The Jeep--"The teachable moment."

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May 28, 2012
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My friend Lynn and I volunteer at a local nonprofit Arboretum–Mt. Pisgah. You can look up some of our activities at my Mt. Pisgah bridge post and the one on fixing up DR mowers.

One day I received a call from Tom, the site manager of Mt. Pisgah requesting our services. They have an older Chevy 4 wheel drive flat bed that was out of operation. Tom described the problem. At the back of the 350 engine was the connector for the heater core. It was a cast piece that had broken off in the intake manifold. I told him I would look at it, picked up some pipe taps, some easy outs (which I never seemed to make work), and box of tools including angle drills, etc.

Arriving on the scene we found the truck pushed into the small shop. The old wooden floor was dripping wet from leaks scattered around. It smelled of mold. Lynn and I looked at each other thinking the same thing–"let me out of here." It had no lighting other than a "trouble light", you know the kind that always twist and shine directly in your eyes. Then I remembered a distant experience of my past that I called-"The Teachable Moment."

Have you ever embarked on an effort to teach someone something and everything just fell apart. Well that happened to me a few years ago. Years ago we purchased an older Jeep Grand Cherokee wagon for our two daughters. We bought it because it was built like a tank. One day I noticed it had this lisp in its exhaust, you know it, an exhaust leak. I crawled underneath and found that it had a hole in the exhaust manifold.

I priced a new one locally and it was well over $500. So, I went on line and found a stainless steel one for less than half that price including shipping. I ordered it and decided that I would teach my daughter, Karen, about mechanics. I received the new stainless manifold and it looked great. Included were gaskets and everything I thought I needed.

She was going to school at Portland State, some 100 miles away, at the time so we set up a weekend father-daughter mechanics training session. She would come down on a Saturday and we would replace the manifold and send her happily on her way with an understanding of basic mechanics. Sounded great in theory.

I expected her to show up early to get a jump on the project but she dragged in at about 1:00 and as I grumbled about her tardiness we set out to dismantle the Jeep. A straight six, I thought, should be easy. To my amazement I found that the engine compartment was packed with things that were in the way including power steering, air conditioning, etc. These were things I didn't want to disconnect, so I bungee corded them out of the way.

Then I found other things that needed replacing like belts and broken-off bolts so we spent a couple of hours scrounging for parts at auto stores. At the end of the day we had disconnected everything to free it up, released the manifold from the exhaust and cleaned it up a bit. We were ready to pull it out and replace it. It was seven o'clock. We had wasted most of the day.

Sunday came and we freed the manifold and lifted it out. I put the manifold in place and noticed something was wrong. A manifold bolt had broken off. You guessed it, it was the far back one and it had broken off flush. Laying spread eagle and looking down on it I could find no way to get it out. In my way of thinking there was only one way out–pull the head.

I knew I could do it myself. I would pull the head off, get the valves reground and reinstall it. I had a business to run the next day so I dismissed the idea of doing it myself. So, I decided to reassemble everything, send my daughter back to school in my car and take it to a mechanic the next day.

I got on the internet and looked up mechanics from a "Car Talk" listing. Bright and early Monday morning I took it to a mechanic. The worse part was the fact that I had to face up to getting into something over my head. It was the way he looked at me, concealing a chuckle. He could tell I was in no mood to be mocked.

A couple of days later the mechanic called and I went to pick up the Jeep. He handed me the bill $900–ouch. I paid it and started to walk away. As I was leaving he said, "Oh, by the way, I almost forgot. You left this wrench in the engine compartment." It was insult to injury and the last time I worked on that greasy old monster.

When she called a few months later and wanted to trade it in on a Subaru I didn't object one bit. I laughed as she said, "I thought you might have a sentimental attachment to it, dad." Needless to say, I didn't mind her selling it at all. In fact, I was glad to see it go.

I used to do most of the work on my cars but things are more crammed in now, requiring special test equipment and special tools. Besides, it just isn't much fun for me. I will build things for my daughters like the "Sieve Shaker" and different projects but cars are out. And for "the teachable moment theory," well I don't initiate those any more.

By the way, Lynn and I rejected the Chevy flat bed project. Tom recruited a mechanic to fix it and he found other things that needed fixing. We found that it turned into much more than anticipated, like the fact that someone had put in a different ignition chip and they had problems setting the timing. We will do the other stuff in my dry, well equipped shop.


P.S. There are other episodes in our six years with the old Jeep like the time my other daughter when she ripped part of the underside of it out four wheeling.

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