If my Steadfast Spouse hadn’t gone to college, and then to graduate school, he likely would have been an auto mechanic. This is fortuitous, it turns out, because after Spouse and I traded our real jobs for the bucolic life of suburban vegetable farmers and bread bakers a few years ago, we gave up a lot of things, aside from the obvious regular paycheck. New vehicles, for instance, and even slightly used vehicles, for that matter. This meant one of us had to know how to repair the conveyances we could afford, and it wasn’t going to be me.
Despite the many childhood Saturdays I spent hanging out with my dad under the hoods of the boat-like sedans that served as family transportation in the ’70s, nothing stuck from those lessons except good memories of dad-and-daughter bonding. I’d be hard-pressed to tell a distributor cap from a spark plug these days.
That left Spouse as lone chief mechanic for a hard-working but needy farm fleet that consists of a 21-year-old Ford Ranger that just crested the 180,000-mile mark, and a temperamental 12-year-old Volvo station wagon with 150,000 miles that we bought on eBay from a shady guy in New Jersey who disappeared from the map the second our check cleared. I suppose we should count the rototiller in the fleet, too. It’s not exactly transportation, but like the vehicles, it runs on a smelly gasoline engine, and is as temperamental as the Volvo.
While other folks keep Reader’s Digest and Newsweek in their bathroom reading racks, ours holds well-thumbed versions of the Haynes Service and Repair Manual; one for vintage Volvos and the other for Rangers and related Fords spanning the era between Ronald Reagan and Beanie Babies.
With these tomes of mechanical wisdom and a couple of chests jammed full of Sears Craftsmen tools, Spouse can do major surgery at the drop of a bolt. Of course, the only other thing needed is parts. If it’s the Ford that’s ill or injured, Spouse generally comes home with bags and boxes from Advance Auto.
I am therefore familiar with brick-and-mortar auto parts stores and their offerings, though I can’t say I’ve visited many in person. But I hadn’t considered the huge catalog-order industry that also supplies auto innards to the home mechanic. That all changed when boxes from IPD in Oregon started appearing on our porch via the UPS man, who no doubt cursed the long trips his brown truck had to endure down our rutted country lane.
The Volvo, it appeared, had organs and bones that could not be procured locally. But he works so well when he works that if buying out-of-state parts was all it took to make him whole again, I was happy to pay the shipping costs.
Despite Spouse’s accumulating technical talents, not all repair jobs that started in the home garage ended there, especially where the Volvo was concerned. Sometimes, a trip to the emergency room was required.
Such was the case with the brake pad replacement of last season, a job that, on its face, should be been an easy couple of hours of work. The first caliper bolt came off easily enough. The second one wouldn’t budge, despite hours of cursing and grunting and one trip to the hardware store for a new pair of vice grips. Feeling wimpy and defeated, Spouse packed up all the parts and drove to the Place of Last Resort, a swanky Volvo dealership on the other end of town.
A bit of his dignity was refunded when even the high-end equipment in their service department could not loosen the bolt. Like a rotten tooth, all that could be done was to drill it out. As a consolation prize for Spouse’s efforts, the shop took his box of parts and finished the brake job for him. After that experience, he stuck to oil changes for a while.
Now, a drive shaft needs replacing again, and he assures me he’s up for the challenge. He’s done it once before, after all. I trust that all will go well. But if you see me riding to farmer’s markets on the rototiller, please don’t ask me what went wrong.