July 15, 2020

The Total Cost

• By John F. Chisholm •

I’m slowly working the bugs out of my 1959 Land Rover. The steering is too loose, the back door occasionally opens while underway and the emergency brake slips. Fortunately, all these issues have adjustable elements that allow correction without major surgery. (I hope!) It’s almost time for another test run to see if I’ve corrected these problems. Not that repairing them is the only point.

No. Far from it.

Of course I’ve had valuable moments tinkering with the truck’s various mechanical, electrical and hydraulic systems. Creative solutions are fascinating. The interfaces between these systems are object lessons in creativity. Truly. Beyond all that, it’s cool and comfortable in the garage. Outside it’s hot and steamy. Puttering away on an old Land Rover seems the ideal use for my time.

The work has gotten me thinking, too: What am I going to do when the last issue on this truck is corrected? Okay, the Land Rover is British so that certainly seems unlikely. Still, I give the possibility ― however remote ― some thought.

I suppose that I can always purchase another car. I like some of the older Jaguars. An E-Type would be nice. Then again, I already own a 1917 Case tractor that I’ve got to start work on sometime. Probably I should dig into that this winter. In truth, there’s more than enough to keep me busy.

Is that the point? Is all this equipment repair, the salvage of antique machinery just busy work? Something to fill my time?

No. Not at all. It’s more than that, I promise.

Of course, I try desperately to educate myself with all these processes, all these repairs. In part, this is the point. Certainly I have a tremendous amount to learn. I’ll never deny that. Still, there’s a bigger picture than this to examine.

What exactly is it that keeps me slaving away on outdated machinery?

I stop work for a moment and look around my garage. My. There’s a lot of metal in this building: Aluminum, brass, chromium, copper, iron, lead and steel. There are even bits of silver (for silver soldering) and some zinc, too. Very likely I’ve missed more than a few others. Of course some of the metals named are alloys. If I break the contents of this facility down to the constituent elements, the list will be significantly longer. Remember, too, I’ve only listed metals.

All these materials were mined. These machines of which I’m so fond were wrested from the earth at a tremendous cost in resources and time, energy and human endeavor. They were shipped worldwide at significant and additional cost in organization, effort and fuel. Very likely the least relevant expense from either of these lists is money.

When I look at old machinery; bicycles, cars, trucks, tractors, steam engines and everything else, it appears sacrilege to all those who have come before me, to the Earth itself, to abandon that real, total cost for something as transient as novelty. We owe history too much reverence to abandon our predecessors. We forget their principles, discoveries and energy at our own peril.

I shake my head and pat my Land Rover’s fender. “1959 was a very good year.”

That is the point. Because, along with every year before and after it, it provides invaluable lessons in all that matters right here in the present.