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Junior Auto Mechanic calls out the right word — ‘Help!’

Burt's Eye View

Her car was very, very dead.

I parked behind her, my four-ways flashing, and offered to look under the hood.

I grew up with Backyard Auto Mechanics who were always hunched under hoods, coaxing vehicles to roaring zest with a few deft moves with hammers, wrenches and the occasional stick of dynamite.

Me, I was a Junior Auto Mechanic. My job was to hold the flashlight.

But this day, I was the only help the distressed driver had. I popped the hood, peered at what I assumed was the engine block and tried to recall catchphrases from my Junior Auto Mechanic certification. “There’s your problem.” I pointed vaguely at metal, hoses and nuts. “Your carburetor’s fried. Yep. They go like that all the time.”

She gaped at my knowledge. “Automakers switched to fuel injection in the 1980s. It doesn’t have a carburetor.”

“None?” I wiped motor oil on my pants. “No wonder the car won’t go.”

She rolled her eyes. “Do you have jumper cables?”

“Those red and black thingys with clamps on the end? I wrapped them around the lounge chairs in the trunk.”

She huffed. “Well, pull your car in front of mine and get the cables. Do I have to tell you everything?”

“Clues are useful, ma’am,” I said.

I did not inherit my father’s genius for mechanics. As I’ve noted in previous reminiscences, if we boys couldn’t get the lawn mower to start, all Dad had to do was step onto the back porch and glare. The mower coughed to life and began chewing grass. We had to run to catch up to it.

Uncle Tommy claimed that was what made Dad so good at making things work was knowing all the right words to shout and the exact order in which to bellow them at the machine.

“You mean like when a magician says, ‘Abracadabra’?”

Uncle Tommy shook his head. “More like when he told you to clean the barn, and three hours later he finds you still in your room reading Batman comics.”

“Oh, THOSE words.” I shuddered. “Yep, they worked every time.”

My dad was great at fixing things. It might not look pretty when he was done, but it would run. If I brought up the aesthetics of his craftsmanship, he’d retort, “Did you want to admire it or did you want it to work?”

Beauty fades with time, but the cars run. Except this one.

Using specialized Junior Auto Mechanic knowledge — let’s see, it’s red on red and black on black, right? — I clamped the cables to our car batteries, and … nothing.

That’s what happens when you lose your carburetor.

Dad had his words for these situations (“horse feathers!” was his go-to invective), and I had mine, learned from years of Junior Auto Mechanic skills.

“The tow truck will be here shortly,” I said after speaking into my cellphone.

When the wrecker came, I said, “Somebody stole her carburetor.”

He rolled his eyes, hooked the car and was gone.

I heard later that the Certified Senior Auto Mechanic tightened a loose battery cable and everything’s fine now, except for the bill.

Still, I’m concerned. He never bothered to look for her missing carburetor.

• Meet Burt 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday at the Canfield Fair, or send him auto lessons at burtseyeview@tribtoday.com, the Burton W. Cole page on Facebook or www.burtonwcole.com.

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