Wednesday, 7 October 2015


Let me begin today's entry with a little bit of educational material from the halls of mechanical training.

A diesel engine burns diesel fuel, which is injected into the combustion chambers under extremely high pressure by the fuel injection system. The injection system is a composed of very precise components that require a steady flow of fuel and that supply of fuel absolutely must be completely free of dirt and other contaminants or the system will fail and the engine will fail to run. To keep the system free of said dirt and contaminants requires a system of filters that can sift out particles as small as three microns, which I am told is smaller than a grain of talcum powder. Of course I've never had occasion to measure a grain of talcum powder so there's always a chance that someone is pulling someone else's leg.

And if that's the case then I was pulling a lot of legs when I taught upgrading courses on fuel systems at the local college...

A tractor operating in a field, is always surrounded by dust, which can enter the fuel tank where it is carried by the fuel supply pump to the precision injection system. Fortunately the designers put the aforementioned filters in between the supply pump and said precision system to prevent damage, and so on and so forth, ad nauseum...

Farmers store fuel in large tanks, anything from five-hundred gallon tanks to vessels with capacities for thousands of gallons. Now this is all well and good but with the heating and cooling of the ambient air, and things like condensation, problems can result within the storage vessel itself. Rust and scale can form on the inside of the tank and this is also a source of contaminant, not only containing water, which is a major enemy of the injection system, but rust particles, which in themselves are abrasive. Now most of the time, the contamination level is well below the level at which fuel is drawn so it remains relatively stable. Unfortunately, when the bulk tank is replenished, it stirs up all the contaminant which can cause some troubles but after a spell of even a few hours, will settle out and the farmer can go back to business as usual. Some farmers will drain and flush out their tanks once or twice a year and, for an additional precaution, they will wait for a few hours after the bulk fuel agent has replenished their tanks before they fuel up their tractors. An added precaution is to also have a filter installed on the bulk tank.

But there are those who might think about it but never seem to get around to it.

JC's place of work was ten miles away from his home town. While he had few problems arriving earlier than usual or staying later than required, once he did get away and manage to close things up for the day, he hoped that maybe business was done and he could indulge in something else for the evening. However, there were occasions when he had to go back out in the field after supper. When spring planting was in full force, or when harvest was in full swing, he never really had much of a social life.

One spring evening, JC showed up at the coffee shop. He was greeted by those usual Coffee Row members already seated and took a seat at the table. Supper was served and the stories flowed. Then the phone rang. 'For you, JC,' Val called out from the kitchen. JC took the phone and began to listen.

'JC, it's Louis. All of my tractors are down; they won't hardly pull themselves. Can you come out?'

'Come out? As in tonight?' That was in reality a dumb question to ask. If Louis wanted JC to come out, it was tonight, or better yet, yesterday, before the problem occurred.

Well, JC had a pretty good idea what was happening, mostly because this wasn't the first time, and it wouldn't likely be the last either. Ol' Slippery, the bulk fuel agent had obviously been out delivering fuel. Louis would've had the fuel tanks of all three of his field tractors down to the stink of a grease rag and consequently would be all lined up waiting for a fresh supply of fuel. Louis and the boys would fill the tanks of the tractors and head back to the field where within an hour or two the filters would start clogging up with debris and by suppertime would hardly pull themselves.

Now, one thing I forgot to mention: When a fuel filter is new, it's at its worst stage; fuel passes easily through the element. However, as debris gets caught up on the element's surface, it begins to accumulate and jam together, each particle packing in tighter and tighter, thus adding to the filter element's capacity to sift out the particles. It finally becomes such a good filter that nothing will pass through, and that's when Louis' boys would realize that something is wrong.

Well, if it was plugged fuel filters (and JC was certain that was the case), then JC would have to drive the ten miles back to the shop and get new ones anyway so he simply headed up there in the first place. He knew the equipment that Louis ran so that was a no-brainer. But it was still annoying to drive up to the shop. JC seldom complained though. There usually was a good visit that went on during the service call, and often finished with a cup of coffee and a nice piece of pie at the house before he would be allowed to head for home.

Louis' place was ten miles the opposite way from town. By the time JC showed up, it was growing dusk. Being skilled at changing filters, JC still had the job(s) done and the tractors running before it was totally dark. He was even able to stop back at the coffee shop for a final cup before calling it a day.

The next day as JC wrote up the umpteenth work order for the previous trip to Louis' place, he pondered the perpetual situation; how could he fix this and not waste so much time? It didn't take long to formulate a plan. JC reached for the phone and began to dial.

'Hey, Darrel' (JC actually called him by his proper name because referring to someone his Dad's age as Slippery sounded a bit derogatory, even if it might have applied to Darrel's business tactics), 'it's JC. How goes the battle?'

'Just fine,' Slippery responded, 'how about you?'

'Can't complain--' That was a lie; no one would listen anyways. 'Say, Darrel, I need you to do me a favor.'

'Anything.' Slippery was always accommodating.

'Next time you deliver fuel out to Louis' place, would you mind giving me a call and letting me know?'

'May I ask why?'

JC told Slippery about the numerous trips to fix the same problems and added that if he knew when Slippery was delivering fuel, he'd simply take a supply of filters home with him, thus saving the trip back up to the shop.

They both had a good laugh, and Slippery said he'd let JC know.

Three weeks later, JC received a phone call from Slippery. 'I'm delivering fuel to Louis' place.'

'Thanks for the heads-up. I'll be ready.' It was a good warning because after supper, just as JC was having a second cup, the coffee shop phone rang, and the entire scenario would be repeated...

This went on for years. Every time Slippery delivered fuel to Louis' place, he called JC to let him know, and JC would come home prepared. JC actually started keeping a stock of filters at the house, just in case Louis phoned him on a weekend...


  1. I've said it before. I'll say it again. You are one smart mechanic! :)
    Loved this little trip own memory lane - or memory field . . .

    1. No, more of an experienced mechanic, one who learned most of this the hard way. Let's just say that I had been around the block enough times to actually find a little bit of humor in some of my customers' exploits...

    2. Around the block and out in the field! :)