Under pressure

The world is filled with all sorts of pressures. Some of them are beneficial and some are nothing but a pressurized pain in the keister.

Take hydraulic pressure. It can be a force for good, such as when pressurized oil activates a cylinder on the tow truck that’s hoisting your car out a snowdrift. Not that I would personally know anything about that, mind you.

Sometimes we have to endure unwanted hydraulic pressure. A prime example of this is our basement.

Much of the Midwest has suffered persistently wet weather this spring. Our area has soil moisture levels that are commonly associated with bayous.

Water began to seep into our basement when the frost went out this spring. This would be great if we wanted an indoor pool, but my wife and I are non-swimmers.

Water in our basement is nothing new. The basement isn’t finished, nor does it house priceless heirloom antiques. It’s a place where we store odds and ends, the kind of junk that can live in a basement that’s sometimes wet.

This wasn’t my first watery rodeo. I fired up our shop vac, sucked up the offending fluid and dumped it down the drain. Mission accomplished!

Except that it wasn’t. By the next morning, the water had returned. Again with the shop vac, again with the dumping. Rinse and repeat several days in a row.

It occurred to me during this process that the shop vac was creating negative air pressure that I was deploying in an effort to counteract positive water pressure. It was a battle of sea versus air, man versus nature.

It wasn’t difficult to determine the cause of our subterranean water woes. The road ditch that lies near our house is brimming with meltwater. A cursory eyeballing of the situation reveals that the ditch’s water level is substantially higher than our basement floor. It’s as if our basement were a boat that’s made of 55-year-old concrete that has a spiderweb of cracks. No wonder the water is winning.

Another type of pressure that’s been on my mind has to do with a dear old friend. Specifically, my 1949 John Deere “A” tractor.

The “A” is in fairly good health for septuagenarian. She’s often gassy, coughs frequently and can be difficult to get started. But that also describes me. What is troubling is her oil pressure, which has been running low the past few years.

I have consulted several local Johnny Popper experts, a group which might best be described as “older guys who have grease under their fingernails and green paint coursing through their veins.”

Following their advice, I inspected every aspect of the tractor’s lubrication system. Oil pump? Disassembled it and it looks fine. Oil lines? Can’t see any leaks. Did you try adjusting the pressure regulator? Yup. Is the filter housing cracked? Not as far as I can tell.

In an online forum that’s dedicated to old putt-putt tractor problems (there are online forums for everything), someone mentioned that the main bearings on the crankshaft might need adjusting.

There’s nothing much to that particular job. You simply remove the flywheel and the crankshaft seal, disassemble the bearing, remove a brass shim or two and put it all back together.

The “put it all back together” is the tricky part. The flywheel, which is made of a mineral mined from a neutron star, weighs approximately as much as the Rock of Gibraltar. I discussed this task with several old Deere guys, and they said that reinstalling the flywheel is a tough job. If you do it solo, you’ll need a hoist.

Sadly, I’m hoistless. Even so, I decided to give the flywheel a whirl (har!).

I used the “watch your toes!” (aka gravitationally assisted) technique to remove the flywheel. But putting it back on was a whole other deal. I thought about building a hoist made of old lumber and ropes and pulleys, a Rube Goldberg-like conglomeration that would make Wile E. Coyote envious.

But first I opted to try the venerable “muscle it” method. As I grunted the astonishingly dense chunk of metal skyward — why did they put that crankshaft so high off the ground? — it dawned on me that certain internal pressures were probably building. The words “hernia repair” might soon appear in my medical records.

Fortune sometimes smiles upon even the most foolish. The flywheel slipped right into place on the first try.

I started the “A” and she clucked to herself like a contented old mother hen. But her oil pressure remains stubbornly low.

Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. And sometimes, winning simply means avoiding crushed toes and postponing pressure problems until another day.

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