Bill Vossler 2017-04-13 06:12:18
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow! That might be Frank Neu’s motto, because the Lion from Rockville loves to throw snow from the clogged driveways of the widows, elderly and infirm of the village. “I enjoy it,” the 78-year-old says. “Well, maybe not when it’s 35 below with the Minnesota wind howling.” Frank Neu clears another property of the ubiquitous white stuff. Or when his neighborly work requires 13 consecutive hours of riding and snow blowing in the club’s John Deere 485 tractor, as happened two years ago when 13 inches piled up in the driveways and sidewalks in the little town. That day he flung off 30,000 pounds of snow. Fifteen tons. From a single driveway. And Neu cleans 25 more of them of various sizes every time it snows two inches or more. Tons and tons and tons. Rockville is a small, working-class town of 500 nine miles from St. Cloud and 75 miles from Minneapolis. The yearly snowfall is 46 inches. Winter doesn’t release its icy grip until nearly mid-April. During his snow duty Neu morphs into a jack of all trades, sometimes becoming a newspaper boy. “If there’s only two or three inches, I can see the papers laying there, so I stop the machine, pick up the paper and toss it onto the steps.” Or a mechanic. “Just a couple of days ago I didn’t see a newspaper in the middle of the driveway. My snow blower gobbled it up, and there went the shear pins,” he says. Normally the shear pin that snaps is the one running the pair of auger blades that pick up the snow. But this time the one that runs the main fan that throws the snow out also sheared when the newspaper struck it. Only the third time for that one in 32 years of snow blowing. “They’re made to snap so you don’t wreck the machine,” he says. So he pulled out his bag of wrenches and extra shear pins, and got to work, kneeling in the middle of a driveway at 5 a.m. “I had to crawl deep inside the front of the snow blower and remove the broken shear pin, and install a new one for the fan. You can only do that with your bare fingers. No gloves, and when it’s really cold, like 30 below.” He averages breaking five shear pins a year from striking hidden newspapers, tree branches or other debris. “If somebody leaves a rag or a toy out, I can‘t see it under the snow. There goes another shear pin.” Especially because so much of his work is done during the dark. A Little History In 1984 the Rockville Lions Club became concerned that some people in town could no longer safely remove the snow from their driveways. “We decided to use the tractor that we used on the town softball diamond,” says Neu, a Lion since 1976 and a charter member. “The club needed someone to volunteer, so I did. Other guys said they would help out, too.” Richard Dingmann and Charles Hansen each worked for two years. “But they were a lot older than I was at the time, and they just couldn‘t do it anymore. It can get to be real tough if we have snowstorms four days in a row.” Neu has driven the snow blower the other 28 years. He gets occasional help from Daryl Steil, too. After first Neu cleaned a dozen driveways and sidewalks. Today he blows snow off 26 driveways, though the city now takes care of the sidewalks. Neu is not the club’s only snow blower. President Dale Borgmann began his fling seven years ago in Pleasant Lake a couple of miles away. “I saw a number of widows, and a man with Parkinson’s and another with a heart attack who couldn‘t get rid of their snow, so I brought up the idea to our club,” he explains. His snowy duty includes 14 driveways and a walking track one-mile in circumference, taking 3 ½ hours every time two or more inches drop down from the sky. “Serving others is what we do,” he says. Time-Honored Work Before he retired Neu started in the tractor at 3 a.m., before work in a cabinet shop, which often began at 5 a.m. “That way I’d get some snow blown so I wouldn’t have to operate half the evening. I wear snowmobile pants and a heavy jacket, and a heater in the cab runs off the radiator. So it can be fairly comfy inside. At -30 it gets cool, and at - 35 below, with the wind blowing … .” He shudders. “I was born and raised on a farm, so getting up early and working hard is part of how I’ve always lived. It’s not a problem at all.” He knows how long each session will take. “Five or six inches will take seven or eight hours. Twelve inches means at least twelve hours.” The depth of snow makes a difference in his method, too. Deep snow requires skimming off the top, backing up, and repeating until he reaches the frozen driveway. “I just keep going until I‘m done with all of it. I can get pretty stiff, going in these driveways and backing out of all of them. Most take four trips in and out, but some take a lot more.” Though it is all donated time, Neu says he receives payment in other ways. “The club is appreciative that I do it, though I continue to look for somebody else younger. But they say, ‘We’ll just wait until you get that far,’” he laughs. “But my health is still good. Townspeople are so doggone happy to see that snow coming off their driveways that they send me thank-you cards, boxes of cookies, bags of candy, candy bars, and say they wouldn’t know what to do if I didn’t blow out their driveways.” But nobody has so far offered him the ubiquitous Minnesota hot dish. (Garrison Keillor often joked about Minnesotans’ propensity for bringing over a hot dish such as a tuna casserole after a family crisis or merely as a gesture of friendship.) While he’s snow blowing, some people offer him hot chocolate or coffee, which he turns down. “I can’t take the time to drink it,” he says. “I just thank them for the offer.” Occasionally, people donate money, which pays for the annual gas expense of $350. Why does he do it? Because he’s a Lion, and “as a Lions club, we serve others,” he says simply. But doubtless he also does it for the sheer joy of helping out his neighbors.
Published by International Association of Lions Clubs . View All Articles.
This page can be found at http://digital.lionmagazine.org/article/Minnesota+Snow+Man/2762932/400734/article.html.