Boston Driver’s Notebook 4/15/11

26 04 2011

It has been suggested that I include more road rage stories, and maybe less technical detail about truck maintenance.  With the abundance that droppeth from heaven like gentle rain,  this fortnight lavished on me some  examples of the worst that human nature and Boston driving can offer.  Other fun events have been unfolding at the same time- state and federal income taxes.

Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here

With only days left to complete my badly squangled taxes, I decided to replace the right front brake caliper of Clyde Barrow, my truck.
But first the road rage incident.
The Tunacuda was not charging.   A friend had traded me a cheap, but recent battery after the cheap, but old battery I had in the car would no longer hold a charge.  The new battery cranked the car just fine, but even when the car was running fast warming up, the alternator gauge was reading on the discharge side of zero.

I read a bunch of stuff on about how to test the charging system.  As is usual on the internet, I ended up reading about electrical power in general.  Femtowatts and picowatts measure things like threshold sensitivity of antennae to radio waves.  Nanowatts per square meter measures the power reaching earth from a star of apparent  magnitude +3.5.  Also according to Wikipedia, a laborer can sustain an average power output of about 75 watts over the course of an eight hour day.

I approached the car with the multimeter, but didn’t feel conclusive about any of the readings.

Electric City

The alternator looked newish, and I had replaced it not too many years, and few miles ago.  I took the alternator out and brought it down to the local discount, joke auto parts store.  I knew which of the counter help were sentient, but they were all busy.  I ignored a plainly deficient counter person as long as possible, before, purely out of boredom, I handed him the alternator and asked him to please test it.
He looked around in panic at the other occupied counter people.  Finally he interrupted one of them who told him to look up the testing procedure on the computer.
“What year, make and model is it?”
“1967 Plymouth Barracuda.”
He laboriously pecked at his keyboard.  “What year?”
“Wow, 1967?”
“Yes, 1967.”
“What make?”
“What model?”

Tunacuda @ Walter Gropius Garage

We elaborately entered every detail but the upholstery color, before the newbie pointed at the screen and said, “We don’t have the test leads.”
“Yes, but over here on the screen it says, ‘Use universal test leads.’”
He looked blank.  “But it says we don’t have the test leads.”

Was it the lead paint on Chinese toys?  The lowered expectations of educators and parents?
“Look, just get me a new alternator.  If it doesn’t work, I’ll just bring this back.”  Then I made a mistake, and turned in the fairly OK-looking alternator I’d brought with me as the core return.

What an Alternator may Look Like

I installed the new alternator, but the gauge still looked limp and unresponsive.  It was not the alternator, I decided, but rather the voltage regulator that was at fault.   That meant that I had most likely traded in a working alternator for this cheap, rebuilt unit that, for all I knew, was no better.

I checked the local parts store’s website for voltage regulators, but all they had was the cheap, mechanical chineesy ones like the one that had failed so rapidly, and had fit so poorly.

I ordered one online, and then went outside and ran a ground from the alternator to the mounting screw of the voltage regulator, and from the second mounting screw of the voltage regulator to the battery negative post.  I soldered on the connectors, because I could.

Solid State Voltage Regulator

Down in the basement, I found the box marked ‘alternator core’, with a truly thrashed alternator inside, and drove back to the parts store to exchange it for the nice alternator I’d brought in earlier.  If it wasn’t broke, it probably worked.  I got the big, black, counter guy who wasn’t a complete idiot, and he found my better alternator with surprising ease.

During the short return trip, I paused to let a jaywalker safely cross the treacherous expanse of Somerville Ave, Union Square, Somerville.  Just as he was almost to the safety of my truck, a car came careening around me, missing me by an inch, and the pedestrian by less.

Near Miss

 The small, insipid sedan then screeched to a stop at the red light about twenty feet up the road.  Mission accomplished.
The adrenaline from all that potential mayhem somehow propelled me from the cab of my truck.  Maybe I was ready to render first aid to the potential hit and run victim, or something.  Past are the days when I was always ready to brawl at the drop of a hat.  It was in this state of mind that I found myself outside my truck, blinking in the sunlight.
At the same time, a small, trollish homunculus erupted from the death car and shrieked “ARE WE GOING TO HAVE A F#@&!^G PROBLEM???!!!”
I blinked at this hideous sight with horror.

War Kills by Ralph Steadman

Why is there such an endless supply of worthless human protoplasm?  Once again, I thought of the Animal Planet channel on cable TV.  The wily badger puffs itself up when overmatched by the bemused grizzly bear.  He was small and bloated, like a donut hole.
“You almost ran over that jaywalker and almost ran into my truck,” I said without any trace of the little suckball’s enthusiasm.  I spoke quietly at a point to the right of the small, noisy doughwad.
“I stopped for the pedestrian.  Would you like me to just kill everybody so you can get where you’re going?”  I asked.

It takes me a while to get mad, which most people agree is a good thing.  He was edging toward his car, and when the light turned green, jumped in and drove off, rapidly resuming an unsafe speed.

Eventually he would run over a child, or better, walk onto an elevator, only to realize that the elevator wasn’t there and fall to the bottom of the elevator shaft, to lie there for weeks in his own filth, unnoticed.

Too bad.

Don't Go Away Mad. But Do Go Away

When I got back to the driveway, I got angry and spiked the new burned-out, outmoded mechanical-technology voltage regulator onto the driveway, followed by the new, burned-out Barracuda headlight switch, which I had successfully replaced with a used forty-year-old switch.  I broke the broken parts some more, but would not have to go to jail over it.

Smashed Up Good

That was it for the Tunacuda until the solid-state voltage regulator might arrive.
The very next day another incident occurred, as I was approaching the always-entertaining BU bridge.  There was a long lane of traffic circling around to cross onto the bridge.  Far behind me I saw a car barely squeezing past many alarmed motorists.  He was grinning wildly, and wore a postal uniform.  Enough cause to raise the alert level to orange.

I was at the front of the line, but was too far over for him to get by.   I turned and gave him a giant grin to match the one on his face.  The light turned green and we sat there, as I waved the people behind me past on the right.
If I was vindictive, I would have sat there through another red light, but I felt the real problem behind these repeated incidents might be my reaction to the world, since I couldn’t hope that everyone else would change for my benefit.

I did take his picture as I was sitting in traffic on the bridge, and he wrote down my license plate number while laughing excitedly.  A jolly fellow, he.

The Happy Postman

The next weekend I decided to preemptively replace the passenger’s side brake caliper on the Toyota truck.  Many would argue that if it ain’t broke, don’t break it, still I set off to the local parts store once again, with a song in my heart and a fresh attitude of eternal hope.
The nice, competent parts counter woman looked up the caliper, and arrived at the same part number that I had written down from the company’s website.   We were in agreement that it was the right part.
I made it the seven blocks back to my house without being stabbed by an enraged townie, so all was going well.
The old caliper and brake line unthreaded without incident, and the brake line was dripping into an empty brake fluid container.  I removed the old caliper and cut off the pins holding the brake pads in place.
The front passenger’s side was up on a jackstand, so I could get the wheel off, and the truck was in front of the Tunacuda in the driveway.  The landlord’s car was parked on the street like the car of a common person.

Years of Faithful Service

The new caliper looked clean and rust-free.   I considered painting it, but taxes were due on Monday, and I wanted to go visit my grand-nieces and maybe ask some tax questions from their mom.  In this moment of pleasant reverie, I may even have had the thought that the difficult part, disassembly, was over.  I would have some lunch and pop in the new caliper, bleed the brakes, and be on my way.  As I had that thought I realized that such thoughts are always rewarded by a turn of events, and this time was no different.
The old brake pads were barely worn, and were already matched to the rotor, so I kept the pad with some blue stuff on it to the inside, and fit one of the pins through the indexing holes in the caliper and brake pads.  I went to fit in the second pin, when I realized that the holes in the caliper didn’t line up with the holes in the brake pad.  I put the new caliper back in the box, and put both calipers in a knapsack, and walked back to the parts store.

Taking the Scenic Route

The guy at the parts store looked up the part again, and brought out the other part listed for the application, the 2WD caliper.  That looked even less like what I had.   I had him look up the driver’s side caliper that I had bought there in December.  It was the corresponding part to the passenger’s side part that was in question, 18-827 and 18-826.  “I’ll go home and take apart the other side, and see what that looks like,”  I said.  It was a mystery.
I went home and took the other wheel off.  The two calipers measured out differently.  Strange…  Then I realized that it could be the right box, but have the wrong part inside.  This time I got my bicycle out of the basement and rode over in the twilight.   The old brake caliper dug into the small of my back in its plastic market bag.
The same counter person was there, as I again opened my Sagada Weaving backpack and began extracting brake calipers.

Peninsula Hotel, Manila

When he put down the phone I said, “I think you have the wrong part in this box.”  It was almost the same, but different.
I asked him if he had another of the same part number 18-826, which of course he didn’t: one is none.  He brought out the driver’s side one he had on the shelf, 18-827, which to my now-experienced eye looked like the rusty one next to it on the counter, resting on the plastic market bag.  He still didn’t believe me until I had him look up the correct brake pads and try to put the pins in place.  Then he tried the pads and pins on the 18-827, and they fit perfectly.
‘If it does not fit you must acquit,’ as Johnny Cochran would say.
“We have one in Revere,” he said, looking at the computer.  “The problem is, we don’t have a driver tomorrow, on Sunday.”  He called the guy in Revere and had him take out the caliper and a set of pads, and try to fit the pins through the holes.
“It does?  Good.  Yeah it looks like I have the right box, wrong part,” said the counter guy, for whom I was starting to gain some respect.
“I have a friend in Woburn,” I said, thinking out loud.  He may have taken that the wrong way, because he sort of blanched.

Don't Mess with the Woo

“I’ll go up tomorrow and get it myself,” he said, which was all right with me.
“Hey thanks, that would be great,” I said, and shook his hand.  I asked him his name and it was Paul.
The next day I got there just as someone was dropping off the part from Revere.  “Hey thanks, Paul,” I said.  He gave me $25 for the old caliper, which he put in the new box as a core return.
I had had a feeling that someone would happen to be heading this way and would bring it.  I had been using some gris-gris spray the was meant to open the road, and it seemed to be working.  Normally a half-hour brake job would have taken me a week instead of just two days.

That Hoodoo that You Do

I got the caliper in place tout-suite, and bled the brakes all around.  Result: no brakes.
I decided to have lunch.
Really, the brakes had been screwy since I had replaced the 18-827 back in December.  At the time, I had started to bleed the brakes without checking the fluid level in the master cylinder, and had instantly run the reservoir dry- bad thing to do, because then the master cylinder needed to be bled again.

I had assumed the reservoir was full.  Another rule from the machine shop, I paraphrase.  “Every foul-up began when an assumption was made.”

That Didn't Go Well

Zach downstairs helped me bleed the master cylinder again, as he had back in December.  Nothing seemed to help.

I looked on the internet, on , where I am a constituent.  Some other person had the same problem as me.  The post replying to the brakeless individual asked if they had bled the right rear wheel, left rear wheel, right front wheel, left front wheel and then the LSPV?
“LSPV?” I wondered.
The LSPV is a Load-Sensing Proportioning Valve, and it increases braking power to the rear brakes when the truck is heavily loaded, and it needs to be bled, as it turns out.

LSVP: Who Knew?

I went out and bled the LSPV, which had its own bleeder valve, and then the master cylinder again, with the help of a friend from Woburn.
After that the pedal pumped up like never before.  It made me so relaxed while I drove, that none of the other drivers bothered me at all.

Smooth Sailin'

My taxes were a couple of days late.

I got the new solid-state voltage regulator in the mail, two of them actually, two is one, and installed one in my Tunacuda.  The red needle went deeply into the charging zone of the alternator gauge.




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