Becoming a motor head
When I was young around 1962 or so I remember seeing my father working on tuning the three SU carburetor’s on a gray jaguar sedan we had. It was the first time we bonded as men. He told me stories about how when he was young his father had three garages and many mechanics working for him, but none of them were allowed to help my father, because grandpa did not want dad to learn that way. He wanted my father to learn without help. This still does not make sense to me, but I do understand the dynamics a little. When most of the country would not own a foreign car my day embraced European cars, and eventually Asian, We had a different car every year it seems. I remember TR3’s, jaguar’s, TR4’s, MG’s, a Hillman that would go in water, a Mercedes 230 SL and a 190 , and a variety of American motors we had a Corvair wagon with 4 SU cabs on it, a 49 ford woody, a 67 Fairlane GT, a 67 Chevy Malibu, a 66 Cadillac, a 59 Buick, a 63 ford wagon, and I cannot remember what else. Dad read road and track and hemming motor news religiously. Mom used to drive us kids around in a TR3 this was a two-seater and there were usually 5 of us. Couldn’t do that now, But we had a blast.
We never did any major work, but there were the usual oil change and tune ups to do as well as inspections. I learned a lot by asking questions relentlessly. I am sure this irritated dad to the nth degree. As a child it was hard to keep me from taking things apart to see how they worked. There was a self-propelled reel mower that was my responsibility to use and maintain. I was not allowed to touch tools without permission, Good thing too. I was assigned the task of painting the wheels on our old jeep with a paint brush. It is amazing how much this little task taught me, so much I used it with my daughters latter. It is mostly about preparation, Getting something ready to be painted, teaches you about being prepared for life. It also teaches you about boundaries, as you have to keep the paint on the wheel and not the tire. Even though we never did major work dad did teach me how engines and transmissions worked. He must have been a good teacher, as I learned. Dad was involved with an auto club or hot rod association in town but I was never allowed to be part of it. By the time I was old enough he was not involved any more. He was also a mason and member of American legion. I also never was invited to participate in these. At any rate my dad installed the seeds that would keep me involved in mechanics for the rest of my life.
When I was around 10 or 12 my dad bought me a old rambler station wagon, he told me if I could make it run I could have it. I worked on this car for a few months, I had a paper route and put all the money I had into parts I needed. I tuned it up, plugs, points, condenser, rotor, cap, wires, and carburetor kit. I changed the oil. I set timing statically. Basically I did everything I could think of to get this car to run, I even set the valves and checked compression, it became very frustration for me as I eventually ran out of ideas. I could not think of anything I had not covered. I read books and still came up empty. I could not ask for help as I knew it was a challenge even though it was unstated. Finally I gave up and decided I would never be able to repair this car. One day I picked up a sledge-hammer and proceeded to smash as much of this car as I could. In the process I put my arm through the windshield and cut myself pretty good. As luck would have it someone broke into the cottage we were renting to a couple of college kids. I was blamed for this because I had a cut arm and there was blood on the door where whoever broke in broke the window. After all was said and done, people believed me sort of, and it was explained to me that the reason the car would not run was that it was out of gas. Think I learned anything from this? You bet, learned to see the big picture a little more, to back off and open my mind. I learned a lot about cars motors too. I never quite was acquitted of the break-in; this was not to be the last time I was wrongly accused. When it was time to choose high school I choose Worcester boys trade auto mechanics program, my parents tried to talk me out of this, this only made me want it more. Of course if they had explained to me that the school was where kids went that couldn’t get into better schools it might have made a difference, but I doubt it. I only lasted two years here, but I did get an education.