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The Last Windrow: I can still change oil

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I still change my own oil once in awhile. Don't ask me why, because a person can have most any garage change the oil in your car or truck at not much more and maybe even less money.

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But I just like the feel of unscrewing that drain plug and listening to the dirty oil gurgle out of the crankcase. I like feeling the oil filter break loose from its housing and then the feel of warm oil dripping down my lower arm. Don't ask me why, I just like that exercise.

Some of my friends look at me as if I am crazy for choosing to still crawl around on the garage floor, swatting mosquitoes with one hand while trying to dislodge the crankcase plug with the other. They ask me if I ever heard of having a car service center take care of that lowly task.

Yes, I have, and when the winter winds howl, I do take advantage of those services.

Perhaps doing this chore myself comes from my time on the farm when we did virtually all our own maintenance on our machinery. We kept a critical eye on the dipsticks of our tractors and grease bearings of our discs, rakes, plows and other equipment that we did not want to replace prematurely.

The first thing one did before beginning any task that required a tractor was to check the oil. It was taught from the crib on.

That was a time when most all replaceable parts were replaceable by the owner. We could still change our own spark plugs. We could change our own air filters. We could set the timing of our distributors and set the points. We could manipulate the settings on our carburetors. We could replace water pumps and fuel pumps.

There really weren't many mechanical tasks that one could not do himself. Only the worst of breakages forced us to load the tractor and haul it to the nearest mechanic.

There were no computer chips to be found on those machines. You didn't need a three-year course in mechanical engineering to fix most of our machines. Just a good bunch of wrenches, a good set of Vise-Grips, screwdrivers of every size, a set of sockets and a spark plug gap tool.

You could actually see what you were working on without disassembling the whole machine. It was right there in front of you.

Today, if the fuel pump on my pickup goes belly-up, the whole fuel tank must be dropped to access the pump. Or, the bed of the pickup can be separated so a person can get at the fuel pump.

This is a far cry from the time when the fuel pump hung on the outside of the front part of most engines. It was a rather simple operation to take out the two bolts holding the pump, find a way to keep the connecting rod from slipping down into the pump's cavity, unhook the fuel hose and replace the pump in reverse order.

I can't do that anymore with my pickup.

No doubt many innovations have been made since that time that have made maintenance less needed in some cases. Engines run longer, wear out slower and seem to function at a high rate of efficiency.

Some farmers have machine shops on their property where they still do their own work. They even have computer geek kids who stay on the farm and know how to program these new-fangled contraptions without even getting their hands dirty.

Personally, getting a little of that dirty oil and grease under my fingernails gives me a certain sense that I am still in charge of part of my destiny. But, it's getting harder to get at that back sparkplug in our car; in fact, it's almost impossible without the correct type of wrench.

But, I can still pull the oil plug and twist off the oil filter and pour five quarts of golden oil back into the engine. That still feels good to me. Somehow I think that is even going to disappear one of these fine days.

See you next time. Okay?

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