Monday, March 27, 2017

Little British Car (part 2)

In my last post, I started the tale of how I acquired a new project car. I'll complete the story today. I left off having just arrived at the PO's house, in the outskirts of Molalla Oregon.

Well... there it is
As we pulled up, the property and car owner walked out. We started talking about the brief history of the car since his son picked it up. Since the real info about the car was buried in the head of someone living in Arizona, I had no alternative but to take what he said at face value. Meaning... it might be true... The convertable top was gone, leaving only the metal frame. The interior smelled like animal, and the carpet was trash. The seatbelts didn't retract anymore and the radio didn't work. Did I mention the top was just a frame? And, it had a 10 foot paint job (meaning that it looked good from at least 10 feet away). Long as the list appears, that really seemed to be the end of the bad news. The body didn't have rust on the panels, rockers or wheel wells. The interior and engine bay seemed to have handled the weather worse than the body, making me think that the car sat outside under a tarp rather than in a barn. Or, it sat next to an open window. Later, once I got a better look at it, I think it was the barn window theory since the driver side interior and engine compartment were in worse shape, leading me to believe the car was parked with the driver side next to the window. Oddly enough, the accessories (brake master cylinder, alternator, water pump, etc) on the top of the engine had more dust-rust than the underside. Perhaps an oil leak / grease was protecting the lower half of the engine? Regardless, the rust wasn't cancerous, so we kept going.

Test Drive
The owner's father and I jumped in and fired it up. The engine sounded good, but it had been running earlier that day when he drove it out of the barn so, again, face value. I revved the engine and when pulled my foot off the gas I could hear pop-pop-pop noises. That's an exhaust leak. Otherwise, it ran well. No weird noises. So, we took a spin down the drive and out onto the country road. I hadn't had much experience driving a tiny sports car like this, so I didn't have a whole lot to compare it to. I knew it was fun, and for the price it was probably worth it. It held corners, responded to the gas pedal well, and shifted firmly. Most of the accessories worked (fan, wipers) as did the lights. The dash lit up correctly with the idiot lights flashing before starting, so I had reason to believe it was a pretty good little car.

Which Way Is Out?
We settled on a price, we signed the relevant papers and the Little British Car was mine (cue the Bottlerockets "Thousand Dollar Car"). T agreed to follow me to make sure there weren't any mechanical failures on the way home. It was about this point that I started asking the now previous owner if he thought it could make it an hour away and whether the gas gauge worked. We put a couple of gallons of petrol from a red can into the tank and the seller started to give directions for finding a gas station. The directions were an instant classic containing such favorites as "take the second or third right after the big bend" and "you're gonna cross the river a couple times before..". Of course it had a couple landmarks too, like "the house without a porch" and "the place with really good pie". I'm sure if I could have understood the directions, they would have delivered us to a gas station. Instead, we ran some math, and figured that with 2 gallons of fuel we'd be most, if not all, the way home before we were in trouble.

Roadster in the Rain
As ominous as that sounded, the MG handled fine. As we passed through Molalla, T waved me over to let me know the brake lights weren't working any more. Neat. This was when I also discovered that the windscreen washer didn't work either. Note to self (you can use it too): check all the systems and write down your findings. Driving into a setting sun with a filthy windscreen wasn't how I wanted to start this relationship, so I dumped my water bottle onto windshield and rubbed it clean-ish with a towel we found in the Subbie. It sufficed. With T following, we put the little car through more paces, testing it's acceleration, braking and steering. The brakes grew soft, indicating an issue there, and the steering held well, but it felt like there could be more precision. The car's get up and go, however, had no problems. Once we hit the Interstate, the little car was able to cruise at 70mph and dip/dodge in traffic. T stayed right behind me, acting as my brake lights until we were in our neighborhood. We completely forgot to get fuel. We didn't need it anyway.

That's about it for today. I've since done some work on the MG and I'll post about that in the future. In the meantime, thanks as always for following along-

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Little British Car (part 1)

I've mentioned the move. I've mentioned the job change. Both of these things take quite a toll on your time and energy. Before I left that last job, though, I received that one last, albeit disappointing, bonus. I had received enough to cover my share of T's college tuition and had about a grand left over to piss away on something stupid. Enter something stupid:

Little British Car
sample, but it looked like this
My first real girlfriend had older siblings, a sister and a brother. Her sister used to hassle us about our shared love for Led Zeppelin. Her brother had an old racing green chrome-bumper MGB he had been carefully restoring that looked like the picture on the right here. I remember the family got him a wood steering wheel for his birthday and watching him melt before our eyes as he unwrapped it. As I think about it, that may have been my first within-arms-length exposure to fixing up an old car that wasn't a piece of crap. Anyway, I really liked his old MGB. I liked it so much that when I later won some money on a radio contest, I started making plans to go buy one of my own. Well... the radio contest turned to bust when they learned I wasn't 18, so my dream of an MGB drifted away. Until this past September.

As I mentioned in the move-again post, this new-to-me house is 20% smaller than the last one. I have found that the shrinkage applies to the garage as well since the laundry facility is out there. Careful measuring demonstrates that the bus can technically fit in the garage, there won't be any maintenance work performed upon it in there. Truth be told, there aren't many projects left on it that I want to tackle anyway. I really just want to drive it. So, combining the small garage, bus fitment and interest in something new, I went looking for something small. Like a Ghia or a Beetle... or maybe something not German.

Seek and Ye Shall Find
I admit that I spend more time than I probably should cruising around Craigslist cars_and_trucks and auto_parts sections. When I had some stupid money around, of course I went there. I'm always pricing cars in one way or another, so I had a pretty good idea of what I could get in a 30 year old project for a grand. The market for Ghia's is off the chart and even older Beetles are fetching a high price for no-floor, no engine/tranny projects. In the case of MG's, I found a concrete floored barn-car in Molalla, some yard art in Eugene and a few projects that looked like parts car sell-offs. Not exactly the treasure trove I'd hoped for, but with high hopes, T and I hopped into his Subbie and set off for cowboy country.

GoogleMap of Molalla
If you've never been to Molalla Oregon, it is a contemporary version of an old west town. For example, if you pull it up on Google maps, the first business that appears is the Molalla Buckaroo Association (the Molalla Buckaroo is a rodeo). Through the center of town runs main street, and this is where you'll find most of all the businesses that operate within the city. T and I spotted a Mexican restaurant (el Charrito), and stopped to eat. It was happy hour, and the place was about 1/2 full. All locals, all friendly. We were seated in a booth, served well and ate well. We figured that since we were in the center of town, we had to be pretty close to where our barn-find lived.

Where in God's Green Earth Are We?
Not exactly. Our Google Map had us driving seemingly all over the hills surrounding Mollalla. We had to turn around a few times, but we spotted a driveway hidden by bushes on both sides. The No Trespassing sign was also obscured, but since we were invited, we turned in and headed down the gravel drive. After about a 1/4 mile, the shrubs gave way to grassy lawn spread out in front of a farmhouse. There was a large barn on it's left and a vermillion (c'mon, it's orange) MGB parked in between.

sample MGB image. Actual car much crappier

That's it for today. More next time...

Friday, March 10, 2017

Localized Climate Change

So the title got your attention. I'm not going political. I started this posting in August, and experienced some changes after "Tipping Point". I'm getting back to this now, to complete the story, and hopefully help others recognize when you've reached your own tipping point.

Boiling Frog
There's this myth that if you put a frog in a pot of really hot water, the frog will jump out, but if you put it in a pot of cool water it will stay, even if you turn on the heat. The myth is that the frog will boil alive. Research has disproven this, but it is still used often as a fable to drive another agenda: lots of little things changing for the bad can go unnoticed until its too late. So, since that fable has been scientifically proven false, I'll go with something else: Climate Change.

Climate Change
We've heard the political rhetoric about "global warming" and watched the term evolve into "climate change". The idea is similar to the boiling frog story: lots of little changes for the bad resulting in a situation that is far worse than it was when it all started. Whether you believe this is a myth or reality doesn't matter for my purpose today. It is just a way of explaining a negative trajectory. All that context gets me to my starting point.

Baseline Climate
When I started working for my current employer, I was a contractor. This employer is like many others, reserving the nicer work spaces for the full-time employees. So, when I started, I was given a 3 year old laptop and a desk chair. I was directed to sit under an open stairway... without a desk. It was kind of like working at the airport all the time. Within a few weeks, I had started demonstrating value and I was moved into a pen of tables where many other contractors were. Later, I was moved into a smaller office with 3 other contractors. All in all, though, it was pretty good. We were on the main campus, so we had all the access to things that such a large wealthy company can provide: natural beauty, a walking-around lake, famous people dropping by, really good food, and well-funded projects allowing for teams to bring in good people and build interesting things. Into this environment, I accepted a full-time role doing high level data architecture stuff.

Early Winds of Climate Change
During our days on the main campus, we moved around a lot. From offices, to conference rooms to pens, back to offices. I didn't stay in one spot for more than a few months. Large companies, especially "growth" companies, get bigger. This growth usually outpaces their ability to, and oftentimes interest in, build more space for housing the growth. When my employer felt that pressure, technologists were the first to be pushed out, and off campus. My department didn't go far, definitely not as far as some of our Technology friends, but we lost the beauty, the lake, the good food and the famous people dropping by. In fact, most of the little things that made working there special were lost. For the techies, we could have been working for pretty much anyone. We were also detached from the business unit we were supposed to be supporting. Rather than sitting in the next cluster of desks (or right beside you), they remained in the old location, a 15 minute walk away. The work was still well funded and the projects were still interesting, though. In fact, shortly after this move, we were given a huge program (many projects under one huge umbrella) to deliver over the next 3 years.

Hot Winter and Hotter Summer
Huge program. Awesome. This will be fun. In order to do it, we're going to need a lot more people, and more folks to manage them. Step one: grab some folks in the trenches and make them managers. I was one of those folks. I'm not sure I really wanted to manage, but I figured if they wanted a team of people to do what I used to do by myself, who better to build that team? Our group exploded in terms of people and overhead. Pretty soon, my days were spent crafting powerpoint slide desks to explain to new additional layers of management what my team was doing instead of helping do the work. After the first year, the continued growth of the company, combined with the growth of the department in response to the new work, we had to move again.

Tipping Point
This time, we were moved a town away, and further away from Portland. Portland is a great technology hub, and this move stressed the top-tier engineers. Many left. Others adapted. Considering that Portland was attracting lots of technology folks from around the country, we were able to bring people in, but we had become a landing zone for techies from around the globe who wanted to live in Portland. They would do their contract (or a portion of it) and then not re-up, choosing instead to either join a start-up or another company that's actually in Portland. For the projects, and those who did the work, the 15 minute walk to see our business partners was now a luxury we could hardly remember. It was replaced with a 20-minute car ride. Like many tipping points, you don't know what it was until after it's passed.

As you can imagine this had a significant cooling effect on relations between the business and the technology folks charged with working with them. The first change was pretty immediate: the business folks no longer appeared at Technology-hosted meetings, parties, etc and our seeing them daily devolved into once a week. Then, the relationship shifted from "partners" to servant:served. Collaboration was replaced with mandates, targets with schedules, flexibility with finger-pointing. Our cordial and supportive environment had grown caustic.

The rapid expansion that had been driven from the executive levels had changed the culture across the enterprise at a very core level. Additionally, the rapid increase in employees became a stock price burden (increasing cost-of-goods-sold) exacerbating the sluggish sales hammering the stock. The "we can do anything" attitude had been replaced with a "chase the golden ring" behavior. Investment was not focusing on what was prudent, instead, funding would pivot to whatever was the hottest thing, with the belief that it would snap things back to the rolling-in-the-dough days. Cost management became cutting contractors (and lots of them) while protecting business travel and politically connected projects.

August was annual bonus time. While I watched business partners acquire new cars with their bonuses, mine was very disappointing. I had enough to cover my share of T's first term at public university, but the promises of big money and having my salary improved to reflect my worth proved empty. I had decided my time with the company was over and started prepping an escape pod. In my time in the Portland area, I knew a lot of people. Of course, those same people knew lots of folks at my employer, so careful diplomacy was critical. Oddly enough, I heard about an opportunity because of all the other folks who were leaving my employer. One of them was applying for a role where I had some old friends and they asked me about the applicant, and if I'd want to post for it since they were looking for a few people. Two weeks later, I had an offer. For more money. And less responsibility. In the center of the city. I my gave notice, and in the same meeting my manager told me that I had to release all of my contractors because my team was getting eliminated. By now, it was almost Thanksgiving, so the company's parting gift to me for my years of service was to play Scrooge for a team of 10 people. Neat. I spent my last 3 weeks finding new roles for each one of them. Then, I boarded my escape pod and ejected myself from that toxic soup.

I spent the rest of 2016 on vacation. Beware Climate Change. In the corporate environment, it is very real. Those who can't vote with their wallet, vote with their feet. If your management is voting against you (with their funding, projects, treatment), I encourage you to vote with your feet. And leave. That's it for today.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Cold Rain and Snow

Today, I'm going to geek out on our Pacific NorthWest snowfall this season.

Snow in the Mountains
Last Summer, the weather folks were calling for a La Nina pattern to develop over the late fall. This usually means the Pacific Northwest is colder and wetter than normal. If you don't live here, nor watching weather patterns here, let me tell you: they nailed it. Mt Hood, our local 11,000+ foot high mountain, has an incredible amount of snow. Based on the historical data, Mt. Hood is way ahead not just of average, but of historic highs. Based on the decade graph, most years Mt Hood has around 115' of snow. To date, they have over 150' and we have another month before the traditional snow pack peak. Snowfans (like me) are thrilled.

Rain in the Valley
There's a saying around here: "rain in the valley means snow on the mountain". It's usually true. This year, being a complete departure from normal, snow on the mountain could mean snow in the valley. To wit, Portland Public Schools closed for 9 days due to weather. Between the heavy snowfall, lack of plows and extended cold days, the snow became ice and travel actually got worse before it got better. We have also had multiple sub-freezing stretches which did not have precipitation. While that's not really a travel challenge if you're in a car... it is if you're in an old car or, as has been my case recently, riding public transit. Standing on a train platform in a stiff wind and below freezing temps is reality for so many. It's quite humbling for those used to driving every day (like I was).

Batteries Lost
On a personal level, standing on a platform wasn't really the biggest impact. Of our fleet of cars, we lost 3 batteries to the cold. I'm sure you're reading this and thinking "aw, the cold didn't do it". Maybe. All I know is these cars ran fine and then we didn't run them because the snow piled up and we didn't want to drive them on the ice. Next time we went to start them, they wouldn't start and wouldn't take a charge. In two cases, we took the batteries to Les Schwab and they confirmed they were in need of replacement. Honestly, I don't trust shops who benefit from giving you information that they generate themselves. But, I tried to charge them, and the charge wouldn't stick at home, so I figured they were all goners. The third one took a jump and after jumping it a few times (more like after taking a long drive), the battery is working correctly again. Still, we're thinking about replacing it anyway.

Funny thing how time just slips away. The cars who lost batteries were obviously not cars we drive all the time. Dude, our old Saturn, is on the block for selling this Spring. Getting the old battery out isn't too bad, but the new battery sat for a week before K, our now 21 year old, came over and installed it. It is literally 3 bolts holding it in. K needed to borrow the car, so he had the motivation that I lacked. The other dead battery was for our beloved microbus. That battery still hasn't been installed. Part of it is laziness, part of it is not really planning to drive him until the weather improves and part of it is that I've been distracted with a few different things. I'll go into those eventually.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Running on Empty

Following the new pedal install, I took a few victory laps. I took each of the kids who were still living with me on small trips to demonstrate the new-found speed. In every  case, we would howl with laughter as I stomped on the accelerator and Hapy leaped to life. Hapy became my daily driver for the rest of the Summer, and I was having so much fun I forgot about one kinda sorta really important thing: the fuel gauge still doesn't work.

That Dreaded Feeling
pretty day to run out of fuel
You know that moment. The engine misses just once, and your conscious mind doesn't even register it. But your sub-conscious does. In that moment, your sub-conscious screams, awakens your conscious mind and you think to yourself "I wonder when I last put fuel in the tank". That was me on a mid-October morning as I was making my way to work in the AM northbound rush on 170th approaching the light-rail crossing. Then it skipped again. I threw Hapy into neutral, and hoped the traffic gods would permit me to not break down straddling the crossing. They did. Turns out the traffic gods found it to be more funny for me to run dry in the intersection between 170th and Baseline.

When Push Comes To Shove
For those who don't know that intersection, it is in an area of northwest Beaverton where growth has been exploding. As is the case elsewhere, infrastructure lags construction booms, so these are heavily-traffic'd 2-lane roads. I popped on the flashers, and started pushing. As I started to cut across a lane, I noticed that Hapy was moving much easier than I thought he should be almost like he was rolling downhill and then noted that a fellow motorist had put his car in the dirt and had joined my morning workout. We got Hapy along the curb on Walker facing east just barely outside the white sideline. In typical Oregon fashion, there were no horns sounded nor obscene gestures but there were many dirty looks... until we were off the road then passing motorists returned to smiling and waving at the little microbus.

in a weird twist, the power grid failed too
The verification process for running out of fuel is especially easy if you have one of those $1 clear plastic pre-filters. I put one in to extend the life of the stock TDI filter, so this was easy. Empy clear filter means I ran the tank dry. Neat. At this point, the guy who helped push went even further beyond normal and offered to drive my to a gas station. Being a diesel (and diesel isn't sold at over 1/2 the stations here), this was a more generous offer than I think he realized. I explained the situation, but he wouldn't relent, so I jumped into his mini Toyota pickup and we sped off to the Fred Meyer on 152nd.

Can't Prime
For many cars, getting a car to run after you've run it dry is somewhat obvious: you put fuel in the tank and keep the key turned to run while the fuel pump fills the lines. Or, you just sit on the starter and the mechanical fuel pump plus engine draw get it started. I've actually had success getting Hapy started this way before. Not this time. I could not get the fuel system to prime from the key. For what seems to be far too often an experience, I had to get Hapy towed home. Now, I thought I had already posted the process for how to get your fuel lines re-primed after running dry, but a search didn't bring one up. So... I guess that's today's post. Note that picture of the intersection. It was mid-morning (post-rush) and the powergrid in the surrounding area had gone down too. The signals weren't working and I snapped a picture at a rare moment when there was virtually no one around. For the most part, there were long lines going in every direction, but I digress...

Fuel First
This is obvious, but its still the first step. Grab your yellow oh-shit can. In Oregon, it must be yellow for diesel or the station attendants get wigged. I'm pretty sure its the law, kinda like you're not allowed to pump your own gasoline here, but you can pump diesel. Weird. Anyway, get it filled with a couple gallons of diesel and dump it into the tank. This should be the easy part. In my case, I spilled a bunch down the side of the bus, but that's a "me" issue.

not my engine. I swiped the image from the 'net
Next, pop the hood and find the stock (not clear) fuel filter. The rubber line that leaves the filter and heads for the supply side of the injection pump (IP) is your target. In the picture on the right, I circled it in red. Disconnect that hose at the IP (the light grey thing right next to the red circle) and attach it to the reservoir end of the mity-vac. Apply vacuum until fuel starts to appear in the reservoir. You should be able to watch the fuel first fill the clear filter and then you need to work the stock fuel filter full. Since you ran your tank dry, it is possible that there's crap in your fuel filter. If you have one of those cheapo clear filters, this is a $1 problem and takes a couple minutes to resolve. Generally speaking, if you ran dry and you have one of these, just spend the $1 and move on. If you don't have one, now is a good time to consider adding one. Once the reservoir is getting fuel, re-connect it to the IP.

Hard Lines
At this point, you have fuel in the system from the tank through to the IP. In some cases, this could be all you need to do. Have a partner jump behind the wheel and try starting (obey the glow plug idiot light). After about 15 seconds of cranking, if it doesn't start, your hard lines are not priming. Bummer. Grab a spanner (can't remember the size) and crack open the connection between the hard line and each injector while your friend hangs out in your driver seat. In the picture above, I circled the injector -to- hardline connections in blue. When you have them loose, have your partner crank the engine. One by one, each loose injector connection will bubble first air, then fuel. Once you have fuel at your first injector, your partner can stop cranking. Tighten that connection with your spanner and have your partner crank again. Like before, once the second injector connection is bubbling fuel, your partner can stop cranking, you tighten the connection and move on. By your last injector, the engine will be running.

Now make sure you have torqued the lines down according to spec. If you don't, and just tighten them enough to stop the leaking, you will lose prime again and have to do this all over again the next time you come out to start the engine. That's what happened to me....

That's it for today. It's been a busy last few months, so I've got lots of stories to tell. Not many about driving the bus, sadly, with the weather as rough as it's been in the Pacific NorthWest this winter, but there's a bunch going on. Thanks for tuning in-