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But Easy Project Goes Awry : Do-It-Yourselfer Tries to Be Picture Perfect

August 23, 1987|LOUIS HILL | Special to The Times and Hill is a Cypress free-lance writer.

I've learned to choose the best when I start a do-it-to-yourself project.

Not because the quality of the item makes much of a difference, but because the illustrations and diagrams on the carton are more attractive.

I like to be entertained when I undertake a knuckle-buster project.

Full-color diagrams on shipping cartons are like serious comic strips, and they always defy the laws of nature.

For example, there is the picture of the ideal do-it-to-yourselfer installing a garage door opener motor overhead. In the illustration, the motor supports itself in thin air while the installer casually tightens bolts, using no supports for the motor.

Still, a really a good do-it-yourself project package will include dandy slogans that buoy your hopes far beyond your ability to deliver.

Partial to Slogans

I am especially partial to slogans like "Designed to Be Installed by You." And I will usually buy a project package that includes "No Experience Required for Installation." However, my favorite slogan is: "Can Be Installed in a Single Afternoon."

One of the really crucial words needed for do-it-to-yourselfers is easy. Easy to understand instructions. Five easy steps. Easily installed. Easy to handle. And if it is a really major project--easy payments.

All of the easys are on the front of the carton, on the cover of the homeowner's manual and always on the promotional advertsing. The word trouble-shooting appears in very small type on the bottom of the carton and on the last page of the homeowner's manual.

The trouble-shooting problems are listed from A to Z, and the word easy never appears in a trouble-shooting solution.

Red Telephone Help

On the other hand, any shipping carton that includes a picture of a red telephone on it and a toll-free "Help Line" is likely to make one restive. But then the number is easy to dial.

Yet, when I dialed the toll-free "Help Line" and was put on hold because all the lines were busy, I should have worried. And when I finally talked to an "expert," I sensed that he was looking at a homeowner's manual and would soon read me a trouble-shooting solution. He did.

I really believed the carton's promise that I could install a garage door opener in an afternoon, but I started work at 10:37 a.m. I was not, however, a man in a hurry, even though I am not only the last homeowner on my block to have a garage door opener, but the last in the entire tract.

When I began the installation, I knew I would have to change my clothes because the full-color diagrams depicted a man with blue slacks and yellow sports shirt. I wanted to be that man!

And if I started at 10:37 a.m., I would have the opener installed by mid-afternoon and could watch the look of surprise on my wife's face when she drove in.

His Uniform Helped

I assembled the shaft, connected it to the motor, installed the chain-drive feature, attached the swivel head to the top of the garage door, carefully lifted the motor train and set it on top of the stepladder. I could see the installation was going to work out just like the diagram, and I knew it had to be my uniform that was making it possible.

The last step was to lift the motor up among the garage rafters and install it on hangers. At this point, in my previous projects, something would go wrong, but not this time. It was a piece of cake!

All was in readiness for the grand opening, and when I pushed the remote control, the motor started, the chain drive whined, but instead of the garage door rising, the motor itself disappeared among the rafters! Obviously, something was wrong.

But when I checked the trouble-shooting alphabet, there was no mention of motor assemblies disappearing into rafters. So I launched that motor three more times, and the door never budged.

Neighborly Advice

I was saved by a neighbor. He came to see what I was doing, and when he found out, he shook his head.

"I put one in last year. Never want to do it again. And I had the same problem. You got to position the swivel higher. She'll work when you do that."

He was right. It was now 1:30 p.m. I adjusted the drive shaft and repositioned the motor. Once again I pushed the control. Quietly the garage door lifted--like magic. A second push and the huge panel slid gracefully to the floor. When it reached the concrete, it failed to stop. Instead, it started back up.

By 4:30 I knew I wasn't going to solve the problem. The opener was a perpetual-motion machine. Unless I unplugged the power, the door rose and fell in an endless process.

I could tell it was red-telephone time and the easy-to-dial problem solver. But that, too, was a problem. It might have been 4:30 where I was, but it was 6:30 in Detroit, and the business was closed for the day.

By the end of the third day, I knew as much about the garage door opener as did its inventor. I had made four phone calls to the company, reassembled the machine six times, ordered some small parts I had accidentally broken and persuaded my wife that the opener had been defective from the start.

It is now three months since I installed the opener. It works like a charm. Well, maybe not quite like a charm, but it works. All you have to do is remember to push the control button twice when the door reaches the floor, and you should always duck your head when walking in and out of the garage.

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