My lousy world: I’m no mechanic, but ...

Posted 9/29/11

I had made an appointment for a complete tuneup the following week, but this had to be something serious that couldn’t wait. At the bottom of the hill, I pulled over to check for anything obvious, and I did notice the metal cover in the center of …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

My lousy world: I’m no mechanic, but ...


I heard it again as I drove down East Sheridan Hill on the way to ProBuild Lumber. The clanging sound emanating from my truck didn’t quite sound like a push-rod; it was coming more from my back wheel area, I guessed.

I had made an appointment for a complete tuneup the following week, but this had to be something serious that couldn’t wait. At the bottom of the hill, I pulled over to check for anything obvious, and I did notice the metal cover in the center of the rear passenger wheel was missing. Significant or not, I had the foreboding feeling disaster was just around the corner.

I wondered if it might be my flywheel, or possibly my differential or drive shaft (words I’ve heard tossed around by real men) which I’ve heard can suddenly drop onto the road, leaving a vehicle totally disabled. At ProBuild, I thankfully encountered Jessie Brittain, who I know to be very mechanically inclined.

We made roofing small-talk, and after securing our purchases, I asked, “Hey Jess, you’re pretty good working on cars, right? Can you come over to my truck and see if you can figure out what the loud rattling noise might be?”

He obliged, and when we got to my 1978 F-150, I pointed to the missing center part and said, “See there? The hub is missing. Do you think it could be my four-wheel drive?” With an odd expression, he answered, “What? No, your 4-wheel drive is in the front wheels.” “Oh, well yeah,” I answered sheepishly.

I started the truck and, even idling, I distinctly heard the undeniable rattle, but Jess slowly shook his head and claimed to hear nothing.

“Here, let me put it in gear and back out; it’s louder when I’m moving.”

Still he shook his head, now appearing slightly impatient, probably in a hurry to get to a job, which I was not.

As I pulled the truck forward again and shifted into park and started to get out, I glanced down and noticed my dog’s empty water bowl vibrating wildly against the four-wheel-drive shifter. I had diagnosed my own problem without any help from my mechanically-gifted friend, but not wanting to embarrass him, I said, “OK, I’ll let you go and figure it out later, Jessie. Thanks.”

I may have given the appearance of coolness, but I felt ridiculous, like I always do when discussing anything mechanical with anyone, including most women. I should have learned my lesson back in 2003 when a postal clerk, Jesse Fox, talked me into foolishly trying to install a thermostat myself instead of taking my truck to a mechanic.

“It’s simple; anyone can do it,” he said.

When I explained that nothing is simple for me, he launched into the directions and drew a crude diagram, which I had to admit did sound pretty routine. So I drove to my brother’s surveying office mid-afternoon, borrowed some tools from Steve Follweiler and dove into the challenge. I had a feeling that, if I pulled this repair off successfully, it might have a profound impact on my life.

It was a tough reach getting the hidden bolts off the thermostat cover, and after scraping off the old gasket as Jess’ paper scrap instructed, I dropped in the thermostat. It was made even more difficult guiding the bolts in while also lining up the gasket, but I was feeling pretty smug and wishing Jesse was there to see me when I completed this leg of my journey.

It was then I noticed this metal box dangling from a hose right beside my face. I diagnosed this bump-in-the-road as having forgotten the cover that goes over my new thermostat. I forgave myself, loosened the bolts again, and spent endless minutes in the approaching darkness lining everything up again. The difficulty factor increased even more this time with that metal hickey involved.

The decreasing daylight and Paul’s employees leaving for the day and their snide jokes weren’t making it any easier, but I finally heard the ratchet making the sweet “click, click” sound and I knew my bolts were nearly home. What I saw next I couldn’t forgive myself for. Just as that wrench clicked like a chorus of angels, I noticed a shiny, new thermostat resting on my fender wall. Now, I’m no rocket repairman, but that told me the old thermostat was now right back where it started from when the sun was still shining.

In the darkness and with freezing hands, I cursed loudly, jumped from my bumper, stomped my feet and threw Follweiler’s wrench across Stampede Avenue into the grass across the street.

Oh, I eventually got the job done, but by the time I got home, I had missed all my favorite shows, and my dogs, who had watched the whole affair, were even looking at me like I was an idiot. Oh yeah, that day sure had a profound impact on my life!