Sunday. In which Joel gets to play the hero.

In the endless fight against evil that is our neighborhood’s life here, I’m one of the good guys. I don’t think anybody here disputes that. When a crowd needs to get together, they know they can count me in. But I’m always the sidekick, never the action hero. I’m more likely to receive good deeds than to dish them out. Call me this guy:

So imagine my surprise when I actually got to be the hero this afternoon.

It’s a sunny, breezy Sunday afternoon. It’s been a busy couple of days, all is well done except I have to figure out why the tractor’s battery isn’t charging, and I’m just kicking back. A friend sent me a .pdf of a novel I’m supposed to review. I’ve – I admit it – consumed an adult beverage or two. I’m planning to spend the afternoon in Condition White.

The phone rings, and it’s my neighbor D. He’s having trouble with the engine on a ground compactor – it just died and won’t even try to restart. He sounds very concerned about this.

And my first thought is “a compactor? On Sunday afternoon? Pull the other one.” Except D&L maintain a 7-days-a-week schedule building their gigantic strawbale-and-earthbag house. They are very serious about this. Strong men have crumpled in exhaustion merely witnessing the work ethic of these two. It is beyond that of ordinary mortals.

Which is why – it gradually occurred to me – this business about a compactor engine not running is really very important. See, D&L are ordinary mortals, and their work regimen is having an effect. D in particular is suffering with numerous problems in his joints. But winter is coming and they have a serious schedule to finish the cob base for their elaborate cob/adobe/tile floor. And I just know these two own a manual compactor, and aren’t afraid to use it. There’s a lot of cob on the floor in this one room, and it must be compacted while wet. It gradually occurs to me that this gas-powered compacter must be made to work. Now.

Besides, D never asks me for anything. If he’s asking now, he’s hurting.

See, the one thing I sort of know how to do, that none of the other neighbors do, is fix small engines. I spent a year and a half working in a shop when I first got here, fixing chainsaws and lawn mowers and generators. I know how they work. I also hate working on them. A number of people have offered me money to fix their small engines, and I usually refuse as politely as possible. The money isn’t worth the aggravation.

But this was different. This was important.

So I put on my boots and I gathered up the boys and we Jeeped over to D&L’s place. And the engine is dead as a doornail. And there’s no spark. It was working and then it suddenly stopped.

Oh, think, Joel. Think. What could kill the ignition in a way that doesn’t involve you tearing all the covers off to get to the coil?

Is the on/off switch bad? I don’t have a good way to check that, but everything’s plugged in. What else?

“Oil! What’s the oil level?”


“Quick. Check the oil.”

Rather dubiously, D pulled out the dipstick. (This being D, an elaborate procedure was involved using two different rags. Hey, brand new cob.) Anyway, the oil level was fine.

Okay. There are two ways an oil pressure sensor can kill the ignition. It’s working fine and the oil level drops below minimum, or it stops working and takes the engine with it. And the diagnosis for that last thing is to unplug the sensor and see if that fixes the engine.

I trace some wires till I find the connector for the sensor and yank it out. I set the spark plug against the valve cover while D pulled the starter. Spark! Beautiful strong, blue spark. I was saved!

D looked at me the way I always look at him when he saves my ass by pulling some construction-related rabbit out of his hat. I not only helped him out, I also got to look really smart when I was really only trying to dodge a whole bunch of work.

Joel the Action Hero! I’m gonna spend the rest of the afternoon designing my costume.

About Joel

You shouldn't ask these questions of a paranoid recluse, you know.
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8 Responses to Sunday. In which Joel gets to play the hero.

  1. Woody says:

    I generally feel the same way about small engine repair. I also have a neighbor who is always doing nice things for me. So i generally try to keep his small equipment in reasonably good running order. Finally I had to ask him to please call me -before- he tries to fix it himself. It’s usually a lot less work that way. I keep telling him that if he finds himself with a screwdriver in one hand and a hammer in the other he is about to do something really really dumb. Some people should not be allowed access to tools.

  2. Aaron says:

    The important part is the cape. Not too long or you’ll catch it on the mesquite brush; too short and folks will mistake you for Robin.

  3. Joel says:

    Dude. Haven’t you seen the Incredibles? No capes!

  4. MamaLiberty says:

    Ah, the fine art of creative laziness. Hard work is good and often necessary, but it’s silly to work harder than you really need to. Especially if it’s work you’d rather not do anyway.

    But what’s wrong with your usual costume? Looks like superhero stuff to me already. 🙂 Oh, I know, you really could use a spiffy new holster!

  5. Jay says:

    Anti-ballistic groin protector…the last thing you need is a femoral artery getting severed while working w/those evil little engines. ;D

  6. LJH says:

    I’m still scrolling back & forth between the photos of Gabby and Our Founder …

    have they ever been seen together?

  7. Joel says:

    ML: Not enough Spandex.

    Jay: I have a new kitten and a large and very affectionate dog. Groin protection has always been important.

    LJH: No, they haven’t. That may be coincidence.

  8. Chocs says:

    Incredibles ROCK!
    And that feeling of being able to repay some kindness and generosity is such an awesome feeling man… I’m toastin’ ya with some JD right now… *clink clink*

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