Summer of '93

Summer, 1993

I had just started a new full time job, freshly out of high school and attending community college. I was hired on at Denny's Chevron on 192nd and Benson Highway in Renton, WA. At this time I'd call myself about "shade tree" as far as hands on mechanics go but an above average understanding in things mechanically related.

My boss was "Wes" and working for him, there was nothin' that couldn't be done. What he lacked in tact and reading ability he made up for in wizard-like mechanic ability. He rebuilt Rochester Quadrajets ™ or Carter Aluminum Four Barrels (AFBs) hell, any carburetor in 45 minutes. If you have never seen, heard of or worked on a carb, look one up: They're complex.

Under Wes' tutelage I became not quite a master mechanic, but became an accomplished mechanic who was instilled with fearlessness that only true gear heads develop, minus taking classes. I went on to be the "Van Man" as vans are a pain in the royal ass to do tune ups on, generally. Their engines require contortions that Wes just wasn't gonna put up with, the lanky 20 year old me grudgingly knew when a van pulled up - Wes' eyes sparkled and he'd smile at me with his missing tooth prominently... I was gonna bleed.

My eye got better at knowing how much to bite off one Sunday. The shop was closed Sundays - I was working so that meant my '62 Chevy 2-DR street racer and classic was in the garage but it didn't need nuthin' done, minus friends and fellow weekend road warriors stopping by to talk shop or ask for a hand.

My 1962 Chevrolet Biscayne 2-Dr and a pal I sold it to.. waaaaaaaah!

And out of the blue, and rare for a Sunday, a guy called in from outta state and was desperate. He needed a new water pump on his Chevy Truck or he was stuck in Washington! Well, he may think he didn't want to be stuck here but I sure as heck wanted to help him get his California butt back to California.

"Shops Closed," I told him. But he was desperate.

He told me it was a V-8 and I thought, "oh hell, I can do that."

So I told him to bring it in and give me three hours. At that time I could swap a V8 water pump in 30-45 minutes if pressed so that'd be no sweat.

He walked in, handed me the keys and off he went!

I was confident. All the tools, great air powered stuff, lifts, disposal, anything you could want!

I pulled the truck in and popped the hood and dove in. Radiator and fans, pullies, etc off. And I see the water pump. It's odd lookin. It's a diesel!!

I had never done more than an oil change on a diesel motor - and a water pump on a diesel Chevy 350 is much more time consuming and involved than a gasoline Chevy V8.

But I was proud and fearless. Yeah, I was sweating now now, between the summer heat and the dawning realization of the task that I just bit off was more than I could chew.. and definitely above my pay grade. Due to my childhood I knew it was on me and there was no internet, no phone line and nobody home to help me.

I was alone at the gas station half way through a job on a Sunday. Real quiet. Only success or humiliation could result.

I got in my car, locked the place up (it was open 24/7), and bombed down to the auto parts store. I think I turned a 13.1 ET as I banged home top gear and the roller rockers on the hood of my 283 with 327 cranked hotted up motor responded to my needs and at the same time soothed me with its silky smooth power.

Long story short is I got it all together, test drove it, and it all ran fine. I only charged the guy what I quoted (about 1/3 a diesel job) and off he went. I lived weeks in some pretty deep anxiety waiting for the long distance phone call that I screwed something up.

And some nights, like tonight, I wonder where the truck is that I most certainly over torqued the bolts and Permatex Blacked™ the water pump back on to and smile. I'd bet $100 he never had another water pump problem. That's the Smith Quality Guarantee™!

This story popped back into my head as roughly two weeks ago I was woke from dead sleep to hear a V8 being broken in about 3AM. It was revved loud and long and there's only one man on the hill I can think of that'd have ability, balls and "I don't give a shit" attitude is Wes. I'd bet $100 it was him. There is a art to mechanics. Yes, it is technical but when you can hear every part moving, time your beast by laying your hands on the distributor - not unlike using the Force instead of the timing light - it is as close merging with a mechanical, non-biological entity that I've experienced. Including Cortana, Siri, or whatever half-assed assistants we're stuck with today.

I smile thinking that. But if it was just any dumb ass that woke me up with breaking a new camshaft in, miles and miles away with extended 5,000 rpm, uncorked exhaust revs, I wanna beat him.

Pulled off a Hail Mary Christmas mechanical miracle before? Tell me about it in the comment box!

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