Every once in a while I do something really stupid. I’m really good at doing stupid things. Today was the day.
Picture this; I am in the engine room working on the Onan generator. Onan is the brand of our generator. The work was nothing major, just boring routine maintenance stuff like changing the oil. We have an Onan dealership within walking distance of the boat. If I need anything, this is a good time to get it done. I found a couple of hoses looking a little bit iffy. Replacing the hoses now while we are near civilization is much better than being in the middle of nowhere when they fail. When I was done, I fired up the generator expecting to hear the beautiful diesel clatter of a happy engine. Instead, it made a horrid sound. I hit the kill button as quickly as I could and realized the oil dipstick was not all the way down. Somehow the oil dipstick hit the crankshaft inside the oil pan. Before I could kill the engine, the dipstick was push upward and was bouncing atop the crankshaft. All this happened in about 2 seconds. I tried to pull out the oil dipstick to inspect it for damage. It was stuck. It was stuck hard! Oh heavens no, please don’t tell me the oil dipstick is wrapped around the crankshaft.
I sat back on the floor of the engine room to assess the situation and thought about my diesel training school. My fellow scholars would be laughing at me. They would be laughing hard. The instructor would be looking at me in bewilderment wondering, how the hell did I manage to do that. I thought about how the instructor said to never force anything. He is so right about this. One thing I have learned in my years of boat ownership is never ever force anything, never hit anything with a hammer unless I’m really sure what will happen next, and don’t ever drill a hole unless I know what is on the other side. So, there I sat staring at the stupid engine wondering, why me? Why do these things always happen to me? I was just trying to take good care of the generator, give it some TLC, some fresh oil and trying keep it happy. Now this.
I shone a flashlight into the hole where the dipstick goes and peered inside. The dipstick would move up a little bit allowing me to peek inside. I could see the dipstick was bent. I begin to wonder how I am going to get the dipstick out through its hole as it is so badly bent. Now, I am looking at how the engine is placed into the boat. I am wondering if I can get the oil pan off without lifting up the engine. Hmm, that’s not possible. At this point, I realize I need to be very careful about how I proceed. If I pull too hard on the dipstick it could break and fall inside the engine. This would be bad, very bad. This would require the engine to be completely torn down or lifted out of the boat so I could remove the oil pan. Whatever I do, I need to be sure about my next move.
Over the next couple of hours, I hand turned the engine, gently rocking the crankshaft back and forward while pulling firmly, but not too hard, upward on the dipstick. I was able to get it to move a little bit, then a little bit more. I had to remove all the surrounding engine bits near the dipstick so I could finesse it, rotate it and work it back and forth. I tried hard not to force it or bend it back and forth too much in fear of it breaking. All of a sudden it gave. I almost had it out. But at this point, I could see the bottom of the dipstick was bent at a right angle and I needed to somehow get this up through the dipstick hole. Pushing the bottom of the dipstick down with a screwdriver and pulling gently on the handle it came up through the hole. I sat back and felt a great sense of relief since I didn’t have to take apart the engine.
With my credit card in hand I took off to the Onan shop. I saw Ben behind the counter. Ben and I have gotten to know each other quite well over the summer. Our conversations usually go like this:
Hi Ben, I need a (fill in the blank) for my Onan.
No problem Mark, let me see if we stock that or if we have to order it. The computer says I have one, do you want it?
How much is it?
The price is _____ (always about three times more than I expect it will be)
Oh crap! How much? Why is it so expensive?
Mark, I don’t know why it’s so expensive. It just is. Do you want the one I have in stock?
I don’t know Ben, that’s a lot of money for a (fill in the blank)
Yes it is. Do you want it?
I guess so.
I gave Ben the model number of the generator and told him I needed a dipstick for it. Our conversation didn’t go as it normally did. He stated to say they don’t stock the dipsticks and that he could order one for me and have it in a couple of days. Then he paused and asked, why do I need a new dipstick and what happened to the old one? I sighed and said, it’s a long story. I didn’t complain about the cost.