THE DAY after the first snow, I tried to shovel the car out from its parking space. The snowplows had made an attempt to plow our apartment buildingdriveway. Although by then only six inches had fallen, two-foot-high snowdrifts left by the plow had my car blocked in.
Gung-ho, I fetched the shovel from the car trunk. This would be a cinch . . .
After three shovelfuls my heart was pumping.
After two more I took a break.
I always forget how heavy snow can be.
Stoically I plunged my shovel back in. I could almost see the taillights.
It must have been 20 degrees outside, but I was perspiring as though it were a hot summer day.
All of a sudden I heard a motor running, the sounds of gears shifting and a scraping sound. No, it couldn't be, I thought fearfully. But, yes, there it was, the plow was coming my way again. I tried standing in the way but the driver showed no signs of stopping. I backed off.
Within seconds, the snowdrift I had barely dented was back to its original size.
I decided to wait for it to melt.
"Working in extreme temperatures, your heart works harder evenSee SHOVEL, Page 2, Col. 4 'S No Job For Faint Of Heart SHOVEL, From Page 1 before you pick up the shovel," says Dr. James Fitzgerald, president of the D.C. Medical Society. "People have a tendency to keep on going when they see they have eight more feet to go, despite the warning signals of fatigue and shortness of breath."
Fitzgerald points out that wet snow is heavier than dry snow. He suggests either shoveling early while the snow is still dry or taking smaller bites with your shovel. "Sit down when you feel tired or follow my technique: Give the shovel to your son."
Doctors agree that people who are not in good condition or who are unaccustomed to heavy work are putting a strain on their heart and entire cardiovascular system when they run out to shovel the driveway minutes before they leave for work.
If you don't have a strong young person to do the job, pace yourself.
In the District, each homeowner or building owner is required by law to take care of the sidewalk and grounds around their building, according to Jack Smallwood, spokesman for the Snow Emergency Center in the District.
If you are doing the job yourself, take some advice from Frank Payne, manager of the garden and power equipment department at Fischer's hardware store.
Begin by using either rock salt (sodium chloride), calcium chloride or pure urea nitrogen. All three make tiny pores in the ice and loosens it. The most effective of these, according to Payne, is the urea. "The urea is a fertilizer. After it has melted down the snow and ice on your sidewalk or driveway, it runs into your lawn and shrubs, fertilizing them."
"Rock salt does melt the ice and is the cheapest of the three, but it also hurts the lawn," warns Payne. "The sodium chloride kills the roots, burning out your lawn. Calcium chloride is not as bad. It melts the ice faster than salt and only browns your lawn. Both rock salt and calcium chloride, however, weaken asphalt and concrete, turning them white."
If you can't buy pure urea nitrogen, Payne suggests any high-nitrogen type of fertilizer. The nitrogen will melt the snow and later fertilize your lawn.
At Fischer's, rock salt costs $1.69 for a five-pound bag; calcium chloride is $1.99 for five pounds, and urea nitrogen is $3.98 for the same amount.
Sears sells calcium chloride: 10-pound bags for $6; 25-pound bags for $13. Sears spokesman Ted Erfer claims the ice-melting compound will melt ice or snow in temperatures as low as minus 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
Hechinger's sells snow-melting crystals for the porch and sidewalk in 25-pound bags for $2.99.
Grand Paint & Hardware on Capitol Hill carries rock salt ($1.29 for a five-pound bag and $2.49 for 10 pounds); calcium chloride ($3.49 for a 10-pound bag and $8.99 for 25 pounds). Twomby's Hardware on Dupont Circle also sells rock salt ($3.29 for 25 pounds) and calcium chloride ($4.49 for 10 pounds), and 70-pound bags of sand for $2.85.
William J. Himes & Son hardware store in Silver Spring has rock salt ($2.95 for 25 pounds, $14.50 for 50 pounds; calcium chloride ($14.50 for 100 pounds); and sand ($2.85 for 70 pounds). Owner Philip Himes adds that they also carry urea nitrogen fertilizer, 80-pound bags for $7.95.
After you've loosened the ice and snow with rock salt or calcium chloride or fertilizer, Frank Payne suggests using an chisel or ice scraper to chop it up. His chisels run from $5 to $20.
At Hechinger's ice scrapers for the sidewalk are $7.49, while ice chisels (heavier than the scrapers) are $16.99.
After the ice has been broken into chunks, use a snow pusher, says Payne. "The pusher is a long-handled L-shaped shovel that you push along the drive or sidewalk, similar to the movement of a snowplow. No lifting is involved." Payne claims that with a pusher you can do a 50-foot driveway in a half hour, whereas a shovel would take three to four hours. At Fischer's snow pushers cost between $12 and $15.
Himes hardware store also carries snow pushers. Price: $7.95.
If you insist on using a shovel, Fischer carries a range of these, too, including aluminum and steel ones with or without a Teflon coating. Plastic ones -- which carry the longest warranty (three years) are also available. Prices for all three types range from $6 to $11.
At Hechinger's, shovels range in price from a large plastic 13-inch-wide one at $6.69 to a steel one at $7.49. The stores also carry three sizes of aluminum shovels at $8.99, $10.49 and $14.49.
Sears carries lightweight sheet-metal shovels for $4 to $6; tote shovels that unscrew to fit in the car, $9; flat blade shovels for $10 to $11.
The Hecht Co. carries plastic shovels for $5 at their Arcadia Gardens store in Landmark Mall. Woodward & Lothrop sells a folding 12-inch plastic shovel, good for light shoveling and storing in the car, $12.
Grand Paint & Hardware carries a variety of shovels ranging from $6 to $12.
Twomby's shovels run between $8.99 to $16.99.
Philip Himes says Himes stores carry a variety of shovels including an aluminum one with Teflon coating for $14, an aluminum one without a reinforced edge for $9.50 and grain scoopers (oversized heavyweight aluminum shovels) for $30.
For larger jobs, Fischer sells a small electric power shovel that plows a 12-inch path for $110. The most expensive motorized remover they carry is a gasoline-powered snow blower for $299.95.
Hechinger's also carries an electric power shovel for $110, which eases the strain on your heart and back, says Sally Cortney, general merchandise manager at Hechinger's.
For heavy-duty jobs, Sears spokesman Ted Erfer says they carry gas-powered snow removers ranging from $200 to $1,000. The removers range in strength from two to 10 horsepower, and in capability, from 20-inch paths to 32-inch paths. "The more expensive models come with headlights and almost everything but a radio," says Erfer.
For the car, Hechinger's carries windshield wiper solution with antifreeze for $1.19; a snow brush for $2.24; windshield ice scrapers for 79 cents and $1.49; Prestone antifreeze for $4.99 a gallon and Peak antifreeze for $4.39 a gallon. They also have all-purpose sand to help your car get out of that slippery space, $2.19 for 50 pounds.
Snow removal experts agree that snow should be shoveled away from the sides of the house so it will drain away from the basement. Experts also suggest that icicles be chopped from the eaves. Erfer of Sears suggests using cat box litter instead of sand for traction around car tires, since sand is so fine. Sally Cortney at Hechinger's advises putting a 50-pound bag of sand inside the car over the two rear wheels for better traction -- especially for small compact cars.