June 4, 2020

Even Sisyphus Had an Excuse

Illustration by George Danby

Illustration by George Danby

• By John F. Chisholm •

I’m in the throes of repairing a 1957 Land Rover.  It’s a great old truck.  Unfortunately, the mechanic isn’t up to the same standard as the designers.

Yesterday I removed, disassembled and replaced all the seals in the clutch master cylinder.  Then I reinstalled it.  I was so proud of myself.

That lasted until today.  Today I removed the clutch master cylinder.  Again.  It turns out that it’s impossible to remove the brake master cylinder with the clutch cylinder in the way.  Wouldn’t you imagine that I’d have figured that out before reinstalling the clutch?

You’d think so, but it never seems to happen that way.  Looking back, this is far from the only example.  Particularly on the Land Rover.  Wrestling with the clutch that extra time, hands filthy with knuckles cracked and bleeding, I tried to figure out why.

First, it would make too much sense.  Around here, that’s always in short supply.

Second, it flies in the face of methodology.  I have limited time available for this project.  As a result, I select manageable bites and forge onward focusing on just that one task.  Unfortunately, that doubles, even quadruples, the work by requiring repetitive disassembly and reassembly.  But the truth is that I never know when I’ll get the time to come back.

Why is that important?  If I leave this vehicle disassembled over long periods, I lose track of exactly how it went together.  On top of that, pieces disappear.  The nuts, bolts, washers and parts carefully arranged during removal simply evaporate over weeks of disassembly.  That’s the only explanation.  Because when I finally do return, inevitably some are missing.  Vanished.  Gone to The Land of Odd Socks.  Worse, once there, it’s forever.  As in permanent.  That’s incredibly aggravating.  Trust me.

Complicating these issues, I can document two previous owners of this truck.  There may well have been others.  The level of work, the materials used in repair and even the quality of the welds point to at least one not very particular owner.  Okay.  Perhaps that’s not fair.  Perhaps the questionable repairs represent an incompetent commercial garage instead.  I hope not.  I don’t know of many garages using garden hose for radiator lines or corrugated cardboard for gaskets.  I don’t want to, either.  But that sort of repair means I have to go all through the vehicle making certain that I find and correct the shakier jobs.

At least that’s what I tell myself.

Because perhaps if I do all the removal and reassembly several times over, that makes more certain that all repairs are ― in the final analysis ― done correctly.


This is important because tomorrow ― if I have time ― I’m taking out the forward drive shaft.  Yes.  I’ve previously removed, repaired and reinstalled it.  (The universal joints were bad.)  But the slave cylinder for the clutch is behind it.  That has to be rebuilt, too.  So that drive shaft is coming out.  Again.

The fact is that I’m learning this vehicle by rote.  Surely that’s an effective memory device.  But wouldn’t you imagine that I’d have advanced a bit beyond the ABCs of mechanics by now?

I’m left shaking my head because I truly don’t have an excuse.  Not really.  I’m repairing this vehicle inefficiently and I don’t know why.  It drives me crazy.  (A very short trip.)  My sole consolation is that while this vehicle is assembled, I haven’t lost any of the attached parts.  That’s true even while I wear the threads off the fasteners taking them off and on so many times.

The whole process reminds me of painfully inching a boulder uphill only to go and fetch it when it rolls back down again.  But comparing myself to Sisyphus isn’t fair either.  At least he could blame his condition on compulsion.