Sunday, June 20, 2010

My Dad: Mr Fix-it

I feel certain that at some point almost everyone's Dad tries to fix something that doesn't want to be fixed. However, my Dad could be the patron saint of that. Fritz Ethridge – Patron Saint Of Attempting To Fix The Unfixable. Something like that anyway. For those of you who have never heard any of these stories you can take a quick read over "Fritz Vs. Washing Machine" to get a clear idea.

I now unfold two tales concerning two machines that didn't want to be fixed. There are those who still hold to the old ideas that machines are just machines and that they don't have desires. They cling to the antiquated idea that machines are mindless servants and that the great mechanical revolution will never take place. I ask those readers, who may yet believe these peaceful delusions, to open their minds and eyes as they consider these tales. Not only is the great machine war inevitable, it began long ago and my Dad has always been willing to take up arms against the machines.

Time Period: Early Nineties
Location: Williston, SC, USA
Operative: Craftsman Lawn Tractor
Operation: Drive human insane by not mowing lawn

One of the earliest skirmishes I remember was between Dad and a Craftsman Lawn Tractor. He bought the tractor shortly after we moved to Lake Drive. We had moved from a rental property to our own three acre yard. Dad didn't like the idea of push mowing three acres of lawn (I don't think many of us would.) so he bought a tractor.

It was a truly excellent machine. Joshua, Sam and myself used it for a car as soon as we hit our teens. Dad had built this wagon for it so he could tow this or that across the yard. We would hook the wagon up and pile in while Sam took the wheel. He called it “The Tank” because you could run over almost anything with it and it would keep going.

We would drive from our house out to Sam's Mom's place or out to his Grandmothers and pick up whoever wanted to come along for the ride. I admit that all our territory only covered a few city blocks, but it was still great. When you are thirteen and can drive around the neighborhood with a wagon load of friends you look pretty cool.

The point is that the tractor was a very robust machine that gave us great service for years. I guess a side point is that Dad would let us run around doing almost anything provided he thought it was harmless. I should also point out that as much time as we spent on the tractor we pretty much disappeared when it was time to actually mow anything. That was Dad's province.

After a few years the tractor began to wear down. It was getting old and tired and ready for retirement. It had a good run with us and would still get out there and haul us around as long as it was having fun. However, it got tired of mowing the lawn. At least, that's one theory. Whatever the reason, it wouldn't work when Dad tried to mow with it.

Dad approached this problem, like so many others, with childlike optimism. The tractor wouldn't mow, but that wasn't a big problem, all he had to do was fix it. That brings to mind Dad's phrase “All I have to do is...” He'll say this when he intends to explain how simple whatever you're about to have to do is. When he says this you can be sure trouble is on the way.

“A I have to do is pull it apart and see what's wrong.” He said. (Or something just like that.)

It was enough to make the blood run cold. Dad parked the tractor in the shed and began to work. At first things went well enough. That is to say that he got it pulled apart. However, it seems that was the easy part. The days began to pass in rapid succession during the “put it back together” phase. As the time passed more and more interesting language began to come out of the shed.

Finally Dad walked out during a moment of clarity and began talking to himself.

“I understand it now. Everything has finally become clear to me.”

At this point he was perfectly calm and seemed quiet normal.

“The reason that the tractor can't be repaired is really very simple. It's not difficult to understand at all.”

By this time he had begun to get more excited. A mania seemed to be pushing it's way forward from the back of his mind.

“It's because of one simple fact. The Devil lives in my tractor!”

The last line was screamed at the top of his lungs. He went on for a while about why the Devil would want to set up shop in his tractor and what have you. Sad, sad, thing to see Dad like that. Sam, Joshua and I laughed until we nearly cried.

After a few more weeks it looked like Dad had finally gotten it running. He started it in the shed and everything was running fine. He turned the blades on and it sat there as if it were actually mowing lawn. After a few minutes of testing he decided that things were working well enough. He began to mow.

He was absolutely glowing with pride as he pulled out of the shed and started to cut the overgrown grass. He was filled with joy that was simply pouring off of him. Just looking at him at that moment would have filled you with a sense of peace and happiness.

After about fifty feet of cut grass the tractor stopped. Not only would it not mow, it wouldn't even start. Dad sat there turning the key over and over as the rage built up inside. He was mulling over the turn of events in his head. At last he had a breakthrough:

“I've got it! Now I understand!” He yelled at the top of his lungs.

“All this time I had it wrong! All this time I was looking at it from the wrong point of view! The Devil doesn't live in my tractor... He lives in my lawn!!! That's why I can't mow it! It's his home! He doesn't want me destroying his home! That is why nothing will ever be able to mow my lawn again!!!!”

In spite of Dad's prediction he did finally get it working again. The faithful old tractor gave up on the resistance movement. I suppose it decided it didn't want to die having been pulled apart by Dad and never put back together again. The machine fought well, but it picked the wrong man to fight.

Still, that's not to say that the machines were discouraged. They certainly didn't intend to give up just because of one failure. The tractor had failed. That was an acceptable loss. It simply meant that another operative had to go in.

Time Period: Late Nineties
Location: Williston, SC, USA
Operative: Craftsman Tiller
Operation: Drive human insane by refusing to till and then refusing to stop

Dad had gotten the tiller used. It was one of his better purchases. For years it worked great and helped Dad to till some very successful gardens. It was a good machine as long as you used it for what it was for. However, I would often borrow Dad's tools and equipment and make unconventional use of them.

Although he would complain after I broke something he never complained while I was breaking it. I admit that sometimes he didn't know what I was up to until after I had broken it. However, sometimes I think that he thought that whatever I was doing was going to work as much as I did. Whatever the reason he almost never stopped me.

I mention this fact because this tale actually begins with me borrowing the tiller. I was a great digger of holes as a child and I kept it up into my late teens. Me and the guys were working on digging a little root cellar on the back of Dad's property. We had run into some clay that was as hard as iron and the work slowed down to a crawl.

Josh and I talked it over and one of us came up with the idea of using the tiller. We planned to break the clay up and then dig it out of the ground in chunks. At first it worked wonderfully and we began to make progress again. However, after a few minutes disaster struck. The tiller died. I seems we had put too much of a load on it. The poor thing couldn't take any more and it broke down.

That kicked off another cycle of Dad fighting on weekends trying to get it running again. It was a struggle, but at last the day came when he got it cranked and it was ready to once again till the soil. Dad decided to start by tilling a section of the yard he hadn't gardened in for years. I happened to be out in the front yard doing this and that when Dad came out walking behind the tiller.

He had put so much work into it that it made me feel good to see him out there getting something done with it. (Some of you may be thinking that I should have helped him get it running, but at the time I had even less mechanical skill than I do now.) Things were going beautifully at first. Dad was waking along leaving wonderfully tilled soil behind him.

Then something happened. I think he may have hit a root or perhaps something just fired wrong in the engine. Either way, the tiller paused for a second and then lurched forward. The result was that Dad had time to take one step too close to the tiller and then it leaped away. It jerked him off his feet and dropped him, face first, into nice soft soil.

He jumped up furious and covered in dirt. He began to yell at the tiller. He called it everything he could think of and with my Dad that's quiet a bit. The tiller ignored him and continued to till along. You see, normally there is a kill switch on a tiller. If you let it go it is supposed to stop. For whatever reason this switch wasn't working at the moment. That made Dad even more furious.

“Fine!” He screamed as loud as he could. “You want to leave? Go! I don't care! Go ahead and leave!!!”

As he screamed this he was walking away in one direction as the tiller was tilling along in another. It was very much like a lover's tiff. I stood there watching this play out. It was as if I was mesmerized. I couldn't think or act, I could only watch.

The tiller continued on it's way and finally made it out of the yard and into the road. I watched the sparks flying out from under it's spinning blades as it made it's way across the asphalt. At last it reached Mrs. Dick's yard. I remember thinking that I should yell out to Dad and let him know that it was tilling up her yard. I was so stunned that I can't be sure whether I yelled or not.

What I do know is that Dad finally turned around and saw it making it's away across our neighbor's yard. He began running toward it with unbelievable speed. He flew across the road and began turning the tiller around. Fortunately it had only tilled into her yard thirty or forty feet. He got it across the road safely and back into our yard. The tilling monster was brought back under control.

After that the tiller behaved itself. I suppose that it felt that after it's get away was foiled there wasn't much more it could do. Few tillers could claim to have run off on their own and gotten as far as it had. Either way it could have only made it as far as a tank of gas would get it. All in all it did very well for a rebellious machine.

The point, in short, is that man faces the machine rebellion every day. Men like my Dad drove it back in former days. Now days I work along beside Dad fighting burned out bearings and leaking oil. I suppose it goes back to the days when men's bows wouldn't shoot strait and will go on until space ships are making a weird knocking noise. However, mankind has always won and always will. It's just a matter of testing our patience and perseverance. Dad may not have much patience, but he has perseverance to spare. For that we have to respect him!

Happy father's day everyone!

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