November 13, 2019

The Complicated Nature of Simplicity

By John F. Chisholm •

Simple, it’s complicated.

Which is which?

I’m afraid I know.

The Daimler hasn’t been running well.  Nothing new there.  But whenever that happens I obsess about it.  What’s going on?  Why isn’t it running properly?  How should I handle it?  I chase the issues through my mind, up and down, over and over.

Right now the carburetors are misbehaving.  I can’t regulate the idle.  If I change the carburetors to a spare set, the second pair delivers an idle but no top end.  That means the timing might not be advancing properly.  That, in turn, opens an entire volume of possible causes.  Are the distributor weights malfunctioning?  Has a retention spring broken?  Perhaps the vacuum plate isn’t working.  The possibilities go on from there.

As if the carburetion problems weren’t complicated enough without throwing the distributor into the mix.

That’s true before considering yet another issue.  What does all this say about the guy who spends each minute that he’s not working on the car, thinking about it?  Even as the problems and complications drive me nuts, my mind races through every potential ramification.  Let’s see.  The distributor is driven by the camshaft.  The camshaft is timed to the crankshaft.  The crankshaft is connected to the connecting rods.  And so on.  Around and around.  Gee.  The engine was just rebuilt.  None of that should be ailing.  Not yet.  But that doesn’t stop me from analyzing it.

The upshot?

I’m absent, even when physically present, worrying these issues.

My wife complains.  “You haven’t said a word throughout this entire dinner.  What are you thinking?”

As if she has to ask.  Because before I utter a single car-related word she holds up both hands.  “Stop!  We’ve heard it all before.”

I protest.  “You asked!”

My daughter chimes in.  “Come on, dad.  That car can’t be all you think about.”

I look inside.  “Wanna bet?”

She presses her case.  “Aren’t you going to replace the clapboards on the front of the house?  We could talk about that.”

“That would be a good thing to do,” I agree, nodding my head slowly.  “It’ll leave me free to think about the vacuum advance.”

Kim continues, “What about the electric fence?  Aren’t you going to repair that?”

I squint, brain struggling with the issues.  “I don’t think this problem is electrical.”  I pause.  “Of course the distributor is the major electrical / mechanical interface in the car.”

“So that car is really all you’ve been thinking about?” Wendy demands.

“It’s complicated-” I begin.

Wendy interrupts.  “Not this again.”

“Come on,” I plead with her.  “Be a little more understanding.  The Daimler is all mechanical.  It doesn’t have electronic ignition.  There’s no computer.  It can’t think for itself.”  I look around the dinner table for support.  Finding none, I rush the next two sentences.  “So when this car misbehaves it truly is all I can think about.  There are all these mechanical pathways to follow.”  I swallow, shake my head and stare at the floor.

Finally I look up and give my family a wan smile.  “But something else just occurred to me.”

Wendy groans.  “Go on,” she prompts.

I thumb my chest.  “I’m the problem.  I’m just a middle-aged man with an exceptionally cool ― if extremely complicated ― antique car.”  I pause.  “You know what that means.”

“What?”  My wife and daughter chorus the question together.

“I really am very simple.”