Officially sick of winter


Chris Hardie

Chris Hardie has moved plenty of snow this winter with his snowblower.

Chris Hardie, Contributor

Being Wisconsin born and raised on a farm, I can honestly say that I’ve dealt with much of the worst that winter can offer.

I have cut wood in snow up to my waist, pounded on frozen manure spreader aprons in sub-zero temperatures, driven tractors into the wind until my face was numb and hauled hay bales and water buckets hundreds of feet through the snow. But I am now 100 percent, officially declared, positively, absolutely sick of winter.

As far as winters go, this one’s actually been on the mild side, with no long stretches of minus-30 or more. I am certainly grateful for that.

It’s been a snowier winter, however, with nearly 53 inches of snow in La Crosse since Nov. 1 (as of March 12), compared to 39.2 inches in a normal year.

Maybe my lack of seasonal tolerance coincides with me becoming an ornery old man. But it certainly seems like we’ve had many more storms this winter with the temperature hovering around freezing, which has created more sleet, ice rain and snow events. That makes for some heavy snow.

So far this winter I’ve broken two snow shovels and my snow blower ate the handle of another one. I’m now down to a couple of ancient snow shovels that are so bent and beaten up that there is only a small section of the shovel that actually scrapes the ground.

To be fair, the shovels I’ve broken were likely purchased during the Reagan administration and were in no shape to tackle moisture-laden snow. But the snow has also taken a toll on my relatively new snowblower that I bought two years ago from friends that figured they would have little use for it in their new Florida home.

The first breakdown on the snowblower was in early January when the handle that operates the direction of the chute snapped off. The quality of the metal has the tensile strength of recycled beer tabs, so it can’t be welded.

The handle is a convenience, but not a necessity. One need only stop, turn the chute by hand while simultaneously holding the broken handle. Cumbersome and annoying, but still usable. Replacing the handle could be a spring maintenance project.

I did learn the hard way that when one is blowing slushy snow that you should take the time to clean out the auger when you’re done. Otherwise the slushy mush freezes into an icy block that has to be chipped away.

I do have a plow for my old truck and I’ve used it often this winter for the big jobs. But when the ground thaws and you have to plow some gravel driveways, the plow turns into an excavator. Picking out chunks of gravel from the lawn after the thaw is not fun either.

The snowblower also becomes a gravel thrower, so one has to be careful of where you are aiming. I also learned that chunks of gravel can become lodged between the auger blades and the side of the snowblower, grinding things to a halt.

Despite these challenges, I have soldiered on and tried to count my blessings. I could live in Hurley where 121.5 inches of snow has fallen so far this winter and where there is still 22 inches of snow on the ground.

Or consider Brown Top, WA, where as of March 12 the snow depth was 294 inches, according to the National Weather Service. That’s 24.5 feet of snow with the liquid equivalent of more than 30 inches of water.

The official back breaking straw came last week when the cable that operates the auger snapped. At least the auger was still engaged. So I finished blowing snow and shut down the machine.

That leaves me with two options. I can fix the cable so I can use the blower again or push it into a snowbank and forget about it until spring.

The way I feel now, option two looks pretty tempting. There may be a few more old shovels in the garage that I can put to work.

Chris Hardie spent more than 30 years as a reporter, editor and publisher. He was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and won dozens of state and national journalism awards. He is a former president of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association. Contact him at [email protected].