September 16, 2003

Engines of Calamity

I don't know how things are where you live, but around here, if something's broke and you can't fix it yourself, you might as well throw it in a sinkhole and forget it. The day of the 'fix-it' handy man seems to have gone the way of the dodo bird. The unofficial backyard-garage repair shops that use to adorn every neighborhood are disappearing. I've asked around: Who can I take this balky generator to for a carburetor kit? Who sharpens handsaws? Know anybody with a spare Stihl AV26 handle bushing? Nope. Not a clue. The small engines that couldn't are accumulating all across the county.

The prevailing thought appears to be, if it's broken, toss it and get another one. There are a few official lawn and garden shops left in our area. They are the ones that you wouldn't go to unless you were desperate... they charge you and arm and leg and make you miserable with their indifference and surly attitude... and these days, if you want something fixed, you are desperate and they got you by the tender parts, Jack.

Even so, with Isabel bearing down on us, following the same track that Fran did back before we moved here (but we've heard horror stories), t'would be nice if both chain saw and generator were in working order. We could be barricaded in down here by fallen trees and flooded creeks for a week. Got plenty of propane for cooking, wood for heat, and an artesian well that can give us milkjugs of water for washing, drinking and flushing. The chainsaw works; but the generator don't gen. We'd lose what's in the fridge and freezer; can't just stick the rump roast out on the north side of the house in an icechest, or stuff it in a snowbank, like you can in a winter storm.

It is a strange feeling we suffer at the hand of our abilities to prognosticate. When this house was built in the 1870's, the people who lived here hadn't a clue of a storms arrival until the shingles began peeling off the corn crib roof. We, on the other hand, have the benefit and bane of foreknowledge without certainty. We will prepare for the worst and pray for the best. There is only so much preparation one can do against the massive energies generated by oceans and air.

When it comes, if it comes, no matter how much defense we make against it, we will be helpless spectators... mere observers of the physics of forces holding trees in place and those which would snap them apart, lay them down like summer corn in a thunderstorm. Then again, sometimes helplessness and a sense of our own frailty is just what we need to reset the gauge by which we determine our place in this world... an antidote against human arrogance and false self-sufficiency. I'll try to remember this if...when... the mindless engines of weather howl over our rooftop in the dark on Thursday night.

Posted by fred1st at September 16, 2003 06:16 AM | TrackBack

Good luck in finding parts and someone who knows what to do with them. I broke the handle to my favorite (aluminum blade) spade a few years ago and hang onto it in the vane hope that someday I'll be able to find someone willing and able to install a new one. (My big problem is getting the stub of the old handle out! I think that I can figure out a method of keeping a new one in--by drilling holes and bolting it or by wedging it, but burning is the only way I've figured of getting the old one out.) Since then I've "made do" with a steel bladed spade with a fiberglas handle. The fiberglas handle keeps the weight low enough for me (which was the lure of the aluminum blade), but it isn't very rigid in torsion.

Posted by: Cop Car at September 16, 2003 07:56 AM

Well, the generator talk scares me. My standard response is buy a book on the subject. When something breaks fix it. The problem is most of the stuff we buy isn't made to be fixed. Parts are not readily available or if you do work on it it voids a warranty that the company has no intent of honoring anyway. You can see why the local tinkerer is gone. People just stopped bringing things in. I remember an older gentleman who ran a tinker store in East Tennessee. He had an old school bus that was a rolling general store and fix it shop. Of course this ended when I was still a young boy around 1985. I think about it now and then as I search for alternative forms of income. The problem is a local odd job man has weird taxes, insurance defeciences, and the fact that word of mouth is just gone.
Here is a little story I am proud of. I brought a hand me down washing machine over to Jessica's house. I don't have a washer/dryer hook up here in my shack. So we used it for awhile and finally it broke. It would fill up with water but not stop. Jessica took the initiative and went online. She examed websites and called for parts. I picked up the part she wanted and she guided me installing it. I didn't fix it, she did. So this is just one of the things I love about her. Now a washing machine is not a chain saw or a generator but frankly it still is a machine. The problem always comes in diagnosing a problem. My advice is head on down to that barber shop or wherever the locals gather to talk and just ask, "hey do you know anyone who will tinker with my generator?" The economy sucks for sure and there has to be some skills just lying around not being used.
The yellow pages are basically worthless. This is all well good, you might say, but I have a hurricane bearing down on me. Well Fred, if you get hit hard hike out to a phone and give us a call. It will take us about two hours but we will be there to dig you out. as far as the fridges go I guess you could buy a bunch of ice and fill your freezers to the top. Duck tape the lid shut and don't open it for anything. It can last a day or two.
As always we expect a play by play of any natural event along goose creek. When the storm comes in we will say a little prayer for you.

Posted by: Seth at September 16, 2003 08:40 AM

I too have fantasies of becoming a small engine repair girl, welder and general tinker. When the shit really hits the fan, not just the weather, then I would be, in the words of one of my memorable hippie friends, "like a rat in the ruins."

Posted by: trish at September 16, 2003 09:14 AM

We're extremely lucky to have Ernie and his Saw Shop, a couple of miles down the road. He fixes lawn mowers, weedeaters, leaf blowers, and er, saws, of course. His shop is a small, homely building right off the highway. In winter, a pot-bellied stove warms the place and lays that aroma on top of the smells of steel, grease and oil. Every morning he rolls out the mowers, tillers, and small tractors he's fixed and lines them up in neat rows, and at day's end wheels them all back in. He's usually at his work table, and even with dozens of parts laid out in front of him, and the skeleton of some machine on the floor nearby, the place still seems completely neat. Mrs. Ernie tends the register and the books. The radio is usually tuned to Christian music. I have brought him most of my gizmos at least once, and a few times he's charged me nothing, for simple tweaks to motors or some part I've goofed up. He has a rich baritone voice, and he usually greets me with, "Hello Girl, how are ya?"
Last time I said something like, "Well, I've missed you Ernie, so I broke something, so I could come by." That cracked him up.

Yes, people like him are a rare treasure. Artists, I think. S. and I try to support the independents, whenever and wherever we find them.
Fred, I hope Isabel will spare you & yours out there in Floyd Co. Sounds like you have the only sensible attitude about the whole thing!

Posted by: peggy at September 16, 2003 09:50 AM

Ahoy, Cap'n, and batten down yer hatches! I hope you'll be spared. That house must've seen a storm or two in 150 years, though. Wow; the only things around here that old are the rocks. I'm off this morning, up to the mountains where my brother lives, to help him paint his new store. (He's in the appliance repair racket; a pity he can't give you a hand with that generator!) It'll be a blessing to cool off for a while--something of the sensation I get, watching T-dog gallop through all that green Floyd lushness. And PS: Peggy's Ernie is a Geezer!

Posted by: DocRock at September 16, 2003 11:03 AM

Hey, that's Mister Geezer to you, bub.

Posted by: peggy at September 16, 2003 11:11 AM

This is one area where i really lucked out... i married one of those old-fashioned jack-of-all-trades handymen of whom you speak. Right about the same time i moved to this tiny country hamlet by the lake. A coincidence, i assure you. Probably.

Posted by: Anne at September 16, 2003 11:34 AM

We have Charlie and his small engine shop that we can rely on. Although sometimes we still end up buying new stuff when Charlie tells us it would cost nearly as much (or more) to fix as to replace.

Posted by: bogie at September 17, 2003 12:14 AM

In five years we're all going to be taking this stuff to "those Iraqi guys" . . .

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