Saturday, November 18, 2006

On-Board Spares

All Volkswagens came from the factory with a rudimentary kit of tools as standard equipment. At the dealer each new vehicle was usually gifted with a spare fan belt and complimentary set of spare fuses. Up through the early 1970's it was not uncommon to find these things, untouched and even unopened in many cases, in older Volkswagens at wrecking yards. The tools were unused because the owner had no need of them, thanks to the presence of a Volkswagen dealer in almost every town of any size. Times have changed.

While there are still a few Volkswagen dealers around most of them sell other brands of automobiles as well. Seeing ‘VW’ on a car dealer’s sign today is no assurance they even have a Volkswagen on their lot, VW parts in their storeroom or a mechanic on staff with more than a passing familiarity with an early air cooled veedub.

“You don’t see many of these nowadays,” he says as he opens the engine hatch and stands looking, mystified.

Of course, you see it every day. The only one mystified is the mechanic. Today, your best mechanic is you.

So we carry our own tools... as Volkswagen intended. And carry a few spares, too. The most important spare on board is a new fan belt, for the engine’s cooling system depends entirely on that belt. And the electrical system, too.

One belt. So we carry a spare. Or two.

Fuses are good. Older bugs and buses need only the two sizes -- eight and sixteen amps -- and most of us have learned the wisdom of using the better quality Buss (brand name) GBC-type over the original Bosch or Siemens fuse, with their exposed strip of fuse material.

We tend to not carry the things for which we already have two, such as headlights, tail-light bulbs or wiper blades. But the thoughtful do. And think a bit more, wondering ‘What do I have just one of that might keep me from getting home?’ and in their thoughtfulness add a throttle wire and clutch cable to their load.

Those of us with buses and those who yearn for empty places squirrel away a remarkable assortment of spare parts, often neatly packaged and fastened securely in the engine compartment of our boxy beasts. That lump is a carb, overhauled and ready to run, the one over there a fuel pump, this one a distributor, points gapped, waiting to fire and in doing so, carry me on my way. An alternator or generator is a bit much but not so the bushes for either, or brush-holder with in-built regulator for the latter and regulator for the former, a spare often carried bolted near the first, a regulator-in-waiting needing only the quick transfer of connections.

Volkswagen has no interest in we owners of antiques -- they can’t survive selling fuses and belts, especially so since the fuses they sell are antiques themselves -- the GBC’s are better and the belts cheaper at that place down the street.

Carrying on-board spares adds a bit of weight to the load but prevents the deadly wait on the road, when the nearest clutch cable is in Portland. And you are not.

So carry a few. Well packed and preserved so they won’t go bad. Nor will their prices grow as they surely will if you leave them on the dealer’s shelves. An on-board spare is here, right now. Portland is a Cascade Range away, an hour’s drive or two-days walk and walking is illegal in much of modern-day America, especially if it’s paved.

On-board spares are smart in the same way a Ph.D. is smart who never calls himself ‘Doctor’ and looks at things with quiet, knowing eyes. ’Ron,’ he says as he shakes your hand. He has contributed to man’s sum store of knowledge and is satisfied with that. He’s on a Journey and needs no one to celebrate his ego.

On-board spares are like that -- part of your Journey. Others turn back, drop out, give up.

But with on-board spares you’ve got what you need in your kit and drive on, promising to replace it when next you can. Being smart isn’t the same as being wise but carrying on-board spares is both and says much about the person who does so. Your casual “I’ll be there,” is taken by others as sterling, that you’ll do what you say, because you always do. For some of us it is not a celebration of ego to say we are as good as our word. We think, we plan and carry out those plans. We allow for the unexpected. And we carry a few spares on-board. ’I’ll be there’ becomes not an expression of ego but merely a statement of fact.

And if you think this only about cars, you’ve missed the point :-)

-Bob Hoover (1995)

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