower. Which I'm used to not having to do.

The new discharge chute arrived a few days ago, but I haven't put it on yet. As of this writing, it's snowing outside. But this isn't a light, easily moved powder. It's a frozen, sticky spackle that doesn't cover the ground so much as laminate it. So I'm sitting safely inside my warm house, dreading tomorrow, when I'm going to have to quit putting it off and fix the snowblower.

But there's another advantage of being a telecommuter. I can bring the snowblower into the kitchen and fix it there, because Trash will be at the office. It's all about finding the upside.

posted by M. Giant 4:27 PM 4 comments


Thank you for reminding me why we live in the Pacific Northwest. Once or twice a year it snows a few inches so the kids can run out and make a (usually smallish) snowman, and then we're done with it for the year. Living in a rain forest does have some disadvantages, it's true (ummm... yes, it rains a lot) but no one is ever out there shoveling up the rainfall.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at December 15, 2008 at 8:02 AM  

I suspect that this is the appropriate time to yammer on and on about living in Sydney, Australia - where it has never been known to snow. Ever. So yes, the downside is that it gets really hot sometimes during the summer and there are cockroaches that are THIS BIG and can fly. But no snow.
I'm loving it.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at December 15, 2008 at 3:27 PM  

I was missing the upper midwest and cursing the weather here lately (73 degrees with HIGH humidity - I hate humidity), but you've reminded me that there are upsides to living in South Carolina. I could have lived without yesterday's earthquake (we live a mile from where two faults meet), but at least it is better than shoveling snow, slipping on ice, and paying exorbitant gas bills to heat the house.

Thank you for reminding me of my blessings

By Blogger Bunny, at December 17, 2008 at 6:32 AM  

Sadly, Anonymous1, as you know, this year has been brutal for snowfall. And of course, no one in the whole city owns a snowblower. I'm surprised no 'neighbour kid' has had the entrepreneurial spirit to get a loan from his parents, buy one from Canadian Tire and make a killing. I guess the problem is that because the cities don't have snowplows, no one can get to a store to buy a snowblower...

By Anonymous Anonymous, at January 4, 2009 at 10:31 AM  

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