Little Brother Handy With Tractor, Truck

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It sure is handy having a personal tractor mechanic, someone who is also pretty handy at working on vehicles. That would be my little brother Gregg, who learned his diesel mechanic skills in the Marines. While he wisely later studied to become a database engineer – think indoor work with no heavy lifting, and air-conditioning to boot – he still enjoys tinkering and knows his stuff.

Gregg, who is nine years younger than me, came over Saturday from Garland to work on both Little Red, the tractor, and Big Red, our 1965 Ford F100. The tractor had developed a slight fuel leak, forcing me to spread absorbent sand beneath it to catch the drip. Last time he came, a hydraulic line was leaking. This time, it was leaking a bit of diesel. One thing I have learned about tractors is that something often breaks. I figured this would be a minor fix but beyond my extremely limited abilities.

Big Red is about to go back on the market. We bought a 2001 Toyota Tundra recently that runs like a dream. It has excellent heat and air, something lacking in Big Red. More importantly, it doesn’t beat you to death driving it down the road. Big Red must have sensed a possible change in family ownership. I decided to take here to the car wash to gussy her up before putting her up for sale, went to crank her, and she turned over once, then nothing. I tried jumping her to no avail. Over the summer, we had replaced the battery, alternator and voltage regulator. That pretty much leaves wiring or the ignition switch, way I figured. Of course, me diagnosing what is wrong with a vehicle is nearly as risky as me suddenly deciding to practice medicine. (There are plenty of amateur epidemiologists out there since the pandemic began, but I’m not one of them.)

Gregg started on Little Red first. We both donned black gloves that are the best invention since, well I don’t know when. They fit so well you can still text on your phone while wearing them, and they keep your hands from getting all greasy. That is the primary reason I never wanted to work on my own cars. I don’t like getting grease under my fingernails. Who knows? If these gloves had been around in my youth, I might actually have done my own vehicle repairs, back when cars weren’t just a computer on wheels.

Probably not, though. I am still traumatized from an incident in 1981, while in graduate school at UT-Austin. I changed the oil in our Toyota Corolla before a trip back to East Texas. I noticed the oil seemed really full after I drained the pan, and then put in the required number of quarts. We headed off. The transmission blew up in Taylor, about 45 miles northeast of River City. Turns out I had accidentally drained the transmission pan, not the oil pan. That was the last time I changed the oil in any vehicle I own.

Gregg figured out quickly the fuel filter was loose and tightened it with a filter strap. The leak stopped. Now it was on to the truck. I had printed out a wiring diagram as requested, which might as well have been in Lithuanian as far as me deciphering it. He used it to eventually find a frayed wire going into the alternator, which he temporarily fixed.


He also helped me reattach the bushhog to the tractor, which requires connecting a shaft from the cutter to the PTO, which stands for Power Take Off. It ought to stand for Pretty Terrible Ordeal because that is what it is. The last time I attached it, it took me three hours and nearly drove me to start day drinking. (Not that it takes much.) It was still an ordeal, but Gregg greased everything and got it hooked up in about 30 minutes, after a few false starts. I’m investigating a quick release that is on the market and is supposed to make this chore less onerous.

I’ll take Big Red into our mechanic to have the wiring properly fixed before putting the For Sale sign on her. No sense asking little brother to come back just for that. Besides, we were getting hungry and headed up the road for some Tex-Mex before he headed back. The boy does work cheap if it involves his big brother, and I’m grateful.

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