I was so proud of myself for being able to keep such a positive attitude through the first week of the January thaw. Then it hit…Monday Nora came home for lunch and said that the driveway was getting pretty bad, meaning the mat was going. I figured that it was just beginning to get soft in spots because it had been holding pretty good even Monday morning. Nope, somehow in the course of just a few hours, we went from a driveway with a nice compacted mat to one with a bunch of slush on it. What was even more disappointing was the fact that the mat was WAY thicker in spots than I thought it was. I thought I had been keeping it pretty scraped down and that it was only an inch or two thick. It was only that thick in a few spots, but in many others, it was upwards of 6″ thick! So now I had a mess on my hands.

The mat had gone soft right down to the gravel driveway and was thick enough to cause both Nora and I to almost get stuck while trying to traverse through it. That was the straw that broke the camels back. Suddenly my attitude about the meltdown changed. I was a broken man. Not that I got utterly upset, but no longer could I see the upside to it and no longer could I keep a smile on my face.

It’s funny how something that is really not that big of a deal in the whole scope of things can totally change the perspective and attitude I have about things. My heart literally sunk when I saw the mess on the driveway and suddenly the old snow in the woods was a lot uglier. The discolored snow on the sides of the roads was a mix of disgusting shades of brown, gray and black. The dripping of the melting snow still left on the roof was no longer a side distraction, it was a form of crewel torture. Oh, and the fog, that persistent dreary, nasty, depressing fog! When was it going away!?

After sucking it up enough to pull myself together, I fired up Big Red and headed down to the neighbors to see if any of the mat on their driveway needed clearing. Yup, in most areas it was only an inch or two deep, but in others 4-5″ thick. Their driveway is paved, so all I had to do was drop the blower and let it do its thing. In a matter of minutes the driveway was cleared to either the bare pavement or a very thin layer of ice/slush. Now back to clean up our driveway.

That was a different story. No longer could I just drop the blower and go. It would dig right into the gravel base and spit rocks all over the place. So I had to take it slowly, adjusting the height of the blower so that it did not dig into the gravel, but also did not leave too much slush behind. Things were going pretty good, right up until the moment the blower stopped working. I dropped the RPM’s of the tractor, but kept the blower engaged to see which sheer pin had gone. To my disappointment, both augers and the impeller were not spinning at all, but the shaft that powers the blower was still spinning. That meant it was something more serious than just the sheer pins. I did not have time to drop the blower and take it apart enough to get to the problem, so I just used the tractor/blower in reverse and “back bladed” the snow off the driveway.

It worked OK, but not as nicely as using the blower as it is meant to be used. I was able to clear the driveway down enough to allow for a trouble free passing. However, the process of pulling the snow off the driveway did not allow me to blow it into the woods, nor did it even allow me to put it off in a spot where it was completely out of the way. I did the best I could and made an area of slush and some rocks on the far side of the driveway. Out of the way enough to allow us to drive in and out and park without hassle.

I had just finished when the girls arrive home from school. They were very happy that I had cleaned up the driveway and I had a bit of a sense of accomplishment myself, but it was severely diminished by the kick in the gut the melting had caused in the first place, plus the headache of having to dig into the blower to determine what had broke. My first task was to break out the manual and look at the exploded view of the blower assembly. It did not take me long to find the “smoking gun”, or so I had thought. There is a rubber belt that is part of the drive system for the augers and impeller and best I could tell, that is the only thing that would cause the interruption of power from the driveshaft to the augers and impeller if the sheer pins were still intact. So I called up Land O’ Lakes Rec and explained the situation. They were able to get the part ordered and shipped to me in just 2 days. So I just let things sit until the part arrived.

The part arrived on time on Thursday. I was able to track its journey and when I saw it was “out for delivery” I made my move and detached the blower unit and left it in the heated shop and then backed the tractor out. The tractor is about 1″ too tall to actually fit into the shop. I can pull it up as far as the top of the cab and then have to stop there. So once the blower was dropped off, I took to dismantling it enough to replace the belt. As a dug in and removed enough steel drives and plates to get to the belt, I learned that the belt was just fine! So I continued to dig and learned that there is a point where the driveshaft goes into a collar that is part of a universal joint for the blower. In that connection, there is a square key that keeps the shaft and collar aligned and spinning in sync. So it was off to the hardware store to get a new key and bolt that had also snapped in the same spot. Came home, got things in and put back together and all was well.

I have to admit that as much as I love snow, I was glad that mother nature had been kind enough to me to keep me from having to move snow while the blower was down. I do remember finishing up working on the blower and going outside to fire up Big Red so that I could re-attach the blower to it and seeing these wonder flakes of snow come down. It was almost as if it were on cue. I was ready to move snow again and the flakes were flying again! They did not fly with enough vigor that I had to move snow for a while. We picked up a dusting Thursday night and about an inch on Friday. With the blower going again, I did get to fixing up the mess on our driveway Friday and things looked pretty good.

The snows have continued to fly and with a bit more vigor in the past 36 hours. All told, we have picked up around 5 1/2″ of new snow since Friday morning and I did fire up Big Red to move snow today. I am happy to report that things are finally returning to normal. Gone is the dingy, old snow. Well, it is still there, but sits under around a half foot of beautiful, fresh lake effect snow. Our driveway is back to being in pretty good shape and I am ready for snow…hopefully lots more!

My spirit is better and the forecast promises some decent snows in the coming week. All was not lost during this past week. While the weather did not exactly support much fun outside. I was blessed to have lots of company while doing some work one evening this past week. I knew they were all in the room with me, but when I turned around and saw the three of them hanging with dear old dad, I could not help but capture the moment. Put Nora somewhere in that last shot and I could not get any better!

Our driveway was not the only thing to take a serious hit with the thaw. I did not realize, but the ice rink had totally melted! I got an e mail from one of the folks that has been flooding it and he was wondering if I could come over this afternoon to clear the snow off and I did. When I got there, a nice sheet of ice was underneath the snow, but I guess it took 3 floods on Friday and 2 yesterday to bring it back to life. After finishing up the clearing, it hit me that this evening might be a great time to go over and do some skating with the family. So when I got back, I asked the girls and they enthusiastically said yes! So after dinner, we got into some outdoor skating attire and headed over to the rink.

Word had gotten out that the rink was back in business and by the time we arrived, the lot was full of vehicles and the ice was busy with skaters. As luck would have it, I received a text from my friend John saying that he and his son Jakob were heading over to skate and were wondering if we wanted to join them. So I let him know of our plans and we all met at around 6. It was really a perfect night for skating. The temps were in the mid teens and a bit of light snow was falling, but not enough to negatively impact the skating. This was my first time skating in some time and it was also done on brand new skates, so my feet did not last too long. I think I was on the ice for around 20-25 minutes before going into the warming hut to change back into my boots. Before I did, we did manage to get a nice group photo of our first skate of the season. We all had a ton of fun and I can see us going over there to skate quite a bit before mother nature pulls the plug for good!

So I think that about covers it for this one. The final bit of info I have to share is that it looks like all of the northern Midwest will be seeing some snow fly early this week. Not a huge storm, but a pretty solid 3-5″ in much of MN, WI, upper and lower MI. Some lake effect then looks to take over for the rest of the week. Probably not epic snows, but by the end of this coming week, we should be back into pretty decent shape with the old snow left over from the thaw buried under at least a foot of fresh. I’ll take it!

Good night from the Keweenaw..