Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Peeling Paint

The first twelve years of my life were spent living on a farm in northeast Kansas. I don’t remember anything about the first four or five and I’ve forgotten most of the rest…or thought I had.  But one day, while looking for something else, I happened upon a photo album on the top shelf of our closet. I had seen it before of course. It was the one my mother kept under her bed for most of her adult life. When she passed on, and as her only child, the album had naturally fallen to me for safekeeping. I couldn’t remember the last time I had leafed through the pages, but it was probably at my mother’s side as she pointed out her many brothers and sisters, her cousins and second cousins, as well as dozens of people I’d never met. The word boring comes to mind.

Deciding it might be time for a nostalgic trip down memory lane, I spread the album across the bed and once again went through it, page by page. It was sad to see how many of those aunts and uncles as well as my cousins, were no longer with us. But when I came to a photo of the old farm, my childhood home, the memories came flooding back.

I had almost forgotten how poor we were back then. The paint was peeling off the house, a gate hung by one hinge, and our “sidewalk” was nothing more than a few well placed stones, probably taken from the nearby creek. My mother, who always prided herself on her appearance, was wearing a nice looking dress while pumping water from a well. A well for Pete's sake. We had no running water! Sure, I remember that. No indoor toilet. Oh God. No electricity either, not for a long time anyway.  I had a flashback of my dad in his favorite chair, reading by a lamp of some kind, one with a wick.

Another memory rushed in. It was the day that an electrician threw a switch and suddenly, my world changed. Bright lights to read and eat by. Electric heaters, no more shivering under heavy blankets during cold Kansas nights. And a radio. Oh my, a radio of all things; Amos and Andy, The Shadow, Fibber McGee and Molly, and my favorite, every Saturday morning, Gene Autry, the singing cowboy.

The thing is, I didn’t know we were poor. We were never hungry. There was a garden and I can still see the rows of sweet corn, beans, peas, and carrots. We had livestock too, not much, but there were a few cows and pigs and chickens, lot of chickens, for meat. Despite the lack of high definition television, an iPad, or an Xbox, I was never bored. There were woods to explore, ponds to be fished, and a great old red barn with a swinging rope to play Tarzan.

The paint on the barn was peeling too. No big deal. Not then.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Dirty Dishes

As you may recall from the last post, there are two areas of home repair that strike fear into my very core; internal combustion engines and plumbing. However, flushed with success with the results of the valve job on the lawn tractor, a new report of a dishwasher problem seemed like child's play.

"It's not washing the dishes," the Missus lamented. "It spits the soap out but there's no water in the tub. It's bone dry in there."

I give her a smirk. "Fear not little lady. I have the Internet and You Tube to help me now. Fix yourself a tall glass of lemonade, sit back, and watch your handyman hubby at work." After all, compared to a riding lawnmower, how tough could it be?

I remove two screws from a cover plate at the bottom of the device and peer into the darkness with my trusty flashlight. There wasn't that much to see, but I did spot a part with a copper line connected to one side and a plastic tube coming out of the other. There were a couple of colored wires protruding from the top. With my keen analytical troubleshooting skills, it seemed like a good place to start.

The Internet confirmed my first impressions. The part in question was called a water inlet valve. It explained that as the timer comes around, it sends electrical juice to the part, it mysteriously opens, and allows the water to pass through. Simple logic. Right? Valve no workee, get no water, dishes stay dirty. This has to be the faulty component. As if to confirm my suspicions, one poster made the note that this valve was a very common problem on this particular model of dishwasher. Further searches reveal that I could order this part for around 25 bucks. Seemed a little steep to me but....

I pass the information along to the Missus, embellishing my problem solving skills, waiting for the praise.

"I think we should call a repairman," she says, unimpressed.

"What? No way! You got your service charge--got to be around a hundred bucks-- then you wait for an appointment, then wait for the part to come in which he'll mark up about a thousand percent, and after all that, there's a good chance it'll be the wrong part which puts you back to square one. Meanwhile the dirty dishes stack up."

"I've lived without a dishwasher before," she replies. "You can help. We'll get by."

Completely illogical thinking. Hard to reason with a woman like that. I order the part. It took a week to get here, but look at the money I saved. With only minor flooding, I change the water inlet valve, turn the water back on, rotate the timer switch to on, and...nothing. No water, not a drop. Shit.

The Missus presents me with the original sales receipt (she keeps things like that) and points out that the dishwasher is 12 years old and probably past its prime. She further explains that a new model is on sale at the local appliance store. We go there. She drives, I sulk in the passenger seat. She chooses a color. I make a pitch for the reasonably priced entry level model. She points to one with digital readout, delayed start time, and has a Fine China setting even though we don't own any Fine China.

The salesman writes up the Fine China model with the caveat that it will be at least a week before delivery.

Can anyone recommend a good hand lotion? Mine are red, chapped, and the skin on my left thumb is cracking. Maybe I could shop Wal-Mart for some rubber gloves, something in a manly tan, or maybe a camo pattern.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Valves? What Valves?

Homeowners face a multitude of problems on a daily basis; a squeaky door, a loose toilet seat, a ceiling fan that makes tick-tick noises, or a burned out light switch to name but a few. Those I can handle (usually). But when it comes to plumbing or anything to do with internal combustion engines, my first instinct is to scream, throw up my hands in terror, and race for the Yellow Pages or the Internet. One might think I would have inherited a few mechanical genes from my dad who could fix anything from a 49 Ford to a John Deere tractor. But no.

Which brings us to the latest problem here at the humble abode. We’re talking about a lawn tractor, a Sears Craftsman 18 horsepower, six speed, riding machine with a 42 inch cut that makes mowing the yard a pleasure…almost. Now I’m not sure what the ratio of mower life is compared to a human, but I would say this one is not very old, probably in its late twenties, early thirties, somewhere in there; runs good, lots of power.

But on one recent summer afternoon when I hit the ignition switch, all I got was a whir-clunk. Dead. Would not start. While I may not be the greatest mechanic in the world, I can recognize a dead battery when I see one. I slap the charger on it, have a brewskie while I’m waiting, and after the recommended time lapse, I hit the switch. Again, whir-clunk. Hmm.

Batteries do go bad ya’ know and that had to be the problem here. Off to Wally World and an hour later, a gleaming new EverStart battery is in place and hooked up. I turn the key once more. Whir-clunk. Shit!

The battery connections aren’t exactly spit-shined and take the wire brush to them while I say a silent prayer. No joy. Why can’t we get Divine Intervention when we really need it? I spot a round cylindrical object mounted on the side of the engine. Might it be one of those starter thingies I’ve heard about? Is that the problem? Who knows?

If there is one invention in this universe more helpful than the Internet (thanks Al Gore), I don’t know what it is. (The GPS in my pickup to help me find the way home comes in a close second.) A click here, a click there, and within mere minutes, I find a warehouse of information about Sears lawn tractors. I look for the symptom whir-clunk. The first suggestion for such a problem is the most unlikely advise I’ve ever heard of, adjust the valves. What? Seriously? Obviously, this man is deranged. I move on. Second site, same advice. The poster elaborates, after you’ve bought a new battery, a new starter (the round black thingie?), and a starter solenoid (whatever the hell that is), adjust the valves. Almost exclusively, the posters claim the valves are your problem. 

Let us review. I do not know where the valves are, how to get to them, or know what a freakin’ valve looks like, much less how to adjust one. At this point, I can see only two options; call Sears to send a mechanic or rent a trailer and take the mower to the repair center while my grass and weeds grow to a height tall enough to attract buffalo. 

That’s when I noticed a You Tube video with the the tantalizing title, Adjusting Valves on your Sears Mower. Out of curiosity, I watch while some dude from Texas removes bolts from a metal cover with the letters OHV on it. And there, in plain sight, are the valve adjustment screws, or so he claims. Fascinated, I watch as the man uses a tool with multiple thin pieces of metal stamped with fractional numbers. He refers to this tool as a feeler gauge. He loosens a lock nut, turns a screw until the feeler is snug between two hunks of metal, tightens the nut, and voila, the valves are adjusted. Simple! What could possibly go wrong?

The feeler gauge looked sort of familiar. I rummaged through an old tool box inherited from my mechanical pappy and there one was, dirty, but still functional. Just as in the video, there was a blade labeled .004 and one with .006. I had everything else. We’re goin’ in!

Naturally, the operation was not as simple as the pro in the video made it look, but with multiple attempts, the adjustments were made and the cover replaced. Now came the moment of truth. It was time to wake the patient. I close my eyes and hit the ignition.


The next time you pass by my house, look for this sign in the front yard:


Sunday, June 10, 2012

Bloody Sunday

While many of you folks out there are spending your Sunday mornings at the lake, in church, out with the family, or just coiled up with a good game on TV, let the record show that I, your public servant, am hard at work here at the humble abode. As it is on most Sunday mornings, I continue to sacrifice my personal time in the seemingly never-ending quest to find the perfect Bloody Mary mix. I do this as a public service to my friends, my relatives, and to the community. It has not been without sacrifice.

For years, I recommended the old standard, Mr. & Mrs. T’s., but over time, the spiciness of the mix became a little more than my old digestive system wanted to deal with; heartburn, upset stomach, that sort of thing. I reasoned that there must be others out there, suffering from like symptoms, and took it upon myself to come up with an alternative mix.  

The result was a simple concoction of Campbell’s Spicy V8, a dash of Worcestershire sauce (two or three drops, no more), salt, and ground pepper. Uncomplicated, but tasty, and my tummy loved it. 

Then, about a month ago, I heard about a product called Zing Zang. I drove 30 miles to south Tulsa to find a store that carried it, but it was worth the effort. Good? OMG! It was the perfect mix. (I have since learned that the Super Wal-Marts also have it on the shelves.)

I had only one opportunity to try it out before the proposed striper fishing trip and while it slid down quite smoothly, the bowels rejected the whole idea in the form of some serious diarrhea. As the old saying goes, I think I could have shit through a screen at thirty paces and never hit a wire. However, and one not quick to judge, I wrote that nasty little episode off as probably something I ate. But no. Identical results at Lake Texoma, but thankfully not while on the water. Can you visualize the scenario? 

“Uh, Mr. Guide, I know you went to a great deal of expense and effort to put our group on these fish and are being hauled in on every line as fast as they can reel… but I need to go to shore.”

Reluctant to admit defeat, I pressed on and gave Zing Zang a couple more chances, this time at home and close to a commode. Same thing. Damn it!

I was mentally prepared to tuck my tail between my legs and retreat to the Spicy V8 when my old friend Bennett came through. His wife Donna (yes the same Donna of swapping t-shirts fame) and who had once been a bartender, came up with a new recipe. It starts with Clamato Juice, a drink totally unfamiliar to yours truly; the basic ingredients being tomato juice and dried clam broth. Yeah, I know, sounds horrible but stay with me here. To that you add horseradish, Worcestershire, celery salt, black pepper, a dash of Tabasco and you’re done. (exact amounts are of course, proprietary)

Preliminary testing has been wildly successful. Just the right amount of tanginess without throwing the innards into turmoil. Obviously, much more research will need to be done before declaring this recipe fit and safe for human consumption.

So, enjoy your Sunday, have fun, but please think of me, your humble servant, while I sit and sip here in the semi-darkness of the man-cave, toiling away, with only your best interests at heart. You’re welcome.