by Matthew Ames
I have always been intrigued by how things work. It’s a trait I’ve inherited or learned from Dad. I was his assistant growing up, and I’ve had a lot of practice thinking about how to put things
I have memories from when we lived in Sydney of holding tools and pieces of gyprock, and of Kate, Rachel and myself dressed in garbage bags with holes at the seams for our arms, helping Dad paint a new rumpus room he had built onto the back of our house.
By the time I was at high school, I was helping Dad renovate the old Queenslander he and Mum had bought when we moved to Brisbane. We were building a major extension, which involved lifting floors, altering rooflines and building a back deck. Dad and I would hang from the roof, working hard, occasionally looking into the lounge room where we could see the girls sitting around drinking coffee with friends who might have dropped in.
I had been free labour until, one afternoon, I mentioned to Dad that I thought it was unfair that my sisters didn’t have to help – although I knew they had been part of Dad’s construction crew when they were younger and less sociable. Dad agreed, and from that point I earned pocket money for the hours I helped him with the house. I was only 13 or so at the time, but a few years later, I had saved up some money.
I needed a car. I had been driving Kate’s Mazda 1500 while she was overseas for a few years, but she had returned and swiftly repossessed it.
Rachel had a 1960 Hillman Minx that she wanted to sell. It had a column shift, white leather seats and was ember red with white wings. It was part of the family, and we called it Harriet (the Chariot). It had a rumble in the engine that meant you could hear it coming from blocks away, and I was interested. It wasn’t worth much to anyone else, and was costing Rachel a fortune, so for $50 she agreed it could be mine.
The engine was having problems, so I decided to buy a manual, strip the engine and rebuild it. People asked me why, but my response was, ‘Why not?’
I took it apart under our house, labelled each piece, and laid them all out on the concrete floor in the garage area. I recognise now how patient my parents must have been to give up the entire area where the cars normally parked for the duration of my project.
Piece by piece, I put the engine back together. I thought I had followed the instructions perfectly, but at the very end, I had a few extra nuts and bolts left over. It didn’t surprise me then that it almost worked when I started it up. I didn’t want to have to take the car apart again, so I called the RACQ for help, telling them my car wouldn’t start.
‘You’ve been rebuilding the engine, haven’t you?’ He looked me in the eye. I thought for a moment about my response, but decided to confess. ‘Yep. I couldn’t quite work out how to put the distributor back in properly again.’
The mechanic paused, and looked at the car.
‘We’re not supposed to do this, but I haven’t seen one of these for ages.’
He spent around three hours helping me with the final touches of the rebuild and we got the car going. It worked well.
I guess I just never envisaged a day when bolts and nuts would stick out of my arms and legs. Fortunately, there are people as experienced as that RACQ mechanic looking after me.
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