The Mysterious Ways of Crow Bars

Jun 16, 2003

RAY: This came in from Dan Scribner, from Rock Hill, New York.

"One crisp autumn day, a farmer neighbor of mine asked for a hand laying in his supply of firewood for the coming winter. Standing next to his woodshed was an ancient circular saw, which he used to cut logs to stove length. The saw was driven by a wide leather belt, that looped from a wide pulley on the saw to another pulley, which was affixed to the power takeoff of his equally ancient Jeep.

"Now, for those of you who don't know what a power takeoff is, most work vehicles have an auxiliary shaft coming out of the transmission. You can put the vehicle in neutral, engage the power takeoff, and have power go from the engine, through the transmission, and drive another shaft, which is not connected to the wheels. In this case, it would deliver the engine's power to this old-time saw with the leather belt.

"As he was maneuvering the Jeep into position, he asked if I could run back to the barn, and bring back the large crowbar which was in the back corner of the barn. It was about a mile down the hill to the barn, and then I had to walk back with a 20-pound crowbar on my shoulder. But, I obliged, because he's my neighbor, and I'd probably get some firewood out of it, if nothing else."

TOM: Maybe there's a farmer's daughter involved?

RAY: There you go. "By the time I got back, he had moved the Jeep into the proper position. I took the crowbar and kind of stuck it into the ground, and leaned it against the tailgate. He chocked the wheels, lined up the pulleys, started the engine and engaged the power takeoff.

"He runs the engine, and cuts up all his wood, and at the end of the day we were picking up our tools. I remarked that we hadn't needed the crowbar after all.

"He says, 'Oh no, you're wrong. The crowbar was used. In fact, it was essential to the operation, and had we not had it, we wouldn't have been able to do what we did.'

"And, I said, 'Huh?'"

The question is, what was the crowbar for?

Dan gives us a hint too. He says, "My neighbor said he'd forgotten to bring the crowbar once, and he would never make that mistake again."


RAY: What was the crowbar for? There was this hint: "My neighbor said he'd forgotten to bring the crowbar once, and he would never make that mistake again." In fact, there were lots of hints. The dry autumn air, the power takeoff, the saw, the leather belt. The Jeep is insulated from the ground by rubber tires, and would pick up a static charge from the spinning leather belt.

If not discharged through the crowbar, the Jeep would get so charged up with electricity that when you touched it you'd get knocked on your keister by 50 or 100 or 150 thousand volts of static electricity. So, the crowbar was essential. And, it just so happened by sticking it into the ground and leaning it against the Jeep, which is metal, he had unknowingly put it exactly where it had to be.

Who's our winner?

TOM: Phew! That was a beauty. The winner this week is Matt Lewis from Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Get the Car Talk Newsletter