For want of a washer - Part 2

Posted On: Friday - January 29th 2021 4:57PM MST
In Topics: 
  Curmudgeonry  Economics

This can be considered a continuation from the old Peak Stupidity post For want of a rubber washer, 45 minutes was lost.. This time, it was a fender washer, not enough difference to warrant another blog post, except for the Kung Flu tie-in. What CAN'T the COVID-one-niner do?!

The point of that previous post is that the draining of American manufacturing/human capital is making it harder to get things done as a DIYer. That is Do It Yourselfer(s), who were, in former America, probably # 1 in the world, yet we wondered, with a self-rebuttal, whether this ability would shift to China.

The local hardware stores are mostly gone, with Ace stores a middle ground between those local guys and the big-box stores. My problem was that I had forgotten that fender washer when I got the rest of the parts. I came close to manufacturing a part that would do the job (didn't have to be round, just take up the right space), when an errand I did for a friend took us close to a Fastenal. Well, I'd forgotten about those guys, but when it comes to that chain, they have any nuts/bolts/washers/screws, well, OK, fasteners, that I could ever want. (One often must buy in bulk though, but I could deal with that rather than spend 1/2 hour extra going/coming/at the big box store.)

Nope, I should say "HAD" everything ... because their closed sign telling us about the COVID sounded like this was permanent. It said wholesale customers only could make appointments or something, and get on the internet.

This is the problem, as related in the old post of ours. You can't just do every damn thing on the internet. If this little project was already working, and I wanted to engineer a bunch of them (not the idea, in this case), sure, I could wait for parts that I'd specified carefully, weed out the crap, and get a supply going. I just wanted a damn fender washer, though. On to the big box store it was, then.

I'll give 'em this, the big box store has a good hardware selection. You can get onesies of these washers, so I picked out 4 of each of 3 sizes of fender washers*. You just write down the 5-digit SKU (Stock Keeping Unit) on the bag. OK, but no pen was there, and I didn't have one. Not so bad, the first 2 digits were the same, so I repeated the 3 sets of remaining digits in my head on the way to the register. The point was to avoid the 10-minute price-check process.

Luckily there was almost no wait at the customer service area, as I needed to return 2 things I had thought I might need but didn't anyway*. "Hey, no pen, I gotta give you these numbers quick." Well, she didn't get half of them right, but I didn't care. 2 bucks, 3 bucks total, whatever, time is money. I could tell she wasn't getting it straight when one of them came up with "bolts XXX XXX " on the register. Who cares?! Just take the money. Were it one of the really uncaring black girls, I'd have been out of there.

I, even without a face mask on, realized the we couldn't communicate this way with the plexiglass. Since this cashier wore a mask for her job's sake, even with no foreign language problem (very common nowadays) she was coming through about 2 x 4 (like a 2 by 4 upside the head). I had to lean down to the 8" gap in the shielding down near the counter, put my face halfway through, and give her the SKU numbers! Peak Stupidity, my friends, is not just a URL anymore.

* That's what it's coming to, building up your own hardware store, it seems, just for when you might need something. How efficient is that though? Or I could go into the hardware business, or we could have a small community one close by, but we're going back to the beginning here...

The Alarmist
Tuesday - February 2nd 2021 1:59AM MST

Sounds like the perfect excuse for another workshop toy ... A CNC machine.

The photo idea is a good one ... more often than not, the bar or QR codes are scannable at the till, and the clerk is grateful for not having to look the item up or read and key in the numbers.
Sunday - January 31st 2021 5:56PM MST
PS: Of the many comments, I've got just a few points, or questions. For our Steve Miller fan, those UPC are the universal ones, obviously. The SKU's I needed, at the big-box store, were the store's part numbers, I assume, right? I had no idea that the country of origin was part of those UPC codes.

Robert, I used to use the 2" thick yellow McMaster-Carr book quite often. That may be the best for web searches of parts, but sometimes I just need the thing now. Re, Fastenal, where I live, I'd never seen them till about 10 years back, and didn't even know it was a chain then.

We have ACE stores here. Yeah, they are in between the old local hardware store and the big-box types, for me, in distance too, besides selections. I think I could have got my stuff there, but I wasn't completely sure.

The employees knowing where everything is is a big factor in how good a hardware store is. ACE is pretty good, and the big-box ones vary quite a bit on that. I've had people give me an aisle # that was 100 yards away from the right one, so I get 2nd opinions on the way.

And, for the Steve Miller fan again and others, China had so many specialized stores, even in this not-particularly industrial area*, there was a store with castors and that sort of thing next to one with wire rope (cable), chain, etc, next to another with bathroom fixtures, then I dunno, residential electrical, and on an on. It was a McMaster-Carr catalog come to life. I wrote about this in that DIY post. It was amazing, making me wish I could stick my house into a shipping container, (hey, it'd work for one of those "tiny houses") send it to China for 2 months, and come to work on everything there, then ship it and myself back. (Actually back then, I really thought the place had a lot of promise for a guy like me. I've changed my mind.)

* Actually, this was supposedly a "resort area", but after a day, I asked my host, "uuhhh, why?"
Sunday - January 31st 2021 5:42PM MST
PS: I'm really glad to see some good shoot-the-shit type conversation here in the comments. That's one thing I like about the Steve Sailer threads. He's usually not part of it (though occasionally, he is), but the slightly off-topic non-argumentative comments are the ones that I learn all sorts of things from.

For many other writers, such as on, my most familiar examples, the best comments, if any, are often high-level political economic arguments. They are fine to read, but one can tell the commenters don't have much practical knowledge, or at least don't think it's important.

I always appreciate anecdotes, here, of course, and on Steve Sailer's blog. I often learn more from them than from some vague argument.
Adam Smith
Sunday - January 31st 2021 12:03PM MST
PS: Good afternoon Mr. Blanc...

I hope this message finds you well.

Yeah, I'm in a pretty rural place.
I ran away from the cold and the city to hide in the woods.

I grew up in a place similar to yours. My 4th grade teacher told us that if we wanted to know what the weather tomorrow was going to be all we had to do was look at Chicago's weather today. This was pretty good advice.

The last feed store in the town I grew up in was around the corner from my Aunt's house. It too was a small place that closed down in the mid to late '80s.

Sorry to hear that piece of US 34 has become so crowded. While these things ebb and flow, and some things do get better with time, it seems this Rosenberg fellow is correct. It's unfortunate that so many things exalted as "progress" are the cause of so much discontent. I blame much of it on the dramatic population growth we've witnessed the last 120 years.

Looks like you have some cold weather coming later this week. Next Sunday looks brutal. Please keep warm.

I hope you enjoy the rest of your weekend.

Sunday - January 31st 2021 10:46AM MST
PS AS: A feed store? Wow, you must be rural. Ambrose Poulin’s feed store was at the intersection of our road and US 34, a block or so from where I grew up. I can still remember the luscious smell of the place. We had some pillow cases that my grandmother had made from feed sacks. It’s long gone. Late 1960s or early 1970s. The last feed store in my home town was a small place that probably closed down in the 1980s. That piece of US 34, east of Fairview, is now automobile dealer row. Rosenberg’s Rule: Everything always gets worse.
Adam Smith
Sunday - January 31st 2021 10:31AM MST
PS: Good afternoon Bill...

"Only the British would put a pipe thread on a bolt."


In the picture above you can see two little brass schrader valves. I had to remove and plug these so I would have clearance next to my oil filter. While I needed these holes plugged it's possible to use these ports for different purposes. It does make sense that these holes would use tapered threads. I really thought they would be metric though.

Sanden compressors were designed in Singapore. I suppose they used the British Standard because Singapore was officially a British colony until 1963. I think they're still a British colony. Queen Elizabeth is the queen of Singapore to this day.

Bill H
Sunday - January 31st 2021 8:50AM MST
PS Adam Smith
Only the British would put a pipe thread on a bolt. You may or may not recall/know that pipe threads are tapered.
Saturday - January 30th 2021 10:04PM MST
PS: I doubt they exist any more but in 1985 Chicago still had stores dedicated to:

a) springs --- I went there a couple of times to get springs to repair a pre-WWI cash register, a '50s juke-box, and a 1930s(?) GE Dishwasher that was part of one of the first all electric kitchens. The fridge was horizontal and was wall mounted like a kitchen cabinet.

b) leather belts for sewing machines and other machinery. I got a tool for splicing belts together for an antique sewing machine.

c) nuts and bolts --- perhaps this was a Fastenal. A friend would go there for British Standard Whitworth. He rebuilt Jaguars and MGs.

d) stage makeup. Who else would have 50 shades of gray finger nail polish?

e) Exotic hardwoods for inlaid cabinetry. But they burned somewhere in the early '80s.

Also, not a store, but a shop. A place that redid leaf springs. I had a '51 Dodge pickup, and they redid my (quite flat) springs, and added one more layer. Dirt floor, open fires, vats of various oils and such for quenching hot metal. Probably not even painted since 1920.

A different world.

But, nowadays the great McMaster Carr does a) through c) from the comfort of your living room couch. And they have one of the best web sites on the planet --- at least if you
find things like technical drawings of the different types of wire rope fascinating.
Some People Call Me Maurice
Saturday - January 30th 2021 8:05PM MST
PS You can't get guitar amp tubes anymore and if you wish to restore a vintage amp it has to be sent out of America.
What happens when all the backdoors on the military gear get shut off right when our good buddy ally PRC attacks?
Oh...we have the most brilliant bestest comrades evarz to lead us to 1000 years of "progressive" victories. (sarc)
Forward! Yes we can.

The last three digits of the UPC number are what is used in grocery stores so always match them up to make sure you get the correct price and check your receipt.
It can also be used to determine where things are made.

If the first 3 digits of the barcode are 690, 691 or 692, the product is MADE IN CHINA. 471 is Made in Taiwan.
Adam Smith
Saturday - January 30th 2021 1:00PM MST
PS: Good afternoon everyone...

For want of a pair of bolts, a whole day was lost.

We used to have the best little ACE hardware here in town. The people are super friendly, super helpful and they almost always had the few nuts bolts or washers I needed. They opened a second store about a half hour south of here which I sometimes have to visit because, unfortunately, their store here in town burned to the ground. Thankfully no one was hurt. They say they're planning on rebuilding, but we'll see.

We do have one little local hardware store and a feed store with a decent hardware aisle. There is a HomeDepot near the highway, but I do a pretty good job of boycotting it because of Bernie Marcus' support for GILEE, the Georgia International Law Enforcement Exchange.

Fastenal is pretty nice. I only shopped there once. I was looking for a pair of small bolts to plug the holes in the back of a sanden style air compressor. They were not metric and they were not standard. The helpful, knowledgeable and friendly gentleman at Ace didn't know what they were. He suggested Fastenal.

It was hot as hell (95°) that day and I was eager to get my air conditioner working. The people at Fastenal were very helpful and friendly too. But they didn't have any more of a clue about what those odd little bolts were than the gentleman at Ace. They did however tell me about a cool little place in Gainesville called Lanier Hydraulic Hose & Supply.

So, off I went on that hot sunny day, with the windows down, hoping my trip would not be in vain. By the time I got there, about an hour away, I was so happy to sit in their air conditioned building where I patiently waited while some kid took my compressor into the back to see if they had what I needed. About a half an hour later the kid emerged from the back with a pair of brass bolts in hand. Those bolts have British Standard Taper Pipe thread.

And I was never happier to find a pair of bolts.

Saturday - January 30th 2021 10:49AM MST
PS Our Ace Hardware stores are pretty decent, with some better than others. It’s a local outfit in these parts—the headquarters are about five miles from where I live—so that it feels less like a national chain to me. The local True Value is even better. True Value operates on the same principle as Ace, and is also, I believe, headquartered around here. But the days of places such as Mochel’s and Fairview Hardware are long gone. Except for Hank’s Hardware in Temecula, California. They do stock a lot of Ace branded items, but much else, besides. I even got the tee shirt for Madame.
Mr. Anon
Saturday - January 30th 2021 12:07AM MST
PS I remember the days of independent hardware stores. The last independent hardware store in my home town became an ACE franchise. At least ACE franchises maintained the feel of a local hardware store. The people who worked there knew where and what everything was. And they also stocked better products than the the big-box chains like Home Depot (their tools were more likely to be made in Taiwan rather than China). Now the ACE stores are almost all gone.
Friday - January 29th 2021 8:01PM MST
PS: Thanks, CB, I was used to having an old beater phone for a long time. I could have done that now.
Friday - January 29th 2021 5:36PM MST
PS Quick tip: Snap a pic of the SKUs or bar codes of items with your camera. I do this both with bulk hardware and for items -- farm supplies -- that are too big to bring up to the register. If you're lucky, the bar code will be scannable right off your phone, but if not, at least the code is there.
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