Lately (maybe because the whole country practically is having a blizzard this week), I've been getting a lot of search engine hits to the Me, CherkyB looking for information on Berco (Bercomac) Snow Blowers. I understand this, as before I got mine, I spent a huge amount of time on the web looking for the same info, and there wasn't a whole lot of it. Most of these hit the My Beloved post, where I ramble on about whatever for quite a long time before posting some pictures of the assembly. No one has yet hit the action shots in Beloved, probably because there is no text that a search engine would find interesting in that post.
So, humanitarian that I am, I put together this grand, unified guide to the Berco snow thrower. I hope that some folks find it helpful. I wish I had found something like this before I bought mine.
First some details of my setup. I have a 2006 Husqvarna YTH20F42T with the 20HP Kohler Courage engine. Depending on where you look on the tractor and paperwork, it is sometimes also referred to as an LOYTH20F42T. As best as I can tell, the "LO" means that it is specially packed for Lowe's, and this means it comes with a manual that says, "Contact Lowe's for all your parts and service needs," all over it, but other than that the tractor is unchanged. The standard Berco subframe kit for the '06 YTH20F42T worked fine.
I purchased my blower setup from Mac Equipment in Loveland, CO, which is the nearest Bercomac dealer according to the manufacturer's website. This was a special-order, and it took 12 days to arrive (10 business days). Being special-order, I paid list price for everything. I'm not sure if a place that does more mail-order/internet business like Jim's Repair would have a better price. I decided to buy locally. Oddly, the local place not only charged me sales tax but also charged me for shipping (to the tune of $195 - tough to get a good deal on a special order), so I'm betting Jim's would have been somewhat cheaper.
Here's what I got:
- 40" Compact Snowblower [QBM700255-2] ($1349)
- Subframe [BM700413-2] ($190)
- Compact Drive Mechanism [BM700414-1] ($169)
- Chute Deflector Kit [BM700239-0] ($65)
- Rear Counter Weights (comes with mounting hardware) [BM700246-5] ($275)
- 28x8-8 Tire Chains [BM102896] ($88)
Now on to the assembly. Right up front let me tell you that this seems intimidating at first given the sheer number of parts and the complexity of the diagrams, but after completing it, I can look back and say it was very straight-forward. It's literally just installing bolts.
The first step was to assemble the subframe. This is a couple of thick hunks of metal that sister to the frame rails to add additional strength. Very cool. It's also the only part of the blower assembly that is "permanently" attached (it's only bolted on, so you can remove it if you really want to spend an hour or so doing it). Everything else pops right off with little levers or cotter pins so that the changeover to mowing in the spring is pretty easy.
The directions were pretty good, but the diagrams were too small to really read, so I spent a bunch of time figuring out exactly what I was supposed to do. Here's my take on it:
There are a LOT of parts that come with the subframe assembly. This is because this assembly is designed to fit every tractor made by Husqvarna's parent company (Husqvarna, Poulan, and Yard Man?) plus a couple others. You are going to have parts left over. A frighteningly lot of parts. Mostly, it'll be bolts. The subframe assembly directions boil down to putting a bolt through every hole in the subframe rail that lines up with a hole in your tractor frame rail. The diagram maps the holes in the subframe to a particular kind of bolt, and there are many holes so close to one another that it is very hard to follow the map. In general, pick the bolt that fits. You have two diameters, two lengths, and if the hole is square, you use a self-tapping machine screw instead of a bolt.
A couple things I wish had been written differently in the directions. First, the subframe assembly instructions say, "You do not need to remove the mower to complete this assembly." What they should have said was, "Do not remove the mower until you complete this assembly." See, there are a couple steps that say things like, "Use the lowest position that does not interfere with the drive belt or mower deck," except I had already removed the mower since I knew I was going to have to in order to complete the blower install, and nothing ever told me not to. In particular, there is a cross-member that joins the left and right frame rails and becomes a mounting point for the drive mechanism that has many, many optional positions. Luckily, they list the recommended positions for a few different kinds of tractors, and mine was on the list, so I didn't have to put the mower back on.
Then, there is the matter of shims. The kit comes with a few shims to use in case your tractor's frame rail is not completely flat. My right one was flat, but the left one was not. These shims are, unfortunately, not described until you get to the end of the subframe rail installation instructions and it kind of mentions an "Oh, by the way, if an hour back you mounted the subframe rail and noted it wasn't completely flat against the frame rail, you should have used these shims." Argh! I had to partially remove the left rail to add in the shim.
The same kind of thing happened with the heat shield. There is a heat shield right up front under the nose of the tractor, and I had to remove it to get my hands in there to bolt on the subframe rails. When I was done with the installation of the subframe rails, I went to put it back and found it no longer fit back in because of interference from the hinged blower mount that was now right under it. I found that if I loosened up a bunch of the subframe bolts, I could just squeeze it back in , but then I couldn't get to the nuts to hold them when I re-tightened the bolts. I screwed around with this for literally a half-hour before I kinda-sorta got it in place and decided to give up. Then, a couple steps later, the directions note that you might not be able to reinstall your heat shield, but not to worry, a new heat shield that will fit is supplied to replace the old one in this case.
Where was that two pages ago! Here's a photo of the replacement heat shield. This was taken after I had completed the install of everything, so there's a little more stuff than would be there after just the subframe install, but you can see how it might be tough to wedge the original heat shield in there with all that stuff underneath it. In particular, the original heat shield required you to tilt the front down to clip the back in, and then bring up the front to screw it on. The tilt-down is darn near impossible here. (For all these photos, you can click on them to get the "full-size" image.)
Here is the right frame rail - the very first thing you install if following the directions. This side also has the lifting mechanism, of which that big arched piece of black metal is part. It transfers the motion from the lever arm to the front lift bracket. If you look closely, you will see that some of the bolts have the head end out, and some have the nut end out. The directions say to always put the nut on the inside, but I just couldn't fit in there to do that properly on some of the bolts. Nothing rubs or scrapes, so I assume this will be just fine.
Here's a picture of the left subframe rail, which I did second, and thus was easier to do. It's that shiny black thing in the front, as opposed to the dusty black frame rail behind it.
This closeup of the left frame rail illustrates a couple of the points I made earlier. First, you can see I have one bolt put in with the nut on the outside. Second, you can see the shim I needed on this side. It's the shiny piece of metal sandwiched between the black subframe rail and the black frame rail and running directly underneath the yellow oil drain cap. There's a metal plate welded to the bottom half of the left frame rail that does not exist on the right, thus the shim is needed here.
Underneath, you have to remove the mowing deck and then attach this blower power takeoff. This is held in with a couple big posts and two cotter pins, so it drops right out in the spring when it is time to put the mower back on.
Here's a shot of the drive assembly with the belt running forward to the blower assembly. That curved bar running up the right side of the photo is the lifting lever. You may note how there are a lot of cotter pins in view - those are all you have to remove to take everything off in the spring.
One note I might add is that I have an electric power takeoff. The power drive assembly just pops right in if you have an electric PTO. If you have a manual one (like you were a sucker and bought the exact same tractor from Sears as a Craftsman product, only with a manual PTO instead of an electric one, and you paid a couple hundred dollars more for it to boot), there were a number of additional steps involved that dealt with assuring proper alignment and adjustment of the clutch cable.
Here's a look down at the drive mechanism of the blower itself, looking down in front of the nose of the tractor (the thing on the right side of the photo). I've removed the cover plate, which is held in place by one nut with a big knob on it so it doesn't require a wrench. You see the drive belt come in from the top right, go over an idler pulley, under the auger drive pulley, then it does a 90 degree bend to go over the impeller drive pulley, then back through two idlers. That black post running up from the auger drive pulley goes to the side of the auger cage where it drives the chain. I assume that would not be there in a Northeast model, as they drive the auger from the center.
A couple other things to note in the above photo. There are two springs visible. The top one is the drive belt tensioning spring. It is engaged by flipping the lever whose handle is vertical just to the left of it. The cover plate locks that handle in place. The lower spring is a new feature, and it is a lift assist spring. It helps reduce the effort required to lift the blower off the ground using the lift arm. The effort is quite low, though I have not honestly tried it without the spring to see how much a difference it makes.
Here's the side view of the hookup, this time with the cover plate installed. That little red tab is the latch that keeps the blower attached to the mount. There's one on the other side, too.
Now we're all hooked up except for the rear counterweights and the tire chains. This is about 5 hours into the install. It doesn't seem like it should have taken that long, but it did. The parts packages contained all the parts for many different tractor models, so you always had boatloads more parts than you used for each step. This caused me to have to go back and recheck the directions every 30 seconds, cuz I really don't like finishing something and having about 50% of the parts still sitting there, unused. If I were to do it again on the same tractor, I could probably get to this point in 2 hours instead of five.
Here's a picture of the remote chute deflector kit. It consists of a 5-position handle that mounts to the side of the post on which the chute rotation crank mounts, a cable (very much like a bicycle brake cable), and a cable mount for the chute. This is without a doubt an excellent value in an upgrade. $65 is nothing compared to the total cost of this thing, and I can't imagine living without the ability to set the chute height from the driver's seat. Without this kit, you get two hand-nuts that you have to go loosen, adjust the height, and re-tighten out there at the business end of the chute. I also didn't think it would be worth it to spend the few hundred bucks for the electric chute kit (which gives you electric height and rotation). After using the manual version a bit, I still think the electric kit is not worth it.
OK, on to the rear counterweight kit. This was one of the hardest steps, as it turns out, as my tractor did not have all the holes needed in the rear frame to mount this. So I had to drill a couple of them, which meant I had to take off the rear wheels to get the drill in. Then, the stupid weight lockdown bar was a little teeny bit too short, and we screwed around with this for like a half-hour before deciding to just drill out the cotter pin holes a little bigger so that they'd clear the mounting brackets. That took all of 30 seconds and solved the problem. Wish we'd thought of that first.
In theory, the nice thing about these rear counterweights is that having them hang off the back like that gives you an effective 25% more weight than if you used wheel weights.
My only concern here is that, while I can easily remove the weights by removing one cotter pin, the mounting bracket is not as easily removed. I'm wondering if it will interfere with the control lever for my broadcast fertilizer spreader. I'll update this when I try it out. [Update: the mounting bracket did not interfere with the lever on the spreader. The weights and weight bar would have if I had not removed them, though. Removal is one cotter pin - no big deal.]
[Years later update: It turns out that I when I drilled the holes for the mounting bolts, I didn't quite get the two brackets at the same angle. This small misalignment has made it more difficult than it should be to slide the locking bar through the weights each fall, but it;s nothing a little grease and a 10lbs sledge hammer can't handle.
Also, I finally broke down and bought a bagging kit this year. These brackets do prevent you from being able to install the bagger. I have found that I can just remove the lower bolt from each bracket (which is the easier bolt to get to), and then swing the bracket arms down 90 degrees so that they are at the sides of the tractor frame, and they clear the bagger just fine.]
I took it for a spin where I attacked a couple of the snow drifts next to the driveway. It did pretty well, though I managed to break one of the tire chains. I felt some resistance while I was just driving (dry pavement, blower not engaged), so I gave it a big load of gas. Hee hee. Took a few minutes to put the chain back together. I think it had stretched and got caught up on something. The chains are supposed to stretch a whole bunches when they are new. What I can say is that this thing really throws the snow far. I had to aim it downward to keep it under 20'.
Now, this was pretty old snow (about a month), so the bottom couple inches was basically ice. The blower skids right up over that. It had no problem with the compacted and icy drifts, but it didn't get the very bottom layer. This is pretty standard with a blower. There is no real way to force it down like there would be on a snow blade. I guess the lesson here is to not let your snow turn to ice before getting the blower out.
I got some nice, fresh snow a couple weeks later (only about 2"), and it did a great job on that.