Unfortunately, as soon as the clip popped free it dropped into the dark recesses of the intake manifold. Not one to waste time running inside for a flashlight, I whipped out my trusty butane lighter, held it down by the intake, and gave it a flick. I searched for about two seconds, which is about how long it took for the fuel vapor from the nearly topless carb to reach my flame. A 2- foot-tall flame coming out of the carb alerted me to the fact that I had just done something very dumb. Now, the story would end here with me smothering the flames or putting them out with a fire extinguisher, but, alas, I was unprepared.
Instead, I decided that if I cranked the engine I could suck in the flames and extinguish the blaze. I hopped in the driver seat and gave it a go for a few seconds. I quit when I realized the fire had just grown exponentially. Apparently I had forgotten that the top of the carb was unbolted and not doing a very good job of keeping the freshly pumped fuel in the float bowls. Not only was my carb on fire, but the intake manifold and all the wires running across it were engulfed as well.
I made a beeline for the trailer and grabbed a cup of water on the counter. I ran back out, tossed it on the blaze, and watched the fire spread. Not enough water. Knowing that I needed a lot of liquid, and fast, I ran back inside and threw open the refrigerator. The only thing staring back at me was a fresh gallon of milk. I grabbed it and booked it back outside. The fire was now happily burning the paint off of the poor Firebird's hood.
Ripping off the cap of the milk jug, I doused the flames, with the majority of the milk being directed straight down the carburetor. The flames were finally extinguished! I assessed the damage, noting that the entire engine was now covered in America's finest 2-percent. A couple of wiring harnesses were burnt a bit and the carb was no longer shiny, but overall it looked like I had done a fair job of avoiding a catastrophe.
I finished removing the carb (with a flashlight this time), washed it out in the sink, jetted it, and plopped it back on the manifold. I went to start it and realized after a quarter turn of the engine that something was amiss. Oh yes, that gallon of milk had indeed extinguished the flames, but it had also filled my poor, poor cylinders. To make a long story a bit shorter, I did eventually get the car started (after cracking a mounting ear off the starter), but the smell of burned milk for the next few weeks was a constant reminder of my idiocy. Beat that!
I should note that I am now a high-school automotive instructor at South Elgin High School and am so ashamed of this incident I have never shared it with my students. If this is published, I will put it on a laminated poster and hang it in the classroom. Of course I will send CHP some photographic evidence!
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