Kingpin

Kingpin

The sun filters through the clutter of the garage, the dust in the air sparkles, smelling of dry concrete and grease. The Morris Oxford Twenty stands there in black and blue, looking grand and sad at the same time. A muffled clanking reveals the presence of my dad under the car. “Can I give you a hand Dad?”

A wiry man, strong yet fragile has the wheel off, steering rods and suspension arms sticking out like broken limbs.

“I’m trying to replace the kingpin. It’s been clonking for a while and even though it’s loose and worn I can’t get the damn thing out.”

The kingpin is the pivot about which the wheel steers. The hinge as it were. Angled slightly backwards to provide the caster effect, and inwards to give toe-in. It was superseded in the 50’s by the wishbone and ball and socket joints.

The hard concrete floor is covered in flattened cardboard boxes soaked with patches of black oil. Grease gun and spanner, loose nuts and bolts scattered about. My father, the kingpin of our family, is on his knees working away with a blowtorch and a hammer. The solid, sturdy fixed point about which everything else turns. A family of adventurers and romantics; building rafts, exploring the jungle and forever crossing fells in search of a mythical launderette. The swirling pattern of dreamers around a robust and rational core. Moths around a lamp venturing out into the darkness but always returning to the safety of the light. Unfazed by the complications, cynical of the dreamers, the kingpin solves problems with a logical and practical mind.

“Damn thing won’t budge. Well, if you don’t mind helping. If you’re not busy. I’ll try and get that outer bearing really hot. It should expand compared to the the kingpin inside. And that should loosen it enough to drive it out. While I heat it, you take the hammer and drift and give it a good whack. Mind my fingers!”

Tentatively at first, I am wary of doing it wrong, I start swinging the hammer in the tight space. The heat from the flame and glowing metal on the back of my hand. Feeling like a blacksmith, I get in a good shot and with a loud crack the kingpin starts to shift. A few more smart clouts, a skinned knuckle and the scarred kingpin clatters to the floor. The pinging of cooling metal, the smell of burning cardboard and for a moment we feel like heroes.

The kingpin was largely superseded in the 50’s, but it remains a strong practical steering solution. It is still employed today in some heavy trucks, where its sturdy and low maintenance characteristics are of benefit, as well as its excellent load carrying ability.

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