The Plight of the Rhino

10 January 2012    3.00 PM      10 F      Overcast, light snow

I’m wondering if I may attract a few non-regular readers with the title of this entry. Perhaps a few leaf-lickers (as Robert, our builder, calls anyone who portrays any kind of “green” leanings) will stumble upon this blog and read it, fearful of more bad news about the African Black Rhino or the Indian White Rhino. Actually this entry will be more about that possibly rarer creature, the silver Yamaha Rhino.

Like a lot of mushers we use 4 wheelers for many things, mostly training the dogs, but they are pressed into service in a huge variety of roles, as well as for the occasional bout of frivolity. Our Rhino however is pretty much a one task tool. It’s main job is to push our big snowblower about so that we don’t get stranded down our road. Surprisingly enough, it snows quite a lot in Alaska. To date, we have already had about the same total snowfall as we had for the whole of last winter (very unscientific guestimate disclaimer inserted) which has meant a whole lot of snow shovelling, snow blowing and lots of other things involving snow and moving it around.

The Rhino and the big Berco snowblower do the vast majority of the big areas, the front yard, our driveway and our road. Unfortunately for us, the town plow guy doesn’t cover our half mile road, so if we want to leave our place during the winter by something other than dogsled or snowmachine, then I have to clear that road.

The Rhino in full snowblowing actionHow we deal with the snow

As you can see from the photo, it’s a pretty big machine and does a good job of moving the snow a fair distance into the trees. And that’s where the good news ends and the story begins. To be fair to the Rhino, despite the title of this piece, it isn’t actually at fault. It is the Berco snowblower that is the real villain in this tale.

I’ll admit to not being the most mechanically sympathetic person. I have expectations that machines should just work like they are supposed to, without the need for cosseting, tweaking or generally needing pampered.  I accept that I’ll need to refuel them and maybe even occasionally add oil, but really, that’s about as much attention as I want to have to bestow upon them. The snowblower had seemed fine with this treatment last winter, but was obviously harbouring a grudge.

On the first day that it was put into operation this year, it started up fine and all was going well, until I tried to manoeuvre the chute that selects the direction of the snow throwing. It is supposed to work via a couple of little electric motors and a control box. I know, it does seem a bit over-engineered and complicated and no amount of jiggling wires or whacking things with hammers made the slightest bit of difference. However, the blower still worked, it just could only blow the snow in one direction, so I had to do a lot of reversing, to make sure it was always pointed the right way. Not a huge problem, a little inconvenient, to be true, but manageable until we could find a weather forecast that indicated a period of clear weather when we could arrange to have the machine looked at and/or fixed.  With fixed obviously being the preferred outcome. Which leads us nicely back to the copious amounts of snow we’ve been having here and no signs of it not snowing.

Then things took a turn for the worse. I knew something was up, as the snow leaving the machine no longer travelled impressive distances clear off into the trees, but rather weakly huffed and puffed a few feet into the air. On occasion, it didn’t even make that, barely leaving the chute and just about flopping into the snow beside the machine. I really knew things were not going well on the afternoon that smoke started billowing from the blower, accompanied by a high pitched shrieking noise. My usual reaction would be just to carry on, hoping it might stop soon, but the augers (the blades that push the snow through to the chute and propel it outwards) had stopped turning too, so I figured that there might be something actually needing properly fixed. Long story, slightly shorter version – the drive belt that makes the whole kit and caboodle work has stretched and needs retensioned, but the control box that lets you do that is the same one that directs the chute – yes, the same one that stopped working earlier in the year. To make matters worse, the belt was also missing a couple of its rubber teeth, causing it slip on a fairly regular basis, leading to more of that high pitched shrieking and less of the actual snow blowing. Until the day that it just gave up ghost completely. That day, would of course be the day that we got 16 inches of snow.

With a great deal of effort and much digging of snow, we managed to  extricate our big trailer from the snow bank it was almost buried in and hooked it up to the dogtruck.

there's a trailer under all that snowTaking a break from the digging, trying to clear the trailer.

Having done what we thought was the hard part, it seemed a simple task to run the Rhino up the ramp onto the trailer and then head down to the repair shop.

Snowblower is wider than the trailer.Snowblower = 6′, trailer = 5′ 9″. Problem !

Much discussion ensued. And few bad words too. Faced with the reality that no matter how much we wanted it to fit, there was no way it was going to, we enlisted the help of friends, as much for moral support as anything else. Our friends were truly great and came up with a further two trailers for us to try.

Incredibly, our outfit didn’t manage to fit on either of those trailers. One of the trailers could fit the Rhino and snowblower, but we were unable to actually load them onto it, because of the approach angle and height. The other trailer was much lower and wide enough, but not long enough.

Trying another trailerAll we need is a crane !

We even briefly considered driving the 30 miles down to the workshop in the Rhino, but it’s limited to about 7 mph with the snowblower attached and besides, I’m not sure how happy the State Troopers would have been with that.

Eventually, after deciding that some of our other options, such as setting fire to it or moving it by forklift (a forklift which we don’t have), weren’t particularly helpful or productive, I contacted the repair shop who offered a couple of very sensible possibilities. And thus, we hired a bigger trailer from them, one that the Rhino and Berco would fit on. Happiness all round.

Of course, to have the tale finish at that point would be too easy. It turns out that the trailer we hired had been sitting outside all winter. It has a layer of ice on the deck about 3 inches thick which meant that the Rhino could just about get up but had nothing like enough traction to do so when weighted down with the Berco attached. In the end, in the best traditions of men everywhere, a bit of brute force and sheer power got both bits of kit up onto the trailer. Yes, there’s nothing like “just taking a run at it” to overcome a wee bit of ice.

Rhino and Berco on the trailerSuccess. Very happy and much relieved me.

At the moment, we’re still waiting to hear when it will be ready to be collected. And in the mean time, the snow hasn’t taken pity on us and continues to fall at quite an amazing rate. We do have an alternative plan of action, one that every time I use, makes me pine for my comfortable Rhino and my big 6′ blower.

Pushing the new snowblowerLizzy hard at work with our much smaller snowblower.

Actually, even when someone else is using it, I still wish we had the bigger one back. Today’s weather forecast calls for another 4 inches of snow tonight.

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