Wednesday, April 11, 2012

I Fixed the Lawnmower

For all my students who think writing is "just not their thing," here's a little tale of hope.

Tinkering with mechanical doohickeys is not my thing. When faced with the challenge I'm about to relate, I tried to think back and remember the last time I fixed anything that involved several moving parts. I couldn't come up with anything. I did put together a bicycle that I ordered in the mail around 2006 or 2007, but I did a horrible job of it. When I later brought it to a bike shop for a tune-up, I got laughed at.

Three weeks ago, Yuriko's father (Bob) was visiting from Maryland, and we were talking about how the grass needed mowing already because of the early spring. He asked if I had changed the oil in our little Troy-Bilt self-propelled mower. "You have to change the oil in a lawnmower?" I thought. I doubted that I was anywhere near 3,000 miles with the thing. But apparently changing the oil in a mower at least once a year is a good idea.

Bob, who is a semi-retired electrical engineer for NASA, is, as you might imagine, a vastly superior tinkerer. He showed me, step-by-step, how to take off the blade, drain the old oil, put in the fresh stuff, and put everything back together. He always does these things in a spirit of nonjudgmental helpfulness. Never do I get a hint of "If your not man enough to change the oil in this mower, how are you man enough to live with my daughter?" from him. I am grateful for this.

After Bob left, I started the mower up, and quickly there were 2 bad signs: smoke billowed out of the engine and the self-propulsion feature was not functioning. The smoke was not a big deal--apparently we put a little too much new oil in, but this quickly burned off. Why the mower wouldn't "go" when I asked it to, however, was a more perplexing and troubling question (especially for someone like myself with little to no mechanical intuition or experience).

After consulting Bob via email, I learned that the belt had likely come loose from the pulley while we changed the oil. After taking off the blade again, I could see this was the case. I could not, however, see how to access the front pulley to put the belt back on.

Bob sent me several emails of encouragement and advice over the next couple weeks, and finally--this past Sunday--I found the time to undo every bolt I could find until I could get at that front pulley. Eventually I got there, put the belt back on, and reassembled all parts. I was relieved there were no leftover bolts lying around. I was pretty convinced I would forget where something went.

The mower started up and moved right along--success! I felt quite a surge of pride, even though this was a pretty simple accomplishment. This is all to say that succeeding at something that you're not "naturally" good at can be a very empowering, rewarding experience.

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