Battling with My Snowblower and My Assumptions

Trees and bushes after a fresh snowfall

We had about a foot of snow fall this past Friday and Saturday. The first 6″ fell early Friday morning and the second 6″ came late Saturday night. I’ve got a 24″, two-stage snowblower so I wasn’t too concerned. (The picture above is my backyard after a similar snowfall.) I got up early Friday and was out by 6am to take on the challenge. Problem. Solution. Action.

But after about 15 minutes running the snowblower, the engine killed. It’s 23-years old and a little temperamental, so I patiently adjusted the choke, primed the carburetor, and fired it up again. Two minutes later, it killed again. Hmmm. I started it again, but this time after a few seconds it stopped. Started again. Stopped again. Now I was frustrated, because I had just started the work and still had a long way to go before my driveway would be clear and I had appointments to get to throughout the day.

So I cleaned and stowed the snowblower in the garage and grabbed a shovel. An hour and 15 minutes later, I finally came in from the cold.

As I worked on clearing the driveway, I thought about why the engine was killing. Fuel filter? Air filter? I had no idea. I’m not an “engine guy.”

I was doubly frustrated because I already knew that we were expecting another 6″ of snow Saturday night and Sunday morning. I was staring in the face of getting up again very early, shoveling for 60-90 minutes, and showering before heading to church. In my mind, shoveling that much snow counts as a workout. That’s probably the only redeeming quality of 6″ of fresh snow.

Ok. It is beautiful, too.

Later on Friday, I mentioned my snowblower challenge to a friend during a break in a meeting. Todd said, “Maybe you’ve got water in the gas.”

Hmmm. Good idea. I recall recently putting more gas in the tank during a heavy snowfall. It’s possible snow got in the tank and contaminated the gas. I decided to take some time Saturday afternoon draining the gas and replacing it with fresh gas.

Saturday afternoon came. I shut off the fuel line. Then I disconnected the fuel line and prepared to drain it into a wide, open-top container to look for evidence of water. Water and gas don’t mix so water should be clearly visible as clear blobs in the gas, likely at the bottom of the container because water is more dense than gas.

However, nothing came out the line after I re-opened the fuel line valve. I tilted the snowblower a bit to force gas to the part of the tank where the fuel line connected.


I took the gas cap off and looked inside.

No gas. No gas! Not a drop!

My fuel filter wasn’t the problem. My air filter wasn’t the problem. I didn’t have water in the gas.

I had no gas!

After reconnecting the fuel line, and filling the tank, the engine fired up instantly and roared to life. (Yes, “roar.” It’s a satisfying sound. I live in Minnesota and I don’t mess around with little snow equipment!)

Wow! I would have felt stupid except that I managed to laugh at myself.

I made a huge assumption and it cost me a lot of manual labor and a bit of anxiety over the thought of possibly paying to get the engine repaired.

Assumptions can get us into trouble, but assumptions are important, too. We make assumptions about the reliability and trustworthiness of people we know. We make assumptions that other drivers on the road will follow the rules. We make assumptions that when my bank says I have a positive balance of a certain amount I can make charges against that balance for groceries, gas, medical care, and other things. Life would be unmanageable without assumptions.

As I said, though, assumptions can get us into trouble. The more impactful a problem is, the more likely those assumptions will be a problem if you are wrong.

Big problem + Big impact + Assumptions = Increased risk.

The next time you have a problem that has a big impact, stop to check your assumptions. Set aside a few minutes to actually write out a list of assumptions about:

  • People and their motivations, commitment, ability, and knowledge.
  • Resources and their availability to you.
  • Facts of the matter. (Be careful to distinguish between facts and beliefs.)
  • Culture and what it says about the problem.
  • Yourself: Work capacity, emotional links, motivation, and ability.

That’s a lot to consider, but you’ll find that taking 15 minutes to consciously assess those assumptions will help you uncover hidden roadblocks to your problem and may save you tremendous time, frustration, and even money.

Dr. Scott Yorkovich is a leadership coach and consultant. He works with individuals, small and medium organizations, and ministries. Contact him at ScottYorkovich[at] with your questions.

Photo by Author

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