A Jerk-Free Guide to Snowblowing

One of my earliest childhood memories is waking up at 3 a.m. to the sound of my father, Sid, shoveling our driveway. When it came to snowstorms, his philosophy was shovel early, shovel often. The wheels came off this philosophy during the Blizzard of ’78, when so much snow fell so fast that even my superhuman father could not get ahead of it. Sid, a man who doled out compliments like they were his own molars, gave much respect to that monster of a storm.

Still, he was not a believer in the snowblower until later in life, when dropping dead from a shoveling-induced heart attack became a possibility. I was relieved when he finally bought one. However, as a fourth-generation Swamp Yankee Masshole (aka: the product of a rural, farming community in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts), my father developed a philosophy and bylaws that governed the use, or not, of the snowblower. Swamp Yankees believe in rules. For everything. Especially eating cornbread. (“Over the sink so you don’t get the damn crumbs everywhere.”)

Photo Illustration: Shawn Michael Jones for The Wall Street Journal

No matter where you live, Dad’s snowblower rules transcend time, population density, geography and politics. They’re just good common sense if you care about things like efficiency, getting along with your neighbors and not being a jerk. If you don’t care about those things, stop reading.

Herewith, Sid’s Snowblower Rules.

Snowblower Rule #1: Plan ahead 

If you anticipate significant snowfall, remove all toys, bicycles, beer cans, dog toys, lawn equipment, etc., from any surface which you expect to snowblow later. You don’t want to see what happens when a peanut-butter-filled dog kong goes through the snow expeller. Spread a layer of de-icer. Next, park all your vehicles as close to the end of your driveway as possible (but not so close to the end of the driveway that they’ll get pelted with the crap that flies off the end of the snowplow that goes screaming down your street at 4 a.m.). There are several reasons to do this: 1) It’s a lot easier to get the snowblower out of the garage and use it if the cars aren’t in the way; 2) Less driveway surface area to clear; 3) If your snowblower breaks, you can just shovel out the snow hump at the end of the driveway and still use your car(s); and 4) Your garage will be free for snow day parties with the neighbors.

Photo Illustration: Shawn Michael Jones for The Wall Street Journal

Snowblower Rule #2: Blow early, blow often 

Once the storm hits and 4 inches (no less) have accumulated, start snowblowing. Remove snow periodically during the storm so you’re not faced with snow so deep that the snowblower is just creating snow tunnels. However, gratuitous snowblowing is not allowed. If it’s less than 4 inches, do you really need to use the snowblower? Really? Did someone steal your shovel? Do you not have children you can conscript? Unless you are infirm, elderly or out of town, get out there and just shovel. Nothing incited Sid’s ire like watching people who were revving up their snowblowers to remove a mere dusting of snow, an amount that he could clear in its entirety by sneezing explosively in its direction. This rule does not apply in the case of snow followed by a coating of ice. Just stay inside if this happens and hope you have enough beer to wait out the thaw.

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Snowblower Rule #3: Protect your mitts. You only get two 

Never ever stick your hands or any other bodily appendage into any part of the snowblower that sucks snow in or spits it out, even if the snowblower is off. When my dad’s snowblower got gunked up, he used my brother’s hockey stick to ungunk it. Other long, wooden or rubber devices are equally effective. Be gentle. Those bad boys are expensive. (Snowblowers. Not hockey sticks.) Some people also swear by coating the auger and the chute with a nonstick spray. There are snowblower-specific brands but in a pinch, I imagine that Pam would work just as well. I mean, it works for grilled cheese sandwiches, right? If the gunk is so bad you can’t clear it, just stop snowblowing. Don’t try to win “snowstorm.” You can’t. It’ll all melt eventually, and since your cars are at the end of the driveway, you’re good.

Photo Illustration: Shawn Michael Jones for The Wall Street Journal

Snowblower Rule #4: Don’t be a jerk 

Snowblowers throw snow. The stronger the blower, the farther the snow is thrown. This means that if you live in a densely populated area, you may be unwittingly (or wittingly) throwing heaps of snow onto your neighbor’s sidewalk or driveway, where he or she will be forced to remove not only the naturally occurring layer of snow, but the jerk-occurring layer of snow. There also will be zero question about where the jerk snow came from and the identity of the jerk who put it there. Don’t be a jerk. Set your snowblower to keep your snow on your own property and if you can’t figure out how to do that, you have no business owning one. Also, be aware that any snow on your property that you move into the street will come back onto your property four fold once the snowplow guy goes by. The snowplow guy HATES it when you shovel your snow into the street, which is snowplow guy domain. Put it to one side of the driveway or the other.

Photo Illustration: Shawn Michael Jones for The Wall Street Journal

Snowblower Rule #5: Don’t get good at something you don’t want to do 

This bit of fatherly advice was the second best I ever received. (The first was “Kris, never lie. You have a terrible memory and you’ll forget what you told people and get caught.” The man knew me.) Applied to snowblowing, this rule can save you a world of neighborhood drama. This is because all neighbors fall into two categories: people who are super thankful when you do a nice thing for them, and people who are not thankful when you do a nice thing for them but who get super pissed if you don’t do it again. Sid knew instinctively which people were which (he had an infallible jerk detector), but you may not. So when you are tempted to graciously snowblow out your neighbors’ property, ask yourself this: Do you want to do this every time it snows? Aside from helping out your elderly and/or infirm neighbors, which is the right thing to do, assume that you’ll be on the hook for a repeat performance if you step up once. If you decide to do it anyway, only repeat your efforts for people who thanked you. Bonus points if they thanked you with cookies, bourbon or tickets to the professional sport game of your choice.

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How do you keep from being a jerk with a snowblower? Join the conversation below.

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