Sunday, June 29, 2008

On Newtonian Inspiration Towards A Universal Theory Of Gravity

It doesn't look that hard to do.

Shut up brain.

No, really. See the way it splits at the eight foot mark? You could cut it there with your polesaw.

It's more like ten feet. The polesaw is only just ten feet long.

The polesaw is a majestic twelve feet long. It will reach easily. Have it done in a flash.

Literally if it brings down the power line when it falls. Nope. Not doing it.

It won't come close to the power line. You cut it here. See? It will swing in a graceful arc like so and miss the power line by a good two feet.

And after the geometry ambush you pulled four years ago resulting in a mountain of topsoil I only just got rid of last Fall you expect me to trust you with life-threatening trigonometry? Not a chance!

"Geometry ambush?" I don't recall any...

You had me calculate a volume of topsoil in cubic yards which possessed only nine cubic feet instead of the more customary twenty seven! Don't play stupid with me!

Oh that!

Yes that.

An innocent mistake. I was tired and you know full well I don't work well when I'm not fully rested.

It was first thing on a Saturday morning!

Ancient history, irrelevant to the case at hand. You know Mrs Stevie wants the thing gone. She abhors it.

Although being ferried from that harridan's embrace by Charon has often seemed an attractive option, I am feeling happy with my situation at the moment and not at all in the mood to do myself in by dropping a tree on my head. The answer is no.

Look, it's true there isn't the usual safety space recommended in the chainsaw manuals...

Are you kidding? This tiny space directly under the tree is the only place I could stand owing to the fact the polesaw isn't long enough. Not only is the pole too short, I shall have to hold it by the very end of the pole, recipe for disaster straight out of the saw's manual. Everything about this job you are so eager to have me do is clearly depicted in the "never do" section of the manuals for my 20" Poulan chainsaw, my 14" Sears chainsaw and the polesaw. The Poulan manual has a particularly graphic illustration to drive home the point. I felt queasy for days after reading it.

Hyperbole and exaggeration included by the Poulan legal department in order to avoid frivolous lawsuits.

That's as may be. If the power line comes down she'll do her nut. It'll be way worse than a summer of "have you cut that tree down yet?" I'm picking my battle and I pick the one where I don't end up flattened under a tree and where Mrs Stevie has internet.

Oh don't be ridiculous. It's wood for Azathoth's sake. You're talking like it's made of pig iron.

Bloody tree wood is denser, more massive and therefore heavier than you would expect. I know this because you've tricked me into carrying it on more than one occasion and now have the spinal discs to prove it. I'm not so stupid I don't know that that damn tree limb will behave like unto a speeding anvil when it is severed from the trunk. I've dug enough pieces of that accursed maple from the now-cratered wreck that my once lush front lawn has become of late. All due to vertically-translating high-velocity tree parts.

I'll bet the limb will swing down gracefully to smash into these dendritic fern things here, and that you'll have plenty of time as a result to retire from ground zero. Why don't we just work out how long that would be...

Oh no! No. Nonononono! I'm not letting you loose with S=UT + ½at2 and 2π Cos θ! You must think I'm mad!

If I were you I'd be less concerned about what I think and more concerned with what the next-door neighbour thinks. You've been standing, staring at the tree for about ten minutes, all the time muttering to yourself.

Good point. I'll get the polesaw.


The tree is about fifty feet high, with a bifurcated trunk that splits into two equally sized limbs at about the seven foot mark. Mrs Stevie has hated it for years on account of it dropping fruit that resembles blackberries (but isn't) all over the yard. Sometimes the berries are red, almost like raspberries but not actually raspberries. This year it was specialising in horrid maggot-white ones, something out of a Lovecraft story. This had finally gotten me to wander into Mrs Stevie's court for a bit.

She wants the tree gone, but there are several obstacles. The one limb is balanced to drop into Crazy Joe's yard, something to be avoided at all costs and I had no hesitation in putting that job off to the end of the year. The other limb looked good to go, but was threatening a power line in such a way that simply cutting the limb at the seven foot point was not an option. I would have to start higher in order to shorten the radial swing of the severed tree limb enough to clear the wire. This would require the use of the polesaw, which is nothing more or less than a ten-inch electric chainsaw of exceptional sharpness mounted on an extending pole allowing an advertised reach of from six to twelve feet. The weight of the saw is enough to pose serious control difficulties when the pole is at full extension. Did I mention it is razor sharp? I naturally had to own one of these unfeasible tools if only to see if Mrs Stevie would ban my ever using it. I normally choose gas-powered tools over electric owing to the need for extension cords, but even I'm not stupid enough to attempt limbing a tree with a gas powered pole saw. Yes, they make such things.

The problem with using the polesaw to bring down the tree in question was that firstly, the extension cord was just long enough but no longer, and that the last foot of the pole couldn't be extended without it sliding back into the handle again. This meant that I was holding the saw by the end of a ten-foot pole at arms length while standing directly under the limb I was cutting. In order to maximise the excitement this arrangement was generating in your humble scribe, I eschewed the recommended tree-felling gear of hard hat, heavy clothing and steel-toed boots for a soft sun hat, tee shirt and swimming trunks and sneakers. With my heart in my throat I activated the polesaw and began to cut. At which point I stood on the extension cord and pulled it out of the polesaw's receptacle. Reconnecting the cord involved placing the polesaw on a picnic table located nearby and plugging it back in, a job requiring both hands due to the large quantities of chain oil that had coated everything making every surface almost friction free. I repositioned the saw and stood on the cord again, and had to reconnect it yet again. Then I did it all again. And Again.

A nagging voice was suggesting that this was in fact not the usual anti-handyman deamon activity that accompanies so many of my jobs, but an anti-incompetence angel trying to prevent a terrible tragedy. I naturally ignored it. I long ago learned not to do things The Voices told me to.

Eventually I managed to get things organised long enough for the polesaw to cut entirely through the branch at the highest point I could get to with a convenient crotch for guiding the saw. The branch severed. I struggled with the pole and managed to retain control, all the while watching the tree limb and trying to figure out which way to jump.

Which turned out to be backwards.

The branch swung in a graceful arc just long enough for the outermost branch to pluck lightly at the powerline like some Segovia-inspired Ent, then it came down like an express train to land right in front of me, in the spot where I had just been standing.

"Great Heavens!" I exclaimed1 and the tree fragment rolled over, cudgeling me cruelly about the head and shoulders before trapping me in a woody cage of inescapable captivity.

I used a few of my better Words of Power, stripped the polesaw and detached the chainsaw from the pole, then got busy making matchwood of the tree. I won free of my arboreal captivity after a titanic struggle in which I trod on the extension cord and yanked it out of the saw no less than seven, possibly eight times. It was all very tedious.

Having removed the greater part of the mass of the limb, I re-assembled the polesaw and went about cutting the other branch from the main limb, the one I had used to guide the saw the first time. Once again I positioned the saw. Once again I trod on the cord. Once again I did it all over again.

Finally I cut through the branch and it came clear of the limb. With a mighty squeak of sheer terror I leapt for the safety of anywhere but where I was standing, but came up against the edge of that picnic table I was using to reassemble the saw/power cord arrangement and inadvertently used up a number of class three swear words I was saving for an emergency. My right kidney felt like it had been thwacked by a picnic table, which was, coincidentally, exactly what had happened. I madly spun around looking for the fallen tree part, but it was nowhere to be seen.

Until I looked up, that is.

It had fallen into one of the dendritic fern things and the other limb of the tree it once belonged to and was firmly stuck. I studied the situation with a jaundiced eye, noting in passing that the power lines were still oscillating but hadn't as yet pulled out of either the house service entrance or the transformer tapping. One in the win column then.

I pulled hard on several outer branches but all that happened was that I got showered with nasty white berries. I ended up cutting the thing a second time with the polesaw in an attempt to get it to fall out of the tree but every time I got the branch almost cut through it would shift so I couldn't continue the cut. I eventually lost my temper, grabbed a handful of branches and pulled, at which point one of the cuts I'd made broke though and the main branch snapped in two.

I fell backwards as the piece I had in my hands came crashing down. The cluster of small springy branches that made up the main branch's underside bent under it as it came to rest in front of me, then released all their stored energy, catapulting the whole springy mess at me like some demented possessed tree spirit. For the second time that day I was thrashed about the head and pinioned by a woody fiend.

I fought my way free of imprisonment, staunching my new wounds with a filthy shred of paper towel I had used to mop the oil from the polesaw and stood glowering at the fallen branch.

Which was when the remaining piece chose to fall directly behind me, cartwheeling to the ground in order that my back might feel the maximum number of blows from subsidiary branches.

I dragged the fallen debris out of theater while chanting some restorative charms, then surveyed the remains of the trunk. There was now just a four foot long piece of wood about as thick as my thigh (and I have manly thighs of Herculean build I might add) that I would cut from the body of the tree, leaving only the limb leaning over the fence and balanced to fall on the neighbour's yard. That limb I would not cut under any circumstances, as I explained to the pouting Mrs Stevie who had come on the scene just in time to advise me how I had done it all wrong. She wasn't happy that I wouldn't free her of the intolerable berry menace, choosing only to reduce it by half. She wasn't impressed by my fervent explanations of the dangers posed nor by the freely bleeding wounds I had over 90% of my exposed skin. She would, however, live with the decision since she was not about to try using the polesaw herself.

Not after she saw what it's use had done to me at any rate.

I was happier about this last cut because by extending the polesaw to it's maximum I could stand off to one side and, for the first time in the whole business, adopt a safe place to work from. I made a detailed study of the limb and confirmed there were no surprises waiting in the form of branches I hadn't seen, then cut the log from the remains of the tree. It cut fairly easily and broke free from the trunk to fall vertically to the floor, about seven feet or so, enough to dig a decent sized hole when it landed. It crashed down, hesitated for a moment before falling towards me in a graceful arc. I wasn't worried. I was well out of the reach of its four foot (or so) length.

Unfortunately, I wasn't out of the reach of the long, thin, single branch growing from the back side of the trunk in such a way that it couldn't be seen before the cut was made. The green, springy wood lashed back and forth striking me several good blows on the shoulders and face rather in the manner of a bullwhip before I could take evasive action. Worse still, the neighbours were alerted to my plight by my manly howls of anguish and by the sardonic laughter of Mrs Stevie.

That was it! I marched back to the garage and dug out my 20 inch chainsaw, last used to reduce a maple tree to sawdust and firewood. In a matter of about 45 minutes it was all over for the abusive and incorrigible tree.

At least for the half I cut down, anyway.

  1. I believe those were the words I used though truth to tell I was a bit busy at the time and hadn't prepared anything in advance

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Dead Air

This blog has been silent for very long periods of late.


Because I took stock and decided there were a number of things I had to do that had to take precedence over struggling to render the tedium that has been my life of late into entertaining form so that you Dear Reader may indulge in shard 'n' froyder at my expense. Shard I can take any day, but relentless froyder has exhausted me and I find my priorities now set to more important matters that are taking up the time I normally use to write the blog.

Like watching seasons one through three of the excellent Boston Legal on DVD.

When I'm done, around the end of the week, I'll get back to you.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Barbecues and Swimming Pools: Ban Them Now!

The weekend was fun.

Oh, wait a minute. No it wasn't. Mr Brain must have blanked it all out in a rare bout of humanity. I remember now. It was wall-to-wall, shag-pile tedium with a side order of inconvenience.

First of all, it was hot. Spring was non-existent this year and we went from cool weather characterised mainly by the aquatic nature of the air to roasting hot with no air at all. The weather did vary a little during the first five months of the year; the rain sometimes came in horizontally and on at least one occasion upward. Mrs Stevie took one good hard look at the sweating walls of Chateau Stevie and cancelled my plans of making myself scarce and getting some quality time in at one of the local bars (where they have air conditioning and ice-cold beverages for the tired man about town) for an alternate one in which I drove her around every Sears, Blowes and Home Despot in the Greater Metropolitan New York Area1 while The Stevieling moaned quietly at the injustice of it all. Thank Azathoth the Steviemobile has A/C. What a shame I had to sell a kidney in order to pay for the gasoline. I digress.

Sometime during the previous week Mrs Stevie had come into a) a small amount of cash and 2) the frame of mind in which nothing would suffice but to spend the spondulix on a new barbecue grill. I couldn't see the point since we didn't barbecue at all last year2 and we have a perfectly good two-burner barbecue already. Of course, the little swing grill that you use to warm stuff and cook hot dogs on has gone completely rusty and I haven't been able to replace it since the barbecue is about 12 years old and the hardware chain that sold it to us was driven out of business by Home Despot, the lavarock has seen better days4 and the piezo-electric igniter no longer works reliably at all5. I expressed my "we already have a barbecue, dear" viewpoint, but Mrs Stevie countered with her irrefutable and fiendishly reasoned "shuttup, idiot!" argument, so we set out on a four hour voyage of barbecue discovery.

Gas barbecues used to be fairly straightforward affairs. A metal box housing the burner assembly (a sort of "H" shaped thing of folded metal with holes drilled into it to let the flames out), a grate to hold the lavarock briquettes which the flames heat to provide a more diffuse area suitable for cooking and which catch the fat drips to provide flare (now deemed carcinogenic and a threat to democracy by the Barbecue Police but still highly prized in La Cuisine De Stevie), and a box-shaped lid with a lot of headroom for cooking a whole pig or a significant portion of a cow without propping the lid open and letting all the heat out. The whole thing was black so that the chef-de-barbercue could get an object lesson in black body radiation and an insight into what the pig/cow/whatever was going through.

Not now though. A paradigm shift has occured in Gas barbecue design aethetics.

Now, nothing will do but to have three or four burners. Mrs Stevie was agitating for four and it was her money and what did I know and would I please knock off the sulking before "someone" knocked it off for me, so four it was. All barbecues are now made of stainless steel, which looks nice until you touch it after which it needs polishing. Polishing materials are in aisle 5 next to the barbecue tongs. All barbecues now have low-profile, aerodynamically sloped lids, which is good if you wish to mount the thing on the front of your Lamborghini but gives you a bit less space for Mr Oink to sizzle into deliciousness. All barbecues now come with spiffy battery-powered electric spark igniters, removing the need to furiously crank the little knob or jab repeatedly the button that works the spring-loaded hammer affair that provokes the crystal into making a spark. In other words, they've ruined all the fun.

It was love at thirty-first sight for Mrs Stevie who was deaf to my bewildered cries of "but it doesn't have a window to watch the food cook like our old one".

"There is so much crap on that window that you couldn't see a magnesium flare cooking on our old barbecue" snarled the harridan, rolling up her right sleeve while maneuvering to get behind me for a cowardly rear-assault.

"Nonsense!" I protested. "A quick session with my trusty razor-blade scraper and it will be clear as a bell"

"For how long?" she sweetly insinuated

"About half a burger's worth is about standard" I said, simultaneously attempting to break her strangle hold.

There then followed a frank exchange of views that visited a wide variety of territory, mostly at my expense, and I agreed that a new barbecue would be a fine thing.

What could top the events of that Saturday for disruptive inconvenience and expense?

Sunday decided to have a crack at it.

It began with me deciding to open the swimming pool. Twenty four hours at a mean temperature approaching that of the solar corona had me hallucinating about floating in crystal clear, cool water, my hair turning slightly green from having jumped in the pool before the shock had burned completely off. I looked at the piles of wet leaves still drying on the cover.

I had raked the leaves out of the shallow layer of green slimy rain water (the majority of which I had siphoned off on Saturday morning) to dry on the black pool cover, but despite the torrid heat and merciless sun beating down all day they still were soaking wet and stinking up a treat. Apparently there is some science that is waiting to be done here. Smelly science, I'll admit. Very smelly. In fact, on a scale of 1-10 where 1 is odourless and 10 is sceptic-tank sludge wagon in high-speed collision with Ammonia wagon, this science is destined to be a good 8.5. But it will be worth it, for if the secret of deodourising can be gleaned and the mysteries of the limitless wetness under extreme dessicating conditions can be illuminated for all, not only is there a dead cert Nobel Prize for Extreme Science in the offing, but no-one need ever dehydrate in the lines at Universal Studios (Fla) ever again. Specially trained staff could apply a deliciously cool, damp layer of leaf mulch to each ticketholder as they enter in the morning.

Where was I?

Oh right. You may remember that removing the cover is problematic since the water level is down about a foot and a half (Approximately 0.75 Napoleons in metric) and it becomes impossible to get the cover off without dumping the filth into the pool unless the cover is squeaky clean before I start, which was about as possible as Federal Income Tax being repealed after the pool spending last winter and what passed for spring under the trees. During spring, as I have mentioned, there had been much rain. Indeed, every time I drained off the pool cover it refilled within hours.

I pondered, and Mr Brain suggested I connect the filter pump and fill the pool before I removed the cover. It was so brilliant an idea that I failed completely to spot the sneaky trap I was falling into. No doubt you can sense trouble looming, but I imagine that even you only have a hazy idea of what the nature of the fiasco in the making was, so cunning was the setup.

I got all the bits I needed out of the shed. The pump. The hoses. The extension cord with wire as thick as my little finger (and I have got fat fingers). The timer that plugs into the extension cord and drives the pump. Later that afternoon I was to search the garden from one end to the other several times without finding that never-to-be-sufficiently-damned timer. But I digress.

Around lunch time I was in a position to start the filter pump (sans timer) and add the shock treatment. During this operation Mrs Stevie arrived in theater and announced she had bought the barbecue grill she wanted, and would I please unload it from the car and put it together and I should take the bits out of the box first because it had taken four burly men to load it into her car and she didn't want me to drop it and damage it.

I wandered round to the driveway muttering some protective charms under my breath and casting humorous dark looks at my wife. There was the car, springs groaning in protest, with the largest, heaviest-looking box I've seen since Troll The Snowblower of Supreme Spiffiness was delivered. I pulled out my trusty Swiss Army Knife and hacked and slashed at the box. In a mater of only ten minutes I had managed to saw through the impervium ribbons it had been banded with and gained entry into the inner core of barbecuey goodness.

There were about six hundred bits in that box

Mrs Stevie went out "to buy groceries" leaving me to ponder the mysteries of barbecue construction in a World Gone Mad. I unwrapped panels, grills, grids, handles, and plastic bags with small parts in them. I also found the card with the screws, washers and a couple of tools bubble-wrapped to it. What I didn't find were the casters for the base.

I opened the instructions. Step 1: Fit casters

I hunted high and low for the damned things and eventually turned them up in an unlikely-looking flat box hiding under a pile of discarded wrapping and packing materials.

Screwing the casters into the base, a job a crack-deranged monkey could have done blindfold, was complicated by the special "caster wrench" they had supplied to snug the casters down with. It was machined so that it was impossible to get the wrench to reliably grip the hexagonal base and allow it to be screwed up against the stop. I ended up using my self-adjusting pliers and consigning the wrench to the bucket o' genuinely useless tools. This thing had to be the second most useless and pointless tool in exsistence (pride of place going to the contour gauge that was so monumentally unsuited to the task of transfering a contour that I walled it up in New Bog in disgust).

Then I fitted the sides and the front door. I was disappointed to find that after that the clearances were so tight I couldn't use Mr Battery-Powered Drill to drive the screws. It would have saved some much-needed time.

The most unlooked-foreward-to bit was the hoisting of the actual barbecue, lid and all, onto the base. It had been packed as a single piece and couldn't be easily broken down. It was supposed to be a two person job but I managed to get the damned thing in place and bolted down on my own with only a ten percent overspend on level four swear words. When I discovered that the washers I had fitted at this stage by means of turning myself into a human pretzel had stuck together causing me to double up the parts used which required me to undo everything and recover the extras I wandered briefly in fields of level three swear words I admit.

But I was coming along nicely and had only the side burner to fit when the heavens unexpectedly abruptly opened and we had some high speed vertical wet. Mrs Stevie had just re-appeared and so she, I and the Stevieling leaped around gathering parts and covering up the barbecue while soak happened and decorative lightning bolts struck all around.

It was at this time that some of the screws became separated from the card.

When the rain had stopped I recommenced the barbecue build, and was alerted to the possibility of lost fasteners by stepping on one in my bare feet. I found all the parts but one nut, which was used to secure a hinge and so could safely be left off for a bit while I located a new part, and I declared the barbecue open for business. I transplanted the gas cylinder from our old barbecue to the Silver Machine, and Mrs Stevie lit it up. It took about two minutes to reach 350 degrees Fahrenheit, something our old grill could manage in about five minutes, and I grudgingly admitted it was A Good Thing.

Leaving Mrs Stevie to turn groceries into dinner I went and examined the pool to find that the throughput of the filter had dropped to almost nothing. I pulled out the filter and could see even in the dim twilight that it was completely green.

Not good

I had lost six weeks of the hottest part of the year to a persistent green algae problem last year. Apparently it had not cleared up as I had thought but just lain dormant. What a shame I didn't actually look at the water before topping off the pool, eh?

I got out a Maglite flashlight and, prizing up the cover, shone it into the water.

I couldn't see more than a couple of feet.

That was it. I was done. I shut it all down and on Monday night, resolving not to get caught in an endless cylce of cleaning and filtering and sweltering but on no account swimming, I removed the cover and began syphoning off the thousands of gallons of green soup. A quick but thorough cleaning with extremely chlorinated water, followed by a complete rinse and draining with the wet-dry vac if necessary and I'll replace the water so carefully nurtured into a decent buffer over three years with new, untainted stuff from the tap and start over.

Stupid pool.

  1. Which, for the uninitiated also includes bits of New Jersey and Connecticut though they don't tell you that of course, just sometimes hint at it playfully with the euphamistic term "The Tristate Area"
  2. The first time that has happened since my happy union with the woman of my dreams3
  3. Mrs Stevie, you dolt! The fact that the dream became, as so many do, a nightmare from which I desperately wish to awaken is not germane to the story at hand. I wish you'd keep up
  4. But despite "expert" opinion to the contrary, that can be remedied by the simple action of leaving both burners on "medium" all night. In the morning the now grease-free lavarock will be coated with a fine ash, the barbecue wheels will have melted and the neighbourhood will smell absolutely delicious (and will continue to do so for hours). Not only that, the barbecue will be about as clean as it is possible to get it without a sandblaster. When gas came in at $17 a cannister that was an almost economical mistake plan. Now, I believe it is cheaper to buy a whole new grill than get the gas refilled
  5. This is common, and caused by hamburger grease, pig fat and gosh knows what else dripping onto the igniter for a year or so

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Too Much Information, LIRR Style

The LIRR has fitted spiffy new signs in each station on our branch, including Wyandanch (Pearl of the East).

Hanging from Olde Worlde cast-iron posts remeniscent of something one might see in Main Street, USA1, these signs are composed of matrices of amber LEDs that can be illuminated or not to form informational phrases.

There is an open book on how long they will continue to work and another on how long the Wyandanch onse will actually remain in place (stuff of any percieved value tending to wander at that location when no-one is looking) but that isn't what I want to relate today.

No, today I want to tell you of my Friday morning commute, which was spiced up by the sign telling me that the train would be arriving 6 minutes late on platform 1A. This came as a relief to every passenger waiting on the platform

Wyandanch is a single track station 2.

  1. In The Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World
  2. This ties in with a time about ten years ago when a lady, obviously not a regular commuter, approached me at Wyandanch and asked if the New York train arrived on "this track". I was so confused by her Dadaistic question I forgot to say "No love, you need the other one" to see what she would do

Whacking: Off

Well, it's been a busy two weeks here at the Steviemanse.

It started with the grass deciding to start growing again, necessitating mower-oriented activity, sprinkler deployage and a session of one-on-one, sudden-death smackdown with Mr Weedwacker.

I drained the fuel tank of Troll The Snowblower of Supreme Spiffiness and used the gas (almost five years old, salvaged from the original Steviemobile) to coax the lawnmower into life. The gas manufacturers1 would have you believe that after six months in a can, gas turns into sulphuric acid and will kill an internal combustion engine in seconds flat. Only a cynic would believe this was a tale concocted to promote sales. Colour me cynical. The mower runs fine and does not explode, spew corrosive vapour from its exhaust or even puff black smoke. It even cuts grass.

I broke out the sprinklers and found that three of the four rainbirds2 were busted. Two of them showed the signature damage that indicated a mower drive-by, but the other had simply lost the little pin that holds all the moving parts together. A quick session with my Leatherman Tool and I had pried the pin from one of the busted units and effected a repair.

Then it was a simple matter of turning on the water and fiddling with the jet so it would water the lawn and not the road and the job was done. This time i remembered to remove my cell phone from my pants pocket so that it wouldn't be damaged when the sprinklers contrived to shoot ice-cold water up the leg of my shorts3. Of course, I had neglected to do that last year, with the result that the phone will no longer charge its battery, so that was an exercise in futility, really. Still, it's the principle of the thing.

Once that job was done it was time to break out my old nemesis, Mr Weedwacker. Over the years we have done battle with the weeds and each other (mostly each other now I come to think about it) and this blog is littered with tales of wounds sustained and humiliation delivered in public by that Anti-handyman demon-infested thing, but even so, there is really no better way to rip out unwanted on-property greenery while at the same time being hit in the face with supersonic gravel. That day, another problem with the wretched tool was to manifest itself.

Oh we went through all the old standards. The pulling on the string while varying the configuration of the choke and throttle in the vain hope the engine will fire for more than 5/8ths of a second at a time. The realisation upon finally getting the damned thing running that the gas tank was almost empty so the engine would have to be switched off again while refueling ops took place4. The opening of the gas tank to discover the little gas-cap retaining chain had broken again and was somewhere inside the gas tank where my fingers couldn't get it without draining the remaining gas. The refueling followed by the realisation that the gas cap was not where I left it ten seconds before. The ten-minute hunt for the gas cap to the accompaniment of my very best swear words. The location of the cap and the suspiciously easy restarting of the engine. The prompt exhausting of the string on the spool, necessitating another three feet be cut and laboriously wound onto the spool. The hunt for one of the two reels of trimmer cord I have somewhere around here, I know because I saw them only two months ago while I was looking for the yard broom which turned out to be in the shed but where is the gbleepd-dbleepd wheedwacker cord gbleepd-dbleepm it? The finding and cutting of said cord.

It was and is all very trying.

The new variation was the discovery after all this rigmarole that the bump-knob for the spool was worn completely away.

For those not in-the-know, a weedwhacker of the older type has a spool of nylon cord5 of a given thickness (Sears colour-code their brand according to heftiness. I use green which indicates a manly yet not testosterone-fueled level of weed whackerism) that is driven by a motor of some kind (mine is gas-powered, but I also have a smaller electric one). The cord is flung out of each side of the spool by centrifugal force6, forming a surprisingly effective cutter. The problem is that the string wears away, especially when it impacts concrete, such as during edging operations, but the wily weedwacker designers have thought of this and provided for the contingency by including a cunning escapement mechanism into the spool such that bumping it on the ground while the spool is spinning causes the inner reel part of the spool to unwind a length of cord. It's dead clever.

The problem was that I am a little over-aggressive in the use of the weedwacker for those operations which damage the cord, and so have had to bump this one a few gazillion times. The bump is taken by the knob used to hold the real in the shroud and although it is made of special hard-wearing plastic it eventually does need replacing. The problem was, my weedwacker was a McCulloch and, unbeknownst to me that day7 the firm had ceased trading at the end of the 1990s. A lengthy search of the web failed to turn up any parts for my model weedwacker.

Tiresomer and tiresomer.

I tooled around every Home Despot, Blowes and Arse Hardware in the area but couldn't find a reel with the same fitting or a knob that would do as a substitute for the old one. The nearest I could find was a Ryobi reel, which had the wrong sized bolt to hold it onto the shaft but did have the same hexagonal drive mechanism. I was pretty demoralised by all this. The weedwacker isn't otherwise in need of replacement (the anti-handyman demons infesting mine are par for the course and any new weed whacker will probably come factory-installed with a set of its own). It seemed a shame to use up a tool-acquisition opportunity so unnecessarily.

A sharp pain lanced across my forehead. Fireworks erupted in each of my eyeballs. The scent of burning chocolate flooded my nose. For a brief instant I could taste colour, see sound and hear funny-bone pins-and-needles. I knew these signs: an idea was forming.

I would use Mr Brain and some tools to fabricate a new reel from whatever I could find in the stores that almost worked.

I grabbed a Ryobi reel and a spare Ryobi know in case my first cut was less-than-stellar and returned home. The Ryobi reel had the wrong sized bolt. It was too fat, so I would use the one from the old knob. The Ryobi knob's bolt was hexagonal headed, the original was square-headed. No problem, a quick session with Mr Dremel tool fitted with a cylindrical cutting burr and I was able to sculpt a square hole from the hexagonal one. I tested the arrangement.

The end of the weed wacker got red hot.

The reel was rubbing against the outer shaft of the weed wacker, but a session with Mr Hacksaw fixed that. It almost worked, but not quite, and the total bugger is that I don't know why.

I think the problem has to do with the length of the bolt in the new knob. The mechanism needs the bolt to "bottom out" in the screw-fitting in the shaft end while the knob "floats". As it is, to do this the knob has to be screwed in so far the escapement mechanism is compromised. The way the escapement works is that when you bump down the reel advances half of the distance it wants to go, then hits a stop. When you release the bump, the reel is allowed to turn to the end of its cycle. I think the fitting I made needs to have a deeper hole for the bolt or a longer bolt because when the knob is screwed all the way down the escapement is "bumped" in and cannot advance. Whatever.

All those dead brain cells for nothing.

I might as well have drunk rum all day8.

  1. I'm not sure if it is correct to refer to such people as "crackers", though that's what they do
  2. The sort of sprinkler that has a swing arm that hammers against the jet to make it walk around in a circle, first one way then the other
  3. Always a favourite with the neighbours, who greet each falsetto shriek with raucous laughs of sympathy
  4. It is a physical impossibility to refuel it without switching off the engine since even at tickover the centrifugal clutch is partially engaged, causing the spool to spin quite rapidly. Attempting to fuel up by, say, wedging the fuel tank in, say, the chainlink fence running down the driveway will only result in the tool acting like some sort of Dali-designed unicycle and having it go for your shins while throwing two-stroke gasoline all over the wife's impatiens, killing them outright and fueling a season of domestic unbliss the likes of which you haven't seen outside of certain American situation comedies
  5. Newer weedwhackers often have fixed lengths of much tougher (so they say) plastic strip that clip into a different style of head. Sometimes they have a one-piece assembly with short plastic scimitars hinged on a driven hub. I want nothing to do with such new-fangled flummery
  6. Yesyesyes I know I know, there is no such thing, it is really centripetal force blahblahblah. When scientists start calling their spinning machine of colloid separation a centripete you can call me out on this one
  7. But knownst now
  8. Something I used to do almost constantly but banned since 1991 by Mrs Stevie