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:


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