Sunday, February 12, 2012

Blowing snow with my old Honda HS55 tracked snowblower

I wanted to post something to give my readers from areas that don't get any snow in the winter -- including, but not limited to the Philippines -- an idea of what it looks like here at our place in the northern part of the U.S. after we get some snow.  Also, I wanted to show one of the maintenance chores I have to do to clear the snow from our driveway and sidewalks at our house.  In the past, my wife and I relied on shoveling and on a very light-weight, underpowered snowblower, which is a machine that can quickly clear the snow from sidewalks.  However, a couple of years ago, we along with a major portion of the northern/northeastern U.S. got hit with a major storm that dumped 22 inches of snow in about a 24 hour period, followed by probably another 8 inches in increments over the next couple of days.  

We discovered the hard way that our little snowblower was completely incapable of handling that amount of snow.  I set out on a grueling clean-up job of 22-plus inches of snow on our entire driveway, which is long and steep, and my wife joined me shortly thereafter on this daunting task.  Although we're both quite able-bodied, even physically fit people can have a heart attack doing that kind of hard lifting in the cold temperatures, due to over-exertion of the cardio-pulmonary system along with sucking in cold air into the lungs.  Long story short:  we had really sore muscles for days after and were sweat-covered after shoveling that mass of snow by hand for nearly the whole day.  

I grew up in northern Ohio in the "Snow Belt" with lake effect snows coming in from Lake Erie, and I remember the huge yellow and white Bolens snow blower my Dad had when I was a kid, especially during the record-setting Blizzard of 1978/1979.  So after the hand-shoveling fiasco, I decided enough was enough, and I was going to get some appropriate horsepower: a 2-stage snowblower, which has an auger in the front that rakes in or "ingests" the snow and then throws it against a rotating impeller that blows the snow out of a cylindrical chute.  I didn't really feel like buying a new snow blower, as I felt that a used older model well-maintained would be of higher quality than the current offerings and would be much cheaper.  I searched the listings of used blowers on Craigslist, and long story short, I got really lucky to find a really nice quality older snow blower at a great price.

The snow blower I found is a Honda HS-55, and the two things I like the best about it are its raw snow blowing power and its use of tracks (like an army tank) rather than wheels, which work really well on my steep asphalt driveway, which can often get icy, slippery, and treacherous.  The tracks can easily handle my steep and slippery hill of a driveway, and I really enjoy using it... the tracks slow you down going down, and help to pull you upwards going up the hill.  I think it has really saved me from slipping and falling on the ice on several occasions. This snowblower is pretty old, from about 1987 or 1988, but all accounts I've read say that they are truly built to last with outstanding engine and component quality.  Parts are readily available for it too, and Honda keeps making and using the same or similar parts for its newer-generation tracked snowblowers.   The newer-generation Honda tracked snowblowers such as the Honda HS724TA, which is pretty much analogous to mine, also have great quality, but be prepared to shell out $2469 MSRP for a brand new one (I bought mine for about 1/6 that price). So, I've had it now for about 2 years, and I truly haven't regretted it.  It's been a  lot of fun to run it, and I really enjoy it... it's fun to see how far you can get it to blow the snow out of its chute.  

I've posted here some pictures my wife took of me running the snowblower a few weeks back (I actually just used it again today, and yesterday, on a lighter coat of snow). Also there are a couple of our daughter playing outside while I was snow-blowing.  Admittedly, the amount of snow we got in these pictures was not very much, probably only about 5 or 6 inches.  But still, it worked really well, and was a true pleasure to run.  My daughter also decided to come outside to play, but the day these pictures were taken was bitter cold, so I didn't let her stay out very long for fear that she might get frostbite of her fingers under her gloves.  For any fashionistas reading my blog, I bought a vintage N3-B U.S. Air Force-issue arctic parka from 1962 on Ebay, which has a real coyote fur collar (and some accompanying Air Force issue N4-B gauntlet gloves from the same era), and they keep me very warm.  They were designed to allow B-52 and B-47 bomber crews to survive if their bomber went down over the Arctic Circle in a place like Greenland, so I stay nice and toasty even in the most brutal winter weather.   Sometimes if the weather is a bit windy (like it was today) the  "blow-back" of snow from the chute onto my face makes it very uncomfortable, stinging the face... but if I zip up further like shown in the photos below, the coyote fur collar really protects my face, and the fur gets coated in snow rather than my skin.  So next time we get 22-plus inches of snow, I'll be ready. 



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