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The Story of My Final (?) Plow Night of the Season (Long Post)

Discussion in 'Commercial Snow Removal' started by derekbroerse, Mar 30, 2005.

  1. derekbroerse

    derekbroerse 2000 Club Member
    Messages: 2,377

    Some of you may recall that I reported having a crappy night on the 23rd in another thread, I am finally getting off my lazy rear end long enough to post the tale. Makes for a good story, if you weren't the one in it!!

    Ahhhh it all began with a late night of work in my friend's shop, prepping his Hino tool truck's service body for a nice new coat of Antique White paint. Naturally, we were indoors (with no windows) working away.... finally calling it quits after spraying on a thick coat of epoxy primer. Time to go home.... about 9pm... ooops whats all this white crap on the cars and the ground--we haven't sprayed paint yet so it isn't overspray!!!

    No, its snow, from that storm far far away that wasn't supposed to touch us. It wasn't forecasted, and naturally I wasn't prepared. I had spent the morning hauling junk with the truck, so everything was unloaded (tools and salt) and the plow was off.

    No problem, right?

    Oh yeah, I need the forklift to get the barrels of salt on the truck. Forklift has no starter on it, because I was in the middle of that job when I got the flu and lost my motivation, then as soon as I felt like working again, it was crunch time on the paint job. Hmmm. Ok.

    Of course I have a new starter for it! No problem, its two bolts and three wires. Except there doesn't appear to be a place to install the battery cable, WTF? Where is the stud? Crap! Because the forklift is based on an antique Farmall A which had a mechanical switch to start it, it has a large flat contact on it, not a stud. Of course, mine is converted to use a key switch with a Ford starter solenoid, so it aint going to happen tonight.

    Crap. Scrap that plan. Somewhere in here is where I finally took a break for supper and when I posted here that my night wasn't going well... somewhere around midnight I think?

    I'll use the engine cherry picker to lift the barrels. Spend 15 more mins shovelling it out of a snowbank and pulling the tarp off. Need to shovel the driveway so it will roll. Little casters don't like snow. Pick up the 500lb barrels with a chain around the middle. Push them towards the truck and lift as high as possible. Did I mention that I can't drop the tailgate, because there is half a tractor in the back of my truck, and the loader arms are hanging over the gate? Without the forklift, I can't remove it! Good thing my cherry picker goes really high! With a few hard shoves and lifts etc. I cram three barrels of salt into the bed of the truck around the front-end loader and related large pieces that I cannot move. Return the cherry picker to the snow bank and retarp.

    Home-free, right? Clock is ticking....

    Install the blade again. Usually its a piece of cake, but occasionally it get ornery with me and doesn't want to cooperate. I usually get my old man to come out and give a hand when its like that, but naturally the 'rents are in Florida on vacation, so I am on my own. Some grease, a rock-bar, and a floorjack later, I have it all realigned and on the truck.... took nearly 3/4 hr more... Wiggle the connectors because at first everything works but 'up', which tends to be an important function when plowing.

    Snow is stopping, just under the 2" minimum to plow, so all I need to do is salt my big contract. Figures, just got the blade on. Actually a good thing, since I would be running quite late if I had to do the whole route.

    Hitch the trailer. Luckily the tractor and spreader is still on it and tied down, so one less thing to worry about (though it comes back to bite me later).

    Start the truck and hit the road down to Virgil. Park the truck, jump out, shovel all the sidewalks and spread salt with the walk-behind unit. I use bagged salt on that for convenience. That part worked well.

    Back to the truck. Start tractor so it can warm up while I unchain everything. Never get that far. Tractor battery is dead as a doornail... naturally I would have known this if I'd had to load it in the yard, right? So much for one less thing to worry about.

    Back in the truck, head for home just shaking my head because at this point I am beyond pissed off, I am just wondering what I did to deserve all this.

    Get home. Charger with boost feature on the tractor. Tractor cranks, but won't start. It has sat for a few weeks (outside) because there hasn't been any snow... sometimes there gets a temporary moisture problem in the distributor because its shape and location tends to catch snow (its a Ford Jubilee/600). Fire up the portable propane heater and sit it on the front axle/tire pointed at the distributor. Dries in about 5 mins. Crank again, still nothing. WTF?

    Gotta check for gas, just in case, should be lots but it is a leaker and could have lost it, but I know the fuel had been turned off to avoid that. Pop the hood, turn the gas cap, get a loud 'thwop' sound for my trouble (clogged vent hole?) from built up pressure in the tank. Strange. Crank the engine, tractor starts immediately. Quickly, tools and everything away, back in the truck and back to Virgil. Leave the tractor running on the trailer for good measure.

    Unload tractor from trailer, park it beside the dump bed. Since I can't open the tailgate (still) I can't use the loading dock like I normally do. Need to shovel the salt (approximately a 3/4 ton) out of the barrels (small openings). Salt is DRIPPING wet as it spent the whole time I was sick under a tarp in the back of the truck instead of sealed in the barrels. Naturally, when I needed the truck I had to remove the salt so I canned it then (in retrospect if I hadn't used the truck the salt would still be in the bed, so the whole problem of needing the forklift and cherrypicker would have never happened either). Salt is extra heavy. Fill the entire hopper with a shovel (approximately 1/2 of what I am carrying. Make 3/4 of a pass (out of three plus required) and the spreader starts jumping and shaking violently--something is definately wrong! I assume I broke something because of the wet heavy salt.

    Now what?

    Go back for my shovel... looks like I am spreading the whole parking lot with it. :( I do so--takes hours... security guard comes by to laugh at me and hold me up. I continue, loading the rest of the salt on board. About 3/4 finished, a thought comes to me that the spreader does the same thing (on a much smaller, gentler scale) when it runs out of material. That being said, I wonder if it is plugged? (its a shaker, not a spinner) Grab a flashlight and peer into the tube--sure enough, a large chunk is wedged in the end! Large enough, in fact, that it couldn't have fit thru the hole to even get into the tube!! I am guessing that the last time I used it, I didn't completely spread it out and left some in the tube, which got wet and solidified. I know there is a hammer under the seat of the truck (and I have to restrain myself from using it to seek revenge on every piece of my equipment) but I need to find something to reach up the tube with. Nothing in the truck... but I remember that the floorboard toolbox on the tractor often has chunks of steel found out in the field while working... I find a long, rusty, half-inch bolt and use it as a punch to break up the chunk, which naturally slides right out with ease then. I pick up the chunks and throw them blindly into the dark to make myself feel better, also saving myself from needing to spread those particular crystals.

    Tools back. Test the spreader, pull the PTO lever.... YES its working. Good News, nothing is broken. Bad news, I've just wasted hours playing with a shovel for nothing. Feel like bashing myself in the head with a shovel, just for good measure. Think better of it. I like my skull right where it is, thanks.

    Finish spreading, drive the tractor back onto the trailer at a much higher rate of speed than normal, skid to a halt and shut it down. Shut off fuel. Chain it down. Ramps up. All my crap back in the truck? Good. Time to go home.

    Back truck and trailer into the driveway. Park it crooked blocking the garage and don't care in the slightest. Get changed for bed, take not of the time after laying down.

    It is 6:10am... and I have completed shovelling and salting one single parking lot. Damn its a good thing the snow stopped. Did I mention my cell phone woke me up at 8? :rolleyes:

    Regardless of what we tell ourselves and our customers about fuel prices, insurance rates, investment etc.... THIS is the REAL REASON we charge what we do!!! ;) Crap nights!!! Truth be told, I've had a very good season with minimal casualties, so I guess I was overdue for a rotten night. The good part is that there is nothing broken and the only thing that got hurt was my pride... thankfully no one else knew about it anyways (until now)

    Told you it made for a good story, I'm laughing my a$$ off at myself about it. Have been since about 3pm the following day. Gotta keep your sense of humour, right?

    ps: on the 26th I purchased a v-box spreader and started negotiations for another tractor to mount that front end loader on... enough of this lifting stuff, let the machines do it! :p
  2. vipereng2

    vipereng2 Senior Member
    Messages: 380

    i was going to say its time to buy some new stuff

    :gunsfiring: :gunsfiring: :gunsfiring:
  3. 04superduty

    04superduty PlowSite.com Addict
    Messages: 1,354

    lol, gotta love nights like that. luckily you can laugh about it later. :)
  4. derekbroerse

    derekbroerse 2000 Club Member
    Messages: 2,377

    New equipment? For one night of flukish failures? Nahhh I don't think so. ;)

    The plan always was to get a V-box at the end of the season (I ended up with a used but freshly sandlbalsted, epoxied, and painted Flink). This was my first year salting, and it only came around because the new owners of the property (as of the end of November) have salt as company policy. So half-way through December they call me (three days before the first forecasted storm) and told me that I was responsible for salting too. Nice of them. Oh and also that they needed a written copy of a contract before then too. :rolleyes: (previous owners were locals that I had known forever so it was never an issue....)

    Within 36 hours, I was set to go. I didn't have cash to buy something like that, and where does one find a decent deal on a spreader in the middle of December anyways? You may as well bring some vaseline with you because they know if you are buying one then that you need it NOW! I already had the tractor and float trailer. The spreader I borrowed from a friend who owns 'Custom Farm Service' based in Vineland. Its a Vicon 3-point hitch fertilizer spreader that they rarely use because it doesn't hold enough capacity (approx. 750lbs) to be practical for long grape rows. I agree its too small, but the design works better than any salt spreader going I'd say--no problems with bulk material because the machine has a built-in vibration to keep it flowing, and a sturdy 'clump breaker' in the bottom of the hopper. This was its one and only problem for the season, and as I mentioned I think that one was my fault.

    Can't blame the tractor for a dead battery. It went the whole season on it and would start even in the coldest weather. The wet distributor issue and clogged vent hole are due to being on the float behind the truck catching all the spray (truck really needs some redesigned mud flaps...)

    The forklift, well, that thing is so ugly it brings down property values in the area, but it works well (once it is started). Not that many offroad forklifts available, and certainly not within my budget. The starter's bendix was badly worn and would 'miss' the flywheel more often than catching it, hence the need to replace it. IF you could make it crank it would start immediately. The new starter to cure the problem cost a whopping $100 or so, but as mentioned I need to open it up and turn a bolt upside down to get a threaded stud to work with. Not hard but time consuming!

    So for all the flaws, nothing is terminal, just everything needs a little TLC, and as we all know it is hard to do without a garage large enough to get the machinery into in the middle of winter.

    If you buy everything new, you will be working quite a while just to pay it off. Once it is paid off, its not 'new' anymore. I prefer to work with used equipment that is in good shape. I figure this Flink v-box for example will only give a few years service, there are patches in it already under the fresh paint. But it runs and operates really well, I'll tune things up a bit before next season and it will pay for itself in about six spreads at my current price.
    Last edited: Mar 31, 2005
  5. derekbroerse

    derekbroerse 2000 Club Member
    Messages: 2,377

    Yeah, you need to be able to laugh at yourself, since everyone else is laughing at you anyways...lol

  6. flykelley

    flykelley 2000 Club Member
    Messages: 2,127

    DB Not laughing at you but with you. We all have had night's like that. It doesn't matter if it is old or new equiment, it will fail at the worst time. You just get through the night and get the job done by any means that you have. The next day you fix what broke and went wrong.

    Regard's Mike
  7. derekbroerse

    derekbroerse 2000 Club Member
    Messages: 2,377

    lol yeah I know you guys all know what its like, but think for a moment what people who aren't in the biz would think!!! Not that I care anyways, its a funny story. Gotta have skin at least as thick as a Glad trashbag in this world!!

    So glad I run a stick shift though, not having the automatic tranny issues everyone keeps reporting!!! That could be enough to cripple a small company.
  8. Peopleeater

    Peopleeater Senior Member
    Messages: 249

    I had one too

    I had one of those nights this year, too. I am (was?) a sub, so it wasn't so bad, and everything was covered. Wasn't fun for me though.

    Ended up buying a newer truck, switched the plow to new one, and finally got it going 1 hour after I should have been plowing. Ended up being a battery that time. Got it out plowing (total of 3 hours) and it just died. Luckily had the floor jack and hung it up on chain, and called to get replacement truck on my sites. Ended up being just the solenoid, but I figured it was battery again. I drug the plow around and did what I could do. In any case it was 4 am, and nowhere to get a new one. Well got a new red top optima, and had alt. checked, it was ok. i wanted to get new one, but he tested it. (Plan was to get another and stick in truck for backup, just in case.)

    Well, wouldn't ya know, one of those unexpected snows came along, and got the call about 10:30. (Nowhere to get spare alt). Yep you guessed it, alt. went out after an hour (watched guage), but didn't want to quit just yet! (we hadnt had many events, and needed some money) It lasted 3 hours total. Just when I thought I better call it, reached for cell, and the truck died right then. Great, now it is 4 am again, and plowing by myself an hour away from home. Called backup, and asked for jump. they came, and didn't want to slow him, so I said I'll just wait and let you guys plow. I started gettnig pretty cold and bored. Didn't want to have to deal with later cause it was so far away from home. Was gonna have him give me a ride for another cheap Wally world battery, but didn't want to spend half of what I just made on another battery I would never use again. So I tried to start it. IT STARTED!, and I (against better judgement) tried to get it to my semi truck and park it there. Made it halfway, and had to call the backup plow guy to rescue me. Got it jumped, and made it to shop. (45 in a 30, and caught all green lights) Parked it and could smell the sheets. Fired up the semi, and let it warm up. I forgot to check fuel level (broke guage in rollover last year), and was only a few miles from where I started, and was going to hit the very next fuel stop, but....(I warmed truck up for half hour) and went around a 90 degree corner, fuel sloshed to side, and costed to a stop. (Oh no) We are only covered on ins. when working. If we let broker know, he doesnt' mind, he just has to know in case so he can fib a little and get it covered. Well I was only a mile or less from next fuel stop, so after seeing if I could get it refired, hopped out and started my mile jog. (very cold out, and had been without heat for about 5 hours now, wasn't using to save power) Figured I would try buddy who lives nearby and see if he was still up or finished plowing. He was right around corner (5 mins) with 1 1/2 gals of diesel on board! I am saved! Well, the had to run and get 5 more gals of diesel, it did fire up, and finally made it home.

    Semi parked on residential street is not allowed, and figured I would have a ticket. Got lucky there, but had to go back and fix alt. after sleep. Bad thing is I want to be on my own this year, and was hoping that run would be trouble free so I could see if electric problems were fixed. (shakedown run). No more snow, so....

    I am kind of scared to do my own stuff now, as the new truck is 0-2. The old suburban was batting 1000. On the plus side, my buddies broke just about every piece of equip. that they own in one night. They did make it through though, but just kind of shows that no matter how prepared you are, you can still go down. They have a brand new bobcat, and 2 trucks, a top kick with plow, farm tractor with pusher, salter. The driver they had in top kick got stuck and needed to be pulled out. One owner directed him to just spin the tires (hammer on it) and it'll come out. He was too lazy to get him out again (was third time getting stuck) . Blew the rear end spinning it onto blacktop, actually shattered it into a million pieces. Is funny, but the third time for the rear end. Was just rebuilt, and they had problems so it was rebuilt again cause of it not being right. They had to pay again for that one.

    Funny stuff.

  9. derekbroerse

    derekbroerse 2000 Club Member
    Messages: 2,377

    Yeah, those are the nights that just don't seem to quit, huh? They keep going and going....

    Your mention of a blown rear end reminded me of something else I wanted to post but was waiting for the photo from my friend's digicam.... but I keep forgetting to ask.

    Took a trip up north for New Years to my friend's cottage for three days (it was clear forecast, left the truck with dad and brother if req'd). On the way up we stopped at a Husky Truck Stop for a burger. While filling up with diesel afterwards, my friend just broke out laughing and none of us knew why.

    He pointed to the truck parked near us---a mid 1990's GMC 2wd dually. That part of the parking lot was about 18" higher then where we were, so we had a clear shot of the 14 bolt axle... unfortunately it appeared to be a zero bolt axle, as there was absolutely NO diff cover on it!!! Ring gear exposed!!!! There was no sign of oil dripping etc. so my guess was that it was off for quite a while and wasn't removed there--ie: this guy was driving it like this!!!
    Not kidding--we took a picture! We pondered trying to find the guy and tell him but the place was packed so there was little chance of it--besides, we figured he would be finding out soon enough on his own!!! :rolleyes: While we were pulling out we saw him getting in the truck and starting it and heading the opposite way. What a hillbilly! Not like they just fall off on their own...

    After an uneventful weekend at the cottage I returned home. On the way I checked in at my large contract just to make sure there was no ice on the ground... found that one of the signs up front had been slightly modified over the break.... I took a pic and promptly took the sign apart... can't leave that up there!!

    Just for laughs, here is the pic I took :p Not sure if the mods will allow it for long but they can delete it if they think its innappropriate..

    That is, if I can find the fool thing!! :rolleyes:

    OK got it.... damn kids can't leave anything alone! The sign HAD been offering a special.... but this wasn't quite what they had in mind!!

  10. derekbroerse

    derekbroerse 2000 Club Member
    Messages: 2,377

    WOW that really came out large :p no missing that picture!

    If you look closely, though most is blocked behind the barrel, all the leftover letters all over the grass... ;)
  11. fernalddude

    fernalddude PlowSite.com Addict
    Messages: 1,106

    great story

    had days like that before but that is why i clean ,inspect, tighten ,fill and check each piece after each snow just to be ready for the next snow. My guys hate this cuz they are tired but it pays off in the end. But sometimes you cant help breakdowns even with older equipment you got to be on each detail with everything. I drive my wife crazy being in the shop all the time just looking over my trucks like now iam doing the press wash and wax jobs for the first time this year but i spray off each one after each event they looked good but now they look great just got to do some paint and sandblasting to get ready for the next season. Those are great stories that you will love latter and thanks for sharing them.. :salute: