Zen and the Art of Tractor Maintenance

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.

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