atomic_fungus (atomic_fungus) wrote,

#1997: Why I should feel good about the jalopy.

I was rereading some prior posts and this one gave me pause.

In the 1950s, Dad and someone else (either grandpa or my Uncle Ed) did a ring job on Dad's Chevy. At the time Dad was a young man who had only worked in his industry for a few years. His car needed a ring job; rather than pay a mechanic to do it, Dad did it himself.

Dad didn't have anything like the tools I have. No socket wrenches, no engine hoist. They couldn't remove the engine; they had to drop the oil pan and take the cylinder head off and leave the block in the car.

After putting new rings on the pistons they dropped the pistons back in their bores and buttoned everything up...and the car would not start. The starter couldn't turn the engine. They tried pull-starting it and still it would not start; Dad would let the clutch out and the car would stop moving.

The engine was seized.

Now, that didn't make any damn sense--they'd just had the damn thing apart--but they couldn't make the thing turn even dragging it behind another car. Naturally, this shredded the clutch.

A few days later Dad asked a guy at work, who knew cars, about it; and the guy asked, "Are you sure you put the pistons back in the right way?"

It turned out that they'd put the pistons in backwards. The engine was bound up because the connecting rods were facing the wrong way, putting an enormous side load on the journals and keeping them from turning. So they dove back into it and got the pistons in right, and replaced the clutch; and a few days later Dad took the remains of the old clutch to work in a paper bag to show his friend what had happened.

Dad was not a stupid man. Neither was he prone to thinking himself more able than he was; he was perfectly capable of recognizing the limits of his own knowledge and ability. The re-ring job on his old Chevy failed because he (and his helper) had missed a detail, tiny but important, during the reassembly of the car's engine. He made mistakes, the same as anyone, but they were few and far between. (He also had a way of making his mistakes into funny stories, which is why I know about this at all. He liked to tell these rueful stories about himself, and that's where I get that trait from.)

After all the work I did on the jalopy, it started and ran. It did not run well because I missed a couple of details. Fortunately these details were much less important than the detail Dad missed, and much more easily corrected.

Dad's rering job was something most people do not do on their own; then, as now, they took their cars to a mechanic. He screwed up but eventually had the car running again.

My engine project was something most people don't even contemplate, much less attempt--and, in fact, a bigger job than the one Dad did!--and was more successful than Dad's project was, 'way back when. The job is finished and it accomplished everything I wanted to; but it feels kind of hollow.

I think that what's interfering with my sense of satisfaction is that so much time elapsed between completion of the heavy lifting--which was done in November--and the actual driving of the car, which didn't happen until March. I finished major work but it just wasn't right, and the thing had to sit through the entire winter; and only after the weather warmed up could I finish the job...and the problems turned out to be little things I should have anticipated. (Spark plugs--Jesus.)

If I had finished the job in November and had the thing run and drive perfectly, right away, I would have felt a lot better about it than I do.

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