By Greg Clark, September 21, 1940
“This war,” stated Jimmie Frise, “is completely different from any previous wars.”
“I’ll say it is,” I admitted, “with air bombings and …”
“No, no,” interrupted Jim; “I don’t mean just the weapons. A thousand years ago they used giant wooden catapults to heave barrels of burning tar over the walls of cities. There is really no difference in the tools of war. The difference I refer to is that in old wars they wanted big, strong, tough men for the army. Now they want trained intelligences.”
“Machines call for something more than brawn,” I pointed out.
“In old wars,” went on Jim, “all we lost were the biggest and toughest of our population. Now we are risking our more precious possession – our intelligent men.”
“Maybe it is time the brainy ones took a share in defending the country,” I suggested. “In old wars the strong guys marched away and the brainy ones stayed at home and profiteered.”
“I think the strangest thing I have met with in a long time,” said Jimmie, “was a young man of my acquaintance, a big, magnificent specimen of a 23-year-old who broke down and wept because he hadn’t his matriculation and couldn’t get into the air force.”
“That’ll teach him,” I remarked.
“But one of the good things about this war,” continued Jim, “is that it is stressing the importance of intelligence and training. All the talk about education and schooling of the past 50 years didn’t stir up the young men and youth of the world the way this war will.”
“I suppose we’ve got to think up some good out of the war,” I admitted.
“Think of the way everybody’s mind is being stirred up,” said Jim. “I bet there was more geography learned in the eight months between September, 1939, and May, 1940 than was learned in all the schools and universities of the world in the past century.”
“Even the knitting is becoming more intellectual,” I added. “Last war the girls knitted socks and mufflers, and occasionally a brave girl would try a balaclava helmet. But you should see the complicated things they are knitting for this war. Navy mitts, with flaps for the trigger fingers to come out. Flying helmets and complicated chest protectors.”
“Yes, sir,” said Jim, “this war is bringing out the brains. When this war is over there will be 100,000 expert motor mechanics in Canada.”
“A man who can take a Bren gun apart,” I agreed, “won’t be stumped by a mere outboard motor.”
“As a matter of fact,” said Jim, “this war is showing up a lot of rackets. The motor repair business is one of them. If all those hundreds of thousands of youngsters can learn motor mechanics in a matter of a few days, there is no reason why anybody, especially intelligent people couldn’t do their own motor repairs and do them better than any garage that is trying to pay the rent by slapping 50 jobs through each day.”
“I think it’s the grease and oil that scares me off,” I admitted. “Like so many pioneers’ grandsons, I hate getting mucky. My ancestors got too mucky. I’m the reaction.”
Attempting a Valve Job
“What I’m working up to,” confessed Jim, “is my car needs a valve job. And in times like these I can’t see any reason why I shouldn’t do it myself.”
“Go ahead,” I urged him. “Go right ahead.”
“I mean,” said Jim, “with motor mechanics so scarce now, I wouldn’t be gypping anybody out of a living by doing what they ought to do. And besides, I haven’t got the money.”
“Go right ahead,” I assured him. “It’s one of those things you have to make up your own mind about.”
“Well, I was hoping you’d perhaps be interested enough to want to share in the experience,” said Jim. “Somebody would have to help me.”
“Get your brother-in-law,” I suggested. “He’s more your height for lifting things. Any time I help you I always get the low end.”
“What I really need you for,” confessed Jim, “is to help me follow the book of instructions I’ve got. You’re so good at that intellectual stuff.
“I might come over,” I said.
And I did.
Jim has a book all about engines. It is called “Your Engine.” It is filled with drawings, showing machinery, with dotted lines, and hands lifting things off, and arrows pointing. Jim and I went down to his garage and turned on the lights. He has a big box full of all the tools he has ever had with all his cars, and as he never turns the tools in with an old car, he has about 200 pounds of them.
While I sorted out tools Jim sat on the running-board and read the chapter entitled: “Removing Carbon and Grinding Valves.”
“Remove spark plugs and unscrew cylinder head, retaining nuts at X, X, X,” read Jim.
“Where is XXX?” I asked.
“Never mind – that’s on the diagram,” said Jim “Let me read it all through, and then we can go over it, sentence by sentence suiting the action to the words.”
He read on and on, while I punctuated it with tools on the cement floor. It sounded rather terrible as he proceeded. The tools were mostly rusty and many of them seemed injured or broken. But I had them strung from the front of the garage to the back by the time Jim concluded the chapter on removing carbon.
“I tell you,” I said, as Jim stood up and spit on his hands. “Let’s get a mechanic to come over. He could just sit here, on his night off and watch just to see we don’t go wrong.”
Jim gave me a look. “Do you mean to say,” he burst out “that a couple of high-class, intelligent men like us can’t follow a book of rules?”
He swept the engine hood cover off his car and exposed the large, cold, rusty and sullen-looking engine.
“Hand me the thingummy,” he said. “You know. Unwinds spark plugs.”
It is that bent jigger you use to change tires with, too. There were seven of them on the floor, and I picked the newest-looking one.
Unwinding a Lot of Nuts
Jim unwound the spark plugs and with a large wrench started in on the lid that hides the works. There were a lot of wires from the spark plugs, and he laid them aside. The iron lid of everything did not seem to be any freer when the nuts came off, so he got me to help him, and we drove a cold chisel along the crack and pried the lid off. It was heavy, and when it gave it gave suddenly and fell over on the far side, crashing into the carburetor and one thing and another. But we dragged it out and laid it on the floor.
Revealed now was a most unholy pickle of oily rods, springs, rockers, like the inside of a grandfather’s clock.
“Now,” said Jim, briskly, looking at the book, “take wrench and remove rocker arms and tappets. Hand me wrench.”
Out of the pile of wrenches on the floor I gave him a couple of 1926 and a 1934. He selected one and proceeded to seize hold of the oily wreckage, like a gentleman starting to carve the carcass of yesterday’s chicken. He pulled this way and that, and presently, without the least trouble, pulled out a long thin rod as long as a skewer. Bending down, he located several of these and drew them out and then, after loosening all the nuts that showed, the rocker arms fell off with a loud clank.
“Now remove cylinder head,” said Jim “Lend a hand there, lad.”
“Can I unwind nuts, too?” I inquired.
“Sure,” said Jim “Go to them.”
So I on one side and Jim on the other, unwound nuts until we each had a pile of them on the running boards and several on the floor.
Jim heaved the cylinder head and it came over my side, crashing on to the generator, the starting motor and bending the oil intake pipe. It was very heavy, and the sets of springs sticking up from it caught in various projections, so that we had to rig a rope over one of the scantlings of the garage roof and haul it out of the engine and even at that it brought several other things with it, including the rod that is attached to the choke. We hoisted it and then eased it down on to the floor.
Now we could see right into the engine, with its pistons and cylinders and carbon was to be seen on all sides.
“To remove pistons.” said Jim, “pan must be first removed.”
We looked for a pan, but none was visible.
“Well,” said Jim, “you can’t scrape carbon off the cylinders until you take out the pistons. Maybe they come out some other way.”
We pried at them, rapped them, undid several small nuts here and there, but if pistons are those things that fill the cylinders the way the porridge part of a double boiler fits the water part, then we couldn’t budge them.
“Would the pan be underneath?” I asked.
So Jim took a flashlight and disappeared under the engine.
“There is a kind of a big pan under here,” said Jim, hitting it with a wrench. “Hear it?”
“Take it off,” said I. “It won’t hurt.”
“Come on down,” invited Jim.
Trying to Get ‘Em Back
We found the pan was attached with large nuts, and these required one man to hold the big 1927 wrench and the other to hit the wrench with a hammer. It is curious how different a hammer is when you are lying down aiming east instead of south. Jim let me do the hammer part until I hit his head, which was three feet from the wrench. Then he let me hold the wrench for a rest. We got all the nuts off but the last one.
“Easy now,” said Jim as he unwound it; get under here and get ready to hold it with your arms and knees.”
The nut came off and down came the pan, teetering, and in it were two gallons of old black oil, most of which Jimmy got on top of him, and I got the rest of it by lying in it and absorbing it from below.
“Why didn’t you think of that?” I cried as we struggled from under the pan and got to our feet. But Jim, wiping oil out of his eyes, was studying the book, “Your Engine.”
The taste of oil is sickening. I wonder any mechanic ever looks as well as he does.
“Now, how about the pistons?” said Jim “Pistons may be removed from main shaft.”
But we could not find the main shaft. We looked everywhere except underneath for it, and of course neither of us intended to get underneath any more that night. The floor was half an inch deep with gravy.
“If I were to start the engine now,” suggested Jim, “I bet everything would fall out, pistons and all, so we could get at them. But I don’t want to sit in the seat with all this oil on me.”
So we went back to removing nuts and bolts and laying them in neat piles.
“When do you start grinding the valves?” I asked.
Jim picked up the book, which was already soaking up quite a lot of oil, and read:
“Insert valve-grinding tool. Do you see a valve-grinding tool anywhere there?”
“What’s it like?”
“I don’t know, it will be a sort of file or something. Look around you’ll see one.” But I could find nothing that resembled a valve-grinding tool.
“Jim,” I asked, “what time is it?”
“Ten-fifteen,” said he, in some surprise.
“I’ll have to be going,” said I.
“Going?” cried Jim. “What do you mean, going? Good heavens, we have just started. You’ve got to help
me put this all back again.”
“Nothing doing,” said I. “I said I’d come and help you unassemble it, but I don’t intend to sit up all night over your car.”
“Here, just a minute,” said Jim. “Let’s put it together again, and I’ll pass up grinding it. We’ll just throw it together in a few minutes.”
“I’ll stay a little while and help you with the heavy bits,” said I.
“Let’s put that pan on,” said Jim.
“Leave it till morning,” said I. “Most of the oil will be run off by then or dried up.”
“Then this big cylinder head,” said Jim.
“Hold on,” said I; “we took a lot of little nuts out since then. And these pins. Get everything back the way we took it out.”
Calling for the Expert
And that was where we began to tire of the job. Because none of the nuts fitted. They all seemed to have shrunk or swelled. Jim bent down and breathed heavily on his side while I grunted and spat on my side, in the best mechanic style, but pretty soon we both straightened up and leaned back to rest our backs, and looked at it.
“Have you got any on yet?” asked Jim
“I’ve got two on, but they don’t go on very far.”
Jim came around to my side and then we both went back to his side. There seemed to be far more places for nuts to go on than there were nuts.
“It’s like a jigsaw puzzle,” said Jim.
“Go and telephone for a garage man,” said I. “Unless you don’t want your car this week.”
“Don’t be silly,” said Jim, reaching in with his wrench. There was a clatter and a clunk and Jim had dropped his wrench and it had gone down somewhere into the machinery. “Hand us the flashlight.”
We both peered and felt and fiddled, but we could not see or feel that wrench. My hand being oily, I felt the flashlight slipping and it suddenly fell into the works. Its light went out, and no matter how we probed and fumbled, we could not feel the flashlight. And the garage light was a fixture in the roof.
“Go and telephone a garage,” said I.
So Jim went in and called a garage and came back and sat on the running board with me. The garage man came with his derrick car, and when he saw us and the car be put his cap back on his head and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
“Gees,” he said.
“How much is a carbon and valve job?” asked Jim.
“Oh, about $16 on this car,” said the garage man.
“Well, we’ve got it all open for you, said Jim; “that ought to cut some of the labor cost.”
“I was just figurin’,” said the garage man. “It would cost about six dollars more to get all them nuts back and that pan in place. You’ve clean disemboweled her, ain’t you?”
“We’ve lost a wrench and a flashlight in her somewhere,” said Jim.
“And these nuts and pins,” said the garage man. “How did you happen to get them piled up so nice?”
“How long will it take you?” asked Jim.
“About all day tomorrow,” said the garage man doubtfully, walking all around the car and sizing up the piles of stuff.
So I drove Jim to work the next day.