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Enough to Make a Grown Man Cry

Updated on June 18, 2011

I hope I’m not the only male out there who is totally inept mechanically speaking. It would be extremely embarrassing to write this article and find out I’m the lone male of the species who can’t tell the difference between a spark plug or drain plug. I’m exaggerating a little, but when it comes to mechanical aptitude, I’m out in left field without a glove.

Sure, I took all the required classes in high school boys were supposed to back in the late 60’s such as wood shop, auto mechanics, machine shop and mechanical drawing. Although I knew what a “T square” and right angle were, I couldn’t get an object squared to save my life.

In mechanical drawing I used my eraser more than a pencil. I failed that class more on sloppy streaked paper work as well as anything else.

My first wood shop project was a simple wall book shelf. Five small boards…that’s all there was! Four boards were to make a square and one in the center of it. I called it a “wall” book shelf because the only way it could be used was to hang it on a wall. It would never stand up on its’ own on any flat surface. It earned a “D” for effort.

I presented it to Mom as a present. You know how moms are. Anything their son creates is a master piece. Forty years later, she still has that wobbly thing hanging on a wall. Maybe that’s why men love their moms so much.

Most of my projects ended up a disaster. There was the wooden tool box…a simply designed rectangular box with a handle. A class mate thought it was a bird house!

Then there was the concrete slab which turned to rubble as soon as the forms were removed. More fiascos followed. The gas powered lawn mower that only required disassembly and putting it back together never worked again and had to be replaced. And in auto shop, getting spark plug wires put back in the wrong firing order. But here is the coup de grace’ which convinced me to find a career other than in the carpentry or industrial maintenance field.

It was 1968 and Dad’s pride and joy was our 1962 white, Plymouth Valiant station wagon. That car was kept in pristine condition. Dad usually did any mechanical maintenance while we boys took care of keeping it washed, vacuumed and waxed.

Dad was a career Air Force man and we used the Valiant to move our family to wherever his next duty station was, which happened almost yearly. And that’s why keeping the 6 cylinder compact in top running condition was so important.

However, since I was the oldest boy still at home at the time, Dad decided it was high time I learned to properly change oil in a vehicle. At first I was a little apprehensive, but Dad convinced me it was really easy to do. Unfortunately, he also chose to change the automatic transmission fluid at the same time.

Dad drained the oil out and replaced the oil filter…so far, so good. He replaced the drain plug and then asked me to open a quart of oil using an oil spout. Back then, oil didn’t come in plastic bottles with screw on caps. So, I did as he asked and handed him the quart container.

Along about the third container Dad noticed something a little odd. The oil color didn’t seem to be right. It was reddish looking instead of a clear gold. He looked at the open can and discovered he had been pouring automatic transmission fluid into the oil crank case! What did I know…the cans all looked the same to me.

That’s the first time I ever saw a grown man cry. For a few hours he walked around with his head hung low and wearing a sad, weary expression. He was sure his “pride and joy” would never run again.

A neighbor happened by and asked what was wrong, so dad told him the sad tale. But, our neighbor, who knew a thing or two about such matters, told him the situation wasn’t as hopeless as he thought. In fact, it may have helped the engine in some ways. The neighbor suggested draining the oil again as originally planned and replace it with new oil.

It turned out there was no damage done and the car remained in the family for twenty years as our main mode of transportation. Of course, I’ll never get any credit for that.


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