The Flexy-Headed Ratchet and The Great Engine Pile

So, have I ever told you about my flexy-headed 1/2″ ratchet?

No, I haven’t, because it’s only recently that I’ve reached the true heights of extreme boringness.

Lucky you, you get to hear about it anyway.


The Flexy-Headed Ratchet in its native environment.

The Flexy-Headed Ratchet in its native environment.

I got the ratchet about a million years ago.  It was in this huge toolbox full of beat-up old Craftsman tools at a flea market outside of Philly.  I paid like, $30 for the whole lot, and probably doubled my money by exchanging the beat-up Craftsman tools for brandy-new Craftsman tools over at the nearby Craftsman Tool Center.  (Craftsman has a lifetime warrantee.)

But this particular ratchet was not Craftsman.  It was… something else.  Something less.  It was made in Taiwan, so right off the bat I assumed it was junk.  Besides, what good is a flexy-head 1/2″ ratchet?  You use 1/2″ sockets for heavy work, and flexy-things break when you put a lot of stress on them.

So this thing went in my “junkyard tool box,” which is where many no-warrantee tools usually go.  (You don’t want to lose the tools with the warrantee.  You want to break the tools that have the warrantee.  You want to lose the ones that don’t get replaced for free.  Although ideally I suppose it’s best not to lose or break any of them.)

It kicked around for a while being occasionally useful.  Nothing spectacular.

Then one day I went over to Zerniak’s–a local boneyard–to look for a set of Big Block Mopar 452 heads to have re-done, I think.  Cousin Dan went with me.

Zerniak’s has this huge engine pile…

See, when steel prices went high back in the mid-80s, Zerniak’s decided to crush out a whole bunch of their barges from the ’60s and ’70s.  A lot of those cars had some pretty valuable high-performance engines in them, even in their “grocery-getter” configurations.    So Zerniak’s yanked all the engines before crushing the cars & selling them.

They got the rear end assemblies, too, and put them in an old semitrailer, or school bus or something.  But they didn’t have a place to put the engines.  And engines are freaking heavy.  So they just put them in a big ol’ heap near the head of the yard.  Seriously, this pile is probably 20 feet high at the top.

Over the years, anything valuable got picked off the engines on the outside of the pile.  But what’s in the middle of that pile?  God only knows.  They’re engines.  They’re not the kind of thing you can just dig through.  There maybe a Hemi or two,  there may be a Cobrajet… could be just about anything.  May even still be rebuildable.  Some of that stuff is worth thousands of dollars, even in absolutely horrid condition.

But the outside of the pile?  The outside is pretty well picked over.  In fact, it was so picked over that the guy at the counter kinda forgot it was there until I mentioned it to him.  It was no surprise when I didn’t find anything good, not that I didn’t try pretty hard.

Anyway, the seasons passed, the rains fell, the snow fell, spring came again, and the earth was blessed with the warmth of summer.  Projects came, and projects went.  I have no idea how many times this happened, but it was at least a year.  Maybe two.  And over time, I noticed that my flexy-head ratchet just wasn’t rising to the surface any more.

I missed the little guy.  He was kind of handy, in his way.  Great for changing spark plugs. Great for a lot of things, in fact.  But bear in mind that I still had two big ol’ Craftsman 1/2″ ratchets.  Life went on.

You know, I kinda missed him.  But that’s the way of the gearhead.  Tools come, and tools go, and it’s best not to get too attached to any of them.

And then…

Whilst putting the finishing touches on our ’74 Satellite Wagon (a.k.a. Skylab 2) the oil dipstick tube busted.  Nobody but nobody had a part as obscure as a Big Block Chrysler dipstick tube for a station wagon in stock.  None of the generic hot-rod parts would fit–they were all far too short.  The stores were all closing up shop for the weekend.  And I really, really, really wanted to get that thing running.  And all it needed was the dipstick tube.

Cousin Dan was in town for a visit.  And we were racking our brains, trying to figure out where we were going to get so obscure a part.  Even the local boneyards didn’t have anything to help us, because all that vintage iron is completely gone here in the Rust Belt.

But then I remembered the engine pile at Zerniak’s.

We talked our way into the yard somehow, and began looking for a Big Block Mopar engine with an intact dipstick tube.  This led inexorably towards the engine pile.  I climbed to the top of the pile, the low sun casting long shadows around me.  My eyes were prying everywhere, looking for that peculiar turquoise that marks all Mopar engines from the mid-70s.

And then I saw it.

No, not a Chrysler 400.

I saw my ratchet.  Just lying there, covered in rust.  Right on top of a nasty old 360.  Right where I left it.

“Ohhh yeahhhh!  That’s where I put that stupid thing!”

We eventually solved our problem.  We didn’t find a dipstick in the engine pile (no surprise there).  But Cousin Dan did come up with the brilliant idea to pull a super-long one from a van, and cut it down to the right size with a tubing cutter, which works just fine.

And as for the flexy-head ratchet… I took it home, soaked it in oil, and it worked just fine.  Well, not just fine… it was always a little funny.  But it did what it was supposed to do, and it did a good job of it too, for years.

It finally died this morning.  I had to change out Grendel’s studded snows for his summer tires.  I was marveling at how helpful the flexy-head was for this particular task when it finally ceased its ratcheting.

I’ll miss the flexy little guy, but I’m not going to buy another one.  Some things just can’t be replaced.

Because I’m too cheap to replace them.


Good night, sweet prince.  And may flights of angels speed you to the scrapyard, where you will fetch about 11¢, be shipped to China, and made into about half a Prius.

About andysmash

North Coast punk-rocker/theologian. A good head for gears and an eye on the far horizon. DIY recording artist and frontman for the Rust Belt Hotrods.
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1 Response to The Flexy-Headed Ratchet and The Great Engine Pile

  1. andysmash says:

    Good news, everyone! As I was heading to the scrap bin to pitch my Flexy-headed Ratchet, I was messing around with it… and guess what? I got it working again! I think the ratchet mechanism itself is NOT broken, but the switch which controls which direction it ratchets is messed up. I suspect that the oil bath I gave it all those years ago may have un-lubed something which was supposed to be lubed. So my plan is to re-pack the mechanism, roughly the same way you would re-pack a wheel bearing.

    At this point I’m convinced the thing will NEVER die.

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