Boston Driver’s Notebook 1/26/11

24 01 2011

Everything has its compensations, and one thing about not being married is the ability to just up and leave at any moment. I had a job to do, but it was under a foot of case-hardened snow with an ice storm predicted two days hence.

Buried Treasure

I decided to go to Vermont on Sunday at noon. By one, I was in the truck and driving out of the snowbank where it had weathered the storm. I was trying to get an early start, because this would be the first long trip in the new 1988 Toyota and I was heading north into the mountains.
Before I left, I added a quart of Marvel Mystery Oil which I hoped might clean crud out of the poorly-maintained motor on the 4 hour drive. The truck appeared to have a thirst for oil which the old truck didn’t have.  I should have brought my tools, but didn’t. Traffic was light on the way out of town. I pulled over to check under the hood once I got to New Hampshire.

Live Free and Die

I noticed something I hadn’t noticed before. There was an odd rubber cap on an extra outlet on the top tank of the radiator. It was held on with a hose clamp, and appeared to be a vacuum cap which was suddenly leaking coolant. Whether it was an oddball transmission cooler, or for air conditioning, it definitely didn’t belong in this truck, a manual transmission, non-air conditioned 4-banger. While I was looking around, I noticed the brake fluid was a bit low, and the oil was a bit low. No doubt the coolant was a bit low, too.
I was hoping to get to Tilton without a radiator blowout. I had noticed the truck running hot, and the lack of containment would explain it. I had a long way to go, and considered turning back. I saw a sign for Tilton 18 miles, and kept going. I made it to the exit and the VIP parts store on the main drag. I knew every parts store on 93 north. I went around gathering what I could to fix the radiator, and picked up some oil and some antifreeze.

I Didn't Feel Very Important

To fix the radiator, I bought an expensive piece of fuel injection hose and some hose clamps, and a pair of bolts. There was a VIP employee installing windshield wipers on the next car over, and I borrowed his box cutter to cut off an inch of line. The air intake duct was in the way of the repair, of course, but I managed to take off the broken vacuum cap and hose clamp. I had a reversible screw driver, and a few metric sockets and wrenches on board. The expensive fuel injection line was too narrow to get on the outlet, and I’d cut it, so there was no exchanging it. There was a short piece of hose on the overflow outlet of the radiator overflow reservoir, which I misappropriated.

Step 1: Waste Money. Step 2: Improvise.

It had a larger inside diameter than the expensive fuel injection hose, and after some uncomfortable hand work, and unpleasant language, I had it clamped to the outlet. I had first threaded the new bolt into the other end of the short piece of hose, and clamped it securely. I added some coolant and some oil, too much oil once I checked it.
I stopped at BK for a whopper Jr. and to wash off my hands, on my way out of town.

Eat It!

There was a Pink Floyd hour on the New Hampshire radio station I was listening to. Once I was Comfortably Numb, a weather report came in, predicting 5-8 inches of snow for the “Great North Woods”. The road to Franconia Notch was lightly traveled by skiers, Vermonters, Quebecois, and a few New Hampshire rednecks. The rednecks filtered off at each exit, and most of the skiers exited at Woodstock where the Kancamagus Highway heads into the White Mountains.
I pulled off the Franconia Notch two-lane blacktop at the Boise Rock exit. I always loved going through the notch at or close to the speed limit, as is my wont. The mountains tower out of sight, and there is usually snow or rain given a meteorological chance. The only mosquito at the picnic is that half the time there is a person behind me frantic to go at highway speeds, when the posted limit is 45 MPH. Once, I pulled out of the trailhead parking lot and instantly had a whole line of yuppies and rednecks, in a suicidal charge, bear down on me doing about 70. One was even enraged enough to pass me on the right, in the breakdown lane. I was in the Death Tuna, and could have drifted to the right in the single lane far enough to wander into an insurance payout.
I asked Charlie Paradise, deep thinker and slow driver, where he imagined these people in expensive cars were going in such a hurry. “They’re rushing home to sit in front of their TV for the next six hours,” he said.

I am not a slow driver on the Paradise scale, but Franconia Notch is one of the most scenic stretches of road in New England.

One Must Have a Mind of Winter

In addition, New Hampshire State Police have been extremely serious since they had a few of their ranks gunned down on the job. They treat everyone like a potential cop killer, until proven otherwise. I try to avoid meeting them.
I stopped in Littleton, NH for gas, and to check the radiator. The truck had been running cooler since Tilton, and the repair looked to be holding up. It was getting dark and I still had an hour to go. Somehow it was 4:30 PM. The repairs must have taken longer than I thought. I had spent a long time in the VIP, trying to gear up to rig up the radiator. I checked the oil. There was still too much oil, which is a bad thing, it can somehow blow out the piston rings.
After Littleton, 93 passes the Moore Reservoir, which was frozen and snow covered. Then it’s down a hill past the final NH Statie lair, and up a long gradient into Free Vermont. One immediately arrives at the Waterville rest stop, where I have decided the free water is probably good. I went in for a fluid exchange. The rest stop agent was there. “What are those large cylinders on the flatbed trucks, out there?” I asked him. They were longer than the semi-trailers and the diameter was wider, about fifteen feet.
“Oh those are towers for windmills, going to Utah.”

The Future is Now

“That’s incredible.”
“Oh yah, coming from Maine, going out to Utah.” There had been five or six trailers with the giant silos on them. They were parked in the truck area with no truck cabs attached, some kind of transfer.
“People say windmills are ugly and noisy, but I like them,” I said. “Better than a coal-fired plant…”
“Well, we got to get off the foreign oil,” said the agent. “It’s wind or solar or nuclear. And I don’t care for nuclear myself.” He had a good old Vermont accent, said “cay-yuh” instead of “care”, and it did me good to hear it.
I noticed that going up the steeper grades, the truck was falling off of 65 MPH. I downshifted, and the motor seemed happier. I was still getting to know the truck. I hoped it didn’t need an engine rebuild right away. I was already looking at a clutch and rear main seal repair, which I was hopeful could wait until the weather improved. “You’re inheriting someone else’s problems,” the VIP counter guy had said on the subject. Time would tell just what those problems would be.
Route 93 North ended, and I made the big looping turn onto 91 North at St. Johnsbury, VT. The last few cars were going to Lyndonville, after that I was alone. It was dark and snowing hard by the time I got off 91. A stop for supplies and up the paved road to the dirt road. I still had the truck in 2 wheel drive. I still hadn’t tested out the 4WD, reluctant to open a can of potential worms. The steep driveway to the camp was snowed in; it had been plowed, but not recently. I made the sharp left and bogged down, same thing the second time, so I went down the hill to the neighbor’s driveway and turned around. With some momentum and a lot of spinning I made it up the hill with rear wheel drive.

Made It

The next day was bitterly cold, it never got above -20 degrees. I went out and started the truck. The first thing I noticed was exhaust pouring out of various points around the muffler and catalytic converter. I had cobbled together the exhaust while I assembled new parts which were back home, ready to go. The rusted areas I had welded up were rusting through in other places.  I decided to defer that, and attached the rear exhaust hanger which had fallen apart, and left it at that.

It also appeared that the brake warning light was on.  Some kind of brake leak, perhaps.

Arthur Mometer's Broke

The next thing was getting some oil out of the oil pan. I got a drain pan, and a camping ground pad from the house. I brought a 13 mm and a 15 mm wrench under the truck.  It was a 14 mm bolt.  The 14 mm wrench turned up missing.   I spent the next hour looking for any kind of adjustable wrench, SAE equivalent wrench or extra 14 mm wrench throughout the VT house. Nada. Finally, on my third search of the truck, the 14mm wrench showed up under the seat.
I drained what seemed like a lot of oil, and then replaced the drain and checked it. Still too much oil. I repeated this a couple more times, until there was a bit too much but acceptable. At one point I dropped the 14mm wrench in the snow and had to paw around until I found it.

Warning: Brake Emergency

I locked the front hubs, manually, old school, and threw ‘er in four-wheel drive.  Happily, no grinding noise or loud banging ensued.  On the contrary, the old bus felt nailed to the ground in spite of the unplowed snow over ice in the driveway.  My one indulgence had been to outfit the new Yota with Bilstein offroad shocks, and the wheels didn’t lose any traction on the washboard ice patches on the dirt road.

It was off to the Lake Parker General Store to get on the internet and buy a copy of the VT Trading Post, and other sundry items.

Lake Parker General Store/ Parker Pie

They were out of brake fluid.  I looped into town for some.

On the way back up the driveway, there was no tire-spinning.

It got warmer, into the 20’s for the rest of the week, and I pursued my new exercise program, deep-snow Shaolin and Praying Mantis kungfu alternating with breaking new cross-country skiing trails.

Snow Shaolin

They had just enjoyed the same foot of snow in Boston as we had received in VT. The next day was Friday, and more sub-zero temperatures were predicted for the weekend. I decided to make a break for the South before the deep freeze.

Keep Your Eyes on the Road; Hands upon the Wheel

There was the usual white-out snow in the Notch, and a truck very similar to mine was on the side of the road about to pull a mini-van out of waist-deep snow where it had buried itself. It looked like it was being handled, so I continued onward.

Everything went well until I got to town, when the clutch started squealing every time I started from a stop. It was the rear main seal dripping oil onto the clutch disc and glazing it. I was hoping it would improve spontaneously, once the truck had a nice rest.

Needs Improvement

There was even a parking space on my street, which looked like a disaster zone with nowhere left to pile the snow. Another foot of snow was on the way.




3 responses

25 01 2011

I have a very close friend who lives in Bethlehem just across the notch. Maybe you should have his phone number for breakdowns.

27 01 2011
Molly Melloan

Going early tomorrow to Bellows Falls to have heater core/radiator flushed for 75 bucks. Maybe then I will have heat in my ’89 240 wagon. If not, do I really want to lay down $900 for a new heater core? Winter is almost over. My neighbor Lisa blew the head gasket on her ’96 Cross-Country. Ever since Don at Viking Volvo, Vernon, Vermont became too sick to work we devotees are cast adrift with no mooring. I was observing to Lisa that my parents in the NJ suburbs have never had any car trouble of any sort, but up here it is a way of life, about resourcefulness, neighbors, yarning each other out of messes. Nothing like having your friends or sometimes a stranger come through for you at the side of the road at 10 below.

27 01 2011

If it’s a bucket, you can get a heater box from JC Whitney. It sits on the floor next to your passenger’s ankles. You have to feed heater hose through the firewall, but it solves a problem. Naturally, Charlie Paradise ran one of those set-ups for years in our jointly-owned Coronet 500.

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