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.

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.

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.

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.

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.