I don't mind changing the gears at all. It's very similar to my Father in laws tractor with where the gears are, and changing them out. Here in Alabama we don't get near the Winters you guys do in NY
I borrowed a 1538 4WD for a week, or so. It worked just fine, but it's a little to compact for me. Mine will mostly be used to bush hog my land, and I have some decent size hills. The 1538 was a little scary on some parts of it. I believe the 4540 would handle it well, and I will feel a whole lot safer on it.