The Resurrected Wheelbarrow

Lessons in Rebuilding
102
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Will went to retrieve his trusty wheelbarrow only to
find it had already shuffled off this mortal coil.

Ours is a lamentably disposable society. There is a floating garbage island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean currently twice the size of Texas. No kidding, Google it. I really don’t consider myself much a tree hugger, but that’s just embarrassing.

It has not always been thus. Like most of society’s resplendent ills, the impetus for all this blasted trash can be traced back to criminals and lawyers. In 1982 some still-unidentified psychopath slipped potassium cyanide into bottles of Tylenol in the Chicago area and killed seven random strangers. In response, nowadays everything from OTC drugs to meat thermometers and valve stem caps comes sealed in copious disposable clear plastic. While the threat of random poisonings was and is vanishingly rare, the threat of a manufacturer being sued for failure to encase their products in impenetrable plastic remains quite high.

This pervasive attitude extends to some of the most unexpected spaces. I once bought a car touted as being 72% recyclable. It seems everything, including automobiles, is now designed from the outset to be discarded when its service life is complete.

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No major infrastructure rebuild project is complete without a commemoration. Will left this brief note to his wife on the underside of the new handle.

Past Performance Does Not Guarantee Future Results

My grandparents’ generation was not so encumbered. They darned socks, patched clothes, repaired appliances, cultivated vegetables, farmed chickens and just generally made do. They also spanked the Nazis and kicked the Imperial Japanese all the way back to their modest little island. They were, in my humble opinion, better than are we.

My grandfather came of age during the Great Depression on a rural Mississippi farm. They grew their own food, so they never went hungry. However, they didn’t have much beyond that. As a result, when he needed something, he just built it.

I enjoy woodworking and maintain a decent wood shop. My shop sports two wood lathes. One came from a factory and is immensely capable. I haven’t turned it on in a decade. The other my grandfather built from scrap bearings and an old washing machine motor. I use it all the time. I find the machine and the man who built it to be frankly inspirational.

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The end result might not look like much,
but it has a story and just drips character.

The Quandary

We live way out in the sticks. Beating back the surrounding jungle is a relentless, never-ending proposition. Keeping Mother Nature at bay requires a handful of dedicated tools. One of those is a wheelbarrow.

Our wheelbarrow has been part of the family for a generation. It has hauled dirt, concrete, gravel, bricks, mulch, firewood and children. Nowadays, it doesn’t get used very often, but when called upon, it is indispensable. On this fateful day, I went to fetch the family wheelbarrow for something or other, only to find it long dead.

Entropy is the technical appellation. Everything in the universe spontaneously descends into ever greater states of chaos. I attribute this to the unfortunate sin nature of man. In a practical sense this means everything breaks. In this case, the front tire was flat and the twin wooden handles were rotten to the point of uselessness. Now I had a decision to make.

I could zip into Home Depot and procure a fresh wheelbarrow, shiny and smelling of paint. However, that’s not how my grandfather would have done it. He’d have stripped the old wheelbarrow down and built it back up himself. I opted to follow his example.

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The humble Dremel tool is the handiest tool in the shop. With enough steel stock, fiber-reinforced cutoff wheels and time, you could build a tank with one of these things.

Transformations

This industrial resurrection was easier said than done. The sundry nuts and bolts were horribly corroded and were, in some cases, literally encased in concrete. The rotten handles were frankly friable and little more than kindling. However, the chassis of the thing seemed unkillable.

The bolt heads were indeed irredeemable. I put a cutoff wheel on my Dremel tool and slotted the opposite ends of the bolts to hold the things in place until I could break them free. Penetrating oil, a jumbo standard screwdriver, a big honking crescent wrench and about half-an-hour eventually dislodged all of the intransigent fasteners. A trip to the local hardware store produced a fresh tube for the tire.

The new handles began life as pressure-treated 2×6’s cut to shape. I used the remnants of the old rotten handles to site the bolt holes. During assembly the whole monstrosity shook, flopped and rattled like a cricket on a hot skillet. Once I tightened down the sundry bolts, however, the old girl snapped rigidly in place, ready for another 25 years of cheerful service

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Will’s grandfather built this wood lathe from scratch using discarded bearings and an old washing machine motor. Will says, “That guy was awesome!”

Deep Magic

It’s still an old wheelbarrow but it somehow sports more character than a new one might. I scribbled the date and a modest love note to my wife on one handle to commemorate the event before striking out to whatever mundane task precipitated the resurrection in the first place. Like me, the wheelbarrow isn’t much to look at, but it’s tough, resilient, reliable and loyal.

There’s a bigger message to be found in this repurposed old garden implement, something deep and profound. We were both worn out, ugly, and useless, suitable only to be discarded and forgotten. Then we were attended by the carpenter. He saw something in us that others might not. He poured himself into the task of creating something new, fresh and useful. In a manner of speaking, both of us have simply been redeemed.

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