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Old car repairs

GAYS MILLS - I’ve needed a spate of car repairs lately. Time was, a guy could at least try to fix a car himself. And if you’re handy enough, you still may be able to do that. But more and more, I have been leaning on my friendly and competent local mechanics. Paul Nicholson and Mason Evans do a real service to their communities by keeping our vehicles running. They don’t offer loaner cars, free coffee, or a waiting room stocked with magazines and Muzak, but they get the job(s) done and done right in a timely fashion. Thanks, fellas.

Popping the hood on a vehicle of recent vintage can be exciting. First of all just seeing all of the technology packed (and that’s the correct word) into the engine compartment is impressive. In an older car, it was likely that a person could ID the components you were seeing. Things were so much simpler then; there was room to spare under the ‘bonnet’ and you could logically tell the function of the forms you saw–not so today.

Part of being a successful mechanic is being able to quickly and correctly diagnose a problem. Modern cars are plugged into diagnostic computers to pinpoint problems. There’s still room for creativity and problem solving for mechanics, but they increasingly rely on specialized (read: expensive) computers for much of their car repair guidance. 

I heard a radio segment last week about John Deere tractors. Farmers can’t work on new tractors they have bought and paid for - they are not allowed to do so. They must call out a repairman to replace a microchip or re-program the on-board computers that are part of modern high-tech tractors. 

But I digress; I wanted to relate car repairs I have done. In our 1968 Chevy Carryall, for example, the radiator sprung a leak on a return trip from Chicago. We noticed the steam rising from the hood, as we stopped at a red light. It occurred in Madison and on a hot day reminiscent of what we had here last week. After we got the engine cooled down by adding water and watching it continually run out of a pinhole, under pressure, we went out for lunch - Papa John’s Pizza as I recall.

I couldn’t enjoy lunch. I stewed as we ate. It was 3 p.m. on Saturday, we knew no mechanics, we were hot (no A.C.) and tired and 100 miles from home. As I paid the bill, I noticed a supply of wooden toothpicks near the register. Hmmm. The toothpicks were round, the pinhole was round.  I gently wedged a toothpick into the hole and refilled the radiator with water. It seemed to swell up to seal the leak.  We motored home, quite relieved and me with a pocket full of spare toothpicks.

Another time, same vehicle, Yellowstone Park–son David and I were on his high school graduation trip. On quite a rough patch of paved park road, Old Blue just quit. My first thought: this is either real serious or real simple. Popping the hood, we noticed that the main wire leading into the distributor had bounced out of its hole. That wire is supposed to fit tightly, by friction, into the hole. We dropped it back in its place and used a clothespin to secure it with a nearby sparkplug wire. Problem solved. Total elapsed pit stop: about one minute.

May all your car problems be small ones, but keep your favorite mechanic’s phone number handy.