Coffee Talk

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A moment of anxiety swept over Chris as he returned from getting a cup of coffee. It was Friday night and he had the next two days to rebuild his engine. Problem was, he had never built an engine before. Being an avid watcher of tune up shows, reading automotive articles, and having some mechanical sense led him to believe he could dismantle and rebuild his dying engine. Actually getting in and busting knuckles is a world different than reading an article.

Perhaps it wouldn’t be as stressful, but so much depended on getting it right. This was his only ride to work, bills were coming due, and Michelle, his wife, had her appointments next week. He had to get it completed in two days. For now, it was late at night, and morning would come quick. So Chris opted for a cup of coffee to help calm his nerves.

Morning came quick, and he was in the garage before the sun was up. The engine was out, mounted to the stand, and stripped down to the block. As he cleaned and inspected the block he recollected on all of the small engines he had torn apart and rebuilt. It’s just like rebuilding and small engine, except it’s bigger, and a four-stroke engine, and more complicated. All I have to do is take my time and put each piece back as I took them off.

 Chris marveled at how smooth the cylinder walls were. This was indeed a good block to rebuild. Piece by piece he started to add the components from the rebuild kit. His dad’s voice echoed in his head. Make sure you use new hardware. The old ones are trashed. He could have saved money by reusing the old hardware, but as Chris mounted each piece he understood why it was important to have a fresh set.

By noon the bottom half of the engine was built. Michelle poked her head out only to let him know his lunch was ready. Everything was going as plan. He should have this engine in and running by night fall. As he washed the grease from his hands, he smiled. Michelle never once complained about him wanting to rebuild the engine. She trusted him. His heart sank a little. That’s another reason he cannot fail. She’s depending on him.

At the table Michelle asked how everything was going, and Chris gave her a full update on the progress and his expectations on completion.

“I’m sure you’ll have it done.” she said encouragingly. “You’re good with your hands.”

Two sandwiches and a glass of water later, Chris was back out building the top of the engine. Like an oversized puzzle each piece fell into place. Slow and steady, he made sure not to skip any steps in the assembly process. Looking at the completed engine Chris couldn’t believe he was done so soon. There was plenty of day light left.

After taking a small break to get some water, Chris had the engine on the hoist and slowly lowered it into the truck. After mating it to the transmission, he began to connect the wires, hoses, and lines. He couldn’t help but feel good. It was all coming together; literally. As the fluids were added he kept checking the oil plug. It was the one thing that he was worried about missing. He heard horror stories of people forgetting to install it only to have their garage floor covered in oil. An oil stain on a concrete floor is not a badge any grease monkey wants to wear.

The moment of truth had arrived. Did he do everything correctly? With the carburetor primed, Chris turned the ignition. Spitting and sputtering the engine began to fight. Then with a huge backfire, Chris watched as a huge flame shot out of the carb. What was that? Why isn’t it starting? With the hood still off, Chris climbed onto the engine and began to comb over everything. All lines were connected, wire harnesses were in their appropriate spots, and hoses were all clamped. The engine appeared as it did before he took it out, except cleaner. Aggravation began to set in. Daylight was starting to fade and he still had no clue as to why his engine refused to start. Attempt after attempt only led to more sputtering and fireballs.

“It’s getting late babe.” Michelle announced.

Defeated, Chris knew she was right. He had raised enough noise for one night. He was thankful his neighbors didn’t complain to the cops about the gunshot backfiring episodes. The garage door closed and the lights were turned off signaling the end of a day that had so much promise for victory but delivered defeat.

With a fresh head Chris sipped his coffee and stared at his engine. Michelle stood next to him mimicking his stance.

“It’s in the distributor. It’s has to be.” Chris stated out loud in an effort to solidify his thinking.

“What does it distribute?” Michelle innocently asked.

The question struck him as odd but Chris went with it. Perhaps having her ask simple questions he could find his mistake.

“It provides power to each spark plug.” He kept his answer simple as possible.

“Oh is it pointed in the right direction?” She asked not knowing what that meant. She remembered hearing something like that while watching one of his shows with him.

Chris chuckled. “Pointed in the right direction? What does that even mean? It’s round. There isn’t a point on it.”

Sticking to her statement she blankly volleyed back. “Oh, so I can just place the distributor in and it will work?”

“No, you have to set the timing.” He quickly retorted.

“How do you know where the front is. It’s round after all.” She smiled as she enjoyed the fact she sounded like the car guys on TV.

Chris stopped. His face had a serious look to it. “That’s it! Babe you’re a genius.” He stopped to recalculate his thoughts. “I think.”

Climbing onto the engine he pulled the distributor out and rotated it 180 degrees. Quickly he reconnected and tighten everything down. Jumping into the driver seat he turned the ignition. An air of relief fell over Chris as the engine roared to life. It needed some fine tuning but the dilemma was over, thanks to his wife.

Running over, he gave her a big hug. “How’d you know what was wrong?”

“I didn’t. I just said blah blah blah like those guys on TV did. You figured out what I was trying to say.”

Standing there with his wife was one of the most accomplished feelings Chris had ever felt. The truck was back on the road and bills were back to being paid. And it all happened over a simple chat with coffee.


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