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Engines and Marital Harmony

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The Stationary Engine Mailing List on the Internet is a mine of useful information, some of which I pass on to readers of GEM. It is also frequently a mine of useless information, and for this month's article I've veered towards the latter. That said, this information could well come into the category of safe working practices, as it is a list of 'wife-do-nots.'

Now, a discussion along these lines is not going to classify for a top award at the next gathering of the politically correct, but I have two claims in my defense. Firstly, some of these contributions are from engine wives (note that I did not use the phrase 'engine widows' - their opinions are admirably put forward by their men folk), and secondly, I'm female, which I think gives me an edge in such a sexist discussion.

This article may prove useful in many ways. Those new to the hobby (of engine restoration or relationships - take your pick!) may be set on the right track for a hobby that runs in harmony with marriage. Some may pick up a few tips to form the basis of New Year's resolutions. And some of you can use it as a defense mechanism: 'You think I'm bad? But dear, at least I don't do what THIS guy does!' You will note that names have been omitted to protect the guilty parties. I don't want to see an extended list of obituaries in the next edition of GEM.

The discussion began when one List member reported a method of weighing an engine that involved using the bathroom scales. As he said, 'The only hitch was that my wife had a fit when she found out what I was doing with the scales. She still remembers when I wrecked her good paring knife cutting a gasket.'

'Kind of like my wife not being too happy with me using her oven to pre-heat a rod, and pouring babbitt bearing on the kitchen table. Perhaps we should come up with a list of 'wife-donots' for those members just getting started,' responded a sympathetic List member.

In the spirit of those great words of wisdom, 'Learn from the mistakes of others. You can't live long enough to make them all yourself,' I give you the definitive guide to Wife-Do-Nots.

Curing paint in the oven always seems to get a 'rise' out of her.

Never use her pinking shears to cut emery paper. Don't fill her side of the garage with engines (at least not during winter).

Don't put foam air filters in the dryer.

Don't bake enamel paint in the oven.

Don't open a can of Chem-Dip carb dunk in the house.

Restoring an engine in the living room during winter doesn't sit too well.

Engines don't make good interior decorations.

Don't EVER use the wife's car as a workbench.

Don't EVER give her a kiss after wiping your nose with a greasy rag.

Don't EVER 'ah,' 'er,' or 'um,' when it involves your greasy hands and her white pants.

Don't EVER paint engine parts right next to her car.

Don't EVER leave the soap covered in greasy, grimy go in the bathroom.

So that's a simple list of things to avoid  for starters. It's not only a wife who can be upset by engine-related misdemeanors, there are girlfriends and mothers, too.

Persuading her to take the BMW when we go for a ride to check out the flea markets usually gets me in hot water when I find something greasy. Last summer I got two Maytag motors for $12 and they had some skunky gas in them. I still catch hell for that one. Stupid things I did while living at home that got Mum riled up included putting oilers in the dishwasher, preheating castings in the oven, keeping engine parts in the freezer, tracking grease and shavings into the house, taking her emery boards and fingernail polish, washing shop towels in her washer, boiling parts in the kitchen, and the usual hammering, grinding and related shop noises that could be heard into the wee hours of the morning.

Starting a Reid at 11:30 got me in particularly deep #%! for a few weeks. Pa was in trouble as well - it was his idea. Living a mile from the nearest neighbors meant you could get away with it ... almost. But as Pa repeatedly told me as a kid, 'If mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy!' The older I get, the smarter he was, and is.

This offender mentions washing shop towels in the washer, but that wasn't the real issue that caused marital disharmony.

Don't use the 'good towels,' the ones that are just supposed to hang there and get dusty. I never could quite grasp the concept.

Me neither. My Mum, age 79, still has rails full of 'good towels.' The only good towel is a handy one, I say.

Not trying to be mean, just perplexed: Can you explain this towel thing for us troglodytes?

Another household appliance that has appeal for engine related projects is the dishwasher.

Some time back I learned it was not taken kindly for me to use the dishwasher for parts cleaning. This was after I sprayed Gunk on a Vespa engine (two-stroke, French) and, by removing part of the dishwasher rack, put it in the washer. The engine came out looking like new, the dishwasher looked all right, but the distinct odor of kerosene from the Gunk lingered on for months. Funny thing, though, the odor didn't cling to dishes that went through the dishwasher, or, so I told my wife.

I've had to rent a shed. My wife complained about not being able to get to the washing machine in the utility room because of all the toolboxes, old heating burners, lorry tur-bochargers, workbenches, tripods, laser levels, standby generators, car batteries, light fittings, plumbing supplies, old engine parts, oil cans, starting handles, tins of thinners, tins of enamel paint, surplus wood from household projects, etc., etc. Can't see what she was so upset about.

Women have had a rough time of it so far. But there are some who take the opposite stance, and for that special breed there are a different set of rules.

Don't ever leave HER engine sitting out while your junk stays in the garage.

My wife's answer to the displacement of her car by engines? 'If the garage is going to be filled up by engines,' she said, 'then by golly some of those are going to be MY engines.' She has a 1-1/2 HP original Hercules, a nice New Way with lots of original paint, and a 1914 Hercules doctor's buggy.

I am still waiting for my husband to clean the Gilson Pony and put it right back where it belongs ... on my coffee table in our living room! It is still out in the barn getting cold, the poor baby. I feel there is nothing wrong with an engine as interior decoration. Yes, I know it sounds like we have a weird sense of decor, but I don't care. People like it when they see it, or at least they say they do.

I submit that the pair of Petters in the corner of the dining room of a certain English engine man and his understanding wife, along with the what-not shelf covered with mags, make for perfect interior decorations.

We have an F-M Eclipse model living on the worktop in the kitchen. One of the less popular engine activities around here was cooking the head of a Petter Atomic (diesel) in my oven, which created a rather unpleasant, lingering smell. The kitchen table has been the preferred location for several projects, including building the model, restoration of various smaller parts and pin striping the block of the Root & Vandervoort.

I have a Maytag sitting on the coffee table - her idea!

We have plans to redo the entire house this coming spring. I suggested a place to park another engine and was told to go and build a barn to keep them in instead. So now I get to have a nice little shed that will be 45 feet by 65 feet to keep them in. My wife is kind of excited about the shed, as this will be the first time in 12 years she will get to park in the garage.

Another little point worth bearing in mind is this:

Remember, when you do something the better half likes, you get an 'Attaboy.' But, accumulating just one 'Awsh&.' loses you all your 'Attaboys.' And there is no statute of limitations on Awsh&.s.

Which brings me to my conclusion. Choose whichever you feel best fits your personal situation.

No husband has ever been shot while doing the dishes. They're not making old iron any more but they're still making wives.

If you chose the latter, it might be advisable to make a will immediately, deciding on the distribution of your engine collection. Best wishes for the holiday season!

Engine enthusiast Helen French lives in Leicester, England. Contact her via e-mail at: You can join the Stationary Engine List on the Internet at:

'Some time back I learned it was not taken kindly for me to use the dishwasher for parts cleaning.'