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It’s Handy to Learn 14

It’s Handy to Learn

I’ve said it before. I’ll say it again. I’m not as handy as I would like to be. One of my friends can completely gut and then rebuild a bathroom without cutting the wrong wires, puncturing any water pipes, or falling through the floor into the basement. I’ve done damage to drywall by simply trying to replace the toilet paper roll. In fact, when it comes to repairs, it typically costs me more to fix what I did than to have hired someone to do the work in the first place. But that doesn’t stop me from trying.

I own a utility trailer and I use it to haul items that are too large for my car. Mostly, I’m transporting wood from a fallen tree in the yard to our church’s wood ministry. Last weekend, before transporting a load of wood, I checked to make sure that the brake lights were working properly. My lights quit working a couple of years ago when squirrels had chewed through the wiring. Ever since, I always check them before heading out on the road.

However, unless my trailer is parked in front of a mirror, checking the brake lights is not that easy. And if it’s daytime, it’s even harder. On the day in question, the trailer was parked in front of a row of bushes. I pushed on the brake pedal several times but just couldn’t see if the lights were working. Then I remembered an old television movie from 1971 called Duel. It starred Dennis Weaver who played a man who was being pursued by a menacing tractor trailer driver. At the end (spoiler alert—but if you haven’t seen a 1971 movie by now, I’m guessing it’s not high on your watch list), Weaver wedges his briefcase between the seat of his car and the accelerator pedal to send his driverless car into the truck. Thinking this was a brilliant idea, I looked around the garage for a brief case. Since I’m not really a briefcase kind of guy, I grabbed a large rock instead. I lowered the rock onto my brake pedal and quickly ran to the back of the trailer to see if the lights worked.

Unfortunately, the lights didn’t come on but I suspected that it was because the rock was not depressing the pedal far enough. I had to try something else. As I removed the rock, it got stuck between the brake and the accelerator pedals. As I struggled to un-wedge it, I broke off two finger nails. I probably don’t need to point this out but I had not even attempted any handy work and I already had a malfunction with one of my tools (the rock) and a personal injury (two bleeding fingers). I should have seen this as an omen sent by the spirits of Bob and Norm from This Old House. But, of course, I ignored the warning and simply asked my wife to help determine if my brake lights were out. She said one was working but the other was not. A repair was in order.

I inspected the trailer to make sure the squirrels had not eaten through any of the exposed wires. Everything looked fine except for one section where two wires were hanging loose. I figured this had to be the problem. Now, I’m not an electrician but my gut tells me that wires should not be hanging loose. I mean, we don’t live in Hawaii (see “surfer Shaka Sign”). So, I did what any home repair novice would do—I reconnected the two wires and called my wife down to check the lights again. Please understand that when I call my wife during any home repair, I’m not just asking for her assistance. I’m also hoping that I get the opportunity to say, “Hey look at that. I fixed it.” For the record, it doesn’t happen that often. Oh sure, I’ve written four books and entertained audiences around the country—but I’ve never repaired a utility trailer. I was clearly on the cusp of a major engineering achievement.

My wife took her position behind the trailer and I pushed on the brake. There was no reaction on her face. I flipped the turn signal in both directions. She did not respond. Then, as if she had been oblivious to my actions, she said, “Go ahead. Whenever you’re ready.” Clearly, the lights no longer worked at all. So, I unhitched the trailer, went back inside, and ordered a trailer light replacement kit.

When the kit arrived, I read the instructions several times and committed them to memory. The whole repair seemed pretty straightforward (see “Naïveté”). Once I removed the old lights and wiring, I just needed to feed the new wires through the protective tubes that were installed on the trailer frame and then connect the wires to the new taillights.

I installed the new lights without any issue. But when I tried to install the wiring, I encountered a problem. Apparently dirt and debris had built up over time in the protective tubes and there was a blockage about half way down the first tube. I tried multiple times to push the wires through the tube but they kept getting stuck. After about an hour of lying under the trailer, working with two injured fingers by the way, I tried another approach. I fed a stiffer wire from the other direction. Luckily, it went through. So, I tied the two wires together and pulled the new ones back through the tubes. One thing I didn’t realize though was that the edge of the protective tube was sharp. So, every time I pulled the new wire through the tube, it shaved off a bit of the wire’s protective coating. That required twenty minutes of taping over all of the damage I had done. Don’t worry about the extra work. I’m used to it.

Eventually, I got the entire system installed and just needed to connect the lights into the proper wires. In this particular repair kit, I was given T-tap splicers. I had never used these before so I watched a video online to learn how to operate them. That’s when it occurred to me that I had actually seen these devices before. In fact, the previous wiring system on my trailer had used T-tap splicers. I rummaged back through trash and saw that the two wires that were “hanging loose” weren’t supposed to be tied together after all. Instead, they just needed to be reattached to the T-tap splicer. In other words, I didn’t need a new wiring system. After a few choice words, I connected all the wires and my wife confirmed that the lights were working properly. I looked at my watch. Between reading the instructions, watching online videos, and struggling to feed the wires through the protective tubes, I had logged in about six hours of repair time. If I owned a handy man business, I would be earning about ten cents an hour. And yet, I can’t wait for something else to break.

In life, if we don’t try new things, we don’t get to experience adventures that might be unknown to us. If we try new things and fail, we can learn valuable life lessons from those experiences. And if we just take our utility trailers to someone who knows what they’re doing, we might get the six lost hours of our Saturday afternoon back. And that, my friends, is a handy lesson to learn.


  • Jeannine Purdy says:

    Thanks for bringing a smile to my face and a message to share with other family members that aren’t as handy as they would like to be.
    Never give up trying!

  • Dawn R Starks Johnson says:

    Kudos for your wood ministry what a great idea!!!
    Interesting enough the rear lights of the trailer is a constant issue and it’s worst when the rodents chew the wires but yes.. dirt and dust particles are a culprit also. Thank you for the smile, I will share with my family. Keep at it until we get it done!

  • Diane says:

    Keep having those adventures. And please keep sharing them! Glad to know my husband is not the only handy man who may not be so handy! Thanks for the laugh!!

  • Donna Bush says:

    Love your blogs … they always make me smile. In addition, I love reading your blog because it is written as if you were standing in front of me telling me the story – bottom line – you are a GREAT writer!

    Thanks for always making me smile!

    By the way, we met many years ago when you came to The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, Maryland and gave an hour talk on “Humor in the Workplace”. You had the whole audience laughing while others outside the auditorium were wondering “what the heck is going on in there!” Anyway, keep writing and making me laugh!

  • PeggyHanford says:

    OJ my, this is sooo me! I think something will take a few minutes to fix and hours later, I’m still putzing! Glad to know I have company in these ventures!

  • Donald Jones says:

    Ron, you are hilarious! Real life adventures. Terrific writer. And in this case, mimics my own near-inability to repair things! My wife marvels when something I attempt actually works. . . but like you, I keep trying. Your take-aways are always spot on. Appreciate that in your humor and writing style. Keep up the great work!

  • Carolyn K says:

    Love this takeaway, Ron. Great storytelling, as always.
    I have made it a goal to try new things every week in 2023, to date I have tried Tai chi with goats, SPAM, gotten a tattoo, and Pickleball! Onward and upward!

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