January 13, 2012
If you have read many of these posts you will be aware of my deep antipathy toward Friday 13th. It’s not that I am normally superstitious, but too many bizarre and horrible things have happened to me on the date. So I go into each of these days with considerable apprehension and a marked reluctance to take chances, not that it does any good.
It all started on Friday, April 13, 1971 when I wrote two final examinations at Queen’s. My Shakespeare prof had warned us: “Be sure that you have read all of the plays.” She wasn’t kidding; she had set a compulsory 45 mark question on three plays I hadn’t read.
The craziest episode had to be the time a neighbour’s 1986 Ford Bronco slipped out of park, rolled down Church Street in Smiths Falls, through the George Street intersection, and sideswiped my unsuspecting 4Runner before wrapping itself around a pole. This all happened during my morning shower on another Friday 13th. What’s even stranger, the insurance underwriter classified the accident as an animal collision as there was a Bronco involved.
So today when it dropped six inches of slush on top of an inch of new ice, I figured it was just business as usual for a Friday 13th. My tractor normally does a good job on snow with its loader. I set the bucket to automatic leveler and run down the lane at a good pace, cross the road and stop over the opposing ditch, where I dump the snow and back down the hill to turn around and return for another run.
But the paved road on Young’s Hill was far too slippery for such antics today. I ran out of momentum or stopped early out of caution most runs, leaving mountains of slush blocking the lane. The one time I went over to the opposing ditch I had no traction to back out, so was forced to lever the tractor backwards with the loader while three trucks waited impatiently for me to get out of the way. This was obviously not the way to clean the driveway on a Friday the 13th, so I spent the afternoon developing new tactics to do a ten-minute job. My timid efforts with the tractor eventually relocated the slush mountains without catastrophe. Fine.
Then came the little snow blower for detail work around the garages and sidewalks. It wouldn’t start. I dumped the gas and poured in new, but it still wouldn’t go. But that was a result of forgotten fuel stabilizer, not the act of a perverse fate.
So I backed my truck out through a snowbank and drove down to Forfar to get the mail. The faint rattle in the front suspension had suddenly become a lot more noticeable. Perhaps I should have a look. I dropped a piece of plywood on the ground and crawled under. I started at the gas tank and worked forward. Everything seemed solid. The shocks and ball joints were fine. Then something moved when I reached past the shocks and wiggled.
The brake caliper I replaced three weeks ago had come loose and was hanging by one bolt! Yikes! Perhaps those bolts don’t need to be protected with anti-seize compound like wheel nuts and spark plugs. Maybe it’s Lock-Tite that goes on them. Maybe I didn’t tighten them enough. Anyway, this bizarre and dangerous fail met all of the criteria of a Friday 13th disaster, so I was able to relax for the rest of the day. My truck certainly wasn’t going anywhere without a new bolt.
Out of Friday’s confusion I have learned three lessons:
1. Modern gasoline with its high methanol content deteriorates quickly if left sitting in an engine. When I took the snowblower’s carburetor apart, internal parts were crusted with a green, crystalline material unlike anything I had seen before. It’s not like the ring of varnish which used to form around abandoned gas cans. Without stabilizer I can’t see a small gas engine surviving long in storage if there’s any fuel left in it.
2. It takes more than a hoist and set of air wrenches to make a mechanic. Those caliper bolts needed to be torqued to 90 foot-pounds. We have to get Internet service in the garage.
3. My tractor’s two previous owners traded it in at the same dealership on the same 4WD model. After last Friday that doesn’t seem like a bad idea.