By on March 20, 2010

As 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, life’s most intimate mysteries sang their siren song, and I was powerless to resist.

And so, one fateful summer afternoon, I pulled my intended victim into a dark corner of the family garage, well out of sight of adults, and I furtively began removing the external coverings. In detaching the final gate-keeper of the mystery, 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 (and cylinder head) 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 tear down. 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.

So I 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 unmuffled 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.

[Postscript: The Lloyd was seen to still be there by a reader recently]

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13 Comments on “The Best Of TTAC: Autobiography 4 – Life’s Intimate Mysteries Unveiled...”

  • avatar

    Oh, yeah! Cum, shaft, piston movement, and finally direct injection!

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    crash sled

    Ah yes, I believe my first time was with a Tecumseh, but it proceeded along similar lines as your Briggs. She eventually (sorta) warmed to my touch… but she had a lot more experience than me.

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    I started out Asian, a Honda XR 75. Always quickies – never wanted to get more than a couple hours in, who wants to be without a ride when you’re 12?

    Fortunately, one of my friends had abused an old Suzi to the point of lockup, so we got to take her all the way down in my parents’ basement.

  • avatar

    112 John Deere, Kohler 12hp, manual choke, she was much older than me (brn. 1973, me brn. 1977). Afterward we were both exhausted but the old girl loved to be opened up. You never forget your first.

  • avatar

    Like most things, reality is never quite up to expectations. That’s why Loren Beauchamp is a man, and trailer camp tramps (say it fast 10 times) never ever look that way, although sometimes they might have a full set of teeth. Sadly, I never hung with any fast driving teenage gang debs, either. But when your daily driver said Cortina on the side, even if it was the GT version, what could be expected?

  • avatar

    Hey.. my first time was a foursome. My buddies dad had an ancient but functional roter tiller with a Briggs and Stratten side drive. My dad had a Lawnboy two stroke.

    We tore them both down,in a vain attempt to understand the difference between two and four stroke engines.

    My dad had never met my buddies dad,untill they found themselves at the local small engine shop with similar problems.

    The old roter tiller went to roter tiller heaven. My buddy spent the rest of the summer running a hoe and pulling weeds. My dad decided,that seeing as how I was so intererested in lawn mowers I could be the full time lawn cutter.

  • avatar

    Like you, my first was a 3hp Briggs on the go-kart I got for Christmas when I was 6 years old. After tooling around the neighborhood for about a month, I just knew this engine had more in it. I saw this mysterious linkage system where the throttle cable was hooked to a lever on the carburetor. From this lever, a spring looking rod disappeared into the flywheel housing. Out from the housing came another rod that actuated the butterfly in the carburetor. Hmmm …. was some mysterious thing inside the housing keeping my foot from fully opening the butterfly? I had to find out. After removing the flywheel cover, I found this flat blade looking thing that pivoted on a shaft. Both the spring rod from the lever on the carburetor and the rod that rotated the butterfly were hooked into it. What was this??? After looking at it, I began to wonder if the fan blades on the flywheel were creating some sort of wind pressure on the flat blade that kept the butterfly rod “in check”. Hmmm …. maybe that’s why the spring was attached between my foot and the mysterious flat blade. This was keeping the damn butterfly from opening!! Well, I wasn’t going to have any of that. I got the metal shears out of my dad’s tool box and trimmed that blade down to virtually nothing. Feeling all powerful, I reassembled the cover, hooked everything back up, and gave it a pull. Started fine. Hopped in and proceeded to floor the pedal. My curiosity about what might happen turned into a huge grin as it appeared that I had increased the top speed of the kart by about double. Gee, I must have disabled some sort of governor, and my dad is probably gonna kill me when he finds out (remember … I’m only six).

    Well, he found out, but instead of being mad he was totally shocked and pleased. When he asked how in the world did I think to disable the governor, I told him I didn’t have a clue … my mind just seemed to figure it out. I guess that’s one of the reasons I became a Mechanical Engineer … and still freak my wife out when it comes to all things mechanical.

  • avatar

    Honda 50 that I tore down to every single nut and bolt in the basement. My father was so stunned he brought his friend down and said. “look what he did to her’ and “I’ll be dammned, ever part is plated”. Then I put her back together and rode till larger asian ladies appeared. That little lady is still going strong nearly 40 years later, a pit bike somewhere in North Carolina by way of Idaho and all the way from the coast of Washington state.

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    A set of go-kart wheels with tiller steering and pulley on the rear axle, a 4×2 sheet of 3/4″ plywood, a few odd bolts out of my Dad’s junk stash, and a 7hp Briggs.

  • avatar

    All this talk of exposure and laying bare what is underneath makes me feel so dirty.

  • avatar

    Edward, you had me at Enginealia.

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