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Tom Keen’s Airhead Powered Snowblower

A holiday classic that’s right up there with It’s a Wonderful Life….

by Tom Keen – Dayton, Ohio USA

An IBMWR Classic for re-reading every Winter

From: “Tom Keen” <>
Date: Thu, 11 Jan 1996 23:36:09 +0000
Subject: BMW: R100-Snowblower Conv. R-BLOWER
Priority: normal
X-Bmw-List: Majordomo 1.93

Some of you may be interested in the R100 – Snowblower conversion I just completed. The “R-Blower

Part I

Last week all the unusually heavy snow, middle age, no riding time and a general psychosis inspired me to pull out the tool box and come up with a great solution to snow removal. I don’t suggest this project to everyone but if you can do basic mechanical work on your bike and have some time, give it a whirl.

I noticed on the news that there was an unusually heavy demand for new snow blowers here in Ohio. We dont get much snow and the 15 inches of the white stuff that has fallen here in the last week was causing folks to dip into their savings and buy snowblowers. I’m cheap and have teenagers and never felt the need for a snowblower, but after couple of hours shoveling the stuff and I was ready to take the plunge also.

I shopped around but all the snowblowers in southern Ohio had been sold. I finally found a dealer who had an old one that had been traded in, and he was willing to let me have it, “…for a song“. $50 later, I was home with a industrial type snowblower – 36” bucket and with a blown Briggs and Stratton engine. I got the dead engine off it and was just about to start making a few calls to find a new engine when I notice my old motorcycle, sitting in the corner of the garage.

That wonderful engine was just sitting there on the bike. Two jugs, air cooled, almost indestructible … a great piece of engineering.

It seemed, at the time, perfectly reasonable, to take the engine off the bike and put in on the snow blower.

It took about an hour to get the R engine out of the bike. I bolted the transmission back on and set in on top of the snow blower and amazingly, it looked good. And it fit, if if mounted horizontally.

I drilled out new holes for engine mounts and cut pieces of angle iron that were bolted onto the blower’s . I cut a larger hole for the oil pan of the engine to drop into and let the engine rest on top to the blower. A trip to the car parts store and I had a heavy duty pulley which I machined out to fit over the output shaft on the transimission.

It was a matter of trial and error but I found a belt that fit, connecting the new pulley to the snow blower. Standing back from my creation and admiring my work, I realized that all I had to do now was move the battery, fuses etc and rig up something to hold a little gas and I was ready to blow the snow off Knecht Dr. and into the next county.

I used duct tape and fastened a plastic, one gallon milk container to the blower and ran a piece of fuel line down to the carbs. Then, I removed the hand controls from the bike and stuck them on the new snowblower, running the cables to the clutch and carbs. I fabricated little clamps to secure them to the handle bars and at various points on the deck of the machine… The last step was putting the battery and various electric components to the snowblower. I used a mesh, potato sack, mini jumper cables, and duct tape to accomplish this. And it was Done! (Ive left out a few details here, wiring harness etc so as not to burden you with details)

It looked really good to me. All that engine on top of that big old snowblower … I could always come back and install a more attractive alternative to the duct tape and the milk jug fuel tank.

With the help of a couple of neighbors, I pushed the new R-Blower to the edge of the drive, pulled in on the clutch, flipped the choke open and hit the starter button. “VRAAAAMMMAMMM” went the engine. I had forgotten how loud these things could be without an exhaust system. Snow instantly evaporated on the side of the machine where the exhaust ports were pointed. Dog howled; cats and small children ran for their lives. But it ran… God I love these engines!

I manually pushed the shift lever down and slowly let out the clutch. The blower’s auger begin to spin, really fast. I pushed the blower’s gear lever into the lowest setting and at idle we lurched forward. The R-Blower slammed into the first 4 foot drift across the drive and “VVRRRRAAAAAAAAAAAAAMMMMMM” “SHWOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOSH” … it inhaled that drift and shot a blast of snow towards my neighbors house that had to be at least 50 feet high.

I had the driveway clear in about 30 mins. The noise attracted folks from a 5 block area, two TV crews showed up and the R-Blower was an instant success. In the course of that day, I cleared almost all the driveways and most of the streets in my neighborhood. My pockets were stuffed with $10 and $20 bills from grateful folks.(I donated this money to charity, lest anyone think me a ungenerous). And the R-Blower and I were on the evening news.

Last night we got 5 more inches of snow and as soon as it’s light, I will fire up the beast and do it again.

I would be happy to provide anyone interested in this conversion a list of parts and specifications. During the down time this summer I intend to mount a real fuel tank and battery holder, and get a decent paint job (Im thinking, classic black with hand pinstripping)

Praying for more snow, in Dayton, Ohio.
Tom Keen

Part II

I’ve already gotten a bunch of questions regarding the R100-Snowblower conversion project. I’ll post an update this evening and provide a complete description of today events (busted motor mounts, and unanticipated spline problems) but real quickly, here are answers to a few of the questions I’ve recieved:

Jeff Dunkle: “…Have you considered using a smaller engine for the R-Blower

Jeff: I would have if I had one, maybe this spring when the engine goes back into the bike I will shop around for an R50/ engine with kick start and magneto system.

Roozbeh Chubak “I’d put a seat on it

Roozbeh: This really isn’t practical in my opinion, but I can understand why some of our older list members might appreciate the comfort

Joe Senner: “Do you think a K-bike engine would work?

Joe: well if you want to go to all the trouble of hooking up the radiator and fairing pieces I guess it would.

Tom C: ” I’d think the belt drive would be the weak spot in your system
…your thoughts, please?

Tom, you are absolutely right… the R-Blower goes through v-belts quicker than a case of Lonestar through Joe Senner. I am considering switching to a chain drive system.

Jim Rouch (Dr. Curve) – “To really get the performance maximum out of that engine you need to put on pumpers and larger valves with teflon scrapers on the valve stems… and then you have to….. (snip).

Thanks again for the responses to my tech piece, I’ll get something out soon about the vibration problems.


Part III

We got another five inches of snow last night and I thought the list might be interested in an update on today’s adventures.

Several problem have surfaced with the R-Blower design.

I had been running the R-Blower very sucessfully for about 30 mins this afternoon and began to experience really severe vibrations.

The far side of the engine started heaving into the air about four inches slamming itself up and down on the deck of the blower. A quick inspection revealed that two of the angle iron motor mounts had torn loose from the sheet metal deck of the snowblower. I re-welded them but would suggest anyone attempting this conversion reinforce the entire snow blower with steel straps welded to form a lattice frame and get the Lustmeister engine mounting kit with the rubber dampers.

The other thing that happened was totally unexpected…the splines on the output shaft started to disintegrate. As you recall, I mounted a pulley on the output shaft. To do this I took the female part of the spline assembly and welded it to the pulley and put this new piece on the output spline (male part). I thought that a little free play in the thing would minimize the effects of engine vibration etc. I notice shiny wear ridges on the spline this afternoon. It appeared that the water and salt were getting on the splines and drying them out causing the excessive wear. Here’s my solution…

I took a metal fence post and welded it upright to the deck of the snowblower. When I was finished it stuck up about four feet from the top of the machine. I then suspended a bottle of gear oil, using a coat hanger, from the top of the post. I punctured a very small hole in the bottle of oil, inserted a gromet into the hole and then inserted an end of a length of small guage plastic tubing through the center of the gromet. The other end of the plastic tube was routed to a position about an inch above the splines and duct taped in place. Using a tube clamp I was able to squeeze the tube down to the point a single drop of oil, dropped from the end of the tube onto the splines at the rate of one every five minutes.

This fix works great. the splines are constantly lubed and I have not noticed any further wear. I believe that this this type of system would work on those nasty K-bike splines but think I would come up with some sort of salvage system to recover the oil. A small electrical pump might work well and the bottle of oil could be mounted somewhere under the seat.



I want to thank you all for the overwelming support and advise about the R-Blower, my R100-snowblower conversion. Its been gratifying that my efforts have been so well received. But it is, with a sad heart, that I must report that the R-Blower is dead and will not likely be rebuilt in Dayton, Ohio.

About two hours ago, several of the local presidents came by the house. Apparently, they had been eating chicken wings and sucking down beer at a local establishment and had decided to come over, introduce themselves, and see the R-Blower in action. I’m not going to name these folks. They know who they are. And maybe someday, they can write their version of the incident.

These two guys and one lady wanted me to start the R-Blower and give them a demonstration. I led them to the garage and showed them my creation. Then, we pushed it outside. Since the presidents were a bit unsteady on their feet, I got out a few folding chairs, setting them up next to the machine so they could safely watch and listen as I discussed the finer points of my design.

Start that sucker up!” cried President #1

Yeah! I dont want to hear all this tech crap.” yelled president #2

My husband wants me home by 9 and you are wasting time.” said President #3.

The sun had set by that time, and I was a little nervous about operating the R-Blower after dark. I had not bothered to mount the headlamp or running lights. But, I was eager to please and make an impression on my fellow presidents…. I hit the starter button:


Instantly I realized my mistake! Blue and orange flames shot out of the exhaust ports straight at the face of President #1, who was sitting about 3 feet away, innocently picking chicken out of his teeth. I can only image what he saw and thought about when he heard the first blat of that engine and saw those flames leap out at him. If time really does slow down in situations like this, President #1 must have seen the exhaust valves sliding up in their guides.

EEEIYOOOOOOOOOOOW!!!!!!!!” He screamed, as the exhaust blasts passed on either side of his face. And then, as if by magic, his body rose straight up from the chair and he was propelled backwards over the low fence at the edge of the driveway.

To the best of my recollection (it’s a blurr from that point on) I heard another scream and felt a heavy hit as one the two remaining Presidents tackled me. I was thrown to the ground. Looking up, I saw the other president grab the right side controls and fumble for the kill switch, he turned the throttle instead. VRRRRRRRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAMMMMMMMMMMMMM The sound was deafening as the old R100 engine hit the red line. I swear–the ground started moving underneath me and my vision blurred.

I passed out shortly thereafter from a combination of the noise and the beating I was receiving from the president who had tackled me…the last thing I remember was that president’s fist coming down as he screamed something about me burning up the best riding buddy he had ever had.

I’m feeling a better now, my wife is trying to take care of me with ice and Tylenol. It seems to help. As I write this, the R-Blower is being disassembled by two Dayton Police officers. It was either that or go downtown with the other presidents. The officers are going to take the blower section of the R-Blower with them for evidence and have made a very forceful suggestion that I put the engine back in the bike. “Real damm fast“.

President #1 is just fine, by the way. His hearing and eyesight is expected to return to normal. Number #2 and #3 are in the Montgomery County Jail but I will probably go down and bail them out tomorrow morning, eventually I will drop the charges. I just don’t have the heart to see a fellow president in jail, especially when this thing was my fault: I realize now, that I failed to follow even the most basic safety procedures.

Praying for Spring, again,
Tom Keen

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