My latest project, the double-ott Outback

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So here’s the scoop on my latest project. I was in Zumbrota at the NAPA store one day back in early October when I just happened to look out the window and see this car go by on a flatbed owned by Bergs Towing. Being that it was a Subaru Outback, no less, really got my attention. When I was done with my business at the parts store I wandered down to Bergs place, since it was only a couple blocks away. They were just unloading the car and the owner was standing there, looking a bit forlorn. After quizzing him a bit, I found out his story. He was from Iowa, down by Decorah, I think. He had been in Wisconsin on a sight seeing trip and was on his way home when his 2000 Subaru Outback died on the highway right by Zumbrota. I asked the mechanic, Roger, to try starting the car. His attempt left little doubt that there was a serious lack of compression as the engine would spin right over. Next, I asked if he would take off the plastic timing belt cover on the front of the engine to have a look at the timing belt. There were only three bolts holding it on and so he complied. Upon removal of the cover, it was apparent that the timing belt was quite loose on the pulley. Not a good sign. This engine was not going to run anytime soon. I told the owner that he might find a used engine to put in the car, wished him luck and left for home. I didn’t give him my phone number or bug him about selling the car or anything, I just walked away. End of story, right? Not exactly. Not by a long shot.
The very next morning, my phone rang. It was the owner of that Subaru Outback and he wanted to know if I would be interested in buying it. Bergs had quoted him a price of two thousand for a used engine and installation. He wasn’t prepared to spend that kind of money on it so he was in a selling mood. I told him yes, but I would like to know how much he wanted for the car. He didn’t know. So I made him an offer of five hundred dollars. You could have heard a pin drop on the other end of the line. He then proceeded to tell me how he had just put two new tires on the front and also both front drive shafts back in September, to the tune of six hundred bucks. Then he wanted to know if I could go any higher. I told him, probably not. He told me he had one other guy he would check with to see if he wanted it and he would let me know, then hung up. I didn’t hold out much hope, at that point, because surely this other guy would want it bad enough to cough up more than what I had offered him.
A week went by. I had just about given up on the guy when he called back out of the blue. Seems that his other guy was in Iowa and would have to arrange to have the car hauled back there and didn’t really want it that bad and was I still interested? I told him yes but I would be sticking to my original offer of five hundred. After a bit of hemming and hawing, he agreed. We set up a meeting for a couple of days later to transfer the title and make the purchase.
We met on the following Friday. The sale went just fine. I handed him the cash and he signed over the title. We chatted a bit about the car. He had planned on keeping it for another three or four years until this episode happened. I checked the odometer to find nearly two hundred twenty thou showing. That seemed a bit high but he assured me everything besides the engine was in working order, brakes, tires and even the AWD option. Bergs Towing brought the car out to my place a couple days later. It sat in the yard for a week before I got around to pulling the engine out. It is possible to pull the heads off of these Subarus in the frame but it is much easier to work on the engine when it is sitting on the bench. I always prefer working on a project like this in a nice warm shop with warm wrenches handy.
Once the engine was out I started the diagnosis. After removing the front timing belt cover the damage and its cause was readily apparent. One of the idler pulleys for the timing belt had a bearing that seized up, causing the pulley to stop turning and snapping the bolt that held it on. When that happened the idler was free to rattle around in the timing cover and chewed a nice hole in it. The timing belt was no longer tight at that point so it skipped a few teeth on the cam sprockets, bending every valve in the engine before it quit spinning. Removal of the heads revealed the bent valves but luckily, the pistons were not damaged. It could have been worse, I guess, but at this point I am looking at a full cylinder head rebuild, top end gasket set, water pump, idler pulleys and timing belt kit. I have found the parts on Epay and the grand total looks to be about three and a half bills. Add a few incidentals like four quarts of Amzoils’ finest, some cool-aid and a new timing belt cover and I should be looking at a little over four bills. Labor is free on a project like this, naturally. My next move is to finance this little project so I can get it running before too long. I will keep you updated on its’ progress.

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The old ’54 Chevy

Kind of a sad day around here last week as I watched my trusty old Chevy grain truck get loaded up on a trailer and hauled off to her new home in Owatonna. I had been perusing the want ads on Craigslist and ran across a guy looking for just such a beast. Since the old girl has been sitting back under the pines for about a year now without being started, I had been thinking of selling her for a while. That would take a bit of effort on my part to get her running and drive her up out of the weeds for a photo shoot. After emailing the guy, I found out that he basically wanted just her engine for a project truck he was rebuilding. He was a bit particular about making sure her engine was in the year range he was looking for and also that it had all the correct stock parts. Since I knew the original owner and also the second owner, I assured him that all was period correct with the truck. He even wanted a video of the engine running to make sure that it actually did.
I had bought the beast from a neighbor when we lived by Mazeppa. Basically, just because the hoist worked and she had a lovely fourteen foot bed with sides. Her first job for me was as a moving van of sorts when we moved out to the farm in ’94. Made three or four trips hauling household stuff and shop equipment as I recall. Top speed of about forty five miles per hour made for slow and bumpy ride with her two ton rated springs. That was probably just as well with all the slop in her steering it was a real challenge to keep her going down the road in a straight line. Her brakes were nothing special either with much pedal pumping going on before any actual braking took place. I learned to anticipate stops and turns with well advanced downshifts.

'54 Chevy

’54 Chevy

Over the years she hauled countless loads of gravel for our driveway, seed corn from the elevator to burn in our stoves, sand for our cement mixing projects, brush and trees from cleanup of the place, scrap iron to the recycling place in West Concord and I even used her as a scaffolding of sorts when I had to install siding on the barn. Due to her incredibly powerful hoist, there was never a load of rock or sand that she had trouble dumping when it was needed. I can imagine that back in the day she was quite a handsome farm truck, but that was sixty years ago now. Time spent at our farm sitting outside for twenty years has not done her any good. I had to repair the wood floor of her bed and also the sides on numerous occasions. And a few years ago one of her rear axle bearings went out stranding me on the side of the road with a full load of corn. That little episode cost me about seven bills including a tow home and all new bearings, seals and brake shoes to get her back in working order. While I’m sad to see her go, it is probably just as well. Hopefully her new owner can salvage that wonderful inline six engine and part of her will live on.

Labor Daze

It has been a while since my last entry on this blog. Not because nothing has happened this past summer, au contraire, too much has gone down leaving me virtually no spare time to tell you about it. Things that have never given any trouble before have suddenly conspired to break. Other things that should have broken down years ago finally did. I’ve had tractor troubles. My “new” truck developed electrical gremlins and my lawnmower engine grenaded right in the prime lawn-mowing season.
Consider my latest episode on Labor Day weekend: Saturday morning. We were getting ready to leave the house to take in the sights and sounds of the Rice County Antique Tractor and Steam Engine Days near Dundas. My wife casually mentioned to me “There is no water pressure in the kitchen faucet.” Not being one to be alarmed by such statements, I proceeded to run down the checklist of possible causes like the water filter needing to be changed or the circuit breaker switch on the pump being tripped to anything else that could go wrong with our well like a (gulp) bad pump. I found the culprit soon enough, a tripped breaker on the pump circuit. So, I flipped the breaker back on. I tripped almost immediately. I flipped it back on with the same result. This was not good. There was probably a short somewhere but where? A quick call to plumber Mark ( I was quite relieved when he actually answered the phone on a holiday weekend) and he had a few suggestions to look for like a burned out pressure switch, so I checked that. Nope, everything looked good there. His other thought is that maybe a critter had chewed through the wire somewhere between the pump and the electrical box, a distance of several hundred feet. Rare, but it happens, I guess. This would be harder to find and would require fresh wire to be laid on top of the ground and then wired in to both the pumphouse and the electrical box for testing purposes. Not the sort of thing I had anticipated doing on a long holiday weekend. My other option was to fire up my generator and hook that up to the pump to make sure that it was working. Naturally, the generator didn’t exactly fire up on the first pull, or the second for that matter, having sat around for a couple of years with old gas in the tank. A quick fuel system cleaning was performed and I had the beast running, although I had to keep the choke on about halfway for it to run cleanly.
Once the generator was hooked up to run the pump, I could see the pressure gauge making steady progress in the positive direction. Whew. That meant that the pump was in working order so no need to pull the well. That also meant that running a new wire from the breaker box to the pump was my next order of business. Off we went to Menards to gather the necessary supplies. Buying a two hundred fifty foot roll of wire was an eye-opener as well, but then it has been a while since I bought any electrical supplies so I should have expected that.
By the time we got back home it was too dark to attempt any kind of wiring project so I just left the generator hooked up to the pumphouse. We were able to at least take showers before bedtime, however, I had to run back outside after my shower and turn off the generator or it would just keep on running until it ran out of gas. So far, this episode had all the makings of a bad camping trip.
The next day, Sunday, I proceeded to run the new wire from the breaker box to the pumphouse. Once that was completed and the breaker
flipped back on, all systems were go, once again. We had water pressure. Oh happy day!
There was still the matter of burying the new wire and so the next day, Labor Day Monday, I commenced digging a shallow trench for the wire to lay in. Since I had to trench across part of the driveway with its compacted gravel, I retrieved an old pickaxe from the shed and started hacking away at the driveway. A thought occurred to me as I was swinging the crude implement, with the late summer sun beating down, sweat soaking my shirt and it was this: “Here I am, laboring on Labor Day. How appropriate.”
About an hour of that and I decided to see if the local hardware store was open and if they had any kind of powered trencher on hand. Wonder of wonders, the hardware store guy said they were open til 3pm and yes, they had a small trencher that I could rent. I made a beeline for the store and was back within the hour with the trencher in the back of my truck. After unloading said unit and firing it up, I commenced some real trenching. Sweet. This was going to be so much more fun than digging by hand! I had only gone about two feet when the machine found a buried rock and proceeded to smoke one of its two main drive belts. It looked like decision time. Do I take the machine back? (Yet another trip to town.) Or, do I keep going, with only one drive belt powering the trencher? I opted to keep trenching, carefully, so as to prolong the lone remaining belts’ life. All was well until I was about ten feet from finishing up when the machine found another rock and smoked the remaining belt. I guess we were done at that point. I would have to finish up trenching by hand. Sigh.
That’s about how it goes around our place. So close, but yet so far. It could have been worse, I guess. The well could have had to be pulled or a new one drilled. An endeavor like that makes me see dollar signs when I close my eyes. This whole experience has given me a new-found appreciation of seeing a steady stream of water whenever a faucet is turned on. I’m sure those of you who have your own well can relate.

Geo-trike, again!

P254-344-256-368-000h-0037-c11-l057-02-0360-1080-0359-1079-000-LB00-1P254-339-256-374-000h-0037-c11-l059-02-0360-1080-0359-1079-000-LB00-1 So last week I finally got the Geo-trike back in running order after the big digger it took back in January. It still needs a windshield as there are numerous cracks in the old one and I need to get it replaced before getting stopped by law enforcement. I found a door from a guy in Oslo, MN of all places. That is an interesting story in itself and here is how it went; After perusing Craigslist for Geo Metro parts most of the winter, I found a guy in Rochester who had a four-door Metro he was parting out. However, he was still asking $800.00 for the thing, way too much for my taste just to harvest the door and maybe a fender. Anyway, I called him and told him to let me know if he sold it or not as he was looking to move it by the weekend. Low and behold, wouldn’t you know it, he actually called and said he had sold it to a guy in Oslo and he even gave me the guys’ phone number, of all things! I called the Oslo guy, whose name turned out to be Jeff and after conversing a while, found out that he is a bit of a Geo Metro nut, even belonging to a club of Geo Metro owners and having a small collection of the things parked out back of his house. I had no idea there even was such a thing as a Metro owners club. They even have a website dedicated to the things. We made an appointment for me to come down to his place on a Sunday afternoon and have a look at his stash of Metro parts and so I made the trek in my truck.
It was a cold, rainy day in late April when I arrived at his place. He was a friendly enough sort of guy and he proceeded to take me out back to his collection of Geo Metros parked in the weeds. There were eight or ten of them in various states, some with no wheels and missing body parts. I spotted a red four door that had minimal rust and I inquired as to the price of the drivers side door and front fender. “Sixty bucks for the pair” he replied. That worked for me. However, I had neglected to bring any tools with me for the removal process so Jeff brought out his toolbox and we set to work removing the door and fender. By now the rain and a foul east wind had picked up in intensity and his daughter found an umbrella to hold over us in a feeble attempt to keep us dry. Fifteen or twenty minutes of struggling with rusted bolts and the fender and door were removed and in the back of my truck. We then went into his modest house and exchanged emails, payment for the parts and I found out more about the Metro club events. Seems they have a Metro weekend in August and he invited me to come down and enjoy the festivities. He told me they will get fifteen or twenty Metros at this little gathering and they all stand around and talk about modifying their Metros. That sounded like my kind of party so I proceeded to describe my Geo-trike to him and he got even more excited and said that my trike would be a big hit at the “convention”. I told him I would make a serious effort to attend the party and then headed out the door and hit the highway for home.
I was happy to meet such a nice guy who is very sympathetic to the Geo brand and even more tickled to get the much needed parts for my Geo-trike at a good price. The only stipulation he required was that I bring back the old door for him to mount back on the donor car to keep the rain from destroying the interior. I told him this would not be a problem and so a couple weeks later, after I had the Geo-trike back in running order, I made the trip to Oslo and Jeffs’ place to return the wrecked door as per our agreement. As I pulled into the driveway the dogs sounded a warning bark and I saw a few heads peek out the house windows. I had barely come to a stop when Jeff, his wife and their two kids came piling out of the place. Seems they had seen me coming and noticed that this was no ordinary Geo at their house. His wife even had the cell phone camera at the ready and started snapping pics right away. Her comment was “I can’t wait to post this on Facebook. Nobody will believe it”! I stayed a good half hour, swapping Geo-trike stories with them and Jeff insisted that I “Just gotta come back in August for the Geo party”. I assured him that I would make a serious attempt and then I headed for home again, from Oslo, Minnesota, of all places. Strange days indeed.

First ride and a sign from above.

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     That first ride of the year can sometimes be an adventure. Last week we had a couple of warm days, a kind of teaser that spring likes to pull on us this time of year. Anyway, the warm weather triggered the bike bug in me and so I decided to fire up the 550 Suzook and take it for a quick spin. Since the big bike (my trusty ST1100) is still on the workbench waiting for me to finish some overdue winter work, the 550 was the next logical choice. I was  anticipating riding it to work on Thursday and that actually got me motivated. After installing the battery and siphoning gas from the snowblower (hopefully I won’t need to run that til next winter!) the old girl fired right up and off I went. I’m usually a bit rusty after not riding all winter and this year is no exception. I made a couple of passes out on the highway and spotted my neighbor, Jerry, out raking the gravel back onto his driveway so I stopped to chat with him a bit. After leaving his place, I rode back home and decided to replace the rear tire on the bike with a better looking used one that I found in my collection of too-good-to-throw-away used tires.  I had about an hour to mount the tire, and take a test ride before lunch and then it would be off to work for me. The tire mounting went OK and I had it done with about fifteen minutes to spare before noontime. Perfect, I thought. Just a quick test ride up the highway for a mile or so and I would be back just in time for lunch. Off I went, again, down the driveway. I had just pulled out onto the blacktop and hooked second gear when the bike revved out of sight, like I had missed a shift or something. Except that I didn’t. I looked back and thought that maybe the chain had come off the sprocket. Nope. There was no chain dragging or anything so I pulled over and stopped. There in the middle of the highway was my chain, alright. After waiting for a couple of cars to pass, I walked back and inspected said chain. The master link had pulled apart, causing the chain to be spit right out the back of the bike. Not a good situation, but at least I wasn’t too far from home, so I started pushing the bike. I had only gone about a hundred yards up the driveway when I figured I might as well abandon that effort and walk back to get my truck. The walk home gave me some time to reflect on what could have gone wrong. I had replaced the chain last summer and it was a good quality O-ring type chain. The kind that will go at least 10k before wearing out. Since the safety clip was missing I could only assume that it had parted company at some point and the sideplate had fallen off too, sometime before the chain derailed itself. I had removed the chain from the rear sprocket for the tire replacement procedure but had not taken the master link off, or inspected it upon reassembly, something I wish now that I had done. In forty years of riding, I have never tossed a chain on a streetbike and maybe only one time on a dirtbike that I can remember. Strange.  Anyway, I got back home, took the truck back down to the disabled bike, loaded it up and hauled it back to the shop. By now it was just past noon and there was no time to find a replacement master link, put the chain back on and eat lunch and then round up my riding gear, rain suit and backpack before it was time to go to work so I was forced to drive my truck on the first really nice warm day. Bummer! But, that’s how it goes. I took the whole episode as a sign that I should not ride to work that day. On the way to work, in my truck, I kept looking out for hazards that I might have encountered if I had been on two wheels but saw none. Better safe than sorry, I guess. There will be plenty of better riding days to come, hopefully, and maybe I will just have to ride my trusty ST1100 to work first, like I usually do.    

Joys of Craigslist

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     I use Craigslist alot for selling bikes, parts and just about anything motorcycle related. Most of the time I have pretty good luck, although, if you are selling something, figure on 90% of the people who show any interest to eventually “flake” on you and leave you hanging. Consider my latest episode: I figured it would be a good time to list my ’79 CR125 Elsinore, since it being March, early spring and all. I had a few hits early on and one guy, turns out he is from Burnsville, seemed fairly serious. After exchanging a few emails he expressed an interest in looking at the bike. He also stated that he wouldn’t be interested at my asking price of $2500.00, more in the neighborhood of 2000.00. I figured that since he was the one that showed the most interest, I might as well accomodate him and so I aggreed that I would take the 2k if he liked what he saw. We tentatively set up a meeting for last Saturday afternoon in Faribault. It would be a short jaunt for him down I-35 and I could zip over on Highway 60 in about a half hour. I always like to meet in a nuetral location when dealing with Craigslist folks, just as a precaution.   Anyway, Friday came and I rolled the bike out of the basement, put some premix in the tank, enough to run it anyway, and gave the beast a couple of kicks. This was all done to make sure that the bike would start and run well for the buyer. Keep in mind that I have had this bike for about sixteen years, had restored it about ten years ago and have never started or ridden it in all that time. To say that this was a momenteous occaision would be an understatement. Naturally, the bike started up just fine and settled into a fast idle, sounding every bit as good as a brand new ’79 should. The only problem was a slight gas leak at the fuel shutoff valve, most likely due to a rubber gasket that had dried up and shrank during all those years in storage. After taking care of that little setback, it was test ride time! Since our driveway is still mostly mud and there are snowbanks everywhere else, the only place left was the sidewalk on the east side of the barn. A couple trips back and forth on that were done and I was even able to get the bike into second gear, briefly. That brought back some memories, allright. With the test run completed and the engine up to operating temp, there wasn’t much left to do except roll the bike back into the shop and wait for the buyer to call. The rest of the day passed with no contact from the buyer to set up the meeting time or location. Hmm. There might be a problem. Finally, Saturday morning, I called him at about 10am and left a message on his voicemail. About an hour later I received a text on my cell from him, basically stating that he had been in touch with some “buddies” out in California and they informed him that CR125s like mine were going for $1500-1700 in mint condition and would I consider going that low? I texted him back and said that “no, I’m still wanting the 2k”. I had already come down by five hundred so I figured he could at least meet me half way. He sent me another text informing me that without the original owners manual and paperwork (something I never had in the first place) and the fact that the seat cover wasn’t original, he couldn’t go any higher than $1600.00. So I texted him back and basically said “2K or no sale”. That was it. No more contact, nothing, nada, zipp-o. All this haggling over price and he hadn’t even looked at the bike or heard it run. Made me wonder what kind of buyer was he, anyway? Certainly not a serious collector, or someone I would like to see end up with the bike.  In previous emails I learned that he was  real estate appraiser by profession and was looking to acquire the bike as an investment. That would explain alot, actually. What I should have told him was that I had one of these bikes, back in the day, and actually raced it. They were fast but that goofy twenty-three inch front wheel acted like a huge gyroscope and made the bike hard to turn in tight corners. The guys on Suzukis and Yamahas would run right underneath you in a corner while you were busy trying to turn. Not good. That and the fact that the rear shocks were junk from the factory was a huge turnoff for a lot of guys and so the ’79 was not a huge seller back then. In fact, I can only remember seeing a half dozen or so at any given race back then. Most every other bike was yellow. For this reason the ’79 CR125s are kinda rare around here. I realize that the market in California is different but if the guy thinks he can buy a mint condition CR for $1600.00 and then get it back home for less than 400.00 in shipping, gas or whatever, than he should go for it. Meanwhile, mine is still for sale. Any takers?

Half-time of Winter

Mechanics Corner, Halftime Score

 
      So now it’s February, or as I like to call it, the Halftime of Winter. Spring is still a ways off and Christmas is a distant memory. It’s halftime. This has been a particularly challenging winter here at the Hinzmann homestead, or maybe it just seems that way because the last few have been fairly easy. Maybe it just seems harsher because I’m not getting any younger. At any rate, I can see now why people head south in the winter. Just to escape the cruel clutches of sub-zero days and nights would be worth it at this point. What I wouldn’t give to go outside in a T-shirt right about now!
     Like any contest, halftime is a good time to take stock of the score and plan your strategy for the second half. Just for fun, I came up with a points system as a way of keeping score with Old Man Winter. For every difficulty that comes my way that is weather related, I give Winter a point. For every situation that causes me trouble that I actually overcome, I give myself a point. So here we go. The first point goes to Old Man Winter for causing us some angst when our “good” car acted up back in December, prompting a tow back to our place along with a hefty bill. Give me a point for getting the car running without spending any more money on the problem. Point number two also goes to Old Man Winter when the new furnace we had installed last summer quit working on the coldest night of the year. Give me a point for having our backup heating source (corn stove) running at the same time so at least we didn’t freeze to death or have frozen pipes.
Old Man Winter got an easy point when the slush that was on the road caused the Geo-trike I was driving to leave the roadway and roll, (see previous Answer Man column in the Post-Bulletin for all the details). Give me a point for driving the thing thirty miles back home with no drivers side window.
Old Man Winter gets another point for causing my tractor to break down right before extreme cold and blizzard conditions were predicted to hit the area back in January. Give me a point for getting the tractor fixed about four hours before the bad weather actually arrived.
     So at halftime it looks like the score is tied up, four-all. My strategy for the second half of winter will be about the same as the first; try to match Old Man Winter point for point until spring rolls around. Which, after this season, will be none too soon. What’s your half-time score?