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The Radiator, The Washing Machine, and The Gas Pump

Editor's Note: This article is reprinted from the Braille Monitor, Vol. 49, No. 4, April 2006:

As far back as I can remember, I loved to take things apart and figure out how they work. I took small engine classes in high school and went on to Arkansas Enterprises for the Blind to earn certification in small engine repair. Although I didn't manage to make a career in the field, I never lost my passion for mechanics in general.

My wife and I got married in the summer of 1992. At that time I had very little experience with auto repair, but I figured that, if I could learn to fix small engine equipment, I could learn to do basic auto repair. I concluded very quickly over time that the price of not learning and having to pay someone big money every time the car broke down or needed basic maintenance was more than I was willing to pay.

However, to this day I would rather leave some things to the professionals, even though I am sure that I could learn to do them. To my mind, the care needed and the risk involved are not worth the savings. One such thing is replacing gaskets that require applying sealer. I worry about getting some of the gasket sealer in the oil or antifreeze. Don't get me wrong: I am not saying it cannot be done safely and properly. It just isn't worth the time to me because it needs to be done so seldom.

My wife drives so, in financial self-defense and a love for tinkering with things, I have learned how to do most basic car repairs myself. I am not a trained mechanic, but I have become pretty good at it.

One day I was standing around the shop with the guys, and I mentioned having changed the radiator on my wife's car. Her brother told me that I could not change a radiator on a car because "you have to see what you are doing." I told him that I knew I could because I had just done it. He still did not believe me and asked, "How can you do that if you can't see?"

I simply held up my hands in front of him, said, "I have 20/20 vision right here," and explained that I do it all by touch. He continued to maintain that I was lying, so I let it go.

Knowing what a smart alec her brother is, my wife had a better answer. I wish I had thought of it. Here is what she would have said: "Well, first I drained the radiator, then I unplugged the fan and removed it, then I took off the hoses and transmission lines and removed all the bolts. Finally, I removed the radiator. How would you have done it?"

I am always astounded that people who work on cars for a living do not understand how a blind person can work on cars. After all, when mechanics work on cars, they often cannot see what they are doing because what they are working on is tucked behind some other part, and they have to get their hands in there and feel what they are doing.

The first time it occurred to my wife that I do not use the little bit of sight I have while working on a car was when I was changing a timing belt outside on a friend's car. It started to get dark, and my wife came out and said, "Why don't you come in now?" I said that I wanted to finish up since I was almost done. She said, "But it's getting dark." I said, "That doesn't bother me; does it bother you?" To this day she still chuckles at that answer.

Another memorable time we took a trip to visit her parents. Her dad, her brother-in-law and I were working on the car. Her dad and her brother-in-law were trying in vain to locate the one bolt that was keeping the bracket we needed to move from budging. I said, "Let me get in there and find it for you." Since I was blind, they were not going to have any of that. Then came the moment of truth (or maybe opportunity). They both went into the garage at the same time to chase a wrench. I climbed under the car, and when they got back I had identified the bolt and was able to point it out to them.

I have also tackled other mechanical projects such as washers and dryers. We had a washing machine that was leaking, actually dumping water out the bottom. This called for drastic measures, and fast. Without thinking twice, I took the top completely off and pulled the drum out into the middle of the floor. By the time my wife arrived home, I had the washer fixed. I explained exactly what I had done, and she assured me that she was glad it was fixed and very glad that she did not have to see the machine all over the floor. She has since become completely comfortable with my working on the car and doing some appliance repairs and other small repairs around the house.

Now carpentry is another matter. I would like to learn some basic carpentry, but most of it I will leave to the pros. I know lots of blind people do carpentry, but it's just not my thing.

But here is one last subject that I do feel pretty strongly about. When I am with my wife in the car and it is time to fill the tank, I always get out and fill it for her. So, to all you blind men who think that just because you don't drive you don't have to fill the tank, I say, be good to your wives. Get out and fill the tank. True, gas pumps today are not blind-friendly, but that's okay. Have her make the appropriate selections on the screen, such as grade and payment type. Then she can climb back into the warm car while you fill it.

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