The snow sure looked daunting.

It was only about 15 feet of sidewalk, but the snow, already deep, was getting heavy as the sun worked on it. It was even deeper at the corner, where a plow had deposited a big pile at the intersection of Turner and Morning streets on Munjoy Hill in Portland.

That’s where 11-year-old Jonathan McKeever was standing, bundled up in a parka and knit cap. He started chopping away at the snowbank, taking a chunk at a time. Dominic Ricker, also 11, was at the other end of the sidewalk, working away at a strip of deep snow leading to the corner where Jonathan started.

Jonathan wasn’t sure he was up to the job – the pile left by the plow was almost as high as he was tall.

But this wasn’t the first big pile of snow the two boys tackled this month.

The pair bill themselves as the “Boys on the Hill” and they have been cleaning up as they, well, clean up after the recent snowstorms. To many, their efforts are a bit of a throwback to a time when kids didn’t spend winters inside playing video games and landscaping companies didn’t have the corner on the snow removal business with big pickup trucks equipped with heavy-duty plows clearing out every driveway.

The boys said they aren’t put off by a big drift. They started their business just before the recent spate of storms, figuring it would be a way to make a few bucks and fill some late winter days with productive work.

And they learned that timing can make a big difference in business.

The pair took a poster to the Hilltop Superette on Congress Street during the first full week of February, before the winter weather got active in Maine. Workers at the store cooperated by taping the poster in a prominent place near the cash register.

Then the snows came.

They offered two sets of rates – one for heavy snow, one for “little snow.” The heavy snow rates, the only ones used so far, range from $4 for clearing snow off a car to $10 for shoveling a sidewalk.

The string of storms has netted the two about $170, not bad considering they’re competing against professionals equipped with snowblowers and plows.

Both plan to save the money initially. Jonathan said he’d like to donate his share to the Children’s Hospital at the end of the season and Dominic hopes to sock it away, although his mother, Jayme Hurley, said he may have to part with some of it if he really wants that pair of expensive basketball shoes he’s mentioned.

“I’m not going to pay a lot of money for shoes he’s just going to grow out of in four months,” she said, while admitting that she’s proud of the work ethic her son has shown.

Dominic said the work doesn’t interfere with studies. He said he usually finds time for his homework at night, after his 18-month-old brother falls asleep in the room the two share in their house on Lafayette Street.

Jill McKeever, Jonathan’s mother, said the sight of the two boys working hard outside in the winter apparently inspires a generous spirit in others.

A week ago, she said, a passer-by stopped and handed the two a $20 bill, telling them to find an old woman to shovel out.

“He came home that night all upset, saying they hadn’t found anyone,” she said, but the two eventually located a recipient of their – and the passer-by’s – generosity the next day.

“I think they’d actually work for hot chocolate,” Jill McKeever said.

On Tuesday, however, they were doing it for the money, and they attacked the snow with the energy of youth for Johnny Robinson, who lives on Turner Street.

Robinson had shoveled a short path from the street to his door but admitted the thought of digging out the much longer portion to the corner was too much for him. His back ached just thinking about the task, he said, but an upstairs neighbor mentioned the poster she had seen at the store and suggested that Robinson give the kids a call.

He walked up to the store, got the phone number, called and asked the boys to get to work on his sidewalk. After some initial trouble finding the right house, they launched into the task.

“They did a grand job,” said Robinson, who paid them twice the $10 going rate and figured he was way ahead because he could still stand at the end of the day.

“I’m delighted,” he said. “They wanted to charge $10, but I thought it was worth more.”

Jonathan said that by focusing on the work, he could tune out the negativity of his thoughts on seeing the large pile of snow he was supposed to clear.

“When I put my mind to some stuff, I can do it, and we finished it,” he said.

Now that the string of storms has apparently ended, at least temporarily, the two hope to pick up a few more shoveling jobs clearing the snow before it all melts away into spring. Then, as the weather warms, Jonathan said, they’ll launch into their next enterprise.

“We’ll probably be raking or washing cars,” he said.

Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

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