Monthly Archives: February 2011


Gene was over on Thursday, and we worked a little more on the engine.  We installed the timing gear.  This part of the installation is known as “timing the camshaft.”  The two timing gears intermesh and must intermesh at exactly the right spot … Continue reading

An Angel in the Attic

Turns out I’ve been breaking a lot of rules with respect to my shoulder surgery.  I found this out the hard way Tuesday evening.  I was standing in the kitchen and reached out for the kitchen faucet with my bad arm, but before it ever got there I felt something pop in my shoulder.  This was immediately followed by a new pain and loss of much of the mobility I had gained back.

Wednesday morning I went to my regularly scheduled PT appointment, explained what had happened and fessed up as to what my interpretation of the rules of recovery were.  Boy, did they straighten me out!  I’m not going to get into all the details, but the surgeon has been informed and the lid has been clamped back down on me.  For right now everyone is hoping what happened was just my shoulder “kicking back” at my “too much too soon” approach, but the real day of reckoning will be March 4, when I’m scheduled to see the surgeon.  Please think good thoughts on that day, and I promise to follow all rules, without self-interpretation.

In the last post I mentioned our blue bird situation.  My practice after each bluebird brood fledges (there are at least two each summer) is to clean out the bird house.  This involves clearing out all the nesting material and whatever else is in there.  It’s usually pretty nasty, so I wear a mask and rubber gloves and work outside.  Invariably I find at least one unhatched egg (they’re a very pretty blue, of course).  Once at the end of the summer I found the entire batch of four eggs abandoned and unhatched.  Something like that gets you wondering.  Was this the production of some young pair that for some reason was unable, or unwilling to fulfill their parental responsibilities?  Was there some falling out between the adults, some unwillingness on the part of one or the other to pull his or her weight?  Did one of the pair come to an early demise, a cat, a hawk?  Maybe it was just environmental, the third brood of the season and the weather didn’t cooperate.  And here’s a question, why when I cleaned out the house last time did I find wild cherry pits all over in there?  Out of the many broods we’ve had in there, no parents had ever fed the chicks cherries, weird.  I’m just trying to imagine the scenario that led to this break from SOP. 

There was probably a conversation initiated by the male, naturally, along the lines of making the feeding job a little easier.  “Look here Sweets, I’m tired a chasing bugs all over the place and then flying those squirmy things to the nest.  Why can’t we just take them these cherries here.  They taste  perfectly good, they’re easy to get and there’s no dropping them on the way to the nest.  Of course there’s a lot of skepticism on the part of the female.  “Don’t you Sweets me.  The last time you came up with a crack-pot idea like this we had a bunch of screaming chicks just about died from it.  What was it, oh yeah, those old sunflower seeds you found, terrible.  Only ones eats those are those show-offy cardinals, idiots and baseball players.”  And as is usual in these cases the guy wouldn’t listen to reason, started feeding the chicks choke cherries and the result was spattered all over the inside of the house..  Luckily, the chicks got enough nourishment from the bugs that Sweetie continued to bring, so the brood survived.  But can this marriage be saved?

Moving on, as I was cleaning this mess out of the bird house with hot water, detergent and ammonia, the scent that the mixture of bird poop and ammonia gave off smelled familiar.  They say that your sense of smell is one of the strongest memory triggers, and what dawned on me finally was that this smell reminded me of the hatchery that my gramma and grampa used to operate up in Young America, MN, back when I was a kid.

I’ve mentioned before what fun it was for all of us grandkids to visit Young America.  There were plenty of things there that appealed to us, but one of our favorites was the hatchery.  It was a single story, white, clapboard building with an attic, and it stood apart from the main house a little further down the large circular drive.  To us kids this building was a marvel in so many ways.  Inside on the left were the huge incubators.  They were made of wood, but had windows, so you could look inside and watch the big trays of incubating eggs slowly turn.  You’d invariably see eggs cracking and little chick beaks forcing their way out.  The incubators, of course always warm, threw off a lot of heat, so it was always warm in there when they were running.  Jim told me his one upsetting memory from the hatchery was seeing gramma rather nonchalantly pulling deformed chicks from the incubator and throwing them in a bucket of water to drown.  Said he felt sick on seeing that and to collect himself had to tell gram he was going outside. 

On the right side of the hatchery were rows of small cages where the chicks would be put after hatching, until they’re owners would come pick them up.  The poop generated on that side of the hatchery fell onto newspapers.  When the cages were cleaned, the newspapers full of poop were folded up and went immediately out to gramma’s big garden, which took-up the entire center of the circular drive.  Gramma or another family member would head out into the garden with a spade, dig an appropriate size hole and bury the hatchery waste.  Quite possibly, chicken poop in newspapers is the best fertilizer known to man.  You could tell this in multiple ways.  First, the fruits and vegetables grown in that garden were big, beautiful and delicious.  Second, you could sneak down in the earthen-floored cellar where the shelves were just lined with preserved produce, all from the garden.  With all the different colors in the glass bottles, it was an enticing, beautiful site.  That was another smell I just loved, that slightly musty, damp smell in the cellar.  You’d get a whiff whenever you snuck in and grabbed one of the sodas that were stored on the cellar steps.  And finally, if you needed any further convincing of the relative value of bird poop, all you had to do was look in the cigar boxes full of ribbons gramma had won at the county fair.  I don’t think there’s been a general in all the land that had more ribbons than gram.

But back to the hatchery, upstairs in the attic, wood floored and walking height, a kid could spend hours pawing through old chests and boxes full of interesting stuff.  Old, stale air with a lot of dust covering everything caused any light at all to throw dust beams across the floor.  An old spiked helmet that looked like a 19th century soldier might have worn it served as the impetus for war games.  Once all alone in the quiet warmth of the place, I just lay down on the floor and dozed.  When I got up, my image, like a snow angel, was left in the dust.

Outside the hatchery there were glass-covered hothouses on the south side.  In front, I remember many times being allowed to take baby chicks or ducks from the hatchery and playing with them.  When I think of the north side all I can think of is the time gramma had taken us fishing for bullheads in a stream somewhere.  There were so many of those ugly creatures they seemed anxious to jump on our fishing hooks.  We brought a bucket full home and as we sat on the north side of the hatchery gramma showed us how to skin those critters using a knife and a pair of pliers.  By golly, later after rolling em in flower and frying them in butter, you would never have guessed they had been so ugly.

Hatching memories
crack open after years.
And remind me what it was like
to be young and full of wonder.

Thanks for reading.

Bluebirds vs Chickadees…is it a Revolution?

As Gene promised, he came over on Saturday and we, well he, got back to work on the Pony.  Prior to his arrival, however, I had been doing some research on proper piston ring placement and orientation on the piston.  I had for the last month stewed over whether the top piston ring, which has a bevel on the inside edge, should be placed with the bevel up or down.  After really scrutinizing the ring I finally did notice a small dot on one surface of the ring.  Brother Jim confirmed what several sources I had seen had said, that regardless of my recollection about the bevel having been up on the old rings, when a ring has a dot, that dot always goes up.  Fine, the ring goes in dot up, bevel down and now when the engine won’t run, I have someone else I can blame.

In my reading I also noticed that there is a preferred orientation of the rings on the piston with respect to each other.  The idea is essentially to make sure that the ring gaps are separated (not directly above or below each other), so that excess oil will not escape.  Here’s a picture of the diagram I found to which the IB gave his blessing.

Alright, to be honest, this is not the exact diagram I sent to Jim, but the orientation it shows is the same.  This one, interestingly, came off a Pontiac web site and comes out clearer when reproduced here.  So, if you’ll recall, the last time Gene and I got together we had started slamming the rings onto the pistons, stopping at the point where I had the indecision about the top ring.  Before Gene arrived on Saturday I reoriented all of the rings we’d already installed to match the diagram.

The first thing Gene did on Saturday (bear in mind, I’m not allowed to lift anything so was useless) was to install the top ring on all four pistons.

We then worked a good amount of oil around all the rings and the pistons in preparation to insert the pistons into the cylinders.  In order to compress all of the those rings around the piston, a piston ring compressor is used.  Here’s a shot of Gene with the compressor attached to a piston, tightening it to compress the rings.

Once tightly fastened to a piston, Gene taps the piston into the cylinder as shown below.

This process actually went fairly smoothly, and it didn’t take more than half an hour to install all four pistons.  So, maybe it would be nice to do another “before and after,” this time of the “fire deck” with the valves and pistons reinstalled.

I checked the date on the “before” picture, and it was August 25th of last year.  So, it’s taken us just shy of six months to get to this point.  I do expect the pace of things to pick up, but I have to admit that learning “on-the-job,” although the best way to get a true sense of what is involved, does slow down the process.  Then too, it seems at every step there is something unforeseen that causes more delay.

For example, on Saturday, after fastening the piston rods to the crankshaft, we started to reinstall parts to the portion of the camshaft that is outside the crankcase.  First, we installed the camshaft gear, and oops, found that by doing so we had blocked our access to the portion of the crankshaft where we needed to install the thrust plate.  We were stymied then, because we now needed a tool known as a gear puller to get that gear back off, and the gear puller is out at Gene’s.  By the way, don’t forget that all of these parts are pictured on the Pony Tech tab on the home page, so if you are reading this in an email post, just click on the highlighted words in the previous sentence.  Well, actually it’s not true that all of the parts are displayed, and that’s what led to the next delay.  The engine diagram shows that after the camshaft gear is installed, the governor is attached.  When we went looking around my garage for the governor pictured in the diagram, we couldn’t find it.  Faced with these obstacles Gene left for the day promising to look for the governor back in his garage and to find his gear puller.

I got an email from Gene saying that he could not find the governor.  Uh oh, not another one of those “button, button, who’s got the button” things.  He suggested searching my garage again.  I couldn’t find the pictured part, but interestingly I found some other parts that although looking vastly different looked like they would be capable of fitting on the camshaft at the same spot.  I grabbed em, threw em in the degreaser can and decided to do some research.  I’ll make this short.  It appears that on some earlier engine rebuild a later model of the governor was installed which does look and function a lot differently than the one featured in Pony Tech.  Another mystery solved.

I spent a couple of hours yesterday cleaning the pieces of the governor and then also degreasing and cleaning the “fan drive pully” which will soon be going on the crankshaft.  It’s the only other interior part I had not already cleaned.  Today hopefully I’ll get around to putting primer on that pully, because on cleaning it, it had obvious traces of red paint.

An interesting thing The Princess and I observed recently was that a pair of Carolina Chickadees began rather brazenly hauling nest material into our “bluebird house.”  We debated about whether, you know like in Egypt, or more recently Libya, to get involved in the “bluebird-chickadee” stand-off, or to take a “hands-off,” approach.  We decided on the latter, but since then I happened to see one of the blue birds popping out of the house too.  Man, I don’t know what’s going on, but I don’t want to be around when little tanks manned by birds start rolling into view.
Thanks for reading.

The Pony Gets Visitors…The Princess Gets Tested

What a wonderful surprise.  On Saturday my cousin Bill called at about noon, and after explaining that he and his wife, Deb were in Charlotte visiting their daughter, Jamie, asked if they could come up and visit the Pony.  Bill and Deb are avid, long-time readers of the blog.  By 3:00 pm they were here.  We had a great afternoon chatting, made a trip out to Gene’s to see the Pony, went out to dinner, and took this picture.

You see a lot of smiling faces here, mine in particular, as the visit did a lot to lift my spirits during my period of forced inactivity.  While we’re on this topic of visitors, please know that anyone is welcome to visit either the Pony, his engine, or both.  Just let me have a little advance notice, so that I can see if the Pony is in the mood for visitors.  He can be a little temperamental, especially if Gene and I have been working on him.

Here’s another picture for you from my page-a-day tractor calendar.

Pretty cute, eh?  You can sell anything with puppies, and I’m sure that’s a Pony in the background.

And Gene stopped by last week with a little get-well gift.  Look at this little Pony.

We still had the little bear out from Christmas, so stuck him on the Pony.  Jim made the wire rim glasses at some time earlier and for some other purpose, but they look good on the bear and help him to plow those nice straight furrows. 

No changes in the Cost-O-Meter lately, but as a part of getting the information together for my 2010 tax filings, I took a look at the Big Cost-O-Meter of all family expenses.  I’ve been using Quicken to do this for five years now.  A couple of things I noticed:
*  Cost of Groceries and other household items after remaining constant in 20o8 and 2009 increased by 13% in 2010.
*  Gas for the car increased by 68%, 2010 over 2009.  I know we’ve been driving more, but a big part of this was inflation.
*  Health insurance was flat versus 2009, but deductibles and co-pays were increased.
*  This one must be more our fault than inflation, but the cost of dining out rose 40% in 2010.  Spending time in the kitchen is less and less fun.
*  Gas/Electric utility costs were up 8%.
*  After going nuts on neat stuff for my bike in 2009, I hardly spent anything in 2010, so that area went down by $2500.
*  We spent 22% less vacationing, just didn’t do much.
So, all in all, going into 2011 things don’t look too bad, and there ought to be plenty of money for the Pony, right Princess?  Look at all that money I saved last year by not buying bike stuff!

There are moments in life where suddenly one is faced with the potential for two radically different paths.  The Princess was facing one of those today.  A few weeks ago she went in for a mammogram, and then got a call that she’d have to go in for a follow-up.  For this one though she was instructed to report to UNC’s cancer hospital.  Oh boy, I gotta tell you this is all I thought about each night as I tried to go to sleep.  It weighed heavy on The Princess as well.  She asked me to go with her, so today we drove over to the hospital, for her appointment. 

The minute you walk in the door of this practically new facility, you know you’re in a hospital.  It’s got that antiseptic smell and the familiar background sounds of hospital PA systems.  You overhear people talking about their cases, or the cases of loved ones.  Nuthin there made me feel comfortable, but still there is always hope.  The Princess was called back for her test; I waited in reception trying to read, but only overhearing people talk about cancer.  It wasn’t long, maybe 15 minutes and The Princess emerged…smiling… “everything’s fine,” she said.

I’m telling you, how relieved we were.  The Princess (having been raised Catholic) said she felt like she’d just come out of confession.  We practically skipped back to the car.  In less than an hour we were sitting on the front porch of a country ice cream store, in rocking chairs, on a sunny, 75 degree day, looking out over an unspoiled view of North Carolina farmland.  We couldn’t have asked for a better outcome to the day.  Woo hoooo!

Pony work starts back up tomorrow.  I’ve been doing some research and consulted with brother Jim during my rehab.  I’m now pretty straight as to how the rings should be installed and positioned on the pistons, so Gene (his hands) and I (my sidewalk superintending) will try to complete that task.  I wonder if the Pony is worried like The Princess and I were today.  He’s got good cause.

Thanks for reading.

Idiotic Author Scores Perfect 10

Well, its time.  Time to get back up on Old Bloggy and see if I can stay in the saddle.

After certain life experiences there is a period of time during which one’s feelings are just too raw to speak of them.  The worse the experience, the longer the time.  It was just over a year ago that my best friend back in Philly, Henry Miller, died suddenly and unexpectedly.  When I got the news via an email from a mutual acquaintance, I was staggered.  And when I opened my mouth to tell Cindy what had happened, I started bawling like a baby.  I felt worse, because I could not get back to Philly for the funeral; our worst snowstorm of the year resulted in the cancellation of my flight.

I met Henry through cycling, more specifically because we both did spin classes at the same sports club.  He approached me as he told me later, because he noticed some guy coming to class, every time in a different bike jersey.  So he figured I must actually cycle rather than just spin.  I would never have thought to approach Henry, I’m from Minnesota.  If you listen to Garrison Keillor’s monologues on The Prairie Home Companion you’ll understand.  People from up there aren’t just cold, we don’t thaw out.  I don’t seek people out, nor do I make friends easily.  I’m guarded and don’t like to let people into my life.  When son Andrew was little and had a bit of speech difficulty, he summed-up my feelings exactly when he said “Yeeve me ayone!”   It’s not personal, it’s just the way we Minnesotans are.

Although not pushy, Henry was kind of like a magnet; he could draw you in before you knew what you were getting into, and by then it was too late.  When Henry said we were going on a fifty-mile ride, you had to do some math in your head and calculate that truly it would be sixty.  He rode more miles each year than anyone else I knew. 

And it was because of Henry that I was injected into a group of people I would never have otherwise met.  An incredibly diverse group of varying backgrounds and abilities, but all “stamped” with the “Henry Seal of Approval.”  I still ride once a year with the people I met through Henry. 

It was because Henry was always in motion that it was so hard to believe that suddenly he had stopped, unfathomable, unfair.  I was angry for sometime after Henry’s passing; it was just so wrong.  There was and remains a hole in my life, one that cannot be filled.  Yes, time does help, but it’s just an anesthetic, not a cure.  I miss you, Henry.  I’ll miss your energy, your kind spirit, your sence of humor, your gentle soul. 

It took me a year to get around to talking about Henry, and 10 days to talk about the surgery I had on my shoulder one year to the day that Henry passed away.  So, that gives you some idea of the order of magnitude of my recent event.  I had a torn rotator cuff and a torn biceps tendon repaired in my left shoulder.  The biceps tendon was just a throw-in, you know, a value-added kind of gesture on the surgeon’s part.  I procrastinated so long on getting the rotator cuff repaired that my shoulder joint tore-up the biceps tendon.  This was another wonderful result of my persistent habit of sticking my head in the sand and hoping a problem will just go away. 

The perfect 10 I referred to in the title is the 10 I scored on that pain chart you always see in the doctor’s office.  It’s the one where there are little faces that gradually get sadder and sadder the closer you get to 10, where the poor little face is crying its eyes out.  It was the day after the surgery, and the Princess was fed-up.  I was pacing around the house, moaning in pain when she grabbed up the phone and called my doctor’s office.  She could see the weekend looming and the inability to get hold of any of the culprits that had created the monster she was living with.  Faced with voice prompts and defensive office staffers, I overheard her say finally, “Lookit, my husband is in intense pain here, and I need to talk to some damn body.”  I ain’t dressing that up; that’s a direct quote.  I don’t call her The Princess for nuthin.  Within half an hour I was in a room being looked at by the surgeon, an anesthesiologist, even the good-lookin young gal that had fit me for the sling.

I think it was something of a test, but when the surgeon took hold of the dressings taped over the surgery site, tore them off and he didn’t get the loud howl he expected, he realized that the pain I was experiencing was every bit as bad as having the hair on ones legs removed with wax.  There weren’t actual tears coming out of my eyes like the little chart showed, but I was  whimpering like a unconsolable six-year-old.  It was not one of my prouder moments either when The Princess volunteered that I was one of “those people” who just can’t handle pain.  That made me cry.  But it probably led to the surgeon’s solution, the one they usually rely upon, more drugs.  So, to the Ropivacaine (in the pump over my shoulder feeding into the wound site and continuing the effect of the nerve block) the Oxycodone and the Dilaudid he added Valium.  The Valium of course did nothing for the pain, it just made me indifferent to it.  Thank God and The Princess, this got me through the next couple of days.

The only other comment I’ll make is on the subject of The Princess’s driving.  About 99% of the time when we go somewhere in the car I do the driving.  And I’ve explained how for over 40 years I have enjoyed The Princess’s helpful backseat driving tips.  So now the tables are turned, and I am literally riding in the back seat.  Of course, one cannot resist.  So today on a short trip out to breakfast I asked several times for some climate control.  It was a sunny day, and I was so hot that my shirt was getting perspiration stains.  Holy crap, after the second comment I got, “Why do you always have to make such a big deal out of everything?  Why do you have to be such a pain in the ass?”  The rest of the trip was made in silence, with the heater in the “off” position. 

Bear in mind, I wasn’t even criticizing her driving, just asking to be basted while I was being roasted.  Do you think she’ll be able to take 40 days of my helpful hints, let alone 40 years?  And by the way, The Princess has what I’d call a “herky-jerky” style of driving.  Nothing is smooth, everything is sudden.  Sheesh, I’m going to have whip-lash by the time my turn in the back seat is over.  But I’ll tell you, her herky-jerky style with the medical profession I can handle. 

It’s great to be back.  Thanks for reading.