Belting out those old Snowblower Blues

Thirteen years ago, my wife and I moved into our present home in Halifax. For the first couple of winters, we cleared our rather long driveway, the front walk and sidewalk with a snowblower I had scored for $200 from an elderly couple who were moving to Vancouver.

Even though it had small tires, I was proud of the Duramark unit. It always started and, with a little coaxing, handled everything winter threw at us. When snowblower-savvy friends would spot it, they’d chuckle at the puny wheels and wimpy five-horse engine. But I didn’t care, it had a throttle and blew a decent ‘rooster tail’ of snow when it wasn’t too wet.

Eventually my travel schedule got so crazy that I hired a commercial service to do the pesky deed of clearing the driveway. It wasn’t cheap and since I really didn’t mind doing it myself, I asked them to only clear the snow if I had not already started. Things got a little testy. The snow-clearing hired hands eventually announced it was all or nothing.

No big deal. I’d drag the Duramark out of storage and do it myself. Problem was I couldn’t get it started, but a kindly neighbour solved that. With an arm like a leg, he, and only he, could start the stubborn snowblower. My daughters weren’t impressed. “Dad has to get a neighbour to start the snowblower.”

Things deteriorated. I had to blast an electric heater at the Duramark long before a start attempt. Then I’d pull the spark plug, pour oil into the cylinder and add a concoction of fuel stabilizer and carburetor cleaner. But I still needed that neighbour’s leggy arm to fire it up.

I engaged the services of a snowblower repairman.

“The carburetor needs to be cleaned,” I suggested.

“I’ll have it back later today. Big storm tomorrow.”

He eyed the pint-sized tires, verifying my suspicion that every person in snowblower world is a weather authority.

A few hours later he informed me everything, except the carburetor, was wrong with the Duramark; wheels about to fall off, frayed auger belt, weak cylinder compression. It needed new recoil fingers, whatever they were. He’d call in a couple of days with an appraisal. We were on our own for the 40 centimetres of the white stuff that had started to fall.

I was in Quebec City with my wife when he finally rang. The estimate was $525, so I swapped the Duramark for his time and immediately got the fever for a new snowblower.

Yep, I’d get one with big tires and plenty of horsepower capable of a snowy rooster tail that would make me the envy of the block. The snow-clearing guys that dropped me would cringe when I out-rooster tailed them after a big storm.

I called my neighbour, who had been on a motor mouth binge about the six-horsepower Honda snowblower he had recently purchased.

“I looked at ’em all, Garry, and in my books it’s a Honda or an Ariens.”

It didn’t seem right to get what he had, so I called the local Ariens dealer.

“I have four left. Sold 33 of them yesterday.” The store manager sounded like a happy man. “Three are eight-horsepower and one is 11-and-a-half.”

I put my hand over the phone and told Lisa the more powerful one had a $450 premium. She gave me the look of someone that didn’t give a hoot about rooster tails of blowing snow.

“I’ll take the eight horsepower,” I told Mr. Snowblower in a defeated voice.

Over the next hour, I paced the floor realizing engine option has always been a weakness. When I bought my BMW, I had to get the V-8; Mustang convertible, a 5.0-litre. Back in 1972, the 750 Honda motorcycle was the only way to go.

I called Mr. Snowblower back and asked him to change my order but the 11.5 horsepower Ariens was sold. Instant nausea.

In the days before the new snowblower arrived, I bored family and friends and almost drove my wife over the edge, with snowblower chat.

“No question, I’d have gotten the big one. Just to know that extra power is there,” my neighbour advised.

“Who cares about the size of the rooster head?” My mother Edith wasn’t even in the loop.

“The eight horse is all you need, I’d have bought the big one though.” Twin Larry showed his hand.

Meanwhile, my wife insisted the look she had given me was one of apathy and not a directive to be economical. My sister Susan threatened to hang up the telephone if I didn’t stop whining about horsepower and rooster tail trajectories.

Mr. Snowblower delivered the shiny orange Ariens ‘Sno-Thro’ on a sunny afternoon. There was no snow predicted, not even in the long range forecast.

That night I talked to my brother-in-law.

“Does it have a headlight?” he asked.

“Yeah.” I proudly acknowledged. “It comes on whenever it’s running.”

“That’s good.” He laughed. “You can use it at night and no one will ever know you’re only running eight horsepower.”

That evening, while my wife and kids were glued to American Idol, I wheeled the Ariens into the driveway and fired it up.

As the headlight flooded the driveway I read the model number on the cowling, 11528. I knew 28 meant the mouth of the blower was 28 inches wide.

I chuckled wondering if Lisa would ever figure out what the ‘115’ stood for.

Follow Garry on Twitter: @DrivenMind99

About Driving