Some Assembly Required

assemblyWhenever I come by something that requires assembly, I always find myself with the odd piece left over.

No matter how careful I am, there it will be.

Other than mild confusion, the only consequence seems to be that yet another item gets tossed into the junk drawer.  But I worry about the symmetry of this. If I have an extra part, who is short one?

While I am chucking something into the drawer, who is making an angry call to customer service?

Maybe no one.

Manufactures are catching on.  They know how nuts, bolts and washers love to spring out of boxes and roll under the refrigerator.  They even know about cats and understand the irresistible urge to bat an essential part into the heat register,  so they toss in a few extras.

That is why we have the extra parts – or so I tell myself.  But sometimes, the reason for an extra part is just plain weird. Let me tell you about that.

Back when I had the strength of an ox and the common sense of a mule, I worked in a steel foundry. To pick up extra cash, I volunteered to work shut-down.  This was two weeks during the summer when most everyone took vacation, leaving only a skeleton crew to do scheduled annual maintenance.

My job was to assist the mechanic who over-hauled the largest machine in the plant. This was THE SHAKER, an immense and loathsome beast.  It stood twice as high as a Tyrannosaurus, weighed four times as much, was six times as loud and eight times as mean.

Its job was to devour steaming twenty ton molds and spit out the red-hot castings.  While it worked, you kept as far away as possible because its roar rattled the girders.  While it rested, you kept further away, because it reeked.  The molding process uses sugars and starches to bind the sand together – and when that stuff rots…

In other words, THE SHAKER’S breath was worse than a dinosaur who refused to floss.

So for three stinking days, I helped the mechanic rip THE SHAKER apart. As we worked, we thoroughly cleaned everything and carefully arranged each piece on the floor in the sequence we would use to put it back together.

Once everything was cleaned and inspected for wear, we began the slow and laborious process of reassembly.

After the last bolt was torqued into place, we called the engineer to sign off our work but no sooner had he arrived than he scowled and pointed the toe of his steel-toed boot at an O-ring lying in the middle of the floor, obscured by dust.

Oh crap!

The mechanic dug out his manuals and searched for anything that looked like the part.

No luck.

Soon the engineer joined him because now his job was on the line. While they scoured the manuals, I was told to make myself useful by contacting the manufacturer.

I placed the part on the Xerox machine to copy the image then I faxed it along with a short note to their support line number. Soon one of their mechanics called back laughing.

“So where does it go?” I asked.

“Nowhere,” he said.

“Then what is it?”

“It’s a belly-button,” he said.

“A what?”

“A belly-button.”

He explained.

Sometimes machines, just like people,  have parts that are there purely for manufacture. We all have belly-buttons which are an artifact of us being manufactured.

So it was with the O-ring.  Its purpose was to hold a set of bearings in place while one assembly was mounted onto another. After the two pieces came together, the O-ring dropped harmlessly to the bottom of the oil pan where it lived until we came across it.

Returning to the shop floor, I started to deliver my report – but the engineer waved me off.

“Don’t worry about it, kid,” he said, “we found out where it goes.”

“Where’s that?” I asked.

Well, suffice it to say, it didn’t go where they thought it did.

Author: Almost Iowa

33 thoughts on “Some Assembly Required”

  1. It’s always my husband’s job to assemble things, and he has a long history of simply tossing any left-over parts into the trash can, declaring them unnecessary. It’s good to know that he’s been correct, all these years!

    1. Given that it was a flanged O-Ring, it could be either depending on how you mount it. This caused quite a bit of conflict within the maintenance crew. Opinions were strong, fists flew, friendships were broken and the debates still rages decades later….and people think politics is bad.

  2. I wonder what the archeologists do when they find a part left over from assembling a T-Rex? I suppose like humans there are a few extra parts, like those wisdom teeth we don’t need. What a miserable sounding job that was! But an education in assembly. And patience.

    1. There are quite a few instances in Paleontology where scientists discover that the beast didn’t look like that at all. I never did believe those tiny arms on the T-Rex. If we are ever able to recreate one from DNA, I don’t want to be around when the creature takes issue with that.

  3. Oh, you really need to talk to my automotive machinist husband. He takes things apart and puts them back together daily. And he can’t leave a part out or else.

    His biggest challenge comes when some expert do-it-yourselfer arrives with a cardboard box or three of parts and expects Randy to put everything back together because he (the expert) can’t figure it out. Randy would rather the “expert” left the work to the real expert.

  4. Oh, I like it!
    Son #1 has an Ikea bed. All the bits went together when he first built it. Then he moved to another state. Most bits present went together. Some known bits were absent. Other unknown bits had nowhere to go. Then he moved again. I hear rumors he hopes to buy another bed before this one, now lacking significant attachments and with four large metal rods left over, falls apart under him.

    1. I have noticed this before with IKEA products. The company likes to assign odd and nonsensical names to objects, consequently, the objects hid themselves in shame.

  5. Sounds like this was the solution to your O Ring problem:
    Toe bone connected to the foot bone
    Foot bone connected to the heel bone
    Heel bone connected to the ankle bone
    Ankle bone connected to the shin bone
    Shin bone connected to the knee bone
    Knee bone connected to the thigh bone
    Thigh bone connected to the hip bone
    Hip bone connected to the back bone
    Back bone connected to the shoulder bone
    Shoulder bone connected to the neck bone
    Neck bone connected to the head bone
    Now hear the word of the Lord.
    Dem bones, dem bones gonna rise again.
    Dem bones, dem bones gonna rise again.
    Dem bones, dem bones gonna rise again.
    Now hear the word of the Lord.

  6. Hold on a minute – both of you! Those parts are mine! We’re always missing some and that’s why nothing we’ve ever put together, well…stays together, because we’re missing parts. Oh, that just figures. 🙂

  7. I have that junk drawer too. I figure someday I might need all of those extra parts, but mostly I’m guessing it will be a hundred pound anchor my kids will have to throw out when I’m gone. They will certainly wonder what I was up to.

    1. We went to the country fair over the weekend and my wife being a farm-girl made a bee-line for the 4H building. I usually get a kick out of what the kids do but this year they had something special. They give each kid about thirty pounds of scrap metal and instruct them to weld up a sculpture. Absolutely amazing!!

        1. kids and welders

          City babies are given rattles and butterfly mobiles to play with, farm babies are given arc welders. If you question a farm parent whether their kid is mature enough to handle something like that, they’ll say, “When they get off my $450,000 tractor, I’ll ask them if they are responsible around machinery.” 🙂

    1. The money was good but you have to experience working in a steel foundry during the heat of August to fully appreciate what hard work under miserable conditions is.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: