The difference between men and boys is the cost of their toys.
— Traditional lament of the wives of grown-up boys
Boys and toys
The DR Mower I bought 10 years ago is the best toy I have ever owned – and the most-used piece of mechanical equipment for maintenance chores on our small farm. A walk-behind tractor, it has done yeoman’s service as a mower and brush cutter for the rough areas of our place. The power unit probably has more than a thousand hours of running time, most of it doing tough work.
With the bush hog head attached to the front of the 13-HP power unit the DR is the greatest machine ever for clearing brush and small trees. Replace the bush hog head with the 42-inch mower deck and it rumbles across our hillside shooting range or hayfield, cropping the grass to four-inch height as it bounces over gopher mounds, cow trails, tire ruts, and other assorted obstacles. With mower or brush cutter blades disengaged, I’ve used it to drag logs out of the woods and push piles of sand across the driveway.
This winter, the DR has taken on a new role: snow removal. Expecting record snowfalls at the end of this year of record rainfalls I bit the bullet and ordered a DR snow blower head in August. Including shipping costs I think the price was about $800, which would pay for four or five years of snow removal by my neighbor who has a tractor-mounted snow blower and blade. But he hasn’t been in the best of health this year, I rationalized, so we should be prepared to do our own snow removal, what with Nordic-force winter storms sure to dump 50 to 60 inches of snow on our driveway from November through March.
When a forklift operator loaded the shipping crate into my pickup at the freight depot in Tomah, Wisconsin, the old Ford F-150’s suspension groaned, making me aware that this unit was much heavier than the bush hog head or the mower deck. Unloading it at home by backing the truck up against the hillside east of the garage and sliding the crate cautiously down a pair of ramps caused me some second thoughts about the wisdom of buying a snow blower that I might not be able to maneuver. Fortunately, it was easy to assemble and mount on the DR power unit. After installation a quick “all system go” test, a short run across the north yard, proved it threw sod beautifully.
I had to dismount the unit a few days later and replace it with the mower deck because summer in the North Country went on and on. Grass continued to grow thick and high through September, October, and November. By Thanksgiving week, when the hours of daylight had shortened considerably and a few hard frosts had convinced the lawns to go dormant, the day came when the mower deck could be removed and pushed into its storage space under the garage stairway until spring. Then I spent a happy hour mounting the snow blower on the power unit and putting chains on the drive wheels. It was ready for winter, my newest, biggest, most powerful toy.
I was positively giddy each morning as I checked the long-range weather forecast. We eagerly awaited the arrival of the first big snowstorm, the DR and I. We waited, and waited, and waited. And at last on December 10-11 – Hallelujah! The first major storm front of the winter came to us on a gentle east wind, settled over the North Country 24 hours, and covered the farm with 5-6 inches of fluffy snow. Not much compared to the 12-15 inches of wet, heavy snow that was piling up in the “lake effect” regions of Michigan, Illinois, and northern Ohio, but plenty enough for the snow blower’s maiden voyage.
One twist of the starter key and the engine roared to life. Well, okay, in the freezing cold it chortled, gasped, chugged, choked and stalled and finally on the third try began to run with its normal, ominous cadence. I adjusted the discharge chute, shifted into first gear, pulled the knob to engage the whirling spiral blade of the thrower, squeezed the clutch handle, and we plunged into the snow.
A lovely white arc blasted out of the chute and flew across the driveway toward the kennel runs, forcing our bird dogs Sasha and Abbey to seek cover behind their houses. The stream of snow included pieces of gravel, sticks, and leaves, all of which made the most satisfying clatter and chatter in the drum of the thrower before flying out the chute at impressive velocity. I quickly discovered that the blower worked best with the drive unit running in second gear, and it threw snow the farthest with the engine set at maximum (governed) rpm’s. The evil snow fled before us. We charged into it, Attila the Hun’s hordes smashing into the hapless enemy ranks, sweeping all before us, sending them flying in fear and terror. It was wonderful. Wonderful!
The garage apron and parking area were cleared in less than 20 minutes, even including the do-over where I had clumsily blown snow onto, rather than off, the north side. Child’s play.
My beautiful blonde wife had suggested that I not try to clear the entire quarter-mile driveway, but the madness was upon me and I could not stop myself. Away we roared, the DR and I, down the length of the steep gravel drive, then back up, then down again. We also cleared the neighbor’s short drive and garage apron and made the final charge back up our driveway reveling in the new sense of power, the pride of accomplishment, the humble satisfaction of achieving complete and total self-sufficiency. All heightened by the sweet ache of frost-bitten fingers and nose. A day to remember for all time.
Not until I shut down the engine and was brushing the whole machine clean of snow and dirt did I notice the tire chain on the left wheel had become partly detached and was wound around the axle. No damage to speak of, and the DR never missed a minute of the battle, even with this minor injury. What a warrior! Untangling and reattaching the chains was a matter of a few minutes; maybe several minutes; actually about a half hour’s worth of minutes. Then the machine was returned to its place of honor in the garage where I gave it an admiring pat and told it we would conquer larger snowfalls than this one in our time. Historic snowfalls. Epic snowfalls.
Winter gloom be gone. You cannot break my spirit this year, or even dampen my joie de vivre. Because I have a new toy. A big, shiny, powerful, noisy, raucous, thrilling new toy. A DR snow blower.
Look upon us Arctic gods of winter and despair!
More stories about hunting, bird dogs, bird guns, and life in the North Country are published in my three collections of essays and two novels, all available through my Author Page on Amazon.com Jerry Johnson Author Page