Keep a Spare

Like many American families, we struggle with our possessions. When something is almost worn out and is replaced, what to do with the old one? So many times, we find a corner in a closet, stick it there, and think, “Someday I might need this.” The item then becomes the owner of its corner of the closet, and years can go by before it is come across, and one wonders, “Why am I keeping all this junk.”

The other day I was getting ready for our two week vacation by getting the dozer started and moving back the snowbanks in the driveways and the mailbox. I plow snow with my trusty International Scout and a Fisher 3-way plow. Since it just pushes, the snowbanks inevitably build up, the driveway narrows, and we find it increasingly difficult to get the cars in and out. Fortunately for us, the dozer is pretty good at moving snow.

dozerI am constantly amazed at the power in hydraulic systems. The hydraulic pump on the dozer is not big, but boy can it make the cylinders on that machine lift and move heavy things. And over the years, the hydraulic system on the dozer has required very little maintenance… until the other day.

I’d plugged the dozer in for several hours to pre-warm the engine, and it started right up. I try to take it easy on the machine, because often the tracks have frozen to the ground, and it is easy to wreck something by gunning it and throwing the clutch in. So I rocked it back and forth until I was pretty sure it was mostly free. Then I drove it over to the first snowbank. The bank was too high… the machine rested on its belly and the tracks just spun on the snow, so I backed up and started using the bucket to dig my way through the snowbank, one scoop at a time.

Things went well at first, but then a hose broke. And not just any hose. It was a hose just to the right of the operating compartment where I was sitting. There are many places along the length of the hose that it could break, as there are many places around the circumference of the hose where the rupture could occur. As luck would have it, the break happened such that I got a “shower” of hydraulic fluid down the front of my jacket and especially in my lap.

I remember staring at the pretty fountain shooting warm fluid onto me for several seconds, before I adjusted the flow of the valve to minimize the bath I was getting. Once that got settled, I probably sat there for a minute contemplating the famous two-word phrase that we unfortunates are sometimes confronted with, “now what?”

I do have to hand it to Alice. I removed my hydraulicy boots, walked into the house, and told her what had happened. In three steps I was across the living room and on my way downstairs to the laundry room, where I systematically stripped off my oil-soaked things, placed them in the laundry tub where they could soak for a bit, and then into the laundry for a cycle of “heavy wash.” Alice worked with me side-by-side, never saying, for example, “why didn’t you replace that old hose years ago?” She just helped with the next task until things were mostly under control. By the time that was taken care of, it was getting too late to fix the hose, so I concentrated on getting my outdoor gear back together.

And here is where it is good to have spares. Winter is no joke up here, and proper winter gear is vital for me to be able to function for any length of time outside. I did have another pair of sorels in reasonable condition, a work coat I’d found on eBay some years ago, an OK pair of mittens, and an acceptable hat. All of these things had served me well over the years, and were still good enough to get me through a couple of days until my normal gear was clean, dry, and ready for the next shower of hydraulic fluid.

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