When a white winter finally arrived, the wolf was at my door. The Snow Wolf, that is.
Structured Solutions II, the manufacturer of this odd contraption combining a shovel and a large wheel, offered to let me try one in November. There wasn't much need for a snow shovel around here until later.
When the flakes began furiously falling, I had already started assembling the Snow Wolf, a folding, modified version of the unfortunately named Sno Wovel or Wovel, for short. When it was done, our 15-year-old son gave it a dry run in our house, easily clearing a couple Labrador retrievers from his path. Yet he was in no mood to try it outdoors.
Why? If you have to ask, you've never known a teenager.
Because someone might see him, of course. He even went so far as to strongly suggest that I try it when he's not around, at the end of our driveway farthest from the street. (Parents can be sooo embarrassing.) I did wait until he was off to school, but I refused to hide; I started at the top of the driveway, near a busy street.
Shortly, just as he had feared, someone noticed. A contractor working down the street smiled and asked what the heck it was.
"Better for your back?" he asked.
That is the most touted advantage of this device, invented by Mark Noonan of New Canaan, Conn., and winner of Popular Mechanics Editor's Choice Award for best new product when it was debuted at the 2005 National Hardware Show. After using it for about 45 minutes at our house and on sidewalks around some rental property, I can say it is definitely easier on your back. Keep in mind, of course, that we only had 2 inches of light snow, not the heavy, wet stuff.
The snow was so light that it tended to slide off the wide plastic blade when I tried to lift and toss it. The jerky, twisting motion I used to throw it is probably the reason I did feel a few twinges in my back the next day.
In the Snow Wolf's defense, I had it set at an angle better for plowing than throwing snow. As my son helpfully shouted later from a considerable distance, there are other settings.
He was predictably appalled that I tried the Snow Wolf in an even more public place, in full view of traffic.
As expected, passers-by stared and cars slowed from the moment I took the folded gizmo out of the car. A neighbor with an engineering background was impressed, and yet another contractor wandered over to check it out. Both asked the same question: How much?
The Snow Wolf -- www.wovel.com, which also features videos; or 877-699-6835 (MY WOVEL) -- retails for $149.90 and is available at some hardware stores or amazon.com with $19.15 for shipping. Attachments include tiny wheels for using on gravel, a chipping plate and a wear strip costing $24.95, $21.50 and $14.99, respectively.
It's not the only wheeled snow shovel around.
Last year, Paul Starner of Traverse City, Mich., came out with the Snow Bully (www.thesnowbully.com or 231-929-7777). It's a heavy-duty wheeled cart with a 30- or 36-inch plow blade attached. Starner, 60, who has a prosthetic arm and two artificial knees, came up with the design along with a neighbor. Although its four wheels are probably more difficult to maneuver than Snow Wolf's single wheel, it's likely even easier on the back.
"Outdoor hockey rinks are a huge market for us, but we haven't had much snow," Starner lamented in a phone interview.
With the blade removed and an $89 basket attached, the Snow Bully can be used year-round as a cart. The base unit costs $299, shipping included. Although I haven't tried it, I'm betting it's more stable and a little easier to use than the Snow Wolf. But I doubt it's as entertaining for passers-by or 15-year-old boys.
(Contact Kevin Kirkland at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.scrippsnews.com.)