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Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow?

I was sitting at my desk last Saturday afternoon, engrossed in some work I was doing for a client, when I heard my wife Janet come in the front door.

"If you don't want me to cut my hair, would you come here please?" she said from the other room. "Quickly."

That got my attention. A favorite columnist once wrote, "Men live in fear of their wives cutting their hair." I heard that! I walked down the hall to the living room. There was Janet holding our electric leaf blower about a foot from her head. As I looked more closely, I could see why. A large quantity of her very long, beautiful hair had disappeared into the air intakes.

"Help?" she said.

Out came the tools. When we opened the blower's case, we were confronted with the gravity of the situation. Her hair was wound so tightly around the motor shaft that it looked like a bulging spool of thread.

"We have to get the motor apart," I said, after it became clear the mess couldn't be unwound. There were only two bolts holding the motor together, but the impeller was blocking access to the heads. It looked like the impeller could just be unscrewed from the shaft, and a quick Internet search for the blower's service manual confirmed this, but there was a catch. The operation required grabbing the motor shaft with a pair of pliers to keep it from spinning—but said shaft was completely encased in hair.

We needed a plan B. The end of the shaft was clearly visible, which gave me an idea.

"We could use a cutoff wheel on the Dremel tool to cut a slot in the end of the shaft," I said. "That would let us hold it still with a screwdriver so we can unscrew the impeller."

"You know, I could just cut it. I haven't had shoulder-length hair for a long time," she threatened.

"No! We can do this! We've handled much harder jobs than this when working on the airplanes," I assured her.

It was true. I've done a lot of work on my club's airplanes over the years under the supervision of our A&P mechanic, so I'm painfully aware that airplanes aren't always built with ease of maintenance in mind. I can vividly recall lying on my back under the Cessna's instrument panel, the rudder pedals digging into my back, as I reached far up behind the panel to install the instrument air filter. Then there were the inevitable mishaps involving small, critical parts dropped into the bilges, requiring four hands, an inspection mirror, a flashlight, and an articulating magnet to retrieve them. And how could I forget servicing the Bonanza's shimmy damper? Compared to these tasks, this primitive electric motor with its plastic impeller and two little bolts was child's play!

"Turn your head," I told Janet. As she steadied the work piece as far from her face as she could manage, I carefully spun up the Dremel and started grinding away. After nearly twenty years together, it's gratifying to know that sparks can still fly between us.

"OK, here we go!" I said, grabbing the screwdriver and wrench. With all my might, I tried to break the impeller's death grip on its shaft. No dice. I stared at the motor.

Time for plan C.

"You know, if I drilled a large enough hole in the impeller, I could get a screwdriver through it to the bolt heads."

Out came the drill. A few minutes later, there was nice, gaping hole in the plastic impeller, perfectly aligned with the bolts. A few minutes after that, both bolts were removed.

"That should do it!" I concluded, convinced we were home free. There was just one problem. The motor parts still wouldn't budge.

Time for plan D.

"If I could get a better purchase on this thing, we might be able to get somewhere," I said. We both sat quietly contemplating our next move.

"Why don't I just cut it?" Janet said again, her patience clearly wearing thin.

"Please! Give me a few minutes. We can do this!" I pleaded. We were so close! What I really needed was a way to keep the thing steady. I just couldn't get enough torque on it with her hand-holding it.

"We have a vise at the hangar," I said finally.

Fifteen minutes later, we were hovering over the workbench in our club's hangar, trying to find a position for the two of us, the motor, and the half of the blower case that was hanging from her hair that would allow us to clamp the motor securely in the vise and still get at it with the tools. After a few Laurel and Hardy moments, we finally figured it out.

"OK, here we go," I said as I applied screwdriver and wrench with focused intensity. "This oughta get it!"

Then, unexpectedly, the motor slowly started to come apart!

"Hey, look!" I cried. There was no doubt about it. Millimeter by millimeter, the motor started to separate, until the core came free. "That's got it! I can unwind your hair now!" Sure enough, we were able to salvage all but a few of the precious strands.

"My hero!" Janet said, giving me a big hug and a kiss. "Who would've guessed that being a pilot could come in so handy?"

I laughed. "I told you all that training would pay off!"

She was teasing me, of course, but it really is true that flying and working on airplanes have taught me a lot about problem solving, patience, and above all persistence. That blower even still works after I (ahem) duct-taped over the hole in the impeller and put it back together! (Hey, it's a leaf blower, not an airplane!)

Now, I know what you're thinking. Why not just buy a vise?

You know, sometimes it's best not to ask too many questions.

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