Tom Ross: Snowblower repairman is everyone's best friend

Steamboat Springs man measuring life one small engine at a time

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Jim Pavlik is one of the most popular people in Steamboat Springs this winter. By my count, he has more than 1,000 good friends who depend heavily on him. Yet, he carries their burdens easily and always has a smile on his face.

What? You haven't heard of Pavlik? Then I can assume you don't own a driveway or you pay someone else to remove the snow from in front of your home.

Pavlik is the owner of Precision Sharpening and Repair in a nondescript white building on Twentymile Road. He repairs snowblowers for a living. It's been a big winter at the shop.

Pavlik and shop manager Sandy Kebodeaux have handled 1,400 work orders since people began bringing their snowblowers in for regular service and repair work in the fall. Ever since the snow began falling with serious intent right after Thanksgiving, most of those loyal customers have expressed a certain amount of urgency.

"I'll bet you about 80 percent of them are in the midst of an emergency," Pavlik said.

Sometimes, his "friends" call him at home on a Sunday in the midst of a snowstorm. But they aren't calling to invite him to go backcountry skiing. Pavlik doesn't make house calls on Sundays. He's walking behind his snowblower, clearing a driveway that measures 200 feet long.

A tall, angular man, Pavlik speaks with an accent that's a little tough to pin down -- his diction leaves no doubt he's from east of Ohio, but that Connecticut dialect is a little different from what one hears in other New England states.

Pavlik grew up in Norwalk, the son of an aircraft mechanic. His parents, William and Ida, weren't ones to spoil him. When he was 11 years old, he begged for a mini-bike for Christmas. What he found under the tree was an old lawn tractor motor that needed fixing, a set of tune-up parts, two old tires and a lot of steel tubing.

William Pavlik and his son spent the remainder of the winter building a mini-bike from scratch.

"We were brought up to believe you had to fix things and do things for yourself with your hands," he said.

At age 15, Pavlik went to work in a lawnmower shop in Norwalk. That was 35 years ago. He never got small engine repair out of his system.

"I can remember walking in there that first day and thinking, 'Wow, look at all those parts,'" Pavlik said with genuine enthusiasm.

It's no surprise that the residents of the Yampa Valley have spent a great deal of quality time with their snowblowers this winter -- the same powder that the ski area brags about also lands in everyone's driveways. But Pavlik said this winter has been tough on the front end of snowblowers, where the auger chews up the frozen white stuff and sends it on to the impeller before it's blown out the chute. Those augers are getting clogged by chunks of ice, stones and even newspapers hidden under the snow.

The only things between a clogged auger and stripped gears are a couple of tiny parts called shear pins. They are designed to break and release the tension on the gears before damage is done.

Pavlik already has gone through 300 shear pins for Ariens snowblowers (the brand he sells), and when you add in other makes of snowblowers, the number swells to between 600 and 700.

If you've contributed to the carnage, don't hesitate to ask Pavlik for advice about how to replace shear pins -- remember, he was raised to fix things himself.

"We encourage all people to do their own repairs," he says without hesitation.

Shear pins are one thing, but the most dangerous time of year for snowblowers is just arriving.

"This is the time of year when people who didn't change their oil after 20 to 30 hours (of operation) see their motors blow up," Pavlik said.

Actually, you can calculate that the critical oil changing time of year has arrived a month earlier than usual because of all the time snowblower nation has spent in the driveway.

"You could do people a favor and remind them to change their oil," Pavlik said.

However, if you choose to disregard that advice, he'll replace the engine in your machine for about $380.

So what does Pavlik do when the snow melts?

As the name of his shop implies, he's an expert at sharpening saw blades. And then there are lawnmowers. Kebodeaux holds up the list of people already looking ahead to June -- it numbers 25.

Pavlik figures he'll spend 15 years repairing snowblowers, lawnmowers, chainsaws and string trimmers before he retires to full-time tinkering at his North Routt home. For those 15 years, he looks forward to having 1,400 "friends in need."

"For 35 years, I've been doing this, and I wouldn't do anything else," he said. "That's the beauty of this business. It's so rewarding to have the kind of business where people are so appreciative of what you do."

If you haven't yet made Pavlik's acquaintance, it's only a matter of time until you do. He's good people.

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