Evaluation of Snow Blower Attachments for Tractors
In this article, I talk about whether two stage snow blower attachments make sense. Single stage units are dated and no longer sold. They place the outlet and chute directly over the augurs and rely on those augurs to discharge the snow out the chute. Two stage snow blowers employ the augurs to chop up and feed the snow into the snow blower (stage 1) and an impeller to throw the chopped-up snow up and out the chute (stage 2).
For the most part, I do not recommend using snow blower attachments on homeowner lawn, yard, or garden tractors because they are so cumbersome to install, operate, and store. Unless the buyer has a completely flat and consistently-shaped surface to blow, a garage with direct access to that surface, sufficient space adjacent to the surface to blow the snow, and a tractor with adequate power (V-twin preferred) and foot pedal-controlled hydrostatic transmission, this setup will not work well. Further, the user has to be willing to go out before any heavy snow accumulates beyond 4- to 6-inches, since the blower attachment can't handle a lot of snow, especially heavy snow.
From a functional point of view, most two-stage snow blower attachments have a 40- to 42-inch intake width, yet the snow coming in that wide box is fed into a barrel with impeller that is the same as or marginally larger in diameter than a traditional 24- to 28-inch walk-behind snow blower. Further, that snow must be thrown by the impeller out of a chute that is almost identical in size to its smaller counterpart.
The snow box contains a center worm-gear that propels augurs on each side, which together span the width of the box. This is called the first stage of a two-stage snow blower. The augurs feed the snow into the barrel where the impeller throws the snow up through an outlet, on which the chute is mounted, and out the chute. This is called the second stage. Each of these transitions in the movement of the snow presents a potential point of failure in any snow blower. In the snow blower attachment, since all the snow-processing components, starting with the barrel, are not proportionately increased in size to match the enlarged width of the snow box, these points of failure are magnified compared to a walk-behind snow blower.
As mentioned earlier, the augurs feed the entire 40- to 42-inch intake width of snow into the comparatively small barrel and impeller, for the impeller to in turn throw out through its similarly-sized chute. Firstly, the blower attachment is more likely to clog when the larger incoming capacity of snow meets the insufficiently-sized barrel and impeller. The barrel is flooded with snow and the impeller cannot move it quickly enough to expel it out of the snow blower. Secondly, the impeller outlet is significantly more likely to clog. When the snow coming from the impeller exceeds the capacity of the outlet, a rim of packed snow rapidly builds up at the intersection of the outlet and the base of the chute, i.e., the edge and underside of the chute mounting surface. The snow quickly packs the outlet forming a severe blockage. Basically, the barrel, the impeller, the outlet, and the chute do not have the capacity to handle the wider snow box. These problems are amplified when the attachment encounters anything more than light, powdery snow. Excess capacity and clogging become even more likely when the snow is wet.
Weaknesses in Design
Throughout this article, I point out many issues that in part are attributable to inherent design weaknesses in tractor snow blower attachments. However, there are some specific items I’d like to address. Many of the parts in these blower attachments are the same parts as those used for walk-behind snow blowers. As a result, these components are not adequately sized and upgraded to withstand the demands and wear and tear that comes with a big attachment that will be powered by a tractor. As already mentioned, the snow barrel, impeller, outlet, and chute are generally comparable in size and structure to their smaller walk-behind sibling’s components. In fact, such items as the worm-gear box that propels the augurs, the actual augurs when mounted in sets on the augur axle, the impeller, and the chute are often drawn from the walk-behind blower parts bin. These items are not heavy enough in grade and quality to handle the increased demands both in capacity and usage of these blower attachments.
The tractor on which the snow blower attachment is mounted has to push and power this heavy piece of equipment under slippery and harsh conditions. Compare a tractor with a front snow blower attachment to a walk-behind snow blower. The engine in a walk-behind snow blower resides directly over the drive wheels. Except for the snow box itself, almost all the weight of the snow blower is on the drive wheels, ensuring outstanding traction. On the other hand, the tractor is propelled from the rear where there is very little weight compared to the front where the engine and heavy, suspended blower attachment are located. Even with rear tire chains and rear weights, the tractor has a tough time moving in the least slippery conditions. Also, noticeable engine power is drained off to run the snow blower, leaving less power to move the tractor. In the absence of a 4-wheel drive system, a front engine tractor is not at all suited to propelling and maneuvering a front snow blower attachment.
Add into this already compromised equation that the driver not only has to operate and maneuver the tractor, but must also operate the snow blower controls. The snow blower attachment has one or two handles with multiple controls to engage the augurs, direct the angle of the snow blower, and lift the snow blower. In addition, there are controls to rotate the chute and possibly to adjust the chute deflector. It becomes readily apparent that operating these controls in addition to those of the tractor can present real challenges. When the user tries to maneuver the tractor and operate the snow blower at the same time, he or she must steer and adjust the speed of the tractor while controlling the augurs, snow blower position, and chute direction. So, it’s clear that operating a tractor with a snow blower attachment is cumbersome and difficult even if the tractor has a foot pedal-operated transmission (with pedals for forward and reverse).
At this point, we haven’t even discussed the surface that has to be cleared. Owing to the many limitations outlined under the Configuration topic, it’s obvious that the tractor will not be able to handle any kind of incline, even when the tractor is properly set up with weights. In addition, there must be sufficient space adjacent to each side to direct the snow. Changes or limitations in this “adjacent blowing space” will require increased use of the chute rotation and deflector and other controls. If the surface is irregular in shape, the operator will face greater challenges to maneuver the tractor-snow blower along a non-linear path. If the surface is rough or inconsistent, the operator will have to adjust the snow blower height as he covers the surface. The operator wants to avoid having to adjust the snow blower cutting edge height as much as possible during use. The operator must also ensure that he or she adequately navigates around and through any obstructions, such as lawns, bushes, curbs, statuary, and fence gates. If the area is wider than the combined throwing distance to the left and right, then multiple passes will have to be made to move the snow from the center outward and then to move that new larger and heavier snow off the respective sides of the surface to the adjacent blowing area. Each of these deviations from a perfectly flat, smooth, single-wide, rectilinear surface with sufficient, unencumbered, adjacent blowing space will require the operator to work harder at maneuvering and operating the tractor-snow blower system.
Next, we need to consider the installation and removal processes for a snow blower attachment. Unless the operator has a dedicated tractor on which to permanently mount the snow blower, before each snow season that individual must be able to (1) remove the mowing deck (2) mount the snow blower attachment, (3) install under-mount components including the support frame and drive pulley panel, (4) install rear tire chains, and (5) attach rear wheel weights and/or rear platform weights. Then prior to each landscaping season, he or she must remove and store all the cited snow blower items and reinstall the mowing deck and any ancillaries. The first time the owner installs the snow blower attachment, he has to assemble the unit and learn how the various components work and how they fit together on the tractor.
Storage and Access
Finally, the owner needs a covered, preferably enclosed and heated, space in which to assemble and remove the snow blower attachment and store the respective components (snow blower and mowing deck) off-season. This space must have direct access to the surface to be cleared so that the operator can drive directly out onto that surface to blow snow without having to cross any non-clearable or hilly spots. The owner also needs to organize components and hardware to ensure he does not lose key items for mounting and using the snow blower attachment or the mowing deck. So, without an enclosed storage space with direct access, it will be extremely difficult to set up, clear off, and start up the tractor-snow blower and nearly impossible to get to and start clearing the outside surface.
As a result of all of these issues and compromises, folks will find many tractor snow blower attachments, which were originally rather expensive, for sale in the used marketplace at rather steeply discounted prices. People purchase them new (and used) with the best intentions, but for any of the reasons cited above and more, they find they cannot use them.
Unless the buyer has a completely flat, smooth, rectilinear surface to clear, a garage with direct access to that surface, sufficient space adjacent to the surface to blow the snow, and a tractor with sufficient power and a foot-pedal hydrostatic automatic transmission, using a snow blower attachment on a tractor is not really viable.
Instead of attempting to use your tractor to do a task, blowing snow, for which it is not ideally suited, I encourage the buyer to take the money and put it towards a sturdy, high-quality, walk behind, 24- to 32-inch wide snow blower with an 8 to 12 HP engine (in correlation to the width), which will propel itself through tough snow.
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