Small engine symantics

I finally got my snowblower started in time to use it on the second significant snow fall of the season. For the first one I was thinking lawnmower instead of snowblower when I primed the carburetor. The lawnmower requires about 30 pumps before it will start, that many pumps on the snowblower will fill the carb with gasoline to the point of it leaking out on the floor. Which is why I missed the first snowfall last year. I thought it was leaking gas and tore it apart in an effort to fix it myself rather than take it in to the friendly local hardware store. I never found anything to fix, but hadn’t gotten it put back together by the time it snowed. The other problem was related to my tenuous understanding of the workings of small engines. And the manual writers tenuous understanding of how to communicate clearly. I knew that when starting the engine you need to choke it. The manual said the choke was supposed to be “on” when starting cold. The choke switch itself doesn’t have an indicator that says “on” or “off” only a graphic consisting of a curve roughly parallel to the arch of the switch, thicker on one end and going down to a point on the other, and a little symbol that apparently represented an open carburetor butterfly. OK, that gives me a vague idea that counterclockwise means “closed” and clockwise means “open.” But does “closed” mean “on” or “off”? Since the knob is the choke control, wouldn’t you think that the thickening of the graphic would mean that you were turning the choke “more on”? I tried to bring back the memories of starting carbureted automobiles (remember them) on subzero days in my youth when I still messed with that kind of thing. Did I use the pencil to hold the butterfly open, or closed. I had a distinct image, in fact I could almost feel how cold I was, leaning over the fender of a ’69 Chevy, trying to fire it up somewhere in South Minneapolis, probably for a trip to the 400 Bar. But I couldn’t bring back the memory of exactly what it was I was trying to do. At a social gathering this weekend, I asked one of my friends who I figured was savvy about this stuff and we got confused as we discussed it, so we asked the two engineers at the table. They were able to straighten us out.

You have to admit that it takes a man who’s very confident in his manhood to admit to such ignorance of small engine repair, something that seems like it comes attached to the Y chromosome. And maybe it does. When I was a kid, I spent all kinds of time in small boats with outboard motors. My dad could spend ten minutes in a pen of 20 cattle and tell you what their average live to dressed yield would be within a half percent, but probably didn’t know the difference between a carburetor and an alternator, so he was not a small engine mentor. But we always owned or rented boats and I always was able to keep them running. I guess it must be a use it or lose it kind of deal.

In case you’re wondering I have the lowest cylinder index of any male I know.

2 thoughts on “Small engine symantics”

  1. Cylinder Index, eh? Charlie may beat you… if I claim ownership of one of the two volvos, and the chainsaw which is mine, then what he has is one car and a snowblower that we move around with us but has not been run for 8 years… I’m not sure how that gets counted. ;-) barb

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