Thursday, December 31, 2015

Christmas at SkiBowl

Continuing my posts from the winter break, I was able to pull my wife away from her seemingly incessant workload to play in the snow for Christmas. Today's post covers that. No bus content this time.

Getting There
On its surface, this should be relatively obvious: get in the car and drive there. Duh. Well, the TDI Jetta, Flash, has been hard starting since the weather started getting colder in the valley. He had some starting issues in late Summer/Fall too. I verified the alternator and replaced the battery, even re-did the vacuum lines and replaced the anti-shudder valve along the way (the original had a bunch of PO goop on it presumably to keep it working). My last resort, which I probably should have done sooner, was to replace the glow plugs. I replaced the glow plugs in the bus a while back and that motor fires right up every time. Since I went off-script for sourcing those plugs, I went to the same source for the Jetta: AccurateDiesel. They are based in Michigan and manufacture glow plugs for all kinds of vehicles, mostly domestic trucks. For $55 delivered, they make TDI plugs. I'm sure some will read this and bristle at not using Bosch plugs. It's okay. Make your own choices. These plugs work great, and the Jetta starts more responsively than before.

Beer Stube deck
Anyway, I replaced the plugs on Christmas Eve, so we were car-ready. Boo had to work until after dinner time on Christmas Eve, so I got all our gear ready while I waited for her to come home. We awoke early on Chirstmas, not wakened by excited little ones, rather, an alarm like it was a workday. Swift shower, breakfast and coffee, and we loaded up Flash. We were leaving the Portland west side by 7:AM.

Expectedly, the traffic through the city was very light. It wasn't until we were on I-84 that we started really seeing other cars. With such light friction, we were in Sandy shortly after 8 and chaining-up along the 26 in the Mt Hood Forest by 8:30. We were met with cries of Merry Christmas from the parking lot attendant at SkiBowl, as well as a less-than-1/3-full lot.

The Fluffy
The weather guys in the Portland area have been trying to outdo each other with their descriptions of the snow that has been hammering the Cascade Mountains this past week. Each day,  there has been measurable snowfall of more than 6". Some days have seen almost a foot. With the weather folks going bonkers and the resorts also describing the snow as some of the best ever, our expectations were suitably high. Very high. We were gloriously not disappointed.
The snow was arguably perfect. There was maybe 2-3" of fluff atop a firm base. Aside from a little bit, and I mean little, of icy at the very top of Upper Reynolds where the sun break had struck, SkiBowl was ice-free. The riding was fast, but controllable, allowing new and experienced riders alike an opportunity to have a day of their choosing. Most of the resort had been groomed, but "Surprise" hadn't so we were able to get our rough-stuff-fluff fix in as well.

The Staff
Upper Bowl from lift
After the horrible season last year, SkiBowl had to almost completely re-staff. While there are a few folks around who have been there for a few years, most of the staff are brand new. Their new-ness was pretty apparent, but not entirely in a bad way. We met Josten, a brand new server in the Cascade Lodge who brought an energetic positive energy. There was a new woman working in the gift shop alongside a couple of old pro's who seemed right with the flow. At the lifts, though, the new folks didn't quite have the vibe yet. On Lower Bowl, there was some confusion, resulting in only one of the picket lines getting used. This created what looked like a backup on the SkiBowl camera, but the queue actually moved quite quickly. The biggest miss was at the Multipor lift where the guy managing the queue didn't have the vibe at all. He created a longer queue of more frustrated people because of how much time he would spend with each person, verifying their pass. I've had an easier time getting on an airplane. I'm sure he'll mellow out, but he needs to be paired with an old-timer to get a better handle on how SkiBowl operates.

The Services
Boo and I tried just about everything SkiBowl had to offer. We started at the Beer Stube after getting our passes, and sampled the platter of fries from the cafeteria next door. The pours were strong, and the pile of fries big enough that we shared it with the ladies at the table next to us. After some runs and another round, we took the shuttle over to the Cascade Lodge (SkiBowl East) for dinner. Once we conquered the queue at Multipor, we hit the Historic Warming Hut for Americano's. At each stop, the servers were great, friendly and responsive. The shuttle driver chatted us up as we negotiated the traffic in Govy.

The Crowd
Upper Reynolds from below
The Govy traffic was completely hidden from us on the slopes, but the crowds that blew in from that traffic were most certainly not. Around mid-day, SkiBowl got quite busy very quickly and the crowd changed from mellow and content. Turns out, there was a major car fire on Timberline Highway, blocking traffic in both directions to/from Timberline Lodge while the fire was put out and the occupants treated. Since it was Christmas, many had their holiday "ruined" by the blocked road, so they chose to suffer the rest of us at SkiBowl with their misery. As awesome as the snow and the workers were, many of the patrons were not. Boo made a point of shouting "Merry Christmas" at the lift riders as we slid under or from the lift as others passed. These calls were almost entirely met with a flat look. The restaurants and bars were filled.... with somber faces. To those who chose to spread their ruined Christmas, I ask that next year you just wander into the forest or go home. SkiBowl doesn't need your second-place attitude.

We had a great holiday, arriving home completely tapped from playing in the snow all day. With comments of the "best Christmas ever", we both look forward to what could be an amazing season on the mountain. So, if you were like me, skeptical of snow after last year, I strongly encourage you to go up... just bring your positive happy-to-be-there energy :)

That's it for today. Thanks, as always, for following along, This will be my last post for the year, so Happy New Year 2016.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Vanagon Rear Heater Leak fix

No, I don't have a Vanagon. But, I do use the rear heater for my main heater in the bus. In the Vanagon, these sit under the rear seat, and provide auxiliary heat for the passengers back there. I've heard that they do little more than provide a leak in the cooling system and a corresponding coolant smell in the passenger compartment. I don't know all the answers as to why these leak, but I did find one. Today's post is about that, furthering my winter break efforts (See: Planning Winter Break)

Heater Layout
Let's start with some orientation. The heater is a hard plastic shell that is relatively rectangular (approx 12" wide, 7" deep and 7-1/2" tall). There is a snorkel on the front (front is front) that directs the air out onto the floor. On the rearmost part of the right side there is a round hole (about 3" diameter) where the air is pulled in. Passing in front of the fresh air hole are the coolant inlet and outlet lines. The bottom line (return) leaves the heater core, turns 90* and runs rearward. The top (feed) line enters a valve and then turns 90* into the heater core. The core is held in place with 2 Phillips head screws. The valve is held together with 2 7mm-head bolts running front to back.

Possible Points of Failure
I first thought these heater units had all kinds of failure points, but there really aren't that many. There's the core. Sure, heater cores go bad. There are the points where the rubber hoses meet the bibs. There are the plastic 90* bends, but they hardly ever fail, and then there's the valve. Not too many opportunities for issues.

Look Around
If your unit is leaking, look around to see if you can tell where it is originating. Yeah, that sounds obvious, but if you clean it up and dry it off and then start adding distilled water to your system, you should be able to identify where the drips are starting. This is especially true of anything that isn't the heater core. If that's your cause, water will just start appearing underneath the unit. This is an easy fix: buy a new heater core, pull the old one (2 screws), slap in a new one. Still, I'd complete the rest of the post here, just in case.

Start with the Obvious
Okay, so you see some drips over by where the rubber lines meet the unit. Are the rubber lines in good shape? Any cracks or splits? Are they seated all the way on to the flat plastic stop? Are the hose clamps tight? My top coolant line wasn't all the way on, so I thought this was my cause. I loosened the clamp, pushed the hose all the way in and tightened it up. This slowed the leak, but it didn't stop.

Leaving the Valve
Van Cafe replacement valve
The valve attaches to the heater unit with 2 bolts, one above and one below the opening where the coolant passes. If you remove the bolts, you may see that there is no gasket between the two opposing faces. I think this is the spot where many of the Vanagon rear heater leaks originate. The coolant doesn't leak when these units leave the factory, but after years of jostling around, the lack of a gasket eventually takes it's toll and a tiny gap is created. If your valve has failed, and the leak is coming from the valve, Van Cafe has a replacement here.

Solved
In classic shade-tree fashion, I solved the problem with a rubber washer from my house plumbing supplies. I took a small dab of Form-a-Gasket to act as a temporary glue and smeared it on one side of the rubber washer. I place the washer on the tip of my pinky finger and stuck that finger into the valve, sliding the rubber washer into the flat face, goo-side first. This centered the washer on the hole. I held it there for a few seconds and carefully removed my finger. The washer stayed in place. I then set valve against heater unit taking care to not bump or in any way shift the washer. Once aligned, I ran the bolts through and tightened the bolts. Unlike when there wasn't a washer, the bolts are unable to mate the faces completely. There is a small gap through which I can see the washer. I initially thought this was not going t hold for that reason, but so far testing has shown that this is holding up okay. I need a longer at-temp road test, but the round-the-block tests have been very positive. Total cost: $0.

That's it for today. If you like throwing parts at a problem, Van Cafe has your solution for a leaking Vanagon rear heater unit: replace everything except the plastic housing in one kit. Check it out here. As always, thanks for following along.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Fuel Gauge Replacement

It's been a while since I did a how-to post. I guess I'm overdue. Here is a step-by-step for installing a new fuel gauge that I did over my winter break (see: Planning Winter break). This is not about installing a new tank-float. That's documented pretty well around the internet, with 2 main options: pull the engine, firewall and tank -or- cut a hole above the tank and put in a maintenance port-hole.  I've seen lots of accounts from folks who have replaced their tank float, and I think that's because that's the most common cause of fuel gauge failures. Before I did the engine swap, I lost the use of my fuel gauge. So, when I pulled the tank to get cleaned, I tested it. It wasn't the cause. After waiting a long time, I finally found a gauge that looked like the original (original look available from Cip1). So, on with the new gauge.

Battery
This should go without saying, but when you get down to swapping out stuff that is electrical, or if you're messing with stuff that's near other stuff that is electrical, pull the ground off the battery. I left mine attached a little too long (I spent some time testing the old and new gauges to make sure the old one was bad and the new one acted differently), and blew a fuse. Duh.

Pull the Dashpod
The VW bus dash is held on with 4 Phillips-head screws, but first that's not where we start. First, reach around the back and unthread the speedometer cable. Next, pull the little plastic bits off the ends of the fresh air and heat controls. My bus doesn't have those, but I've heard they can be stubborn and break easily. There are replacements on BusDepot, if you break any. Now, remove the 4 screws. Starting on mid-year bays, there are little clips on the backside, and those can bounce pretty far when the screw comes out. Put your hand back there as you remove the screw and catch it. Once the screws are out, the air controls are free and the speedo cable is detatched, there's nothing holding the pod in to the dash. Lift it a couple of inches and then tip the top down under the steering wheel. You can do this job without moving anything much farther than this. Zip-lock baggy the 4 screws and label it. You may intend to come back to the job right away, but jobs get interrupted.

Remove the Back
The rear panel is held on with 6 hex-screws (6mm). Righty-tighty. Lefty-loosey. Easy Peasey. Like the 4 in the step above, stow the screws in a zip-lock baggy. The metal rear panel wants to stay attached because of a little lip that runs around the edge of the plastic housing. Pop the metal panel off and set the plastic housing aside. The brake idiot light wiring will prevent you from moving it too far, but there isn't that much room under that steering wheel, so any inches are worth it.

Loosen Fuel Gauge
Circled in red in the picture (and on the back of your dashpod), you can see a small bolt. That bolt and the two tiny brass buttons on either side of it hold the fuel gauge to the metal rear panel. The "nut" doesn't have any flat sides to it, so you need to crack it loose with a pair of pliers. It has a couple slots on either side, implying there's some obscure VW (or VDO) tool to remove the nut. Pliers work fine; it's not torqued much. Under the nut are 2 washers. Put them together into a zip-lock baggy and label it.

Free the Face
On either side of the center of the front of the gauge, there are 2 tiny slotted bolts. You will need a tiny slotted screwdriver to remove those, but once removed, the grey face can be removed. Those bolts are tiny. They will sail and disappear if you aren't really careful with them as you remove them. Like all the other fasteners, put them in a zip-lock baggy. Hold the dashpod as level as you can and lift the face directly upward. Under the face, you will find colored plastic blocks for the turn signals and idiot lights. I'd thought they were simple gels, very thin and hard-attached. They're actually quite thick, almost as thick as a lego, and they will fall out if you tip the dashpod. Ask me how I know :)

Gauge Swap
Now that we have all the dash stuff out of the way, we can get down to it. Gently lift the old gauge out of the pod and unplug the tiny clips from the signal and switched-power. The lower corners need to be negotiated around the bolt holes. The new one (from Cip1), fits in as well as the old one, requiring some wiggling to get it in place. The colors of the wires on the new gauge aren't consistent with the original. The green goes to signal and the red goes to switched-power. Make sure the bolt fits through the hole in the metal rear panel, and the gauge is behind the bolt holes.

Re-assemble
After the gauge is in place and wired, get the gauge face back on next. The main motivation here is getting the face on before the color plastic bits fall out. Again, ask me why :) The bolts can be tricky, even if you have small fingers. They don't need to be torqued down terribly hard, just snug. I tightened until snug and then just enough to make the slots level. Yeah, that's a little OCD, but whatever. Now, you can put the 2 washers on the bolt-post sticking out the back and thread the round nut onto it. In my case, I added another grounding wire at this point running off this post. Finger tighten and then snug with pliers. Next, attach the rear metal panel to the plastic housing with the hex screws (6mm). Before you install the dashpod back into the dash, double check that there aren't any loose wires, and verify your grounds. Then, slip the dashpod into place, screw in the 4 Phillips head screws, and put the air control knobs back on. Reach around the back and thread on the speedometer cable. Last, re-connect the negative cable to the battery.

In my case, the fuel gauge wasn't actually the problem. I did all of the above and the gauge still didn't work. I found that the gauge ran to Full (1/1) when connected and hanging loose (ungrounded), but as soon as the gauge was grounded by mounting it to the metal rear panel, it fell to 0/1. Concluding the thought-to-be-good float/sender was the culprit, I went to the rear of the bus and tested the resistance on the float: 49.5 ohms or 1/2 full (range from 100 - 0 ohms 0/1 - 1/1). So, the sender is good, the gauge is good. This leaves the wire as the problem. I'll post on that another day (after I've fixed it). In the meantime, I put the original gauge back in: Aint Broke, Don't Fit It.

That's it for today. Thanks for following along...

Friday, December 18, 2015

Planning Winter Break

My employer shuts the offices down for the week between Christmas and NewYears. Half of my team will be taking the week of Christmas off as well, so I figured I would too. Today, I'm going to try to string together a plan for how to get some bus stuff done over the 2 weeks without spending all (or none) of my time wrenching. I have 16 days from this Saturday through the final Sunday. I added actual time spent edits in orange for my own benefit for when I want to make estimates next year. Goes to show that high level planning is wise, but getting too deep into detail is a waste.

Holidays
It is the holidays, after all, so I should expect at least one family event. Bowl games, the Winter Classic NHL game, etc. Assume another day there. Instead of 16 days, now its 14 days. One family event plus shopping for gifts. NHL Winter Classic plus a bowl game and some NFL. All in, there were probably 4 days "lost" to actually taking a break. Actual burndown at 12.

Snow
I've been pretty transparent about my love of playing in the snow. Snow has a peculiar sound when you're on the mountain away from the crowds and the bustle. I fully intend to visit the mountain a few times, so there's got to be room for at least 2 day-trips to snow. I'd love to make one of them in the bus, but I've posted enough on that score. Playing it safe, I'll assume 3 day trips so reduce to 11 days. EDIT: went twice. Burndown to 10.

Regular chore stuff
Any break brings with it hopes and dreams of some non-vehicular job getting done. Clean this, fix that, etc. Reduce to 10 days. This was an ongoing affair, but all in, there were probably 2 days worth of time spent doing this kind of stuff. Now 8.

Kid's Car
The A4 has a few problems, including a bad thermostat. Since everything takes longer cuz I"m slow. I'll set aside a day, even though it shouldn't take more than a couple hours. Now 9 days. EDIT: didn't fix the thermostat, but fixed a few other things and changed the oil. Thermostat on an A4 is a huge deal, like change the timing belt huge. Maybe in the Summer. Regardless, days now at 7.

Mrs.
Inevitably, I'll want to do stuff with my wife. I love spending time with her, and she works a lot, so there will be time spent dilly-dallying in front of the fire while she works. Maybe this is where I fit in the regular chore stuff. Assume a day lost, so now we're down to 8 days. We fit time around the edges. She worked every day except Christmas Day, and we spent that on the mountain (See Christmas at SkiBowl). She works too hard. Still 7.

The Painted House
I think I posted pictures last year or the year before of my usual Christmas tradition of painting a ceramic house for one of my family members every year. With the intensity around work, I haven't started yet. It usually takes me many many hours. While the one I have selected isn't crazy complex, it will still take me a while. Figure 3 days lost there, so now I'm down to 5 days. EDIT: this actually took over 4 days. Looks great though. Down to less than 3 days.

What Fits?
Like anyone who owns a project car, there is a long list of stuff to do and a short list of hours available to do it. Estimating can be a challenge because you never really get a big block of time to do things. Looking back on things, it's hard to tell how long it took, so you can't use past experience to help estimate new things. Awesome. Here's my list of things I want to do in approximately the order in which I'd like to do them, and my rough guess of how long it will take.

 - Fuel Gauge. I haven't found any how-to's on the internet. All links lead to replacing the float in the tank, which isn't the problem. Since I'll have to figure it out (and then post about it), figure 1/2 a day. I fiddled with this a few times (see Fuel Gauge Replacement), but in the end it's an issue with the float, not the gauge. Awesome. Down to about 1 day.

- Heat / Leak. Like the fuel gauge, there's no roadmap to follow. In order to really test it out, I need to get the bus engine up to normal operating temperature (NOT) and look for leaks. 1/2 day. I was able to identify and solve the leak (see Vanagon Rear Heater Leak Fix), but it took me most of a day to do it. This left no time for anything else.

 - saggy butt. There are lots of how-to's on fixing the saggy butt problem on a bus. Since the rear end hasn't ever been apart, I expect this to take a while. Knowing my ability to take much longer than everyone else, I'm saying a day per side, so 2 days. Early during the break, I went to Discount Import Parts (VWFLAPS), but with the holidays causing such disruption to deliveries, they couldn't have my bushings until almost NewYears. cancel this job until the Jetta's are solid runners. I have the bushings in-hand now, though

 - Rear brakes. I haven't really addressed the rear brakes in years. I'm sure they're over due for at least new shoes. I have complete brakes innards, so I'd like to just completely replace everything. The first side will take most of a day while I figure it out, the other side will take 2 hours. So, 1 day. Never touched them, but I did find all the hardware I had and remembered that I did the shoes a few years ago. Since the bus doesn't see much travel, they could be okay. I need to pull the drums and see, though.

 - wheels / rims. Remember those? Yeah, me too. What happened? Life, and now they're sitting patiently for me to get back to them. They need sanding down and another coat of primer, maybe some filler. Then I need to finish sand them, color and clear coat. Figure a 1/2 day per rim, so that's 2 days. Didn't touch them other than to move them around the garage.

Hmm... math says I'm down to -1 days. Something has to give, but knowing I have more to do than I have time ahead of time is better than regret at the other end. Maybe I collapse the chores into one of the "holiday" days of watching football and hockey. Maybe I leave the brakes or the saggy butt (or both) for a weekend. We'll see.

That's it for now. I expect to spend close to a week working on cars and some time playing in the snow, so there will be plenty of raw material for future posts. Thanks, as always, for following along. I hope you have a happy, rest (or project) filled holiday season-

Post holiday, I did things around the edges that I hadn't planned on: changed the air filters on 2dot0 and Flash, replaced the glow plugs on Flash, fixed the slider door (the cable became detached) and started working on a new shelf idea or the bus. I took a stab at constructing my own kick panels but decided it wasn't worth the work compared to just buying a pair, clowned around with the stereo in the bus and got the unlock codes for the junkyard stereo I got for Flash. I also went out to a movie with my wife (that Hunger Games one) and a movie (Star Wars 7) with one of my boys. Overall, it was a great break. One thing to remember for next year: the week I have the boys I really can't plan for much of anything. They need my time.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Fix, Drive, Repeat

Quick post today. Just a reflection on what's been successful in my repair efforts. Perhaps more importantly, what's been successful in helping me figure out when something didn't go quite right.

Pick One Thing
So, you want to fix a bunch of stuff on your project car. That's awesome. Having a list is really fantastic for when you go shopping for parts or want to troll the chat boards. Your list could be daunting, and that's okay. Sometimes, you'll look at your list and think "well, I could do this at the same time as I do that". Unless those two things are within the same system, don't do it.
For example, you could look at an electrical issue, like your radio doesn't work and at your brakes needing to get new shoes. No, they aren't related at all. Still, don't do it.

Fix that One Thing
This is pretty obvious, but there's more to it than just fixing the item on your list. Do it well. Do it completely. If you're running new wiring for some fog lights or some accessory, complete it. Test the circuit with the wires hanging wherever, but then re-do it correctly. Run the wires a safe way. Zip-tie them into place. Solder the wire junctions, heat-shrink over the solder joint, and then wrap the wires with tubing. Don't just do it good enough so you can get to the next thing on your list. If you do, that item will re-appear on your list as something you need to do again, once the slap-together job fails.

Enjoy that One Thing
Once you've finished the one thing, go enjoy it. If it was fog lights, go drive around with them for a few days. Get comfortable with them. Tweak their trajectory. Leave them on by accident. After you've had them in operation for a few days, check them off your list and start thinking about the next thing.

Why?
If you touch lots of things, even just two things, and something goes wrong, you can't be 100% sure of what caused it. You'd think that if you only touched the brakes, how could something electrical fail. Great question, but when you're dealing with an old car, where everything is a little fidgety, something could have gotten bumped in the process. Case-in-point, I reached up to get the defroster to point more directly onto the windscreen and lost my wipers in the process. Had I messed around with a few other things, I would have been chasing ghosts for much longer.

That's it for today. I spent some time today working on my accessory battery circuit. I found that the main ground I had in place was not effectively grounding the circuit. So, I moved it. Now, the cabin lights are better and the stereo works again. Neat. Following my own advice, I'm going to leave things alone for a couple of days and let things settle out. As always, thanks for following along-

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Ain't Broke, Don't Fix It

Whoever said "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" must have owned old VW's. Today's post is all about my getting taught that lesson again. I probably won't learn, though. Fixing stuff on the bus is just too much fun. When the day comes that I don't want to mess with something on it, I'm probably not supposed to own it any more. Anyway, on with today's adventure...

Dang Stanky
In my last post, I mentioned something about the exhaust-y air getting pulled into the heat system. There are a few reasons for that. First, I put the heater unit inside the engine compartment. This made sense at the time because it created very short heater hose runs, minimizing possible air pockets. Second, I'm using a vanagon rear-heat unit which has just a simple open-end into which supply air rushes when the squirrel fan starts spinning. So, with the open-end facing the rear of the bus, and the bus standing still at traffic lights at rush hour, the exhaust that wafts out of the tailpipe is only a couple feet away from the fan. Net result: stanky air coming in. Is it broken? Not really.

Retrofit
pic from theSamba
When I first started working with the rear heater, I screwed a 4" vent stub around the open-end. I knew that one day I'd want to supply the air from somewhere other than wherever I put the heater unit. It's probably worth noting that the coolant supply and return lines for the vanagon rear heater unit stick out directly in front of the open-end. This wasn't a problem for the vent stub, but attaching anything else would require some rough stuff.

Rough Stuff
I had to go to Home Depot to figure out the thread size and pitch of the caliper bolts for the Jetta. Home Depot has one of those handy boards in the fastener section where you can take a mystery bolt and just keep trying different mounted nuts and figure out what its thread size and pitch are. Of course, this assumes the bolt isn't so trashed that it won't thread anymore... like mine was. Anyway, While I was at the Home Deopt, I got the great idea of getting some 4" drier vent to connect to the heater in the bus so I could get some fresh air up in the cabin.

Idea: Great.
Timing: Crap.

I got home with some flexible ducting and set up at the back end of the bus. I looked at the vent stub and the coolant lines and figured I could simply remove the top line, remove the valve, get the ducting on and install everything back in reverse. This sounded great, but the application didn't go so hot. The ducting needed to get beat up pretty badly to accommodate the coolant lines, the valve and the assembly tools.

Standing in Puddles
In the end, the supply air is much better, but the re-assembly left me with a leak. A bad one. The leak started out with a drip, and after about 20 minutes of driving it had evolved into a steady stream.

The drive home from work became a harrowing nightmare: defroster not only didn't defrost, it was actively fogging the windscreen. Did I mention the rain or how Portland drivers have their drive-stupid switches activated by precipitation? Now, add in a leak that's so bad, I needed to add water every 20 blocks. I stopped 4 times on my way home in rush hour traffic in the rain to add coolant. So sketch. My nerves were shot, but the bus was safely home without over-heating nor getting in a wreck. I don't drink very much nor terribly often, but I had a whisky rocks when I got home.

So, I'm down two cars at this point and leveraging Portland's mass transit system (TriMet) to get to work and back. Today, we'll get Flash's calipers fixed. After that, Hapy will move into the garage and I'll start on his heat system. Next time I decide I'm going to mess with something that isn't broken, I'll wait until I don't have another car on jack stands. Jeez.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Daily Driving

At some point after my trip to Boston, the clunking noise coming from the front end of my 2001 TDI Jetta (Flash) started to really get to me. I don't know if it was the weather changing or the car's growing desire to turn right, but I knew something was going sideways. Today's post covers that saga.

Rebuild Parts
from MetalMan Parts
I trolled around the internet and found some good pub on this rebuilding kit from MetalMan Parts. So, I hit the site, and made some decisions. First, I got the fuller kit with the TT rear bushings. While that cost a little more, I figured this was a replacement I probably wouldn't be doing again. I also got new front struts (COFAP for comfort, recognizing the TT rear bushings will stiffen the ride) and new strut mounts. I had read good things about a 1" lift kit from Evolution Import, and I got that too. A few days later both shipments had arrived.
Upon inspection, the MetalMan kit was pretty fantastic. Every fastener that needed to be removed had a replacement. They sent both sway-bar bushing sizes and replacement clamps. It looked great.
The Evolution Import kit wasn't as impressive, but it looked like what I expected from the instructions online. It was shiny and relatively simple. I ended up not putting the rear lift in, and the Jetta sits flat with out it.

Destroyed My Arms on My Arms
I set aside the weekend to install everything, with the recognition that I would need to take the strut assemblies somewhere to get the springs moved from the old set to the new set. I'd also need to get the alignment done somewhere. Otherwise, I felt I could do everything else. 9:AM Saturday morning, I pulled Hapy out of the garage bay where he'd been resting since our active Summer and put Flash in his place. By 11:AM, his was on stands, the Panzer plate was off and I had my plan of attack. I'd start with removing the control arms. Once the old ones were off, I could easily get at the sway bar bushings as well as get the struts out.  The sway bar links came out with little trouble, but the 2 18mm bolts with point towards the rear were a little tight. I had to work them pretty hard, and I found my arms started to get sore. But that was nothing compared to the 2 bolts which fed up from below. I tried PB Blaster. I tried a propane torch. I tried this stuff from Amsoil called "toolbox helper". I went back to the torch. By late-afternoon, it was clear I wasn't going to get either of them off so I soaked them with the Amsoil stuff and let it sit overnight.

Sunday morning, I ate well, enjoyed coffee with Boo and then went back to the bolts. Within 30 minutes, I'd concluded that the soaking hadn't helped and I was stuck. My arms were really aching from the day before, so I started looking for options. Since the front end was in pieces, I couldn't easily take the car to someone to get the bolts off, so I hit craigslist for someone willing and able to do the work in my garage. I found a father-son team, and they were happy for the work.

MobilePDX
now that's a breaker bar
MobilePDX is a father and son team who have worked on cars for years. Courtney is around my age (dirt is older, the internet is not) and has been wrenching on cars since he was a kid. They were organized, clean and left my garage in better shape than they found it. I'd originally intended to have them just get the 2 bolts off and swap the struts, but once they got going, it was just easier / faster to have them finish the job. They were able to get the passenger side bolt off with a breaker bar and youthful strength. The driver-side had to get ground down with an angle grinder. I'm not exactly sure how they got the bolt out after that. They followed my original plan from there, verifying my thinking... which is always nice.

Aw Nuts
After MobilePDX got everything back together, they discovered that the front caliper bolts were not grabbing into the hubs. Upon inspection, the threaded holes weren't threaded anymore. Neat. The proper repair is to over-drill the holes and thread in a helicoil (or something similar). That is what Courtney said and the chat-rooms agree with him. Others have used an oversized bolt that is so widely available both on the internet and the FLAPS (friendly local auto parts store), I'm inclined to think it is becoming a widely endorsed solution as well. While I sort this out, Flash sits on jack-stands and I am driving Hapy every day.

Hapy Hapy Joy Joy
I'm sure if I look back into this blog, I have many references of going back to driving the bus after a period of not driving him and expressing the pure joy of driving the bus. It really is awesome. The smiles, waves and conversations happen as much in the wind and rain as they do in warm summer. That's pretty neat.
I have continued my experimenting with the shift-point, shifting now around 3400RPM. This allows for the engine speed (when dropped into gear) to still have some turbo influence. So, he's got even more zip than the old 1700 had from the bottom to the top.
I just put 10 gallons into the tank, and I got over 28mpg since the last fill. Since there's a lot of city driving in there, I think I could have a viable city/highway mix guess: 27 city / 33 highway. Pretty fantastic. It hasn't been all smooth sailing though.

Fix-It List
On an exceptionally cold morning, I discovered that the dash vents weren't quite aligned properly. When I went to fix it, I accidentally pulled the wiper electricals out of the switch. Turns out, that bundle of wires needs to go through the hitch in the center of the plastic "Y", not around it.
After fixing that in the parking lot at work, the heat is suitable for clearing the windscreen from mist or fog, but it smells like diesel exhaust. I need to locate a source for fresh air before I drive Hapy into real cold weather.
The fuel gauge needs to be replaced. I still don't know the actual capacity of the tank and guessing based on the mileage when I last filled isn't a reliable measure. Cold wet weather isn't the time to guess if you need fuel.
I didn't re-install the door seals after I painted the top 1/3 of the bus. This creates a pretty good breeze when travelling over 35mph. I need to install them. Of course, the old ones were pretty beat up, so I need to order another set.
The bus still has some rattles, and I think one of the door skins is the main culprit for most of it. Also, the other jalousie window is now making the noise the rebuilt one used to make. Perfect. Time to rebuild the other window.
Last, the brake warning light flickers at me. This usually happens when I remove or do something around the battery. Since I had to charge the battery before moving him out of the garage, this was self-inflicted. I think there's a fluid leak near the master cylinder, though, so I may have to do a fuller brake overhaul soon. Either way, I'd like so much for the flicker to go away, or just never happen.

That's it for today. Like usual, if I'm not posting, its because I'm working on one of the cars.... or traveling. Once the front brakes / hubs are solved, Flash will be driving again and I'll start knocking down the list above for Hapy. The good times never end. As always, thanks for following along, and please pray for snow. I'd really like to get some gravity testing in this winter and our farmers need the snow-pack for summer irrigation-

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Autumn in Boston

I know it's been a month. Where have I been? Working, mostly. I'm sorry I haven't posted. I'll get to some car stuff, but the bus has sat mostly idle (poor Hapy) because I haven't been able to get the rims done, so he's sitting on that old fading rubber. I have made a little headway on the rims since The Other One post. For today, the Boston trip.

Chelsea
The family reunion consisted of around 70 relatives all on my father's mother's side. His mother was a first generation US-born, so we had a healthy representation from her homeland: Ireland. Most of the 70 family members stayed at the Residence Inn in Chelsea. Why it is called anything about the Logan Airport, I don't know. It cost $30 by taxi from the airport, so it isn't exactly next door.

Chelsea looks really close to downtown Boston, until you need to get there by anything other than a private car (or Uber). The 112 bus runs from Haymarket Square, but it does a scenic loop before stopping at the hotel. In the end, we used the bus to get into the city a bunch, but used the cabs to get home.

Near to the hotel is one of the largest supermarkets any of us (including my Texas sister) have ever seen. We nick-named the Market Basket "Massive Market" for that reason. It was handy for grabbing go salads for lunch before heading into Boston. We were disappointed to realize that Massachusetts (MA) is effectively a blue-state for we non-natives. No beer or wine sold anywhere except a liquor store or bar. Ye-ouch that hurt... though it also meant we spent more time at the hotel bar... with many of our relatives... drinking late... and being loud. Take that MA.

The Burren
The weekend kicked off with an evening starter in the reserved back room of The Burren (in Somerville). I don't remember much of this evening except that I started my exploration of Irish Whisky here. There were lots of introductions, and then we switched venues to the hotel bar where things got a little more blurry. Since I hadn't really gotten any sleep the night before, I'll blame that. I crashed around 1:AM local time.

Harbor Tour
Having grown up in the North East, I'd been to Boston a bunch of times. I've seen the Red Sox win at Fenway. I've walked the deck of the US Constitution. I've shopped Quincy Market. I hadn't, however, ever seen the city from the water, nor had a real tour guide explain the sights. Our leader, Frank, organized a group outing on a triple-deck boat getting a full tour of the Boston harbor. Much like the Duck Boats, these boats must seem annoying to the locals. For a true tourist, it was really fantastic. I learned more about how the harbor was formed, the history of the various islands and of the landmarks than in all the trips I'd taken as a youngster. It was fantastic.

BC Football... sort of
After the tour ended, my brothers, my dad and I hit the mass transit to try to get to a college football game. As I've said before, try to fit a sporting event into your trip. At the very least, you can have that as a highlight. Well, the T is very efficient moving through the city so long as it stays below ground. The Green Line hits the surface near Fenway and then seems to stop every 30 feet as it runs along the Charles before heading south on Commonwealth Ave towards Boston College. To be fair, my dad did forewarn us that it would be a long-ish train ride. He was totally right. By the time we got to the BC stop (end of the line), we were famished and the game was deep into the 2nd quarter. We hit Crazy Dough's Pizza for grinders and slices of pizza rather than quick-foot over to the game. Delicious, and they had the game on the radio.

All full and fired up for football, we crossed Commonwealth and made our way across campus to the football stadium. We could hear the bands, so we knew it was halftime when we got to the ticket booth. "$40 each," the guy says. We point out that the game is half over, and he says "no discounts". Sorry, BC, but you gotta do better than that. We walked out, deciding that watching half a game for $160 just didn't pencil out. Instead, my dad gave us a sorta-tour of the campus. He got his Masters there many years ago, so it was really more of a tour of "there used to be a field over there" and "I think that used to be..". Regardless, it was really great to just roam with my father and brothers for a sunny afternoon.

North End Italian
No trip to Boston is complete without grabbing a meal in the North End. The Italian food there is the high mark for all Italian food, IMHO. Yes, Chicago, I've had Italian food in your fine city. Not as good. Frank arranged to a final big event upstairs at Riccardo's Ristorante in classic multi-course style. So good. I can't remember all the dishes now, but the salad, the fish and the chicken parm still resonate. My brother, sister and I had tickets to see our old friend Al perform as part of a comedy show, so we had to split before the desserts and coffee were served. Sadness. Based on the meal, I'm sure it was amazing. You can see a liquor store next door in the picture here. I didn't put that together when I first saw it, but my brother and his wife saw it, and got a couple bottles of wine for later. Smart move.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Al Park
Full of food and dressed to impress, we headed west to Cambridge (I think) to catch a backroom comedy show with our old friend Al closing the event. The line-up was hit and miss, but Al described the forum as a place where comics try very new rough material, so sometimes it zings and sometimes, well, it doesn't. Al was absolutely hilarious. He was always funny. He could always take a room full of people at a party and make them laugh. As a comic, he takes a room full of people and makes them laugh over and over again. Within 15 seconds we had tears on our cheeks and within a minute we couldn't breathe. He admitted afterwards that he used some battle tested stuff. It was really fantastic.
After his show, we closed the bar down visiting and remembering when like you do when you haven't seen someone in a long time.
If you're local and you read this in time, Al is performing in Vancouver WA Nov5 at Kiggins Theater. Otherwise, he's performing around Seattle this week and next.
We got back to the hotel in time to see the blood moon and have a few drinks with the relatives.

Quincy Market, Durgin Park and JJ O'Donovan's
After getting so little sleep for two nights in a row, you'd think I would have slept in on Sunday. Nope. Free breakfast can wake the Dead. We learned that a few folks had tickets to the New England Patriots game and others were going to catch the Red Sox later. I guess I see where I get that thing from now; family traits are funny that way. Anyway, my sister had a flight out that afternoon, and my dad, brother and sis-in-law wanted to hit Quincy market. Not a shopper, I figured I could people watch so I jumped on the bus and hit the Market. Being an absolute gorgeous day, the market was bumping. I collected a few Boston Bruin things and after Yelp searches and some aimless wandering, we all headed into Durgin Park for dinner. My dad's mom, the relative we had in common with all the family we came to meet, worked at Durgin Park during WWII. So, in a way, it was the perfect final meal before we started heading back to our respective homes. The food was okay, I got a weird tasting beer that they traded out for a whisky, but the service was good. As we were walking out, we saw the name of the bar next door: JJ O'Donovan's Bar. In a weird kismet evening, of course after we stumbled upon the restaurant my grandmother used to work in, we'd find a bar with her last name on the door. I immediately bought my dad, my brothers and myself T-shirts. hahaha. so much for that not-a-shopper thing.

That's really it for the trip. I didn't get into getting to know the relatives. It was pretty amazing, on top of all the stuff I described above. We got to really visit with Katherine, our cousin who currently owns the family farm back in Ireland. She represents the current member of a family line of land-holders stretching back hundreds of years. Wild stuff. I, like everyone else who was there, hope we do this again in two years on the family farm like they did two years ago.

Friday, October 2, 2015

United Sucks

After a couple of weeks of move chaos, and no sooner had the boxes been unpacked, I took a 5 day trip to Boston for a huge family reunion. Today's post covers the travel part of that trip.

Size Matters
I don't fly very often. When I do, I usually fly the same airline round trip, so I don't really have a sense of how different the airlines are. On this trip, I flew United from Portland to Boston (through San Francisco) and Alaska (direct) on the way home. They are radically different. United is a huge airline flying all over the world, but the number of centimeters between the leading edge of your seat and the rear of the one in front of you is staggeringly small. Alaska, on the other hand, is a smaller carrier who is just really getting started in international flights. The space between the seats, however, is actually quite comfortable as compared to United. Since I wasn't traveling to fix anyone's car, I didn't have even a tape measure with me, so I can't provide hard numbers. I just have simple anecdotal evidence.

Broken Plane. What a Pain.
airplane igniter
Adding insult to injury, my connecting United flight from SFO to Boston was stymied by a broken plane. The symptoms were not terribly unusual: all the lights and cabin air jets suddenly stopped operating while we were at the gate. I've seen that happen often on working planes, but this time it happened a lot. The pilot said something about the "igniter" after we had pulled away from the gate, taxied partway down the tarmac, and started turning around. Turning around is never a good sign. We returned to the gate, and a mechanic got on. After a while we were told that we'd be on our way in 15 minutes. Then we were told the plane was broken and we needed a new one, so everyone had to get off. I bee-lined for the c-store and bought a beer.

The Airport Bar
small portions & large prices
I drank a Stella, wandering around the terminal cul-de-sac and found another gate advertising a flight to Boston. "Sweet!" I thought and got into the queue at the desk. Minutes later, I was 5th in the stand-by list. Unfortunately, United had overbooked all of their flights to Boston that day (and probably other destinations and dates too), so they were asking ticketed passengers on that flight to accept $1200 in travel vouchers to fly the next day. They made no such offer to the folks on my flight. Instead, I headed towards an airport bar & grill and found my brother heading the other way. He was getting on the $1200 voucher flight. We grabbed a bite and a beer at the Lark Creek Grill and then I watched him board.

The Wait
SFO gate
By now, my flight was over 3 hours late for departure. We had been informed that they were hoping for a new plane by 4. 4 became 5 which then became 6:30. After nearly 6 hours of lolling around the San Francisco airport, we were ready to board. Had I left the airport and hopped a BART train, I could have spent the afternoon in downtown SF, but United hadn't been transparent about how long the wait would be. I suspect they knew all along, but chose to string us along instead. The flight itself was tight-packed, but we arrived just after 3:AM, Boston time. I read a bunch of my book, and napped as best I could in a seat that couldn't recline.

Paul's Revere Cab Ride
Since the flight arrived so late, the free shuttle from the hotel was not running, so I grabbed a cab from the taxi-stand. The cabbie was a local from Revere, and we talked up a storm the whole way. He knew where he was going, didn't bounce me all over the place and was genuine. Frankly, that cab ride was the best part of the trip since getting dropped at the Portland airport by T in the A4 at 8:00 the prior morning. $30 later, I was collecting my room key. I keyed into my room just after 4:AM.

Why United Sucks
There are lots of reasons why United sucks, but the airline flight attendants are not among them. United had the same crew who was supposed to run the original flight (12:30 planned departure) work the actual flight (6:30 actual departure). The attendants are only paid for time in the air, so while they also had to wait around, they probably lost out on some income on a connecting flight out of Boston too. United sucks because they overbook their flights. United sucks because they cram in at least one if not multiple extra rows into their planes, making the trip even more unpleasant. United sucks because they offer hollow apologies to the inconvenienced: go to this obscure web site that you better write down as we say it because you'll never be able to navigate there on your own (go here) and we'll offer you $100 of flight vouchers so you can have another god-awful experience. United, you suck. I spent more than that on the airport food and the taxi. $100 of flight voucher is not an apology; it is a middle finger. Fine. Here's two right back at ya.

That's it for today. I'll follow up with some actual family reunion stuff. Honestly, the trip was great after the United nonsense was over.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Gotta Keep Moving

Sorry its been a few weeks since I last checked in. Since the last time I posted, there have been 2 big things going on that are post-worthy. No bus content today :-(

Moving
The company I work for moved my department a few miles down the road, so that created quite a bit of chaos and distraction. It's not terribly interesting, but its real life. I moved to Beaverton to radically reduce my commute from a 45 minute one-way drive. For some, that might feel like a dream commute compared to what you drive now. To me, spending 1-1/2 hours sitting in heavy rubber-banding traffic was too stressful. After so many years, I knew my odds of getting into a wreck, and recognized I'd dodged the odds for so long, I was due. So, I rented a place less than 2 miles from my office. Perfect. On a really bad traffic morning, it could still take me 30 minutes in a car, but I could ride a bike in less than 20 minutes consistently.

The new office is 8 miles away, in Hillsboro. The mass-transit options are few. The space is nice, but with an office so far away from so many of our respective homes, I wonder how long it will be before folks decide the commute is too far, and there are viable alternatives closer to home. We'll see.

A4
Before the divorce, before the separation, before I was asked to spend a couple of years sleeping in a guest room, I had made a commitment to my boys to gift $1k to help them get a car. At the time, the plan was to get a $1k car which needed work, and then work on it together as a project. By the time the boy was 16 and ready to drive on their own, he would have a car that he had spent years getting to know it, and pouring sweat-equity into it so he would treat it well. He would also know how the systems worked, and how to fix many of them. Well... what was listed in the first sentence got in the way of the original plan. Fast-forward 4 years and the first boy is now 17.

Weekend before last (on Sep20), he and I drove to a small town outside Seattle to size-up a 1997 Audi A4. He had been looking at Subaru sedans. He and I agreed that Subaru's are grossly overpriced in this area, so he widened his search to other all-wheel drive (AWD) vehicles. He discovered that the A4 is widely available, and not nearly as highly sought after in the PacNW used market. So, when he found this one outside Seattle, we went for it.

It took us 3+ hours to get there, trading driving responsibilities and connecting on school, college prospects, etc. The A4 is a black quattro with heated leather seats, etc. The couple who were selling it were deep Audi people. This one was their first. They have since owned at least 3 more, and were driving another one when they met us. Since this was the first, there were subtle customizations (HID headlights, lowering springs, improved speakers, etc) that further
improved the value. It had been in a low-speed nose-bump accident, but otherwise the exterior and interior were perfect. The test drive cemented our opinion of the car: it handled extremely well. The steering was smooth and responsive, the brakes were as well, and neither influenced the other. The gas was quick, the clutch acceptable (very short pivot point) and the power very good. There were some issues (power locks broken, the dented front, no heat nor AC and a broken wiper motor), so we offered a couple hundred less than his asking price.

T drove the new A4 home, leading the triumphant parade from Seattle down the I-5. He got it through DEQ the new Tuesday and got plates on Wednesday. The insurance for it was only $10 more a month than the Saturn he had been primary driver on. The final price was $1300. So far, worth every penny.

The commute I described at the beginning I now get to drive my old friend Flash (TDI Jetta). So, the longer commute isn't all bad. It's actually kinda nice to drive him again. I got home late last night from a trip back east. I'll post on that soon. That's it for today. As always, thanks for following along-

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The Other One

I watched the Netflix original documentary "The Other One" over the weekend, today's post is mostly about that. I'm sure there will be some bus / travel content mixed in somewhere. The documentary is a somewhat autobiographical look at the life and times of guitarist Bob Weir.

First, an Apology
the man, the legend
After watching the documentary, I think I understand now why Bob stopped touring. In my blast of the Fare Thee Well shows (see: Fare Thee Okay), I kicked up a rumor that maybe Bob is sick. Maybe he is, how the hell would I know? In the documentary, you can see small glimpses into his daily life with his family. I hadn't really thought much about what an endless life on the road must be like. Personally, I'd hit the road, catch a few shows and be back in my normal routine after being gone for maybe a week. Bob spent most of his life from 1970 through 2013 on the road. I feel the heel for actually getting upset that he was going to stop. I have teenage kids, so I can absolutely relate to his unspoken motivation: I've spent too many years away from them, and I only have a few more years before they leave me to start their own lives. It totally makes sense.

Jerry
Trixie
Maybe I'm in an apologetic mood. Watching Jerry's daughter Trixie describe the burden Jerry felt really got me. Similar to my guilt over wanting Bob to tour more, I feel awful knowing that my friends and I who simply wanted "more" were part of the dynamic that led to Jerry's demise. Of course, Jerry owned his decisions, and after the diabetic coma in 1986 he chose to re-introduce heroin, but how great must the pressure have been? 20+ years under the radar to have In the Dark and Touch of Gray to launch them into stadiums. I was just a teenage kid, not knowing any better when the change happened, so I'm not sure what to do with this feeling. I'll go with "I'm sorry Trixie. No other guitarist could make me smile the way your dad could. It was magical and better than any other stimulus available at a Dead show."

Phil
Where's Phil?
As present as Bob's relationship with Jerry was in the documentary, his relationship with Phil was absent. As a bass player, I was expecting a great deal about how he and Phil worked together. Consider too, how many years the 2 of them toured together as Furthur. I think Bob looked at these later years as more therapeutic than anything else, working through his mourning for Jerry, the man best described as an older brother figure. Bob and Phil spent so many of those late years together, I'm surprised and a little disappointed that Phil wasn't involved in the documentary project at all. As I think back, I don't think he was even mentioned by name, which is a little weird. Phil was effectively lumped in with Keith, Donna and John Constanten.

Bob
John Barlow
Some of the best parts of the documentary, to me, didn't last long enough: the parts that focused on Bob's approach to the instrument. Maybe the producers and director thought that the average audience wouldn't be as interested. Personally, that's what I really wanted to hear: how did he construct songs with Barlow, where did Barlow go (why did he and Bob stop working together), what are Bob's triggers for changing his voicings on songs, etc. Still, getting a long-overdue reminder of his humanity and personal limits was welcomed. It was a good watch, and I'll watch it again. Knowing Bob's current life situation, I think it's time we went to him rather than continue to wait for him to come to us.

Ok, some bus stuff
I spent some time working on scraping the chrome off those 15" rims. I used a Dremel to soften up the skin and then used a putty knife to get under the edge and peel away some chrome-skin. Overall, 2 rims are almost completely cleared of chrome. As time presents itself this week, I'll hopefully get after the other 2. I am not up for driving too far on those old tires. They are over 10 years old, and spent far too much of their life sitting in one place. After the tire fail in Wheeler (see:Santa Clara by way of Wheeler) I'd rather drive contemporary transportation until the rims are cleared, painted and new rubber slapped on. Net-net, the bus may not be operational again this dry season. Oh well.

As always, thanks for following along. I'll be keeping my eyes and ears out for a Bob Weir show announcement. Maybe he'll be ready to hit stage about when Hapy the wonderbus is ready to hit the road. It would be really great to have the two in the same location one more time.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Hoot 15 bands

Yeah, it has gotten out of hand about how long this has taken. The bands were good this year, albeit more "Phish-like" than the wide-spectrum show last year. In order of appearance-

Hootenanny Band Reviews
Grateful Buds We missed the beginning of their set, but they are a heavily blue-grass influenced Grateful Dead-ish band. Think Dead covers with a banjo, but better than that.

Bottleneck Blues I thought they'd be a blues band, and at points they were. At other times, they were more of a middle-of-the-road rock power trio. Pretty good festival music, and the crowd liked them even if most were busying themselves with setting up camp more than grooving.

Joytribe One of our favorites from last year, and they held up to a foggy memory. Lead singer can belt, and her multi-instrument skills are better this year than last. Very fun, active, get-your-body-moving music.

The Hillwilliams were one of the bands we loved last year. These guys rocked the late-night tent last year, though we missed their late show this year. Solid blue-grass / country / Americana music.

Kina Lyn and the Hat Rack Kina can wail. I mean fantastic pipes. The only weak point in their performance was in her rhythm guitar playing: it jacked the beat. They should add a second guitar so she can focus on singing which she does incredibly well. Her singing was so strong, that I really can't remember the Hat Rack. It's almost like seeing Big Brother and the Holding Company back in the day. You remember Janis just wailing, but the band? Shrug. Can't remember. Keep the guitar for writing, Kina. Great stuff.

Jesta wasn't as good as I had expected them to be. Think Phish-like songs with odd segments cutting against the groovy. The vocals weren't terribly strong and the vocal lines weren't very advanced, but the instrument musicianship was really good. Maybe they should pair up with a stronger singer who can write vocal lines?

Urban Shaman is a new formation of Vivid Curve. We absolutely loved Vivid Curve last year, so we were very excited to see their new formation. Unfortunately, part of what made Vivid Curve so good was the charisma of the guitar player. Without him, Urban Shaman lacked the draw-them-in magnetism. The didgeridoo was, of course, spot on, and the drummer was so much the same, he even wore the same hat as last year. Still, without the guitarist, they weren't quite as good.

Rainbow Electric Of the run of bands, Rainbow Electric may have been the weakest, but I think its probably better said as least experienced. They looked under 21, but had a great vibe. They were just new at the game, and didn't have the chops or material to carry a full set. Given time and practice, they'll be good.

Yur Daddy Last year, Yur Daddy arrived with a huge entourage. All weekend, the YurDaddies walked around with bandannas around their heads to draw attention. They had a dedicated camping zone. When Yur Daddy took the stage, their crowd jammed into the front of the concert bowl. This year, the entourage didn't come to the Hoot. That changed how Yur Daddy played. Their songs were the same, but didn't have as much life. The solos were good, but didn't have that cock-of-the-walk energy that was prevalent last year. We're still Yur Daddy fans, but missed the energy they had last year.

Shafty We'd never seen Shafty before, though I've seen Phish a few times. Shafty does a very good carbon-copy of Phish. Extremely good. If you like Phish, you can close your eyes and imagine Trey and company when you hear Shafty. If you've never seen Phish, and want to experience their sound in a tiny venue with less than 100 people, go see Shafty. Great show fellas; you should have closed the first night if not the whole festival. I'm not a very big Phish-head, but you really nailed it.

Garcia Birthday Band Somewhere along the way, GBB changed guitarists. I don't know when, and I can't tell from their website, but the guy who started the whole thing isn't in the band anymore. Oh well. I think that makes the entire band has turned over since I first saw them play under the trees out at the Edgefield to celebrate Jerry Garcia's birthday so many years ago. Since they cover the Dead, I'm probably a more harsh critic of GBB than everyone else. Still, they played a good show, and ended the festival on a high note.

Again, I'm sorry its taken me so long to get this out. It was a great summer music festival season, so I'll blame the delay on my going to more festivals and trying to keep my notes clean. Next Summer, I intend to start the season right with the Hootenanny again. We're going to hit Four Peaks and I want to make it to Pickathon. I'd like to add in another festival that I've only just heard of, like Summer Meltdown or maybe mix it up and hit a hemp festival. We'll see. Planning for next summer festival season is only a few months away :)

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

A Sound You Hear That Lingers In Your Ear

After driving 2 different vehicles without a radio for a while, today's post covers the little effort needed to get some tunes happening.

Back to the Future
we shall call it "DARK STAR"
1985 was an historic year. It brought us the first Back to the Future movie, Madonna's "Like a Virgin" and the Escort radar detector. Some things from that era have lived on (like the Back to the Future movie) and others, like the old radar detector, are probably sitting on garage shelves waiting to be discovered. In a very similar scene, one of Boo's friends found an old tape-deck stereo she used to have in her old Audi back in high school (in 1985). It was pulled when the car was sold, dropped back into it's original packaging and set on a shelf. Fast forward 30 years, and it was re-discovered.

The Sound of Silence-ish
Not having a use for a 30 year old car stereo, Boo's friend gave it to us. We have a couple of vehicles without stereos, leaving us to listen to the engine (what we usually do in the bus) or to rig some portable speaker solution (what we usually were doing in 2dot0 aka Dot). Boo and I had done both over the years. In fact, the bus hasn't had a stereo in it since I bought him, so even the concept of having music is foreign and awkward. I tried to get the 1985 stereo to work in Dot, but 1985 technology just doesn't install into 2001. With T driving Flash more than anyone else, he wanted a new stereo that he could one day move to his own car. That totally made sense, so we found him one and had it installed into Flash. This freed up Flash's original stock stereo. Now, we have 2 stereos. Kismet.

1985, meet 1972
it actually looks kinda okay 
Since I couldn't get the gift stereo working in the new-to-me Jetta, I figured I'd try to wire it up in the bus. I had already run power from the auxiliary battery to the radio hole, with an intention to "one day" have a radio. The old radios, though, are different than the modern marvels of today. Instead of shipping with a cartridge-like plug in the back, they have a bundle of thin wires back there. Some simple splicing later, and the radio is wired with some donor speakers sitting on the cab floor. Just like that, I have a radio. Now, there's speakers to mount, and more wires to run for more sound, etc, but as of now, I can listen to the radio. With one of those cassette tape -to- headphone jack input converter things from Radio Shack, I can route music from my phone into it. Wow... driving with music is neat.

Old Plastic
Of course, with a 30 year of radio, something isn't going to go pear-shaped. After installing the head into the dash, the little plastic volume and tuner buttons broke during re-seating. That was an easy fix with a couple of old-skool knobs from Radio Shack (I got the tape cassette thing at the same time). Oddly, those 2 knobs represent the most chrome on the bus.

Dot music
When the installers (Car Toys on Canyon in Beaverton, OR) removed the original stereo from Flash, they cracked a bunch of the plastic face. Adding insult to injury, they didn't mention it, so we didn't see the broken face until we got home. There wasn't much they could do about it, except apologize. They basically explained that the plastic was old and brittle. Having just broken the knobs on a stereo 15 years older, I couldn't exactly argue the point and the new stereo was installed very nicely. We had intended to take the old Jetta stereo and pop it into Dot, they being virtually the same car only a model year apart. With careful use of electrical tape, I was able to get the face to hold together and onto the head unit. This past weekend, I plugged the stereo in, entered the unlock code, and slid the stereo into the console of Dot. If you zoom in far enough in the picture here, you'll see the electrical tape surgery. That stereo can come out one more time and then its recycler-bound. Here's hoping that can wait a while.

The Sound You Hear
Just like that, half of the fleet went from no sound to music-capable. Fun stuff. That's it for today. As I make little improvements to the speaker set-up in the bus, I'll flap about it in future posts. In the meantime, this is a very "Agile" way of going after a problem: do the bare minimum to see if you're on the right track. Once you get buy-in on the concept, harden the solution. As you can see from the picture below, I'm still collecting feedback on the idea. The looks will be addressed later. I'll enjoy the music in the meantime. The old engine drone, that used to linger in my ear for up to an hour after driving a long distance in the bus may devolve into memory now. We'll see.

Thanks, as always, for following along.

the large magnets are actually holding the speakers in place :-D


Friday, August 21, 2015

Wheels, Studs, Chrome and Backspace

Today's post is about wheels, rims and going larger-than-stock. There are so many opinions on this topic, that finding the gems of key information in the sea of religious wars is really hard. Case-in-point, there are literally thousands of threads each dating back years, covering hundreds of pages on TheSamba. Seriously, try a search for "tire" in the Samba search engine. Ridiculous. Trying to find actionable intel is virtually impossible, but, frustratingly, it is in there. There are some great sites, though, and Google can help. I'm putting everything I figure out here so I can find it again later.

RAtwell
I've mentioned Richard Atwell before. He's like the new Bob Hoover for bay window buses. I've never met him, but we've emailed over the years. His site (www.ratwell.com) has a section on tires, and it, like the rest of his site, is much more geared towards those who wish to keep their bus as stock as possible. There is a short section about going larger than stock, and the show-your-work math helped me build a spreadsheet to figure out what rims would work. If I can figure out how, I'll upload that spreadsheet so you can leverage it too. If I don't, this is a neat calculator I stumbled upon after I'd already created the spreadsheet.

Chromed
Anyway, with the info from RAtwell in my head, I found a set of Mercedes 15" aluminum 5x112 rims with flaking chrome. Yucky looking but the $50 price was right for perfectly round, undamaged rims. I started my usual way: learn how to remove the chrome first, then see if it makes more sense to pay someone else to do it. Well, with muriatic acid, it is possible to remove the chrome at home. This is strongly discouraged. No matter how many sites say that it is easy and you can handle muriatic acid safely with the right gloves, etc, the resulting chemical (Cr-6) after the stripping is highly toxic. Think "your own personal super-fund site" or Erin Brockovich. There is a reason why chroming companies are disappearing across the US. The waste produced is some of the nastiest stuff around. In short: don't do this.

So, if I can't do it, I can pay someone else to do it, right? Yes. In Portland Oregon, August 2015 it will cost $100 per wheel for an environmentally responsible shop to do it and it will take up to 6 weeks to get them back. So, my $50 rims just became $450 rims. Hmm.. Maybe I can simply scuff them up a bunch with sandpaper and paint them?

That's what she said
With the reality of stripping the chrome still stinging, I thought I'd test fit these things while I thought about it. The memory of the failed jacks (see Santa Clara by way of Wheeler) still in my mind, I slid a 2-ton floor jack under the shock absorber mount and pulled the driver-side front wheel. The kinda grody 15" rim's holes aligned, but the rim couldn't slide home. This brought up my first new discovery: many MB rims, like the ones I got, have 12mm bolt holes, some have 14mm holes. VW buses need 14mm, so the stud is too thick for the hole. This can be resolved with a 9/16" or (better yet) 37/64" 19/32" drill bit, shaving that little bit of material out of the hole so the stud's fit.

Yes, Size Matters
I also noted that the thickness of the rim at the bolt-hole is much thicker than the old steelies. Yeah, that's obvious, but its about 20mm thick. The existing studs aren't long enough to stick out the other end with enough threading for the wheels to be safely held onto the hub by lug nuts. These studs aren't very expensive, and many people claim swapping out the studs isn't that hard.
used without an "ok"
from AirCooled.net

For posterity, I derived these numbers from GermanSupply.com. The bay-window bus studs are all press-in, after 1970:
Rear (drum brakes): 37mm long, 14mm thick
Front (disc brakes): 44mm long, 14mm thick

If I were to replace the studs with a set that would fit, I would need 57mm rears and 64mm fronts (stock plus 20mm) plus or minus. AirCooled.net has studs available which are close, and after conferring with John, the 2.2" (55.9mm) should work on the rear and 2.5" (63.5mm) should work on the front. I know my history enough to know that it could take me a day per wheel (I'm slow. I make mistakes and I don't like doing too much at once). Once I run that math, I expect mounting these $50 rims to cost me thousands in my usual charge-myself-$50/hour planning. Before I take that plunge, I switched my focus to thinking about simply buying rims from Cip1 or jbugs.

Rub Rub Rub
nicked from JBugs
There are all kinds of really nice looking, shiny rims on the market. They so pretty. Unfortunately, the new rims out there are not designed for the rear fenders of the bay window bus. Those rear "flares" don't flare out very far, and most of the rubber above the top of the rim is covered by it. This limits the ET the bus could support.(from RAtwell's tire section: ET is German for Einpress Tiefe. and it's the measurement in mm from the rim center line to the mount where the brake drum or hub contacts).

The websites don't publish the ET of these new rims. They talk in terms of inches of backspace. Backspace is the distance from the inner lip of the rim to the wheel mounting face. Since we know the backspace and the ET for the stock wheel, we can figure out the ET, though. Ha! The stock rim has a backspace of 4.75 inches and an ET of 39mm. Most of the new ones have a backspace of 3.75 or 3.5 inches. These lower numbers push the wheel further out from the hub, lowering the ET. If you've ever tried to put tire chains on the stock rear tires, you know there simply isn't that much room. Once we add in the section width, pretty much any tire that isn't one of those extreme low profile (requires special tire-mounting equipment) tires won't fit. Still, let's do the math: 1 inch equals 25.4mm, so shifting the ET of 39mm down by an inch puts it around 14 (39-25=14). I ran another math model where it was closer to 20, but the point is the same: the new rims are designed for a Vanagon at best, but more likely a beetle or squareback. Some metal work, either to the rims or your rear flares, will be required to make them fit.

Hope Glimmers?
There's one last glimmer of hope for a relatively quick swap rim: the newer Passat rim. The newer Passat, and some Audi's, were shipped with a 15" steel wheel on the 5x112 base. Unfortunately, the center hole for these rims are closer to 1.5" than the required 2.5" needed to clear the grease caps and castle nut on the old bus. I happen to have a set of these 15" rims. Of course I do. You knew I would. I've read about expanding the center hole, but tire shops won't do it out of fear of getting sued. Gotta love the American system sometimes. Anyway, it is entirely possible to figure out the right line to cut and then cut it with a special drill bit, or a Dremel. Frankly, that sounds like a bad home-mechanic idea. The probability of making the rim unusable is pretty high. And, while the tire shops fear lawsuits, they fear someone getting hurt or killed because of one of their rims failing even more. That fear is contagious; now I fear that too. I suppose, if I knew a tire guy who could assure me that it could be done right, maybe my fear could be eased. Until then, that set of rims will sit, and eventually fall onto craigslist for someone to use for snow tires.

So...
I'm back to the original grody-looking rims. I picked up a 9/16 drill bit last night, and tonight I'm going to have a go at one of the rims.

UPDATE (August 24th, 2015): 9/16 is too small. While it did shave some material away, 9/16" is 14.29 mm and the threads are bigger than .29 mm. I have since ordered a 37/64" (14.68 mm) and a 19/32" (15.08 mm) bits. I'll update once I've determined which one worked best, removing the least material.
test fit success

UPDATE (August 29th, 2015): 19/32" is right. 37/64" didn't make a large enough hole for the rim to fit. 19/32 made it fit without wrestling, and the rim isn't flopping about sitting on the studs. As you can see from the picture, the 15x6 MB rim should look pretty good, once that chrome is covered up. Next, I'll have to get after the studs, etc. I'll post about that separately, when I get to it.

Thanks for following along... if you did. There's many hours of research distilled down into about 1400 or so words.