Workplace mishaps – Blowin’ Gaskets

Simon recounts some memorable workplace mishaps from his apprentice years


BACK in Blowin’ Gaskets in the February ’18 issue of SM, I revealed to the world the story of my workplace accident where I pinched my old fella between a steel bench and a Hemi-six cylinder head.

Good times, that’s for sure – well, at least now that the episode is a distant memory – but it reminded me of some other workplace shenanigans that were at the more comical end of the scale and, more importantly, didn’t happen to me.

As an apprentice in the early 90s, I spent my last two years working at a local dealership after my suburban workshop boss had lost his shed lease and called it a day. I worked alongside a bloke who was a magnet for drama, though it must be said that a lot of his issues were self-inflicted. His surname of King quickly earned him the replacement first name of ‘Compo’.

Compo was the type of bloke who turned spotting a broken exhaust manifold rear stud – hidden away from the rest of the mechanic population by the floor covers of a forward-control van, and not even leaking, mind you – into a full engine rebuild for this poor customer. He snapped off the rest of the stud flush with the head trying to replace it, then removed the head to fix it and deemed there was excessive wear in the bores. Nothing like a $5K engine rebuild for your van worth $2K.

Anyway, I remember this job vividly because I had to finish the assembly after he cut his face under one of his eyelids. I came back to my work bay and found him with blood running down his cheek; he’d been trying to pull a new wiper blade into place using a pair of sidecutters, but chose to pull the sidecutters towards him; they slipped under load and he drove the tip of those bastards straight in under his eyeball.

It didn’t stop there. Three weeks later he was walking with his head buried in a workshop manual, when he stepped both feet into a pair of jackstands and got caught up, smashing and stomping around like a Transformer before going head-first into a wheelie bin. Problem was my other workmate, Stroudy, was facing me at the time and saw it all unfold; he burst out laughing and I was a goner. We both laughed so hard we cried, and Compo didn’t speak to us for a solid week.

During my last week at that place, Compo walked out of the toilets holding his stomach and told me that he was crapping blood – I immediately threw my sausage roll with tomato sauce in the bin and told him to go the hospital. It turned out to be something minor, but scored him a couple of days off work and reminded me of how glad I was to be moving on.

It had been a big change going from a two-man show to a shed full of tradies, but my prior experience saw me quickly progress to bigger jobs usually not handed to apprentices.

Auto rebuilds came thick and fast, and the foreman figured I was the bloke to overhaul the diesel out of a Dyna truck that had spat it within warranty. A dribbly injector had damaged a piston, so I gave it a birthday and slotted it back in with minimal fuss. It was a tilt-cab jobbie, so I slung the donk in over the left front hub assembly after taking off the wheel and air cleaner piping. Superstition always taught me to fire up a fresh engine before refitting all of the ancillary bits I’d removed for access, so I left the injector pump wiring disconnected and wound it for oil and fuel pressure. Turning the key through the open door of the tilted cab meant I could keep an eye on things below, and it was so far, so good.

It was about this time that the workshop tool man, Old John, wandered by, firing up a fresh menthol darb off the last – he reckoned menthol was great if you had a cold – and fired off a question in his thick Irish accent: “Now whart the fook is goin’ on ’ere, Blossom?”

He called me Blossom because he reckoned my curly blonde mullet reminded him of his old horse’s mane – a mare dubbed Blossom, unfortunately. It was no term of endearment either, believe me. “Cornt of a fookin’ horse,” he’d regularly tell me.

John was in his late 60s back then, a career mechanic with five decades under his belt, who – like Blossom – had been put out to pasture in the tool room when the rigours of daily mechanicing became too physically tough.

Anyway, John knew damn well what was happening in my bay as he’d been hanging around for the past few days babbling on about his love of diesels and telling me about Commer Knockers and the like. This was fine, but when it comes to go-time with anything, I always like to be left in my own little world to concentrate on the task at hand. I’d collared a workmate to handle the key duties, so I wandered to the left side of the truck, ready to manually crank the throttle once she fired to build the revs quickly.

But John wasn’t having a bar of it. He told me to “fook off” back to the key and he’d handle the throttle. There was no point arguing – it was a bit of a thrill for him, so I figured I’d give him the pleasure. I’m not a total ‘cornt’ after all, and I couldn’t be bothered arguing.

He stood over the axle so his hand was directly on the throttle pivot, while the open throttlebody hole was sitting around his groin height. I asked if he was ready and he fired back an indistinguishable comment that was his way of saying ‘yes’.

So I hit the key and the diesel fired after a few cranks. I’d hand-pumped the fuel system, so it took little to bleed any remaining air from the injectors; then she cleared and John leaned in as he twisted on that throttle pivot to build up the revs. The revs built easily and cleanly, but then the engine nearly stalled, with a sound reminiscent of using your hand to choke a revving carby when doing a ‘Chinese’ tune-up.

My confusion was broken by a screaming John, jumping back from the engine and yelling: “Argh! Me fookin’ noots!” as he clutched at his groin and stumbled to steady himself against the pantech body. I immediately shut down the now-idling engine and raced around to see if he was okay.

“What happened?” I asked. “It’s me fookin’ noots,” he repeated. “They got sucked down the fookin’ intake.” John took his hand off his crotch to reveal a perfectly pressed cylinder of suction on his pants, a stark confirmation of what had transpired that instantly saw me burst into laughter, accompanied by his pained Irish mumblings of: “Short the fook up!”

When the tears of mirth cleared long enough for me to catch my breath, it turned out that John had leaned in a little too far in the motion of twisting that throttle, and the draw of those fresh diesel four-cylinders had sucked his Jatz Crackers clean into the intake, choking and nearly stalling the fresh donk. He waddled off and relit a fresh menthol, mumbling to himself as he tried gallantly to rearrange his wares and ease the pain.

His new nickname of ‘Double Plugger’ canned my Blossom moniker for good.