Thursday, 25 December 2014



First of all, one must be kind to the snowbirds. After all, for the majority of the year, they are home, working the farm or other businesses, and then, when harvest is done, they start making their plans to fly south for the winter. JC could never blame them. In later years he has even opted to work toward similar goals. Places like Mesa, AZ, or Needles, CA, where the winter weather is favorable, and there is a car show every weekend, has a lot more appeal than shoveling snow and scraping ice off the windshield just to be able to get to work. Back in the day, JC envied snowbirds to some extent, although there were times he locked horns with them.

The trouble with snowbirds is that, when they close the door to the machine shed, all thoughts of what might need to be done to the tractor (or truck) to have it ready for the spring season seem to vanish--out of sight; out of mind, so to speak. So many repair shops in the country are all but devoid of work during the winter while hundreds of hours of potential revenue are languishing in the sheds on the farms in the region. Spring comes around, the equipment comes out and then, when it's needed the most, the grim reality of what should've been done during the off-season sets in. And the tractor, truck, or whatever is rushed to the shop, only to find a lineup of broken-down equipment ahead of them.

A television ad from fifty years ago comes to mind: Why wait for spring; do it now...

Well, Steve (his real name was Howard but that doesn't matter right now) and his wife had spent yet another glorious winter in Mesa, taking in that wonderful desert air; going to the massive market; eating pizza at the Organ Stop; square dancing (they weren't into collectible cars so BJ's auction was out), and just taking in the winter months with easy strides. Of course all good things must come to an end and come spring, it was back to the real world. And so, farming had begun for the year and Steve was busy getting tractors ready, and trying to motivate a couple of unmotivated boys who had spent the winter at the home Forty, doing very little other than party throughout the winter. The tractors and equipment were pressed back into service and it wasn't long before the memories from last season came flooding back.

The big four-wheel-drive tractor's clutch resumed slipping until it would barely pull itself downhill with a tailwind. The smaller tractor resumed its rhythmatic clunk-clunk-CRUNCH, clunk-clunk-CRUNCH, emanating from the depths of the front driving axle. To make a long story shorter, both tractors were soon lined up at the shop awaiting their turn to get repaired.

Now, I might add right here that Steve was also one of the original shareholders in the shop where JC worked--there were ten originally but when one shareholder bought the business from the others, it was under the condition that he alone called the shots. No longer real participants in the daily operations of the business, all the founding shareholders still had privileges of buying their cars, trucks, and farm equipment at cost. And they all expected a little bit of priority when they needed work done.

Seeing that he was about to get put off for the better part of a week, Steve went to JC and told him the situation. JC told him the truth: Steve was likely a week away before repairs to his tractors could even begin. Steve countered with a typical story where he absolutely had to have his tractors running because he had fertilizer coming; he had seeding to do; I'm sure that if it would've done any good, he'd have told him that his wife needed to get to the hairdresser and he couldn't take her because his tractors were broken.

JC apologized and told him that he already had everyone in the service department spoken for and even had some work going on outside because they couldn't fit it all inside the shop. That didn't sit very well with Steve; there might be other ways to influence whose machine came into the shop next.

JC was in the shop attempting to stem the tide of small jobs by spending time at the bench repairing starters, alternators, hydraulic control valves, fuel injectors and whatever else needed to be done; that also kept the rest of the crew working on the larger jobs. Evenings would find him in his office closing out work orders, writing up warranty claims and generally handling the administrative duties of a service manager. It was a demanding time of the year and he was doing his best to stay on top of things. What he didn't need was interference.

JC saw Steve and GL coming through the shop and heading his direction. Actually he wasn't surprised because many customers, thinking that they could gain extra consideration, made it a habit to talk to the boss, maybe even cry on his shoulder: my family is starving; my kids need new shoes; I can't afford to replace my three year old RV so I'll have to suffer through another winter in Arizona with my old one; my wife has to get to the hairdresser...

'Why can't you get Steve's tractors in the shop?' GL demanded, not caring that he had butted in ahead of two other customers.

'Because we're backed up solid,' JC said a trifle irritably. 'I've already got things double-booked.'

GL took a look around the shop. 'We're gonna have to bump somebody!' he said in a commanding voice. He pointed to a tractor in an adjacent bay that appeared to be mostly together. 'What about this one?'

JC quickly apologized to the customer he was waiting on and went over to deal with the boss. 'Jimmy's tractor? The water pump had young ones and the fan went through the radiator. Rob's pulling it out as we speak.'

'What about this one?'

'Matt's? Final drive is out. Tell you what, why don't you pick any one of those tractors that are in here. I'll get the customer on the phone and YOU can tell them why Steve deserves priority over them. Maybe we can get Steve on the phone with you and you both can tell them why they've got to be sidelined.'

JC didn't give GL a chance to counter. Patience completely worn through, he pressed his attack:

'All winter you've threatened to lay everyone off because there's no work in the shop, and I've been begging you to keep everyone on, just to keep control of things when spring work started.' He gestured around the crowded shop. 'Tractors and trucks have been locked in sheds all over the country; they've all had problems but we couldn't get in touch with anyone, or there's been a massive pile of grain in front making it impossible to get the machine out! Whatever the reason, we had an empty shop all winter and now I've got guys working overtime to get everything fixed up!

'I can't help it if Steve is down in Arizona basking in the sun while his kids are partying up a storm up here all winter. Last fall Steve mentioned that he should get his tractors in for some work but then he was off to Arizona. I spent half the winter trying to round up someone on the phone so we could go out and pick the tractors up, but I failed to do that. Consequently I had to put up with threats of layoffs and closing the shop down!'

JC turned and headed back to the workbench. GL called after him: 'We've got to do something to help Steve out--.' Steve, realizing that JC was right, grabbed GL's arm and pulled him away. 'No, GL, JC is absolutely right; it's entirely my fault and I'll have to wait. It will never happen again. Steve continued to steer GL away and they both left the shop.

Three days later, JC succeeded in getting the larger of Steve's tractors into the shop and make the necessary repairs which took an additional couple of days. Steve went home and raised supreme hell with his two boys, one of whom called it quits and now works at a tire shop in the city. The other one took his lumps and is still on the farm, the sole operator of that establishment to this day. Steve no longer has to worry about the problems that life has to offer as the Big C took over a couple of years later; he is now off to his eternal reward.

And putting off repairing broken machinery on Steve's farm during the winter has never happened again.


There's always someone who is trying to get something for nothing. Often times he (or she) is moderately successful and that only gives him the confidence to try it again. Each continued success gets them in a little deeper until they get mired down in their games of deceit, and eventually has them convinced that they are in the right. It's too bad because all too often it lands them in a great deal of hot water. If that doesn't happen, having someone confront them with their devious plot often provokes a heated argument. The upside of this is that the perpetrator realizes that not everyone is about to fall for their fraudulent acts.

For some reason attempts at fraud seem to happen quite frequently in a service department. Maybe it's just because of so many staggering repair orders. My good friend Kurt, who worked in a shop out in New England, told me how he was accused of ruining a customer's radio while performing a brake job (could no longer tune into his favorite radio station). My other friend, Ernie, who worked in a shop on the west coast told me that he was accused of substituting an entire engine while performing a tuneup--the police were even summoned for that one. I might add that some of those investigative programs on television, showing how fraudulent repair shops can get, tend to go viral and have everyone in the world thinking that all mechanics are crooked. The best way to counter such claims is for the service department to be accommodating and honest. But also to stick to its guns when a customer isn't willing to hold up his end of the bargain.

We met Elmer a few stories ago when he took his relatively new 3/4 ton pickup ice fishing. As a second truck, he had a one ton pickup that was probably fifteen years (or so) old at the time. It had once belonged to the power company and therefore got used a lot during its tenure there. Elmer had purchased the truck at a dispersion of surplus vehicles and was content to use the truck around the farm as a fuel truck/service truck. As such it was more subject to neglect than anything else; it didn't get all that many miles in a year so routine maintenance kind of got forgotten until something went wrong.

Springtime and a busy time of year for any farmer. Crops had to be sown in order to have a good chance of growing and maturing so that harvest could be accomplished and a living derived. Elmer was as busy as any other farmer, working long hours and trying to beat the calendar, not to mention the weather. One day he was heading to the field with the old tried and true one-ton when suddenly there was a clunk, followed by an ear-splitting screech from somewhere in the engine compartment. Seeing steam come out from under the hood, accompanied by the smell of antifreeze and Elmer pretty much knew what was wrong.

JC watched as the older truck was being towed to the shop by the newer, super clean, farm truck. It was dropped off at the shop entrance where JC helped the guys push it inside. It didn't take long to determine that the water pump bearings had seized necessitating replacement of the pump itself. The fan belts had suffered severe damage and would've been replaced anyways because they were cracked and frayed from normal use over the years. In fact, the radiator hoses, heater hoses and the thermostat were replaced because of age and if they failed, it could cause further damage. Of course JC knew Elmer well enough to know that if anything else failed he'd try to hook the shop for damages. JC also ensured that the antifreeze/coolant was replaced because it was likely the same age as the truck itself.

Well, the repairs were completed in less than half a day. Elmer was presented with a bill that he thought was completely outrageous and told JC so. Elmer also knew that he couldn't get a better job done elsewhere for that kind of money; he also knew JC well enough that attempting to argue with him would've been totally futile. He simply paid the bill and stormed out and back to the farm.

It was about three days later when JC was in his office finishing up some warranty claims when Elmer burst through the door. He held a crumpled yellow paper out to him. 'You guys wrecked my taillights and I got a damned ticket!'

JC took the ticket and examined it. Sure enough the ticket was issued the day after the truck had been in the shop. The truck had been pulled over on the road less than a mile from Elmer's farm and cited for non-functioning taillights. Fair enough but a question came to mind.

A typical truck is of the front engine/rear wheel drive variety and has been that way almost since the beginning when the tongue was pulled off a wagon and someone stuck an engine into the works. Now in Elmer's case, the engine was in front where it was supposed to be, and that's where the work was done. The taillights are way the heck and gone in the back; let's see, the bed of the truck is nine feet long; the distance from the back of the cab to the firewall is a good five feet and the engine is ahead of that. The work took place at the front of the engine--well they did replace the heater hoses, so the work actually went as far back as the firewall but that was still--fifteen feet from the taillights? The question still remained: How the hell would the work performed on the engine affect the taillights? No point in arguing, just get the truck back in the shop and find out what happened.

JC did just that. He also opted to be there himself, dismantling and checking; maybe he'd actually learn how something like the Process of Osmosis might have wrecked the taillights. He first noticed that the red plastic lens on the right hand taillight was broken and that the cavity was half filled with fine sand. He removed both lenses and blew everything out to have a closer look.

The bulb on the right side was broken, leaving a jagged shard of glass still attached to the brass base of the bulb. The socket was jammed, requiring a great deal of pushing and twisting to get the bulb free. The left side was almost as full of dirt as the right, probably due to a long failed gasket. The bulb itself wasn't in any better shape than the right except that the glass was intact. JC switched on the lights and was rewarded with two evenly matched headlight beams on the wall of the service bay. He tested the tail lamp sockets and found that there was no power. He had the mechanic step on the brakes and operate the turn signals, which resulted in no power in those contacts either.

JC laid down on a creeper and slid underneath to inspect the wiring. He was rewarded with an almost total lack of wire or harness from the bulk head on the firewall, along the frame and back to the taillight assemblies. The taillights had quit working years ago!

Of course JC confronted Elmer with that. Elmer predictably responded with a blast of profanity that would've made the average sailor blush (probably make the average teenage girl swoon but that's for another story). Suffice it to say that Elmer told JC that he was lying and was merely trying to get more money out of him. JC held his ground: 'Elmer, those lights haven't worked in years.'

'Those lights were working when I brought that truck in here for that damned, overpriced water pump!' JC kept his cool. 'Elmer, they weren't.'

'They were working the last time I checked them.' Elmer's story was (again, predictably) beginning to show some cracks.

'It was obviously a long time ago because they haven't worked for at least five years,' JC maintained.

'You calling me a liar?' That was always the final attempt from a customer trying to get something for nothing.

'Elmer--.' JC gazed at him, not in an accusing manner but just to show the customer that JC was in charge and wasn't about to cave in. The broken taillights were due to a total lack of maintenance on the part of the owner; nothing more, nothing less.

Elmer started to give in. 'Well, I guess they've got to be fixed, but I still think that something happened to them while it was in the shop.' These types never completely give in.

JC had the mechanic replace the entire rear harness and replace both sockets as well as lenses and gaskets. When they were through, the taillights worked, and so did the brake and turn signals. Even the backup lights worked.

Elmer grudgingly cut another check for the repairs then, shoulders slightly stooped, ambled out and drove his truck home.



  1. I love these glimpses into your world! I don't know how you've kept your cool all these years, dealing with the different types of humanity that walk through your doors! Entertaining for me. Probably not as much for you! :)

    1. Over the years those of us in the service department look back and laugh at the ridiculous claims the customers made. Frank's only accomplishment was to make himself look like a total fool. He knew it and so did we. I used to get some additional mileage out of it when the likes of Frank was within earshot. Someone would ask about getting some work done and I would caution him that there was a strange phenomenon that might wreck his taillights if he brought his car in. Of course the word had been out for a long time and we'd all have a good laugh--except for Frank. It's the aftershocks that kept us all sane.