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Archive for Monday, February 16, 2004

Snowblowers can put fun back into wintertime activity

February 16, 2004

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It was Saturday, the world was covered in deep white snow and the new red shovel felt eager in my hands.

I surveyed my long driveway and the 250-foot sidewalk the city said I had to clear.

Then one of Mark Twain's phrases popped into my head. It had been etched around a coffee mug I got in Hannibal, Mo., on a family trip:

"Tom appeared on the sidewalk with a bucket of whitewash and a long-handled brush. He surveyed the fence, and all gladness left him . . ."

I smiled, thinking it would be fun, and dug in.

After about five minutes of moving heavy shovels full of snow, it happened -- all gladness left me.

I started wondering about snowblowers.

Turning to tech

"We are completely sold out. Everybody that makes them are sold out."

Neil McCullough, owner of Fleetwood Mower & Rental, told me there had been a run on snowblowers when a big snow recently hit.

But he gave me some tips on buying snowblowers or "snowthrowers," as some manufacturers call them.

Electric power

If you live in condo or have a small area to clear not more than 50 feet from your house, you might consider an electric Toro Power Shovel.

There are two types, a 12-inch ($119) and an 18-inch model ($329).

You push the shovel-like device along the ground and it gathers it up in an auger and blows it out the top.

The 18-inch model throws about 700 pounds of snow a minute a distance of 30 feet -- a lot more than I can do with my new hand-powered unit. The 12-inch model throws 200 pounds per minute 15 feet.

The drawback is that you're attached to an extension cord, so you can't get too far away from the power source.

Single-stage units

A step up for someone who has a driveway to clear that is one or two cars wide and two to three cars deep is a single-stage snowthrower, McCullough said.

They have a rubber auger that pulls the snow into the housing and throws it out in one motion.

"In the Midwest, people really only need a single-stage. It does a better job of truly wiping the sidewalk," McCullough said.

They weigh between 38 pounds and 75 pounds, "so almost anyone can manage one of them," he said.

The single-stage snowblowers (about $500) can handle a four- to six-inch snow. They can throw between 1,100 and 1,800 pounds a minute and do a driveway in about 30 minutes, compared to two hours by hand.

Stronger and faster

A third type is the larger, two-stage snowblower, which run upwards of $1,000. They have an auger in the front to bring the snow inside the unit. A second auger throws the snow out.

They can handle a 10- to 12-inch snow.

The Toro Two-Stage Power Max 1128OE ($1,699) has a 28-inch clearing width and can clear 2,200 pounds per minute and throw 45 feet.

McCullough recommended buying name brands, such as Toro or Honda. That's mainly because you'll have a snowblower for many years and you may have trouble getting parts for an off-brand model.

Storing and fuel

McCullough said one of the drawbacks of getting a snowblower is that you have to store it for about nine months.

His advice is to make sure the fuel has been flushed out of it or that the fuel that remains in it has been stabilized. If not, the fuel will lose its flash point, making the engine hard to start.

Most single-stage snowblowers use a two-cycle engine, which require a mixture of oil and gasoline. The bigger, two-stage snowblowers used four-cycle engines, which have an oil reservoir and run off gasoline.

He also recommends getting an electric start mechanism for your snowblower.

"I try to always sell an electric start for the simple reason that a snowthrower sits around -- it might be between 12 and 14 months," he said. If the fuel has lost its flash point, it might take a lot of extra energy to pull start the engine.

An electric start is a $100 option, he said.

Snow angel, snow job

After about 30 minutes of shoveling, I was getting tired. Only about half of the driveway was done when I went inside for a break.

Inspiration struck when I saw my daughter.

"This is a lot of fun. I have another new shovel if you want to . . . "

Bonnie looked over at me, shook her head, then turned back to the TV.

"Do you really think you're going to con me into shoveling?" was what her body language told me.

When I went back outside, I got a big surprise.

Someone with a snowblower had come through and done the entire sidewalk on our block.

"People, once they buy them, they're out doing the whole neighborhood," McCullough had told me.

First, I'd like to thank the snow angel that did my sidewalk. But you've also given me an idea.

After the next snowfall, I'm thinking about signing people up to try out their snowblowers on my sidewalk.

And, unlike Tom Sawyer, I promise I won't even charge for the privilege.

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