Jacked up

Sep 16, 2004

Paul Studebaker

One of my most useful tools is the floor jack my father bought back in 1973. Before that, we raised the family fleet of hard-working Studebakers with a couple of heavy-duty scissors jacks, which was a lot more exciting. (I can say from experience that when you drop a car with no wheels on it, it’s hard on the brake drums. It’s also hard to get anything under it to pick it up.)

Dad bought the 1½-ton Walker jack shortly before he died, and it’s done me more than 30 years of fine service with very little attention. But recently, it started to creak and groan if I leave it under load, and acts a little sticky about releasing and coming down slowly and smoothly. So I began to worry about it letting go at an inconvenient moment.

At about the same time, I began to notice Harbor Freight and Sears Craftsman ads touting lightweight aluminum racing jacks for less than $200 — sometimes a lot less. That Walker weighs about 90 lbs., and at my age with a slipped disk, I haven’t picked it up in years. I started thinking that a nice, new 35-50-lb. jack would be more trustworthy. I could get it into a trunk if it had to, and it sure would spiffy up the garage (which needs it, badly).

But Mr. Walker, as my Dad used to call this jack, has a lot of sentimental value, so I wanted to see if it could be repaired before I put it into retirement. Where I live, thanks to both the presence and slow decline of farming, steel mills and manufacturing of all types, we have a great variety of cottage shops that machine, repair and rebuild almost anything. So I called Scotty’s Hydraulic Service out on County Road 250 West to see if the jack could be rebuilt.

I described the problems to him and Scotty’s first words were, “Where was it made?” I told him it’s a Walker, made in the USA. “Good,” he said, “Because if it was made in China, I’d tell you to throw it away and buy another one.” He went on to say that all it probably needed was to get the air bled out, and told me to open the release valve fully, lift the saddle to its full height, and let it drop rapidly to the lowered position. “Watch your fingers,” he said. Then close the release valve, lift it again, and let it go. It will stay in a raised position. “Then try it,” he said. “It will probably work like new.” And it does.

So now I don’t really need a new floor jack to work safely. But the aluminum ones are still a lot lighter, shinier, and, well, cool-looking. So when Sears recently put a nice Craftsman on sale, I went to take a look. Sure enough, the box has the fine print, “Contents made in China.” I left my money in my wallet.

There are lots of good political reasons to favor products made in the USA, and plenty of rationalizations for not caring. But I’d like to know more about the state of the Chinese manufacturing art and your perceptions of Chinese quality. Are made-in-China tools and components as good as their U.S.-made counterparts? Are they more cost-effective? Do they carry a higher risk?

If you’re willing to express your opinion, please take the current mini-poll on the www.plantservices.com home page. If the choices don’t match your feelings, tell us more in the “comments” section, or e-mail me directly at the address below.

Editors in chief can’t resist waxing eloquent about changes to the magazine, but along with what we feel is a strong new design, this month we are introducing a new column, “The PS files,” by Managing Editor Lisa Greenberg.

Each month, Lisa will exercise her considerable journalistic skills by analyzing a timely issue and writing about it in her rather engaging way. We would appreciate your comments, criticism, and suggestions for topics she might investigate.

If you’re inclined, please tell us what you think about the new design. We did it for you--to be able to fit more information and to make that information easier to read. If you think it falls short in any way, we really want to know. We’ll jack it back up and fix it.

Paul Studebaker
Editor in Chief