Monthly Archives: September 2010

Road Trip: Author Slips, Engine flips!

The Princess reads all these things, so I might as well admit right at the outset that (once again) she was right and I was wrong.  With that out-of-the-way, we can proceed, but let’s start at the beginning.

After making a bunch of phone calls, I found a machine shop in Durham that had the right equipment to jet wash (clean) The Pony’s engine.  This isn’t just about the way the engine looks, but about the fact that the engine was so gummed-up internally that it needed to be thoroughly cleaned-out.  Just a brief digression and a suggestion, Durham has for many years been home to the Durham Bulls baseball team.  As we head into the 2010 baseball play-offs (Go Phillies), right now would be a great time to rent the movie “Bull Durham,” with Kevin Costner, Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins.  The Princess and I consider this to be one of our all-time, favorites.

Back to the story, this morning Gene helped me load the engine into the trunk of my car.  After leaving Gene’s, I stopped back home to pick up a few additional items to bring along.  It was during this brief stop that The Princess popped into the garage to check-up on me.  She looked into the trunk and inquired as to whether the engine would stay put like that.  I had it sitting upside down on a piece of plywood.  I tried to rock the engine and said, “This thing ain’t going no where,” and with that I was on my way.

I don’t hardly ever go into the big city, so naturally I got incredibly lost.  In the process of making one of my many turn arounds looking for a street that I never did find, I heard (more felt) a big clunk in the trunk.  I pulled over, all the while praying silently to my self “Please don’t let there be a big dent in the side of the car,” to check out the situation.  The crazy engine had actually flipped end over end into the side of the trunk, but thankfully without inflicting damage to the car.  I just hate it when out in advance of some totally unpredictable event The Princess calls one like this.  In a Dr. Seuss book he’d sum it up, “The big hunk in the trunk went clunk, and that’s what she’d thunk!”  Dang it!

I rearranged the engine in the trunk, called the shop, got more directions and finally found the place.  By the time I got there I was a nervous wreck, and in that condition I had to try to make sense about what I wanted done to some true engine experts.  It turned out the guys in the shop were really nice and interested in my engine, The Pony and the project.  The shop was huge, full of massive pieces of equipment and jumbles of engines and pieces of engines everywhere.  In this photo, I have strategically placed The Pony’s engine in the foreground (like you would if you were trying to make a fish you’d caught look bigger) and behind you can see a portion of the shop.  The big guy in the back is Robert and he’s standing with the other machinist at what was pointed out to me as being a milling machine.  That’s the machine they’d use if my engine needed its “fire deck” fly cut.  This is “engine speak” for giving the top of the block a new surface, but I wanted to use those cool new words I learned.  We’re hoping The Pony’s engine doesn’t need this procedure.

I asked to see the place where they would do the jet wash, and that’s what you see in the next photo.  There is one small room dedicated to this machine and process.  That big green tank is filled with steaming caustic soda.  That stuff is so strong that Robert said it would eat the aluminum engine tag off the side of the engine, so I asked him to please pop it off before the engine goes in for its bath.  I don’t even want to know what happens to the many drums of nasty looking stuff that were sitting all around in this room.

I also left some valves with Robert, as after the cleaning he will likely be grinding the valve seats, and he said he’d need at least one valve of each type (exhaust and intake) in order to do that.  

So, the guys were great (though I did get some teasing about how small my engine was), and they actually took a phone photo of the cover of my tractor manual that shows a picture of The Pony.  And the shop itself looked impressive to me.  But I was still wondering if these guys were true pros and if this was the right place for my engine.  It was something that I saw high up on one of the walls that convinced me, and this was it.  Now, ladies, I apologize, but guys, don’t forget that you can click on this image to make it larger.  The guys in the shop saw me photographing this and asked if I was married.  I said that I was, and one of them said, “Oh, your wife going to be mad!”  I said, “Nah, she’ll be fine with it; she already posed like this for my blog.”

It was cousin Bill, by the way,  that recently asked that my posts include more pictures, so he needs to take some of the blame for this photo.

Well, I knew after seeing this poster that these guys could do the work, but due to the keyed-up state I was in and sometimes perhaps not fully communicating, I’m not totally sure what they’re all going to do to my poor little engine.  But I’ll find out early next week when they call me.  Keep your fingers crossed!

The Princess Gets Up in my Business

Alright, before I get too many comments asking me what a laughing camshaft is, I’m going to “nip this thing in the bud.”  I’m back at the computer after The Princess, on reading my most recent post, asked what a “giggling” camshaft is.  Fine, so it’s jiggling.  I’ve got a number of excuses for this lapse.  First, I was pretty busy watching the squirrel/hawk thing unfold.  Second, it’s the kind of thing that “spell check” doesn’t catch.  Third, it was before happy hour, so I had not had a chance to get “balanced” with a martini.  And fourth, hell, I might as well admit it, giggling looked pretty good to me.

This all worked out for the best, however, because I really didn’t have a funny anecdote in that post, and now I do.  It’s just too dang bad that the joke had to be on me.

I’ll go back in and amend that post, so when you go in an reread it, as I know most of you do, there won’t be any laughing camshaft.

The Score: Tools 1-Pony 0

I tell you, The Pony has been acting like a donkey right along.  With The Pony digging her hooves in, Gene and I have had to work for everything.  Saturday was typical.  You may recall that we called it a day last Thursday with four stuck valves still in the engine.  With the four stuck valves it was impossible to get the camshaft out.

On Saturday, we first tried to loosen the valves by heating them up with a blow torch, naturally no success.  With that we brought out the serious tools.  A problem we have had from the start of this project is that The Pony’s engine is so small.  In a number of instances normal tools were too big to fit in the engine’s tight spaces.  The only tool we were able to fit in to cut the no. 1 valve was a diamond tipped bit.  The bit was attached to a Dremel Multipro 395 (see photo).  This was really slow going.  We went through a couple of bits, but finally worked our way through the valve stem far enough that we could snap about an inch of it off.  More camshaft jiggling, but it still would not pass through the front of the engine. 

TIME OUT:  I sit at the computer on the second floor with a window to my left and a view of the woods.  If you remember the Chevy Chase movie “Funny Farm,” I’ve got the same writing set-up he did as he sat attempting to write his novel “The Big Heist.”  I just saw a squirrel come out of the woods with a nut in his mouth, cross the road and bury it.  On his return trip to the woods (no, he did not get hit by a car) a hawk came swooping down at him, but missed.  Just thought I’d pass this along in the event you thought that all squirrels die in my posts. 

With the camshaft still stuck, we moved on to the next stuck valve.  This one we attacked with a metal-cutting disk attached to a right angle attachment, driven by a Master Mechanic drill.  Again we got far enough through, that we were able to snap about an inch of that valve stem off .  Then it was back inside the engine for more camshaft jiggling, and at long last out she came.  This accomplishment seemed to call for a celebration, so Gene and I tapped our plastic water bottles together and your idiotic author kissed the camshaft.  Sorry about the glare, but I forgot to wear my cap for this photo.  The Princess refused to kiss me when I got home insisting that I had dirty motor oil on my lips.

This photo looks like a case of product placement, with the can of Kroil positioned prominently behind me, but trust me, unfortunately (there’s that word again) no money changed hands…I’m waiting….  

With the camshaft out of the way, we were quickly able to remove all of the valve tappets.  By the way, we have been using zip lock type bags to label and keep parts that belong together, together.  So, for example, in this case we popped the tappets into the eight bags we have for the eight valves and their associated parts.

Now we were ready to attack those four remaining stuck valves with blunt force.  We flipped the engine upside down, and using a large set of steel punches and a small mallet we hammered them out.  We were amazed at how tight they were, one so tight that it would not separate from the valve guide, and the two finally dropped out welded together.  With all the valves now out, essentially the engine block has been fully stripped.

TIME OUT NO. 2:  This is pretty amazing, but that same hawk just made a second attempt at the squirrel.  This time the squirrel was near the top of a dead tree, and the hawk just missed him again after landing near him at the peak of the tree.  That squirrel is asking for it!

Gene and I got a lead on an engine shop that specializes in tractors, so this week I’ll be contacting that shop to look into getting the engine steam cleaned.  In some early photos you may have noticed a lot of crud inside intake and exhaust ports;  the steam cleaning and flushing should deal with this as well as cleaning the exterior.  As I think about it, Saturday marked a turning point in our work on The Pony.  The tear down phase is over, and from here on it will be all about putting her back together.  Ooh, doesn’t that sound scary?

A parting note, I’m starting to catch up on The Princess in the gold and jewelry business.  This week I received my new Gold Card from Starbucks.  Woo hoooo!

Getting Cool in Florida

Before The Princess and I touched down in Raleigh Wednesday afternoon, the pilot had announced that it was 94 degrees at the airport.  What the &^%#!, and it’s the first day of autumn.  It was cooler than that in Sarasota.  We had a lovely visit down there, highlighted by a sunset picnic on the beach with my Mom. 

I know you are all missing tractor news and I’m kind of missing The Pony (yeah, you too Gene).  Just as soon as I get back to “work,” I’ll send a post.  It’s been so long since I’ve had my hands in grease (Why did spell check suggest the country Greece for this?) that my finger nails are almost back to normal, can’t have that.  In the meantime, there are a few items we need to cover.

First, I’ve been taken to task by one of my most faithful readers, Barb, for not providing a photo of The Princess sporting her new hairdo.  The Princess likes being photographed about as much as she likes flying.  And to give you an idea of how much she likes flying I’ll just say that whenever we fly she wears some kind of “mojo” thing around her neck that she claims has somehow miraculously kept all of our aircraft in the air for the last 20 years.  Before that she would not fly at all.  The Princess won’t say what’s inside that thing, but I think the FAA should check it out.  

In spite of her negative attitude, I convinced her that to ignore the requests of my readers was poor form, so here for your approval is The Princess and her “do.”  Am I lucky to have her or what!  I must point out with reference back to an earlier post that as you can see she does only have two ears, and on them just one pair of fairly snazzy earings. 

And, check out that piston!  Beauty, eh?  As I look at this, it reminds me of a time not that long ago when almost every garage you went into had a calendar with a good lookin’ babe on it holding some kind of tool.  I’ve got the germ of an idea here…The Princess holding a different part of The Pony on each page of a calendar to be available for the holidays.  Let me know if there are any pre-orders.

Getting back to our recent trip, we had an amusing experience on the return trip from Florida.  The flight attendant came down the aisle with beverages, and when she got to us The Princess she said she’d like just a half glass of water.  I followed by ordering a half a cup of coffee.  As she poured my cup she looked at us and said, “You’re from Minnesota aren’t you.”  I said well, “Yes, but what makes you say that.”  She responded, “Oh I once worked a flight from Minneapolis to Fargo where almost everyone ordered only a half a cup of something.”  That cracked us up.  Her experience is just straight out of a Garrison Keillor monologue.

I’ll wrap this up by mentioning that I read a book during our short vacation, The Three Weissmanns of Westport by Cathleen Schine.  It’s fun, and I believe it was recommended this summer as good “beach reading.”  Guys, this is really more a book for the women, so I’m not recommending it for “tractor heads.”  I just bring the book up to point out a pet peeve of mine, people who eat while reading a library book.  I find more garbage in library books than I take out to the curb each week.  Usually the stuff is indistinguishable, but in this book I actually found a fairly good size seed from some kind of produce and dried, yellow slime to go with it.  Jeez, gross!  I’ll bet the same person that did this throws cigarette butts out the car window.  Enough ranting,  thanks for reading and I’ll be back with actual tractor news in the next post.

A Nice Day in the Woods

This morning The Princess had an appointment to have her hair cut at yet another beauty salon.  It’s gotten to the point where every several years we have to move to a new city, because she’s used up all the salons in the old one.  I hate this. 

Here’s how it usually goes.  First, she lets her hair get so long that every day she’s fussing and cussing, but doesn’t know what to do about it.  Next she starts clipping pictures out of magazines of gorgeous actresses and models who frankly would look good bald, but whose hair she thinks is just what she wants.  Then by some process just short of randomly and blindly placing her finger on a map, she decides out of the blue to go to the Very Merry Call us When your Hairy Beauty Salon, or some such nonsense. 

She goes in, flashes all her pictures, the hair cutter goes mm hmm and cuts what she (or he) feels is about $75 worth of hair.  Now comes the part I hate.  She comes home and says, “Well, how do I look?”  Ooo boy, this is one of those questions you’ve got to be real careful with.  But I’ve learned something in a 41-year marriage;  when confronted with this question, no matter whether she looks like Meg Ryan or the Wicked Witch of the East, you say (enthusiastically) “You look Great!”  And to make this sound legitimate you follow it up with some additional comment like, “It hangs nice in the back.”  With that, I’m off the hook and the next phase begins. 

The tell-tale sign of this next stage is the few little snips of hair I find in the bathroom sink.  This is followed within 24 hours by wholesale brandishing of the scissors and searing self-criticism; this then quickly degrades into the final stage, blaming yet another hairdresser for not doing what she wanted and overcharging besides.

So, I was glad when she left for the appointment that I had something to keep myself busy.  I went down to the shop and started work cleaning the second piston.  I was so nervous about what The Princess would look like when she came back that I broke a piston ring while removing it.  Dang it!  I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to rationalize the new set of rings by saying it was The Princess’ fault. 

I had just finished most of the work on the piston when I heard the car pull into the drive. I lingered in the shop cleaning-up trying to postpone the moment of truth as long as I could, but finally ventured upstairs to face either Meg, or the Witch.  Sometimes miracles do happen.  There she was smiling, standing in the hallway looking, well, damn good.  Whoo hooo, I didn’t have to lie.  I said “You look great!” and meant it.  But I tell you, I’m going to watching that sink for the next 24 hours.     

With the morning’s little drama over, I was off to visit Gene and the Pony.  It’s so quiet and peaceful in the woods out at Gene’s house that you can hear yourself cursing even though your lips aren’t moving.  You will recall that with four stuck valves, we had determined that removal of the camshaft was next on the agenda.

What we were hoping is that after removing the camshaft we would then be able to knock the stuck valves back up out the top of the block.  Unfortunately, jeez, how often have I had to start a sentence with that word since this project began?  Anyway, we couldn’t get the camshaft out, because the valve tappets of some of the stuck valves were obstructing the way out through the front of the engine block. 

So, what we have here can be described with a lot of phrases, none of which I like when applied to The Pony Project, but the most apt I guess is that its a “Catch 22.”  To get the valves out we need to get the camshaft out, but we can’t get the camshaft out, because the valves won’t come out.  We’d burned up a couple of hours by the time we figured out we were stuck, so I decided we’d forego any more drastic steps, like cutting through frozen valves and save that for another day.  On the way home from Gene’s I was reminded of the bumper stickers that say things like “A bad day fishing is better than a good day in the office.”  I admit that the hours we spent today battling with that obstinate little engine were better than being in an office, but they certainly were no less frustrating.  It was, however, a nice day in the woods.

The Princess and I are heading out-of-town for about a week, so there  won’t be any tractor news for a while.  If something else comes up that I feel is worth mentioning, you’ll be the first to know.  Have a great week everyone and thank you for reading!

The Glass is Half Full…Really

A guy, Jeff Davidson, from Chapel Hill has written a book called “1500 Tips for Simpler Living.”  Jeff, listen, doing 1500 more things does not make life less complicated!

I can tell you what makes life more complicated; getting suddenly obsessed with rehabilitating a 58-year-old tractor.  You know, I had stuff I was doing before I began this idiotic venture, like the Speedy Duck venture.  This week The Princess and I completed another of the many “Speedy Ducks” we’ve made and occasionally sell (see photo).  At the same time I’m learning how to overhaul an engine.  I can be gluing wheels on a duck in the morning and refurbishing a piston in the afternoon.  By the way, it’s the Princess that does the fabulous painting.  Some day I’ll tell you all about the Speedies and how that got started, but right now we’ve got to talk tractors and engines and stuff like that. 

After Gene and I popped out the four pistons last week, I brought them home and started working on them in the garage.  I think this will probably be my area of greatest worth to The Pony project, cleaning stuff.  I don’t know anything, but I’m an “ace” cleaner-upper.  So far after about 6 hours in the garage, I’ve got one piston almost done.  I’ll wait until they’re all done to take a picture, but they’re going to look great.  Oh, you say they have to work too?

The first of this week, the valve spring compressor that Gene had mail-ordered still had not arrived, so we decided to take a little side trip down to Pittsboro to visit his automotive project.  Since it was my bike-ride day, I rode the bike down, and met Gene at my breakfast stop. 

I saw something funny coming into town.  A crane was lowering something into the old courthouse that had burned.  When I looked-up at first it did not register, but then it struck me that the thing being lowered looked just like a “critter.”  Clyde Jones is kind of famous around these parts for his chain saw-carved critters.  Clyde lives along my bike route actually, in a little town about 5 miles outside of Pittsboro called Bynum.  His critters are all over Bynum (they light ’em up at Christmas) and spread throughout Chatham county as well.  I’ve included a photo of some of Clyde’s critters near his home in Bynum, and below that is the photo I took of the thing going into the courthouse.  Either Clyde is pulling a fast one on the citizens of Pittsboro, or my imagination is way out of control. 

After the critter sighting I met Gene and we went to see his project.  Gene’s love is Jaguars (the cars not the animals) and he’s restoring a 1953, so one year newer than The Pony.  He’s done a fabulous job so far, but says he still has a lot to do.  I’ve inserted a photo here that shows Gene behind the straight six, dual overhead cam Jaguar engine that he has restored and will soon be putting into the ’53.  It makes The Pony’s engine look like a tin can doesn’t it?

Gene called Wednesday and said the valve spring compressor had arrived.  He was itching to field test it, so I headed over.  It took a little fiddling to get the hang of it, but it wasn’t long before Gene had one of the springs off and the associated valve removed.  But as seems to be the norm with The Pony project, all the springs/valves did not come out so neatly.  I’ve inserted a photo here of the valve spring compressor with the spring squished, and I am removing a pin from the valve with the needlenose.  “Nurse, scalpel, suction please!”  So, the score at the end of two hours was:  two valves just dropped right out, two had to be coaxed out, and four are still in there and giving us fits.  But, hey, an optimist would say we’re half-way there. 

Gene took a look at the engine diagram and feels it best at this point to see if we can remove the camshaft.  That’s that other neat hunk of steel that’s still in there.  It’s function is to move the valves up and down, but right now it’s just in our way as we try to get those remaining four valves out.  So, Thursday I’ll keep working on my piston rehab project and plans are to get together again on Friday to work on camshaft removal.  “Nurse, give the author more anesthetic!”

Idiotic Author Super Model?

This first item comes under the category of “if you wait around long enough anything can come into fashion.”  A front page article in Thursday’s Wall Street Journal points out that having a big gap between one’s front teeth is all the rage on the runways of the New York fashion shows.  The article also includes names of other celebs that sport the gap-toothed look:  Anna Paquin, Vanessa Paradis, Madonna, Lauren Hutton and David Letterman.  The photo inserted below is an important part of today’s tractor news, but just for a sec, click on the photo and check out the gap in the author’s front teeth.  I’m in baby; put me down for some of that fame and fortune.  Think of the tractor stuff I’ll be able to buy.  Mom, I no longer hold it against you that you and Dad didn’t pop for braces when I was a kid.  The photo more importantly shows one very proud author Friday after having successfully removed The Pony’s crankshaft.  Remember a few posts ago how I mentioned that I like saying and using the word crankshaft and how just the word carries a certain power and machismo?  Well, I’m here to tell you that the word ain’t nuthin’ compared to the actual article in one’s hands.  Look at that baby!  It really feels good to hold it; I’m guessing it’s about 10 pounds of cold, bold steel. 

The look of pride on my face in this photo reminds me of how I looked in another photo taken after having caught my first fish at Peewaukee Lake not far from our home in Waukesha, WI around 1955.  It was a perch, close enough to record size that we took it down to a local sports shop and registered it.  Caught it on a hook and a worm with a cane pole.

Under the category of “you can’t make them up any better than this,” a couple of items. 
First, Carrboro, my home town, has a cool vibe about it,  and is proud of its laid-back, but progressive attitude.  This is why I wasn’t surprised to see a calendar item listed in the current Carrboro Citizen, “Breastfeeding Cafe.”  I’ll let you conjure up your own images of what such an establishment might be like and suffice to just say as John Candy did in “Splash” when a naked Daryl Hannah washed up on Ellis Island, “Well, of course, I’m all for it!”

Second, in the last few weeks over in neighboring Durham we’ve had some courtroom drama.  An attorney and former neighbor of a guy convicted of killing his wife back in 2001 has come up with an “owl defense.”  He claims that an owl attacked the man’s wife and killed her.  The News and Observer having some justified fun with this theory called it a real “Whooooo Done it!”  As if to lend credence to this crazy theory, a local blogger reports that in Chapel Hill two people have been attacked recently by a Bard Owl along a local trail.  The Princess, having read this article with a look of concern on her face, now wonders how she can protect herself from vicious owl attacks.  First it was the news of numerous copperhead snake attacks, now the owls.  Latest I’ve heard is she’s planning on staying in bed with the covers pulled up.  Whooooo!

Back to Pony news, after getting the crankshaft out on Friday, I was pretty “pumped” and made arrangements with Gene to meet again Saturday.  With the “crank” out we could now knock the pistons fully down and out through the crankcase.  You’ll recall that we had been stymied earlier when they would only pop partially out the top.  Getting them out completely will allow us to clean piston and cylinder surfaces and clean, check and replace (if necessary) the piston rings.  This photo shows the author, with a ring compressor attached to one of the pistons, just about to give it a rap.  All four came out, even the one that was giving us all the trouble earlier.  That one has some kind of gunk built up on it, but the other three look surprisingly good.  I’ve got the pistons, rods and bearings down in the garage waiting to be cleaned.  Gene and I are now getting pretty close to having the engine down to just a heavy metal casing.

Gene has ordered a spring compressor tool to add to his vast collection of tools.  He’s kind of like Noah, getting two (or more)of everything to put in his garage just in case of some mechanical event of biblical proportions.  The spring compressor will allow us to finally remove the engine valves.  One of those by the way is frozen in its channel, so we will likely have to hammer that one out.

By the way, there is one other potential celebrity that sports a gap.   Just check-out this shot of The Pony’s smile.  On a final note.  The Phil’s beat the stinkin’ Mets again today to hold on to first place in their division.  Our rich guys are better than anyone else’s rich guys!