Deep work or the fascination of repairing things

In the last three years my life significantly changed. I got a divorce, quit my job in academia I previously held for almost 11 years and got 40+. I mention this, as many say this is about the time when men experience their midlife crisis.

Concerning my attitude towards technology I pretty much changed my mind. While I was a dedicated follower of IT trends in the past, my perception of ICT as a means for the benefit of mankind has changed.

I have the feeling, that the speed of change ICT brings to the way we work, consume, eat, or spend our leisure is to fast to be dealt with in a lifetime.


I also discovered that working with my hands instead of my head is phenomenally rewarding. The results of manual work become immediately visible and tangible. This, combined with my deep disgust of an economical system which is more and more based on the principle of obsolescence may all add up to my fascination of repairing old things.

During the past years I successfully repaired a Villiers MK25, a small (30 kg) single cylinder gas engine of about 1965; a Deutz MAH 611, a 170 kg single cylinder diesel engine of 1934; an Elin three-phase alternator, a 190kg beast capable of producing 8kW of power; And two centrifugal (waste) water pumps, of which one was in so pristine condition, that it wasn’t challenging and I had to look for another.

What fascinates me in repairing things of the past is that it requires me to do these things:

  1. Research: How are things meant to work theoretically? All to often a detailed manual or description of such things of the past is no longer available and defective parts cannot be ordered on Amazon. This requires to get a deep understanding in how things are supposed to work in order to creatively come up with a solution to a problem. While this solution may not be perfect, it is a solution which works.
  2. Manual work. Having a day job where 90% of my time is spent in front of the computer, actually doing things by hand is a more then welcomed alternative. The hands get dirty, but the results of tinkering are immediate.
  3. Deep work: During my hours in the garage no email will interrupt my flow, no phone call will pull me out of concentration.

These moments of deep immersion into getting things done are incredibly satisfying.

I am not depending on any of the items I repaired, nor have I been on a schedule to get stuff done, except the time pressure I imposed myself. I call these items still my own but will have to stop repairing more stuff as I am simply running out of space.

Unfortunately repairing things which have been building blocks of our modern society (the internal combustion engine, (water) pumps and power alternator) is no longer a sustainable business. Maybe my fascination in repairing things others consider scrap metal (got the alternator for 40 € which is the copper scrap value) is just my longing for a simple life, the counterpoise to the intertwined complexity our society has become.

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