November 22, 2017

Snowplowing

Illustration by George Danby

Illustration by George Danby

• By John F. Chisholm •

March 2, 2012 — How do you approach a job?  How do you manage?

I wonder.

The question occurred to me with some force as I plowed the driveway this morning.  Last night’s snowstorm left work behind.  I don’t know how many inches ― maybe eight or 10.  It was a difficult storm to measure.  This house sits atop a hill surrounded by fields.  The orchard is immediately to the north.  That means drifting is a major problem whatever the wind direction.

Last night the wind howled out of the northeast.  Not surprisingly, this morning found snow piled high along the southern, lee sides of the buildings, the kennel, garage, barn and house.  There were major drifts, some over two feet deep.

In other places, the ground was swept bare.  I sighed, surveying the scene, eyeing the fluke of the wind.  It wasn’t as though I had nothing else to do but clean the dooryard.

Still, the job is easier than it used to be.

Three years ago, we bought a Polaris Ranger with a heated cab and a five-foot snowplow.  It does a great job unless the snow piles too deeply.  Then the machine flounders, the tires spin and I have to use the bulldozer.  The bulldozer does a good job, too.  The problem is that there’s no cab.  Not on it.  Plus, they don’t call bulldozers ‘crawlers’ for nothing.  It’s a long, slow, cold job, plowing snow with a bulldozer.  I usually reserve it for widening the drive in midwinter, once several storms have made moving additional snow out of the way impossible for the Polaris.  But with really big storms, there’s no option.  The only equipment I have that will do the job is the bulldozer.

This morning I shook my head, writhing in internal debate.  Plowing two feet of drifted snow is asking a lot from the Polaris.  Still, the snow wasn’t wet or heavy.  I debated a moment more before deciding that it shouldn’t hurt to at least try the Ranger.

Looking back, I hope I wasn’t being lazy.

The Polaris did very well, considering the operator.

It was a cold but beautiful morning with sunshine glittering from the fresh snow all around.  I was delighted to have the heated cab.  I fastened the seatbelt to keep myself in front of the wheel.  You slide around otherwise.  That’s because plowing snow is a barge ahead, back up and try again operation.  There is no shoulder harness.

The Polaris and I thumped and bumped along, slowly opening a path.  That’s the essential first step.  Once there’s at least a plow’s width cleared, you have the important benefit of taking smaller bites.  Until then, you’re stuck using the entire width of the plow.

I finally managed to reach Tay Road, having cleared the drive between the house and the barn.  It got so warm in the cab that I unzipped the window.

But the drift on the south side of the house, directly behind my wife’s Subaru was particularly nasty.  The town plow had been through, packing the snow properly.  I attacked from one side, at an angle.  No good.  The Polaris skidded along not making much of a dent.

I turned around and tried pushing snow the other direction.  That wasn’t much improvement.  I sat, considering my options when my wife came out onto the front porch, tapping her watch.  Not a good sign.  Unfortunately, I could read her lips over the noise of the motor.  “I have to get to work!”

I took a deep breath and revving the engine far more than normal, dropped the plow and slammed into the glacier trapping my wife’s car.

Several things happened.

First, snow boiled over the top of the plow and covered the windshield, blinding me.

Second, the Polaris stopped abruptly.  My upper body lurched forward.  My head hit the windshield from the inside, stopping abruptly as well.  That blinded me for quite another reason.  I saw multicolored exclamation points.  Periods exploded in my skull.

Parentheses formed and pulsed in purple hues, fading to green and cyan with passing time.

When I could see again, my wife was standing beside the Ranger.  “Are you all right?”

I gave her a wide-eyed stare, trying desperately to look intelligent (always a difficult task, even in normal circumstances).  “I think so.”

I turned on the wipers and looked around.  There had to be as much snow behind the plow as in front of it.  In truth, I couldn’t see the plow at all.  Not even a corner.  “Let me try to back out,” I told Wendy, waving her off to a safe distance.  The drive belt squealed and smoked. The tires spun and burped.  The Polaris didn’t even wiggle.  Neither forward or reverse had the slightest effect.  Even the hydraulic cylinders on the plow for lift and quick-switch were totally ineffective.  The relief valve screamed instead.

I rubbed my forehead and gave my wife a lop-sided grin.  “Why don’t you take the truck?” I waved to her Toyota.  “It’s all plowed out.”

“I wanted to use the Subaru,” my wife protested.  “It gets much better mileage.”

“Not today it doesn’t, not if you want to be on time to work.  I’ve got to dig out the bulldozer to move this drift.”

“You’re not going to keep using the Polaris?” my wife asked, surprised.  “I thought you preferred it for plowing.”

“It’s stuck.”

Wendy looked at me and cocked her head.  “How are you going to climb out?  There’s snow up over the doors.”  Then she added, “Your glasses are crooked.”

“Oh.  Thanks.”  I tried straightening them while the world spun.  Then I tried thinking with a pounding headache.  Maybe not having a cab was an improvement.  Certainly going slowly had obvious benefits.

Wendy interrupted my anemic thought process by leaning in the cab.  “You’re sure you’re all right?”  Then she gave me that peculiar look reserved for husbands by the superior sex and asked that question, the one that’s had me wondering ever since.  “How do you manage?”