GENERATION CONROD

WE NEED A THREE-HANDED WRENCH

Guy ‘Guido’ Allen

DECADES AGO, I was running a magazine that had a staffer called Pete ‘Mister’ Smith. He was a polymath and an unusual character. I remember one year when every time he left his (very) humble abode, he’d find a spanner lying on the ground. The thing was, he wasn’t making this up. But he ended up with a nice spanner collection.

He also had some clever ideas. For example, he decided to set the first lap record at Eastern Creek Raceway (now Sydney Motorsport Park), while it was under construction in anticipation of the hugely controversial demise of Oran Park. The lap time was about an hour and 50 minutes, and involved dragging his dirt bike (his car was too heavy) through or under some barbed wire fences, but no-one could take it from him. It was definitely the first.

Along the way he decided he wanted to write some workshop advice features for us and, when he looked at the actual problems involved, decided most of them were impossible without the use of a third hand. Check in the mirror, but most of us don’t have one.

So he invented this fictional character called Wren the Three-Handed Mechanic. And every story, sure enough, had at least one photo with three near-identical hands performing the task. This was before Photoshop and digital image-altering was common (30 years ago), and I was always a little mystified about how he managed to include three hands that clearly belonged to the same person. Could Wren be real?

Yeah, okay, I’ve yet to meet a three-handed mechanic.

That’s no reason to give up hope he/she/it exists.

Among the many things he tried over his life, Smith was a brake mechanic and worked wonders on the family’s Mighty Kingswood. I’m pretty sure that’s where he got the whole three-handed idea. Ever tried bleeding brakes on your own?

Doesn’t happen. Even with a willing nitwit pumping the pedal, you often need more than the usual number of hands to do it properly.

Blackbourn (see his column down the other end of this fine family organ) was telling me a ludicrous story just today, about bleeding the brakes on a daughter’s car, solo. At some stage I may have blacked out because it was too mad, but I think it involved desperate lever pumping, jamming a lump of wood between the seat and pedal, then spearing underneath the shitbox to milk the bubbles out of the line.

Then he had to wind back and repeat, I dunno, about 74 times. This is not a dignified occupation for a qualified engineer. Holy cow, Batman – get an assistant. (I’m hoping he’ll tell the real story himself one day.)

So I’m now starting to wonder when people and the whole tech industry will stop faffing around with cute little quadcopters with cameras, or robo vacuum cleaners that your cat can ride on, and get serious.

What we really need is a three-handed apprentice mechanic robot. One with a single hand (the poverty pack) that does what it’s told would do. Maybe it would be cheaper to find a real apprentice and chain them to the garage. Is that legal? Then I can finally bleed the friggin brakes at home.

Failing that, can you imagine how fast you’d get your project car built if you had just one good extra hand? Go on, there has to be a lab somewhere working on the genome for this.

Smith and Wren would approve…

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