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Tales of a Hay Hauler: ‘Grandpa to a leatherneck’

Brad Nelson for Progressive Forage Published on 14 July 2020

By the time you’re reading this, I’m sure my grandson will have adjusted his previous “retire for the night and arise for the next day” schedule to something more to the liking of the U.S. Marine Corps.

When I was dating his grandmother, the Marine Corps had recruiting posters stating that, “The Marines build men.” She said she’d tried to place an order a number of times, but no one would reply to her letters. (In a few more weeks we’ll see how well they do.)

Knowing my grandson was headed off to boot camp following graduation, I ramped up helping him understand how things work – things that would give him an advantage wherever he went. He wanted to drive my 1979 Mazda RX-7 rotary engine sports car in the graduation parade. For this to happen, we’d have to overhaul the four-barrel Holley carburetor some previous owner had installed. He now understands how a carburetor works and how to drive a vehicle with a carburetor. He also appreciates modern fuel injection.

He was crestfallen the afternoon of the parade because the bolt in the center of the carb that anchors the air cleaner fell out as he was test driving the car. He couldn’t get it back on. He was about 3 miles from home, so I told him to put all the pieces inside the car and drive it home, stirring up as little dust as possible.

The anchor bolt was too short to start with. The end that was threaded into the body of the carb had less than 1/2-inch of threads contacting the body and had pulled out with aluminum filling the threads. That bore had good threads for 3/4-inch past the failed threads. I showed him how to find the length that was needed, then I welded two 1/4-inch bolts together, head to head, added some thread locker compound and had it back to road-worthy in about 10 minutes.

My grandson and the car survived graduation without incident. His mother rode with him in the parade. She said the little red RX-7 was kind of snug about the armpits. He’s a fairly bright kid, but I told him to refrain from driving in a way that would scare his mama, because if he did, I was sure she’d come yell at me. (Me?!)

A few weeks earlier, I’d added a frame-mounted receiver hitch to my ‘93 Geo Tracker. I replaced the rear crash bar with the hitch. One of the nuts mounted inside the tube frame broke off in the stationary nut, and we had to improvise something. Instead of the bolt going into a threaded part of the frame, I made a bolt that dropped from inside the frame and then used a nut from the outside to secure the hitch mount.

To do this, I welded a bar across the head of a bolt, long enough so it couldn’t turn inside the frame when in place. Then I pushed a wire up through the hole the bolt needed to descend through until it came out of an opening towards the rear of the vehicle. To this wire, I secured the bolt, by wrapping the wire around it and then securing it with black electrical tape.

I made my grandson pull the wire with the attached bolt back through the frame until the business end of it dropped through the hole in the frame, so he’d understand the procedure. Now with the hitch assembly in place, we carefully threaded a lock nut on the bolt and tightened it without issue.

“Remember how we did this,” I advised him, “because most people you’re going to meet won’t have a clue how to do what we just did.”

I also told him: “Don’t believe anything you can’t verify as correct.”

I reminded him: “You can’t think straight when you’re angry. Neither can your opponent. Help your opponent get very angry, then winning is easier.”

And I instructed him: “When your drill sergeant tells you that he eats guys like you for breakfast, inquire what it feels like when that AR500 steel works its way through his digestive tract.” He smiled and added he wasn’t sure that would be a good idea.

We had many discussions along the lines that most of what I was showing him how to do he’d never be doing to earn a living. Rather, he’d be supervising or hiring others to do those tasks, but if he didn’t understand how something worked, he was fair game to be taken advantage of. (You know, like understanding it shouldn’t take more than about an hour to change the front brake pads on a car or pickup.)

Well, he’s a big boy now. But still, I’m sure lots of readers know what I’m feeling as they’ve sent loved ones off to new adventures – college, marriage, military, missions. You hope they remember what’s important, never forget who they are and do well. You hope by showing them how stuff works, they realize someone has the answers, that whatever it is they’re working on, they can figure it out.

One last note about the now “new” Marine grandson: A couple of months back we replaced one of the toilets in the house. As usual, he did most of the work. As we finished, I commented that he really didn’t want to volunteer to his military chain of command that he was experienced at installing toilets.

“Grandpa,” he said, “that one I already had figured out!”

Semper fi.