What Comes Down Must Go Away – At Home Plowing and Snow Removal

Despite some wishful and frankly conflicted thinking that maybe this year it just wouldn’t snow, that fantasy has rolled over and died out here in New England.  We may have had an oddly warm and non-snowy first third of the winter, but as is often the case in these parts things change quickly.  January brought snow and it seems as if there will be more of it throughout the rest of the winter.  Ski resorts are struggling back from the brink (just like every year), and the snow plow guys are happy.

Except, are snow plow guys ever actually happy? While you ponder that existential question, I’ll note that it does seem that Plow Guys are getting harder and harder to find. Town departments of public works and the state Department of Transportation have taken to keeping these signboards out, advertising for plow contractors, about two-thirds of the year. On local social media groups, residents have kept up a pretty constant cry “ISO” (in search of) people to come plow their driveways. Most disheartening are the posts earlier this month (once the snow started falling) of hired contractors who “came once, got about halfway down the driveway, and then left and never came back”. Some people…

All of which gets me to thinking about my personal history with snow removal. Grab a warm beverage – or at least one that makes you feel warm as it goes down – and let’s see what the deal is with snow plowing.  Let’s consider Plow Guys, their trucks, and…..well, we’ll find something else I’m sure.

It appears that I’ve been involved in moving snow for quite some time. Here I am looking not all that happy in the “historic” Baltimore, MD snow storm of January, 1966. That, according to the Internet, was more than a foot of snow over the course of several days. In some places, the drifts were supposedly 10 feet tall.

It’s just like the Shackleton expedition except in Baltimore with toddlers, and groceries.


The Blizzard of ’66 naturally challenged the (mostly) southern city’s snow-removal efforts.  Schools were closed for a week.  But as this was before I started school, all I can recall was that it was hella fun for the streets to be impassable and to therefore have to walk – or sled it seems – to the store with my dad for provisions.

Yes, this is still a photo of the February, 1966 storm. I should note that my mom had a kind of idiosyncratic approach to getting film developed. She’d pile up a bunch of exposed rolls and then forget when they were taken. Clearly some pictures of the February storm got developed in February, while some had to wait until October to get to the drugstore.


Family photos indicate that some of our neighbors must have figured out how to dig their cars out of the snowbanks. As I recall, we mostly left the Plymouth wagon (seen here in the background) buried until the snow melted off. Likewise our Simca. Well, there’s a good chance that neither was running, so a dad-powered sled would have been the preferred way for the Suns to get to the grocery store.

Another huge storm that I can recall impacting transportation was when we were living in Raleigh, NC. This storm of a bit less than a foot in January, 1973 closed schools for a week. While not exactly car-burying, it was still something. The blow to my family was somewhat lessened due to the fact that by this time we’d finally managed to get a house with off-street parking and a carport for the Simca! No more buried cars for us. By the way, for those of you keeping score, it should be noted that our Simca would have been a bit over 9 years old when this photo was taken… probably a record at the time for not-French people living in the U.S.

No, buried cars and a lack of driveway snowplowing did not present problems for my family during the Blizzard of ’73. Rather, according at the time to my mom, the problem during this blizzard was that the City of Raleigh pretty much threw in the towel so far as snow removal. The local streets stayed snow and ice covered for close to a week. Her summation of the situation was that she was not going to venture out in the giant Chrysler wagon with “all those idiots on the road”.  In retrospect, I’m not sure who “all” those idiots were since I recall seeing very few Tarheels brave enough to try to drive on public roads that week. More than likely, they were definitely less “idiots” than just winter driving neophytes who – living in the flat and temperate North Carolina “piedmont” – had few reasons to ever learn how to drive in the snow.

Or in my mom’s characteristically not overly generous, sweeping generalization, “idiots”.

Not my family’s Simca 1000, but this does look like fun.


I will note that my dad that week easily made the short trip downtown to work in the Governor’s Office via the rear engined Simca. At the time, he was working on HUD grants overseeing land use and transportation planning issues for (the ultimately ill-fated) Soul City. As I recall the Simca by then had been equipped with a set of snow tires on the rear because he “had to get places”.  In exchange, “all” my mom had to do was to keep the family in groceries… which she adamantly wasn’t going to do that week in the Town & Country given all the idiots (which may or may not at that point have included my dad).

Throughout my childhood (and beyond), my parents excelled in wedging themselves into these kinds of situations where their individual neuroses behaviors would periodically conflict and cause complete paralysis around accomplishing even the most basic household management/logistical tasks. So as was often the case, it fell to me to break the deadlock and actually do something… in this case, that something was to walk to the store during the day with the sled and bring home provisions. Fortunately, at the time I was heavily into the Little House on the Prairie books. I could only imagine my trek to the Colonial up at Cameron Village as being just what Pa, Laura and Mary (I was always more of a Mary-fan than a Laura-fan, particularly after the advent of the TV show, I’ll just say in highly unlikely case Melissa Sue Anderson is for some reason reading this) would be doing on foot from Walnut Grove to Mankato. In a blizzard.

Another relevant reference to me would have been Star Trek, which I was equally into at the time. In particular, the achingly sad All Our Yesterdays  (the second to the last original series episode made) starring the pre-Polaroid commercials Mariette Hartley as Spock’s eventual love interest in a blizzard. Yes, Spock fell for a human woman in a snowstorm. Winter does strange things, even to Vulcans.

As an adult I am not about to let such things happen to me. In fact, I keep roughly a year’s worth of groceries on hand in my house at all times. The idea of getting stranded during the winter most certainly explains my obsession with snow tires as well as with keeping my driveway accessible and clear all winter.  Fortunately, as a New England resident, I don’t have to deal with towns that cannot move snow and thereby keep the roads passable for all of the idiots out there.

So this brings me back – as I trust you knew it sooner or later would – to the subject of snow plowing and various attempts to get through a typical Massachusetts winter with a passable driveway. This turns out to be harder than it used to be, for me, mostly due to the aforementioned (a seemingly long time ago) lack of Plow Guys.

And because this is all about vehicles, we need to spend some time talking about the trucks, or lack thereof, for plowing snow.

It does seem that despite the fact that the top three selling vehicles in the United States in 2023 were the primary truck offerings from each of the big three (1 = Ford F Series, 2 = Chevy Silverado, 3 = Dodge Ram), folks in general – including those living in areas where it snows and where there are driveways to plow – aren’t keen on taking up the business of using their vehicles to remove snow.  Even from their own driveways.

Of course, that may well be because they don’t want their (probably leased) truck to wind up looking like our lead photo of what clearly is a working plow truck. I found this particular example resting in a supermarket parking lot in a nearby town while its owner was no doubt inside loading up on whatever essentials he needed to keep awake and driving up and down driveways in the pre-dawn hours.

On many frosty mornings, there’s probably something of a breeze around the floors inside this Plow Guy’s truck. Exothermic foot warmers may be in order.  I think they sell those in the grocery store.

Model by Empire of Ghosts as posted on https://www.puttyandpaint.com/projects/33936


In keeping with my observation that it’s getting increasingly difficult to find an honest-to-goodness pickup set up to do residential plowing, it took some time to scrape up even an online image of a vintage plow truck. The best I found was actually a photo of a scale model.

This 1980s GMC looks amazingly like the vehicle used by the Plow Guy I kept employed 30 years ago. He was a great guy with an honest and hard working truck that had at least as much rust as that depicted on this model. His truck’s bed was likewise always filled with “stuff”… like giant hunks of tree (“Someone traded me these.”) waiting to be split into firewood and cardboard boxes in various states of disintegration. He worked for me over the five or six winters I lived in that house/town during the mid-to-late 1990s. Each winter was a bit touch and go as to whether he’d actually be able to plow us given the continuing decline of his truck. He finished out his tenure as my Plow Guy only because I had a circular driveway and he could accomplish the job at my house without the benefit of the reverse gear which his transmission no longer had. Or something like that. It was sad. I moved, not knowing if he was ever able to find another truck to use the following winter.

Even though my next (current) house was only in the adjoining town, the fact is that most Plow Guys back then – and I think now – have extremely local businesses. So it’s not as if he could have followed me (transmission willing) to my house in the next town. There are only so many driveways that one guy can do during each storm, and the goal would be to minimize the amount of driving around to get from customer to customer. Further, as a highly seasonal business, Plow Guys need to have something else to do besides plowing. I often found that their 9-month “day” jobs continued even during plowing season, further limiting their time available to focus on plowing. This makes sense as one never really knows if the plowing season will be busy and lucrative or mostly a bust. Vocationally, Plow Guy is not unlike “rock musician” or “ski instructor”; it’s a gamble to give up your day job to devote full time to something that is entirely dependent upon the whims of weather. All of this no doubt plays into the economics and thought processes surrounding the decision to take up being a Plow Guy.

Anyway, when I moved to my current house, I discovered that the only way to plow the last quarter of my 400′ driveway was to do something called “back dragging”. This is because the driveway leads directly to the garage and has 12′ stone retaining walls along both sides of that last quarter. It’s effectively a chute with no place to push off the snow. Well, no problem I’m told, because it turns out that the general contractor who built my house has a brother who runs an earth moving company and he spends the winter using his backhoe/bucket loader to plow the all-equally-impossible driveways located at all of his brother’s houses. And guess what? The first winter you live in the house, this service turns out to be free!


Gotta love small town life.

Hi, I’m Larry. This is my brother…

Well, you get the point.

Having your driveway plowed via a big yellow loader is tremendously exciting. This is particularly – and perhaps only – the case if you’re aged 5 and 2 and absolutely massive fans of Bob the Builder. That summed up my kids for several winters. But soon enough they moved on to the Wiggles. Plus, I got a bit resentful of living in a real life Bob the Builder episode and being held hostage by the single person in town who plowed via loader. I tried a few standard pickup driving Plow Guys and each lasted at most one winter before a massive price increase was announced for the “next” winter and/or they flat out quit. There are easier ways I am told to make a plowing buck without all of the transmission torture and equipment stress caused by back dragging 75′ of pavement at 3 am.

There are actually 3 dogs; but the third is smaller and probably smarter than to run in snow that’s deeper than she is.


All of this of course is fine with the dogs, but it simply won’t do for me. This brings us to how come I am now a fan of the infernal machine.

Eight horsepower of CO2 (and CO and lord knows what all else) belching double-stage snow blowing goodness.

There are certainly newer versions of this particular Ariens – it’s the very standard 24″ model. Mine lacks most of the modern convenience features such as a headlight, heated hand grips, and an attached plastic stick for poking snow off the auger (because, lord knows you’d never find a wooden stick just laying around where you’re snow blowing), etc. It does have the electric start option which I will admit to using at times when I’m feeling old. Always fires right up on the first pull/button push. I purchased it for $200 from someone on the side of the road 10 years ago who had decided to give up taking care of their own driveway. This perfectly intersected with my own interest in getting rid of paying a contractor to do work that after half a century I’d finally figured out that I could do for myself.

I will note that most years – including this past Fall – I continue to request bids on plowing. Just to see what I get. This year, of the 6 contractors I contacted one wanted a $1500 retainer (payable in full whether or not the company ever plowed… because, weather, you know?), two wanted roughly $150 per storm with additional charges if they came more than once per storm (most would if there were more than 8″ of snow), and three came by to look and then never called back.

I’d say that my $200 investment 10 years ago has paid off handsomely.

Second pass during one of the minor snowfalls in the past month.


I therefore have integrated my relatively ancient Ariens into my constellation of machines that require regular maintenance but given that, will provide decades of service. I admit that the ministrations necessary for the snowblower and its nail-tough Tecumseh engine to keep operating are even more satisfying than what is required for the 25 year old Whirlpool washer. I prefer the smell of gasoline to that of Tide. And for what it’s worth, not that many ministrations are necessary.  Just an annual check of the shear pins plus an oil change every couple of years. This coming Spring/Summer will probably bring a second-ever in my ownership belt change.

One thing that very nearly put the old Ariens out of operation was rusty handlebars. Right in the center of the above picture, you can see the two bolts where the lower handlebars attach to the machine’s body (there’s a similar attachment on the right side). On my machine, these handlebars cracked right around the aft bolt on both sides. This was due to rust, metal fatigue, and likely a combination of both. So naturally, these are the two parts for the Ariens 924 that are no longer available from the manufacturer. That they fail on many of these machines is supported by the fact that they’re nearly impossible to source from eBay. I couldn’t find any NOS, nothing turned up at the town dump transfer station or at the junk piles for local small equipment dealers. What few used examples I could find online were all the right side and priced well over $90 each. Another solution was in order.

Fortunately that solution was called “welding” and was accomplished by connecting with one of the several small welding shops in my area. “Oh yeah, I do those all the time!” was the Welding Guy’s statement. A week later, I had both handlebars fully repaired and repainted. $60. Which frankly was perfectly good money for something that I’m sure took him all of 20 minutes to do… because he knows what he’s doing and does it all of the time.

You’ve got to respect a professional.  Something I try to communicate to my clients, except I don’t get to wear a helmet/hood when I apply my skills (which is ok since it would just scare the children and their teachers and besides my skills absolutely do not extend to joining metal together). Still, in a better world we would all be considered professionals and paid equivalently for applying our chosen and unique skills. Particularly when that comes to welding.

Most times, I get the driveway close enough down to the pavement such that the eventual sun takes care of the rest. This works even if temperatures remain below freezing as has been the case for the past couple of weeks. The end result allows me to proceed down to the actual street, where the professionals take over snow clearing. That’s assuming there are enough professionals who can be hired to handle the job. Right now, my town essentially conscripts the transfer station employees to take up the slack from the equally minimally-staffed highway department during plowing days. That seems to work. It gives the dump guys what is probably a welcome break from gratuitously smashing stuff up right before Jeff gets to it (yes, I’m still pissed about that 1960s Smith Corona…) and yelling at random people about emptying cardboard boxes before recycling them.

The conga line of DPW plows usually starts well before there’s actually any -or at least much – precipitation.


Of course, there’s more to the job of municipal snow removal than straightforward plowing. A good part of what the town (and the state, that takes care of the many roads around here that are designated state highways) does is the spreading of melting agents before, during, and after snow storms. In this regard, I’ll refer you to Jason Shafer’s wonderfully comprehensive article on snow removal from the professional’s perspective several years ago.

And I’ll let that also be a setup to my next article (next week) which explores the impact of some of that professional melting agent work, and how I wound up going back to North Carolina to effect a proper solution.

Stay warm out there.