A Tisket A Tasket
Every mechanic worth his salt loves a good challenge when it comes to something mechanical. Tearing engines and transmissions apart and putting them back together is kind of like “automotive therapy” for most professional wrenchers. These “therapy” jobs come in all sizes, big and small, and even in green and yellow baskets. They all start out as recognizable pieces of machinery but are now a disemboweled mechanical nightmare, haphazardly strewn into a motionless collection of parts at the bottom of a cardboard box. Yes, I’m talking about the proverbial basket case.
They really do come in baskets, but cardboard boxes, shopping bags, burlap sacks, pillow cases, milk crates and the occasional pickup bed loaded down with what can only be described as pure chaos will suffice for a good old fashion basket case. True to form, the owner of these discombobulated ancient relics will always tell the mechanic the same thing, “Everything is there.” Yep, everything is there alright. Everything you took apart is probably there, but what about all the parts that were missing before you started? You know, those parts that probably set this whole thing in motion, and why it ended up in these assorted parts boxes. And, I believe you when you tell me, you haven’t lost a bolt, a nut, or that specially shaped washer that is rarer than hen’s teeth to find. (Not!)
What makes matters worse is not so much what they took apart, but how they took it apart. There are numerous components that seasoned mechanic knows better than to try and separate, even though there might be some obvious screws or fasteners or a sealed cap. However, to the weekend nut spinner it looks no different than any other part. Somehow, someway, they manage to take that sealed cap off of a spring loaded diaphragm, and the next thing you know … zip, zoom, zing, sproing… the internal pieces fling into the next county. I can only imagine how much time and effort went into removing that sealed cap!
From window tracks to engine components, nothing is sacred when it comes to how or what someone will tear apart and then give up on. Sooner or later the quest and the ambition to put it back together dwindles down to another feeble attempt they can mark off of their bucket list. They’ve lost hope of ever putting it back together again. Then, it’s time to toss all the pieces in the nearest basket or container. Someday, they’ll finish it, sell it, or maybe take it to a real mechanic.
For the mechanic, the real challenge is trying to figure out what in the world is in the basket, what can be reused, and what has to be replaced. Sometimes the person who brought this basket case to the mechanic just purchased it at some ridiculously cheap price, thinking it can’t be that bad to put back together. Other times, even before they’ve bought these jumbled together crates of parts, they’re already working on how to spring this on their favorite mechanic. Once the mechanic gets his eyes on their latest flea market find the first thing he’s usually is wondering about is why in the world it was torn down this far apart in the first place. Sometimes it’s obvious, other times it only becomes apparent when you start pulling things out of the boxes and assembling what’s there.
A perfect example of this was the time an old rare motorcycle came to the shop in bushel baskets. Since it was an old regular customer, and I’m always up for a good challenge, I thought, heck, why not, I’ll give it a go. Turned out the baskets contained enough for about one and a half engines, and as usual several parts were missing. Once I sourced all the missing pieces I could come up with, I managed to get it back together. I was in for a big surprise when I fired it up though. On the very bottom of the engine block there was a slight crack that only could be detected after the engine was warmed up. I really think this was one of those basket cases that should have remained in the basket. And, wouldn’t ya know it, the only part that wasn’t in the baskets and impossible to find… the engine block.
It’s simply amazing the extent that some people will go to when tearing down a piece of machinery. I’ve done countless restoration projects where the entire car, bolts and all, end up in little plastic bags, as well as cardboard boxes. I usually mark each box or bag with a number, starting with the first part I take off in a bag labeled #1. Then, using a log sheet I work my way from the last number back to number #1 when reassembling. Seldom do I lose track of the components that way. But, to see these haphazard collections of wires, bolts, brackets, and grease covered components in the same box, all twisted together makes this anal retentive mechanic with a touch of OCD cringe every time.
I’ve got to admit the hours spent sorting through the boxes brings out that “kid in the candy store” reaction from me. It adds to the experience of trying to bring life back to an old forgotten piece of machinery, and there’s no telling how long some of these basket cases have been abandoned back in the corner of some old garage. Whether it’s a hundred year old oil pull motor or a rare foreign car with no source of replacement parts, the challenge and the stories you can tell afterwards are priceless.
None of these basket cases ever pay nearly what they should, but is it really about the money on these projects? For me, it’s more about the achievements and the chance to say, “I did it.” Yes, these basket cases can be a real challenge sometimes, but honestly, after you’ve put the last bolt on, turned the last screw, and got it to fire up, you can look back on the whole experience and tell everyone how you brought one more forgotten relic back to life, as well as emptying a few peach baskets. That’s when it’s time to flip that peach basket over and sit down and take in all that you’ve accomplished. Believe me, it’s great therapy, and you’ll be smiling from ear to ear when that hunk of iron is up and running again.