Unstable

By Daniel Dunkle | Feb 24, 2017

In one of the first little snowstorms, where we didn't get enough to even bother, I decided to start the snowblower and make sure it was working. It wasn't.

My understanding of all things mechanical is limited. Generally, there's the car, which I need only turn a key to get going and the lawnmower, which requires pulling a cord, cursing, then pulling again, harder, and watching the thing cough to life.

My snowblower, for some reason, is more complicated. There is a safety key, which does not turn. It's just a red piece of plastic jammed into a slot that apparently tells the machine I would like to use it. Then there is an on/off switch not unlike a light switch. In addition, there is a pump for me to squirt gasoline into the engine and a choke knob, which I do not understand at all (though in weaker moments I like the idea of being able to choke the machine). There's yet another knob that allows fuel to course from the tank to the engine and then, finally, the pull cord.

I fiddled with all of these things, getting them to more or less the right position, and pulled the cord. Nothing.

I had my 15-year-old son, Wesley, come outside to help me. "What am I doing wrong here? Do you remember from last year?"

He shrugged.

Clomp, clomp, clomp! I come puffing back into the house, snow from my boots melting on the carpet in clumps that fascinate the cats.

"Christine?!" this is hollered across the whole house. "Where's the manual to the snowblower?"

"What?" from somewhere upstairs.

"Where's the manual to the snowblower?"

"Probably wherever you used it last."

This is always the answer, so why do we bother?

I have developed a highly organized system of leaving whatever I am done using -- the remote, a pair of underwear, dishes, books, wrappers, keys, my glasses, cellphone -- on the nearest available surface, assuming that over the next few minutes, days, months or years the object will be right there within easy reach.

Clomp, clomp, clomp, back out to the garage. Wesley and I rummage through piles of camp chairs, deflated beach balls, mouse traps, gardening tools, pieces from the various grills I collect, becoming increasingly frustrated and unreasonable, until a few short nervous breakdowns later we find the manual. At this point, I start flipping through its pages, only to realize I'm too lazy to read it.

The first 10 pages are always devoted to various danger warnings mandated by corporate lawyers somewhere who pay people to clear their driveways. Turns out, gas can cause fire and explosions and is considered dangerous in manual-writing circles. Electricity can lead to shocks and injury, even death. Most liquids that you pour into a snowblower should not be swallowed.

It would be totally irresponsible to open to the first page of the owner's manual and learn how to start the thing.

The snowblower era started, for me, with the composition of my argument. "Christine, I'm getting older. I'm going to have a heart attack one of these days out there shoveling. It's going to be a lot cheaper in the long run to just invest in a snowblower. I deserve it. I'm going to get it."

She looked at me. "Who said you couldn't have one?"

At the big box store, I picked one out. The lady there was very slow and methodical in explaining it to me. She presented me with a bottle of blue liquid.

"This is stabilizer. You have to put it in the gas," she said.

I watched a YouTube video on it before taking it out the first time. This is how I learn to do everything now. A man with a beard explained, "You're going to need to check the oil every time you use it." Arrrgh!

This thing has more rules than a young Gremlin. And the fact that that's the analogy that comes to mind suggests that I am not ready for a snowblower.

All my complaints were forgotten, however, the first time I took that baby out. It just burned through all the snow in my driveway. It was self-propelled and even had a reverse. It took five minutes to do what used to be a dreaded chore. I loved the noise of it, the power!

Then the first winter ended and the blower sat in the garage for a while.

"You know you need to put stabilizer in the gas," is the first reaction from everyone I talk to.

"Right, got it."

"Did you empty the gas tank at the end of the season?"

I picture myself with the machine upside down, gas pouring out ... into what? "Uh..."

"Because the gas can gum it up."

Then another person. "You know you need stabilizer?"

"(Expletives deleted)! Yes! Stabilizer! (string of expletives)!"

It's the weedwacker all over again. That one lost me when I realized I had to mix the gas with oil.

From what I read online, gasoline has a short shelf life before key ingredients evaporate out of it. Within a few months, gas can become stale enough for no-starts, hard starts or even engine damage. This led me to a very important realization: "Walking Dead" isn't realistic at all! They're driving around in old cars years after the refineries shut down due to the apocalypse. Come on! Don't any of these writers have snowblowers? Hmmf! Writers!

Eventually, my father-in-law got the blower going again by priming it a lot, muttering "Judas Priest!" a few times and utilizing the magic of his beard. The gas was a little stale ... maybe even unstable, like its owner.

When this winter is over, I'll let the thing run until it's dry before leaving it in the garage for a season. Then when it doesn't start next year, it will be for some new reason.

And I'm sure that reason will somehow be my fault.

Daniel Dunkle is editor of The Courier-Gazette. He lives in Rockland with his wife, Christine, two children and two cats. Email him your questions and memories of the Rockland area at ddunkle@villagesoup.com or snail mail: 91 Camden St., Suite 403, Rockland, ME 04841. Follow him on Twitter @DanDunkle.

Comments (0)
If you wish to comment, please login.