I’ve yet to attain that next-level, DIY version of the old “Penthouse Letters” that pops up with infuriating frequency on garagejournal.com: “I never thought in my wildest dreams that this would happen to me, but I was sitting on the can one day surfing Craigslist when I came across a perfectly restored vintage South Bend lathe – for FREE! Needless to say, I pulled my pants up, jumped in the truck and sprinted over to the owner’s house. Turned out the owner was the nicest elderly gentleman who restored it but didn’t have a use for it! I offered him some dough as we loaded it up, but he would only say, ‘I cannot take your money, but I can setup a trust so that when your 2 children reach college age, it will pay their tuition!’ Man, today was my lucky day. Read ’em and weep, fuckers!”
However, the above photo did show up on my phone with a statement along the lines of it not being used, and the owner would be glad to reclaim the space in his garage. I had been pondering the heavy square tubing with plate steel top table that doubles as a bomb shelter, but the two years or so that this idea was kicking about told me to forget about it and jump on this offer. With the mahogany top and the steel frame, it would more than do for 90% of the time.
Fast forward past the three weeks it was kicking around the back of my truck, and it was sitting in my garage. While much better than the bench it was replacing, it turned out the legs were made of stamped steel, and the table had a pronounced and unsettling wobble. Forcing aside thoughts of an extensive rebuilding that I would never complete, I set about the yard to see what she would offer up beef up this frame. Sure enough, behind the shed (another unfinished project) lay some rusting 1×2 steel tubing which, even at 17 ga thickness, would shore things up nicely, and provide a perch atop some heavy-duty locking casters.
After a cleanup, cutting and welding into a rectangle, it was time to remove the existing bottom shelf, now redundant and not as big as its replacement. Unable to find plywood for the bottom shelf, I grabbed a stack of bed slats destined for the garbage and formed a shelf from them. Time for some MIG practice: welding the casters to the new frame and, after notching the feet to accept it, welding the frame to the bottom of the table. This stiffened the legs way up, so that now there is no movement when sitting on the table.
Next furious distractions from this God-awful time: sorting out a free el-cheapo tablesaw and ripping that sheet of plywood, and others like it, into a desk and shelves for Daughter.
As the country goes, so goes the Avocado. You knew something would happen. Things just kept going, and it felt like they did so on borrowed time. What would happen was anybody’s guess, but we just kept puttering along, fixing little issues as they came up but really running on hope that nothing big would happen. Unfortunately, our shitty little metaphor ends there, as the US doesn’t have AAA, and her issue is way worse than the ruptured return line and lack of desire to get underneath the truck in my work clothes to patch things up.
But the free tow got it to a shop, which, definitely not for free, dropped the tank and put a 90 degree return line fitting on the tank to keep the line away from the bottom of the bed. They returned the truck 3 1/2 weeks later. The fuel gauge no longer works, and the fuel sloshed out the vent line which they seem to have forgotten to tighten. Given the urgency of finding silver linings in the current crisis, I’ll stop the ruminations at feeling a bit better about my own fuckups, since I don’t charge anyone a Benjamin an hour for them.
At any rate, back to work, feverishly searching out happy distractions such as grabbing a load of topsoil before the rumored lockdown comes, so that Daughter and I can pursue some vegetable gardening during a necessarily isolated spring. In our new world, the cashier line of three stretched across the parking lot.
Thinking of musicians, service professionals, anyone who relies on humans’ social proclivities for income. It just ain’t the same on Skype, and I just can’t wait to get back to a Mike Stern concert.
Reviewing the last entry, it seems we left off back in some dark days of troubleshooting a discouraging reading of “0” on the oil pressure gauge every time we spun the engine over. There was no firm answer, even from my long trusted repair shop, as to why the oil pump wouldn’t prime. The only reasonable thing to do was to retrace what little work on the engine I did before installing it, which was pull the pan and pickup to have them modified to fit the infamous 2wd Ford rear steering mechanism. I had purposely avoided messing with the engine internals to avoid precisely this. There was no doubt the fabrication work to notch the pan and elongate the pickup tube was flawless, but there was no better place to start.
Surely my luck had to turn for the better, and it was with that in mind that I left the engine hoist in the corner and dove underneath to see if the pan would come off with the engine in place. Sure enough, dropping the pan allowed just enough room to disconnect the oil pickup tube and let it fall out of the way and into the pan, which in turn allowed me to move the pan rearward just enough to turn it sideways, where things paused just long enough to remove the front sway bar. Then the pan came out, and distant memories came flooding back as I inspected the pickup tube and the shoddy work I had done on the bracket which secured it to the block.
While the fabricator inserted the specified amount of tubing into the middle, it was up to me to realign the bracket that mounted the tube to the bottom of the block, and it was clear I needed to humble myself and start there. Brow furrowed in suspicion, I then recalled our kitchen countertop and it’s machined granite surface, which had previously saved the day as a surface on which to sand a warped Volvo B21 cylinder flat enough to keep its new head gasket from leaking. I went inside and held the pickup tube to it to see if I could detect any telltale wobbliness and thus explain the oil suction problem. But it was solid and felt flat. I then tried one more thing: holding the flange of the suction tube flat against the countertop with the mounting bracket over the edge of the table, where it would be hanging in midair rather than pressing against any surface. Then, having established that the tube was firm and flat against the countertop, I swung the opposite end where the mounting bracket was to the edge of the counter to see if it slid on as true and flush as it seemed to be. It was at that point that the problem with the whole setup became glaringly apparent. The end of the mounting bracket was about a half-inch below the top of the counter. Putting the whole assembly back on the counter, I then lowered an eye to see if I could see any light shining under any portion of the pickup flange that mounts to the bottom of the oil pump. I could. Despite the fact that the tube felt flat and true, it was not.
With that load lifted, I gleefully reworked the bracket, bounded back to the shop and, with new gaskets and renewed enthusiasm, reinstalled the pickup tube, and buttoned up the oil pan. I lowered the truck back down, put the oil back in, and spun the starter over, half wondering if I even needed this tedious verification of such a slam dunk fix before attempting to start the truck for real.
It didn’t take many goddammitfuckshits to realize how little there was to lose at this point. One piece of advice I had gotten from my favorite shop – though they had never had to do it on a Cummins – was to pull the pump and pack it full of grease so that any opportunity for the passage of air could be removed until the pump has primed. This was also a rare point of consensus on the forums. Thankfully, the oil pump on a Cummins B engine is amazingly accessible, held by 4 bolts right behind the timing cover.
In a just world, such agony should be rewarded. I rewarded mine with a Milwaukee 12V variable speed trigger ratchet. The amount of time saved with one of these is incredible. I was staring at my oil pump within fifteen minutes of deciding to open it up, courtesy of sicking this little beast on the 20 or so bolts that hold the timing cover in place. And, just as quickly, the trying uncertainty was once again replaced with the lightness of certitude, as I discovered that of the four bolts that held the pump in place, 3 were barely tight and nowhere near the torque spec for those bolts, and the fourth was falling out. It seems that whoever installed this pump did so a) recently, as the inside of this assembly was unbelievably clean; and b) with little care. I was ecstatic that the pump didn’t seal, affording me the opportunity to address it.
After packing the crevasses with grease and filling the remaining empty space with 50 weight oil, I put the pump back in the motor and buttoned things up. Shortly thereafter, I jumped the starter solenoid and watched a geyser of oil flow out of the disconnected turbo feed line.
It’s never happy days when you’re ruminating about the fuzzy but ominous radio voice pronouncing the doom of Steve Austin’s experimental rocket in the intro to “The Six Million Dollar Man.” But here we are, teetering on the brink of ignominious not to mention expensive defeat in the final stages of Avocado assembly. While not seriously entertained, rationalization of and plans for a reversion to the old 390 slither around the back of the brain and spawn more, sillier, more irrational thoughts: With 8 gears and a 3.55 rear end, surely you’d get north of 10 MPG! At any rate, this fixing/making thing will never be a viable outlet, and you’re doomed to a boring, talentless life of Ray Liotta at the end of “Goodfellas.” You should blog about something more substantial, anyway. Maybe take up the torch of Andy Rooney and bury WordPress in rants about toilet brushes.
“I don’t know WHY we use a toilet brush to clean the toilet. Seems to me that scrubbing dirt out of a large bowl that flushes out the dirty water and refills with clean water, and putting it in a tiny receptacle that doesn’t flush the dirty residue, or fill with clean water, is a recipe for disaster…”
We were puttering along nicely, putting in a steady 4-8 hours per week in and underneath our patient. Gauge pods were assembled and installed without evidence of a seizure during the process, a shifter cane was bent up perfectly for the T19, which had been dispatched rearward 6 inches to make room for the overdrive, the exhaust was adjusted, cut, re-welded, assembled, and mounted. Rivnuts were driven into the core support to provide the final mounting holes for the intercooler. (These little beasts let you screw proper cap screws into sheet metal where you don’t have access to put a nut on the other side.) Typically, you’d use a sheet metal screw, but despite the domain name, there’s no joy in reaching for a recessed piece of wiring and raking your knuckles over the business ends of sunken drill screws.
Gingerly using a heat gun and a brake line tubing bender, the plastic hydraulic clutch line was straightened and rebent to fit a truck a decade older than the one it was made for, and all that remains is fabrication out of steel plate of a retainer bracket for the slave cylinder to try the clutch setup. The rear bumper was installed. The tail light wiring harness, mangled and butchered from a universal trailer harness and weather, was cleaned, resealed, reloomed and installed, while a trailer harness specific to a dentside Ford pickup that plugs into the existing 4-pin connectors rather than relying on those cheap plastic wire taps is in route from eTrailer.
In went the fluids – the notched oil pan fortuitously takes as its reduced capacity an even 2 gallons of oil. And in they stayed. The radiator was bracketed down, the electrical hooked up, and the starter bumped. All that was needed was to spin it over and make sure the oil pump could pump oil before hooking it to a fuel can and trying to fire it.
In retrospect, that presumptuous order of a trailer harness might have been what did me in. Even after pulling the injectors to remove compression resistance and dumping some 50 weight oil down the filter housing to prime the oil pump, the engine would not make any oil pressure while the starter spun it. Not one pound, not after a full minute of spinning it over.
After running headlong into the axiom that an internet search will return a number of different answers to a question that is a full 90% of the total number of answers and therefor will give the searcher no comfort or confidence in any of them, a strange calm descended. Plan B, culled from said searches and a desperate call to my favorite mechanic:
Pull the pan. The only piece of the engine that was messed with prior to installation was the pan and pickup tube. It’s a pretty easy operation, and the modification was done by a professional fabricator. Nonetheless, there’s as much chance that there is a pinhole in the pickup tube as there is of trouble elsewhere. Seal off the pickup end of the tube and fill it with liquid to test for leaks. You should have done this to begin with, just like you did the pan, Champ.
Pull the oil pump, inspect for damage and check for clearances. Pack it, or its replacement, with grease to create a vacuum. Reassemble.
Carrying 110 million passengers a year, France’s TGV does a lot of people a wealth of good. Not least among its accomplishments is depositing drooling gearheads on the Le Mans station platform a mere 55 minutes after departing Paris. Thus, even when there’s no racing afoot, it makes for an easy excuse to jettison the hoards of fellow tourists for a day and head out to see the fantastic museum at the entrance to the Circuit de la Sarthe. Here’s a taste, starting with a BMW exhibit:
Onward with a few photos of the permanent collection:
With any luck, this first post is the hardest, and the worst. It’s a microcosm of this whole endeavor: rather aimless but not pointless. It’s an attempt to scratch out some coherent documentation of what I’ve come to realize is a lifelong love of creating. There was a busy but impoverished and ultimately euthanized music career – one can’t live with one’s parents forever – that morphed into a hobby of auto restoration and mechanics that fed a dire need for an outlet outside the office. My first victims were old Ford pickups: a ’73 picked up on eBay for $500 and driven from Virginia to Boston, and an ’86, also picked up off eBay and driven from Denver to Boston. The ’73 spawned a bad case of the while-I’m-in-theres, and, once it was reduced to a pair of frame rails flopped haplessly over a quartet of jackstands, it began a long and painful imparting of the lesson that the purchase price of these projects tends to be the smallest bill on them. It really only needed three parts, but that those parts were an engine, a cab and a bed weighed down the progress. A move to the west coast made it much easier to just get another running one, and the carcass went to a PACCAR bodyshop worker. The ’86, a 4wd crew cab with a 6.9 liter diesel and an aftermarket turbocharger, managed a few trips cross country before it was discovered that said trips were accomplished with a cam bearing having made it’s way down to the oil pan, and off it went to the glue factory in favor of some less worn hardware that was needed at the time.
But that wasn’t the end of the tinkering, and while starting projects was a much more easily attained skill than finishing them, a long and fruitful process of free association was spawned: auto restoration begat an interest in welding, which begat an interest in building other, more easily finished things like furniture and shop equipment. Lifelong interests in sailing and boats made their way into the mix, and I now find myself staring at, along with a yard full of incomplete projects that will hopefully wind their way through these pages on their way to victorious conclusion, the overall topic of creating, and its shepherds: the makers, artists, and fabricators, who have earned my ever increasing admiration and who, with their resourcefulness, gumption, and imagination despite a world increasingly dependent on memorized learning, provide all life, with its problems to solve and skills to attain, with much needed and fruitful enrichment.
God willing and the creek don’t rise, a sliver of that will end up on these pages.