I was 16 years old when I first got interested in bike and automotive mechanics. I’d just started seeing Ditty, my first true love, and began hanging around his house, watching him and his dad work on cars, trucks and motorcycles outside their garage. To me, the garage was a magical place; the center of their universe. All of Ditty’s friends would come up on weekends to lend a hand or just shoot the breeze while the wrenching went on.
My family’s house didn’t have a garage. Dad wasn’t the fix-it type and whatever tools had been accumulated were stowed in a single drawer in the downstairs powder room. When something was wrong with one of the cars, he just took it back to the dealership. For household repairs, there was a list of assorted experts we could call… Mr. DeWitt the plumber, Conrad the TV repairman and Mr. Jakuboski next door (he had a garage) for simple handiwork around the home.
The upshot of my upbringing was that no one taught me anything about tools or repairs. But I wanted to learn, and hanging around Ditty’s garage, I saw my opportunity. One day I asked if I could help. The guys just snickered and said, “Sure. Go find a left-handed wrench.” So I happily scampered to the back of the garage and searched through the tool chests, occasionally bringing back something that I thought looked like one. Finally Ditty’s dad took pity on me and told me I’d been punked.
Once I was ordered to go to the auto parts store and get a set of spark plugs for one of the Chevys. I was told, “Delco is first choice, but if they don’t have them, get AC.” The counterman told me he didn’t have eight of either, but he could sell me four ACs and four Delcos. That seemed reasonable to me, but when I got back with my bounty, I was laughed right out of the garage. I could just imagine the counterman laughing with them. Hey, what did I know? I wasn’t exactly born with a silver wrench in my hand. My revenge came a few years later when AC and Delco merged, but by then it was too late. My pride had already been mortally wounded.
My mom was, in her own way, on the far side of the spectrum from my dad. She loved gadgets, but hers were pretty much contained to the kitchen, being the ’50s and ’60s when few women worked outside the home, or even in the garage. Not that we had a garage. I must have inherited the gizmo gene from her, but my affinity for gadgetry didn’t blossom until I acquired my first motorcycle and went on a tool-buying mission.
The first tool I bought was something I saw at a swap meet; the LumiRatchet, a heat-treated drop-forged carbon steel 3/8″ ratchet wrench with a built-in adjustable-angle flashlight that could be removed and used separately. It was a TV pitchman’s dream; a multi-use tool that was supposed to transform your life. I don’t know why I bought it. I didn’t even have any sockets. When I proudly showed it to my new riding buddies they burst out laughing. It was déjà vu all over again.
Soon after, my then-boyfriend gave me a CruzTools kit that went into the Sportster’s saddlebag displacing the LumiRatchet, which went deep inside a drawer in my basement workshop. I recently found out that my S.O. uses it from time to time. Steve says the wrench is a high-quality tool. The man isn’t at all embarrassed to use whatever works. But he never noticed the flashlight built into the handle.
Since then, I’ve acquired a multitude of tools; most relatively practical, but some not quite making the cut. I’ve got four or five different types of oil filter wrenches that I’ve used with varying degrees of success. One seems to do nothing but punch a hole in the filter. If you really think about it, that actually does help with filter removal, although it’s a really messy way to do it. I’ve also brought home two types of oil drain pans, neither of which fit under any of my bikes.
Then there are the tools that manufacturers send me, hoping for some free press. One shipped me a set of pliers with duckbill tips. The tool is most likely meant for automotive applications. The thing is 13″ long, and nothing on my motorcycles is that far out of my reach. To me it just looks like a giant roach clip.
My latest acquisition is an L.E.D. flashlight with a 19″ telescoping magnetic pickup tool on the end. It is supposed to retrieve dropped hardware and tools up to three pounds. Actually, I bought two—one to carry on my bike and the other for my workshop. Having been scarred by past humiliations, I haven’t told anyone about my purchase, but I’m convinced that at some point in the future I’ll save the day by finding someone’s lost fastener on the side of the road, in the dark.
The second one never made it into my workshop. It sits on the coffee table in the living room and I use it to entertain myself while I’m watching TV. It’s like I’m the Amazing Kreskin moving metallic objects around, but using a physical assist instead of the power of my mind. Getting bored with these tricks, I’ve taken to annoying Steve by pulling his metal-rimmed eyeglasses off his face. My little toy isn’t as much fun anymore because he’s recently started wearing contacts. Somehow I don’t think it’s a vanity thing.