Some time ago, I attended the media day at Harbor Freight Tools’s quality assurance lab in Calabasas, California. I came home feeling as though I should write a report for the editor who sent me, but there didn’t seem to be much of a story. Yes, Harbor Freight’s engineers and technicians are dedicated and enthusiastic. But stressing tools to their failure points lacks the kind of zing I’m usually looking for in a tale.
As we reporters left the lab, we were invited each to take home his “goody bag” of $600-worth of Harbor Freight tools. For those of us—including me—who had gone out there on our motorcycles, they would ship everything to our homes.
Motoring back through the San Fernando Valley, I thought maybe I should’ve just stated for the record, before departing Calabasas, that I couldn’t accept $600-worth of tools (and don’t need them anyway), but thank you very much.
So a few days passed without a deliveryman’s knock. Was I off the hook?
Then one afternoon, I returned from an errand and found a ninety-five pound box on my porch. Can you imagine what the shipping charges were?
I dragged the box over the threshold and opened the lid to find not only sockets and adjustable wrenches, but also power tools. Because my neighbor had suffered the theft of some tools, I let him have the ratchet and sockets and three of the four adjustable wrenches. (I greedily kept the six-inch one, as well as the torque wrench.) But what was I going to do with everything else? I felt unsure about giving them to a charity for resale. Might they not go out the back door?
My friend Andy suggested a donation to the local high school’s automotive program. This seemed an excellent idea. I got in touch with Monrovia High School’s Phillip Jelinek, who came to my place. A modest, white-bearded fellow, Jelinek opened up the hatch of his Prius. While we loaded the tools, he explained that he’s president of the California Automotive Teachers. Moreover, he’s faculty advisor for the Monrovia kids’ effort in the Shell Eco-marathon. So this isn’t just your average auto shop program. He also told how his former students are at service departments and parts counters all around the San Gabriel Valley
Soon, he drove off; I said good-bye to the tools and forgot about them—until today, when I came home to find a manila envelope at my door. It contained a dozen thank-you notes. Jelinek had waited till Christmas break and distributed the tools to his kids. The notes are simply delightful. Here are the best, faithfully transcribed:
“Thank you for donating the ½” impact wrench I will be using it to help restore a 57’ Ford”
“This digital caliper will realy help me in my quest to because a car designer.”
“This battery charger is going to be really useful for my moms car.”
“Thank you very much for donating this wonderful floor jack, I will be using it daily to work on my families car doing basic minor repairs.”
“Thank you for donating so much to our Monrovia High School Auto Shop. I personally received an infrared thermometer and have been taking the temp of different things all day. I have always wanted and need one for my RC cars. I plan to use it to record the temp of the little nitro engine, to tell whether it’s over heating, and adjust the fuel mix accordingly.”
My name is (female name) and I wanted to thank you for donating the Variable Speed Multi-Function Power Tool. It’s going to be nice for building reptile cages with my brother.”
Besides the fact that a girl who builds reptile cages with her brother is evidence that kids are being brought up right in this town, I now have proof that giving away the tools was the correct thing to do. And when I didn’t initially find the poetry in the visit to Harbor Freight Tools, it was a good choice to hold off writing. As it turns out, the story came to my door.