The Hammer and Crowbar Technique

Becak Rush HourTo my surprise, on this trip, I have not yet had any flat tires on public transport but did enjoy engine failure the other day. The journey was from Bogor to Bandung.  We got off to a good start but things went rapidly down hill from there. I was once again riding “ekonomi” and therefore could not expect too much.

There is some really beautiful country in between these two cities along with mountains, valleys, and rice fields.

It’s gorgeous but if you’re going to break down you want it to be next to a gas station or failing that at least on flat ground so the bus doesn’t  partner up too much with gravity and send you into a ravine.

Boulders behind the wheels acted as our anti-gravity force field.

Usually in developing countries an event like this seems to stir whatever male local population there is into some kind of action. I am never sure exactly what it is but am sure their intentions are good.

They do a lot of mingling.

Mingling is big here in Asia and in Africa. From the mingling you can usually expect a decision to be made how best to approach the problem. That is always a bad thing to assume.

What typically happens first is that a third of the men just depart without any action being taken for the benefit of the bus or its passengers.

A portion of the men will remain huddled, presumably, discussing the issue but in actuality it can often be fair to say that someone has broken out a deck of cards or brought up a far more interesting topic to discuss.

The two men that are left will approach the engine, one hand clutching a  hammer or crowbar, the other hand being used as a head scratcher. Neither inducing confidence in the passengers who are strewn about the roadside waiting and watching…sometimes cooking!

Miracles do happen and the hammer/crowbar technique will spring the engine back to life. Everyone piles on and hopefully you make it to your destination. On this occasion we went through this three times before puttering into the Bandung terminal on what seemed like a last gasp.

For photos of Indonesia click here.

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47 thoughts on “The Hammer and Crowbar Technique

  1. I hope some day you will see Kashmir and then you can see extensive use of hammer and crowbar technique for fixing. When on route vehicles have problems they are fixed with minimum tools. But when we come across such engine failure , I never enjoyed the situation and never thought to… 🙂

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    1. I have spent some time in Kashmir back in the 90’s when the war took a 10 day cease fire. What a stunningly gorgeous place. But yes, this method of repair, as in all of Asia and Africa, was very much adopted.

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  2. This is Jay,

    I have seen this happen when I was in Jamaica and it is amazing to see how they can fix things with minimal tools. I have to say that I was glad I wasn’t on the bus that broke down.

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      1. Thanks.. Nope i didn’t but I wanted to. I lost a lot of great comments and changes that were made. so i really wanted a hammer

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        1. Yes, sometimes a hammer can be used for that as well. Sorry about the comments and changes being lost. I would have thought they would have been saved on a site backup.

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  3. I had a good laugh at this post. I think I’ve been on that road side. There is nothing so pointless as trying to export our sense of urgency. Much easier on the system to adopt the local perspective which seems to say, “Either you’ll go…or you won’t.” 🙂

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  4. Tim, I had to laugh because my husband went to Uganda,Africa last summer and their bus broke down four times. It was funny because people started fighting on the bus. My husband said he came back grateful for paved roads and street lights. They have to have alot of patience over there. However, if they are locals then they are used to it. =)

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  5. Hi Tim,

    Tell me about it. I come from India and having a flat tire, running out of Gas and engine breakdown at a location where there are no mechanics (and worst yet, no AAA) are painful experiences.

    On wait! How about when you meet an accident? If you are in a 4 wheeler and a bike comes and hits you, it is always your fault because you are on 4 wheels while the poor guy is only on 2 wheels. I’ve been in that position more than once and I tell you, dealing with those “mingling” in such situations isn’t very pleasant.

    But then, there are always a couple of people from those “minglers”, who will do something to help you especially when there are no 911 calls or AAA assistance available.

    Cheers!
    Kumar

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    1. I have seen that in India where a taxi hit a guy on a bike. I thought the taxi driver was going to get killed it got so violent. In the end he ran like the wind to get out of there.

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  6. Hey Tim, I am all for the hammer and crowbar technique which has got me out of many a jam over the years. Sadly brute force tech is on the wane with so much of our transportation now dependent on computer chips. Still, in developing countries we see a lot of expertise in that too so all is not lost

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  7. Tim you remind me of many years back when on a trip to Victoria Falls we had a similar incident on a bus, except the bus had intentionally been driven offroad and sunk into the gravel. We got stuck for hours and there was the wondering around, the huddling, the decks of cards, until a tractor came and pulled us out. Normal occurance in Africa.

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  8. hi tim; your stories sound a lot like some of my travels with the family carnival here. We were a small outfit usually traveling in trucks 20 years old or more. and when we broke down I use to hope we were near a stream because I knew then we would have water. Of course, my dad was a much better mechanic than you have run across in your travels. and your stories have failed to discourage me from traveling more. take care out there my friend, max

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  9. I liked the way you said you enjoyed the engine failure – very much the ‘chin-up’ guy aren’t you? I do enjoy reading your posts – they’re always so interesting.
    Lenie

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  10. Welcome to the developing world. That’s the way it works and when there’s a will there’s a way. An interesting thing is that it’s usually the natives that help out when your car breaks down. Not other expats.

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  11. Hi Tim,
    Good thing you had the patience to observe and learn what was going on. Who would think that a hammer and crowbar would fix a broken down bus? Of course, what else is one to do without a mechanic nearby? Whatever works!

    All the best!
    Bill

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  12. Oh My! To say that you enjoyed this engine failure shows an incredibly flexible persona! Maybe funny the first time, but the third time I might have been grinding my teeth 🙂 The photos are beautiful though. And at least, you were broken down in a picturesque environment 🙂

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    1. I always expect these trips to have some kind of transportation breakdown involved, hence the blog name, and you’re right; no matter where it happens it’s usually beautiful or at the very least, interesting.

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