One thing that struck me during my stay in US was the easy availability of Handyman tools and gadgets. Just a look at one of those flyers, forced in our house through weekend newspapers, would amaze me by the considerable amount of advertising space that was allocated to a plethora of tools, spanners, wrenches, wood working tools and machines. Further to my surprise, I found regular sale discounts being offered on these tools as if these were some kind of consumable goods or domestic appliances. I am an engineer by qualification. I have used this kind of stuff in my factory throughout my professional life. However, I had never seen before, any shop in India selling workshop tools, except for specialist shops in areas like ‘Lohar chawl’ in Mumbai. I started to form an impression that US is a country of D.I.Y (Do it yourself) people.
During my daily strolls, I passed bye many houses where garages remained open throughout the day. Just a glance would convince me that the owner was a D.I.Y. man. At least one corner of the garage would be neatly arranged with worktable, necessary tools for working on wood and metals and few wood working machines. On newspaper stands and bookshops, many types of magazines would be available for D.I.Y projects. This really increased my admiration for American people as real craftsmen. I even found out that in our house also, we had some of basic tools, even though used rather sparingly.
Meanwhile, I found an excellent deal for a refractive Telescope for watching the heavens. I ordered it and it was delivered with promptness. After initial euphoria of obtaining a superb product at such an affordable price was over, I realized that to watch stars, I had to keep that telescope somewhere and in such a way that observation is possible without making myself an acute case of lumbago. My search started again for a suitable mounting and I found that the correct arrangement to mount the telescope was on a tripod. Then I looked for tripod prices in various shops and soon realized the secret behind my getting the telescope at such a rock bottom price. The tripod arrangement for the telescope was available only at an exorbitantly high price. I felt very dejected and cheated.
My luck really smiled on me that weekend. As we were driving down the street near our house, we saw a yard sale going on. Just to see what was on sale the car was slowed down and in one corner of the yard, I found this beauty of a tripod stand waiting for me to own her. I got down and examined the tripod. It was almost perfect. I asked for the price the woman selling the stuff said five bucks. Without thinking further, I paid her and collected the tripod. On retrospection later, I realized that I could have got that thing even for one buck and had paid five hundred percent extra.
After coming back home, I spent considerable amount of time in cleaning and oiling that tripod arrangement. Finally, I found that it worked beautifully. I was very satisfied and had a good night’s sleep for the first time since many days. Next morning however a new problem was discovered. The mounting holes on the telescope did not match with that of the tripod. A transfer plate was required which could be attached to the tripod. The telescope could then be fitted on the transfer plate. Since ready availability of such a plate was impossibility, only option was to make it. And thus began my great saga of D.I.Y USA.
I was confident of making that plate with ease because if I would have been in India, I would have made that transfer plate, may be, in half an hour. Even if I had to go to market to buy the raw materials, I could have certainly finished the job in a day. So with full confidence, I embarked upon the job of making a sketch for the plate. After working out dimensions of the plate, I was stuck up again. There were two threaded holes on the telescopes. The thread sizes and exact locations of holes were not mentioned anywhere. I kept my sketch away and turned to internet. After searching and browsing for number of hours, I found the information. Nevertheless, day one was over.
Armed with this new information I started to work on that sketch again. This time it was a screw on the tripod stand. I had just no idea about that screw thread size, as such threads are not used in India any more. Only Americans still use such threads. Then I had to scratch away rust from a part of the tripod, find the manufacturer’s name and go back to internet. Again, search and search. Finally success! I got the information wanted. Day two gone. Next day I finished the sketch finally. I want to make it in Aluminium so it takes the weight of the Telescope. However, no one has an idea where to buy an Aluminium plate. I make number of phone calls without any success. Day three gone. I feel very dejected. There is nothing, which could be done for the rest of the week, except looking at my sketch and telescope. Week one is gone.
On that Sunday, armed with my sketch, we drove to a hardware store. The store was really huge with racks containing tons of materials. Racks must have been twelve to fourteen high. We decided to look for an aluminium plate. After walking up and down for miles and asking many store clerks, we found a rack containing aluminium sheets. But these were not of the type we wanted. We started searching again. Finally, a kindhearted assistant took us to right kind of material. But the sheets available here were very large and my requirement was for a small piece. In India, there are small traders who would cut the sheet to your requirement at a small fee. No such facility here. My plan of getting an aluminium plate vanished in a second. Next best alternative was a wooden plate. We again started searching for a wooden plate. This time we were lucky. We got a ready-made cut plate of right thickness. Only problem with this plate was that it was bit longer. We stood in a queue in front of a cashier for payment. When out turn came she told us that this plate is not listed on her computer hence she cannot bill it. Looking at our desperation, she talked with her manager and told us to take that plate for free. Meanwhile, I had collected other things such as screws etc.
Next day I started to work on that plate. It was necessary to cut it into two pieces. Have you ever tried cutting a quarter inch wooden plate with a knife? But I had no other tools and had to do it that way. It took me three days but finally I had a right sized mounting plate in my hand. I drilled few holes in that plate easily since we had a drill machine in the house. When I tried fixing this plate to the tripod, I found that it couldn’t take the weight of the telescope in the present form. Week two is gone.
I thought of two supporting brackets and started looking for suitable material in the house. I found a can of ‘Planter’s Peanuts’, which would serve my purpose. So with help of kitchen scissors and my great knife, I cut two metal strips from the can and bent them into brackets. Drilling more holes in them took quite some time, as there was no proper place to hold the strips. Finally, it was all over. I assembled the Telescope onto the tripod.
It had taken me three weeks to make something, which I could have done in a day’s time in India.
These three weeks also answered a question, which has been in my mind for long. Why US imports almost everything from China? It was obvious that if a small job takes so much of time and energy, one would rather import it from China at dirt prices.
I also understood why I had never seen anyone actually working in garages where so many tools were neatly arranged. People bought these things in store sale very cheap and arranged them nicely in garages. Who could spend so much of time looking for materials?
My telescope with mounting, still works beautifully in India. Every time I look at a star or a nebula through my little telescope, I remember my D.I.Y USA.
17 October 2007