Single-Stage Yard Machines Snowblower Makes a Good Backup

Not everyone is blessed to have a backup snowblower. Besides having to pay a few hundred smackers on top of whatever you paid for your everyday wintertime mainstay, you need room in your shed or garage to fit a second unit. You also need the justification: a few bad experiences that leave you no other choice.

I certainly had those—corroded shear pins (before I began keeping extras on hand), a snapped drive cable, and a broken pullcord—invariably after bad snowstorms. Electric start was already common in snowblowers 10 years ago, when I bought my two-stage, 24-inch Yard Machines unit, but the feature was not universal. So, when the pullcord wore out, I was out of business…at least for the duration of the snowstorm. Hello, shovel. Hello again, back trouble.

That’s how I ended up at Walmart, late last winter, to buy the one remaining single-stage snowblower in the store. Given the situation, I couldn’t exactly be choosy. Nevertheless, the 21-inch, single-stage Yard Machines 31A-2M1E752, $350, came through for me last week. I needed it after the auger housing of my two-stage Yard Machines 31A-62EE729 failed over an errant phone wire that snarled the auger, leaving the engine running fine so long as I didn’t try to clear any more snow.

The smaller Yard Machines performed as well as I’d expect from a single-stage snowblower. Granted, a two-stage model is beefier, clears much more snow per hour, and is easier to manage because of its transmission. Unless, of course, that transmission has become good only for taking the machine out of the shed to visit the snow. Repairs would have cost more than a new machine. We’ve since replaced that model with its modern-day counterpart, the 24-inch Craftsman 88173, a two-stage blower with a 208cc overhead-valve (OHV) engine and electric start.

With the backup snowblower, I needed to take it slower with deep or moist snow. If a single-stage takes in too much snow in one gulp, it gags—and stalls. This model was no different. And unless you reach over yourself to rotate the chute or angle its opening up or down, there’s no chute control. But in moderate snow no deeper than eight inches, the 21-inch 31A-2M1E752 performed like a champ. Like any single-stage snowblower, it cleans closer to the surface than the typical two-stager. And its 123cc, OHV engine should last for many years.

For regions like this, a short drive from New England’s southern environs, a single-stage model shouldn’t be your only snowblower. But as a stand-in to a more capable model, the Yard Machines 21-inch 31A-2M1E752 is well-qualified for the role.

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Toro’s Latest Walk Mower on Steroids

Toro TimeMaster / Credit: ToroThere are a couple of great reasons to buy a 30-inch walk-behind mower. You’d like to walk, not ride, a large property while mowing for the exercise, but you don’t have hours to spare every time you mow. Or else you already mow with a lawn tractor or ZTR but also want a mower to cut tighter spaces, such as near gates or clumps of trees too tight for a riding mower.

Whether it’s one of these reasons or another, the $1,049 Toro 30” TimeMaster, Model 21199, proved its claims—and has improved further since the first version appeared in stores six seasons ago.

The Toro TimeMaster looks like an ordinary mower that someone fed with Miracle Gro. It achieves its 30-inch cut using two 15-inch blades whose paths overlap slightly. The price of this rear-wheel-drive machine approaches what you would pay for a rear-engine rider such as the 28-inch Snapper 2017 Rear Engine Rider RE110, $1,499, or 30-inch Cub Cadet CC 30 Rider, $1,200. But at those prices, you could ride more enjoyably in a low-end lawn tractor.

Besides, the point is to walk. And the TimeMaster is a lot easier to push than it looks. Even earlier versions we’d seen had Toro’s usual Personal Pace variable-speed control, and the help is more than welcome with a large machine. (You can get it up to a trotworthy 4.5 MPH.) There’s also an extra traction-assist handle: Grip it while you slide the Personal Pace bar forward to get more control. Also, despite the mower’s size, the TimeMaster is easy to tip back when you want to turn it.

First, of course, you have to get it started. You can pay $100 extra for the TimeMaster Model 21200, which has electric start, but even on this model, getting it going was exceptionally smooth. The mower is auto-choke, with no need to prime, and its 223cc, overhead-valve Briggs & Stratton engine fired up every time, no nudging needed. The blade-brake clutch is a given in a mower of this price, although we found we needed to engage the blades slowly each time, even when the mower was warm. Too quickly, and it seemed too much for the engine.

Testing the TimeMaster
We ran the mower through its paces across multiple runs, over level and slightly sloped turf at a range of deck heights. You can adjust the steel deck’s height for cuts 1.25 to 4.25 inches high.

The mower comes set for mulch mode, with its side-discharge door shut and the rear-discharge plug in place. In that mode, the most commonly used, it processed clippings finely and left no noticeable clumps.

In side-discharge mode, there was little difference. The TimeMaster cut just as evenly, and no windrows of poorly distributed clippings cried for another mow—or a good raking.

And in bagging mode, the Toro was admirable. The lawn looked about as trim, so efficient were the other modes, but this mower nevertheless found enough to fill its bag to the brim. As with other Toro models, removing the bag to empty it (and reattaching it) takes seconds, although a full bag will need a good shake to get the clippings pouring.

Other Noteworthy Features
Should you want to adjust deck height, the Toro makes it relatively easy: one lever for the front pair and another for the rear. You can adjust the handle height in one or two positions, plus another straight up for storage. Another familiar plus is a washout fitting for a garden hose. (Remember to keep the mower on a level surface and adjust the deck to its lowest, shortest-cut setting.)

To help you use all the fuel and keep it from sloshing around, the Briggs engine includes the foam insert (aka the sponge) found in many Briggs engines. Take our advice and use fuel stabilizer mixed into the fuel—and, for a last fire-up before winter storage, use a little ethanol-free fuel.

Given the size of this mower, certain tasks are more complicated. Every 50 hours, for instance, you’ll need to check and perhaps retighten the belt drive. After the first five and then every 50 hours of use, you’ll change the oil—but turning the 132-pound machine on its side to drain the oil is tougher than with the usual walk-behind mower. (Do so when the gas tank is empty.) And once a year, you’ll have two blades to remove and have sharpened.

The Verdict
Most of us would get by fine with a standard 21-inch mower, self-propelled if your property’s terrain could use it. But if you have a specific use for a plus-size mower, the Toro TimeMaster Model 21199 should provide many, many seasons of top-notch cutting with a broad swath every pass. And presuming proper maintenance, the three-year warranty—and three-year Guaranteed-to-Start (GTS) promise—should give you even more assurance.

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