We made a day trip to the Eagle City Winery’s open house Sunday. It was about a fifty mile ride west with the Miata Club, tops down of course. On our arrival, they gave us a ticket good for six wine samples and one trip through the hors d’oeuvres buffet. They must have nearly a couple dozen wines, so there was something for all tastes. A band played, people danced, and a good time was had by all.
One of the attractions was a wagon ride through an adjoining rustic park area. Shar and I, along with our friends, took the opportunity for a pleasant ride and the inevitable relaxed conversation. The wagon was pulled by an old tractor, a 1953 John Deere 70, two cylinder, Johnny Popper. I loved that green thing.
There is no mystery about a ’50s era tractor, and in its stark simplicity you can see a beautiful piece of mechanical art. Everything on that machine has an obvious function, and I was struck by the feeling that it might run forever. The first 62 years didn’t seem to have done much damage. On the other hand, there is practically nothing that could have gone wrong that we couldn’t have figured out and repaired, very possibly on the spot. And it made me nostalgic for the days when we could actually, independently, work on, fix… keep up… our own machines.
My first car, in the 1960’s, was a relatively simple machine. It had two carburetors, four spark plugs, a four speed manual transmission, and a notoriously unreliable electrical system. But all of it was assessable to, and fixable by, the owner. If you could keep the carburetors tuned, and I could, anything was possible.
The next car was almost as simple and fixable. I have a vivid memory of lying under our1962 Chevrolet, on a gravel driveway, in blowing snow, removing one part or another for repair. I don’t even remember what needed fixing. It was a pretty constant parade of necessary, but fairly simple, repairs over the years we owned that car. And over the following years we owned a succession of Fords, Chevrolets, Volkswagens, and even a full sized Dodge Van. All of them were owner serviceable.
In fact, an engine from a Volkswagen Bug was once totally disassembled on our garage floor with all the valves, springs, piston parts, nuts, bolts, and every other piece you can imagine stored in well marked plastic bags. In the end, thanks to my trusty copy of How To Keep Your Volkswagen Alive, it all went back together and kept driving for many more years.
Then, at some point in our fifty year marriage, I realized that finances no longer dictated who had to do my repairs. I could actually pay someone else to do it correctly the first time. Fortunately, that came at about the same time as automobiles that were no longer owner serviceable. If you have to remove the engine to replace a spark plug, I get discouraged. In fact, the last time I looked, our car’s engines were almost entirely encased in plastic shrouds that totally hide the location of any recognizable parts. I might be able to figure things out, but the whole project is truly depressing.
The other side of the equation, of course, is that today’s cars are much more reliable than those our parents might have worked on. Computerized systems mean cars need much less attention than they used to. Our oldest car, the Miata, turns eight this year. Other than changing the oil every 3,000 miles, we have never had to do any kind of repair or maintenance. And that’s kind of nice. While I used to drive around with a box full of tools in the trunk, these days I don’t even bother.
If, when the time came to leave the winery yesterday, the car had refused to start as easily as it always does, we’d have been up a creek. And, when something does inevitably come up, I’ll need to take it to the dealership. Guaranteed.
I really do miss knowing that I could do the work all by myself.