Ratchet With a Cause
My early years
At home I tinkered around with hand-me
down lawnmower engines which my brother and
I turned into go-carts and other two wheeled
death machines. As we got older it was car
engines and rickety old thrown away car frames
that we hobbled together into some sort of
demonic fire breathing exhaust snarling farm
vehicle. I guess you could say we were a bit
rebellious and often got in trouble taking our
latest creation down some of the dirt roads in
the area. Spewing dirt and gravel at the nearby
houses as we swung the machine sideways around the curves.
The neighbors would hear us zoom by and usually would be standing by the side of the road waiting for us when we made our return trip. It inevitably meant a good old fashion verbal chew out from the concerned neighbor, and of course the eventual encounter with dad later that day. Ya had to stop for them, because everybody knew everybody and if you didn’t stop and apologies you’d have hell to pay later. We were just kids horsing around, and I know they were just looking out for us. And, I’ve got to admit, looking back on it now, it’s a wonder some of our contraptions didn’t kill us both back then.
When I was in my teens there weren’t any electronics or computers to speak of. The big college down town had one, and on certain occasions we would take a field trip from school to go see it. It was huge, it filled several rooms with these enormous electronic tape to tape machines. I wasn’t at all interested in computers; I was much more interested in sports and cars. Besides, you didn’t need a computer to work on cars; all ya needed was a manual and a couple of wrenches. Working with tools was a natural thing for me. It’s no wonder I’m a professional mechanic these days. However, the road from slapping a couple of rusty parts onto an old dilapidated engine and welding some old broken frame back together is a long way from calling yourself a mechanic. A real mechanic that is.
Starting out like I did was no picnic either. My first real exposure to mechanics was at our small town’s garage. It still had a dirt floor and only one lift but it was a great little place to learn a few things. I was more or less the shop’s walking grease gun. Anything that involved cleaning gunked up parts, or an engine that needed degreased, or greasy junked parts that needed to be carried off, I was the go to grease monkey. My first actual mechanic job that I was given was hand packing wheel bearings. (More grease of course.)
This old timer that had been there probably since the days of the horse and buggies called me over to his work bay. The first thing he did was hand me the grease bucket, (which I was very familiar with) and then told me to take a big scoop of it in one hand. Then he reached out and plopped a new bearing into that glob of grease. He cursed out, “Now, squeeze the f&%()7 life out of her!” Squish went the grease. I squeezed so hard that it oozed out between my fingers and landed on the floor. (I’ll get that later.)
He had me drop the bearing into the bearing race that was already in the drum and I ran off to find a rag to wipe off my hands. (Nobody used rubber gloves back then, and to make things worse the type of grease they used stunk to high heaven too.) I didn’t get far before he hollered more profanities at me and told me to get back over there. I was still trying to wipe this goo off when he reached out with another bearing. “Get some more of the “blankity – blank” grease in your hand there sonny!”
He was a very knowledge mechanic but he had some weird ways of telling you things that were important, such as, “You use the right tools for the right job. You gotta use the tool the right way. Screw drivers ain’t pry bars. You use a ratchet with a cause.” I think he meant to say was that when you used a tool it had a purpose and the purpose was to use the tool correctly. Never forgot that to this day. Every time I had a chance I’d lean over the hood and watch what he was doing. He was eager to show me a thing or two, and I was eager to learn.
Generators were still very common on the road in those days, and he taught me how to use a growler and how to adjust the voltage regulators along with a whole lot of other useful tips. I learned a lot from him, and I still use a lot of his quirky sayings of wisdom in understanding things in today’s cars too. The old guy took his job serious, and he definitely made me aware of what it took to become a good mechanic. He eventually retired after 40 + years as a mechanic. Great guy, great teacher.
That’s the thing about this field, my career that is. There’s more to it than the cars. It’s something that gets in ya, it’s something that inspires you to deal with all the changes, the new procedures, and of course those computers that I didn’t want anything to do with back then. I’m not sure whether it’s the problem solving side of this job or the mechanical side of it that is more intriguing to me. Maybe it’s both. Maybe it’s the people you meet, the things you encounter, or a combination of all of it. Even after three decades of repairing cars and solving problems I still don’t get tired of it.
One of these days I’ll retire too, I’ll program my last PCM and change my last water pump knowing it’s my time to put my ratchets away. Ya can’t do it forever you know, and when I do I’ll probably lock my tool box up and look back at it all with a smile.
But, I’m sure even then somebody will come to the door wanting me to work on their car, maybe even to pack some wheel bearings for them. I’ll probably get a bucket of grease and tell them to reach in and pull a big glob of that stuff out while I toss a fresh bearing in their hand, and I’ll probably retell the story of how I learned to pack them. And, just for good measure I might as well tell them why there’s such a thing as a ratchet with a cause.