Snow blowers have come a long way from their humble origins. See the best of today's models
Shoveling snow in the freezing cold is no fun chore. So naturally, it was a mechanically inclined teenager from regularly white-powdered Boston, Massachusetts, who first tinkered with a way to make the task of clearing his home's 100-foot-long driveway a little easier. Pictured here is William P. Murphy, now an award-winning medical engineer, using the blower he invented in 1941.
To power his invention, the then 17-year-old Murphy acquired a small, one-cylinder Briggs and Stratton gas engine that was commonly used in lawnmowers and other motorized landscape equipment. He then put some of his basic woodworking and metalworking tools to use and built a chassis for the motor and a centrifugal clutch for the blower, which weighed more than 100 pounds.
While Murphy's homemade machine had some local success (he sold his design to a lawn mower company in Columbus, Ohio, for $1,500), snow blowers didn't have any real commercial success until Minnesota-based Toro, a company then known mostly for its lawnmowers, invented the first mass-marketed residential snow blower in 1953.
Priced just under $200 and dubbed the Snowhound, Toro's machine could plow through 1-foot-high white powder to create a 17-inch-wide swath of walking space. With a 2.5-horsepower, two-cylinder motor, it could throw snow up to 15 feet away.
While today's compact snow throwers like Toro's Power Max 1028 OXE are much more expensive, their motors can clear larger areas and throw up to 2,100 pounds of snow more than 40 feet every minute. The Power Max's chute control also lets the operator adjust the deflection angle, so you're not throwing snow to a spot that will need to be flurry-free later. Perfect for clearing that driveway before your hot cocoa cools. About $1,800; Toro.
Some new models try to make the chore of snow removal as comfortable as possible, with built-in hand warmers, quick electrical starts, and handles large enough to accommodate a warmly mittened hand. Arien's Professional Series 2-Stage Snow Blower comes with all of that, plus reversible skid shoes for plowing through uneven surfaces. About $1,950; Arien
If you're just looking to clear the walkway, though, a souped-up shovel might be your best bet. Toro's Power Shovel has a 7.5-amp motor that can take on snow as deep as 6 inches and throw it up to 20 feet. The 13-pound machine requires no oil or gas, but does need to be plugged in to do its sweeping.
About $110; Toro.
Along with all-wheel-drive capabilities and multiple speeds, some new snow throwers are also equipped with safety features. The new Storm 3090 XP from Troy Bilt, which can clear a 30-inch swath of snow, features in-dash headlights and reflective strips with its 12-inch serrated steel auger, adjustable, reversible skid shoes, and push-button electrical start. Plus, its four-way joystick chute control and power steering makes controlling your snow removal both easy and fun.