As a newly licensed teen-age driver, I needed a car of my own. Papa had a car in the garage which smoked a lot, and he was thinking of selling it when I offered to change the piston rings which was causing the smoke. He couldn’t very well refuse, and in the project provided me an experience well suited to a young inquisitive guy and, little did I know, a lesson that endures to this day.
Though I had some idea of what to do, I had never done anything major like that before. So, I got a manual (way long before the internet) and following directions, began disassembling the engine. The pistons were exposed, the connections they made with the crankshaft were accessible. I had only to unbolt the rods that connected pistons to the crankshaft. Then, the pistons would be ready for their new rings. But that was not to be, or at least not so easily. One of the pistons was out of position to access the bolts, and so I thought by turning the crankshaft I could bring it into position.
Crankshaft brings to mind images of old cars, that in order to start, you had to insert a crank into a slot in the front of the engine. That slot led to the end of a shaft which, as you cranked would turn the shaft that brought the pistons up and down. That would cause a spark plug to fire, and the engine would start. These days batteries – not hand turning - do the cranking. When the ignition switch is turned on, electricity turns a starter motor which turns the crankshaft and after a few turns, the engine starts.
To get the piston where I wanted it I simply had to click the ignition switch just a touch or two to move the piston ever so slightly. But instead of moving, the connecting rod bent way out of shape. I had figured wrong, and now I had to get the rod straightened out or buy a new one which was probably not going to be cheap.
So, I took it to a repair shop, and as I was walking toward the busy mechanic with the bent rod and piston in hand, he stopped working. Then he stood and looked at me as I approached.
“ Well,” he said looking at the problem in my hands, “Let me tell you what happened.” And he proceeded to describe - practically word for the word - what I had done an hour or so before. It was uncanny. He had probably done this same thing himself, or had seen and heard others do it over the years. He must have enjoyed watching my jaw drop as he accurately recited the steps to my mistake, and he was smiling as he took the bent piece from me saying, “Here, I’ll straighten it out for you. No charge.” Then added, looking at me kindly and with great consideration, “If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not learning.” Bless his heart for all these years of assurances.