Sunday, December 06, 2009

Worst. Oil Change. Ever.

It felt like it should be the final stretch of getting the saga of the oil change completed. The cowls have been repaired, test fitted, and readied for painting. Once painted, we're finally only a 15 minute installation on the plane from being done. Bet here's the thing about the final stretch (and you pay very close attention to the next race you watch to test the veracity of this observation if you don't believe me): it's a horrible time to change drivers.

The thing is, I have neither the equipment nor the expertise to paint the cowls. Nor the wheel pants, which is why they've been painted with rattle can primer for the last three years. Fortunately, I'm related to the Chief Mechanic at the 8105 Repair Shop and he knows how to paint. I figured I'd just drive the cowls out to his shop and have him paint them up. How hard could that be? For me, I mean. Drive 'em out, drop 'em off, and pick them up when they're done. Piece of cake!

The cowls and wheel pants took up every cubic inch of free space in my suited-more-for-hauling-groceries Subaru Forester, leaving room only for a single pilot. No problem - this was an out and back trip and not necessarily an opportunity to get some road miles for co-pilot Egg. Going solo lets me set the schedule, so I pulled chocks little before 0800. It's an easy drive that early in the morning and the Across the Universe CDs (highly recommended) made for a relaxed trip.

Well, until I got there, anyway.

As I pulled to a stop in the visitor parking at the Schmetterling Aviation World Headquarters (which is conveniently adjacent to one of their other holdings, the 8105 Racing shop, which is itself co-located with the 8105 Repair Shop that was going to do the cowl painting), the overbearingly rancid sweet smell of antifreeze emanating from the front regions of the normally ultra-reliable Subie hinted that there may be something amiss in the Department of Automotive Propulsive Force, or "the engine" as it's called in the vernacular. More specifically, in the Thermal Protection Unit.

There is an age old ritual for situations like this that we've all inherited through either or both of parental example or aging Hollywood movies: we raise the hood. Which ritual has become increasingly difficult to perform over the intervening years with the introduction of multiple release latches located (hidden?) both inside and outside of the passenger compartment. Needlessly complex, in my considered opinion. And deliberate besides. It's the automotive designer's way of telling us that we ought just stay the hell outta there and leave it all to the specialists. Always the contrarion and as diabolically clever as a monkey, I defeated their defenses and opened the door to the vault.

It was ugly. The overflow bucket from the radiator was frothing like a rabid Pit Bull and the rest of the engine was covered in spots of flung Pit Bull spittle. Your name doesn't have to be Shelby to figure out that it really isn't supposed to look like that. Or smell like it, for that matter. It smelled like a gallon of Log Cabin faux-syrup had exploded onto a burned skunk. Trust me, that's not a taste sensation we're going to be seeing in the snack aisle at the 7-11 anytime soon. Peee-yooooo.

Well, I was headed to the shop anyway, right?

The news at the shop? Pretty good, but only in aspects unrelated to the car. That particular piece of news was pretty bad. Ten Bills O' Bad:

"Blown head gasket. Might was well replace both while we're in there. And the timing belt, too. When can I start?"

Well, there's the whole question of transportation home, right? I had always thought this kind of thing would happen with the airplane. Fly somewhere, land, find out that we're not flying back. Rent a car, drive home. Sell airplane where it sits. Well, no, probably not that last part, although I can easily imagine being tempted at this point in the never-ending oil change. In this case, I was able to borrow the CEO's personal sports car for the week. I gotta tell you, it's a very nice ride. I still have to look at the owners manual to verify this, but I'd swear that the CD player automatically reduces its volume when you slow from highway speeds (which are limited only by the speed rating of the tires) to a stop at the exit. Incredible!

While at the shop I also retrieved my Walther P-38 that I had asked the Chief Mechanic to take a look at. It was jamming on every second or third round, and that takes a lot of the fun out of shooting it. Although... it probably helps control ammunition expenses. Either way, the gun needed some work.

It looked like a brand new gun. I don't think it has been that clean since it rolled off of the assembly line 50+ years ago. And the jamming problem had reportedly been resolved. I was anxious to finally shoot it with it functioning correctly, so I asked if there was a target handy that I could toss a few shots at.

"No, not that mangy cat, please. An inanimate target would serve better. Not through any love of cats, mind you. I just figure a stationary target will better suit my limited aiming abilities."

Because, you see, I'm a horrible shot. Not so with the Chief Mechanic, who's quite good at it. Once again pointing out the vagaries of genetics. This is the nature of the normal love/hate relationship between siblongs, I imagine.

"Here, I'll take this brick down to the field. You stay up here on the driveway and take a few shots at it," was his suggestion.

Thinking that surely (stop calling me Shirley) he was yanking my chain, I follwed him halfway down the hill.

"What are you doing down here??"

"I thought I might like to shoot at it from somewhere where I could actually see it," I replied. Quite truthfully, too.

Five shots, five misses.

Great glee from the audience.

A "you do it" challenge from me.

One shot. Nothing left of the brick but red dust. Roughly the same left of my self esteem. Oh, and from the top of the hill, naturally.

Like I said: love, hate.


  1. Interesting story you have there Dave . Now not having any personal knowledge of your brother's personality and admittedly playing devils advocate. Do you feel that it is remotely possible that said brother had perhaps( and I propose this in spite of the love I know for my own brother)He had previously tested the weapon? There by "armed" with the knowledge of precisely how far away he could perform this feat of pistol superiority. I didn't either,please excuse my natural skepticism.

  2. Well, sure, that's quite likely. That having been said, though, he had only used 5 of the bullets I had provided him with for testing.

    I could stand out there all day and work my way through 100s of rounds and still not be able to hit a target like that on the first try. He does shoot a lot, though. He has a nice range set up on an open field on his property.

    Thing is, you still have to have some skill to be honed by practice.

    He's got it. I don't.