More Dogs on Main: Fire up the snowplow |

More Dogs on Main: Fire up the snowplow

Tom Clyde

Park Record columnist Tom Clyde.
Tom Clyde mug

I finally had to plow the roads open around my house. I’d been ignoring it, not solely because I’m lazy. It’s so much easier if the ground is frozen solid underneath. The storms that made the resorts’ opening so exceptional mostly missed my place. It fussed around, and little by little, it built up to the point there was no ignoring it. But the ground was still soft underneath, and the big blower on the tractor ends up eating a lot of gravel. That’s not good for the blower, and really not good for the windows on the house. An unexpected squall came through while I was skiing, and it couldn’t be ignored.

The first plow of the season is always a little bit uncertain, both because of the soft ground, and it’s the first test of the equipment. I had done some maintenance on the blower early in the fall while it was still warm out — tightened drive chains, cleaned the drive shaft slip joint, new hydraulic hose. I even hit it with a little paint. It all looked good. Except that it was barefoot. There are supposed to be steel “skid shoes” that hold the blower up a little above the ground level. They were missing when I got the blower years ago. The prior owner had improvised something that sort of worked for a while. Then I made a real mess of things trying to weld up a homemade replacement. My handiwork lasted a couple of seasons, but by the end of last year, it was barefoot and digging in.

That led to one of those internet adventures. Most skid shoes are hockey puck-sized pieces of steel on a round shaft that can be adjusted for the desired height. My blower has a square shaft. There were dozens of generic options available for the round fitting. I could have bought those off the shelf in a dozen stores in Heber, and there is probably a Gucci version — gold-plated with diamond inlays — available somewhere in Park City. But square mounts? What kind of machine is it?

I Googled the manufacturer and got a parts catalog online for something similar.  It was a great drawing showing all the various pieces and how they fit together, each with a part number. Except the skid shoe.  It had a part number, but the picture was cut off just short of the skid shoe. There had to be a generic option out there, but I didn’t know what I was looking for. On a whim, I clicked the link to “images” as if somebody would have posted a collection of photos of Canadian industrial snow blower skid shoes. And the first thing that came up was an eBay listing for exactly what I was looking for, new and in the original box. A week and $35 later, they were attached to the blower. 

That bit of success led to another upgrade. The blower is on the back of the tractor, so the front end loader is still available. I need both tools to keep things opened up. Most of the time I’m clearing snow, I’m sitting kind of sideways in the cab looking over my shoulder driving backwards. A neighbor suggested putting a back-up camera in there. He has a giant RV and can’t back the thing up without the camera and a Super Bowl-worthy screen to see where he’s going. 

Those seemed pretty expensive when I first started shopping. Then I got an email from one of the places where I buy parts for the 80-year old Farmalls. They had cameras and work lights so bright they could be seen from outer space, all on sale. I was all set to buy both before realizing that the lights would stick up too high to put the tractor in the garage. But the camera was an easy fit. It works, maybe not as well as I had hoped because the camera sometimes gets snow stuck to it, but it’s a big improvement.

Growing up, snow removal was mostly a factor of tire chains, frostbite, and profanity. We tried to keep everything open with a Ford 8N, which is not a big step up from a riding lawn mower, with a front end loader. It was stuck more than it was moving. My uncle found a screaming deal on a very small, very used bulldozer that seemed like a perfect fit. It was an early diesel, and he often complained that he could hand-shovel the whole place out in less time and effort than it took to get the diesel started on a cold morning. It didn’t last long. Later we had a blower on a big, cab-less tractor. It moved the snow, mostly down your neck.

While the creature comforts of snow removal have improved a lot — a dry heated cab with Bluetooth audio, four wheel drive, triple the horsepower of the old Ford, a blower that hurls the snow half way to Tabiona — some things have not changed. Winter is still in charge. The road has to be plowed, and no matter how good the tires are on the Subaru, stuck is still stuck. It’s great to have winter again. The skiing and the plowing have both been great so far.


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