Work and Play: Suzuki Groomer (Steve Howland)
Published on Saturday, January 16, 2016 in Guest Columns, News & Updates
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Last fall I set up a 4-wheel-drive Suzuki Carry Mini Truck with tracks (also know as the Snowzuki) to use as a groomer for the trails that are taken care of by the Buckland Riders. It’s been a fun project and has worked out well so far. I have certainly enjoyed grooming in a heated cab on some cold blustery nights. Though small, these little Suzuki trucks make great grooming rigs.

The Suzuki is also proving its worth beyond the trails. In mid-February I got the chance to put the Suzuki to the test for some paying work. One Sunday the power went down on Mt. Tom at the old ski area. There are several companies up there with communication antenna farms. These locations lost power and switched over to their backup generators, but the PVTA (Pioneer Valley Transit Authority) generator kept quitting and they had to roll their communications over to backup towers that didn’t cover their area as well. Their tech support person made a couple of trips up by snowmobile to reset the generator, but they couldn’t figure out why the generator would start fine, but then shut down after several hours of operation. The first thought was that the propane tanks were low, but how to get the empty tanks down and the new tanks up?


PVTA uses Palmeri Electric for their electric service contractor, so Matt Palmeri did some asking around. Tammy Lowell, a Buckland Riders’ member, does bookkeeping for Palmeri. She mentioned that I had the Suzuki. She called and asked if I’d be able to help. I was all in, happy to take a day off from sitting at my desk, earn some money to help with the costs of setting up the truck, and most importantly, find out if the truck was up to the climb. I love this local networking system.

So on a Tuesday morning I trailered the Suzuki to the base of Mt. Tom. My one worry was that no one had packed a trail to the top yet, as the Suzuki is not really a deep powder machine. Even with a locking rear differential it can dig a hole that it can’t get out of if the terrain is steep enough (not unlike several sleds I have known). To that end Matt had a couple of friends bring their sleds to help pack a trail to the top if needed, but as it turned out, both AT&T and the Mass. State Police were already there and had been up and down the mountain a few times with a Pisten Bully and an old Tucker Sno-Cat. So as soon as Matt showed up we made a run up the mountain with the Mini Truck.

4-wheel-drive Suzuki Carry Mini Truck

The first run up was taken at a crawl to test the terrain, but was no problem at all. On another run taken with the tech support guy, Jim Bagley, sitting in the back, we unhooked the empty tanks and brought them down. We loaded up four filled one-hundred pounders and headed back up.

After unloading those I decided to take a different route down. This was my only mistake of the day. There was a trail that dropped over a steep part that a Pisten Bully had gone down, but after we went over the drop we could see that a stream cut across the trail below and the other driver had turned around and come back up the hill. It was steep and not well packed and after I got turned around the Suzuki could not climb this section. We got out to look over the situation. The guys on the snowmobiles were having a good time exploring the mountain, but came looking for us when they didn’t see us come down the main trail. I didn’t want to walk too far off the trail as I was sinking up to my waist.

Steve Howland, Buckland Riders

Steve Howland takes a selfie on Mt. Tom.

I asked them to find a downhill route around the stream that didn’t need too much room between the trees (the Suzuki is only 5’6” wide with the tracks). They quickly found a route that would work, so I spun the truck around and followed them down without any problem. The Suzuki does float well if it isn’t clawing uphill, so after that I stuck to the packed trails.

Once we were done with the tasks at hand there was a discussion among the techs that the generator problem was probably caused by too few tanks not allowing enough vaporizing surface area. They asked if I could come back the next day to haul up more tanks? Hmm, sit in front of a computer or drive around Mt. Tom in the snow? I said I’d be happy to do it. So Matt and Jim left for the day with plans to regroup at the base on Wednesday.

While at the base of the mountain I chatted briefly with three power company technicians who were there to find out why there wasn’t any power at the top. They’d been waiting around all day trying to figure out a way up the mountain. I am still curious why they had not rounded up a ride in the two days since power was out, but in any case, I offered to help, to which they gladly agreed. So with three techs and their equipment, we headed back up the mountain and worked down from the top to find where the break in power was. They eventually found a bad cutoff on a pole about halfway down the mountain. That was it for their day, they would come back the next to fix the issue.

Suzuki Groomer

Wednesday was a spectacular sunny winter day. I shuttled the new propane tanks up, then had to wait several hours for the gas fitter to show up to connect them. I kept busy while waiting, shuttling a skier to the top whom had already hiked up several times, then had my lunch overlooking Westover Air Force Base and the Connecticut River.

The power company technicians had rented an old Sno-Cat that threw a track on its first trip up the hill, but the state police were there and ran them up to fix the power problem. One technician came walking down to get more tools and I gave him a ride back up. They were finished by late afternoon with the gas fitter. Power was back on to the mountain when we left and the PVTA system was tested and ready of the next power outage.

It was a real treat to help out and put the Snowzuki through its paces. Who knows, I might be getting more calls to transport people and support equipment into hard to reach places. We’ll be ready.

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