Working With My Hands

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Looking at my hands. Seeing my  breath. Listening to great music and torquing away.

I was reminded of Dad this evening.  I remember evenings spent hearing music being played over loud speakers. Car speakers, hooked up in wooden crates, pumping good tunes. The music was usually that of a great artist out of the awesome CD collection Dad possessed, or it was the music being piped over the airwaves by our favorite community radio station — the one I now volunteer at. I remember coming in on Dad working. If he was working on the house, if he was laying the concrete foundation to the space that would soon be a livable addition, I would see him mixing concrete. If it was the shop I would see him working on furniture or specialized pieces of something-or-other to be used on another something-or-other around the home he was building for us. I can remember there always being good music. I can also remember there being bright, florescent, light so that Dad could see what it was he was doing. I would look at Dad, his strong capable self, the big hands that did so much, built so much of our lives, and I would think, “that will be me.”

I have been working on Little Wing for four days now. I took Little Wing all apart. Off came the seat — a necessary item to get the tank off. The tank was taken off next — a necessary item inorder to take a look at the head. The head was examined next, and the next step was to take off the valve cover. The tank came off with difficulty. The last time the tank was taken off something was marred just a bit. A wire got caught on the fuel valve. The wire was up to something entirely different than the fuel valve apparatus, but it got itself intermingled anyway. This was easily solved by draining the fuel tank and removing the fuel valve, something easier said then done. Actually it was no biggie, but what happened was I ended up with cramped legs as I held the red gas can on my lap for  ten minutes as the 2.2 gallons that were in the gas tank trickled out of the small hose into the gas can. There was also a point in the dismounting of the fuel valve that I managed to get sprayed in the face by gasoline as I unhoked a hose. Pop goes the weasel and I got a faceful of petrol. That was Wednesday night. The next morning I was ready to remove the valve cover. With the removal of about fifteen bolts I was reday to take it off. A clever chap on the internet came up with the genius idea of pushing the bolts through a diagram taped to a cardboard box and so that is exactly what I did.

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In the process of doing this I was swept off my seat in the garage by a dapper young man, who just so happens to be Chuck and Marilyn’s son. I wrote of him earlier. David is his name, as you might recall. A musician, an artist, and a fellow connoisseur of the fine things in life (like music and art). He walked into the garage and said “I know you are just getting into this,” (gesturing to Little Wing) “but I was am planning on going to work in Berkley for about an hour. I’m not sure how much of the city you have seen, but I could drop you somewhere and you could wander around a bit til I’m done.”

Well, how does and adventurous gal respond? Hesitation, of course! I told him I wouldn’t know where to go, I wouldn’t know what to look at. He told me Telegraph Avenue, and as I waffled about, Marilyn came along and told me to go, so I did.

David is a wonderful individual. As his mom has said before, he is easy to talk to. Which, honestly, is unnecessary as a general piece of his personality because we easily spoke on the same plain, about the same things. Bring up art, music, literature, or social issues, and then speak intelligently about it, you have won me. Find them as interesting as I do? You are my new best friend. Anyway, David dropped me off at Telegraph and pointed out the good places to go. There are two record stores, Rasputin and Amoba, which were both great. He also told me about the four story book store with used books, and then pointed out some places for food. I was immediately excited by the two murals on either side of the street that we were temporarily parked on. I pointed to them and we discussed them for a short time, but David had to go to work and I was happy to let him, I had music and art to explore.

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Telegraph Avenue is the place in Berkley — or so I’ve been told. It is sort of like Haight Ashbury in the sense that it is the ‘cool’ place to go, especially for young people, especially for street kids. This was definitely the case, I was soon to observe. I marveled at the kids, as I always do, trying to figure out their story, but I would soon tire of this. I found that my place was in the record stores. First Rasputin and then Amoba. In between I did a bit of wandering, but mainly I found the collection of music all encompassing. I kept feeling the need to fill my arms with albums, and as I thought sad thoughts about being broke my mind would swim back into reality and I would see visions of dismantled Little Wing and recall the cross country road trip I was on. Relief would fill my economically stressed bones, and the moments of flipping through dust covers and examining wax would be filled with peace again,  knowing I didn’t have to invest. I was just looking.

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Approximately an hour later I got a text from David, informing me he was at Moe’s, the four story bookstore. I became conscious of the amount of time I had spent looking at records and abandoned the search. Time to go look at books. I joined David in the book store. Bookstores are completely different than record stores. So many great things to see in both places, but in a bookstore I have no idea where to start. I know very little about authors, but I love a good book. The problem is finding a good book amongst all the options. I did find one though. After a  struggle I settled upon another book by Maya Angelou,  because I like her so much, and I picked up I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. David and I convened after our purchases at Moe’s and it was determined that we both felt like eating. On our way to his favorite Thai place we looked at more murals. David realized how interested I was in them and so he started to point them out. We made it to the Thai place. We had a great meal and we decided that there was more to see.

While Little Wing sat up on blocks in Chuck’s garage, waiting for a repair, I sat with David discussing further fun activities to partake in. There was more art to see in the city, and a well toured resident to show me, or there was a bike to tear down back at the garage. How does and adventurous gal respond? Without hesitation. Let’s explore.

David considered whether we would be better off checking out architecture (something he is interested in because he works as a handyman when he isn’t doing his art) or art. I informed him I wasn’t any good at decisions and pressured him into deciding. Art won out because of traffic, and on the way back to his truck we made a few more detours to check out more art. One of the detours led us down an ally where there was graffiti all about. I loved it and we chatted about it. After the graffiti filled mural I think David was more confident in his choice of art over architecture.  The area that we went to was downtown Oakland, where the architecture is stunning anyway. There were murals everywhere and graffiti as well. I felt as though we got to see it all.

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Architecture, street art, and great discussion, it doesn’t get better does it?

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Architecture, I tell you.

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Yesterday I was asked to do a good deed, be a good samritan for Chuck and Marilyn’s neighbor. I asked what the job was. I was at a stand still as far as Little Wing was concerned (more on that later) and felt that would be just fine. Their lovely neighbor, a beautiful Asian woman named Fei, with a bouncing Buddha baby named Ryan, was putting up new blinds on the kitchen window. To do this she needed a tool, and as far as Chuck could tell she really just needed someone to do it. Sure! How hard could it be? My frustrations with the mechanics of the day had left me feeling rather like a failure, and easy success was nothing to pass up.

I made my way to the home, right-next-door, and I tapped on the screen door. I was met with a “come in” and a big smile, from Fei and her father in law, and a stoic look from Ryan, the Buddha baby. Chuck had already brought over an electric drill with a phillips head and some various screwdrivers. I clambered up on the sink, and we laughed and joked about how easy this job would be — ten minutes at the most. I commenced  to taking off the earlier brackets, and then got to putting on the brackets for the new Home Depot blinds. The drill wasn’t the exact tool I needed. I needed a drill bit for the phillips head drill. I headed back to the garage. I fetched a drill bit, made my way back to the house right-next-door, and found the drill didn’t actually take bits. Damn. I walked back to  Chuck’s and had a look at the other drills. I found one that accapeted drill bits and hooked it up, only to find the battery  was dead. After about eight minutes of fussing on this problem I fnally settled on a pointy wooden chisel and a rubber mallet to complete the task. Old school, and perfectly acceptable for a job like this. The brackets got put up. I asked Fei to hand me the blinds and I hung them. We found in doing this that more work had to be done inorder for the blinds to unfurl. The directions weren’t terribly in depth, nor easy to read (I was looking mainly at the pictures after a certain point),  but I had seen people do this, it wasn’t hard. After getting them unfurled we found that we had to remove the extra slats. Easy enough, everything looked good, it was a hanging set of blinds. Then Fei informed me we couldn’t actully raise the blinds. What? There was another chord that needed to be inserted and threaded. This meant taking down the blinds, inserting the chord through the top  and the  down through all the slats. Four extra strings we had to thread, the Home Depot blinds didn’t come with that already done.

After one full hour I was out of that kitchen. The blinds were fixed. The ten minute job painfully increased to an unimaginable sixty minutes, and I felt more frustrated than when I had entered the home right-next-door. Fei was sweet. She offered to feed me dinner for my efforts. When I said no thank you she asked me if I wanted payment. I turned that down as well and she payed me off with extreme gratitude, and as I exited I turned to see a smile from Ryan, the adorable stoic Buddha baby. Payment enough.

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This trash can was seen on my tour of downtown Oakland. I am not sure who lacked enough of a conscious to litter as the Lorax looked on, but I did pick up the majority of it and toss it in the garbage myself. Good ironic photo though. In the bay area they even paint their trash cans.

You might be wondering what the complication was with Little Wing. Well I have to rewind. After the art filled day spent with fellow artist and friend, David, I didn’t feel like wrenching. That was Thursday, and we got back to Chuck and Marilyn’s about five. It was late, I was tired from an over stimulated, art filled brain, so I decided to leave Little Wing for Friday. I had two voicemails on my phone. One telling me that my tire was done and my brake pads were in. The other telling me I had seals, an air filter, and an oil filter waiting at the Suzuki dealer. I decided to deal with it the next day. Friday morning was met with a great breakfast  fixed by Marilyn, and supportive words from my two wonderful hosts. I pulled on my grub jeans meant for oil and grime, laced up my converse, and off I was to remove the valve cover. After some squeezing and jiggling I slipped it out through the small gap in between the head and the bike frame. I cleaned it up with carb cleaner and a scotchbrite sponge. I reported to Chuck, and we took off to pick up the parts. He let me drive the Mini, a zippy little car which I adore, and we made it to both shops and back in no time. We were met with another great meal from Marilyn when we got back to the house. That afternoon was spent cleaning up the head a bit more and then getting the valve cover back in place. The head plug cap seal had been replaced and I set to reassembling. The valve cover was much harder to get back on the head than it was to take off and I struggled for a while. Chuck came to lend a hand, but it didnt help all that much. Four hands in that small space is more difficult than two. After a lot of wiggling, and removing, and then wiggling some more, I found that the valve cover went on better from the other side. I got it on, started bolting it down, and realized I had forgotten to tighten the head bolts. Off came the valve cover again. I cleaned it up, again. By that time it was five, and I was done for the night.

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I was met by this chalk graffiti every morning as I went out to the garage. It really brightened my day. The dog that isn't pausing to pose in this photo is Gerogia, David's dog.

Saturday was met by another great breakfast. I laced up my converse and made my way out to the garage. The head bolts were tightened and torqued. The sealer was reapplied, it was time to finally finish putting the valve cover on. I wiggled the it back on. I put the bolts in place, and I started to tightening them.

Snap, pop.

Just like that I had over torqued and broken two valve cover bolts. A litany of cuss words exited my mouth. An out pouring of profanity could be heard bouncing about that garage. Chuck was out in the yard and heard me. He came in and asked me what had happened. I told him, and he said that he had thought he had heard a snap. It was that loud.. either that or he had heard the sound of my brain exploding and heartbreaking, because that had happened too. After a lot of wheedeling and complaining on my part Chuck told me he would call his friend Russ. His friend Russ was a machinist, and a manager of machinists for many years. He had worked on jet engines for a lot of his career, and Chuck said he might know what he was doing.

I wasn’t impressed.

Now don’t get me wrong, I believed this Russ guy new what he was doing, but in my intense frustration I sunk into deep pit of self pity and was making myself at home in that dark crevasse.

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This cute dude is the king of self pity. Found somewhere on the streets of Oakland.

Russ arrived an hour later. He arrived on his BMW GS 1200 while we were eating lunch. We shook hands, exchanged names, and he and my hosts found a comfortable conversation that spoke to their close friendship. When lunch was done we went out to the disassembled Little Wing and Russ had a look. Intial fears seemed to be realized as Russ made a first assement. He thought the valve cover bolt was a head bolt and scared the beejeesus out of me telling me that it couldn’t be fixed easily. After confusion was dessimated by further explanation Russ took it back.

Final assesment: one bolt was unnecessary. Enough locktite and sealer gasket and we could ignore it. The second bolt, a three inch bolt that was only threaded at the bottom half inch. A rusty old bolt that I should have questioned before attempting to put it back in my engine,  was necessary. Could we drill it out? No. Could we Epoxy it in? Maybe. Could we use duct tape and bailing wire, a little elbow grease and a lot of spit? Yes, if worse came to worse that would  be how I finished my trip around the country.

No, Russ had it handled. This was Saturday evening. After pausing the work on Little Wing, and allowing Russ to take the bolt to sleep on, Chuck asked me if I wanted to be a good samaritan. That lead to the crazy, hour long, blind saga. A day spent frustrated at mechanical things.

I thought about all the handymen who get paid to do these things for a living. David is a handyman, Russ was a machinist, or prime example, my Dad. He could do anything. He could build up a house right under our feet and make dinner at the same time. He could keep wheels on the road while making sure my sister and I didn’t maime eachother. He built furniture and created log cabins by reading a book, and still had time to show us what a good parent is like. And here I was. Staring at a broken bolt on a job that was supposed to take four hours. Here I was, holding crappy home depot blinds that were a ten minute job, watching five o’clock turned to six o’clock. It is hard not to think negative thoughts at a time like that.

Russ came back this morning. Sunday was met by yet another great breakfast by Marilyn, fruit scones and scrambled eggs. Nine o’clock saw Russ walk through the door, and I lead a procession out to the garage where Little Wing sat dismantled for the fourth morning in a row.  We examined the hole again and Russ showed us the solution he had decided upon; a heavy duty expander bolt meant for concrete shoved in the head with epoxy. We would keep the valve cover on with a nut on the bolt. However, his choice of bolt was too short, so by ten o’clock we were on the road in the little Mini, on our way to the hardware store. This idea turned out to be a bust. 

The problem was that the hole in the head was much larger than the hole in the valve cover. It tapered down to where the original bolt had broke off. This meant that a typical bolt and re-threading of the head wouldn’t work because we needed something wider at the bottom and skinnier at the top.

There was no bolt of the description we needed at the hardware store. After a good long talk with a store employee and a walk around the hardware department we settled on another idea. How about a threaded steel rod, drilled out, and inserted in the head? Then put a new bolt through the valve cover and bolt it in the hallowed steel rod? Ok.

This insertion of a steel rod was perfect for making the hole in the head smaller while  simultaneously giving us another surface to bolt into.

The drilling and tapping (making the wrinkles for the threads of a bolt to screw into) of the rod  had to be done at Russ’ place on his drill press. I went back to his garage with him, and watched the machinist set to work.  After the task was complete we took the small rod back to Chuck’s where Little Wing waited patiently. I then watched, with great trepidation, as Russ tapped the head of the bike. That is no little thing. The engine of my bike was being changed, in just the slightest way, but it was still being changed. I worried, and I feared, and I thought ‘what if’ and I thought ‘should of’. I thought all the usless thoughts and during that time Russ finished adding wrinkles to the inside of the head hole. Well, there was nothing to do after that but insert the steel rod. I had already  changed the head this much, why not add a foriegn object to the mix? I had to keep reminding myself that there was already a foriegn bolt end in the bottom of the hole which I broke off. I really had no place to complain about the machinist fixing the situation.

And just like that, it was done.

The hole was tapped, the steel rod inserted. There was no chance of getting that bugger out. The problem was fixed.

Russ told me he would sit back and watch now as I did my work. So, for the third time, I applied the sealant to the head. And for the umpteenth time I wiggled and jiggled that valve cover over the head and past the frame. And then Russ helped me out as we set to locktite-ing all the bolts and tightening them up without busting them. And then we were done. I had to put The tank, seat, and tire on, but Russ was ready to go home, and the rest I could manage with help from Chuck. We shook hands. I thanked him profusely. He told me that that’s what bikers do for one another. As he was leaving my hosts came out to tell him farewell and so we all stood in the garage. As he put on his riding jacket he told all of us that he was impressed at my ability to listen and learn,  and the fact that I ever took the challenge on in the first place. He told me he started out the same way I did. Riding broke and not able to afford a mechanic . He learned to fix the things he could and kept learning as he went. He said I could do it, and I was doing it. I stood there, listening to the jet engine machinist tell me I was capable, and my frustrations and doubts did a bit of melting.

After Russ left I filled Chucks garage with music. I sat under the florescent lights as the dark started to fill the night sky outside. I left the garage door open and it got chilly enough to see my breath. I looked down at my small hands. My dirty hands, that were reaching their scrawny fingers into tight spaces and contorting as they secured hoses and nuts, and I thought of Dad’s hands. His big strong hands, working under florescent lights, surrounded by loud and wonderful music. His big hands, unclean as they worked at whatever it was he was working on. I thought of how little I actually thought about how much he was doing. How little I considered the actual work behind the home we lived in. Dad’s  hands did so much. And how did it all start? A story similar to Russ’. He wanted a vehicle, and so bought one. It didn’t have a working engine and he wanted one. So he set about to learning how to make that happen. He was told by a wise old man, that was tired of answering his questions, to go read about it at the library. So Dad did. He read and fixed up that old engine, he learned how. But the most important thing he learned was how to learn. When he had to build a house around our ears the library was our friend. He read about construction, and raising kids, and when he finished that he checked out books on furniture and log cabins. He learned, and then he did.

I was filled with angst and frustration the last few days about my lack of ability. It seemed everything went wrong. It seemed my choice to do the work by myself was wrong. It seemed my choice to go hang with David and look at art was wrong. It seemed my good  samaritan deed, hanging blinds, was wrong. It seemed everything I did was wrong. Looking down at my hands though, I was reminded of Dad. They were the same, despite all the superficial differences,  they were still hands working. Hands doing, and in the process they were hands learning. That is what Dad taught me. He taught me a person learns by doing.

I took a day off to look at art. I learned so much. David was a wealth of intelligent thought, not to mention the art we looked at. I worked on blinds, and I learned how  to fix them, something I had never considered before. I worked on Little Wing, and through trial and error I learned many things that did not work, and many things that did. I wasn’t wrong, I was doing. I was learning.

Through the frustration of the last four days I have continued to do and learn with my hands. My dirty, greasy, unkept hands, are proof of that. So why do I get so down on myself? Good question. Maybe I have learned something about myself while learning about the bike. That ain’t too bad.

Well, time to get some rest.
Tomorrow we’ll see if Little Wing starts.

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8 thoughts on “Working With My Hands

  1. Diamond,

    Threaded rod is usually very soft weak steel, and valve cover bolts should be high strength steel. We might want to redo this… I can help you do a proper fix.

    Roger

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  2. You certainly are in “the school of hard knocks”!
    I’m not at all surprised that you are taking on all these challenges. I only hope that you’ll be a bit less hard on yourself! All of this is new to you and yet you dive right in, using tools you’re unfamiliar with, on a machine which you will one day be able to take apart and put back together with ease and..if I know you…working to the point of exhaustion! You’ve got grit!
    Love, Judy O’

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    • I just read ‘True Grit.’ I am very happy to have that adjective used on me =D Judy, I feel you think of me so highly and I appreciate it. Thank you. Much Love!

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  3. Hey Sweetie,

    Sorry for your troubles, but I see you are learning mechanic’ing the same way the best have – by making mistakes and breaking things. Remember, if you haven’t broken it, you haven’t learned anything! Much education comes of bailing yourself out of whatever predicament you’ve gotten yourself into – be that mechanic’ing or anything else in life. Eventually you will become one with the bolt!

    I know you were using a torque wrench and breaking bolts shouldn’t have happened. It really pisses me off when I do everything I’m supposed to and I still screws up! In this case, you have no way of knowing whether these bolts might have been stretched in the past by over-torquing or weakened by invisible corrosion or metal fatigue.

    Perhaps the take away is that you should replace critical bolts when doing repairs so that you have a known quantity when tightening things up.

    Good luck to you and LW!

    Gray

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    • That is a good take away. Every situation should have some positive learning come out of it, and you are right, that is a bright thought. I shall add it to the list. Thank you Gray!

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