Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Machine whisperer recycled column

I am not the only one; there is an army of bewildered backyard mechanics with average abilities out there. We did the simple things. We adjusted carburetors, changed spark plugs, replaced oil and filters, brake shoes, mufflers and shocks.
We always expected a Ford or a Chevy, even an old Volvo, to last a decade or two with a few repairs and some routine maintenance. You’d have to open the hood or crawl under and get your hands dirty, but in the end, you could make it run.
Then there is the above average mechanic. I have a neighbor and friend whom I’ll call Bob. He has a machinist’s mindset and mechanical character. Bob has been retired twenty years and is having a particularly hard time giving up his old ways. He has built machines from the ground up, creating them a piece at a time, on a lathe or a horizontal mill from brass and iron. I think of him as the ‘machine whisperer’.
I’ve seen Bob, walk up to a dead car or dismantled engine. He’ll scratch the side of his head; maybe shake it ever so slightly from side to side. He will then roll up his sleeves and work it like a puzzle, “is the engine getting air? Is there spark? How about fuel?” When the puzzle comes together and the pieces function like the well-tuned machine it was meant to be, Bob would be satisfied, but no one was surprised, because he is the machine whisperer.
Bob recently bought a brand new computer and had high-speed internet installed in his home. He unhappily carried his old PC to his shop and spread it out on a flat-topped cart, where many of his mechanical projects begin. The big old CRT monitor, tower, printer, external modem, speakers and the connecting cables covered the three by five foot surface.
The old computer had let him down. Even though Bob performed routine maintenance on it- defragging, blowing the dust out of it, the aged PC failed him. He didn’t even get a decade out of it.
He is a fan of several on-line forums, reading posts from other motor-head types. Discussions are of machines, their care, and construction. As we all know though, it is a high-speed world. The motor-head forums became harder for Bob to view with dial-up internet service and his old PC’s super-slow processor. Other motor-heads sent pictures to him, and though he is a patient man, the long wait for a single old tractor photo to upload was disturbing. Video links were out of the question, click on one and it would choke the life out of the ancient PC.
It’s winter now, and it takes a lot to heat Bobs’ shop. He won’t work out there much until spring. The old computer still sits on the flatbed cart. The machine whisperer walks out to his shop occasionally and sees the parts arranged on the cart. He walks around it, viewing it from different angles. He scratches his cranium, shakes his head imperceptibly side to side, he can’t fit the pieces of the puzzle together, he can’t bring it back to life.
No amount of thinking or shrugging of shoulders or nodding his head will bring this puppy back to life. It is as obsolete as a blunderbuss.
It is good the cold makes his shop unusable for now. Though defeat is inevitable, Bob has time to accept it. He realizes there is no resale value for the junk computer. At least a car would bring him money for parts. He will chuck it in the spring.
He’ll spread the parts of an ailing, but real machine, made of steel and aluminum on the cart. He will have it running, smooth in no time, clicking or humming or thumping the way it was meant to- for he is the machine whisperer.
Comments? Changinglanesterry@gmail.com

No comments: