What a tool

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Old No. 72

When I was a kid my dad had a toolbox that lived in the garage. It was gray with a red tray inside. It was made of steel. Inside there was a big hammer, two screwdrivers, a crescent wrench, some pliers, and a big steel file.

I learned early that tools were the enemy. When something broke you had a problem, but once you put a tool to it, you suddenly became the 100% owner of the problem in fee simple with no remainderman, like the time our record player stopped working and we took it apart. We got a whipping for that. “What the hell are you taking it apart with a hammer for?” my dad had yelled.

The hammer was my tool of choice. I would take it out to the gutter and pound away at the cement curb, sometimes for hours at a time. Occasionally I would use the wrenches for bike repair but the bike always ended up lots worse than when I started, so eventually I quit trying to fix anything. I was the kid whose handlebars were always crooked and whose banana seat was missing a couple of screws.

When I started cycling I really learned to never work on anything, ever. The bike was a mysterious black box, where the ankle-bone was connected to the eye-bone and only Ph.D.’s in bikeology were competent to repair them. It got to the point that I was afraid to even carry tools with me. Better for the bike to explode than for me to have to adjust my saddle.

I was living in Japan when one day a Snap-On truck drove by my house. I remembered Snap-On from Texas, where you’d see their little trucks driving around. I thought they were cheap-o tools because of the name, “Snap-On.” It made me think of “snap-off.” I flagged down the driver and we started talking. He was a really nice dude and showed me inside his truck, which was filled with tools. I didn’t recognize any of them except the screwdrivers and the crescent wrenches, so I bought a couple. They were really expensive, but I chalked it up to buying U.S. products in Japan.

Next week he came by again and I bought a couple more tools. After a couple of years I had a big red box about two feet long by three feet high filled with Snap-On tools. I didn’t know what any of them did, but there were a couple that I could use around the house when something got loose. “Here, let me tighten that screw with this $150 screwdriver.”

Also, I had an old Bridgestone commuter bike with bolts instead of quick releases, so I used the socket driver to change flats. I bought the socket driver because it had an orange handle and because when you snapped on the socket you could grab it with your hand and twirl the driver, which made the coolest whizzing sound.

When I got back to America a buddy saw my tools and his eyes bulged. “Damn!” he said. “Is that all Snap-On?”

“Yes. Why?”

“That’s the best stuff there is.”

Over the years I lost various pieces or they got corroded from being left outdoors for months at a time and stopped working so I threw them away. Plus, the tool box was heavy and we moved around a lot. Finally I was down to a couple of dozen tools so I gave most of them away on Facebook. You never saw anything get snapped up so quickly.

Still, I kept a few screwdrivers and wrenches, especially the Old No. 72. Old No. 72 was the biggest crescent wrench in that guy’s truck and it cost like $400. It wasn’t good for anything but I used it to loosen the lock ring on my cassettes. The wrench was so heavy that when you tightened the lock ring you’d strip it instantly if you weren’t careful. I went through a lot of lock rings.

One day Smasher came over and saw my Snap-On stuff laying all over the balcony in various stages of rust. “Dude,” he said, “WTF?”

Smasher is a pro motorcycle mechanic and his shop floor is clean enough to build microchips on. I’ve seen his tools and they are cleaner than a woman’s wedding day underwear. Smasher came back a few days later with a bag. “You know that stuff is all Snap-On, right?”

“Yeah. So?”

“How about I give you some cheap Chinese tools that will last you a hundred years since you’ll never use them, and you give me those?”

“Okay,” I said.

He put them all into the bag and left. A couple of weeks went by and the replacements never arrived. Pretty soon I got a hankering to go strip a couple of lock rings so I called him up. “Where’s the cheap-ass Chinese tools you promised?” I asked.

“I’m out of town, dude. Susan will drop them off.”

“Okay,” I said. “But hurry. I’ve got some lock rings that need stripping.”

Susan came by while I was gone. Mrs. WM put them on the couch. They were in a little soft black case.

I got home and saw the case, laying face down on the couch. My urge to go ruin a few hundred dollars’ worth of bike equipment had faded so I just left them there for a couple of days. Then Smasher called. “Hey, dude,” he said. “What did you think about the tools?”

“Hang on and I’ll tell you,” I said.

I went over to the couch and grabbed the bag. I flipped it over and saw it was quite immaculate and had “Snap-On” embroidered in bright red lettering. I unzipped it.

Smasher had lovingly reconditioned every single tool, even down to my one socket. “Dude!” I said. “You polished it all up! Even my socket!”

“You idiot,” he said. “I showed it to everyone at the shop. No one’s ever seen a Snap-On socket driver with just one socket. How come you only have one socket?”

“I only have one bolt.”

“And why three adjustable wrenches?”

“It reminds me of my childhood.”

Smasher had also cut out perfectly formed shapes for each of my random tools so that they would nestle in the case’s foam backing.

“This is pretty rad,” I said, “but I can already see a few problems.”

“Problems? What problems, you nut job? They’re nicer than when you bought them.”

“I’m afraid to use them. They’re too beautiful. I suppose I can season them out on the balcony for a few months, though.”

“Don’t you fuggin’ dare.”

“Okay,” I said, taking out Old No. 72. Its jaws purred open and shut, begging to wrap their shimmering edges around the tender aluminum of a slim lock ring. “I won’t.”

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END

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31 thoughts on “What a tool”

  1. As mechanics cringe, I giggled. I don’t share your ineptitude WM but, fortunately, I do share your sense of humor.

    Nicely written and I’m guessing mostly true.

  2. That Wankey, he always exaggerates… he said “one socket”.
    Obviously, there are two.

    1. That is the same socket. One view from the top, the other from the bottom. The driver foam is atop the wrench foam, and the hole for the socket communicates with both layers because the length of the socket exceeds the depth of a single layer of foam.

  3. In 1978, my pal Jon Hill made a cool little custom walnut box for me which held all four (yes, four, (Italian, English, French, and Swiss)) Campy Bottom Bracket Taps). My 1st wife accused me of taking that little box to bed with me. I had some fancy cutting oil that I used on those babies after cleaning them (after every use, of course). Now, bottom brackets are cartridges…and I just had a 6:35 AM glass of wine after reading this on the internet…(I am so f-ing old):

    This is a view of the bottom bracket shell from underneath the bike, It is for what is now an older style 3-piece crankset (the crank arms slide onto a steel tapered axle).

    The box (with the complete Campy Tool Set) got sold by my brother when he liquidated the bike shop. I never saw that box again after 1984.
    I miss it.

  4. Seth,
    One drawer full of kitchen knives sharpened for one months subscription. Close by and serious, email please.

  5. I’m an opposite. I love to work on my bike (and my hobby car). One of my roll-away tool boxes is for bike tools. A few years ago I bought a very nice used bicycle. After a couple weeks I had replaced all the wear items and upgraded a few things. I was showing it to an aquaitance (bike racer type) and explaining all the details of what I had done. When I paused for breath he said, “There’s just one thing this bike needs now.” What is that I asked. “Just your feet in the pedals.”

  6. Boy, that dishonesty is troubling. I will take all those Snap-on tools and *really* give you cheap stuff in return. That’s the sort of stand-up guy I am.

  7. I like good tools, coming from a family of people who made there living with there hands I appreciate them, I naively believe they will give me a great chance of not fucking up what ever I use them on.
    It’s a pretty awesome thing Smasher did for you, I don’t know Smasher but it was probably more about the tools.

  8. Grrr – I lived (in a tent – but that’s a whole story) in lower Manhatten in the last century. I needed a socket, so I went down to Canel St, which is where cheapo stuff is… umm… bartered. Found a green metal box with metric sockets an a rachet. $12. S/K is engraved on them and they turned out to be really, seriously good quality worth ten times that price easily.

    Now that metal box is enshrined in one of my bigger toolboxs and I’ve actually added a few things, like a unversal joint and extensions. Gets used on a bike once in awhile.

    Just sayin’ some people are opposites.

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