Saturday November 10, 2012

Saw my first snow flakes of the season last Saturday evening on I-89 between Brookfield and Northfield. Admittedly, that’s at about fifteen hundred feet above sea level, and at thirty seven degrees the snow was forming maybe a thousand feet above us. Folks in northern and central Vermont could probably look at the greens the next morning and saw a dusting of white like confectioners sugar on a lumpy pie crust with a demarcation line above sixteen hundred feet. This is essentially a warning. It is telling you to get your wood pile covered, make sure you know where your snow shovel is, and make arrangements for getting your driveway plowed, or get your snow blower, tractor, or plow truck ready.

At one time I relied on a John Deere snow blower to move the snow off my one hundred foot driveway. It’s all fun and games until the wind starts blowing. Ski goggles and one of those neoprene face and mouth warmers did the trick, along with a knit hat and a hooded jacket. When you are layered up like that with snow pants and the all important snowmobile mitts, visibility and maneuverability is tough. Add blowing snow to the mix, and with the relatively light exertion of steering and walking behind a snowblower, you become a wet, soupy mess by the time the job is done. After twenty years of this, I decided to get a newer, faster snowblower. I gave the old John Deere to my daughter and her husband, and they still use it to this day.

My new Husqvarna snowblower worked great, and the added power made quick work of the job, but without one of those newfangled windshield things, blowing snow was still a problem. One of its most endearing qualities was the headlight, as it is often dark when I clear out the yard. While my driveway was now much smaller, the area that I clear out to maintain access to various outbuildings and vehicles has made the job take even longer than ever before. Also, living somewhat east of Magic Mountain probably accounts for the greater snowfall we experience here. Well, I did a couple of years with the Husqvarna, and sold it to Fish, the morning guy at WKVT. He loves it. I went out and bought a new to me tractor.

The first three years with the tractor proved to be interesting. Moving snow with a hydraulic bucket is just fine, but it takes a good sense of what angle you’ve got the thing set at. Not having it right nets you an empty bucket, or adjusted at too steep an angle digs up the driveway. There’s also the added bulk, width and length of a good sized tractor. In the first two years I managed to poke a hole in the garage wall, dig up the buried power cable that runs from the house to the garage, and I destroyed a mailbox. That space age plastic can virtually explode when hit by a bucket with below zero outside temperatures! Oh yeah, thirty five horsepower diesel tractor with four wheel drive and I still managed to get it stuck once. Mishaps aside, I enjoy moving snow with the tractor, because I can put it exactly where I want it. I still had the downside of wind and blowing snow to contend with, but at least I wasn’t coming back into the house after plowing covered in sweat.

Two years ago we had a couple of snow / rain events. Ever sit on a tractor in a cold rain while plowing wet heavy snow? It wasn’t much fun, so I decided to build a cab for the tractor. What I did was search for an ATV canvas style cab with the intention of building an angle iron frame for it to hang over. Danged if it didn’t work like a charm! With zip out doors and a solid Plexiglas windshield, (I modified the original) I’m warm, dry, and happy whenever I need to go out and move snow. In summer, I zip off the doors and its pretty well ventilated. Not bad for just two hundred dollars in material costs.

As time has gone by, I have continued to play with the cab. I added cup holders so I can bring along a travel mug filled with hot cocoa. I have a portable electric heater that hangs from the interior roof of the cab. I even tried wearing my i-pod while moving snow, but with disappointing results. Most of the time I don’t even need to wear a hat while in the cab, which greatly aids visibility. Interior cab lighting is often supplied by one of those battery powered head lamps, but the big modification planned for this year is a halogen light on a bendable stalk mounted to the cab interior. All this comfort runs counter to the way I was brought up as a fifth generation Vermonter. Winter is for suffering, right? Not in my book. I prefer to be spoiled by snow.

Arlo Mudgett’s Morning Almanac has been heard over multiple radio stations in Vermont for 20 years, and can be tuned in at 92.7 WKVT FM every weekday morning at 8 a.m.