Pump It Three Times

“Pump it 3 times.”

“Ok, now pump it 3 more times, then hold it.”

No, these are not the lyrics to a popular wedding party song. This is my Dad, under the van, talking to the young me, sitting in the driver’s seat. He’s bleeding the brakes. I love those memories of working with Dad on the cars. I’ll never forget being strong enough to actually help, and still small enough to get my hands into tight spots that he couldn’t reach. We’d listen to talk radio and chat and work. He was the walking stereotype of a backyard mechanic. Duct tape, zip ties, engine grease, and dirty hands were part and parcel of many a weekend in our driveway when I was growing up. Chilton was his best friend.

Dad truly enjoyed working on cars. He got that from his Dad, who got it from his Dad, my Great Grandfather Hugh Stevenson. They were dairy farmers, and a big part of farm life was figuring out how to repair things and to make stuff work. Granddaddy Stevenson was in a wheelchair due to MS and he was frustrated with his inability to carry things with him while he wheeled himself around. He and his co-workers on the Naval base built a custom tray from scratch that attached to his wheelchair. That tray was always there, and it always had something on it, a book, the newspaper, or a glass of sweet tea. He would swing it out of the way whenever we wanted to sit in his lap. Granddaddy couldn’t find the exact thing he needed, so he made it. Now, my first thought is to check Amazon. This is pretty close to what Granddaddy made. That was over 40 years ago.

We had a pink, Mercury Tracer for a few years, affectionately dubbed the Barbie Mobile by my brothers. We were changing the brake pads on it, but one of the lug nuts just wouldn’t come off the tire. We tried everything and ended up stripping it completely. We had to drill it out. Once we got the tire off, the calipers were so rusted that we couldn’t budge them at all. We wedged screwdrivers in there, and whacked it with increasingly large hammers. Finally through some crazed combination of a crowbar, mallet, and body weight, we managed to get it off. While Dad worked to replace the pads I started loosening the lug nuts on the other tire. Once again one of them wouldn’t come off. That seemed weird. We called the parts store (no internet) and it turns out it was an anti-theft lug nut. It had special grooves or something on it. Fortunately they had a tool to help us remove it. What a pain. We were hours into the process by then, and once we finally got the new brake pads on and started putting stuff back together there were bolts and springs sitting on the concrete under the car with no place to put them. We had no idea where they went, so we chucked them. Don’t tell Mom. That brake job took the entire weekend. That was over 20 years ago.

Dad wouldn’t always fix things the right way, and sometimes he had to make do with a tool that wasn’t quite right, but he would figure out a way. The other day Mom noticed some weird noises coming from under the front of her van. I checked under there to see what was causing it. The plastic shielding that helps protect the undercarriage was hanging loose. There were giant zip ties all over the place trying to hold it together. I’m pretty sure it didn’t come that way from Honda. 🙂 I guess Dad’s “fix” lasted at least 4 years, so that’s not too shabby.

Jaron and I replaced the rear shocks on our Ford Escape. There’s no easy way to unscrew the old shocks. It’s in a tight spot. There’s a flattened head that doesn’t fit any wrench, and pliers don’t grip it very well. We tried every tool in my garage, and hours later finally managed to get it off with vice grips, a rag, and a hammer. Jaron helped figure that one out. We had a little celebration when we finally got the new shocks in place. We took it for a test drive and there was this crazy clanking sound every time we hit a small bump in the rode. At higher speeds the back would sway up and down and clank incessantly. Oh, maybe that’s what those weird rubber pieces were for? Our joy turned to misery. We had to do the whole thing over again. At least getting the shocks off the 2nd time was a little easier. That was 2 years ago.

There is satisfaction in seeing a problem, and then creating something to solve that problem. I think this is why I enjoy programming. We don’t do enough of this type of thinking any more.

One of the things I love about having some property in the middle of nowhere is that we often have to figure out how to make do with what we have, since we’re 30 minutes from civilization.

  • I learned how to pick a lock when we drove all the way up there and forgot our keys.
  • The tractor wouldn’t start and I traced the wires to find the blown fuse without help from a spotty internet connection.
  • During a weekend getaway our desperation for coffee motivated us to figure out how to boil water in a fire pit with old beer bottles and wire.

Lessons for life ….

I’d still rather pay someone to fix stuff for me. A task that takes me 4 hours can be done in an hour by someone with the right tools and the right knowledge. I’d rather pay and save myself the heartache and the time. Even though I don’t enjoy it, I recognize that there is intrinsic value in working with your hands and figuring stuff out. There is knowledge and intuition and creativity to be fostered and gained. So, every once in a while, I’ll grab one of the kids on a Saturday. I’ll take them out to the driveway and sit them in the driver’s seat.

“Pump it 3 times.”

“Ok, now pump it 3 more times, then hold it.”

Leave a Reply