Thursday, November 09, 2006

Trans Atlantic Diesels

Here is another story from our time in Urbanna.

If you recall, we were stranded in Urbanna because the starter on Tarwathie's engine failed. On the 4th day stranded, I managed to snag the mechanic from the nearby boatyard. His name was Scott. Scott came over to Tarwathie and fiddled around for only seconds before confirming my diagnosis. "Yep. The starter is dead." He said he could see the scratch marks where I had shorted the starter lead to the 12 volt supply with a screwdriver. The fact that that didn't produce and motion or sound was proof positive. Nothing more was needed.

Next I feared the really bad news, expecting that a new starter for such an old engine would take weeks to obtain. After all, the Perkins 4-108 hasn't been manufactured in 25 years. But I was wrong. Scott made a phone call and he said that the local Perkins dealer had a starter in stock. Wow. That was good news. The only trouble was that Scott could not find the time to drive over and pick it up until the following day. Since the Undrills were with us and had a car, we volunteered to go fetch the starter.

Gary and his friend at the boatyard said, "OK, but we better give you directions to where it is in Cambridge, VA." They fiddled with Mapquest on the Internet for a while with no success. I was getting impatient so I said, "Why don't I just drive to Cambridge and ask the locals?" Scott said, "Because the locals will never know where Trans Atlantic Diesels is." Scott drew me a map and gave verbal instructions, and off we went with John driving with me and Mary Ann as passengers.


Cambridge was about 20 miles away from Urbanna and finding it wasn't difficult. It was the last stretch that got interesting. We turned right at the new WaWa gas station. Then we were supposed to turn on to the second tarred road on the left. We went on for several miles and saw several roads, but most were not tarred. (Translation: tarred means asphalt in post WWII lingo) We then turned right on the first tarred road on the right. Then we drove to the end of a cul-de-sac. There was supposed to be a dirt driveway there straight through. There was one, just as Scott said. Now we were driving on a dirt track that went out into the corn fields. It would have felt very wrong if Scott's directions had not been so explicit. After a mile or so, I was surprised to see a big sign saying "Trans Atlantic Diesels" to your left.

She said, "Oh yeah, the Perkins 108 starter. Follow me." Jennifer led me down the stairs and up an aisle lined with shelves. At the end of the isle there sat a spanking brand new Perkins 108 starter motor. I recognized it instantly because I had been staring at Tarwathie's broken one in recent days. Jennifer snatched it up without hesitation and carried it over to a workbench. I was impressed because it weighed 30 pounds but Jennifer handled it like 3 pounds. She said, "It is missing a nut on this lug," and she found a matching nut and screwed it on.


We drove to the left into what appeared to be a junkyard with salvaged engine parts piled up toward the sky. It looked like the perfect setting for junkyard dogs and for a toothless bald boy sitting on a box playing a banjo. There were two men working outside. I asked them where the office was. They pointed to a door. "Trough there and up the stairs," they said. With a little trepidation, I entered the door.

Stepping through that door, was like entering the Emerald City. The place was spotless, and huge metal racks held numerous sparkling brand new diesel engines of various sizes. I walked up the stairs and found a modern office complete with computers, fax machines and the like. There I met Jennifer and I gave her the secret code, "Scott sent me." We left the starter downstairs and went back up to the office to do the paperwork. There, Jennifer surprised me with some new payment technology that I have never seen before. I was going to write a check but she said, "No need to fill it out." Instead, she fed the check to a machine that scanned the account number, printed the word VOID on the check and then printed a debit transaction chit with the correct amount (about $360) for me to sign. I never saw that before.

Here I emerge with my prize in hand.



Finally, the picture above shows the butt of Scott's assistant mechanic lying down on top of Tarwathie's engine installing the starter motor. He didn't need any special tools or special knowledge, but he was young enough and limber enough to get the job done. John and I are both too old for that kind of work.

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