This past Christmas, my wife and grandfather went in together to buy me an air compressor – ah, the joy of Yuletide tools. Can there be any greater joy than a stocking filled with casehardened steel? I think not.
For my wife, I’m sure the reason she got me the compressor was because I’ve been puling like a snotty-nosed 5-year-old that I need an air compressor, “Mommy, all my friends have 2-stage, 100-gallon air compressors…pleeease can I have one, pleeeeease…”
In my grandfather’s case, the reasoning was likely multi-faceted, but I’m sure part of it was to ensure that I don’t kill myself with any of his old tools.
As background, you need to understand that my grandfather (still spry as ever in his 80s) is one of those men who can fix anything. He spent his working life fixing and maintaining newspaper printing presses but is just as adept at rebuilding a transmission, installing a floor, or overhauling a pacemaker…he just has the gift. Fortunately for me, he fostered my interest in mechanical things at an early age and taught me how to work with my hands and with tools. And what a collection of tools he had. Sure, he had the normal cadre of sockets, wrenches and drills, but he also had this amazing collection of tools that you won’t find at your local Sears. Tap and die set for threading a 4˝ diameter pipe? He has it. Need an open-end wrench for taking the propeller off of the Queen Mary? He’s got that too. Some people have a suit for all occasions; he’s got a tool for all occasions.
As a result, when I first started working on cars, I was constantly rummaging through his garage for some obscure tool to tackle a difficult task. Unfortunately, my own burgeoning resourcefulness meant that these tools were not always used for their intended purposes. What did I do when I needed to press wheel studs into a hub? I used my grandfather’s enormous bench vise that he had used while working on the presses. It was perfect. I’d get everything jigged up in the vise, put a 3-foot long piece of pipe on the handle and start cranking away! That is until one night when I tried to press a wheel stud with a little too much of an interference fit. I kept applying more and more pressure until I was literally jumping up and down on the pipe and then KABOOOM! The vise snapped in half with such ferocity, I thought for sure that I must have been missing one or two key body parts. In reality, I was Ok, but my grandfather’s vise would never again endure pressing a bearing or wheel stud under my, or anyone else’s, cruel hands.
As the years went on, I destroyed fewer and fewer of my grandfather’s tools, although that is not to say that I necessarily used them any more wisely. I will always remember the time I had to pull a bearing off of a transmission shaft. While my grandfather had a bloody huge bearing-puller, there was no way that it was going to reach the 2-feet from one end of the shaft to the bearing. Not willing to admit defeat, I went into Rube Goldberg-mode and modified the puller with two lengths of ultra-heavy chain (also commandeered from Grandpa’s garage late at night. Heh! He should have known better than to give me a key!). Now the puller would reach, but whenever I began to wind on the pressure, it would twist off because of the chain. The solution? Well, isn’t it obvious? Place the whole assembly on the ground, straddle a foot on either end, and use a giant crescent wrench (also procured from you know who) to continually feed on more pressure. This seemed a great idea until after 10 minutes of adding more and more pressure; I looked between my legs and realized that if this baby blew like the bench vise the Annis family line was going to stop with me. At this pivotal juncture there was really only one option open to me…fire. Heh, in for a penny in for a pound. Fortunately, I was just able to reach my propane torch, added some heat to the bearing and POW! Hesitantly, I opened my eyes, looked down and much to my pleasure, the family jewels were still in place and the bearing was separated. Whew!
With all this history, is it any wonder that my grandfather started buying me my own tools at an alarming rate? Looking back on it now, I can only think that he didn’t want it weighing on his conscience if one of his tools did me in.