I miss Erector Sets. I blame my car.
Pepper (or Peppah-Girl as my Hawaiian friends call her) came home last week and since then I’ve been somewhat…preoccupied. She was in the shop for a loooong, long time, but it was necessary. I let the pros fix all the critical issues (like steering and brakes and such) and left the small, non-crucial items for myself.
There are many things I like about this car, but one thing that pleases me most is her simplicity. Pepper is a decidedly low-tech vehicle. She has a tractor’s engine (seriously…the engine Triumph used was designed for tractors) and simple hydraulics for brake and clutch. The steering is unpowered, requiring a good deal of brute force to turn the wheels (especially when stopped). One part of the engine is actually made of glass, and parts of the body are supported by pieces of wood.
All this pleases me greatly.
It’s been a long time since I worked on a car. I never really got into the serious gear-head stuff like pistons and differentials and transmissions, but the things I was doing this weekend were well within my capabilities. I fixed some wiring, replaced dashboard knobs, installed a grab bar and lap belts, swapped the old locks for new ones I have keys for, and trouble-shot a tail light problem. These were all–even drilling holes for the lap belt anchors–pretty straightforward tasks and while I was working on these fixes, I felt like a kid again.
Growing up, one of my favorite toys was my Erector Set. The set I had wasn’t anything like today’s versions. Almost everything in it was made of metal, not plastic. It had actual nuts and bolts, not thumbscrews and snap-together pieces. The metal beams and angle brackets were somewhat sharp at the edges, the set had no specialized parts, and the instructions were basically just pictures of what you might want to build instead of step by step Ikea-esque pictograms. The biggest difference, though, was that you could build anything, not just the one or two things for which the set was designed.
And build anything, I did.
I built the cranes and helicopters pictured in the booklet. I built skyscraper superstructures with playing card walls. I built things that weren’t anything at all, but that pleased my eye or used every piece in the set (or both). The Erector Set of my youth taught me about load strength, cross- and angle-bracing, lock-nuts, pulleys, and a hundred other practical attributes of construction. Mostly, though, the set taught me not to be afraid of working with my hands. Later, with this grounding in the basics, I taught myself household repair, woodworking, cabinetry, watch repair, and yes, car maintenance.
So, this afternoon, as I disassemble Pepper’s door panels to gain access to the door locks, it will be like I’m back in the old house on Briarwood Drive, sitting cross-legged on the linoleum, playing.