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Old 04-27-2014, 02:33 PM   #1
JGT OP
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Moments of mechanical truth in literature

Every once in a while, you read something in a book that has some mechanical truth in it -- someone who understands what it is like to work with engines, or to restore an old bike or car.

It is even more surprising when the book is not about those things -- not a book about motorcycle maintenance or how to fix things -- but just a novel about some other subject.

Here's one I found a while ago that really spoke to the way I feel when working on an old engine or a watch or any sort of mechanical device.

Any one else have one to add?

This is from Alexander McCall Smith's novel The Full Cupboard of Life. One of the Ladies' No. 1 Detective Agency books. One of the characters is a mechanic, living in Botswana. Someone brings him a car that has been abused by unscrupulous mechanics at another garage:

As he parked his truck in its accustomed place -- under the acacia tree at the side of the garage -- Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni reflected on the sheer effrontery of those people. He imagined the butcher going into the garage and describing some problem, and being reassured, when he collected the car, that it had been attended to. Perhaps they even lied about the difficulties of obtaining parts; he was sure that they would have charged him for the genuine spare parts, which they would have had to order from a special dealer in South Africa, or even England, all that way away. He thought of the factory in England where they made Rover cars; under a grey sky, with rain, which they had in such abundance and of which Botswana had so little; and he thought too of those Englishmen, his brother mechanics, standing over the metal lathes and drills that would produce those beautiful pieces of machinery. What would they have felt, he wondered, if they were to know that far away in Botswana there were unscrupulous mechanics prepared to put all sorts of unsuitable parts into the engine which they had so lovingly created? What would they think of Botswana if they knew that? It made him burn with indignation just to contemplate.
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Old 04-27-2014, 02:42 PM   #2
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I get worked up about neglect, someone parks a good car/bike/whatever and lets it rot.
I think it deserves better, someone would/could love on it, love to have it.

Abuse I can dig, I tend to abuse everything I own with hard use, but lots of care and servicing.
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Old 04-27-2014, 03:57 PM   #3
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I don't know if this is what you had in mind, but.....

I remember reading a Steven King novel many years ago. One of the main characters, a woman, had a 911 and the book mentioned how religiously she let it warm up until the temperature gauge moved before she drove away with it. Later in the book something bad was happening to her, I don't remember what, and she hopped in the car and drove away without even looking at the temp gauge.

I don't know why, but I've remembered that ever since I was a kid.
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Old 04-27-2014, 05:41 PM   #4
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In John Irving's novel "Setting Free the Bears" the main character has a 700cc Royal Enfield that Irving describes as have large "cruel" open spaces between the motor, tank, and frame. It's been years since I read the book, decades really, and I still remember thinking that this man had actually ridden such a motorcycle.
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Old 04-28-2014, 01:20 PM   #5
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In the movie "My Cousin Vinny" there are a few scenes where they seem to have an understanding of cars.
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Old 04-28-2014, 02:12 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JGT View Post
Every once in a while, you read something in a book that has some mechanical truth in it -- someone who understands what it is like to work with engines, or to restore an old bike or car.

It is even more surprising when the book is not about those things -- not a book about motorcycle maintenance or how to fix things -- but just a novel about some other subject.

Here's one I found a while ago that really spoke to the way I feel when working on an old engine or a watch or any sort of mechanical device.

Any one else have one to add?

This is from Alexander McCall Smith's novel The Full Cupboard of Life. One of the Ladies' No. 1 Detective Agency books. One of the characters is a mechanic, living in Botswana. Someone brings him a car that has been abused by unscrupulous mechanics at another garage:
As he parked his truck in its accustomed place -- under the acacia tree at the side of the garage -- Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni reflected on the sheer effrontery of those people. He imagined the butcher going into the garage and describing some problem, and being reassured, when he collected the car, that it had been attended to. Perhaps they even lied about the difficulties of obtaining parts; he was sure that they would have charged him for the genuine spare parts, which they would have had to order from a special dealer in South Africa, or even England, all that way away. He thought of the factory in England where they made Rover cars; under a grey sky, with rain, which they had in such abundance and of which Botswana had so little; and he thought too of those Englishmen, his brother mechanics, standing over the metal lathes and drills that would produce those beautiful pieces of machinery. What would they have felt, he wondered, if they were to know that far away in Botswana there were unscrupulous mechanics prepared to put all sorts of unsuitable parts into the engine which they had so lovingly created? What would they think of Botswana if they knew that? It made him burn with indignation just to contemplate.
The problem here is that whilst the Botswanan mechanic may well have thought that the English guys who built the car cared that deeply, the truth is that the chances are way higher that they didn't give a monkey's toss. So this is less mechanical truth and more mechanical naivety. Ces't la vie...

On the other hand - from Ted Simon
“I am learning, as I make my way through my first continent, that it is remarkably easy to do things, and much more frightening to contemplate them.”
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Old 04-28-2014, 07:07 PM   #7
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What about hunter s tompson?

"Well," he said, "as your attorney I advise you to buy a motorcycle. How else can you cover a thing like this righteously?"
"No way," I said. "Where can we get hold of a Vincent Black Shadow?"
"Whats that?"
"A fantastic bike," I said. "The new model is something like two thousand cubic inches, developing two hundred brake-horsepower at four thousand revolutions per minute on a magnesium frame with two styrofoam seats and a total curb weight of exactly two hundred pounds."
"That sounds about right for this gig," he said.
"It is," I assured him. "The fucker's not much for turning, but it's pure hell on the straightaway. It'll outrun the F-111 until takeoff."
"Takeoff?" he said. "Can we handle that much torque?"
"Absolutely," I said. "I'll call New York for some cash."
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Old 04-28-2014, 07:35 PM   #8
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In movies and tv it's always really impressive when they match the right engine noise to the right vehicle instead of dubbing over the completely wrong sound. That shows some real attention to detail.
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Old 04-29-2014, 03:09 AM   #9
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I would say that Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni knows f**k all about the UK car industry. The workforce seemed to be on one long continuous strike from the end of WW2 to the late '80's by which time they were mostly replaced by robots, that also didn't give a toss.
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Old 04-29-2014, 03:30 AM   #10
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Quote:
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In movies and tv it's always really impressive when they match the right engine noise to the right vehicle instead of dubbing over the completely wrong sound. That shows some real attention to detail.
In the movie "Death Proof" they put mics on the cars, no dubbing needed.
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Old 04-29-2014, 05:34 AM   #11
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Relative to my post about Mr. J. L. B. Matekoni and the Rover engineers -- you all may be right that the engineers and workers would not care about this car.

What appealed to me about the passage was that Mr. JLB thought that they would, and that he felt connected to them by working on the car. That is something I have experienced. Knowing that the insides of something I am taking apart (and maybe fixing) was last seen years ago by someone in another country, and that a lot of thought and expertise went into designing the parts as they are and putting them together. By making something run correctly again, we are showing respect to the people who made it run right in the first place.
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Old 04-29-2014, 05:46 AM   #12
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Originally Posted by Tuna Helper View Post
In the movie "My Cousin Vinny" there are a few scenes where they seem to have an understanding of cars.
Yeah, they SEEM to - but I found that last court scene quite a stretch. You really think you can tell the difference between a solid rear axle and independent rear suspension based on burnout marks? I don't buy it!
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Old 04-29-2014, 05:48 AM   #13
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In movies and tv it's always really impressive when they match the right engine noise to the right vehicle instead of dubbing over the completely wrong sound. That shows some real attention to detail.

Oh that grates on me every time I see Daryl's bike on The Walking Dead. It's clearly a parallel twin - but it sounds just like a single pin crank 45° V-twin.

I guess most people don't care that there's a difference in sound between a Triumph and Harley.
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Old 04-29-2014, 06:51 AM   #14
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Yeah, they SEEM to - but I found that last court scene quite a stretch. You really think you can tell the difference between a solid rear axle and independent rear suspension based on burnout marks? I don't buy it!
I'll give you that, considering the curb that was run over was probably only about four inches tall.
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Old 04-29-2014, 06:46 PM   #15
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In a perfect world, it would work. That whole movie was great' though!
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