I’m not sure when it was written. Friday, April 16, was an important date in the history of my little equipment repair business. Though not necessarily the realization of any personal goal, it represents an important milestone in this 30-some year adventure, nonetheless.
I relate the events directly from my journal of that date, written while sitting on the park bench in front of the J. Edgar Hoover FBI Building on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C.
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So what is a traveling farm tractor mechanic, in bib overalls, straw hat and grease from an old engine doing here: April 16, 2010?
Got up extra early today and left with Stephanie, hot coffee steaming the windshield in the cool morning air with her driving — the best seat in the house. She jumped out at the school in Capon Bridge. There’s sort of a break room there where she would have to kill an hour before making her school bus run.
I continued on to Winchester to meet the Valley Connector, a commuter van to Washington, D.C. The federal workers on board were as diverse as any crew that could be found on Gilligan’s Island.
We proceeded through the familiar Clarke and Loudoun countryside in the early morning light. We then got on the Dulles Toll Road and things started moving faster. The conversation was mostly about cellphones, computers and Jiffy-Lube; then all fell silent in sleep.
Nearing the city, we passed a lot of construction as the Metro subway was being extended. It looked like morning safety meetings were going on and at other sites, men were just arriving to strip concrete forms and build others. Some tied rebar in the trenches.
However, I’m feeling good about what I do — especially this morning.
I thought that I would have to get off at the Rosslyn Metro station and take the subway to Federal Triangle. Instead, a very kind and helpful young woman (FBI) advised me to stay on the connector until her stop at the FBI building at 10th and Pennsylvania Avenue, just a couple of blocks from Federal Triangle.
At her stop, she kindly directed me to my destination and told me where to meet the Connector for the trip back to Winchester.
I called the representative of Fine Arts Specialists, who met me at 12th and Constitution. He escorted me to the service entrance of the Museum of American History of the Smithsonian Institution. There I was directed to hand my driver’s license to a security guard. Being somewhat distracted by all this, I failed to notice that he didn’t return it.
We took an elevator to the 1st floor and entered a restricted work area. I then located the box of tools that had been sent ahead by Fine Arts Specialists and carried it to the display that they were dismantling and packaging for shipment to the storage facility at Suitland, Md.
(Forget those Ben Stiller movies; there’s no “deep storage” under the museum.)
The 1850 Faber steam engine was too large to fit through the door so the crankshaft would have to be removed. Beginning the teardown,
I removed the long cam-actuated rod that operates the engine’s valve system. It was heavy and cumbersome, and I needed help to carry it away from the machine.
With a word, 3 expert handlers appeared and carried the rod away and laid it on some foam rubber padded supports already constructed for this specific purpose.
Next to be removed were the 2 large main bearings, keeping all parts in order and catalogued, including the thickness of each shim in thousandths of an inch. All breaking torques were recorded — well, sort of. Unable to obtain a 2-11/16-inch square socket to fit my torque wrench, I instaed counted and recorded the turns required to remove each nut of that size.
The museum’s head conservator arrived. He’s a short, balding fellow with an enormous moustache. Being gearhead antiquarians, we hit it off immediately and conversed in our own language like a chance meeting of old homesick immigrants while everyone else just stood around and smiled.
I sold him on my idea of removing the heavy flyball governor assembly from on top of the engine. The force of a swaying truck would be compounded tremendously this high above the base.
I enlisted some very knowledgeable help who actually knew what the governor does and about its many potential finger-mangling and pinch points.
Two Latina women were going about cataloging and labeling each individual part. Thus I was frequently asked the names of each of the antiquated parts. I received a suspicious dark-eyed glance as I detailed the many parts of the flyball governor.
I eventually reached a period where I found myself waiting for the wooden fixtures that were to support the 1,300-pound crankshaft for transport to be built. I stopped my billing time and went outside.
There, I bought a Polish sausage sub from a Vietnamese street vendor. Sitting by the fountain, I watched as dust devils carried fallen cherry blossoms high above the sidewalk.
The fixtures completed, the crankshaft was lifted at 2 points with a gantry. The main bearing pillow blocks were bolted to the frame and the crankshaft lowered onto them.
We went down to the security booth by the loading dock and our West Virginia driver’s licenses were returned. I was a little surprised since I still hadn’t noticed that mine had been retained.
The folks from Fine Arts Specialists and I walked up Constitution Avenue.
We parted company at 12th Street. I went on to l0th and Pennsylvania to catch my ride back to Winchester. Not being accustomed to Washington D.C., I was somehow mildly surprised to find myself looking at the no-less familiar Capitol Rotunda — just like on the back of a nickel, I thought. Well, duh — where should I expect to see it — Hoboken, maybe?
Christie emerged from the FBI building and joined me on the park bench.
She’s a blonde— likely several years younger than me. We had a pleasant conversation as we waited for the Winchester Connector.
En route out of the city, we picked up a comically outspoken fellow who had ridden with us earlier and things began to liven up in the ol’ Connector. He mentioned that he had been watching a beautiful woman as she walked along the street so intently that he bumped into her boyfriend.
I quietly filed this information away, preferring to learn from his mistake than to replicate the incident myself.
We stopped to pick up Sally, who had ridden down with us. She had been the first to leave the bus and in the dim morning light, so I hadn’t noticed her tastefully subtle silver jewelry. If this had actually been Gilligan’s Island, she would surely be our Ginger.