Jessie Raymond: Rusty bolt won’t trip up to-do list

In our marriage there’s a division of labor. Mark is good at things that require brute force and power tools. I’m good at cooking and telling him when he’s using words wrong.

We complement each other.

Now, I had last week off. Mark, being a contractor at a busy time of year during a post-pandemic construction boom, did not. I had a long list of things I wanted to get done. But, while I had the time to do them, I did not necessarily have the ability.

I lack the upper body strength needed for many jobs around here. So when Mark pulls in at the end of a long day, I often meet him in the driveway and say things like, “Hey, can you lug some boulders over to the flower beds for me?”

Talk about grouchy.

I was determined to show some independence for a change and cross things off my list without bugging him. One of the top items was getting the tractor running so I could resume my favorite summer activity — moving old manure from one part of the yard to the other.

I wasn’t going to try to jump-start the tractor like Mark had been doing for a couple of months now; I was going to put in a new battery. By myself.

I know what you’re thinking: “Big deal. All you have to do is switch out the old one.”

But don’t let my barn boots fool you: I’m no farmer. I didn’t even know how to open the tractor hood. Did the front lift up, like on a car? Or did the back flip forward? Was there a latch? Shouldn’t it be clearly labeled?

Straddling the tractor bucket, I somehow managed to find the release levers — they used two, those sneaky tractor designers — and get the hood propped open (up, like a car). I found the battery. So far, so good.

I could see I would need to not only remove the battery cable clamps from the terminals but also undo the bolts holding the battery to the tractor frame.

The cable clamps refused to come off at first, but I persuaded them by banging on them with a pair of pliers, something I imagined Mark would do.

As for the bolts, I’d need a wrench, if that’s what you call that tool with a long handle and a hexagonal hole on the end.

I had heard Mark curse at enough wrenches to know they come in many nearly identical sizes — both standard and metric — and whichever one you pick is always the wrong size. But I found the right one in the shop on only the ninth try. Mark would be so impressed!

Reaching under a hydraulic hose and craning my neck around a metal bar, I was able to hold onto the nut (which I couldn’t see) with the pliers (which didn’t have room to rotate more than five degrees) and turn the bolt with the wrench.

I say “turn.” In reality, the nut had rusted onto the bolt. Neither would budge, no matter how forcefully I swore at them.

This was the point where I would normally lay down the tools and wait in the driveway for Mark to get home. But this time, I refused to give up.

We don’t need to track exactly how long I wrestled with just the first bolt (41 minutes, if you must know, including water breaks and crying jags) or worry about how I skinned my knuckles fighting with the wrench while contorting my body around various tractor parts.

It’s immaterial whether I made five or 15 trips to the barn for wrenches and a screwdriver and WD-40 and Band-Aids.

And nobody cares that the 12-volt battery weighed upwards of 30 pounds — which seems unnecessarily heavy for something no bigger than a box of Tide — and had to be held at arm’s length while I maneuvered it into place.

What matters is that, for once, I succeeded: When I was done, the tractor started right up, and I was off to the races. (That’s an expression meaning I was off to the manure pile.)

Sure, I was sweaty and greasy and exhausted. But I was also triumphant. I am not helpless after all.

When Mark walked in the door, I said, “Guess what. I changed the battery in the tractor!”

“Oh. Good,” he said, flipping through the mail. 

“By myself,” I said, emphasizing each syllable.

He looked up. “Well, yeah. All you had to do was switch out the old one.”

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