Every week the Wisconsin State Journal runs “Roughneck Grace,” a weekly column written by Mike (many of the columns will be adapted from Mike’s Tent Show Radio monologues). Today’s column (about big trouble with the snowplow) was printed on sturdy newsprint this Sunday and can now be seen online here.
With all due respect to those about to get whomped, this is from a couple years ago:
After my last snowplowing episode I bought chains. The good news? They work great (as the photo below indicates) (and thanks, patient local parts store guys who helped me order them). The bad news? They come in a rinky-dink plastic case with little plastic tabs that refuse to open in, umm, cold weather, effectively locking them away no matter how you pray or pry. Until finally, with the kids already late for school and the driveway still impassable, you raise the whole works high above your head, and with all the rage you can muster, you go into gorilla slam-dunk mode and…well, see the second photo, which was actually taken prior to the first.
As you may know, I had some trouble with snow recently. The next day I went over to visit my neighbor Tom. He did some welding for me. Tom said the snow was unusually difficult to move, but that is not to say he failed to prevail. Click on the thumbnails below to see his machine. The pony engine had sprung an oil leak but he had already torn it apart, built a new gasket, and had it running again by the time I got there. Not that I would have been any help had I arrived earlier.
In the book Visiting Tom, I wrote about this machine. Here’s an excerpt (the indirect quotes make more sense in the full context of the book – in short, it’s me writing and Tom talking):
Near the gas tank, deep in the weeds, detached from the front end of the 1943 Farmall M tractor that will push it come winter sits Tom’s homemade snowblower. He fashioned the thrower paddles from forty-inch lengths of three-inch well casing split in half and deployed in twin fan-blade arrangements that turn counter to each other. They spin on shafts and bearings taken from an old hammer mill, and the housing is made from the rims of a bull wheel from a grain binder. The chute— Tom calls it a spout— was constructed from blower pipe robbed from an old threshing machine. I wanted it to throw snow fifty feet, he says, so I took a piece of string twenty-five feet long, pegged it at one end, and used it to draw a radius on the ground. Then I bent the spout to match the radius.
That first year I powered it direct off the tractor. But whenever it’d start chewing through real deep snow, the engine would bog and the revolutions would drop and I’d have to constantly step in the clutch and let it cure itself. The manner in which he employs the word cure is a reminder that poetics are not strictly the purview of poets. To remedy the bogging issue, he fitted the blower with its own engine.
Yah, it’s a thirty-seven-horse Wisconsin. It was off a silage chopper. Got it for thirty-five bucks. The valves were stuck, so I pulled the heads and broke’em loose. When it was time to put’er back together I didn’t have a new head gasket, so I painted the old one with aluminum paint. That was forty years ago, and it’s still runnin’. I rigged it so I can reach the clutch and throttle from the tractor seat.
- Michael Perry, Visiting Tom: A Man, a Highway, and the Road to Roughneck Grace.
These are part of my snowplow. They should be one part, not two parts.
Fortunately, I know a guy.
Good to go:
I am compelled to admit that over time I have taken to making sport of those who get all ginned up over snowstorms. It’s just a little snow, I say, with a mix of chuckle and disdain. Well, last night I was sacked by the snow, I was pinned deep in my own territory by the snow, I was taunted in the end zone by the snow, and, after establishing in insurmountable lead, the snow continued to run up the score.
Let’s check the stats:
3:52 p.m. – Time I jumped in the plow truck and ran down the hill to help someone get up our hill in a minivan.
1 – Number of times I slid into the ditch with my four-wheel-drive plow truck while “helping” someone in a minivan.
15 – Factor by which I was stuck worse after “gunning” it to get out of the previous predicament. (“Gunning” it known in some circles as “Rammin’ on it.”)
.2 – Number of inches by which my plow blade missed hooking the telephone company’s junction box when everything came to rest. (Time was called in order to count blessings, yea, even in this moment.)
1 – Number of caps borrowed from minivan driver in order to make long walk back up hill to fetch the tractor in driving snow because I was “just gonna run down there and back” and thus dressed myself in the manner of a distracted seventh grader, including no jacket, no cap, and just one glove–which somehow was worse than no gloves at all.
500 – BTUs of necessary warmth generated during hike back up hill during which the coals of self-loathing were fanned by gusts of futile rage.
17 – Degrees required to measure the new angle of the bumper after the neighbor and I got done yanking the truck back on to the road.
5 – Minutes passed before I had the truck stuck again, this time down by the barnyard.
8 – Inches required to measure the length of the crease put in the quarter panel by the railroad tie fencepost down by the barnyard, which isn’t going anywhere.
3 – Total number of times I had to go ask my wife to put all her stuff on again and come help pull me out.
1 – Total number of times right at the end there where I got the plow truck stuck after she had suggested I just park it and wait for daylight.
0 – Exact number of times I asked her for help that time, instead just putting the truck in neutral and yanking it out with the tractor myself.
1 – Number of knots yanked into the brand new tow rope during that last little adventure.
7:52 p.m. – Exact time I just gave up and went in to watch the Packer game.
The Eskimos have a word for snow like this. It is not printable.
Let it be known that on this day I mounted the snowplow in under seven minutes.
Before the snow flew.
Without the golf ball.
It is not always thus:
EVEN THE GOLF BALL WON’T help me now. “This one’s gonna be a golf-ball job,” my father would say while securing the hay baler power takeoff shaft in the shop vise prior to replacing the universal joint bearings— a real knuckle-busting spirit-warper of a job. We kids would grin because we knew Dad— a studiously nonprofane man— was referring to a long-standing joke he picked up from his last factory job: Before undertaking a difficult task you place a golf ball in your mouth to block the bad language. It’s a perfect kid joke because it combines a goofy image with the illicit implications of naughty words.
Mounting the snowplow should not be a golf-ball job, but it is. As with many once-a-year tasks, I complete it with roughly 75 percent efficiency, and, boy, that other 25 percent is a real steam generator. Today I had already scuffed a knuckle and was only just managing to keep a lid on the fizz when I crossed behind the truck in frustrated haste and rang the trailer hitch with my shinbone, resulting in an impromptu performance piece I like to call the Howling Hopscotch of Rage. Only an asbestos-coated golf ball would have survived.
I am in haste because drifts are sifting through the gap beneath the pole barn door, and the steel roof is rattling with wind. It is the second week of December, and we are about to get a whomper. “Blizzard of the decade,” said ol’ Jay Moore in the Morning on Moose Country 106.7, and I have procrastinated mounting the plow until I saw the whites of the flakes. Tut-tut, say the strict calendarists among you, and fair enough, but then as the cut-rate Scandinavian Zen master Yogi Yorgesson famously never declared, “Who sniffs the rose before it blooms?”
- Michael Perry, in Visiting Tom: A Man, a Highway, and the Road to Roughneck Grace