I grew up in a city big enough to rightly call itself a city, yet small enough that kids still had considerable freedom to roam the streets. During the summer, we lacked much in the way of formal activities, but we found all kinds of unusual things to keep us busy. One favorite past time was to follow the garbage truck around on trash day.
My home town didn't have trucks (actually still doesn't!) that grab the trash cans and automatically dump the trash into the storage area. Instead, a couple of bouncer-sized guys muscled around the trash by themselves. It was in piles by the roadside.
It was fascinating to see what sorts of things people threw out. Each of the neighborhood kids was after a different kind of treasure. I was always on the lookout for anything that I could take apart. By following the garbage truck, I learned about all sorts of things like TVs, cassette decks, toys, and occasionally even handheld electronic games.
Through the course of my adventures with the garbage truck, I came across a discarded lawn mower. I think that there was something wrong with the wheels, so I decided to walk it back to my house for further investigation. In retrospect, my parents were remarkably tolerant of me bringing other people's garbage home, but I guess it beat the alternative of having their son dismantle things they owned that were in perfectly good working order.
Over the next few days I tore apart the mower to find out exactly what made it tick. For the most part, I was able to figure out the basic operating principles. But my dad had to explain how the spark was made, and I doubt that that either of us really knew how the carburetor worked.
After poking around as much as I could, I put the mower back together to see if it would actually run. It took some fiddling around with the carburetor but after many pulls on the starter rope, it roared to life.
The mower sat in our back yard for a few weeks until I got the idea that maybe I could try making some money with it. So I started talking to my neighbors, and I found one who was interested in having me mow his lawn. I should note here that my home town gets a lot of rain in the summer and grass can grow pretty quickly. This particular neighbor liked to let his grass grow until it was about a foot tall before he would call me to come over and mow.
I guess it was a cost saving measure, but the first few times that I mowed his lawn, it was a real beast to get through his wet jungle of a yard. Still, I was young and with seemingly all the time in the world I would eventually triumph over every blade. But the novelty quickly wore off, and I decided to see if I couldn't make my work a little easier.
The lawn mower had a governor, which consisted of a plastic vane that was moved by a blower on the top of the engine. In theory, this should have kept the mower at a nice, even speed when greater resistance was put on the engine. But in reality, the mower would bog down and stall if I wasn't careful.
I was curious to see what would happen if I removed the governor completely. On the first start, I slowly revved the engine while making sure that I wasn't in range of where I thought the piston would fly should the engine fail. As it turned out, the engine didn't fail. In fact, I could now rev it to about triple its previous speed.
I was ecstatic, but I didn’t stop there. I figured that if I was going to make my job easier, I might as well try sharpening the blade to a fine point. It was pretty dull, but after acquainting it with my dad’s bench grinder for about fifteen minutes, I now had a blade that I was sure could tear through even the densest vegetation.
That lawn mower didn’t let me down. Not only did it make quick clippings of my neighbor’s lawn, it also shreddred the odd toys that his kids left on the lawn. A ground mole or two may also have suffered unintended harm.
Pretty soon word got around about me and my miracle mower, and I took on many more clients in the neighborhood. For a few years, that lawn mower put enough money in my pockets that I was able to go out with friends and do things without the burden of a real job.
The Frankenstein's Fix has just come to an end. Stay tuned to read the submissions and see what kind of difficult job of judging we have ahead of us! Submission details and full contest rules here.