Living By Design, Not By Default

Zen and the Art of Tractor Maintenance

zen of tractor repair

There is something that I find inherently satisfying about fixing things. The whole process really . . . taking something apart, finding the broken piece, replacing it, then reassembling it in the precise way that it was designed.

One day, while I was mowing the lawn, I heard grinding followed by a loud bang under my tractor. As I continued on, I looked back and noticed several pieces of metal lying on the grass.

I stopped the tractor and picked up a few of the metal pieces. I realized immediately that they were pieces of gears that somehow came out of the transaxle.

When I got back on the tractor, I shifted through the gears and noticed that I no longer had 5th and 6th gear. Since the tractor was still running and I didn’t really use the last two speeds, I finished mowing the lawn. Actually, I continued to use the tractor for the rest of the summer.

When the next season arrived, I started to mow the lawn, but I couldn’t get the tractor out of 4th gear. The transaxle was locked from grass and sand lodged in the gears. It needed to be replaced.

After checking with a local repair shop, I realized that fixing it myself would cost one-third of the repair shop’s price. Since I was replacing the transaxle, I also decided to change the belts, blades, air filter, oil, oil filter, and spark plug. It took five hours, but I fixed it myself and saved a lot of money.

When I finished, I did a victory lap around the yard as if I’d won the Daytona 500 shifting through each gear and confirming that everything worked as intended.

The Zen of Taking Things Apart

I started taking things apart and fixing them when I was in elementary school. I’ve always been fascinated by how things work.

Unfortunately, my first project, a flip style alarm clock, didn’t go so well. I forgot to check how the strings and pulleys were arranged inside as I took it apart. When I finished reassembling the clock, I could hear the motor running, but the numbers didn’t change.

I learned the importance of attention to detail and having systems to organize the parts.

This post was inspired by Robert M. Pirsig’s book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into ValuesI completely understand his point that maintaining a machine can be tedious drudgery for some or an enjoyable pastime to others. For me, there is a Zen-like calm that I experience when I’m immersed in these projects. They put me in a state of flow where time doesn’t exist.

When I’m fixing something around the house, I often listen to music, an audiobook, or a podcast. I’m completely focused on the task at hand and not thinking about other responsibilities or life issues.

There is such a feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment when I’ve completed a repair – cue Tim Allen’s grunt here. The more difficult and unfamiliar the project, the higher the level of satisfaction and the greater the feeling of flow.

About Bud Ward

Bud is a physical therapist, writer, and consultant. He has over 20 years of experience working in corporate, private practice, and hospital settings. He has written on topics of health, wellness, personal development, and practice management for blogs and a national industry magazine.

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