Sunday, February 01, 2009

Have you ever had that sinking feeling? That slow, dawning realisation that you’ve just made a rather large mistake that either cannot be rectified at all or cannot be rectified quickly and without spending large amounts of money. This uncomfortable feeling in the pit of your stomach is worsened as you reflect that if you had not just done that thing you wouldn’t have the problem you now have. Yes, we’ve been at home to Mr Cock-Up again.

We’d finished the mammoth task of chipping a huge pile of branches from the large macrocarpa pines that used to stand at the entrance to our property (nice trees, wrong place) and I thought I’d give the chipper a thorough clean before putting it away. Garden chippers are either good for woody material or leafy material; ours is an Alko Silent Power 5000 whose strength is dealing with woody material. A toothed cog churns round slowly, bearing against a nylon roller, so dragging material into it and cutting it off in 1 inch (2.54cm) chunks.

A proper clean involved taking off the inspection cover, then unbolting a metal plate to reveal nylon roller and cutting wheel. I’ve replaced the nylon roller before; so far I was on familiar ground. I decided it would be a good idea (does that phrase start your alarm bells ringing?) to remove the roller as well. The wise thing would be to look at the manual that comes with the machine … and that’s what I did. An unfortunate sign of the times, the thick “maintenance manual”, warning triangles strewn all over the text, tells you—in no less than eight European languages—how to switch it on and off and that’s about it. For anything else, we’re told to go to “an authorised professional” or “Customer Care Centre”. With only an exploded parts diagram to work with, I got my hands dirty.

To cut a long story short, I couldn’t lever the cog off so thought it would be a good idea to “tap” it with a small hammer. After several increasingly heavy “taps” and encouraged by some small movement, I put my shoulder into it. I got the cog off but not before I’d mushroomed over the end of the shaft, never again to fit perfectly into its brass bearing housing: cue sinking feeling.In just a few minutes, I’d reduced an expensive and fully working tool into a pile of second-hand spare parts. Gabrielle gave me a “there, there” smile, by way of support.

The happy ending is that the helpful people at Rochford Garden Machinery posted a not-too-pricey replacement part and a chap in their technical department took the time to tell me how to install it—thanks guys! Voluminous, they might be but it’s a shame that fear of litigation has reduced maintenance manuals to such inadequate nonsense. Had I the time and you the patience, I could tell you a similar story about a mate’s Triumph TR6, a gearbox, an overdrive unit, overconfidence and a failure to read the Haynes maintenance manual before we started work; when will I ever learn?