Motor Out

Toyota's "L" motor, 2.2 liters of super tough diesel

After plenty of skinned knuckles, not one stripped bolt and a few weekend days and help from old gurus, I (Neal Cassady) prevailed. The motor is out. All the parts labeled. All the nuts and screws in plastic cups on the counter. Only three mystery nuts and one mystery bolt. Not bad, all in all.

And all I want to say – the motor and transmission are in good hands.

Tuesday morning, my brother-in-law’s neighbor George was across the gravel alleyway like always. The old guy with the basement shop. A place for everything and everything in its place. Old motorbikes. A wooden pendulum clock with a wooden movement because “I always wanted to build a clock from wood.” Old aluminum boat motors. Rows of plywood boxes filled with nails. Railroad spikes, the project of the day, sharpening them by the dozen, readying them for powdercoating to eventually serve as awards for a local annual run down from Mt. Rainier. George. Slow, heavy lidded, kind. Each thought measured. Balanced. Counter-balanced. No decor. Wizened, but still unvarnished. Stalking his surroundings, finding more room for more order.

George helped me with the engine hoist getting the motor into the truck.

US Engines in Kent was my first stop. John, who runs the place, was there at the front counter. White, fifties, hair feathered and flowing back. The place maybe had been a showroom for new cars in the 1950s. All plate glass, a one-story low building. Now dingy in the corners. But still open to the day. Transparent. And across the showroom floor, rows of freshly rebuilt motors in heavy plastic. A guy bringing them out, one after the next, with a two-wheeler.

Somehow it came up that I’d gotten married. Because it’d been so long since John and I had first talked, as far as an estimate. Had been back in August. “It’ll get bitter or it’ll get better,” he said. I laughed. “So either way I should be okay then,” I said, gauging him, just to see.

“It’s a good truck,” he said.

I thought he meant the giant Dodge I’d pulled up in. My father-in-law’s. Turbo diesel. “Yeah,” I said. “I’ve been riding high today. Pretty fun.”

“The Toyota,” he said. “It’s a good truck.”

This time I was measuring his words, to see if it was just puffery. Like a good old-fashioned barber. Telling the customer in his seat, “You have good hair. You will never go bald.”

I liked John right away. Mostly because of all the engines on the showroom floor. And I told him so. I said, “I knew right away this was the place. That I was in good hands.”

We talked for awhile. Long enough. But not too long. He gazed out through all the glass while we talked. Out at a road just off a highway, with an anonymous diner, with the highway calling. It was his shop. Grounded. Here. Despite the long distance running blowing all through. All the men there that day and each day were men working for him. He told me not to worry. They’d set the motor up right.

Next door at Central Transmission, the front door was open and the two computer stations were empty. It was a bit of a shoebox. But I went to the door that had to lead out back and went out back. There were men back there working.

Pat came up, saw his name by his tag. We talked for twenty minutes it seemed like. He told me a million stories. About runaway diesels with bad rings that sucked the crankcase oil into their cylinders and kept running until they burned up, couldn’t be shut off. He told me stories like that. Grey hair pulled back tight, braided down his neck in back, wide dark eyes, smiling, beard, stiff locked knees when he walked, barrel chest.

I asked him about the flywheel bolts, said what a bear it’d been to get them off. When the engine was ready, “Bring it by,” he said, “We’ll snap those bolts on. I’ve got air.”

It was a magical day like that. I was among people with ease and time. Good at what they do.

US Engines in Kent, Washington

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