So long as a beer was in one hand and a cigarette in the other, Dipstick seemed confident. For about an hour he orbited the tractor while I offered wrenches or turned the hand crank. (It has a “backup” hand crank…manual override!) He shoved the test light into random orifices (thankfully in the tractor). This made sense; the wiring harness is very simple but it’s still essential to its operation.
Finally he announced that the distributor cap was toast. Something I’d been pondering myself. I agreed to order a new distributor cap (fairly cheap). We’d reconvene when the part arrived. I explained that I had an appointment soon so we might as well wrap up for the day.
He insisted that the entire front end would have to come off for the repair. To replace the cap? I’d serviced it before (back in the happy days when it ran) without going to such extremes. Dipstick really wanted to pull that front axle. No. Pulling an axle to get to the distributor cap is nuts.
Dipstick was pleased with himself. Giving him a can of beer was like hitting a dying man with a defibrillator. He promised the tractor would be running soon.
I had my doubts. Even if the distributor was toast the tractor should have done something. The starter just wasn’t cranking like it should. Also Dipstick kept trying to talk me into retrofitting my tractor to 12 volts and I opposed this procedure. (There are legitimate reasons to retrofit old tractors from their original 6v components but “it don’t work” isn’t one of them.)
I was getting mixed signals. I couldn’t fix the tractor so I doubted myself. On the other hand Dipstick seemed to be missing finer points of logic. Perhaps we were both morons?
Meanwhile Dipstick was aimlessly tightening some wiring connections. I ignored him while I turned over his diagnosis in my head. Something didn’t seem right. I was annoyed with his fussing over the connections. Nothing wrong with tightening the connections but it seemed irrelevant until the main situation was handled.
Then I noticed something. His cigarette was smelling weird. No, not like he was a pothead…that wouldn’t bother me. Instead it smelled like… Oh shit!
I strode past him to the opposite side of the tractor. My starter was smoking! In the short time I glanced at it the volume of acrid smoke increased alarmingly. Then…and you know how this happens in moments of stress…time slowed down and everything came into very clear focus.
I had a hard time getting my mind around this totally unacceptable piece of information. For all my many faults, for all my mechanical missteps, no matter how poorly I’d performed rebuilding this tractor…I had never set anything on fire. How low could the bar get?
Dipstick noticed it too and blurted out “I didn’t do it.”
I was flabbergasted! The question of guilt wasn’t on my mind. He was the obvious cause but more importantly…
My. Tractor. Was. On. Fire.
Something deep in my black dangerous heart came to the surface and when I looked at Dipstick the color ran out of his face.
“Dude, you were here. I didn’t touch nothing.”
He took a step back.
Smoke was pouring out of the starter. My tractor was on fire. Inconceivable!
This son of a bitch was gonna’ die!
Dipstick realized he was standing closer to a human supernova of rage than he’d ever been in his life. He dropped his cigarette.
My huge dog started barking and leaping mightily at her chain. She was well away from the action but knew something terrible was happening. Dipstick eyed the angry dog nervously. Then he looked at me.
“The dog is the least of your worries.” I was clenching my teeth.