How Not to be Prepared for 24" of Snow (And Some Advice)

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Here’s a short list of advice to remember before a massive (24”) snowfall:

  1. One gas can full of gas is fine for a typical winter storm. It would have been enough for this one, too, but other circumstances will make it into not enough.
  2. No spare belts for the snowthrower is a bad idea.

If you don’t know where this is going by now, then you’re not as smart as you think you are.

I started snowthrowing yesterday at 3:00ish as the snow slowed down. We were at about 22” by then. I dumped most of the can of gas into the tractor, and at the stunning pace of, oh, snail, I made it halfway up the long part of the driveway. This snowthrower is wonderful, and it was churning right through whatever I pointed it at. Snow, ice, lawn, you name it! Unfortunately, those belts that have been on there for nearly ten years have, for all intents and purposes, had it. Last year, I solved many problems with belt dressing. This year, the problem was the power takeoff belt (a nice short one). It… snapped.

It snapped halfway up (“up” as in “hill”) our 700’-long driveway. On the first pass. Crap.

So I backed down the driveway, which is really, really difficult and very wearing because you’re steering a very front-heavy tractor with a snowthrower full of snow on it and trying to accommodate for the slop in the steering and not be thrown so far off the path that the thrower itself starts pulling the snow back into the path which… well, is impossible to get around.

(Note to editor: forget about Strunk & White. Long one-sentence paragraphs are the norm around here.)

When I got to the bottom, I looked at all the belts I have and discovered that I have none and that none of the none that I have will replace the one that I needed. I came inside, told T. of our plight, and started calling all of the places around town. I even tried Joe and Barbara next door, but they didn’t answer. And nobody was open, so nobody could sell me a belt.

T. and I began shoveling.

After realizing the futility of the effort, which took a long, long time to realize, I called Steve B. He was out snowmobiling with the kids, so I told his wife of the broken belt and left it as “I’ll call him in about an hour.”

Meanwhile, T. kept shoveling. I rejoined her.

After a while, I realized that the bottom of the driveway, which she was clearing nicely, wasn’t the bad part. It was going to be the top. I started shoveling at the top of my plow track, got really, really down and decided that since I could see lights on in Joe’s house, I’d ask him to plow me out. He met me at the door, I in my winter gear, he in his PJs, and I ‘splained my plight. “Well, Bill, I can’t get that thing started, the lights don’t work, and it’s out of gas.” I said we could resolve those problems if he were willing. I had gas and a little auto knowhow.

We went out to his Garagemahal (literally: 30’x50’x20’—high, yes, 20’ ceilings!—with radiant floor heat and a bathroom) and, Man! was it nice in there! The F150 started eventually and he said he’d be over after he ran up and down his semi-plowed driveway. I said I’d bring over gas.

Back to my garage where I found some tubing and siphoned the gas out of the tractor into a can. I did a remarkably good job, too, but that won’t become relevant until later. Did you know you can siphon gas out without putting your mouth on the tube? Yup! I don’t know if this works in cars, and you’d probably need a very pointy chin to make it work anyway because the gas spouts are buried in the cars nowadays, but I put the tube in and blew air into the tank instead of sucking on the tube. Pushed the gas right on out!

And into the can. Fortunately.

I took the gas over, we poured it into his truck, and Joe said he’d give it a shot after he had some dinner. I took my broken belt to the basement and tried putting an electrical staple through it. Yes, it worked, but only for about 0.372 seconds, long enough to go, “Ye…” Sigh. Joe came back over with the news that he had gone ahead and worked on our driveway, but had gotten his truck stuck about 1/2 way down. Yup, right where I left off. I said I’d shovel him out while he ate some supper. Only fair, I thought.

Meanwhile, T. shoveled. I shoveled. And I was looking at what I was shoveling which was now packed down by the truck and thinking to myself many, many bad things. Mostly four-letter words, though I dug into my vocabulary and pulled out some marvelous five-, six- and seven-letter words which might have been good in Scrabble were they allowed.

As I was shoveling, a truck appeared at the top of the driveway, but it didn’t have a plow. I figured it was some guy out freelance plowing, but with no plow? As the truck drove down the driveway, I was staring into the headlights with no clue who it was.

Until I saw the farm plate. Steve B. and one of his sons were here to rescue the Eccles once again.

I damned near cried. And I woulda’, too, if my contacts hadn’t been frozen to my eyeballs.

He had a 18” walkbehind snowthrower in his truck, a few shovels, and outlined the following plan: snowthrow Joe’s truck out of the way and let him get back home. Go to Steve’s house to get more gas for the walkbehind snowthrower. And, when I told him it was the short belt, he said he might be able to match that up at his house. “Bill, I thought it was the long belt, and I have nothing for that. But the short one? Well, we’ll see! If only I’d known…”

Armed with the snowthrower, I walked up and down the driveway behind Joe’s truck while Steve and his son cleared out what I hadn’t quite gotten to behind Joe’s truck and plow. Pretty soon, Joe showed up and with a little bit of gunning it, got the truck right up out of the driveway, no trouble.

Problem 1, solved. Meanwhile, T. shoveled.

Steve went off to look for a belt and gas. There are apparently some advantages to having a farm: lots of belts hanging around and two 500-gallon tanks, one for diesel and the other for gas. These are things that we city boys would never know, although having witnessed my father replacing the furnace fan belt on many occasions… well, one, anyway… using the spare belt he had just for that purpose, you think I’d have had some brains and actually executed my plan of replacing those belts and getting spares this year.

I changed the oil… but no belts. Guess where I’m headed today?

Right. To buy a new oil filter. I used my last one.

(Seriously, I’ll have to order the belts. One of them is over six feet long and is made of a weird material. UPS quickly, please.)

I snowthrew my way down the driveway. Steve’s snowthrower was working fine.

Problem 2, solved. Meanwhile, T. shoveled.

I told her that she should go inside, call it good. It was, after all, about 7pm and she’d been shoveling for three hours non-stop—and looked it. Exhausted and sore, she said, “No, not until I know this problem is solved.” She had cleared a huge area of the driveway. At the rate that we were going, we’d have been done by midnight. But she made some snowmounds that are quite impressive and had a complete area for turning cars around to get them out.

Impressive? Yeah, you could say that.

Easy? Staples button, you can go straight to hell.

So she shoveled. I snowthrew. And Steve showed up with three belts of various sizes. One of them fit nearly perfectly and the big thrower was back in business.

Problem 3, solved.

Remember that gas problem? Still a problem. And I hadn’t told Steve that I needed gas for my tractor. No, he had gotten gas for his snowthrower, but not for my tractor because I never told him about that problem. So back home he went… It’s a good thing he lives very close, huh? …and returned with gas for the tractor, plenty to make it through the rest of the job.

Problem “the last”: solved.

And now that things were back to where they were at 3pm, only greatly improved with a new belt and much driveway already cleared, T. finally relented and went inside, exhausted, soaked, and ready to keel over. Which she did. Into a tub.

I finished the job and went over to Joe’s to help finish off his driveway, “cleanup” snowthrowing on the way down. He came outside and told me to go on home, get warm, thanks, but no thanks. And then realized that he’d locked himself out of his house.

Aw, #)%@#.

Fortunately, a spare key later, he was back in, I was on the way up the driveway (snowthrowing again—a plow is fairly limited against a 24” drift), and I finished up all the detail work on our driveway, parked things, and went inside.

It was about 8:15.

T.’s water had grown cold, the kids had let the fire die (intentionally), and it was time to regroup. I restarted the fire and took a shower to warm up, then we watched some TV, enjoyed each other’s company, and eventually went to bed.

On his way out, Steve reviewed some lessons learned for me. “Bill, there are some lessons we learned here tonight.”

“Yeah, keep spare belts on hand.”

He didn’t blink and continued.

“First, call me first and early. If I can’t help, I can at least maybe find someone who can. Second, tell me all of the problems. That way, I can prepare for all of them at once. Third, don’t hesitate to call.”

I would have hugged him right then and there, but that’s only appropriate at church. So we shook hands and off he went.

So, though one of my lessons certainly involved spare parts, the better lesson still is to have friends. Friends who can and will help or know someone who will help.

Another lesson is to know your neighbors and help them, too. I’d plowed Joe’s even-longer-than-ours driveway out once or twice before he got his truck; it was nice that he was willing to help me in return.

Third, go to church. That’s where you’ll meet the people who will be kind to you and, if you’re lucky, you’ll meet Steve and his family there. Not only can his kind of people help, but they are willing to help.

God bless you, and thank you, Steve.

(Did I mention that Steve is a superb butcher? His store is The Country Butcher at Spring Meadow Farm in Tolland on Route 74. Can’t miss it—it’s a beautiful place. Open on Fridays and Saturdays, the best grilling nights of the week, so plan ahead.)


Janine F. said:

Yeah, I shoveled my whole driveway by hand. Just so I could make it into work on Friday. We all know how worthwhile of a venture that was.

Oh what, did you think you'd get rid of me that easily? This is payback for almost making me cry while still in the building! haha

Bill Eccles said:

I feel your pain, Janine.

At least the lower back part of it, anyway.

I'm really sorry things turned out so crappy. I don't understand whose or what beans they count when they make decisions like this one, and I'm not sure I ever will.

And, no, I hope I/we haven't gotten rid of you, easily or not. It'll be wonderful to have you with us again somehow.