An infinite number of bolts

Julia Bayly | BDN
Julia Bayly | BDN
No bolt was ever too old, rusty or broken to be tossed out on Rusty Metal Farm.
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No bolt was ever too old, rusty or broken to be tossed out on Rusty Metal Farm.
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Question: How many bolts — new or used — does any one person need on hand?

Spoiler alert — no one knows. As with trying to solve numerical Pi to the last place, there has yet to be a human brain or computer program that can complete the calculations to the final number of bolts.

I’m no mathematician, so I can’t speak to the issue of Pi. As the owner of a very cluttered shop and two garages, on the other hand, I am an authority on bolts.

See, my late husband Patrick was a bit of a packrat when it came to anything rusty — from the smallest of bolts to the largest of tractors. If it was metal, had rust and could be transported to the farm, it ended up here.

I guess, in looking back at it, he was a bit of a rusty-hoarder. And I say that in the most loving way possible. Lord knows I have my own pack-rattish tendencies, which may be future column fodder.

But for now, let’s get back to bolts.

I understand the need for bolts — they hold a ton of things together from wooden beams of homes to the metal frames of automobiles. And I even understand the need to have a few spares on hand.

With Patrick, “a few spare bolts” translated into thousands of them. Apparently he was counting them in base 300.

This was a man who had not one, not two, but three massive buildings dedicated to the storage of all things rusty, the bolts included.

So full was the garage one late fall with several tractors, a 1976 Unimog truck and other mysterious — to me — rusty things, that Patrick one day turned to me and uttered the now immortal words, “You may have to park outside this winter.”

I’ll leave what transpired next up to your imagination. But it’s safe to say this fairy princess parked her car inside the garage that winter.

In these sheds and garages were boxes, old buckets, barrels and milk jugs with the tops cut off filled to the brims with old bolts. In the winter Patrick would spend hours sorting through them and arranging them into other containers according to their size or use.

I guess everyone needs a hobby, and he sure enjoyed it. But not quite as much as he enjoyed the times he could demonstrate how one of these thousands of bolts had come in handy to repair something.

Of course, man does not live by bolts alone.

To function properly, bolts need corresponding nuts and metal washers to properly fasten them to things. And also the proper tools with which to do any fastening. So there were more containers of nuts and washers. These were a bit more fancy — boxes with small see-through doors so you could go right to the needed nut and washer.

Then there were the tools needed to assemble whatever was needing bolts.

Tools that loosened old, damaged nuts or washers. Another tool to cut or pull out the old bolt. More tools to repair any damage to the hole from which the old bolt was removed. Then the special tools to replace all of the above.

Power drills figured heavily into these projects. Drills with strong bits to chew through metal.

I totally understood when one of these bits broke, Patrick needed to replace it. But can someone explain why replacing a single drill bit required purchasing an entirely new set of up to 100 bits?

As for those damaged bolts he would remove, you would think they would go straight to the trash.

Nope. Those, too, were saved in case there was any part of them that could be cut or filed down into a useful and re-usable bolt.

And, 11 years after his passing, most of those bolts still sit right where he last left them. Older and even rustier now, but tangible memories of happier days.

You see, for all the teasing and ribbing I gave Patrick about his bolts and other items in his extensive and rusty collection, I loved them all as much as he did. Not for their intrinsic value, but because they represented his passion for old farm machinery and his genius mechanical skills when it came to making things run.

I still do love them, and as my close friends know, getting rid of even one rusty bolt is like losing Patrick all over again.

I have, in the past decades sold off or given away quite a few things, but those damn bolts remain.

Not long ago, some friends were helping me clean up in one of the old garage buildings and I found eight tiny cardboard boxes that contained those old-style fuses — the kind we used in our homes before we had breaker-switches.

It made sense, I thought, as I collected them up and started to open one. The lights in that garage still ran off an old fuse panel.

But there were no fuses.

Inside each of the eight boxes were four bolts, nuts and washers to match each.

At some point, after a session of careful sorting, Patrick must have put these aside for a planned project that sadly outlived him.

Out of everything of his that has left the farm, those bolts may have hit me the hardest and I am not ashamed to say I shed some tears over them.

You see, in addition to connecting items of wood and metal, here on Rusty Metal Farm at least, rusty bolts connect me to a past very much loved.

So, there may be a ton of these bolts hanging around, but who’s counting?

 



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