I have had a 30 year love/hate relationship with my snowblower.
I know, it is not healthy.
And like many dysfunctional relationships, I had vowed since the first day to end it. There are, after all, other snowblowers out there. However, I have been unable to do this. I have come close. Many times. But this confounded machine has some sort of hoodoo/voodoo spell on me and I can’t seem to break it (the spell, that is).
Oh, occasionally when winter conditions are ideal—warm with light fluffy snow—things are great. It snows, so I roll the snowblower out of the garage. I fuel it up. I squeeze the primer bulb a few times. I pull the starter cord. It roars to life on the second pull—sometimes third. I engage the throwing impeller. Then I shift it into drive and the machine rolls forward and proceeds to attack all of the snow that lays before it, dragging me behind. When it works, it is a beautiful thing.
When it works.
But I am convinced that my snowblower was switched at birth.
Somehow there was a mix-up between the Toro lawnmower assembly line and the Toro snowblower assembly line. It has to be, because my snowblower does not like cold weather. It does not particularly like snow either. Surely, a Minnesota-based company, known for its production of snowblowers in a state known for its severe winters, could not have possibly engineered a machine so poorly designed for cold and snow.
It just can’t be!
Each fall, when the chilling wind prompts me to roll up the garden hoses and pack up the lawn furniture cushions, I also tend to my snowblower. I adjust the belts, tighten the loosened screws, check the oil and then do a test start. It always fires right up—often on the first pull. Its Briggs & Stratton engine purrs with happiness. Yes, happiness (I know what a happy engine sounds like). It truly loves autumn! Aside from the noise and violent shaking, this fossil fueled contraption seems almost at one with nature.
And this would be great … if it were a lawnmower or a leaf blower.
But then autumn ends and, as is so often the case (actually, always around here), it gets cold and it snows. And this change of seasons does not please my snowblower. Nevertheless, the two of us have a job to do. So when it snows, I roll it out of the garage again and I begin my contrasting (and grating) winter startup ritual.
The mighty Toro Dual-Stage PowerShift 1132—the largest Toro walk-behind snowblower of its time—inexplicably has a dainty little fuel tank value handle. It swivels easily between my thumb and index finger in the fall. But, of course, snowblowers are not generally operated in the fall. In the winter—many would argue the more applicable snowblower season—this tiny little valve handle requires that I take off my gloves and attempt to twist it with freezing, feelingless appendages. I usually must resort to using a pliers, though I am often tempted to employ a hammer.
“Serenity now,” I calmly tell myself.
Then once open, I move on to the cute little fuel primer bulb that compresses and recoils so effortlessly in October. Naturally, in December, it is an unresponsive frozen rock. It will not push fuel anywhere, let alone to the cylinder. Since the cylinder kind of needs fuel to start (do you sense any sarcasm?), this forces me to again remove my gloves, unscrew the spark plug, then squirt gasoline directly onto the piston with a syringe. Once the spark plug is screwed back in and its wire reattached, I hastily replace my gloves, flip the ignition switch to ON, then reach down to grab the pull starter handle.
And what happens next you ask (in excited anticipation)?
The pull starter pulls nothing. Engages nothing. Turns nothing.
Why you ask?
Because it is FROZEN!
“Serenity now,” I calmly tell myself.
What a winter engineering marvel this thing is! On paper (or on a lawnmower), the ratchet/ball starter cord clutch system is truly ingenious. It actually defies gravity! I won’t bore you with its design details, but the long and short is that the Achilles Heel of this clutch system is that it requires a watertight seal. While the snowblower’s seal is indeed “water-resistant,” it is not watertight. Big difference. Have you ever gone swimming with a “water-resistant” watch? Same net result, except in this scenario add freezing.
When I reach down to pull the starter cord, it engages air. It turns out that for this pull start clutch to magically manipulate gravity, it must be warmed to room temperature first. So to accomplish this, I use a hair blow-dryer. After ten minutes or so of bathing it in warm air, the clutch is fooled into believing that it is in the balmy tropics instead of at 48 degrees north latitude. And voila! It works great then—just the way that it was designed to work (sigh). With gasoline waiting to be ignited in the cylinder, a few pulls with the now functioning starter cord usually does the trick.
The great engine coughs, sputters, but then roars to life! Finally we are ready to do our snowblowing business AND (as a bonus I suppose) receive the equivalent of a sadistic fitness coach’s full week workout in a gym.
Hence its nickname: The Torosizer.
You would think that a machine of this size would do ALL of the snowblowing work. And if I did not have a 1/8th mile long, steep, uneven rock-littered gravel driveway, you might be right. But long gravel driveways are not kind to snowblowers. And here I must accept some personal responsibility for my snowblower’s shortcomings—that and the fact that I once accidentally dropped it out of the backside of my van (breaking my snowblowing Humpty Dumpty into so many pieces that it required the EMT services of a welder to get it back into operation). But I digress.
Long gravel driveways are not kind to snowblower operators either. Running this beast up and down my drive is literally like wrestling a gorilla. I don’t care how low the temperature gets, it is not possible to get cold while operating it. Every muscle in my body is required to keep it tracking on course. Even at ten below, I am sweating profusely at the end of two hours. It is a surprisingly powerful machine. It hits this hump then it hits that hump. It pulls hard this way then it pulls hard that way, jolting me like a sparring partner that batters me continuously with stiff frozen boxing gloves. Sometimes it stops dead in its tracks, suddenly, running up against some rigid obstacle hidden beneath the snow. Then I curse at the designer who placed the snowblower’s unpadded handles at groin level. NOT cool.
“Serenity now,” I calmly tell myself.
So why do I keep it? This “snow blower” does not really even “blow” snow anymore. It just sort of lobs it off to the side. 30 years on gravel driveways has an eroding effect on these machines. What once launched a rock over 100 feet, clear through a bedroom window, now strains to get the snow out of its own shoot. It is pathetic really. And if the snow is wet and heavy … well, as they say in Jersey, “fuhgeddaboudit!”
When its drive belt jumps off its drive pulley—which is not uncommon—it invariably jams down into the lowest, most inaccessible depths of the machine. Of course, Murphy’s Law dictates that this occurs at the furthest point away from my garage. So, I must always carry an assortment of tools with me—you know, lightweight tools like pipe wrenches and pry bars (sigh).
So why do I keep it?
Well, because we have our dance.
Even if we didn’t, despite all of our differences and all of my cursing, the Torosizer ultimately gets the job done. Its not always pretty, but it gets done. And it just wouldn’t be right to hold this machine to a higher standard than what I hold myself to. And, to be fair, over the years, I’ve had some of my own erosion issues.
Plus, we have our dance. Did I mention that?
So, we’ll continue our dance. I’ll tune it up and admire it in the fall, then curse at it and kick it in the winter.
But snowflakes, don’t take comfort in this seemingly rocky relationship. At the end of the day when all is said and done, we are united, my Torosizer and me. We are at one.
And we are coming for you!