Posted by: Rob | December 9, 2008

Wry Sense of Humour

Talking with Ann on the phone before heading home for lunch yesterday, Ann asked if I could stop for the mail.  She had stopped, but found she wasn’t able to get the lock to open.  She’d mentioned it had been sticky before and now figured that it was frozen or something due to the recent rains.

We get our mail in one of those old green rural mail boxes.  The box is locked by a hasp and you supply your own lock.  The Master padlock we’ve been using has been in service, I realized, for going on thirteen years.

I stopped at the mail boxes on the way home and found the lock inoperable as well.  It seemed to be broken internally but I thought I might get it open with a bit of lock de-icer, which I would have to pick up after work.

After work and a quick run to town I was back at the mail boxes with de-icer – and key – in hand.  A couple shots of de-icer, most of which went on my hand, and some rough treatment later, the lock would still not yield.

Thinking ahead, I had purchased a new lock while in town and resolved to simply cut the old lock off and replace it with a new one.

After gathering up a hack saw and channel lock pliers I left my warm garage and, with trusty head light in place, I trudged down our street to the mail boxes.

It was cold last night, about -15 C.  As I walked along I idly wondered to myself why it is that things always seem to break in the worst possible weather conditions?  Around here, that seems to be when it’s at least -15 or -20 C.  With or without wind.  With or without falling snow.

I recalled a couple of the more exciting times I’ve had making repairs on something in the middle of an Alberta winter.

There was the time I changed out the transmission on my ’73 Ford F-100.  It was actually more than a change out.  I was taking out the old 3-speed manual and installing a 3-speed automatic.  This was done in the parking lot of the 4-plex where we lived.  At night.  Wind howling.  Snow flying.

To say that the weather impaired productivity would be a significant understatement.  Do you know how hard it is to manipulate capscrews with gloves on?   Oh and this was done without jacks.  The truck was on its wheels and I had no transmission jack.  Not even a wheeled hydraulic jack.

But, I was 20.  I was poor.  I was game.  And I was reasonably competent.  The job wasn’t a total success and I did require some professional help a little bit later, but I got the job done.  I can still remember how heavy that manual transmission was as it lay on chest as I lay on the asphalt under that old truck.

Then there was December of ’84.  Shelley and I were out hunting for a Christmas tree.  Because we were not all that well off we often got our trees from the bush.  It was kind of a date too – a married couple date.  We already had one child and she was pregnant with our second at the time.  We had driven a fair ways north of Spring Lake, traveling over rarely used back roads.  We hadn’t gotten away until late that afternoon so quite a bit of our tree hunting was happening in the dark and by the headlights on the truck.

The truck was ’74 Chevrolet Cheyenne and it was equipped with a 454 cubic inch V-8.  I had a little over half a tank of fuel when we headed out but I must have been remiss in adding gas-line antifreeze in a while.  As the day turned to night and the temperature started dropping the truck started to sputter and then quit.

Each time it would stall, I’d hit the key and it’d start back up.  But, the stalls became more frequent and wasn’t all that long before the starter packed it in.

So, there we were.  Dead vehicle.  Dark.  Winter.  And a long ways from civilization.

I knew there was a trapper’s cabin not far ahead of us as we were on the return trip by the time the truck quit.  I also knew we couldn’t just stay where we were.  We were not equipped to spend a wintry night in a broke down pick up truck.  So we started walking.

It was only about a mile or so to the cabin.  It was locked up so we had to “let” ourselves in.  The cabin was pretty well supplied and I went about getting the wood stove fired up while Shelley scoped out the supplies for something to eat.

We hadn’t been there overly long.  We were scoping out the sleeping arrangements and trying to warm up when we heard a vehicle.


Two old boys had happened upon our truck, seen our foot prints in the snow and came looking for us.  They gave us a ride to our friends’ place  in town.

But, my night wasn’t over yet.  The temperature was forecast to keep dropping that night.  Minus 40 or colder.  That 454, in that kind of cold, without having a block heater on, would never start before spring or the next chinook.

I managed to call out a parts guy for a new starter.  Borrowed my buddy’s tools and got him to drive me back out to where my truck was parked.  And, yeah, I brought along some gas line antifreeze.

Surprisingly, it didn’t take all that long to change the starter out.  Popped some gas line antifreeze into the tank and then fired that baby up.  We were back home by a little after midnight.

And so, those past times were on my mind as I trudged down to the mail box last night.  Granted, not quite as much technical drama, but a chance to get frost bitten finger tips just the same.

But the universe’s wry sense of humour was to show itself again.  My hacksaw barely scratched the chrome off the case hardened steel of the Master padlock.  Clearly, this wouldn’t work.

So, I decided to check out a bolt cutter from work today and I’ll have that lock changed out in minutes tonight.

I hope there’s nothing perishable awaiting us in our mail box.


  1. U.G.H. Good that you can keep your sense of humor through frigid wanderings… i’d be under a quilt. Had to change out a car battery with my ex in -21F ambient. Bought an auto club membership shortly thereafter…

  2. Always go with the bolt cutters first. Hack saws won’t hack it. Good luck.

  3. I wouldn’t worry about anything perishing in those sub-zero temperatures (except you, of course)

  4. I’m feeling pretty chilly in the house tonight, and actually reached for my jacket while outside today, and I wondered whether I maybe should trade my Birkenstock sandals for rubber boots (no socks needed just yet…).

    Apparently it’s 7ºC outside now, perhaps a little chillier than it was earlier today.

    I grew up in snow country, but certainly don’t have the constitution needed to deal with winter anymore. I still moan about the absence of the sun, even though I don’t have snow and cold to whine about.

  5. Murphy is as inevitable as death and taxes.

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