Learning to Groom from The Master (Randy Toth)
Published on January 18, 2012 in Guest Columns, News & Updates
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Snowmobile trail groomer

The following story is true. Only the master’s name was changed to protect the individual.

We received our first snowfall shortly after I retired. While sleeping late and thoroughly enjoying the experience, the phone rang at the crack of dawn and I heard a voice say “Hey. Ready to go grooming”. I thought about mumbling something like wrong number, unplugging the phone and going back to sleep; but a little voice reminded me that I had said that I would go grooming after I retired.

We fired up the old Thiokol Super Imp and headed up the mountain where the master began demonstrating the proper grooming techniques. He pointed out each and every rock and told me that I had better memorize their exact location so I wouldn’t scratch his precious drag.

I had just gotten quite comfortable in the warm cozy cab and was all set to take a nap, when a voice said, “Hey, your job is to operate the drag. This lever makes it go down to chop moguls and gather snow and this lever makes it go up to dump snow.” Ok, I thought, I can handle that. I set the drag level to scrape the moguls and settled back to enjoy the ride. “Hey, you got to continually adjust the drag level. You can’t just set it and forget it.” Darn, this was turning out to be harder than I thought and I couldn’t just doze off. Soon I learned that it is virtually impossible to please the master. Even though he was driving, he managed to accurately critique my every movement of the drag. “It’s too high. Lower it” followed by “It’s too low.”

Suddenly there was the voice of the master again. “Hey, it’s your turn to drive”. Darn, there goes my last chance for a nice ride in the woods. I popped the trusty automatic transmission into drive and hit the gas. “Slow down” the voice said. “You got to take it easy while grooming. Go slower” I tried to hit the brakes with my foot; but couldn’t find the pedal. Then I remembered that I had to pull back both levers at the same time to slow down or stop. “Your going too slow” the master said. “You got to go faster or we will be here all day.” This was turning out to be just like operating the drag. First it’s too high, then it’s too low and now first it’s too fast, then it’s too slow. Just what will the master find to complain about next? I didn’t have long to wait to find out. “Hey, you’re too close to the edge of the trail. I don’t want you to run the groomer into the ditch.” This was followed shortly by “Hey, your not close enough to the trail edge to drag in more fresh snow.”

Suddenly there was a loud crash and the groomer abruptly stopped and I didn’t. As I struggled to climb back into my seat, I made a mental note that the principle of conservation of momentum still applies inside groomers. “What was that?” I asked the master. “You hit a rock buried in the snow. Like I said, you gotta watch out for rocks.” He quite calmly said all this while picking up the passenger side window from his lap and trying to reinstall it into his door’s window frame. How the heck are you supposed to see rocks buried in a 12-inch layer of powder, I wondered. “Sorry, I forgot to bring my earth penetrating radar with me today.”

We finally reached the end of the trail and the master said, “You gotta back it up to turn it around.” Now if you aren’t a happy camper backing up a trailer and figuring out which way to turn the wheel, just try backing up a groomer pushing a drag with no steering wheel and only two brake levers. First you got to figure out where you want the rear end of the drag to go. Then you got to figure out which way you want the front of the drag to go to get the rear end of the drag going in the right direction. Then using trigonometry and integral and differential calculus, you figure out which way the back of the groomer should go so the drag goes in the right direction. Now, taking into account the position of the sun and moon, you determine which brake lever to pull (or was it push). Finally you give it some gas and every thing starts moving “Stop, Stop, Stop” cries out the voice of the master, “You’re gonna hit that big tree.” “What tree?” I asked. I’m too busy trying to figure out why, despite my careful calculations, everything is going in the wrong direction. “The tree. You’re gonna hit the tree. You’re gonna kill us.” I managed to recover and miss the tree; but the groomer just kept going on toward the infamous jackknife position. I then realized that my big boot was stuck on the gas pedal. I extracted my boot and pulled hard on both brake levers stopping just inches away from the landowner’s new truck parked in the driveway. After only five or six more attempts, I completed the U-turn. “I guess I nailed that one didn’t I?” The master’s shaky voice simply said “Stop and turn off the machine. It is time for lunch.”

After lunch we continue down the trail with the master driving. There was a clunk and my door handle fell off onto the floor. I picked it up and looked at it in amazement. “Just push it back on” the master’s voice said, “You got to learn to handle emergency repairs in the field.” Upon further examination I realized that the outside portion of my door handle and locking mechanism had fallen completely off of the door and was now buried somewhere back up the trail under tons snow. “Got it”, I said, figuring that eventually I would think of something clever to tell the master about the missing outside door handle if we ever made it back.

Soon the master remarked that it was time to head for home. Not wanting to sound too eager to return, I said “How about a couple more secondary trails on the way back?” I never figured he would actually agree; but I was wrong and we turned down an ungroomed secondary trail. As we groomed down a long steep section, I heard a groan from the master as he said, “Look, there’s a tree down completely blocking the trail.” Now, since we can’t back up or turn around, out comes the chain saw and we go to work clearing the tree. The master is either very frugal with the clubs chainsaw gas money or he feels only wimps cut a tree into easily liftable size pieces. The powerful chainsaw sits idle on the ground as we lift and lug ten foot sections of tree trunk off of the trail. After much backbreaking work, the job is complete. I figure now comes the lecture about grooming too many trails when we were supposed to head home. Luckily, the master remains calm as we continue down the trail. About one minute later we round a corner and there’s another downed tree across the trail. The tree removal process is repeated.

Our nice groomed trail soon turns into a plowed road. “Darn, looks like they’re logging in here. We never should have come down this trail.” We stop for a short break. The silence of the snow-covered woodlands is suddenly shattered by the sound of a powerful diesel engine. A massive, fully loaded double trailer logging truck is roaring down the ice-covered road, just around the corner from where our groomer is stopped in the middle of the trail. I never knew the master could move so fast as he ran down the road. It certainly took a lot of raw courage for the master to jump in front of the logging truck madly waving his arms in a desperate attempt to save his beloved groomer from collision damage. I couldn’t bear to look; but I finally peaked out from behind the big tree where I had sought refuge. Luckily, the truck driver managed to stop his big rig just in time. The master had saved the groomer.

As we start down the last several miles of trail, the groomer engine suddenly stalls. I hold my breath and turn the ignition switch. It restarts. The engine continues to cut out unless I hit the gas and we speed up. Unfortunately, the trail home is mostly downhill, very twisty and slippery in a number of spots. “Hey, slowdown” the master says. I barely hear him as I concentrate on only one thing – getting out of the woods without having to hike for 5 miles. Our average speed steadily increases as I slide the groomer and drag around the tight corners. I’m really starting to get the hang of maneuvering the beast when I notice that the master has stopped fidgeting with the drag and is holding onto the roof and the side of the engine with both hands. His knuckles are white, he is holding his breath and he is silently praying.

Finally we reach home at the bottom of the hill. I turn toward the master expecting the worst. “Not bad” he says. “I’ll call you next week to go grooming again!” Before I had time to come to my senses, I had blurted out “I’m ready! Bring it on!”


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