March 3, 2014
On Saturday Kijiji showed a photo of a 2013 Kawasaki Mule 410 Trans equipped with tracks at Weagant Farm Supply in Brockville. I resolved to have a look. Monday dawned -22C and clear. What better day to test how a Mule starts than a sub zero morning? With any luck I’d get to drive the tracked one in snow, as well. I’d read that vehicles need power steering to turn successfully with tracks mounted. The Mule 410 Trans has electric steering assist standard. That’s a thousand-dollar option on other brands.
I kidded John MacDonald about creating a “halo” Mule to improve sales: people like me would come in to see how well the thing handles deep snow, then buy a Mule on regular wheels with the mental insurance policy that they can get tracks for it if another heavy winter like this one comes along again.
With our fists we pounded the ice off the front seat. From the ground on the right side John reached over and turned the key. A quiet purr began somewhere around the rear axle. That was starting. No fuss at all with the EFI system. I stepped aboard.
The Mule backed down off its snowbank perch with only a little roughness in the driveline. This vibration went away quickly after a full turn of the tracks. Must have been a bit of ice trapped somewhere. John drove us to a nearby snow-covered lot. Progress down the shoulder of the road was quiet and slow.
The tracks reduce the drive ratio by 2:1. The 20 hp engine works best on tracks if left in low range, producing another reduction in final drive ratio. In winter mode the Mule is definitely a slow and steady machine.
But it floats over deep snow like a good pair of snowshoes.
I found some drifts to explore. The Mule slowly pushed through without hesitation. I ran it up a steep, icy bank. Same engine sound, no problem. Then it backed down easily when I realized that there was a precipice at the edge of a chain link fence on the far side of the snow pile. I couldn’t find any snow which could change the Kawasaki engine’s tone. It sounded as though it would idle along, regardless of load, for as long as I wanted to push through snow.
On my way out of the field I tried unsuccessfully to high-centre the Mule on a snowbank. Too much ground clearance with the tracks installed. That was a relief. My back is still a little tender from another belly-hang with a Ranger where I should have used a tow rope, but chose to push instead.
From what I have read online and observed, a Mule with a few hundred hours on it shows every prospect of many years of faithful service. If you need a workhorse which seats four or more people and starts very well more than you need high-speed performance, one of these Mules back off lease might be a good choice.
February 23, 2014
Twenty years from now I wonder if anyone in Canada will talk about where he or she was during the gold medal hockey game at Sochi.
The experience was radically different during the 2010 medal game. The maple syrup crew had assembled in our living room, and we still remember our breathless anticipation leading up to Sydney Crosby’s climactic goal. We almost let the sap pan burn dry when the U.S. team tied it up and they went to overtime.
February 12, 2014
“The pain is disproportionate to the pathology.” That’s how the physiotherapist summed up my agony from a slightly strained back. “You’re the third one I have had this week, all snowmobile-related. The other two were from attempting to lift machines frozen into the ice.”
My miscue involved pushing a belly-hung Polaris Ranger off a snowbank while Tony rocked it back and forth from the driver’s seat. I should have simply hooked a tow rope to the thing and eased it off with my pickup truck, but egos were at work here, and on my 63rd birthday I wasn’t about to admit I was no longer 30.
Hence the phsyiotherapy sessions for the next two weeks. The real problem is that the non-prescription backache pills leave me stupid and uninterested in reading or writing. With treatments and the exercises Paul prescribed I’m likely able to quit the pills, though.
Blog entries may be a bit cranky and unkind to overweight and poorly-balanced ice augers for the next couple of days.
Update: 15 February
My back isn’t yet 100%, but I’m pain-free after six days and two treatments. Readily-available physiotherapy is very good for the aging weekend warrior.
All better, and looking forward to the fun of throwing sand around the icy lanes on the property this morning.
February 6, 2014
Today I stopped by the local farm equipment dealer to have a mid-winter look around. It’s a Kubota/Kawasaki dealership, and I noticed some extensively-used four-passenger Mules on special. The sales guy told me they’re back off lease. All of the returns are 2013′s. The one which interested me has 725 hours on it, blue/purple paint, not too many dents on the box, and a year left on extended warranty. The price caught my attention.
I drove it around. The EFI engine started well on a sub-zero morning. Electric power steering helps. The 20 hp Mule felt gutless after my much lighter 18 hp Ranger, which is eager to get to its 25 mph top speed. Mind you the sales guy says these engines are all about low-end torque.
Basically the Mule is ugly but highly functional, with belted, rollover-protected seating for four people.
They rent the Mules to the installers of solar farms, so there are a lot of them on the go right now. The only trouble they’ve had with them has been in fall when the mud balled around the drive shafts the day before has frozen hard. Then the operator jumps on and tears off in the morning, occasionally snapping a 1″ axle.
Downsides? The extra-seat Mule seems long and cumbersome. It’s polite and quiet, but slow. It’s not my Ranger. I caught myself wondering if it would do the little u-turn at the end of my driveway when I drop off the garbage on Wednesday mornings.
I think the Mule’s hampered in an initial test drive by its lazy 20 hp engine and considerable weight. Online I read that the suspension travel’s not great, in the order of 3″. Ground clearance is 7.1″, less than my 2WD Ranger’s.
Of course Kawasaki claims only that the Mule starts well, uses little fuel, and pulls strongly at low speeds. The shifter looked to me as if it would stand a lot of forward-and-reverse work while plowing snow. The Ranger’s shifter to me feels too fragile and notchy for such an application.
I watched a video of a Mule equipped with a good plow fighting with a foot of heavy, wet snow. It wasn’t fast, but it moved the snow pretty well. In another video I watched a Mule try repeatedly to climb a step, sandy hill. It seemed to run out of power or traction, or driver ability, but to my surprise it didn’t make it up a slope I thought my 2WD Ranger would climb.
The Mule’s more tractor than sports car, but it might be a good machine to own.
January 27, 2014
For the last week I have obsessed about UTVs in the manner of someone gearing himself up to buy a new one. Of course I prefer the used market, but there’s a scarcity of worthy machines for the compulsive tire-kickers of Kijiji to examine.
The few UTVs which are for sale generally have plows attached and look as though they were equipped on the dealer’s order books as ultimate-snow-removal-machines-for-country-properties. That role in Eastern Ontario belongs to a 75 hp, 4WD farm tractor with loader and 7′ snow blower. Anything less is a toy.
I wandered over to You Tube to look for videos of Polaris Rangers plowing snow. There were quite a few, but each video featured a Ranger scraping along a driveway to remove three or four inches of snow. The videos never show the important parts: the beginning and end of each run. Where do the guys put the snow? What happens when the drifts get big? or the township plow completely fills in your driveway?
Snow storage isn’t part of the job: it’s the whole job. I can’t see how a small plow can help.
A couple of years ago I explained to an uncomprehending friend that the purpose of a homeowner’s snowblower isn’t to blow snow, it’s to take the snowbanks created by passing plows and pile them in places higher than the owner can reach with a shovel. For that reason alone the blower is worth garage space: it lets your driveway continue to operate at nearly full width until spring by finding creative places to store snow. The top of a hedge is a reliable storage place: usually your neighbour won’t catch on until he tries the same thing from the other side and discovers the space is already full.
Around Forfar we don’t even bother with snow until it gets up over six inches, and what would one of these expensive, light plows on a Ranger or Rhino do if it encountered the four foot drifts I had to deal with this morning?
Even with the tractor-mounted snowblower I’d had my work cut out for me. Fortunately the cab on the TAFE kept me dry while the blower tossed the snow up in the air, after which the wind whipped it away to become some other township’s problem. The first trip out the 600′ driveway wore out a 7/16″ shear pin, though. The new one held for the rest of the morning’s job, though as I broke for lunch the white stuff was drifting rapidly back into the gap I had created.
When the township plow goes through on my side of the road I’ll get to do the whole thing again. A tractor’s designed for the constant shifting and rough use it gets moving snow. Repairs to old tractors are relatively cheap. Rangers are wonderful machines for light hauls, dog-walks and people-moving. I just think repairs are too expensive to abuse these machines with snow removal duties.
January 14, 2014
Looks to me as though the Alberta oil patch guys want to ship the bitumen from the tar sands out untreated because they want to send the pollution involved in processing the stuff downstream, as well.
Maybe it’s time for a new meme. How about “weaponized bitumen”? North American business extracts its revenge on China for cheap exports by strangling the country with emissions from its bitumen refineries.
And we thought smallpox blankets and the opium wars were unethical.