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Peterson: Winter casualties: inanimate and otherwise

Published: Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014 11:41 p.m. CDT

It was bound to happen, I guess, but I didn’t see it coming: I wore out the snow shovel I’ve been using for the past five or six years.

We’ve gotten that much snow. At least that’s what I like to think.

This shovel had a dark blue, all-metal scoop that could hold a fair amount of snow to throw. It had a metal shaft that had two bends in it. The idea was that the bends made it easier on the back to shovel snow versus the typical straight shaft.

I don’t know whether that is true. I had been thinking about buying one of those bent-shaft models for more than 10 years but couldn’t bring myself to do it. Where was the science to back it up? Was this the snake oil of shovels? Scoop scam?

I was walking the dog years ago and came across a guy shoveling the sidewalk with one of these bent-shaft shovels, and I asked him what he thought of it: Did it help? He shrugged his shoulders and said he didn’t know for sure, but it might have been better. Talk about your testimonials.

That’s the thing about shoveling snow. Bent shaft or straight, shoveling is hard work in less-than-ideal conditions. It’s a matter of degree as to whether the bent shaft is any better.

But in five or six years of shoveling, I don’t remember my back going out, and that had to mean something. It’s happened with straight-shaft shovels.

And it has happened again, but I don’t think I can blame the bent shaft. I blame plastics.

Let me finish describing the shovel. At the end of the metal shaft it flares to make a grip to put your hand on and muscle into shoveling. I never paid attention to the handle, which aside from the front edge of the shovel takes the most pressure.

I didn’t notice it until last Wednesday’s snowfall when I was close to finishing an hour of shoveling. The handle came loose and started slowly twirling around on the end of the shaft. Huh? Then it was time to throw, and the shovel went with it, leaving me with a handle in my hand, a plastic handle.

I just assumed it was metal like the rest of the shovel. Wrong. It was plastic, and it had cracked, finally loosening itself from the shaft. There was no buildup to the handle falling off. No slips or spins.

In a matter of minutes, my shovel was broken. But, as I was nearly done, I was able to finish shoveling the sidewalk leading up to the house if I held the shovel just so. Plastic! They made the piece of the shovel that takes almost the most blunt force out of plastic. Of course it’s going to break. Eventually.

The next morning I woke up with a sore hip. It’s fine when I am laying or sitting down; it’s only when I’m standing and walking that it hurts, sending a sharp radiating pain from my hip to my lower back and down my right leg. It’s been a week now.

I blame it on the broken handle on my shovel. I started shoveling with a different motion to keep the handle from flying off the shovel, and it must have put unaccustomed pressure on my hip. Twenty years ago, it might not have been a problem, but now I am in serious pain, waiting for it to wear off.

I promptly bought a replacement shovel, fearing the stores might be out of shovels while they stock the shelves with spring gardening equipment. It’s February, after all. That was the case at one giant retailer, which only had about 10 shovels left, and they all had straight shafts.

I went to the home improvement center and asked a clerk where the snow shovels were. And there were plenty of bent-shaft shovels. Naturally the handle was plastic, but so was the scoop. The scoop!

It lightens up the shovel considerably, but it’s plastic. Even if the scraping edge is reinforced with a metal strip, it still is a plastic scoop. It’s not going to last forever. I’ll be surprised if I get four years out of it, especially at the rate we’re going this winter.

My good wife, who does more than her share of shoveling with a lighter weight straight-shaft model, shoveled Saturday’s snowfall. I’m out of commission with an injury. It wasn’t the bent shaft that did me in. And I didn’t see it coming. I was blindsided by the weakest link, a piece of plastic.

• Dick Peterson, who lives in Woodstock, is a mental-health advocate. He is a freelance writer and a former Northwest Herald Opinion Page editor. He can be contacted at dickpeterson76@gmail.com.

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