Constable: Why do gas cans make it so hard to fuel snowblowers?

The first snowfall of the year brings about a suburban tradition that dates back to the time of the first cul-de-sac. Our ritual revolves around the sacred vessel we use to fill the snowblower with gasoline.

Perhaps you inherited an old metal can your father used back in the day. For most suburbanites, the family gas can is a cheery red plastic souvenir from that time you buried the gas tank needle below E in your pursuit of cheaper gas.

Then there is the new suburbanite, who never needed a gas can until he got his first snowblower, just in time for last week's monster snowfall.

He runs to the hardware store, with visions of cool, vintage metal cans dancing in his head. Finding only red plastic containers, he's making his selection when he sees the can's prominent sticker.

"It happened at a family picnic," begins the warning label featuring a dour-looking woman identified as firefighter/paramedic Yvonne Fiejoo. He wonders what she's talking about or if Fiejoo is really her name. Fiejoo doesn't add many details, but she concludes by noting, "Seeing a child burned like that makes you mad and sad."

A 144-page document from the Environmental Protection Agency can make it all crystal clear for you. But the bottom line is that new gas containers are better for the environment, safer for children and make lots of people feel stupid.

"It's hard to get gas out of them," says Nancy Martino, owner of Zimmer Hardware in Palatine, which no doubt has sold many items in its 132-year history that are deemed unsafe today. The new, safer gas cans began popping up on shelves in 2009 as the inventory of old cans evaporated. But Martino says she still hears complaints about them.

"You mean the ones that don't work," says a regular customer who overhears Martino's conversation. In the old days, gravity did the job of moving gasoline from the can to the snowblower. Now, it takes a village, or at least a relatively strong and coordinated person.

"It's a two-handed type of thing. It's not the easiest thing. You have to pull down on this," Martino says, straining a bit as she applies some force. "There's a spring in there now."

Inserting the nozzle, twisting and locking everything in place intimidates some customers.

"There's nothing I can do. It's a learning curve," Martino says, adding that, if it took 50 years for consumers to embrace seat belts in cars, it will take a while for them to accept the new gasoline containers. "We have people look at them and walk out without buying them. That makes you fearful of what kind of container they are putting fuel in."

The online world goes ballistic in its vitriol for the new can. Critics see the safer container as a symbol of the New World takeover and Big Brother stranglehold that is "squeezing the life out of civilization itself." A survivalist posts a do-it-yourself video showing how you can bypass the safety devices. Then you can pour the gasoline you need to scrub off the safety sticker. If a new can sold for $6.66, it would be hailed as the Antichrist.

The new-style containers get better every year, says Martino. While they still need improvement, "the old ones, if you didn't secure it, it would spill," Martino says. "There's not a bad reason for the rule."

Customers air the same complaints about the new tamper-resistant bait stations sold by D-Con to kill mice, Martino says. Under pressure from the EPA, D-Con now uses a solid poison instead of those bite-sized green pellets, which apparently looked more appetizing than anything in grandma's candy dish.

You can still find the old "so, you're willing to trash the environment and burn a child just to make your life a little easier" gasoline cans selling online or at flea markets.

Or you can do what Martino does with her snow.

"I'm a shoveler. I have multiple shovels," Martino says. "I love to shovel. That's part of the wintertime."

I realize that guys my age die of heart attacks from shoveling. But I suspect more of us die from the strain of trying to free the snowblower from the corner of the garage where it got buried under bike helmets, a plastic kiddie pool and never-used badminton net, or from the hours spent trying to get the darn thing started.

Shovels are a good option. Shovels don't emit toxins. Shovels don't disfigure children. And if you can't figure out how to operate the shovel, you probably shouldn't be handling anything that requires you to pour gasoline.

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