Monday, November 5, 2007

Caring for my machines

Ever since I've been living here at Gamone, I've had problems with machines driven by combustion motors... with the exception of my antiquated Citroën automobile, which has never given me the slightest trouble, in spite of its 235,000 kilometers. [I refuse to even think about replacing my Citroën before building a garage at Gamone.] Fortunately, my Honda transporter is back in service now, as good as new, and I'm finally able to cart my stock of firewood up into a corner of the house.

Everybody has encountered this basic problem: When you leave a machine unused during the winter months, it's often impossible to start it up in spring. My initial reaction has often consisted of thinking that the motor might be damp, or that the spark plug might have been corroded by the wintry conditions.

In fact, the basic problem stems from the use of unleaded gasoline, which forms a gluey caramel if you leave it in the fuel tank or the carburetor for a few cold months. As a local lumberjack [my Choranche neighbor Gérard Magnat] put it, in referring to chainsaws, weed-cutters and my Honda transporter: "All these machines need lead." To keep warm, you might say! In more precise terms, we have to mix a little additive with the unleaded gasoline, to keep it stable through the cold season.

A few weeks ago, I purchased a new chainsaw, because I imagined [wrongly, as it turned out] that I would need such a tool to demolish my old wood shed.

The guy who sold me the chainsaw didn't have time to assemble it. I imagined that I would be able to do so, by following precisely the instructions in the user guide. After ten minutes of cutting, however, the chain came off, and it was impossible to fit it back into the slotted chain guide. When I took it back to the hardware store, a new employee—who didn't seem to know much about chainsaws, and even reassembled the chain guide upside-down [as seen in the photo, but of no consequence]—informed me that I had no doubt hit a nail, and that my chain would have to be replaced, because it would no longer slide freely in the chain guide. I was furious, because I knew perfectly well that I had been sawing small logs that could not possibly contain nails.

Fortunately, I happened to tell this sorry tale to my lumberjack neighbor Gérard... who first reprimanded me mildly for purchasing a chainsaw in an ordinary hardware store [instead of obtaining his expert advice]. He told me that the chain on a new saw expands after five minutes of use. Consequently, in using the chainsaw for ten minutes, the chain would have become slack, and likely to come off... which is exactly what happened. As for the idea that the chain would no longer slide freely in the guide, Gérard warned me: "Don't worry if you see a few sparks." Then he dragged the chain back and forth over a log, throttling a little all the time, until it suddenly started to turn freely. My chainsaw was resuscitated! Gérard—a fascinating and colorful old-fashioned character of a kind that can only be encountered these days in la France profonde [deep France]—said to me, with a friendly grin: "William, we're all specialists in one way or another. If I needed advice about computers, I would call in on you. On the other hand, if you need help with your chainsaw, I'm your man."

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