Fire And Ice

Working where Eskimo and thermometers fear to tread

Andy Bolig - October 24, 2013 10:00 AM


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As I write this editorial, we are still experiencing the almost eternal season we call “summer” in central Florida.

The term describing this season of fun has many varied definitions. For those in the upper areas of our great nation, it might be the sunniest two weeks of a given year. For us in the lower regions of the country, it has come to mean everything except those two weeks out of the year that we’re searching where we stashed those coveted jackets.

During any given weekend, I might find myself working on a myriad of projects in the family driveway. Sometimes, the weather plays a more defining role in how I attack said task than the task itself. I can recall living in Pennsylvania and the starter in my daily driver gave up the ghost. It was smack-dab in the middle of a record-setting cold spell.

Those who have experienced the frozen northlands can relate. It gets so cold that the atmosphere turns about as dry as any desert. ALL of the water vapor almost instantly congeals into a slippery sheet of uncontrolled movement and any evidence of a liquid state is quickly removed from the atmosphere, your skin, nostrils and wherever else it might be found.

I can remember being in the midst of one such big chill, shoveling snow from around my somewhat beloved car, so that I could slide underneath and swap out the starter that had been super-cooled by the sub-arctic evening air. When you get a starter hot, they stay hot for quite a while. The same is true when they’re frozen. I don’t suggest licking one!

Trying to remove small nuts and bolts with thick gloves is futile. In an attempt to avoid, or at least limit the extent of frostbite treatment I would need to endure, I warmed the necessary wrenches by placing them on the furnace so both they, and my body, could come back from absolute zero. The cold steel bolts sapped the heat from both the wrenches and my fingers about as fast as bread, milk and eggs evaporate from the shelves of the supermarket at the threat of a snowstorm.

Fast forward a few decades, and I find that I’ve got a similar problem, albeit on the other side of the heat spectrum. As I attempt to make headway on my current ride, I’m forced again to deal with extreme temperatures. This time, heat isn’t the solution, it’s the problem. I have several big, red boxes that house my tools but somehow, I must have bypassed returning them to their respective drawers and instead, decided to store them on the surface of the sun! Rather than relying on thick clothing to keep me from skin damage, I find myself better served by a spray-can full of PAM® cooking spray to help keep my flesh-ridden fingers from instantly experiencing a medium-well state. Sure, it doesn’t help protect against third-degree burns, but when the pain triggers finally reach my brain and I realize that the smoke and smell of outdoor grilling is coming from my fingertips, it DOES allow me to free myself from the forged ¾-inch furnace that I chose to pick up.

Of course, trying to fix something in the middle of a Florida summer, only inches from the surface of the sun, means the heat flows from convection AND radiation. The reason that the wrenches are hot, is because EVERYTHING is hot – even yourself. That may be a blessing in disguise as the sweat that pours from every inch of your being helps to cool those extra-sensitive areas of your arm, neck or wherever you might forget to spray with non-stick coating that will invariably touch some hot stretch of metal or black plastic.

Many times, we see on TV, or read in magazines, about work being done on cars in the midst of air-conditioned shops with the aid of lifts, air tools and whatnot. While that does help survive the wild nature of Mother Nature, more often than not, we find enthusiasts, ourselves included, braving the elements in their driveways to see through the task at hand. Even if it is where Eskimo and infrared heat thermometers fear to tread.