Most have heard the old axiom that goes, “Don’t whittle towards yourself or spit into the wind,” and few would argue its wisdom. But if I could amend, it would include “and do not break the drive shaft on old brush mowers.” If you don’t have an old brush mower like mine, life, in theory, will go that much easier for you. Nice. But if you do, be warned that fixing the driveshaft, on the unit I happen to own anyway, is a journey akin to finding parts for the Apollo 13 space capsule. Fortunately for me, there are skilled craftsmen in this world.
It was just over a month ago when the driveshaft assembly on my brush mower broke. Driveshafts are a very common part used to connect a source of power to an act of work on all kinds of things, or in this case, my tractor engine to a brush mower. And while they are common, driveshafts have little in common. They can be square, rectangular, cylindrical, squiggly (sorry, no other way to explain it) solid, tubular, steel or aluminum. The universal joint, comprised of a yoke and bearing mounted on each end of the shaft, has another sizable number of combinations. So, after talking with local suppliers, it was clear I had an oddball on my hands which was confirmed by suppliers in Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania who reacted to my questions as if I were speaking Greek. “Are you absolutely sure of those dimensions?” they would ask.
So, I’m telling my story of frustration to Gary Baumgartner, proprietor of The Tire Shop in Cook, (he understands some Greek) and he asks if I’ve checked with a related business just out of Duluth and I hadn’t, so I gave them a call and the fellow on the other end said, “You need to talk to Tory.” Guess what? Tory spoke fluent Greek in driveshaft dialect. He told me things about my driveshaft as if he were holding it in his hands. He could teach Advanced Driveshafts 101 to rocket scientists who have no real reason to understand driveshafts, but you get the picture. Not only that, he said he had the parts in inventory and he’d fix it if I could bring it in. So, I did and while I watched on, he moved deftly from one station to another as he measured, cut, aligned, hammered, filed, fit, then finished with a professional weld that made the driveshaft look like new. It was something to watch such competence and it feels now as if he should be on my Christmas list for the relief, he brought to my fears of having to buy a new brush mower if the present one couldn’t be fixed.
Tory reminded me of another craftsman and my high school classmate, Mike Wilson, former owner of Wilson Marine (now Timbuktu Marine) who, on the morning of the 4th of July many moons ago, told me that if I could get my problematic boat and motor over to him before noon, he’d take a look. I limped the boat over and just as promised, Mike jumped on board and began taking the cover off the motor while I looked on suggesting to him the problem had to be electrical. Politely sidestepping my insight, he took the carburetors off, then in a matter of minutes, found there the tiniest piece of dirt.
“Here is your problem,” he said confidently as he held up the microscopic suspect. I wasn’t ready to believe that after two other shops and my tinkering had failed to find anything. But after a short test drive it was clear the speck of dirt was indeed the problem and now the motor ran like new. It’s still in use today by Gary Baumgartner’s brother-in-law, which brings us full circle to include Gary in the mix of craftsmen who can overcome my Greek in diagnosing problems my vehicles exhibit from time to time.
Skilled craftspeople, those who thoroughly understand the many nuances of their field, are worth their weight, if not in gold, in something else quite precious. It matters little whether the medium is metals, cement, wire, fabric, pipe, lumber or any combination of these basic materials or parts made from these materials. While architects, engineers and designers understandably win awards for style and ingenuity, craftspeople do the dayto day miracle of building and keeping these creations performing like new. And to do that they often have to understand Greek, of all things. That’s something we can all appreciate.
Leo Wilenius lives in rural Cook, MN, with his wife Lindy. He is retired from Lake Country Power in Mt. Iron.