The Mechanics of Life

Reader Contribution by Staff

We recently received the following essay written by Ryan Collins. Ryan’s grandfather, Harley Collins, sent it to us with the idea that gas engine enthusiasts would appreciate it, and we agree.

As Harley explained it, Ryan wrote this essay to accompany his application for medical school at the University of Pittsburgh, where he is now a third-year student. Both Harley and Ryan are members of the Blue Mountain Antique Gas & Steam Engine Association in Jacktown, Pa.

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The smell of gas and oil tingles my nose. The dust dances in front of my eyes, reflecting the light from the one open door. Today, Grandfather and I are preparing our small gasoline engines for the annual antique show. Countless hours of hard work and learning have gone into this moment. Although these engines may be small, they have taught very important lessons.

My grandfather is a connoisseur of what some may call “junk.” To him, the small engines and tractors he collects represents something more. He gathered various pieces over many years in the hope of restoring each and every one. Although this goal was forgotten as his collection grew, Grandfather still wanted to share a part of his hobby with each of his grandchildren. Once I was old enough, I had the chance to explore his collection and select my prize. After choosing a small Briggs & Stratton lawn mower engine, I soon came to the realization that restoring this engine wouldn’t be as easy as it looked. Years of repose left the engine encased in grime and grease. Myself being a young child at the age of eight, I asked Grandfather for ways to remove this dirt. In response to my query, he retrieved an old pan of dark solvent. This detergent stung my nose like vinegar and was slippery from the oil and grease it had digested. We used the solvent to soak and scrub the engine, and it finally came clean. This problem, much like an in life, just needed some time and hard work.

After everything was spotless, the time came to make this engine come to life. However, first I needed an education. Grandfather briefed me on the basic concepts of how an engine works and then allowed me to investigate the inner workings of the machine, piece by piece. I learned many things about mechanics and electronics over those following weeks. One of these facts is the piston moves up and down in the cylinder of an idling engine more than sixteen times per second, a fact I found incredibly startling. The complexities of this machine opened my eyes to the intricacies of life. Now, instead of just seeing a bird, I see the many organs operating inside of that tiny machine.

After several more weeks of work, the moment of truth came. When we pulled the starting rope, the engine first coughed, then sputtered, the purred like a kitten – a sure sign of success. This success continued for many years until, finally, a malfunction appeared. As hard as I tried, the engine would not run again. Then Grandfather intervened, asking me to take a step back and try another approach. By trying again and again, we finally isolated and repaired the problem. If at first you don’t succeed, relax, and then go at it again. I try to incorporate this adage into my life every day, whether I’m in school or trying to solve problems in a relationship.

Through our work on engines, my grandfather has influenced my approach to life in many ways. Many things that work in life also work in mechanics. Time and hard work are still the best ways to solve problems. The world around us is thousands of times more complex than we ever realize. Also, there are always times when try, again and again, to accomplish all of your goals. Life is always moving forward, and you can either sit by the side of the road waiting for help, or be a mechanic and fix the problems you face. 

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