Car Wars, the Saga Continues.

So after getting the Double-Ott road worthy and driving it to work for the remainder of the winter and fixing the little problems that it had, I finally felt that it was ready for a new owner, my daughter and her husband, who had returned from China in mid April. (Long story worthy of another blog post all by itself.) I had logged roughly six thousand miles on the old girl and my wife had taken it numerous times to Albert Lea and back when our “good car” the ’05 Forester was making strange transmission noises. (Yet another pending blog story!) Shortly before the official ownership transfer, I had popped the hood to have a check of vital fluids when I noticed a small puddle of oil on the top of the engine, near the head gasket. This was not a good sign, said I. A few days later I performed the fluid check again only to find that the coolant overflow bottle had more in it than previously. A quick check of the radiator and I found out where it was coming from; the engine. This could only mean one thing. The head gasket on that side was not totally sealing, allowing the cooling system to be pressurized thereby pushing coolant out of the radiator and back into the overflow bottle. I told my daughter to keep an eye on the coolant level an let me know if the temp gauge got into the red zone. A couple days later she called and said that the coolant level in the bottle was quite high. Not good. This could only mean one thing; the engine would have to come back out and the offending head gasket would have to be replaced before any engine damage could occur. Bummer. Note to self: When rebuilding Subaru engines, don’t buy El Cheapo gasket sets from Ebay, unless you like replacing head gaskets every six thousand miles or so.
While this saga was unfolding, my stepdaughter started having issues with her ’97 Outback transmission leaking oil onto the exhaust pipe and creating quite a stink when up to operating temperature. A check of the transaxle oil level revealed way too much oil in there and it smelled like ATF, not gear oil, as it should. The transmission had probably blown a seal between the two and now it was causing problems. I changed out the transaxle oil and added some ATF to the transmission and sent her on her way. A couple days later we got a call from her. Seems the car would not shift out of low gear until it was driven for about ten minutes or so. Looked like it was new tranny time for the ’97. I started checking Craigslist for donors and found a couple, however, most of the parts cars were in the Twin Towns and needed to be towed. Not having a tow truck or dolly available was a huge handicap but then again, how many times would I put it to use? After about a week of searching, I stumbled upon a running ’98 Outback in Eden Prairie that was pretty cheap. Best of all, it ran and needed minimal work. That’s the best kind of used car, for sure. The plan at this point was to go look at and test drive the ’98. If it was up to my standards, (which are quite low, by the way) then we would buy the unit, drive it home and use the ’97 for parts. Since they were of the same body style, many parts will interchange.
Turns out that the ’98 was at a used car dealer tucked back in an obscure industrial park. (Thank goodness for Google Maps!) It did run just fine but had a small oil leak from the power steering pump and also a check engine light on, which turned out to be just a minor emissions code. We bought the thing and headed for home. Made the trip just fine. Whew. Now the next maneuver was to make one good car out of two, something I am quite good at after years of practice.
So at one point, I had two un-roadworthy Subarus sitting in the driveway, along with my wife’s good car, my ’89 Toyota pickup, the Geo-trike and my project VW Jetta that has been on hold for two months. The place was starting to look like a used car lot. Long story short, I just finished up on both cars last weekend and so that situation looks like it is resolved, for now. Hopefully, the Double-Ott will last another hundred thou or so and likewise with the ’98 Outback.

The Mighty Atlas Lathe

lathe6lathe2Well, here’s the story. I bought this piece of equipment in April of ’82. My son was born in July of that year so I have had it longer than him. The previous owner told me his dad owned it and when he passed away it was acquired by him. He was not sure of the year of manufacture but thought it was made in the ’40s, probably. Over the years it has turned countless numbers of cylinder bores, starter armatures, bushings and a myriad of parts for my inventions and creations. I’m pretty sure I recovered my investment of $250.00, after thirty three years. When I bought my new, bigger Jet lathe in ’97 it got used a lot less. I let dad use it for a while until he left the crossfeed engaged too long and it ran out of travel, wrecking some of the leadscrew gears in the process. I found all the parts on Epay years ago and finally got around to fixing it this past winter. After starting on the project, I figured I may as well go ahead and repaint/restore the beast while I was at it. So here is the finished product. What’s next for the old girl, you ask? I just gave it to my son last week so he can play with it. Might as well let him have it, seeing as how he grew up watching me use it.

My next project: The VW Jetta Veggie-Car

So I finally got this thing home last week after borrowing a car dolly and making the slow trek from Lake City. I acquired this car from a guy at work after doing a bit of “horse trading” for repairing his Honda 500 Interceptor84 VW Jettajetta3. Seems this thing has been sitting in his garage for the better part of 8 years without running so the body is fairly rust free. Being that the beast is an ’84 version, it should not be too difficult to do the waste veggie oil conversion. I will let you know the progress, as it occurs.

Maiden Voyage of the Double-Ott

Here’s proof that the thing actually runs. I drove it to work all week with no problems, other than a leaky radiator hose due to a rusty hose clamp that I promptly replaced. The thing runs like new. Gas mileage seems to be very good as well although I will need to verify that after my next fillup. I would like to have a front end alignment done at some point because it does pull to the right ever so slightly. Not a big deal. Drove it to Rochester to get some Amzoil today so I could make the change to synthetic oil. That’s the best stuff! Change oil twice a year (spring and fall) and no need to worry about it the rest of the time. It’s a bit expensive but you actually save money in the long run because you are changing oil less often and getting better protection.
The thing is so cherry that it is more than Church Worthy, unlike a few of my other vehicles.

Maiden voyage

Maiden voyage

A Thing of Beauty

Back in and ready to run

Back in and ready to run

At long last the Double-Ott is a runner, although not without some struggles on my part. Installing the engine went fairly well even though I had to pick the coldest morning of the season do the install. (minus 15F). Once I had everything hooked up and ready to run it was the Moment of Truth time. I turned the key and there was cranking of the starter but no firing of the cylinders. Hmm, what could be the problem? After further checking of electrical connections and plumbing I determined that I had installed the two fuel lines to the injectors wrong, even though I had marked them so as not to mix them up, in my haste to finish the project they were reversed. I had a 50/50 chance of getting them right and I still got them wrong, leading to no fuel pressure at the injectors, so no starting of the engine took place.
But wait, it gets better. After correcting that situation and in my numerous attempts to start the car and getting out to check other things, I managed to lock myself out of the Double-Ott. In all fairness, its really my first car with a key fob and I didn’t realize that when you pull the key from the ignition the doors will lock. Shoulda kept a window cracked, I guess. Anyway, that little setback took an hour to rectify as I attempted to trip the door lock mechanism with a bent coat hanger.
After getting back in the car, finally, and being sure to put the keys in my coat pocket this time whenever I got out, it still would not start, only crank with an occasional pop. A call to my son, the car expert, was placed. He suggested to check for spark, and then pressure at the fuel rail. I checked for spark at the plugs when cranking the engine: good spark. Next I checked the fuel pressure at the fuel rail; not much there, certainly not the 40psi that he said I should have. Could the fuel filter be plugged? I checked fuel pressure before the filter. Nope, about the same. The problem was elsewhere, further upstream, at the fuel pump itself. Could that have gone bad from sitting for two months? Not likely. Or could I have damaged the pump somehow by reversing the fuel lines? Possibly. After a long and frustrating day, I decided to call it quits and start fresh the next day. It was a dissapointment but what can ya do? Sometimes the best thing to do is just walk away for a while.
A YouTube search the next morning of how to remove the fuel pump from an Outback revealed a plethora of videos to watch. Ten minutes later I had the process down pat and headed back to the shop.
Sure enough, after getting the fuel pump out of the tank and on the bench, the problem was obvious: there was a metal endcap on the plastic housing that was sealed with an o-ring. Reversing the fuel lines had pushed the endcap off the housing allowing the o-ring to be forced out thereby causing a lack of fuel pressure. After re-installing the cap and o-ring, I made sure this little situation would not occur again by installing a hose clamp on the cap. Problem solved! After installing the fuel pump and buttoning up the tank access panel, I tried starting the engine again. Presto! We had liftoff! The little engine purred like a kitten on a farm. After a few minutes of warmup and checking of fluids it was test ride time! The Double-Ott went down the road just fine, heater, cruise control, brakes even the power mirrors, seat and CD player all worked just like new. Next will come the Maiden Voyage to work. If all goes well on that trip she will be my daily driver for the remainder of winter. And that’s what I call a thing of beauty.

Progress on the Double Ott

eng1So here is the engine, mostly back together with the exception of the timing belt cover. Had to find a good deal on Epay for that part. There was no way I was gonna fork over fifty bucks for a new one. It’s made out of plastic on top of that. Anyway, this is another step in the process. Soon I will drop the motor in the car and then wheel it into the shop to defrost overnight before final assembly and (hopefully) a test run. It’s been a long process but most of the delay has been finding good deals on parts, waiting to get enough money together to buy the parts and then waiting on shipping and time to work on the thing. Whew! The end is near, though. Can you feel the excitement?

My latest project, the double-ott Outback

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.

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.