Learned The Hard Way

Speaking of tools, which I recently was… Speaking of them, that is, not being one… I discovered after we’d landed back home here in Dinkytown that I was without jack stands. I used to have four of them, nice sturdy American-made steel, but they’re somewhere else now. They weren’t intended to be, but as I’ve mentioned before my tools have always had a habit of falling into adverse possession. So, being one who doesn’t like the idea of having a three ton pickup truck crush the life out of me I bought some more jack stands. Nice stout suckers, rated for six tons each. Theoretically, one of them could hold up two of my truck, so there’s a pretty good safety margin there. The old truck should never fall on me.

The company who made them is a Canuckistani outfit, with manufacturing facilities in Canada and the US. The company who sold them to me gave no indication of the stands’ country of origin, but I didn’t find anything anywhere indicating that they might come from (gasp!) China so I ordered ’em up. Yes, indeed, I found when they arrived that they were manufactured in China. I don’t fault the Chinese for the poor quality of the goods imported from there, as they’re just filling contracts for things engineered and specified elsewhere, but I do harbor suspicion because the engineering and specification being done in North America for Chinese manufacturing really suck. Still, they’re rated for twice the weight of my truck, so I went ahead and started using them.

Then I got a recall notice. It turns out that they can fail and drop the load suddenly. I wonder how they figured that out. I’m glad I wasn’t involved.

My father, who now owns four very nice American steel jack stands, taught me the great importance of vehicle lifting safety one day in the 1960’s, a lesson that has stuck with me all these years. On that day, he didn’t own four very nice American steel jack stands, or even one of them. He was replacing the rear shock absorbers on my mother’s 1964 Chevrolet Impala, when the thing fell off of the screw-type jack which was the only thing keeping it elevated. It pinned him to the driveway, with the axle tube planted squarely on his chest, which understandably got him to hollering like he was being killed. Being the designated helper, it fell to me to reposition the jack and lift the vehicle off of the screaming fool. It scared hell out of me.

Did I say that the car fell? That makes it sound like it was a random sort of thing, which it wasn’t. The car was pulled off of the jack by my father, who’d been forcefully yanking on a shock absorber that wouldn’t come out. Perhaps due to the fact that not all of the mounting hardware had been removed. The thing practically fell out when I removed said hardware while the patriarch sat in a chair groaning and drinking beer. Later that afternoon I saw my first ever jack stands, brand new from the auto parts store. AFTER the job was done.

A few years later I learned the importance of placing the jack stands on a solid surface. As it turns out, on a very hot Southern California day an asphalt driveway is not so solid a surface. I again had to lift a vehicle off of my father, hollering as if he was being killed. Not long after, I learned that (a) wheel chocks are terribly important, too, because (b) the parking brake only locks the rear wheels, and if they’re elevated there’s nothing preventing the vehicle from rolling. Rolling right off of the jack stands. At least that time the fool wasn’t pinned under the vehicle.

It was maybe two years after that that I learned that it’s important to chock those wheels both front and rear, because it’s unwise to count on a gentle slope to prevent the vehicle from rolling uphill when sufficient force is applied. He wasn’t pinned that time, either, but he was bruised and bloodied a bit.

I learned quite a lot from my father, and almost all of it by negative example. Never store gasoline in glass jars, especially not with the lid screwed down tight, especially not when the lowest point of the garage floor just happens to be right under the pilot light on the gas water heater. That can burn your house up and frighten your four year old son half to death. Also: don’t wait until after the fire to buy the fire insurance. Several years later, we both learned that the stuff that ain’t yours ain’t covered by the fire insurance — so the stuff that was mine that got burned up in his second garage fire was just my own tough luck. 

Don’t be careless with sharp screwdrivers, and use a vice when one is called for. It looks really painful to jam a narrow bladed screwdriver all the way through the palm of your hand, and really pathetically stupid to do it twice. Chances are good that all of the bolts and nuts that hold your vehicle together really are necessary. Also, it doesn’t help to hurl wrenches at the car whose fasteners won’t come loose easily. It’s also painful to be the dumb little kid who isn’t allowed to get far away from the father who will hurl wrenches at engines, from which they will bounce and strike the nearest little kid in the face. Don’t drink and drive, because sometimes god doesn’t look out for drunks and instead places enormous boulders in their path, boulders that won’t be moved no matter how fast you’re going when you ram into them. Secure the stuff that rides in your vehicle with you lest that stuff, in the wreck you so richly deserve to have, become missiles aimed right at your idiot drunken head and thereupon leave permanent creases. Don’t drink and operate chainsaws, and especially don’t get drunk and fell tall trees on windy days. And so on. The list goes on and on but I’ve gone on long enough.

With that as my history, I’ve got fire extinguishers and jack stands and wheel chocks and all manner of safety equipment that I use whenever it’s called for and maybe even when it’s not. 

Imagine my chagrin upon receipt of the recall notice for the jack stands I’d already trusted with my life. 


8 thoughts on “Learned The Hard Way

  1. sojournable

    So,you’re a safety freak with good reason to be! joking 😀 After last summer’s sparkler debacle that sent me to the ER, I told my kid that this year we will use oven mitts and long-stemmed lighters, no exceptions!

  2. grannyandthebaldguy

    we have jack stands also but they are usually traveling with our boys and we watch for recalls too.

  3. asexatheani

    This seems like a good time to repeat my oft-stated belief that America should switch to the metric system. Because if the entire world used the same system, a lot of confusion that comes from marketing things to Americans would be gone, and it might help the quality of goods overall.

    But like that’ll ever happen. *sigh* C’est la vie.

    1. happierheathen Post author

      The problem wasn’t metric vs. SAE, but “a pawl engagement issue”. Which frosts my backside in addition to the safety problem. Issues are releases of periodical literature; humans and their machines have problems and failures. Gah.

  4. Roadkill Spatula

    Your dad sounds very persistent. I can’t imagine being pinned by a car or crucified with a screwdriver more than once! You’re lucky to survive.

    My jack and stands come from Pep Boys, and I’m absolutely sure they are made in China because American made ones would cost a lot more than $20 for a two-ton shop jack plus jack stands. I use them every year or two to change my front brakes, and I always chock my wheels. The thought of having a ton and a half of metal resting on my head or chest is unappealing.

    1. happierheathen Post author

      Wow. Twenty bucks for a jack and stands? As a guy who irrationally insists upon using jack stands individually rated for double the total vehicle weight, the thought of a $20 set scares me half to death. They’re probably just fine — I have never tried to lay claim to sanity. 🙂

      1. Roadkill Spatula

        They’re pretty simple devices and I always double them up with the jack itself. The jack is quite a bit more substantial than the stupid little thing that comes with the van.


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