I’ve had rough snowblower karma, this winter.
First, my old and somewhat tired Toro seemed to be pooping out, getting constantly clogged in the deep snow, and finally, it wouldn't throw any snow at all. This seemed likely due to worn belts—an expected and routine issue, particularly for a 20-year-old machine, and it’s fair for such a machine to occasionally ask for new belts. But in researching “snowblower clogging” on the Internet, I was detoured by a lot of questionable related advice, and it was a little while before I came to this conclusion, and before someone who actually knows what he's doing came to another one.
The snow was getting deep, when all this was going down—when the machine stopped functioning at all. There were about two feet of it on the ground, and another foot expected. We were at that point in mid winter when the novelty of snow and its removal had worn off. Shoveling had ceased being an inventive form of exercise. The snow on the roof looked less like icing on a cake or a snugly blanket in a Norman Rockwell painting than it did like potential roof damage from ice dams. Two slates from my newly restored slate roof were on the ground, sticking out of a high snow drift. The snow had become tedious an inconvenient, and now, my snowblower had declined to the point where I had to shovel instead. And ouch, my back was tweaked, thanks to the perpetually returning wall of dead-heavy frozen ice and slush that the town plows were barricading my driveway with. I was in constant pain. I was crabby. And my snowblower wasn’t any help at all.
In denial about the cause of the snowblower's decline, I’d hoped that its issue was simply a combination of a rusty chute and maybe some ice getting where it shouldn’t. One bit of cheery folk wisdom I found is that car wax can improve a rusty snowblower chute, but it has to be applied where it’s warm. I don’t have a garage, so this meant the basement, and a very large amount of snow was blocking where the snowblower was to the outside entrance. So, dig, dig, dig, ouch, ouch, ouch, and finally, I managed to get the beast inside, to warm up.
I let it thaw for a day and applied some wax, despite my suspicion that this solution was just an old wives' tale. Then, I wheeled it out of the basement uphill to flat ground, and tried to start it, and then discovered that something had gone wrong with the starter; I pulled the rope, but it wasn’t connecting to the engine. Fortunately, it also has an electric start, so I used that, which worked, but then yet another issue presented itself: it would stall when I put it into gear.
I took the starter apart, found that its “dogs” had broken off and were lost in the deep snow somewhere. Bah. Replacing the starter is a task likely within my technical grasp, as is replacing a belt or two, but figuring out this business with it not going into gear was beyond me. So, I took a trip to a local repair shop, discussed my observations, and got the rough ballpark estimate that it wouldn’t cost less than $300 to fix. Which is coincidentally about what the machine of this vintage was worth, were I to buy it in perfectly working condition. Fixing it would require waiting for two weeks, and yet another major storm was to hit the next day.
Sigh. Okay, I was over the barrel. I’d buy a new snowblower and junk the Toro, which was a pity because when it was working, it seemed like a good machine. I liked it.
The trick was that nobody had any snowblowers in stock, at any price. There were even local newspaper articles discussing the regional shortage of snowblowers. Manufacturers produce them in the summer, and hope to just barely sell out, over the course of the year. But with the unusually high amount of snow, and the widespread phenomenon of people like me breaking their snowblowers, a shortage was at hand.
My dealer had one machine available, a Husqvarna that someone had purchased earlier that week, but didn’t like and immediately returned. But I’ve never really warmed to that brand. I have a chainsaw by them that seems okay, but my garden tractor has never impressed me, with a number of required major repairs and a generally clunky, inconvenient feel. But some research confirmed that there were no other machines to be had, so I decided to just go ahead and buy it. I just didn’t have any more shoveling in me.
The new snowblower was delivered, and after the new storm finished its white dark work, I set to clearing the new 18 inches or so. The Husqvarna felt a lot different than my old Toro. It was bigger, more powerful, more plasticy, and somehow felt more out of control. The controls were less ergonomically designed, with more knobs and levers and necessary fussy multitasking. Its wheels kept digging into the snow and getting stuck, which made me wonder if they were engineered too narrow for its weight. It had a headlight, which was a novelty, but it made the snow look yellow—not its best color. The worst part was that I was having a lot of difficulty controlling its speed. It wouldn’t slow down, and seemed reluctant to go into reverse.
And then, after an hour, it wouldn’t go into reverse at all. It was official: this machine was a piece of junk, and I became the second person to return it after using it for just an hour.
Ariens seems to be a more respected brand of snowblower, and this summer, I’ll look forward to researching the right model to get. Now, more snow is falling, and my old Toro is at the shop, getting all fixed up. It turns out, it wasn’t ice preventing it from working well. It has a bad bearing, as well as a bad starter, worn belts, and a broken safety switch, and a rusty chute. But for $400 or so, it should get me through the end of the season, as long as its 20-year-old engine doesn’t wear out….