The Outdoor Mechanic’s Pit
By Bev Sandlin
Homesteading, self-reliance and survival may depend on the maintenance of your vehicle. Although it is hard to be a backyard mechanic on today’s newer, computerized vehicles you can still do a lot of basic maintenance and occasional cobbling.
However, there are always dangers to jacking your car up and going underneath it, even with a floor jack. And although mechanic’s pits in garages were once fairly common, most states have now outlawed them as a person can become overtaken with fumes in an enclosed pit. Oil changes, muffler and exhaust repair, etc. are all easier and more enjoyable done in an open air, safe environment.
Having lived for years out West in mountain country, where self-reliance was almost a universal value, I saw a lot of outdoor mechanic’s pits. However, in the East and Midwest, I have not seen any! Essentially any slope built up with rock or railroad ties or landscape block to accommodate a vehicle being driven over it would do. Some were the height of a man so that you could easily stand under it and work on the vehicle. Some were sloped from six feet back to zero so that almost any vehicle, whether a dump truck, a sedan, or a low slung muscle car could be worked on. Some were just a couple feet off the ground to easily accommodate someone lying under the vehicle and working on it in safety. The depth almost invariably depended on the terrain that was available. How much slope was to be had at the location desired. Almost all were a pretty standard four feet wide, which will accommodate most vehicles and farm machinery.
Recently I employed an excavator to build a stone deck (Absolutely no maintenance, that’s for me!) and I asked him to install an outdoor mechanic’s pit. He didn’t have a clue what I was talking about. I explained to him how to make it, but he still didn’t know what I was talking about. So I showed him what I wanted and after he got the third rock in place, he got it! He had never seen anything like it and was astonished to see how a simple idea could be so useful! This is farm country, and we have some hills. I’m guessing there will be more outdoor mechanic’s pits around here in time.
Below is a picture of my pit with my truck on it. Mine is about two feet and slopes back because that is what I had available for terrain and also works as a French drain for the driveway.
This picture shows the construction a bit clearer.
This is a simple, easy, inexpensive and safe way to work on your vehicle. It doesn’t get much better than that!
Western Cherry Picker
Now for the real mechanically enthused, I have seen a Western arch, or gate hanger, built over these pits. That is just a good stout post on either side (telephone poles or six inch plus posts) about eight feet high out of the ground with one good, stout pole in between set on top of the posts. Set the posts about six feet back from the front of the pit, so that you can put a plank over the pit and work from that on the front of the car. Use the winch on your truck, or a pulley with a rope or chain attached to a vehicle, and you have a Western cherry picker! My ex-father-in-law used to pull engines and put them back in on a regular basis. This is a very useful, inexpensive invention if you are into changing motors. It also works well for hanging deer, elk, and hogs for butchering. If you don’t use it much, attach a swing for the kids!
If you desire to become more self-reliant, and safe, when working on your vehicles, consider installing an outdoor mechanic’s pit if you have a slope in your yard. If you are in town, consider driving up on your curb in order to work on your car as opposed to jacking it up—safety first!
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