Monday, March 28, 2011

Shoveling driveways, chipping ice off cars (Feb. 15, 2007)

Current mood: chipper

I guess I should count myself lucky, not feeling particularly sore after spending most of Wednesday shoveling out all or part of five driveways. We had about five inches of snow on Tuesday, followed by a quarter-inch of freezing rain, followed by another two or three inches of snow by mid-day Wednesday.

My next door neighbor, who works down the road less than a mile, needed to go to work at 7 a.m., but the overnight freezing rain made it impossible to get into the car at all, let alone try to clean it off in any short amount of time. Since our car was under a carport, we (I) drove her to work. Later in the morning, though, it took three of us to bash and chip our way into that car, and though I wasn't keeping track, I was told it took us most of an hour to do so.

Chipping one's way into a frozen over car is a bit of an art form. The tool of choice was a wooden shovel handle. The trick is to break the ice, to make it "spider web", without breaking any glass, wearing out or breaking any tools, or scratching any paint. My method was to hammer at the ice with the handle, but not so hard as to do any damage to the car, just a strong tap. I wasn't trying to break the ice, just spider it, then move along a couple of inches and do it again. I concentrated on the separation between driver door and roof line, making sure I went around the entire outline of the door. Once I had fractured (but not removed) the ice all the way around the door, I hammered kind of sideways, using diagonal blows, until some of the fractured ice started to chip off. From here on, I changed tools to a regular ice scraper, but using more or less a pulling motion rather than scraping, aiming for an inch or so into the ice pack, away from the space, pulling toward the space.

Eventually this worked. I was making better progress solo than the two others were together. I hip-checked the door, spider-webbing the ice on the door itself, allowing access to the door handle. With the pole of the shovel handle I busted my way all around the door until I saw paint. From there, I was able to pry the door open. With a couple of good hard slams, a whole lot of ice came off.

With the car now running and the heater on full (recirculating so as to warm up the interior faster), it was only a matter of time before we got the whole rest of the car cleaned off. I did ensure, though, that all the mirrors were clean. Mirror glass is a lot more delicate than window glass, so my ice-chipping motions were no stronger than what one would use to crack an egg. Steady, slow, woodpecker style, with the corner of the plastic scraper, off it came.

Since my neighbor is from a warm-air region, I took pains to explain that just because you could see out one window and the mirror, you really weren't ready to travel just yet. All that ice must have added 300 pounds to the weight of the car. With traction iffy at best, the last thing one needed was the momentum of all that extra ice weight to try to stop or get around a corner. Steering itself was difficult, even with good tires. That said, we cleaned all the ice off the car -- hood, roof, body panels, lights, grill, the works.

With the car cleaned off, we then went around the neighborhood doing driveways. Motorized tools were useless, with that thick ice layer mixed in.

Before I describe my strange method for snow shoveling, you have to understand my snow-clearing background, learned from growing up in the Buffalo NY snow belt region. It was fairly common when clearing a driveway to have to move snow above and beyond a snow pile taller than you. Since the amount of snow to shovel was frequently measured in feet rather than inches, there is just no way one can do it the way most people operate a shovel, leaning over and lifting with one's back muscles. It's absolutely necessary to be able to shovel for hours on end, all the while sending snow up and over the aforementioned taller-than-you pile. Snowblowers were helpful early in the season, but not after you got beyond the five-foot level. They could get up that far, or over far enough, but not both.

What I do is stand in a lunge, feet maybe shoulder width apart, but one a full step ahead of the other. One leg does the lifting, the other acts as a pivot, and the snow goes directly over my head, straight back, up and over. I cannot see where the snow is landing, though I do verify that whatever wind is present is working with me, not against me. Arms (bicep muscles in particular) do a lot of work; my back does nothing. Depending on the need, I can send snow eight feet up and/or ten feet sideways, or both. Small shovels work far better than large ones. Snow shovels are next to useless except to plow with. But over and over and over and over, using no back at all, the driveway snowpack disappears.

It probably helps that I was the original 98-pound weakling. I was five-seven and 115 when I graduated from high school, by which time I'd logged hundreds of mornings clearing our driveway. There's no way I could clear snow the way the big guys did, using their backs. Not to brag, but here I am, rapdly closing on age 50, and I cleared the bulk of the one driveway today, 15 feet across and 80 feet long, of that ice and snow pack. Hour after hour, just plugging away, knowing how to lift only what I can, and sending it just as far as needed, using just the right size shovel, but doing it thousands of times. I wasn't even that cold, and I was never out of breath.

I'm a little stiff now, nine hours after hanging up the tools for the night, but not sore. I am, however, a little homesick for Buffalo. My sister tells me there's four level feet in the yard back home.

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