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Akst: Honoring one who gives so much

Men should be more open about feelings, we hear, so I hereby publicly declare my love for Henry.

“Henry” is our Snapper 7-horsepower, two-stage, self-propelled snowblower. He’s been in our lives about 12 years and is an important member of our family.

I don’t remember exactly why I named our snowblower Henry, but I think it had something to do with imagining how Henry Ford felt when he first produced a great machine.

How do I love Henry? Let me count the ways:

Plug-in electric start. Swiveling, adjustable snow chute. Tecumseh engine. Four forward gears and reverse.

Henry is not one of those petite machines people gently nudge again and again into the snow just to fling a bit of powder a few feet.

Henry is a monster. His engine frightens our child. His maw is 24 inches. He can cut through solid walls of drift nearly without stopping and fling snow up to 20 feet. He can shred a rolled, wrapped, buried Chicago Tribune or Daily Chronicle (he’s done both) the way you and I would tear off toilet paper.

Henry is unlike me. I drive a Ford Focus, dress conservatively and have worn the same hairstyle since eighth grade. I’m understated.

But I threw down with Henry. Had to. We live on a corner lot, close to an elementary school. Not clearing the walkways (quickly on workdays) was just not an option.

On Tuesday afternoon, I began to quantify how much work Henry does while asking nothing in return.

Light, fluffy snow weighs about 7 pounds a cubic foot, according to Ken Hellevang, who teaches at the University of North Dakota (and contributed this information to

The average weight is about 15 pounds a cubic foot, and heavy, wet, compacted snow can weigh 20 pounds. Tuesday’s blast was “heart attack snow,” so I’m using an estimate of 17 pounds a cubic foot in my calculations.

The National Weather Service’s preliminary, local snowfall total for Tuesday is 8 inches to 10 inches, so let’s say 9 inches.

The volume of simple shapes is length x width x height. My sidewalks and driveway are simple shapes, so this was an easy calculation.

On Tuesday, Henry and I (mostly Henry) cleared 16,578 cubic feet of snow in barely an hour. At 17 pounds a cubic foot, we moved 281,826 pounds of snow, more than 140 tons.

If anything, these calculations are conservative because I’m not counting that I usually snow-blow my neighbor’s front sidewalk (it’s easier to turn Henry around in their driveway).
If I tried to clear that much snow with a shovel … well, I’m not that young or in shape, and I have a lower back that likes to go out if I taunt it. There aren’t any neighborhood kids willing to do this work, and outsourcing it would cost money.

Midwest Heart Specialists estimates that 1,200 people die each year from shoveling snow. The triple whammy of cold air, strenuous lifting and high energy expenditure “can contribute to a stress on a person’s cardiovascular system,” the website notes. “Cold temperatures in combination with strenuous exercise can increase blood pressure and heart rate, elevating the risk for a heart attack.”

So I in a real way, I owe my life to Henry. Yet, I’m conflicted about our relationship.

We try to live green and when it’s time to replace our roof, we’ll seriously investigate solar panels and rooftop wind turbines. I hope my next car is a hybrid.

But then there’s Henry, who burns gasoline. The conflict is that as much as I hate to admit it, I’ll need gasoline for the foreseeable future.

Oh well, no relationship is perfect.

As for my snowblower, you can have it when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers.

• Jason Akst teaches journalism and public relations at Northern Illinois University. You can reach him at

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