I recently found a Toro Power Max 826 OE (Model # 38624) locally on Craigslist. I found out this is the "discontinued" version of the 826 OE, which is actually more robust than the current version. This discontinued version sold for $1400 and came with a headlight, larger auger diameter, larger wheels, and is rated to have a longer throwing distance. The current version retails for $1100. I asked Toro customer service and they thought the original version was discontinued and watered down a little to drop the price point. Not sure why they didn't just change the name a little bit.
Current version specs
Discontinued version specs
First thing I noticed is this thing is big and heavy. Coming from a single stage toy, I was stunned that I couldn't fit this in the back of my minivan with the 3rd row down. I was lucky that the seller was only a few minutes from my house, and was willing to load it up in their van and transport it to my house for me.
It's weird, I met the seller in person and asked questions, but still walked away not knowing the history of the machine. From what I can gather, it belonged to her late husband and for the last season or two has just been sitting in storage. I looked up the serial # and toro's website suggests this was made in 2010. It had some dust on it and a slight dent in the top of the auger, but otherwise looks cosmetically in great shape. Directly out of storage with what I can only assume is old gas sitting in the tank, it started with one pull (pushed primer three times). All the gears work (6 forward, 2 reverse), and the machine throws snow like a sonofabitch. I got this late in the season so I haven't had a monster snowstorm to test it with, but you can see in the video how it performed with ~ 4-5" recently.
The quick stick chute control is pretty cool, but it takes some getting used to to actually use it for what it's meant for. Meaning, the benefit is being able to adjust the chute while still engaging the machine in drive, but you have to practice this a little bit or else you are spraying snow all over the place. From what I can tell, the quick stick turns the chute to the RIGHT easily, but seems a few degrees short of turning the chute all the way to the LEFT. I mean it goes left, just not 90 degrees left. I suspect I can tune this up somehow.
The machine performs very well on full choke, but revs and hunts when the choke is closed. I'm not surprised considering it was sitting with old gas. I will drop the bowl when it's warmer and spray around with some carb cleaner.
The machine does well with EOD snow. I did mine and several neighbors recently and i was able to shoot the EOD snow across and over the street to the other sidewalk, without soiling the street itself (it wasn't plowed yet anyways). Even after not doing a great job all season of clearing out the space in front of my mailbox, I was able to use the 826 OE to clear a pretty good space around the mailbox, which is the little patch to the left of my driveway. I mention this because I feel confident that this will allow me (in future seasons) to easily clear the space to the left of my driveway, to try to minimize the amount of EOD snow left by the plows. Also, I don't mean this in a braggy sense because I don't care, but I figure it's worth mentioning that several neighbors stopped in their tracks to watch the throwing distance of the machine.
I tried the cul-de-sac across the way that no one has shoveled all winter. I needed to stay in first gear or else the machine would start to ride up over the old snow. However, by staying in first gear, I was able to clear the snow down to the sidewalk. In most places the snow was at least several inches above the top of my bucket. No matter what kind of snow I've run it through, the chute has never clogged. I even ran it through some melting EOD ice/slush, and although it didn't shoot very far, it did not clog.
In general it does a good job of getting down to the pavement. I say in general because my own driveway is in bad shape and lumpy/bumpy, so I don't blame that on the machine. However, when I did my neighbor's driveway (which is newly re-laid), the Toro cleared right down the pavement. I have not had any problems with the tires slipping or losing traction.
I was willing to fart around with the single stage craftsman I got for $100 at a garage sale, but I think in the spring I will probably pay the local Toro dealer to service this machine.
All in all I'm very happy with my purchase. I paid more than you gearheads do for your "diamond in the rough" finds, but I'm not mechanically inclined, and to me the cost was worth the piece of mind that I got (1) a Toro, (2) a machine built in 2010, (3) a machine that at the point of purchase, started easily, threw snow well, and engaged all forward and reverse gears smoothly.