As anybody who has braved the elements or even looked out a window lately realizes, the Chippewa Valley has been buried in snow over the past two weeks.
We got so much snow, in fact, that the 28.4 inches that fell on Eau Claire in the first 12 days of February set a snowfall record for the city — for the entire month of February dating back to when records began in 1893, according to the National Weather Service.
While that may no longer be “stop the presses” news now that residents and local government crews have spent countless hours shoveling, blowing and plowing it out of the way so they can get on with their lives, I can’t resist sharing how the press literally stopped this newsman from clearing my driveway. Misery loves company, right?
My misadventure began with our latest major snowstorm — the one that dumped a blanket of white 10 inches deep over my 60-yard-long driveway on Tuesday and prompted my editor to call early that morning and suggest I work from home to avoid getting stuck on the way to the office, as happened to our first reporter who attempted the trek.
I spent the day calling all over the region to learn about the impacts of the storm and then writing about it. I didn’t even take time to trudge through the snow to collect my morning Leader-Telegram (Lesson No. 1: Always get the newspaper) or plow my own driveway.
When the story was done and my shift had ended, I went through the all-too-familiar ritual recently of putting on my winter gear and heading out to rev up the snowblower. With my daughter returning that night from a getaway to Memphis, Tenn., after enduring a six-hour flight delay because of the weather, I faced another deadline — she needed a ride and had probably done enough waiting around for one day. I plowed enough to get in and out of the driveway.
After procrastinating through a busy Wednesday, I finally set out to do some cleanup work with my snowblower on Thursday — after grabbing my Leader-Telegram from its bright orange newspaper box that barely extended above the snowbank created by plowing crews (Lesson No. 2: Don’t wait to clear snow from around your mail and newspaper receptacles).
I began this chore by clearing the gift left at the end of my driveway by municipal plows and then crossed the street to snowblow around the newspaper box so it wasn’t too long a reach for the driver. That’s when I suddenly heard a loud thud from my snowblower, followed by the silence of an engine stopped abruptly by a rolled up newspaper that apparently had been buried under the snow and become jammed between the impeller and the frame so tightly it wouldn’t budge.
This is the point where I have to admit the same thing happened to me once before. Indeed, astute readers may recall me writing a blog on the topic six years ago (Lesson No. 3: Learn from your mistakes).
After uttering a few words unfit for a family newspaper — even the one wedged inside my snowblower — I wheeled the machine to the garage and began trying to extract the paper from its hard-to-reach hiding place.
I tried several implements to remove the newspaper with no luck before electing to research my options. I was surprised, and I must admit comforted, to see that a Google search for the words snowblower, clogged and newspaper yielded more than 45,000 results. I found articles, videos, blogs and online forum discussions about the problem. Apparently, it’s a thing.
I also called the friendly folks at Barstow Street Auto, where I had brought snowblowers for service in the past, and they assured me they’d seen newspapers and all sorts of other items jammed inside snowblowers, but also noted recent snowstorms had generated a repair backlog of about two weeks.
Armed with multiple tips on how to rectify the problem, I returned to the garage to try them out — with the snowblower turned off and key removed, of course. In addition to tugging with my fingers, I pushed, pulled and pounded with a channel-lock pliers, tire iron, saw, jumbo screwdriver and hammer. I even tried one promising tip I’d read — dumping hot, soapy water on the newspaper to make it disintegrate — multiple times.
Yet despite pulling out chunks of soggy newsprint, advertising fliers and the plastic bag intended to keep the paper dry for THREE HOURS, I still hadn’t succeeded in removing enough of the clog to make the snowblower work as of this writing, although I did have tiny frozen shreds of about 90 percent of the newspaper all over the garage floor.
This gives a whole new meaning to the term “breaking news” or to the image that likely will come to my mind the next time I hear Frank Sinatra croon “start spreading the news.”
Update: I’m thrilled to report that, after another hour of chipping away at the frozen chunk of newspaper with a hammer and screwdriver on Saturday, my hard work was rewarded with the hum of the snowblower once more. Who says there’s no good news in the paper these days?
Based on Webster’s definition of irony — a combination of circumstances or a result that is the opposite of what is or might be expected or considered appropriate — I feel confident in saying the ironies in this situation abound:
• My troubles were caused by a newspaper even though the incident occurred while I was clearing a path so my delivery person could more easily delivery the newspaper.
• I finished working for the newspaper only to have a newspaper create a huge job for me in my free time.
• The newspaper normally tries to shine a light on things so the public isn’t in the dark and yet in this case the newspaper itself was hiding in a spot where I had difficulty getting any light to shine.
• Last but definitely not least, the lead story on the front page of the newspaper jammed in my snowblower was written by me. The subject: challenges facing area residents as a result of the snow.
Despite my travails, I want to be clear that I still strongly encourage Chippewa Valley residents to continue gobbling up as much news as possible — just not with their snowblowers.