Today I Am My Own Hero

Today I am wallowing in self-pride. I actually got to stand in my driveway, with arms raised in the air, belting out Eye of the Tiger while the neighbours cheered.

Last night was a whole different story, and it all really started on Thursday.

Thursday, my garage door presented itself to me as my own, personal, Moby Dick. In my case, however, unlike Ahab I was able to ultimately vanquish my nemesis and emerge victorious.

Thursday night, a bracket along the bottom of my garage door broke and caused it to jam up in the tracks. The bracket holds the cable that’s attached to the pulley at the top, which in turn is attached to the giant springs that allow you to lift the door without being Superman.

My first attempts to fix it were somewhat fruitless, as I didn’t yet understand the extent of the damage. I thought the bracket had just bent away from the door, so I hammered it back into shape and reattached the tensioner. I think it went up and down 2 or 3 times before bending itself right back out.

On closer inspection, I realized that the bracket wasn’t just bent. It was broken and was going to need to be replaced. I managed to get the door shut, and left it there for Thursday.

Friday after work, I dropped by Home Depot to pick up the bracket and get to work. As it turned out, however, they didn’t keep it in stock and you could only buy it on the Web. I could order it, and it would probably get to the store by Monday or Tuesday.

Rather than wait, I got home and did some sleuthing and found out that Home Hardware had one out at Warden and Finch. Off I went.

So around 8:30 or so last night, I went out to swap out the bracket and call it a night.

Then things started to go wrong. I was close to being finished. I was so close, I could taste victory! All of a sudden, however, everything went to hell in very short order, and then continued to go from bad to worse in more and more tragic (though I suppose comical) ways.

The new bracket I got was about half as tall as the old one was, which shouldn’t have been an issue if the door itself was in good shape. The door isn’t in good shape though, so it seems that all the bits that are meant to hold it together had long since failed and the large bracket, spanning two pieces of the door structure, was ultimately all that was really holding it together. When coupled with the fact that the bottom section was now just hanging from the adjacent section rather than being held up by the tensioner, you can imagine what began to happen next.

As I started bringing the door up, with a plan to re-attach the tensioner when it got to the top, things went wrong. The bottom board on the bottom section of the door started to separate from the rest of it. At this point, all hope didn’t seem lost though. Michelle came out to check on my progress, and it seemed a bit amusing that she could see me right through the door rather than having to look under it. It was just a small hurdle though, in my mind.

She went back inside.

Things continued to get worse.

It didn’t take long to realize that the boards within the bottom door section had gone a bit awry, and it wasn’t going to be easy to just move the bottom piece back into place. I kept trying to jimmy it in place though so I could then deal with how to reinforce it. The tensioner on the other side was still attached though, and the whole door shifted again. It was around this time that things went VERY wrong.

Luckily, my neighbour Rick was around to watch this happen, and was there to bail me out when the whole thing started to crash to the ground. I had one end completely falling apart, while the other end was still being drawn up by the tensioner. I thought for sure that it was going to tear itself apart and that my only way out was to release the tensioner.

While holding the bottom board up, which had by now completely detached from the rest of that section of door and broken or spilled out half the rectangular panels, I did everything I could to lift the door and get the tensioner released.

And then it started to come back down. At this point Rick had been helping to try to carefully slide out the rest of the rectangular panels but, with the tensioner released, the door was now coming down, and coming down HARD. I leaped out of the way as it slammed into the ground with all the force of about 800 lbs. Somehow the bottom section didn’t completely smash to pieces.

I later found out it was probably because the upper sections had jammed into the track and couldn’t go down any further.

Rick and I stood back and surveyed the situation. Now the entire weight of the door appeared to be sitting on the pieces of wood that separate the rectangular sections like a collection of stilts. It was like a wall held up by a downward facing comb.

The situation looked dire, and it was.

Rick told me he knew a guy that repaired garage doors and offered to get the number for me. Clearly all hope was now lost… to onlookers. Neil dropped by again and just shook his head. He mentioned that he’d replaced his recently and sometimes it’s just time.

I was getting close to giving up, but wasn’t there just yet. I proceeded to start removing all the brackets and bits that were still holding the scraps of the bottom section of the door. To my complete surprise, once it was all detached, the upper three sections didn’t all come crashing down to the ground. In fact, what I ended up with was a large gap both above and below those sections, as they were firmly wedged just about in the middle.

With all the scraps scattered about the driveway, I realized I was really in a bit of a jam now. It seemed like a good idea to just lower the remaining three sections of door and then put some tarps or something over the gap at the top and then call it a night. If I couldn’t lower them though, then this wasn’t going to work. I now had no way of closing off the garage in any meaningful way, so I just kept working.

Since lowering the remaining sections seemed like a lost cause, I went back to surveying the scraps around the driveway. Perhaps if it had been daytime, I may have just given up, but the fact that I could barely see anything meant that I really couldn’t see quite how bad things were. So I just kept working.

I gathered up all the bits and started laying them out on the ground like a puzzle. I quickly realized that if I couldn’t get everything to lay at least mostly flat, then there wasn’t any hope of reassembling them. So the next step was to remove the metal braces and the old external handle from the bottom piece of wood. I did that, and then went back to putting the puzzle pieces in place.

Next, I realized that some of the edges of the panels, where they fit into the slots in the frame pieces, were damaged and one was actually ripped off completely. So I went and tried to either mush them back into shape or just ripped off the bits that were dangling or otherwise pointing in some direction that didn’t look like it would fit nicely in a slot. Using a screwdriver, I also had to go through all the framing pieces and dig the scraps and chips that were left behind in the slots (including one entire edge of a panel) when the whole thing came apart.

Then I started hitting things with hammers. With a bit of care and a big hammer, things started going into place. One of the frame parts was completely removed, so I basically just sat that one in place, but the rest were still loosely attached. Eventually, I had all the parts where they belonged, and it was time to try to get the whole bottom piece in place and then figure out how to lock it all together.

I think it was nearing midnight at this point, so I’m sure the rest of the neighbourhood was impressed at me hammering away. I was on a mission though, and I wasn’t stopping just yet.

Around this time, my neighbour’s son Mark came over to see how things were going. From that point on, he was my designated helper.

With a lot of effort and propping bits up with shims and what not, we finally got the bottom piece lined up and hammered on. Now it was just a matter of figuring out how to hold it all together. The best solution I could think of was the staple gun, so that’s what I went with. I just started firing in staples along the edges of all the frame pieces and hoped for the best. Mark wasn’t at all confident it would hold, but when I was done we first propped the whole thing up, and then actually lifted it off the ground.

The staples held. It could now be moved as a single piece!

We put it back down and I re-attached the metal brace along the bottom.

The next step would be to try to get it back in place at the bottom of the door so the garage would be closed and I could call it a night. To make this happen though, there was the matter of lifting up the remaining three sections, each of which must have weighed a couple hundred pounds. I went for the car jack.

Using the jack and scraps of wood from the garage, I actually managed to get it to move and un-wedge itself from the door frame. Then, slowly but surely, it started going up. When it was nearly high enough to fit the bottom piece under it, I used some vice grips to clamp the door track under some of the hinges and it all stayed where it was when we took out the jack.

Mark was again very un-confident that this was going to hold up. That was quickly becoming the theme for the rest of the night, as one jerry-rigged solution after another seemed to be doing their jobs.

With a lot of brute force and creative effort, we actually managed to get the bottom in place, and realized that we were actually quite close to lining it up with the upper portions. Rather than stopping and leaving it there, we got the jack back under the top part and started adjusting and moving it until we could line up the brackets and actually screw it all back together.

As a phoenix rises from the ashes, we actually had a complete door!!! From the outside, it actually looked as though very little was wrong with it, and I was happy. It was now past 1:30 am and it was good enough to leave alone.

I told Mark to tell his dad it was completely done. I’m not sure whether he did.

So that brings me to this morning. This morning, after sleeping in until well after 10 am, I went back to work. With everything lined up and mostly held together, I thought I might actually have a chance at making it work.

The bottom was still just dangling from the sections above and didn’t have any track rollers, but it was at least level and in place. I got the jack back out and slowly started to raise it up.

Over the course of the next couple of hours, I raised it inch by inch, continuing to clamp the sides and using just about every piece of scrap lumber in the garage at some point or another to fit between the jack and some part of the door that could be lifted. Slowly but surely, it kept going up. At about half way I was able to get the bottom rollers back in. At about three quarters of the way I was able to reconnect one of the tensioner wires that I’d left at that spot.

And then things started going sideways again. With the tensioner only on one side, it started being pulled up crooked and suddenly the section at the bottom that had caused all the commotion last night started to separate again. This time, however, I immediately stopped and brought it back to level.

The staples were holding up in most places, but they definitely weren’t going to cut it for the main support. I needed something more substantial, and went looking around the garage for anything that might do the job.

What I settled on was a little metal bracket that’s normally used for holding up curtain tracks. I pried it open and hammered it flat, and in the end was left with a strip of metal around 5 inches long with some holes in it. I used it to span the pieces of the door that were separating and drove some screws into it. Then I went back to raising the door, and this time got it up to the very top.

With the door raised, I was able to connect the second tensioner and then it was the moment of truth.

I removed the vice grips and it stayed in place. I tugged on it and it started to come down, but it didn’t fall. It came down smooth! Then it went back up smooth! I’D DONE IT!!!

Shortly after, Neil and Mark came out to see how things were going, and this was my big Rocky moment. I demonstrated the door. It worked like a proper manual door!! Up and down smoothly, all nicely lined up! It was a miracle!

I spend the next hour or so hammering the piece that fits on the motor track back into shape. When the door had come crashing down last night, it actually tore that piece right off the track, opening it up like it was made of tinfoil. It was a lot harder to get back into shape, but eventually I was able to get it re-installed in such a way that the motor would grab onto it again.

And so I was done. Everything worked!! The door works. The opener works. I BUILT IT!!

In the end, it’s a little worse for wear. There’s a big washer on the outside where a lag bolt had pulled through, and there’s a bit of a hole where one of the panels broke, but for the most part it’s as though the whole thing never happened.

Except it did. And I battled it. And I won!!

Now I’m gonna go drink beer and watch NASCAR. I’ve earned it!