Wednesday, 23 January 2013

The Day I Blew A Gasket With The Tool Thieves


No one else would go on the breakdown, so it was me who drew the short straw I was only 17 and although I wasn’t a mechanic I had been messing about with cars in the workshop since I was 12, I Had also just completed a full rebuild on the engine of my own Hillman Minx which wasn’t without incident. I hadn’t got an engine hoist at home so I lifted the engine out using a block and tackle slung from one of the 2 girders which supported the roof of our pre-fab garage at home. I had to lower it back in using the other one as the girder had bent so much that the roof nearly collapsed, I wasn’t very popular with my Dad.

The car that needed the repair was a Hillman Imp and it had broken down in a place called Cantril Farm in Liverpool. The owner had described the fault over the telephone and we all concluded that the Head Gasket had gone. Blown head gaskets were very common on this particular type of car and sometimes they needed the cylinder head skimming as the failure was due to it having warped. If the head had warped the car would need recovering back to our workshop, but the cheapest option was repairing it in situ.



Cantril Farm was in Liverpool and about 30 miles away from us, I had never heard of the place but as soon as the mechanics were asked to go on the breakdown, they both shook their heads and said “No Way” I thought It couldn’t possibly be so bad, so stupidly I volunteered. I learned later that Cantril Farm was the equivalent of “Tombstone” in Cowboy Times. I would be as popular as Wyatt Ayrpe as the scouser’s would pronounce it and I would be armed only with a straight edge and feeler gauges to check that the cylinder head was within tolerance, a new head gasket, and my tool kit.

Repairs were fairly easy in those days and you could pretty much dismantle and rebuild a complete car if you had a ratchet with 10mm,13mm,17mm,19mm sockets, a Philips screw driver, and a hammer. I had managed to put together a basic toolkit which comprised of not much more and as I left the other mechanics drew attention to the fact and shouted “Dont forget your Vono bed spanners”  for those of you that can’t remember that far back, Vono bed’s were steel sprung, and came in 3 pieces which you had to bolt together with the supplied spanner, the spanner would pretty much self destruct after one use, so the mechanics meant it as an insult. 




It was way after lunch by the time I arrived and no sooner had I gotten out of my car when a kid rode up to me on a new “Raleigh Chopper” and said “Mind your car Mister?” It wasn’t really a question and he held out his hand expecting me to give him money, If he could afford a new Raleigh Chopper he didn’t need my money so I told him to “clear off”, I shouldn’t have, as he rode away he turned round and shouted back “You’ll be sorry”. I locked the door to my car and walked to the owners “Prison Cell” the whole estate was horrific and depressing it reminded me of the castle in the series about 2nd World War prisoners of war called Colditz, the place smelled of decay, poverty and crime!

It took me no longer than 5 minutes to get the owners car keys and walk back, my car wasn’t even out of site but when I turned round I could see the door was wide open and there were the equivalent of today’s hoodie’s sat inside looking for things of value, I shouted and started to run, so did they. I had shouted to try to scare them off, I didn’t want to make a citizens arrest, and there was no way I wanted to catch them and get into a fight. That’s a thing that bothers me about films, why when detectives have to arrest a criminal do they shout “Hey You Stop” when the felon is across the other side of a very busy road and always has a head start,then much to their surprise he sets off running, why don’t they wait till they can cross safely, sneak up behind him and slap the handcuffs on? - anyway the scavengers that I shouted to ran but stopped when they thought they were at a safe distance.

I satisfied myself that there was nothing missing, car radios weren’t just pushed in like they are today, they were fitted from behind by removing the lower half of the dash which was made of steel, so it couldn’t even be jemmied out. There was nothing of value in the car that wasn’t screwed down and they couldn’t  pinch my tool kit as it was in the boot. Boot locks are usually a lot harder to pick than door locks as they aren’t used as often and don’t get as much wear and tear, often you could get in a door or turn an ignition lock with a virtually any key, but even if they had defeated the car boot lock, my tool box was secured by a rope and bungee straps which were there to stop it shooting forward if I had to brake suddenly.

I started to remove the cylinder head from the Hillman Imp but I felt very I’ll at ease, the engine was in the back of the car and working space was very restricted, I couldn’t really see any of my surroundings but my sixth sense told me that I had to be on my guard, I stood up to stretch my legs and I realised that I was surrounded, I was the centre of attention and it was obvious that it was my tool box that they wanted, I should have packed up there and then and sent a breakdown truck to pick the car up so I could repair it in the safety of the workshop, but I have this thing about refusing to admit defeat, and not knowing when I am beaten.



The Yobs who were probably aged between about 8 and 16 had started to taunt me, calling me names and throwing the odd piece of gravel in my direction, then one of them held up a coloured round piece of paper. I turned to look at the windscreen of my car and saw my empty Tax Disc holder, they hadn’t fled empty handed after all, and they were using my stolen tax disc as bait to get me to chase them and leave my toolbox unguarded, I didn’t, if I had have done I had a feeling that I would never again be able to dismantle a “Vono” bed.

I was working faster than a Ferrari mechanic on a Michael Schumacher Pit Stop but I had still been there for over an hour and just like in the Classic Vampire films the sun was going down and it was starting to get dark, my tormentors were getting braver and like a pack of Wolves they had started to move in for the Kill, I ignored them and carried on working furiously.  - Incidentally that’s a thing that bothers me about Horror films, why do Vampire Hunters do that? why don’t they set their alarm for really early the next morning, stuff their pockets with Garlic baguettes, put as many crucifixes on as they can stand up with, fill an Uzi 9mm Machine pistol up with silver bullets,  go round to Draculas house, rip all the shutters off the windows, then they have all day to find his coffin, let him have it with the Uzi at 1700 rounds a minute, and just to be on the safe side drive a stake through his heart.

The cyclist who had offered me protection earlier had returned, but now there were 2 of them on the bike the Raleigh Chopper had  a 2 seater saddle, and he was giving  another lad a “Backie”, he wasn't the oldest but he seemed to be the ringleader,( I figured that his Dad must be the toughest S.O.B on the estate), he kept riding past in ever decreasing circles. Just in case they tried to make a grab for my tools I hooked my foot through the handle of the cantilever box, it was tremendously uncomfortable balancing on one knee, with my other leg outstretched while leaning into the engine compartment , “I needed a Plan B” I wouldn’t be able to keep this up for too long, I saw what I needed and my idea worked like a charm.



I had nearly finished, all I had do was to put the rocker box cover back on the engine, tighten the bolts up and drive off into the sunset, but the Wolves chose this moment to attack, I was caught in a Pincer movement, one of the yobs had sneaked up the side of the car like a scouse Ninja, and before I could react he had grabbed the rocker box cover which was on the floor beside me and set off running, I had to get it back quickly and I went after him, he had no intention of keeping the rocker box cover and dropped his spoils as soon as  he had achieved his aim,  He had lured me far enough away from the car, and he had gotten far enough away from me to turn round flick me the “v’s” and laugh, the ringleader and his bike passenger were both jeering in Victory as they took off behind me with my toolbox, the lad on the back was sat on the dual seat of the Chopper with my toolbox resting in front of him,  the ringleader was pedalling furiously so I wouldnt be able to catch them.

They managed to get about 10 feet before the rope which had previously been used to secure my toolbox in the car boot went taught and stopped them in their tracks. I had tied it to the handle of my toolbox and the other end to the bumper of the Hillman Imp. Their Chopper did a wheelie and the lad holding my tool box was pulled clean off the back his injuries were compounded when he landed on his backside and took the full weight of my tool box in his groin, the ringleader also sustained a groin related injury when he hit his wedding tackle on the “Apehanger Handle Bars as he was catapulted over them.

The rest of the watching gang seemed to take it in good spirits and they were all roaring with laughter, it was a little while before the other 2 humiliated thieves managed to get to their feet by which time I had secured the rocker box cover, shoved the Hillmans car keys through his letter box, thrown my tools in the car and even though technically I should have kept the revs below 3000 as I was still running in the newly rebuilt and de-coked engine of my Hillman Minx, I sped off at full chat, red lining it in every gear, and not daring to look in my mirror in case I was being pursued.

With my next wage packet I decided to add to my tool collection and bought the biggest heaviest adjustable spanner that I could possibly afford, I still have it to this day and I don’t think I have ever had occasion to use it, but then I didn’t buy it to repair things with, I bought it for self protection in case I  had to go back to Cantril Farm.  I also wear a Crucifix around my neck, I am an atheist and I dont believe in God but you just never know when you might get called out in the middle of the night  to repair a Vampire’s car ! :-)
Barrie Crampton

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