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.

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.

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.

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.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

1... 2... 3... 4 Peaks

Over Summer Solstice, a 3500 person music festival called "Four Peaks" takes place just outside Bend Oregon. Boo and I went to our first this year. Today's post is a review, of sorts. I apologize both for the lateness of this posting as well for the lack of posting the past month. I've had some weird health things going on (bad lethargy) so finding energy to post about things just wasn't happening.

Anemia, Dust and Allergens
Not exactly "Lawyers, Guns and Money", but my trifecta for Four Peaks was somewhat misery-centered. I'd been feeling lethargic, and no amount of testing resulted in any useful information or actions. Basically, I was tired all the time. Any activity, even just walking across the room would spike my heart rate. Adding insult to injury, I was coming off a cold, allergy season was in full swing and Four Peaks was held in the central Oregon desert. As a result, Boo and I spent a lot of time near the

Four Peaks vibe
We love Four Peaks. The energy was positive and groovy, the people were friendly and the staff were awesome. As I mentioned in the Finding Waldo post earlier, we didn't see a single over-indulged person. The servers in the beer garden were on top of it and the White Bird tent folks must have been too. The times I passed by the White Bird tent, it was empty, so maybe we have the attendees to celebrate. Even though we mostly stayed away from the crown at the stage, we met tons of bus people, though, and we saw more splitties (4), bay-windows (16) and vanagons (literally dozens) than we'd seen at any festival or show up to that point. We were parked next to a '71 westy, for example. Boo and I would take walks around the lot/camping scene and talk to fellow festers, both bus owners and tent-folk. Everyone was just having a great time.

Melvin Seals and the JGB
Boo was awesome. Her patience for my lethargy was greater than my own. I wanted to see music, but it would wear me out just walking to the stage. So, we saved up all of our
energy on the second day for Melvin Seals and the JGB. If you aren't familiar, this group is made up of parts of Jerry Garcia's old band, including Melvin Seals on the keys. In the picture on the web, they show a long-haired guy on bass, but we had someone else playing... and he was fantastic. I hadn't ever thought of "Cats Down Under the Stars" as a funky tune, but the bass line he was laying down made that song boogie. Great stuff. The backup singers took me back to Jerry's old "windshield wiper" backup singers, complete with their synchronized side-to-side stepping while singing. They were great, the crowd loved them, and danced like each song was a set closer. I spent all of my energy for the day, and shuffled back to the bus to rest afterwards.

Poor Man's Whisky
Parked on our other side was a group of 3 families each from one of the 3 nearest states: Oregon, Washington and California. The guys had all gone to college with the front man for Poor Man's Whisky, so they had a special connection to the festival. They were adamant that Boo and I make it to see them, even if we missed the rest of the festival. So, that was our one target for the third day, and we weren't disappointed. While not as groovy as Melvin Seals, they pulled off some great stuff.. like a bluegrass version Pink Floyd's "Time". Having never seen them before, I loved their range, and everything they did, they did well. I'm sure they only get to Oregon for festival season, but if they make it back in the darker months, we'll definitely go.

To and From
Hapy drove great, both there and back. The Central Cascades were some of the steepest and most turn-y roads I'd driven sonce the engine transplant, so it was a great road test. I did have to drop into 3rd a couple of times on the way there. That could have been attributed to all the water, food and ice we were carrying. The drive home included a temperature scare. Driving west on OR20 out of Sisters, there is a long steep grade. Hapy's temperature steadily climbed until we almost hit 200*. We pulled over into an overlook, and set up a lunch picnic while he cooled down. After the picnic, I started testing the cooling fans, and sure enough, one of the fans wasn't spinning when the switch flipped. I'd seen this before, though when I went digging into the archive, I can't find any postings about it.

In 2012, we drove to the Further shows in Troutdale at the McMenamin's. The parking was rutted and bumpy. It was so bumpy that one of the wires for the cooling fans shook loose, so the coolant wasn't getting cooled off. I had to diagnose and fix it on the side of I-84!

Well, this time, I figured that out before we even pulled to a stop, much less after looking at things. The "lot" for Four Peaks is just open meadow, so there are lots of bumps and tire ruts creating quite the chatter as you leave. Of course one of the wires shook free! I identified the bad connection, fixed it and we were on our way.