A Snowblower’s Lament: Bidding Farewell to an Era Bygone

The days when the neighborhood dug out together are no more.

Illustration by Nathan Hackett

For almost two decades, my snowblower was the glue that held our Montclair block together in winter. Actually, it was never mine alone. I purchased the bright red machine with Larry, my neighbor across the street.

We acquired the snowblower, a 28-inch Craftsman EZ-Steer, from Sears Hardware Center after depositing an earlier, less impressive machine in the town dump. When the first big storm hit that winter, I wasn’t satisfied just to clear my own driveway and front walk with the new machine. I had to charge up the block, doing Joe’s walk, then Ulf’s, and on to Chris’s. They dropped their shovels in awe.

Joe was the first to buy a share in the machine. Eventually, Ulf and Chris also bought in. This was a mixed blessing. On the plus side, when repairs were eventually needed, the five-way split made expenses easier to bear. But Ulf and Chris shared a gravel driveway, the bane of any snowblower. Soon we were dealing with jammed blades and broken shear pins. Fortunately, I like to tinker, and, with gloves off, I figured out how to remedy the jams, replace the shear pins and put the snowblower back to work.

From the beginning, my garage has been home base for the snowblower, and I, the chief engineer. Every November, I fill the machine with fresh gas, engage the electric starter and make sure it’s good to go. When winter finally surrenders, I run out the last of the gas. Every other season, I change the oil. Occasionally, I wrench in a fresh spark plug.

One winter, the snowblower failed us. Undaunted, I removed the bottom pan and replaced the engine belts. It was heavy and dirty work. The next time the snowblower sputtered out, we called a repairman.

Like the seasons, the block has changed. Nests have emptied. Larry was first to flee the winters. He and Diane are now ensconced in Northern California. Chris and Annette moved back to their native Louisiana. Ulf and Suzanne headed for Florida. Personally, I’m still okay with winter. After all, no machine can protect you in the face of earthquakes, wildfires or hurricanes.

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This winter, the snowblower has only two houses to deal with. It’s just as well. Like me, it’s older and crankier. The lever that controls the direction of the chute has long stopped working. The housing is rusty and bent, the blades chipped, but still operable. Sadly, the Sears Hardware Center has been an empty shell for years.

In truth, I no longer look forward to pushing around my aging companion. It seems louder and bulkier each year. I do miss the camaraderie of handing off the machine from house to house; of yelling refresher courses to the neighbors over the engine’s roar; of replacing the shear pins when the blades eat too much gravel; of sharing the burden of shoveling the heavy mounds of snow heaved onto the ends of our driveways by the town plow. (Now there’s a machine!)

These days, a new generation of nice, young neighbors inhabits the block. I see them passing in the morning as they rush to the train, just as I once did in my Manhattan commuting days. No one ever stops to ask about buying into the snowblower.

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