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  • Terry Wigmore

Applying What You Already Know to New Situations

Ok, it wasn't -30C outside, this time, but it was still cold enough to numb my fingers after a few minutes of exposure. What do you do when a control cable breaks on your snowblower, you're in the middle of a fairly heavy dump of snow, and it's 6 am and dark and you need the car to get to work?

Step 1. Give up on Plan A and implement a workable Plan B

I managed to get almost half of the drive cleared before the snowblower stopped working. There was a considerable amount that needed to be removed in order to get the car out to the street. After letting the panic subside (OMG! What am I going to do?) I decided the most pragmatic decision was to admit defeat, for the moment, and apply the old-fashioned shovel to the situation. It was tough, but it could be done. I used to do this in my first year at this property. That was also the winter I started dreaming of snowblowers. The next few winters taught me that this is no country for old men, and I was not getting any younger. I bought a used snowblower for the following winter, but after spending money on repair after repair over the course of the next few years, and having it still fail when the worst storms arrived, I ended up buying a new one (the one I am learning to service and repair myself).

Step 2 Upon closer inspection

Once the shovel method has provided a clear path for the car to come and go, make a coffee, warm up, and then head to the garage to take a look at the problem in earnest. What broke, exactly, and can it be MacGyvered as a temporary fix to complete the snow removal job at hand?

Step 3 Necessity Is The Mother Of Invention

It was after groundhog day, and Wiarton Willy (the Canadian weather forecasting groundhog for these parts - see had not seen his shadow, which meant Spring was in the air and there wouldn't be 6 more weeks of winter. "Yeah, right!" I muttered as I inspected the snapped drive cable. Still, I could use some wire, I thought, to tie the broken ends together in a way that would provide enough tensile strength to engage the drive. I had done this to the auger cable on the left-side control grip (and I should have realized that if one cable breaks, the 2nd, being the same age and under the same stresses, would likely need replacing too. I should have ordered a second replacement cable then. You know what they say about hindsight)

Still there should be something I can scrounge up that would help create simple, though not elegant repair.

Step 4 Think out of the box for a creative plan C

I used an old bicycle brake cable for my previous MacGyver repair. This time, I did not have any extra braided wire ( braided wires is strong enough to take the stress of use, while still being flexible enough to tie a knot with). I remembered buying some extra heavy-duty plastic twine for my gas-trimmer. I cut a section of that material and tried to tie a knot with the upper portion of the broken cable. There was a guide wheel for the cable, so the one knot had to be high enough that it wouldn't get stuck on the wheel mechanism, and the other had to be lower than the guide wheel. It wasn't easy, and my fingers were already numb, so pulling the knots taut proved a bit of a challenge. However, after a few minutes of tugging at the knot in order to get it as tight as possible, the knot above the wheel guide seemed to be holding. I tied the lower section of the cable, near the spring where the flywheel engages. To adjust the tension, I simply tied additional knots, shortening the length of cable with each knot until it was the right length.

Step 5 Test the theory

Every good idea has to be properly tested to be sure it will actually work the way you thought it would. In my case, before I replaced the cover and tightened all the bolts, I made sure the clutch would engage and disengage the drive wheel. I did the inspection without starting the engine to be sure it was all functioning as I believed it should. Then I started the engine and tried engaging the drive wheel. It all seemed to go well enough that I replaced the cover and did a field test on a portion of the driveway that I had not yet cleared. Success!

Step 6. Don't be cheap, buy the manufacturer's part and do the repair properly ;) (as of this writing, I have yet to do that final step...hoping Wiarton Willie is correct and that the snow will be melting sooner than later and there will be rain in the forecast, not more snow. I may be optimistic, but I am also a pragmatist so I think I will order the part regardless ;)

In summary:

1. I knew basically what a similar control cable looks like, and how it operates, since I repaired one last winter. I could deduce the problem as a repairable snapped cable.

2. What I didn't know was exactly how to get at the other end of the control cable since it was hidden inside a cover. I also didn't know where the snap had occurred on the end with the spring. I didn't know if there was enough wire to get the ends to meet up.

3. Using what I knew already, I had some confidence that I could remove the cover and improvise a repair. For once, I was right (shhhh...don't tell my wife ;)

*Photos of the process below.

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