More Than Just a Mechanic

This last weekend was monumental for me on many fronts. Coworkers at the day job would ask “What are you up to this weekend” and I would tell them. First off I wanna ride my road bike, then I have to coach baseball for two hours, then I have to replace the water pump in my Dodge. Without fail, almost everyone gasped. They were surprised I would do the water pump myself. The other side of the coin was that this was my SATURDAY plan, as Sunday is for church and hanging with family.

As Saturday unfolded itself, I left for my road ride. This weekend I had made plans to join a new group for the first time, riding out of a local but well-known shop. I was anxious because I ride a 30-year-old Panasonic, while others were sure to arrive with new flashy, fast, carbon fiber framed works of art. I was anxious that I would be slow. I was anxious that I wouldn’t fit in. Something we all feel at some point.

As the ride left, the anxiousness instantly vanished. Turns out my average pace is higher than the group pace and it was very comfortable to keep with the pack. As we took roads toward the Santa Ana bike trail, BOOM!, I got a flat. One of the staffers held back with me and assisted in changing out the tube. We had a great conversation and he was super gracious. Once repaired, we hightailed it toward the trailhead – where to my surprise the whole group was waiting!! Wow, these are nice people. We took off up the trail until about eight miles later – I got another flat. I told everyone to go on and I would retire for the day… but that led to making great new friends at another bike shop while it got repaired. The bad luck of this day had fantastic outcomes. This shop fixed my bike, before opening time, and offered to let me pay later. What?!?

Baseball with a bunch of 9-11-year-old boys was relatively smooth.

This led to the water pump. We have a 2008 Dodge Ram 1500 with a 5.7 liter Hemi. I ordered the pump via eBay and got the extra bits for the job from Auto Zone. I figured new coolant, serpentine belt, and the thermostat would make sense on this job. As I began the procedure, I nearly immediately stumbled. Getting the fan off the water pump required a pipe-wrench. A tool I have never used on my Ducati or Suzuki motorcycles. Who would have guessed a pipe-wrench would have been the magic tool for the Dodge? I sent Heidi to the store to get a Pipe-wrench. Argh! This is when Haydon, my 9-year-old, came out to see what was going on. I asked if he wanted to hang out.

Thirty minutes later, Haydon has the new part out of the box and had traced a template in cardboard to indicate the correct location of the hardware as it would be removed. He then helped identify where on the engine these pieces of hardware were. He hypothesized the process to remove components gaining access to the water pumps hardware and an hour and a half later… was in the engine compartment cleaning the mating surface for the new water pump to seal against.

He prepped the new water pump and seal, guided the positioning of the new pump and assigned the hardware to the proper locations. As this was happening, we discussed the role of the water pump as it would manage the temperature of the engine. We chatted about how temperature helps determine fuel flow and efficiency. He was also able to reverse engineer the function of the pump as he now had access to see the coolant pathway.

An hour after this, we were bolting the fan shroud back on and adding coolant to the radiator. It was time to fire up the truck and inspect for leaks while letting the vehicle heat cycle and “burp” the air pocket out of the coolant system. These three and one-half hours will go down as a proud parent moment. The look of pure joy and pride on the boy’s face as he told his mother what he had accomplished this day. To see the light come on in his brain about the satisfaction of a job well-done.

But here is the killer. More than one person has admonished me as I told this story. Some are shocked that I would allow a 9-year old to work on the family truck. Some act as if I forced him to do it as if a 9-year old would have zero interest. Still, others have said, “you’re not raising him to be a mechanic are you?!?!”. This hurts my heart. If the kid wanted to be a mechanic, I wouldn’t talk him out of it. I know lots of mechanics busting 6-figures right now and the service market is only going to add value to that skillset as everyone else is teaching their precious Tom, Dick and Harry how to “Code”. My other direct thought is “He is NINE!”. Maybe this is the groundwork to develop into a mechanical engineer that builds the equipment of our future… but the foundation is now.

What I do know is this kid has now built entire motorcycles, works on his own bike, and now has a degree of confidence discussing Fuel Injection, Suspension, and basic Engine Dynamics. How many other 9-year old boys have that in their back pocket heading off to a Middle School career? I don’t know what he will decide to be when he grows up and I hate to think I am raising him to be anything he doesn’t want to be. I want him to choose it, but I will also give him everything I have in my head along the way. Besides that — the little punk helped me save a thousand dollars doing the work at home!