For Drilling Contractors, Equipment Upkeep Can Be a Point of Pride
If you’re a regular reader of this column you know I usually write about water wells, pumps, drill rigs, difficult jobs, etc. Occasionally, I write about a subject that is not directly related to water supply and this is one of those columns.
Like all contractors, I have a fleet of vehicles — actually, a rather small one that I take great pride in. I have a reputation of taking good care of my vehicles and the tools I need to do jobs. This is at least partly the result of not abusing my vehicles and tools, but also using them in the correct manner. Years ago, a good auto mechanic who was also a customer told me that the formula for long service from a vehicle — be it a truck or a car — was to keep good oil in the crankcase of the engine, keep the chassis lubricated, keep the brakes properly adjusted, the tires properly inflated and a very important but often overlooked point, keep it clean. He said in the long run this would give you your cheapest service in cost per mile or month or payment. I have the added advantage of being be able to keep my fleet inside unless it is being used on a job and left overnight.
My pride and joy in my small fleet is a 1993 Ford Ranger pickup. Gosh! You are saying that little truck is really old. Yes, as a matter of fact it is. In four days’ time from writing this column, it will be 25 years to the day that I drove it home brand new from the dealership. This truck can be described as mint condition: the body is rust free, the paint is not faded and mechanically it runs just about like that day I drove it home new in December 1992. Although it does have air conditioning, power windows, power door locks and cruise control (a useless feature in traffic heavy southern Michigan) it is today what we would call a work truck. In other words, it’s pretty basic and the kind of vehicle you can’t find on dealer lots in 2017 and probably can’t order. This truck has a 5-speed manual transmission, which I don’t think is available on any half-ton pickup now made by Ford, General Motors or Chrysler. This little truck is very handy as a runabout and for many service jobs, like changing a pressure tank or repairing a control box.
Earlier this fall, I noticed it was time for an oil change on my trusty Ranger. So, about noon on a nice Saturday I parked it in my shop where there is plenty of room to work and jacked up the front end, putting ramps under the wheels. I don’t get under any vehicle raised by a jack — it is just too dangerous. I want either ramps or jack stands holding the thing up. You should be able to drive up on a ramp but mine skid forward, so I find it easier to raise the vehicle with a floor jack and just put the ramps under the wheels. Having gotten the front of this little truck raised up, I pulled the drain plug and the oil filter. Our county recycling authority accepts used motor oil at no charge and they use this to heat some of their buildings. So I have a safe and environmentally correct way to get rid of my engine drainings.
I let the truck sit for a while so all the old oil could drain out and went to my house where my wife, Shirley, had made a typical lunch. After lunch we watched a bit of football on TV and Shirley asked me if I needed any help with the oil change. Oddly enough, I did need some help as I had purchased a 5-quart jug of oil rather than five single-quart bottles. Needing a funnel to avoid spills near the oil filler port, I knew I could not hold the large jug with one hand and the funnel with the other. Shirley said she could do this for me so we went back to the shop. I installed a new oil filter and put the drain plug back in. Now the story gets a little interesting.
The spout of the 5-quart oil jug was at least an inch in diameter, and perhaps larger. As Shirley held the funnel, I began refilling the crankcase quite quickly. Oops! The filler port would not take oil as fast as I was pouring it in and a little bit flowed over the top. I was able to clean this up with a shop towel later and no real damage was done. At this point, as I’m continuing to fill the crankcase, Shirley says to me, “Why is oil dripping out of this big hose?” In a somewhat know-it-all voice I said, “There is no oil there, you must be seeing things. That hose as you call it is part of the air induction system for the engine.” Shirley replied, “Run your finger over this part and see if there is not oil there.”
When I had poured the whole 5 quarts into the engine, I did this and my finger came away covered in engine oil. Guess what? Shirley was right and I was wrong. The hose she referred to was a plastic molding that took air for the engine from the air cleaner housing mounted on the curb side fender across the truck behind the radiator and to the intake manifold. I was quickly able to disconnect this part and then found there was a small hose (and one that was hard to see) that ran from the oil filler port to the air intake hose. I think that this is designed to reroute crankcase gases back through the engine to be re-burned. When I flooded the oil intake port some oil ran through the small hose into the air system. I had quite a bit of trouble getting the inside of the so-called housing clean and dry. I also wonder that if oil will run out this air induction system, can dirty air be pulled in? I put the thing back together and the truck ran just fine. A half-hour oil change ended up taking over two hours. Maybe I should not change my own oil anymore. No, I think I will continue to do this, as I don’t trust the quick change oil places and even some of the dealerships around here. Still, a man should know his limitations.
We were recently at the annual NGWA Expo, or Groundwater Week as it is now called, in Nashville, Tenn. A number of you readers came up and said they enjoyed this column and that makes me feel good. One fellow especially liked my monthly weather report. About a week ago we had about 5 inches of snow and I plowed my driveway and parking areas with my trusty John Deere lawn mowing tractor, now converted to a snow plow. Yesterday, in typical Michigan weather, which changes by the minute, it was nearly 40 degrees with light rain, a really nasty day and all the snow except where it’s piled up has melted. A hay field on some farm land I own still has a light coating of snow, but my infamous lawn looks like it could be mowed (except it’s not growing). Hope all you readers are off to a good start to 2018 and you have a trusty mechanic who can change oil in your vehicles.
For more John Schmitt columns, visit www.nationaldriller.com/schmitt.