Maintenance and repair can get a bit involved

Keeping things as simple as possible rarely works when maintaining or repairing the latest outdoor equipment. Over the Fourth of July weekend we finally got around to what should have been a routine oil change on our John Deere tractor, a 3320 diesel, purchased brand-new two years ago. No problem, we figured. Yet a job that should have taken less than an hour stretched out over a couple of days!

None of our socket wrenches quite fit the drain plug, whose size seemed to lie between 5/8 and 11/16 of an inch. In an “aha” moment, we quickly figured out what we should have known from the beginning. The parts of the tractor and its implements that came from abroad were metric; the fill plug to oil the mower deck, apparently still a “made in the USA” product, took a 7/8 socket wrench, however. A trip to a hardware supplier added a bunch of big metric wrenches, including the 17 millimeter size required for the tractor’s oil plug. Out came the oil. Next, attack the filter!

The filter is ordinarily easy to change on old John Deeres, like the 2010 (1962 model) we owned until recently. A through bolt is removed, after which the housing and filter can be lifted off the flange. Not on the new 3320! Now the entire filter must be unscrewed from the side of the machine, which seems easy enough if you’re into weights and can crush tin cans with your bare hands. Back to the store, where we got a lesson in the use of “strap wrenches.” With a newly purchased tool and strength borne of desperation, we finally got enough torque on the filter to back it out and replace it with a new one. Now add fresh oil and we’re done — but not so fast!

Instead of making the oil fill tube easily accessible on the side of the engine, you have to lift the heavy cowling on the front of the tractor, which can only be done when a latch is released simultaneously. Because there’s no handle atop the cowling, this is strictly a two-person job, which we finally performed.

Mission accomplished!

If complicated design really provides increased reliability, it’s tolerable. Yet, if you consider the need to repair equipment in the field (necessary not only for farm equipment, but also for fishing and hunting gear, skis and cycles) we’re not so sure. And when common repairs require us to send equipment to experts (sometimes packaging and shipping as well), we often discard the equipment altogether. What a terrible waste of time and money!

Saltwater fishing can be brutal for equipment. Because of the corrosive effects of salt and the constant problem of grit and debris getting trapped behind flanges and spools, we’ve always preferred reels that can be dismantled in the field. Admittedly, some of today’s high-end spinning reels — reels that cost the equivalent of a monthly mortgage payment — get around the salt and grit with sealed units that can generally be factory-serviced at season’s end, and one cannot argue with the popularity of these “Rolls Royces” among the serious surf pros. Yet, I still like to know that I can take a reel that’s fallen on the sand, go back to the car, remove a couple of screws and pull a side plate, make it clean enough and get back into the game relatively quickly when I am forced to do so.

Replacing rod guides damaged from banging around in cars or on racks is another necessity. Here, the removal of a battered guide is made a lot easier if the wraps haven’t been slathered with too many coats of epoxy as they are on so many rods today. When you’re in a real hurry, the last thing you need to do is to set up with a sharp cutting tool, knife or box cutter, to get under the hard resin and cut off the wraps that hold the feet of the guide in place. It’s too easy to slice into the rod itself.

Decades ago, rod makers would apply color preserver with a varnish overlay onto the threads, and this made guide removal so much easier. Incidentally, once the old guide is off, you can replace it temporarily by lashing the new one in place with some kind of waterproof tape (although the job looks like hell!) until you get around to winding it on properly in the quiet of your work room.

The words of the ballad, “Times, they are a changin'” leave long-time outdoors persons with mixed feelings. None of us want to go back to the days of equipment that didn’t last, engines that needed regular valve or piston replacement, reels with no drags, nylon (or even silk and linen) lines and fishing rods with no backbone. But we don’t want to go overboard on complexity, either!