Tractor tune-up day:
8 dreamscape hours when you know you’ve earned your keep. Lying on your back, grease in the nose…face…hat…palm…looking for zerks, cursing the 4th wrong-sized wrench, satisfyingly comparing bleach-white new filters with tarred old ones.
Whoowee, look at that!
And when its done, it’s Done For The Year. What completion, what obvious value for time spent.
For most of my life, tractor tune-up was a chance to stand around, get a brother a tool, stare at whatever…and finally head indoors. It didn’t feel good. It’s not that I don’t like working with my hands, I actually do maybe more than anything else. But I never learned the requisite skills. In Shop Class as Soul Craft, Matthew Crawford describes how society once valued hand-craft enough that schools purchased good equipment and taught kids how to use it. Then came the information age, when lathes and welding torches went idle to make room for the latest version of Macintosh. My classmates and those nearby have been encouraged to fill our heads, but leave the hands empty (as if they could be separated)…cuz who wants to do “labor”? Who wants to use their body for a generative purpose?
Well as it turns out, knowing how to make a tractor...car…sink…furnace…fusebox…load-bearing wall…function correctly continues to be incredibly valuable, not to mention meaningful and satisfying. Community colleges and some practical high schools are finally starting to purchase modern equipment for the “workforce” that is in persistent demand: those people who can do the physical things that need to get done so community can happen.
As a member of the lost manual-labor generation, spending 8 hours of work that immediately and clearly manifests 8 hours of worth is almost a surprise. What a pleasure! Self-reliance is not the felt experience one gets when thinking abstractly about first principles. Creating value is not what motivates an evening spent on FB.
Ergo, having some semblance of tractor tune-up self-agency is a high water mark in my life. I still am mostly an idiot when it comes to Making Machines Run. But I’m learning to do the basics. And more important, I’ve learned to enjoy the responsibility of finding a solution when the Dang Thing doesn’t work right the first time.