December 29, 2006 - January 7, 2007: Blizzards of 2006 Versus Snowblower

One of many trip reports by Alan Silverstein.
Last update: March 4, 2008

(The first blizzard hit Dec 20-21, with ~20" of snow in our area.)

Contents:

Email Subject: headline reads: Blizzard, Version 2.0

From:  Alan Silverstein <ajs@frii.com>
Date:  29 Dec 2006 11:32:36 -0700
Subject:  headline reads:  Blizzard, Version 2.0

This one hasn't been too bad so far, "just" another 8" or so of snow overnight. Hides all that ugly old half-melted stuff. (grin)

I wrestled with Cathie's snowblower again this morning. Maybe I should start to call it: "The pig". I think it worked for us once, years ago. Since then, the belts started slipping(?), it would clog up, then the engine wouldn't run well, died at full throttle or under load. Put it away last year, forgot, dug it out a week ago; "Oh, yeah, we were going to tune up this thing." Installed a new spark plug this morning (thanks Cathie), engine is good again (yay, it was the spark plug), but it still jams up, the augur has no power.

Cathie also bought "belt conditioner", I didn't know that even existed. Flip up the unit, oh yeah, metal plate on the bottom. Go home for socket set, carb cleaner, gas can. Pull two screws, oh, there are two more, and you can't reach them with a socket. Remove with box end wrench. OK, plate is off. Try several times with belt conditioner, fire it up, clogs, stop, spray more... No go, no power.

Aha, I can adjust the tension on the augur lever that tightens the belt. Fumble around with that; nope, it's all the way tight (dug), reassemble it.

Try to start it again, and the pull cord snaps!

Put it away. Go back to the old fashioned method, snow shovel by hand!

Then I had breakfast and cross country skied to work again. About 35 minutes one way, not bad. Gonna be another short day at work, gotta leave by 8 pm before they lock the west gate.

I hope it snows some more so I can ski home with minimum pavement. (grin)

Email Subject: snowblower frolics part 2

From:  Alan Silverstein <ajs@frii.com>
Date:  1 Jan 2007 21:41:59 -0700
Subject:  snowblower frolics part 2

Saga of the snowblower, continued...

So now the engine runs OK, except you can't turn off the choke all the way or it dies. And yesterday I retied the pull cord -- not too hard, except the new cord I bought was a bit bigger diameter and wouldn't go through the hole. So I just tied the old cord a little bit shorter. And then I had to do it again after realizing you must wind up the cartridge first to tension the spring. Sigh.

This afternoon it was pretty nice out. We took the dog for a long walk all around the neighborhood, over an hour. We had to watch out for icy patches. More than once the dog (on the 20' long extension leash) had to climb over a snowbank to get back to us. Funny.

Upon returning home at about 2:30, I decided, perhaps foolishly, to see how hard could it possibly be to remove the drive belts from the snowblower to replace them? Instead of driving it miles away to a small engine mechanic for a proper ble$$ing. Whereupon, looking at the monster for the Nth time, I finally noticed a plastic cover on top held on only by two bolts, easy to remove. Aha! With that out of the way, access to the belts and pulleys was easy! And it even runs with the cover off -- just don't drop anything in there you want to keep -- like fingers.

This allowed me to adjust the tension on the augur belt engagement pulley. Presto, the snowblower now has awesome power! There was nothing wrong with the old belt, it had just stretched a little, I guess. Easy adjustment too -- once you know how -- like everything else. So I lubed all the reachable moving parts, and set out with gloves and earplugs to run it through one tank of gas.

I chewed and threw a lot of old snow off Cathie's driveway and several houses worth of sidewalks. It was fun, but hard work, grinding through refrozen old snow. I discovered that it's about as hard on the body as snow shoveling, just more effective, and of course a lot more rewarding if you are testosterone-poisoned. However, the beast really doesn't cut well through three feet of hard, icy debris pushed up by a snowplow... It takes a lot of man-handling to keep chewing away at the pile.

Before the tank of gas was out, something went horribly wrong! The augur drive shaft is now frozen up and the alignment looks out of kilter. I suspect the front gear box feels immense pain. Ah well, I parked it again to look into later...

Email Subject: snowblower 3, the final(?) chapter

From:  Alan Silverstein <ajs@frii.com>
Date:  7 Jan 2007 23:08:16 -0700
Subject:  snowblower 3, the final(?) chapter

Yesterday (Saturday) it got warm -- just above freezing. I helped Cathie sponge down her newly grouted kitchen tile, but still made it outside with enough time before sunset to work on the snowblower. Unfortunately the predicted gale force winds had arrived by then. Oh well, you can't have everything. The previous four days I was of course sitting at my desk wrestling with software abstractions rather than mechanical devices during the peak of the day's light and warmth.

Good news, the front (augur) gearbox was OK, it was just that one side of the augur axle had popped out of its socket. That must have taken a huge amount of force, because I had to do some disassembly to get it back in, and even then I needed Cathie's help to hold -- it -- apart -- to get the socket back into place. Also I'd sheared off a bolt holding one side of the augur to the shaft. Easily replaced.

A while later the beast was reassembled and lubed. I lowered the skids a fraction of an inch to keep the augur edges from hitting and marking up the concrete. Except for the gas leaking out of the primer pump hole when you pressed on it, and the motor refusing to run if you turned the choke all the way off, it was back in operation.

I happily ran the blower through more old snow until I couldn't see any more through my glasses and my face was starting to freeze from the ice crust that blew onto me no matter which way I drove and aimed the discharge chute. (Did I mention the gale force wind? Whipping around between the houses.)

Today (Sunday), I reinstalled the bottom plate, adjusted the augur belt tension to a little looser, lowered the rear scraper plate to match the side skids, and -- snapped the pull rope again. After retying it, the beast is parked and ready for the next snowstorm! Bring it on!