I greatly enjoyed Dick Sherer's Henry Kleckler Stories in the Winter 2000 issue of the Crooked Lake Review. I never met Mr. Kleckler personally, but I have been in that shop on some errand or other and have seen that Pierce-Arrow car with the tanks on it. Besides that, I know one Henry Kleckler story, involving neither schoolboys nor aircraft, that I'd like to share. It's not from my own experience, I heard it told by Leo Jones.
Leo Jones the elder, in his lifetime in and around Bath, was at various times a farmer, a retail milk seller, a trucker hauling coal from the mines, a logger, a sawmiller, a dealer in Ford tractors and farm equipment, and probably more, several roles at the same time and through most of them the constant proprietor of Jones Lumber Yard. You could acquire a great host of stories worth telling in all that experience and Leo did. In his level, undramatic, matter-of-fact way he could hold an audience spellbound, story after story and keep them eager for more. Like this one:
In a very cold spell in a very snowy winter Leo and his crew were logging a tract of forest. One day a vital, heavy and not-easy-of-access part on his crawler tractor broke. Somehow they removed it in all that chill and snow and brought it to Henry Kleckler for welding. Leo made sure Henry Kleckler understood what a set-back this was for him, how much he needed that tractor to keep going. The next day he got the part back from Kleckler, neatly welded.
Back in the woods they put it back on, started up the machine and ran about ten feet when it broke agiain, in the same places. Back to Kleckler with it and once more the whole exact performance was repeated. Such was Leo's faith in Henry Kleckler and so few his alternatives that he brought it back to Henry a third time. This time Henry set the conditions. He told Leo "I can fix that so it will stay fixed, but you'll have to leave it here three days." Reluctantly, Leo left it.
Late the third day he got it back. "You'll have no more trouble with it," Henry assured him. He didn't. Years later, when he junked the tractor as completely worn out, those Kleckler welds were still intact.
Henry explained: "As soon as you left, I threw all the parts in my furnace, right on the burning coals, and left them there two days. The third day I fished them out, cooled them a bit and welded them." He had figured out the cause of the problem, applied the remedy and all was well thereafter.
You no doubt have noticed with good story-tellers how one story reminds them of another and so the flow goes on. That happens with undistinguished ones too, as it's happening now with me. Like so:
Red Odell (he had a first name, I never heard him called anything but Red Odell) had an auto repair business in a little garage, bigger than a minimum one-car, but not quite two-car, which, like Henry Kleckler's shop, stood in back of his house. It was always so full of parts, lubricants, miscellany and whatever current job Red was working on that you couldn't squeeze in or out without acquiring a grease spot or two. Had Red been portly instead of slim he could not have squeezed in there himself. There were always six or eight cars in his yard awaiting his attention.
My long-time employer, Farm Credit, supplied each of their fieldmen with a brand-new car every year. They bought about nine cars a year all from the same dealer, trading for an extremely low difference. This was much cheaper for them than paying mileage on personal cars; it had to be, or our sharp-penciled auditors would never have continued to approve the practice. They also got a benefit out of it by way of presenting the public image they desired—all of us in the same model car, always new and good but the modest, no-nonsense, economy kind.
One year they brought me a brand-new car that just would not run. How they ever delivered it I do not know. It gagged and stuttered, hesitated under a load, sometimes stalled out dead—it just wouldn't do. It was under warranty of course, but the dealer was distant for those like me serving the farthest-out edges of our territory. It wasted too much time needed for more productive work to take car problems back to the dealer; there were hardly ever any problems anyway. The dealer would cover us for anything major, but generally we had whatever needed doing done locally. I tried that. Two of Bath's best mechanics could not tell what ailed it. I concluded "This is one for Red Odell."
Red Odell, you see, had a reputation. That's why there were always six or eight cars waiting for him. It was said that his ear listening to an exhaust was worth more than the most sophisticated diagnostic machine. It was said that when the head mechanics from dealers far and wide encountered something that had them baffled, they would bring their problem to Red Odell. He was the old maestro. He seemed to remember every car he'd ever worked on and often talked about what he had learned from them as he worked.
Like Leo, I built a case to Red Odell how badly I needed that car, now, fast. He did something to it; didn't work. Back again, tried something else, still wouldn't go. Like Henry, the third time Red set the conditions. "You owe me enough now so that car should run. If you will just leave it here long enough, I will make it run and it won't cost an additional cent over my present bill." After determining that what he meant by "long enough" was about three days, I left it.
The third day I got if back, "fixed," guaranteed. It ran perfectly and a year later, when the dealer got it back with twenty thousand miles on it, it still ran perfectly.
Red explained: "I took that carburetor off and dismantled it piece by piece under a strong light, measuring each part with a micrometer and comparing the measurements with the factory specs for that model. The jets, I found, were all wrong—they were for another model. I got the right ones, put them in; she'll run now." Those factory specs he "just happened" to have in his shop, and the more the miracle, he could find them in there, too.
Red theorized that this carburetor was the last one on the assembly line for a given day and the shift had just run out of the right jets. Rather than delay quitting time they stuck in some other ones, with this poor result.
Didn't somebody quotable once say. "Genius is an infinite capacity for taking pains"? I thought of that then, as I think of it now.
Oh, Oh! What I foresaw when I began the Red Odell story was that it would be the only one to be included here—but another comes now to mind, pressing for attention—one I remember with great gratitude, even tho I've forgotten the individual's name. Once again, with one of these new cars that I'd been driving only a few weeks, making a farm appraisal, I had stopped to study the terrain; starting up again, I shifted into low gear and found I couldn't get out of it. Raising the hood, I had no trouble seeing what was wrong. This one had a manual, not an automatic transmission. A part of the mechanical linkage between the shift lever and the gears was a quadrant that pivoted on a stud screwed into the engine block. The stud had broken off all at once, for the break was clean and new, just inside the block so there was no way to get hold of it. The linkage hung there uselessly.
At least it had gotten me into a forward gear; I was grateful for that. Reverse would have been horrible. The drive in low gear, most of it on a state highway was horrible enough, stopping at everything that looked like it might be an auto repair place. No one could be of help, but one suggested a place that might be. About nine miles from the break site, I found it—a small garage behind a house on a residential street in a small village with three men working in it—the "boss" and two helpers. They were busy but soon caught onto my predicament and turned to my problem. It's nature was easy enough to see and so was the first step—drill into that stud for a screw extractor. But how, where it was located, could anyone get a drill to work in there? All three put their minds to that and before my eyes they invented a contraption made out of scraps of boards that would hold a drill in position. With two men lying under the car holding parts of the contraption and the third hanging draped over the fender they managed to drill a hole which admitted a screw extractor that readily backed the stud out.
This showed clearly that this had been what is called a shoulder bolt. The threaded part was of smaller diameter than the pivot part. The boss here then made phone call after phone call seeking a replacement part. No luck, cars that new were not supposed to need an obscure little part like this; nobody had any. They weren't licked yet. They put a stud of the pivot diameter in a lathe, turned it down in part to the in-block diameter, cut a thread in it and reassembled the linkage. It worked. I was on my way, at a very reasonable charge for three mens' time. I left my profuse thanks along with a check.
There was some question raised about the hardness of the replacement stud; was it sufficiently hard? But this was one place where the temptation to leave well enough alone was irresistible. That's what I did. The next year when it went back to the dealer it was still shifting just fine by means of that makeshift pivot.
More and more today when you need something done to a car you must talk first with a service manager, neat and clean in a freshly laundered white lab coat. He writes up something, then assigns your job to one of their gang of mechanics, each at his station with a hoist and other paraphernalia, provided they are not at the moment on some type of scheduled break or other. These inspire in you a certain amount and kind of confidence; they are so well equipped and move with a certain assurance, sometimes justified. They also leave you with trepidation often justified, about the amount of your bill. But this is not a bitter complaint; it's all right, that's the way things are these days. It could be worse.
But I do hope we never run completely out of the Henry Klecklers, the Red Odells and the likes of my friends with the wooden drill jig, not when we are up against the really rough stuff. They are rescuing angels as they peer at you through grease, grime and sweat and turn their brains and hands to your need. There's one important thing to be learned, though, from Leo Jones's experience and mine. If you get one of these to address your problem, don't try to hurry him. It will only make this take longer. Turn it over to him, completely, timing and all—that's the only way it will ever get done right anyway.
© 2000, John Rezelman