Thursday, December 14, 2006

Modifying Troll, The Snowblower Of Supreme Spiffiness

Some three years ago I yielded to temptation (I mean, this is a toy and a tool; we are talking industrial strength temptation here) and invested in a bright red 8.5 horsepower two-stage snowblower. I did at least wait until Sears had a sale, so economy was, if not my watchword, my secret club word of the day.

In point of fact, I was also bowing to reality. The snow we get in my part of NY can be sudden and deep when it is all over. Deep enough to make life difficult if all you have is a Toro™ electric snow broom and some rather nice snow shovels picked up in Maryland at the onset of the blizzard of '96.

Clearing deep snow with the snow broom is fun but resembles shaving as the thing can only clear a swath to a depth of about six inches and requires some headroom over the snow ahead of itself to sling the snow away. It consists of what looks like an old-style cylinder-blade lawnmower blade inside a plastic hood, all attached to a pole with a handle on the end. The blades whirl round like mad when you pull the trigger and you push the thing along the ground into shallow snow. The snow gets thrown forward quite some distance.

One year it became very apparent during snow shifting that I was of an age when manual labour this intensive could push my heart into an out-of-design-spec excursion. Yes I could be (a lot) fitter, but there is no easy, quick way to translate that particular epiphany into a useful reality in a meaningful time-scale. Besides, I wanted some tools. Shoveling snow is a job, and for too long now I had been doing that job under a waiver of The Law1. There were literally years of tool-acquisition "banked" on account of this snow-shoveling nonsense. What was required was heavy plant. Nothing less than a self-propelled solution would suffice.

The machine in question was delivered by two Hispanic gentlemen (I believe these two lads also delivered the new stove back at the start of this blog) who left it attached to its pallet and drove off to leave me to dismount it. I fell in love all over again. Its bright red paint. Its fully rotating turret of snow hurlage. Its 27 inch wide maw of snow-gobbling, able to shrug off two feet of snow without a problem of any sort. But most important of all, its electric starter. No heaving on a bloody rope trying to coax a recalcitrant four-stroke into firing up in sub-zero temperatures for me. That was a path to madness and a dislocated shoulder into the bargain.

I had thought that by buying it I would guarantee the next three years would be snow-free, but we've had quite heavy snowfalls every year but last year (and even then I used it twice). I take the precaution of moving it to the front of the crap-filled garage each November and begin starting it and letting it run for a few seconds every week or so after that in order to keep the fuel system properly primed. It has never let me down, and is so impressive noise-wise, snow-clearance-wise and just about every-other-bloody-thing wise that I christened it "Troll". There is only one fly in the ointment, and it is a big one.

When blowing the snow it pays to send the ejecta as far as possible away from the site. Otherwise, one can find oneself clearing the same snow several times in one session. Snow is often followed by windy conditions hereabouts, and it is gusty wind that changes direction faster than a politician in an election year. All this means that during a marathon snow clearage session, one ends up with a fair few facefulls of icy snow. I went with it for three years but something had to be done. Something as in the purchase of a cab for Troll, The Snowblower Of Supreme Spiffiness.

Now Home Despot sell a couple of generic cabs, but I felt safer going back to the people who sold me the snowblower for one. A quick check on the interweb a couple of weeks ago showed me that Sears did in fact sell a cab for a tad over a hunnerd bux so I off I went to buy one. Of course, I made the mistake of going to the Sears in Bayshore first and stood around like a garden gnome while the staff ignored me. I eventually managed to provoke service by looking directly at one of the sales clerks and shouting "is anyone going to come over and sell me the expensive item I already know I want, or do I buy it from someone else?" This prompted one of the salesdrones to tell me they were out of stock. Then I went up to the Sears in Commack. Sale completed in about five minutes, with a short delay as I once again attempted to use the debit cards Cingular foisted upon me instead of giving me a real rebate2.

And then I ran out of time. I checked the parts inventory against the box contents and put it on one side for later and got with the plan, New Bog wise.

Tuesday night I became concerned that the weather was holding in a particularly menacing fashion. Warm (for me, anyway), no appreciable rain, sleet or snowfall, it was all very quiet from a weather standpoint. Too quiet. A Terry Pratchett "lull before a storm of biblical proportions at the most inconvenient time" quiet. Panic was in order.

I grabbed Mr Socketset, Mr Leatherman knock-off multitool and the cab kit, strapped a totally lame-looking LED headlight to my brow (the garage lights are out of commission) and made my way to the driveway to begin late-evening cab construction and installation by the light of the Christmas Icicle lamps.

By good fortune, all the actual cab components with the exception of the u-clamps, nuts and bolts, were painted flat black so they'd blend into the stygian gloom of the garage. This made the actual location and identification of the numerous bent-pipes that would become - in the fullness of midnight or thereabouts - a magnificent spindrift-proof cab a challenge, to say the least. The fun really got going from square one because the cab was actually a rebranded generic "one size fits most" affair anyway and so parts had been supplied for all the popular styles of handlebars (the cab attaches to the handlebar uprights). First job was to select from four sizes of u-clamp and two sizes of bolt before clamping two cross-bars on the snowblower. The ends of these crossbars attached to the upright for the cab support. An L-shaped bar inserted into that and then had to be leveled by slackening the u-clamps and rotating the cross-bars. It was all very tedious and so I decided to press on with the frame-construction and worry about getting it properly leveled later. Before I knew it, it was 11:30pm and I was done in.

Yesterday I rolled the snowblower out of the garage and into the soft glow of the lights on the bushthing in the front garden, then did the leveling thing, getting it done in surprisingly short order. Once the frame was level I finished it off by bolting together the roof cross-members (narrowly avoiding dropping Mr Ratchet on Mr Head in the process) and Prepared to deploy the glorified ripstock nylon tent that is the actual cab.

And there I hit the first major snag

The cab cover, like all frame-tentlike constructions was sized just too small to go on the frame easily and had to be stretched into place before being anchored by snaps, velcro, belts and buckles. When I say stretched I don't mean bulging muscle, clench-jawed type stretching, I mean cab-cover grabbed in both hands while dangling from the superstructure with feet braced firmly against the frame, mouth drawn back so far the actual muscle-structure of the mandible can be visibly ascertained by innocent bystanders from fifteen feet away and screaming the most potent Words of Power in the workman's lexicon stretching.

When involved in this sort of effort I often wonder why the manufacturer just didn't design the frame to expand into the cover after the cover was attached. Screw-thread adjustment, scissor-action cantilever, there are many ways the trick can be done. I can't imagine such a thing would add disastrous amounts to the final purchase price. This thing is a luxury item after all, at least in these parts it is.

Anyway, I finally managed to get the damn thing on the frame and it doesn't look half bad. It does reduce the visibility a tad in the same way putting the roof up on my TR6 used to; there is simply no substitute for 93 million miles of headroom"3. On the other hand, speaking as a wearer of spectacles I can think of 3,842 substitutes for a facefull of damp pulverized snow without breaking a sweat, hence the cab.

I now find myself looking to the skies with a wistful expression rather than a fearful one.

  1. No Tool, No Job
  2. A tale worthy of its own posting. Watch this blog
  3. To steal the TR7 ad-campaign buzzphrase and use it in a much better way. Funnily enough, the windows of the cab are made of the same stuff the rear window in the TR's softtop was. Small world

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