Smoke, Whistle, Laugh

Smoke, Whistle, Laugh

When pranks went from hurting someone’s pride to hurting people or property, they quickly lost their luster.

American culture has changed, and people rarely play pranks anymore, but it’s probably for the best. Pranks are supposed to be harmless, but unfortunately over time they developed into stunts of a more serious nature that often led to property damage. When they went from hurting someone’s pride to hurting people or property, they quickly lost their luster.

They’re still funny to think about, at least the “harmless” ones, and not only has the automobile been the recipient of many a prank over the years, but most shops have at least one prankster, and if you’re a new technician, keep an eye out, you’re often the target.

Here’s some that stick out in my mind. On the car side, jamming a potato in someone’s tailpipe used to be a favorite on the big screen. When the car was started, it would make a loud bang as the potato would shoot out from the pressure in the exhaust. I never tried it, but always wondered if it was really that loud, and what happened to all those potatoes? Did anyone ever get a concussion from a large spud flying through the air?

Then there was the “loosening of the door handle trick,” where the unsuspecting car owner would walk up, and their door handle would pull off in their hand. This always looked funny, but I always thought it was quite a bit of work to get the door panel off and remove all the linkage rods and handle fasteners to make this possible. There never seemed to be enough time in movie scenes for it to have been possible.

Here’s one that surprised me: Shopping for fireworks in the mid-eighties, I found a small device specifically designed to hook up to the ignition coil on a car. Of course, that was when a lot of cars had canister coils with exposed positive and negative terminals. You could pop the hood and twist the wires on in less than a minute. Turning the key on would ignite the device, which would emit tons of smoke and whistle. I don’t remember if there was a report or not, but I remember the smoke and whistle.

I tried it out on my own car just for fun. I’m sure that would scare the daylights out of someone, but I also thought it might be somewhat of a fire hazard. It’s not like there’s anything flammable under the hood, so I’m not sure who thought that one up!

How many of you have heard this story from some time ago? It seems to be one that’s become automotive folklore. A technician had just finished rebuilding an engine. That night, the shop prankster placed one piston pin circlip on the bench. The next morning the technician found it and was horrified that he had left it out. After tearing down the engine only to find them all in place, did he realize he had been the recipient of a terrible prank.

The story also goes that he found out who had done it, and that night he installed a Zerk fitting in the side of the fellow’s toolbox, then filled it up with grease. I’d say that was fair play.

If you’ve got any prank stories to share, send them my way, because I’ve got more to share, too. But, don’t forget the paybacks. That can be the best part. TS

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