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  • Terry Wigmore

How To MacGyver a Snowblower at -30C

Updated: Feb 8, 2019

I wasn't keen on heading outside in the frigid temperatures, but the blowing snow was accumulating and I resigned myself to the need to head outside to keep the snow at bay. After layering up, double socks, long-johns, extra sweater and my Trapper cap, I faced trudging through the snow to the garage to fire up the old snowblower. The garage door seemed to strain against the wind and the snow, but the motor worked and the door raised. I filled the fuel tank on my snowblower, wheeled it out to the opening of the garage, primed the engine, cranked the choke and pulled the starter rope. First pull! Perfect. I may decry the elements and their savagery but, dagnabbit, I was prepared to do battle this morning, and I was ready to engage in the titanic clash between the Forces of Nature and Man in some Atwood-esque clash. Or so it seemed to play in the theater of my mind. Off I went, engaging the forward drive, maneuvering into the snow, and then it happened. SNAP! The auger cable broke. I could still move the snowblower but I couldn't blow the snow anywhere. Round one went to Mother Nature. Man would have to wait and ponder what to do while exploring where the cable snapped.

It didn't take long to note the length of the section dangling from the hand-grips (Did I mention the snowblower had heated hand-grips? We're not that rugged in Canada :) It seemed that the cable snapped inside the plastic casing covering part of the auger motor. It didn't seem to be a problem to open this up, though I had not done this procedure before. A few screws later and I had the cowling off and could see where the cable had snapped. There a small section, no more than 5cm in length, still attached to the spring (see Fig 1). That cable seemed to feed through the spring and connected to a lever that engaged the belt to drive the auger (Fig. 2). It had a metal bud that fit inside the spring. Now that was going to be a challenge. I needed to find a joining section of wire that would be as tough in tensile strength as the braided wire of the original cable. "What do I have in my work area?", I thought, as I scanned the various bins and containers I had stuffed with all kinds of parts and pieces that I had scavenged and kept for some unknown future use.

Sometimes it all works out. I had meant to repair a bicycle brake in the late fall and never got around to it. It seemed that the brake cable I had for that job would do pretty well as a connecting wire to the auger belt tensioning spring. But where and how do I connect the two different wire strands? I decided to simply tie the wires together, with enough tension so when I pushed the handle-grip lever down, the auger belt would engage and off I'd go...at least in theory that was how I pictured it going. With a MacGyver style fix, you never really know for certain how it will all work out. I tied the cables and it seemed as though there was enough tension, until I tried the lever...nothing. My knot was loosening and the tension was insufficient to pull the spring on the auger belt.

By this point, my fingers were pretty much frozen and I could barely feel them. The garage is unheated, though protected from the winds. I made one attempt with what little feeling I still had in my fingers, to re-tie the two cables in a tighter knot, but I was fumbling and it was not successful. One final thought crept into my desperate mind: use a pair of vise-grips and clamp it so that it would increase the tension on the cable (Fig 3). Son of a sea dog if that didn't work. Hurray! I was in business. The auger turned and off I went into the drifting snow. Success! Of course, all of this MacGyvering would not have been necessary if the parts supply store had been open when the cable broke and I first called them for the part. But that would have been too easy. You learn a lot about yourself when you're forced to find creative solutions to problems. Cheers! A glass of hot chocolate raised to the 1985 TV show, MacGyver, and all that it has inspired us to try, in the name of desperation ;)


Fig. 1: The spring with the broken section of cable.

Fig. 2 The spring for engaging the auger belt.

Fig. 3 The MacGyver Solution: 1. The Vise Grips; 2. Gordian knot 3. the tensioning bend in the cable caused by adjusting the clamping position of the vise-grips