The Right Fool for the Job

Reader Contribution by Staff
article image

My friends who are handy and competent in mechanical matters love to extol the virtues of “the right tool for the job.” I appreciate this perspective in the same sense that I appreciate the perspective of those who love ballet. I get it, but I don’t GET it.

I use whatever’s handy. And because my tools are scattered randomly throughout my barn, garage, utility room, bedroom, nightstand and master bathroom (rather than rigorously organized on the pegboard above the workbench, the way my dad keeps them), I’m apt to use most anything.

Just this week, for instance, I used a pipe wrench (the least appropriate wrench possible) and a piece of galvanized pipe to attach a mower to the tractor. I used a screwdriver, rather than fencing pliers, to repair the clips a chain-link handling pen. A few hours later, I used the fencing pliers to remove a screw.

Anyone can use the appropriate tool. It takes an artist to work the way I do.

And like many artists, sometimes I must destroy to create.

I recently wrapped a bunch of baling twine around the rear axle of my lawn tractor. I was mowing, and therefore oblivious to the problem, but I managed to get it wrapped around there so tightly that it ruined a seal on the rear axle. I discovered the problem when I noticed all my transmission fluid was on the floor of the barn. Sigh.

Here were the available options, as I saw them:

1. Get out the repair manual, order the parts and fix the machine myself. This would likely take 50 or 60 hours, due to my incompetence, and could result in the complete destruction of the tractor’s axle and maybe the transmission as well.

2. Call the guys who know what they’re doing and have them come out and fix the lawn tractor. This would be expensive, but less expensive than ruining the tractor’s drive train.

3. Take the tractor the repair shop. I thought this made the most sense.

The right way to transport a lawn tractor is on a flatbed trailer. That’s how everyone does it. I, on the other hand, bought a ramp so I could drive the tractor into the bed of the pickup.

Now I’ve done this before, and it works pretty well. It’s a little scary driving the lawn tractor up the steep ramp into the pickup bed, but I usually park the truck against  a slope so my approach is relatively flat.

On the day I decided to hustle the lawn tractor into the mechanics’, however, it was rainy and muddy. I didn’t want to tear up the lawn or get the pickup stuck, so I parked it on the flat gravel drive and set the ramp on the tailgate. I brought the lawn tractor around and tried to put it in its low gear range. It wouldn’t go into low range, but that’s OK. First Gear is pretty slow anyhow.

Everything was going great until I reached the top of the ramp. As the front wheels reached the end of the ramp the mower deck high-centered and the spinning rear wheel caused the whole mower to lurch sideways, perpendicular to the ramp. I was thrown sideways and for a few difficult seconds I couldn’t reach the clutch pedal to stop the wheels.  I finally managed to disengage the wheels, set the emergency break and shut off the machine. Then I carefully crawled off the mower.

Now I had a lawn tractor teetering at the top of the ramp, with most of three wheels hanging out in space. Instead of a simple replacement of an axle seal, I was in a good position to drop the mower three feet on its side. The artist at work.

I needed a bigger machine. I went and got the tractor.

With my tractor and a log chain, I’m pretty well equipped to move almost anything that needs to be moved. I parked the tractor parallel to the truck as close as I could get it (almost scraping a hole in its side with the mower attached to the back of the tractor). I looped the chain around the tractor’s front-end and hooked it to my front-end loader. The tractor’s hydraulics lifted and turned the small lawn tractor easily.

Then I made two mistakes. First, I hadn’t left enough slack in the chain between the tractor’s bucket and the lawn tractor. Second, I hadn’t released the parking break on the lawn tractor, so when I lowered the bucket instead of backing down the ramp the lawn tractor stayed put and before I realized what was going on I mashed its hood with the bucket.

Note to self: Any tool that can do heavy work can also make a hell of an expensive mess with very little effort.

Eventually I got the mower back on the ground with only a minor dent in the hood. I put it back in the barn. I went inside to find a job I could do with competence. I ordered a trailer.