Chevy Tree tale: Installation is the reverse of removal.

The blinker swap: a Chevy Tree story.

Holding one’s arm out the window to signal a turn is laborious and insufficient for signaling one’s intent, especially given the modern technological aid known as the “blinker.”

One of the truck’s blinkers had been non-functioning for a while and I decided to finally do something about it.  I had the bulbs in hand, screwdrivers in the cab, and my work clothes on.  I’d fix this thing and then drive to the train station, signaling turns at will, without ambiguity!

Is it a risk to change this when I need to go to work? No way,  I am the Zen mechanic; I anticipated that this would inspire the relaxation equivalent to visiting a day spa after a day on the golf course, certain to rejuvenate me and engender feelings of reward manifest only by time under the Chevy Tree.  The feeling of accomplishment would generate more productivity once I got to work! I’d be basically wasting time NOT to do this.

I pulled my tools out of the truck and found my way to the left hand blinker.  I knew before hand that the grill of the truck had been smunched, so I was not too surprised to see that in fact the smunching had been sufficient to pin the lens in its place.  After removing the screws, which were barely hanging on, I began to negotiate the brittle 50 year old piece of amber light out of it sticky home.  A little pull there, a push here, and finally it came out.  The bulb and the light socket in general looked okay, so i figured at this point, I was home free.

Looks good; ready to remove and replace.


I grabbed the bulb and began to twist on it.  These bulbs are held in place by two lumps on the side of their metal case, which slide down the socket and twist to the left in order to contact the points on the bottom of the socket itself.  This bulb however, came unglued from its metal case and began twisting in place like a puppet ballerina, without effect on the case itself.  I was imagining the pain of typing with a blinker-glass shredded hand as I gingerly pulled the bulb itself straight out of the case and set it aside.  The metal case was still fairly well shoved in there, but I was able to take a screw driver and pry down the edges of the case far enough that I could get my needle nose pliers on the now mangled metal.  I was past the point of no return.  If I couldn’t get the bulb-remnants out of there, it would be a more costly exercise to remove the entire assembly and work on it on the bench and hopefully be able to keep it working.  Luckily, the pliers were able to twist and pull the wreckage from the socket.  Fifty years of brass corrosion were left in its place–which I blew away to reveal a fairly pristine and surprisingly rust-free looking socket.

The smunched up remains of a blinker bulb.
The smunched up remains of a blinker bulb.

Installation is the reverse of removal.

I pulled out the new bulb from the package.  It looked identical to the old bulb, so I gave myself the go ahead to continue.  At this point I remember that my friend Lane (an actual mechanic), and I spent about an hour trying to change the license plate bulb on the truck.  As it happens, when you pry out the old bulb casings, like I had just done to the blinker socket, the socket itself gets stretched out and is no longer able to apply the friction needed to keep the new bulb in place.  Lane and I ended up needing to cut and bend the socket back to make it tighter.  I’m thinking if it happens this time I will cut a shim out of an aluminum can, wrap the new bulb with it, and then reinstall it.  I’m almost happy to try this, a technique I learned reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

I work the bulb into the place, again trying not to squeeze it too firmly.  I try about three or four times to get it into the place and it just feels too wobbly–I begin thinking about where I will find an aluminum can.  I try one more time and I get the alignment right and it clicks into place with an overwhelmingly positive feeling engagement, the kind that I think gives wings to the angel of the 1960’s Chevy engineer that drew up this design with a protractor and a slide ruler.  It felt great; what a damn relief.

I turn on the lights, and it’s beautiful, take a picture, prepare for blog posting, retweets, surefire internet fame.

Ready to signal/illuminate.
Ready to signal/illuminate.

I hop in the truck and get it rumbling. I watch in the rearview mirror as a car meanders down my street.  “Watch this,” I think, as I go to put on my left hand blinker.  It dawned on me at that exact moment that I had just changed the blinker on the left of the truck as I was facing it, which is in actuality the right hand blinker, which was working fine.  The left hand turn signal remained a burnt tungsten short.

In my rush to fix something and get to the reward I was really after, I shortchanged the basic process that working on the Chevy Tree should be.  Careful, mindful, deliberate, grateful, I remind myself for next time.  I look over my shoulder to check for cars, put my left arm perpendicular to the window and merge onto the street.  I leave my arm out the window just a little bit longer.

Leave a Reply