August 17, 2017

Is There an Echo in Here?

Illustration by George Danby

Illustration by George Danby

• By John F. Chisholm •

Brains.  Around me, they’re in short supply.  Alas!  The proof surrounds me.

For years I depended on others welding back together everything that I break.  That’s a lot.  Farming is hard on equipment.  Tractors, cultivators, plows, mowers, chains and you name it, I break it.  Regularity is the issue.  If I could have something fixed and be done with it, that would be one thing.

Unfortunately, if I have it fixed it here, it simply breaks there.  And vice versa.  It’s a serious, ongoing problem.  It gets expensive quickly and not just in dollars.  It all takes time, too.

Finally I took a deep breath and purchased welding equipment.  I told myself that it was the only sensible answer.  I tried to approach the issue intelligently.  Regrettably welders don’t come with brains as optional factory equipment.  I know.  I asked.

Forced into educating myself instead of the machine, I purchased a pair of textbooks, “Learn to Weld” and “Basic Arc Welding.”  I read the owner’s manual, too.  Whoa.  That’s commitment.  Unfortunately, like everything from snowshoeing to marriage, the only way I learn is by doing.   Going that route, circumstances inevitably conspire and knowledge comes too late, too often.  It’s no use telling myself that by reading I’ll avoid mistakes.  Trust me, mistakes are inevitable.  Controlling their magnitude is nice.  But it’s idle daydreaming imagining that warning me beforehand will avert all problems.

Still, a short circuit powerful enough to melt steel is nothing to take lightly.  I don’t.  I have the burns to prove it, too.  But that doesn’t mean I know what I’m doing.

For some time, my welds were of the break-here only to break-here-again variety.  I wasn’t using enough heat.  Finally I corrected that.  Presently my welds are over done.  I use too much material.  Yes, that is possible.
Unfortunately I have an example.

The snowplow on our Polaris Ranger broke.  The winter storms and me together were too much for it.  I backed it into the garage and removed the plow.  I measured, selected heavy gauge steel ― heavier than the original ― and made replacement parts.  Then I reinforced and thoroughly repaired that plow.  It took me some time to do it.

When finished, I tipped my welding helmet up, stood back and gazed at my work with glowing satisfaction.  My very first properly welded job.  I patted myself on the back, glancing down while I did it.  My shoes were smoking.  I must have stepped on some slag.  I tried not to let that ruin the moment.

Instead I danced outside to the nearest snow bank and put out the fire, soaking my feet in the process.  On return, I polished, primed and painted my repairs.
I took one last look before leaving for lunch.  “That sucker’s never coming apart,” I crowed.

Back at the house, I changed my socks, threw out my shoes, made a sandwich and let the paint dry.

Returning to the garage after all that, I hauled the snowplow over to the Ranger, intent on remounting it.

That much accomplished, I stopped and stared.

“What!”

You can’t find this in textbooks.

The owner’s manual didn’t cover it, either.

That brain I tried to order with my new welder?  I needed it all right.

Those ten-and-a-half inches that I so carefully measured when cutting my replacement part were taken from the other end.  The sad truth is that in my very first properly welded job, I installed the part backwards.  I sighed.  It was really in there, too.  “It looks like that sucker is coming apart again after all.” Then I shuddered thinking of all the cutting and grinding that would require.

“I bet I’ll have to make another new part, too.”

I looked heavenward and spread my arms.  Then I tapped my skull.  It didn’t sound empty.  Never mind.  There clearly weren’t any brains.  Not in there.

I realized the sad truth and admitted it glumly, “Kidneys.  Einstein should have had these kidneys.”  I snorted.  “He’d have been one hell of a welder.”

Around me, brains are in short supply.