Dozer, the bulldog

Dozer, the bulldog
Dozer: He always did take a mean selfie...

Ellie Mae or may not...

Ellie Mae or may not...
"Hey Squirrel? Why don't you come down here and say that?"

Sunrise surprise

Sunrise surprise
Another day in Paradise

HappyDay Farms bees are happy bees.

HappyDay Farms bees are happy bees.
"Let us bee happy in our work..."



Right brain running amok...

Right brain running amok...
Quilting: barn-raising

HappyDay Farms grows it better.

HappyDay Farms grows it better.

Where the living is easy

Where the living is easy
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May magic

May magic

Mahlon Masling Blue

Mahlon Masling Blue
My friend and brother.

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Friday, September 23, 2016

25 Grams

This photo was taken the same month as the story, July of 1975.
I am in the backyard at War Admiral, tending our veggie garden.
This is the second in a nostalgic series, taking us back to July of 1975, to an era when we were still young enough to be able to ask the biggest favors of siblings, with complete expectations that the request would be granted. The setting is the Bakersfield turnoff, alongside Highway 5, out in the middle of nowhere.

25 Grams

"I'm looking for a hard-headed woman,
One who will take me for myself.
And if I find my hard-headed woman,
I won't need nobody else, no, no, no..." Cat Stevens

“What came down, do you think?” Tom asked, as we sat waiting for Bro Matt to make an appearance, having placed the call more than two hours earlier for a little bit of help. You know, wake the poor, unsuspecting dude, up in the middle of the night, and hit him up with an impossible proposition? 

“Judging from the sound of it, we probably didn't throw a rod,” I explained, meaning of course, the exact opposite. I had been working for United Auto Stores, in San Jose, for almost a year, at the time we had ventured back down to SoCal for a wedding, and had had ample time to start picking up some knowledge. It was July of 1975.

Our return trip had been interrupted when the poor little Beetle had sounded the alarm, turned its wheels upward in the air and refused to go any farther.

“Was it my blow-it, do you think?” he asked.

“Hey, Man. You were just cruising along and the motor freaked out. Frank Zappa sang all about it, ‘Who could imagine, that our little bug, would freak out-in Bakersfield…Bakersfield…Bakersfield…?’” I sang. 
This pic of my father, Robert, was taken down
in Baja, California, in June of 1972.

“Ain’t no biggie. This old jalopy’s got nothing but a bodacious rubber band propelling it. When I get back to San Jose, I’m going to yank this motor and stick a new-improved-rubber band in, and we’ll be set to go.”

I honestly thought that with more than 140,000 miles on the eleven-year-old, air-cooled engine, it was just overdue, and I told Tom that. The last thing I wanted was to have this kid think I had flipped my wig, pissed off that he had caused this problem.

 Later, after splitting the cases, on the kitchen table (!) at our apartment on San Fernando Street, it did not take long to see what had occurred. I worked at United Auto Stores, (three of the four establishments, anyway) for a total of almost eight years, and I never saw anything like it-before-or after. 

The crankshaft had simply snapped in two. 

The crankshaft is the central component of any engine, and the one to which the four connecting rods, are attached. What could possibly have gone wrong to make a two-and-a-half-inch thick piece of steel, snap into two chunks, as though it were a piece of balsa wood?

I posed the question to my colleagues at United Auto, including the machinist at the time, Don.

A quiet guy, Don examined the detritus of the engine with raised eyebrows, indeed. He pursed his lips, took the two chunks of the crankshaft in either hand, and then started looking closer at those four connecting rods.

“One of these does not match the other three,” he noted.

“Ha! Busted!” I cooled my jets. "It’s not as though they were in a fashion show,” I added sarcastically. “Uh, does it matter?”

“Could,” he responded, “if there is a difference in weight.”
Ah, how cute-flag in the background...

“Oh. How funkadelic is that?” I ran that information through my jellybrain, and it still did not compute. “Why does that matter?”

Patiently Don explained. “The engine is turning at three thousand revolutions per minute, which means the four connecting rods are propelling the pistons up and down, 3,000 times per minute. If there is a difference in weight among any of those components, the engine is going to be off-balance.” 

He continued on. “If you are driving around town or taking it easy on longer jaunts, then no problem. At some point, though, if a lot of torque gets put on the engine, after it is already tired, something like this is going to happen.”

I thought about Tom coming off the highway and down-shifting into third gear a bit too early, and that was all the stress the old engine needed to blow. 

Sure enough, there was twenty-five grams’ difference between the three that matched, and the one that was different. Huh. That’s only three grams shy of an ounce, though why I know that particular piece of information, I am at a loss to explain. 

[Editorial note to Mark: Juvenile attempts at humor are to be avoided, puh-lease…]

Don said that what had most likely happened, was that at some earlier point in time, the engine had blown, and when it was put back together, no care was taken to make sure that the replacement connecting rod matched the other three.

Had they weighed them, and noted the difference, they could have done something about it, but that is pretty sophisticated stuff for the do-it-yourselfer. Hey, it’s pretty sophisticated stuff for most mechanics too. 
Me, in our apartment in Seoul, Korea, 1973.

I was lucky I worked in a foreign and domestic auto parts house, with a machinist who knew his stuff. Otherwise, I would have gone ahead and replaced the crankshaft without bothering to check the rods. Somewhere down the line…

I can still tell you, though, that a complete gasket set for my little VW, with a 40hp engine, is a 111-198-007. If it were a bus, it would be a 211-198-007, and a fastback? You got it: 311-198-007. Don’t ask me why these things stick, because I will just tell you it’s the same reason why so much does not stick.

Too much cannabis? If so, it’s an exchange rate, with which I can live.

I didn’t have any of this in-depth info at my fingertips, as we sat, alternately in the little bug or on the warm pavement of the Flying A Service Station parking lot, and waited for the cavalry. All I knew was that I was powerless to do anything other than wait.

It reminded me of the army: “Hurry up and wait…”

Tomorrow: The Plan


  1. Replies
    1. You ought to get comfortable; this one's just getting started... Thanks for the drive-by!

  2. Ah, yes, that kitchen table on San Fernando.... what a sunny place that was!
    As for useless numbers and such.... it never surprises me when I encounter the any number between 401 and 408 or 501 and 508. I flash on the high school class that I endured in whatever the number was. The most infamous being 504 (Latin with Sr Julie) and 508 (algebra 1 with Sr Campion and also Religion 1 with Fr O'Hagan - double bad room Freshman year...).

    1. It's been a minute or two since I have had the flashback-horror-locker-combo-fiasco dream, but they plagued me for about thirty years. lol

    2. Yes! I have had those nightmares too. Seriously though, one of the worst memories from high school was taking freshman PE with a real witch of a dragon teacher - and she really really intimidated me and I could not get those pe locks figured out. She had NO mercy for this scared kid. WTH? How does a person like that ever belong in a school? Power in the only place she could find it - with scared freshman girls....