By on February 17, 2007

lloyd_alexander22.jpgAs a boy in the pre-internet early sixties, I became obsessed with unveiling the secrets of that inexplicably alluring object of male interest. I had a general notion of what transpired within: the rhythmic in and out motions, the frenzy of moving members, the rapid inhalations, the (hopefully) synchronized explosions, and in their wake, the murmur of exhalations. Yes, the inner mysteries of the internal-combustion engine sang their siren song, and I was powerless to resist.

And so, one fateful summer afternoon in a dark corner of the family garage, well out of sight of adults, I furtively removed my first engine cover. In detaching the final gate-keeper of the mystery, the cylinder head, I met unexpected resistance. My clumsiness and inexperience resulted in unnecessary pain. Blood flowed. The rite of passage had already exacted a price. Other sacrifices lay ahead. But for the moment, I savored the sweetness of success.

Crouching down, I gazed lovingly into the oily, shiny bore of the 3hp Briggs and Stratton lawnmower engine, which had yielded its secrets so reluctantly. Oblivious to my bloodied knuckles, I spun the flywheel endlessly, watching the dance of the now exposed enginealia. The abstractions of the Otto cycle were at last manifestly concrete. I was entranced and smitten.

The air of fitful excitement during the disassembly process eventually gave way to the somber reality of having to reverse my experiment. In my excitement, I’d quite forgotten the details of the teardown. Despite leaving a pile of surplus parts on the floor, I finally managed to get the mower running– minus the linkage from the governor to the carburetor.

I’d improvised an inelegant solution: a piece of twine tied from the spring-loaded throttle plate to the handlebar. Once this “fix” had been achieved, the mower required endless manual rev blipping, not unlike an attention-starved motorcyclist’s mount. My father and older brother conveniently (for them) refused to touch the nervous-tic afflicted machine ever again; I’d created an entirely unwelcome lawn mowing monopoly.

My mechanical shortcomings were at least partially due to a lack of mentoring. My father certainly couldn’t provide any guidance; a can opener taxed his abilities. So I sought out other males as surrogates. I found them in the house across the street, where the two teenaged-or-so resident sons had contracted a bad case of hot rod fever.

Their project was a sickly green 1952 Ford business coupe. It was a fundamentally curious beast; its body style traded off rear seat room for the kind of extended trunk only a Mafia hit-man could fully exploit.I hadn’t chosen well. These boys also suffered from DDF (Disinterested and Distant Father syndrome). For all the hot summer days and long summer nights spent in advanced auto-yoga positions under and within the ailing coupe, their results were no more distinguished then mine.

Occasionally, having brought the old Ford to a semblance of life, we would pile in. Progress was measured by how many blocks could be terrorized by the flatulent flathead until it expired in a cloud of steam or smoke or some other violent and unnatural event.While the boys failed to teach me the rudiments of automotive technology, they certainly stimulated my desire to master idiomatic English.

For example, I was intrigued by their insistence on prefixing every noun with the word fucken. In Tirolean dialect, the word means swine. I was familiar with the practice of combining word to create vulgarity (as in schweinehund). But the boys’ masterful and ubiquitous combinations– frequently aimed at reluctant pieces of metal– left me breathless in admiration.

One day, after they’d pretty much given up on the old Ford, I heard the strangely familiar belabored bleating of an old engine. Running outside, I was stunned to discover a clapped-out Lloyd Alexander sans muffler, stuffed with the sheepishly grinning wanna-be hot rodders.

I’d never forgotten the 600cc 26hp 2cyl Lloyd micro-car my godfather drove back in Austria. Seeing these Iowa beef-fed football players spilling out the windows and sunroof of the baby-blue Lloyd was as much of a car-out-of-cultural-context experience as my first glimpse of the ’59 Caddy back in Innsbruck.

The tortured Lloyd held up to their endless full-throttle joy-riding abuse for most of that summer.  In the quiet hot nights, you could hear their un-muffled comings and goings half way across town, like a pesky buzzing fly endlessly exploring the house room by room. But one late summer day eerie quiet resumed, and I knew the fly had expired.

The Lloyd had been ditched somewhere near Burlington, an hour away. Some ten years later, driving down Hwy. 34 outside of Burlington, I encountered the unmistakable and immortal Lloyd again. It had been hoisted on top of a tall sign post for a wrecking yard. For all I know, it’s still there.

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14 Comments on “Auto-Biography Part 4: The Facts Of Life...”

  • avatar

    Hey Paul,
    My first hands on with engine mods was with my neighbor`s rear engine riding mower, he had a string tied to the engine`s governor. It was the first time I heard a lawn mower engine rev. I `m not sure if I liked that sound or it sounded like it was going to blow!!!

    Thanks for the memory. John

  • avatar

    I relieved the governor of its office of control and moderation on a 21 inch self propelled 2 cycle Lawn Boy.

    After replacing it with a 4HP red and white Sears Craftsman 22 Inch “you-push”, the old smokey Lawn Boy was mine to tinker with.

    First I took off the blade, then the underneath muffler, It Was LOUD ! just like Dad’s chainsaw that shared its engine design.

    I made a plate to put over the hole where the muffler use to be so it would not start fires, then I hooked a bicycle brake cable and hand brake handle up to the mower handle where I could remotely rev the thing. One other modification made this mean green the terra of the neighborhood. The high revs, and our SAE 30 oil-gas mix caused the engine to heat up, bang and then sieze up for a half hour. So recognizing the need to keep it cool, I added a water tank, electric pump, and some plastic hose so when it got hot, I flipped a switch, water hit the head, and a cloud of steam engulfed the thing to cool it down once a few knocks could be herd. Cutting our lawn when I was 13 was a funny sight.

    Replacing the blade, with one having more “fan” I used this gizmo to blow leaves, and in winter believe it or not I used it to blow snow off the driveway. Just plane old grass cutting wasn’t that much fun, the Gov. reacted faster than I could to the grass cutting load.

    The Green Gizmo never did die though, it just fadded away. Great story, brought back cool memories.

  • avatar
    Dream 50

    For example, I was intrigued by their insistence on prefixing every noun with the word fucken.

    Oh my Goodness, how do I translate to my Japanese better half leanig over my shoulder while I am reading this?

    Everything I learned in theory was from Road and Track. Everything I learned in practice was from my dad, the greatest David Brown (and Lord knows what else with a diesel engine) mechanic in the free world. I rememeber coming home after going on a service call with the Old Man. “The tractor was a she!” I exclaimed to my mom.

    I never told her that a clapped out machine “couldn’t pull a prick out of a lard pail.”

    Thanks for the memories. I know what you are getting paid, and it isn’t near enough. The rest of us ought to think about how we came to love the smell of raw fuel and stale 40 weight.



  • avatar

    If there’s anyone here anywhere near Burlington Iowa, they should check for the Lloyd on the signpost, photograph it if it’s there, and send it to RF so we can all see it. This story had some hilarious moments.

    I wonder how the Lloyd ever made it to Iowa in the first place. But then, I once saw I 2CV in Cambridge, with California plates. The owner told me he’d driven it here.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    David: Wondered for years about how the Lloyd got to Iowa. Doing some research for a possible TTAC article, I found out that during the great mid-late 1950’s import boom, when almost everything European could be bought at a corner gas station/import car shop, Lloyds were imported along with their corporate stablemate, Borgward.

    The whole Borgward story/end is very fascinating, but off topic.

    These guys were given the Lloyd by someone for free, and they made the most of it.

  • avatar

    Another great chapter Paul!

    Paul Niedermeyer wrote:

    The whole Borgward story/end is very fascinating, but off topic.

    Hey Robert, maybe these kind of stories could be weekend reading? I think stories like Borgward for example could be very enlightening/cautionary tales, especially as we view the automobile business today.

    (BTW, I have seen exactly one Borgward in my life – a 1956 Isabella coupe. Since it is the same age as me, I hope it is still around!)

  • avatar

    Growing up, my neighbor George’s father had a Borgward Isabella (along w/ a Jag sedan, and the firsf BMW I ever saw–one that was luxurious, not sporty, and looked more like a Rolls). George’s father, one of these characters who always has a cloud overhead, looked just like the Borgward. He was some sort of engineer, I think, maybe a civil eng, and he was always working on the cars in his driveway.

  • avatar

    In the mid-50s, one of my father’s friends had a renault dauphine. For those who may have been born too late to know these cars, the dauphine was tiny, and probably weighed in somewhere around 1500 lbs. Victor, then a prof of slavic studies, I think, at the U of WAshington, was one of these stereotypically bad drriving eastern european Jews. He drove without a license because he kept failing the test. One time they were driving home from the U at rush hour, and Victor stalled out in the middle of a big intersection. The light went through three cycles, cars honking, as Victor struggled to get the thing going again. Then, probably out of getting flustered , he turned the key forgetting to push in the clutch, and the thing lurched forward. A lightbulb went on in Victor’s head, and he lurched the dauphine out of the intersection on the starter motor, after which he was able t get the thing going again.

  • avatar

    I want a Lloyd

  • avatar
    Terry Parkhurst

    Much as I love engines, of all sizes, the memories I have of my father using an old, hand-driven lawn mower are ones that still make me smile – all these many years since he passed away.

    I think, like me, he would have looked with bemusement and, even contempt, at the modern leafblower, that noisy and obnoxious device, designed to make people look busy, who aren’t.

    The reference to the Ford business coupe, reminds me of the 1951 Ford Crestline my father also had – traded in for a ’57 Ford Fairlane 500 with 312 cubic-inch “Thunderbird” (so said the valve covers) V8 with overdrive. My dad rebuilt that engine, himself and it worked out well, since I myself was working on a model of the “Visible V8” and it started me on the path I’m still on.

    Thanks for this, Paul.

  • avatar

    How can an essay that starts out so promisingly about the engines that really stir a young man’s passions wind up talking about … Lloyd the Lawnmower? Without resorting to locker room boasting, I’ve mowed a few lawns and trimmed a few bushes in my time, but–not with a Lloyd!

    Great writing, Paul.

  • avatar

    I grew up in West Point, Iowa – about 30 minutes south of Burlington – I remember seeing that little car on the sign as a kid!

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    stu.purvis: Yes! we have a confirmed Lloyd sighting. Stu, what years would that have been? Just curious.

  • avatar

    From the early ’70’s until we moved in ’85.

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