Boston Driver’s Notebook 6/15/11

8 07 2011

BDN 6/1/11
My days of Paradise:
Saturday morning I set off for the House of Paradise, off Route 2 in Concord, MA, the birthplace of liberty, or the Enlightenment, or what have you.  I had a list of items to bring with me.  The problem with having a list was that some essential items were not on it, and so I didn’t have the usual moment of contemplation, deciding what to bring.  It is a Slavic custom to sit and think before walking out the front door, on any luggage if luggage there is.  I once heard my friend Arkady claim that he wouldn’t have missed his plane if they had only sat.

I was driving the Clyde the Blue Truck, for no particular reason.   It was running well enough and the brakes worked.  It was burning a lot of oil and wouldn’t subside all the way to idle speed unless you revved it a couple of times and let the RPMs drop back down.
It was a MoPar day, nevertheless, so I had brought front end tools for Charlie Paradise’s 1966 Valiant and general tools my 1967 fastback Barracuda.


On the way to Concord, I’d taken the ‘long cut’ through Lincoln and past the DeCordova Museum.  I’ve been taking this route for years, and always used to stop at the museum to soak up some free outdoor sculpture, and to buy art supplies at the museum gift shop.  They had inexpensive acrylic paints and good prices on brushes.  A couple of summers ago, I drove up the driveway to the sculpture park, where there was a new tollbooth, where they tried to hold me up for twenty bucks, or a sixty dollar yearly membership.  The former policy had been that you paid to see the indoor exhibits.

Now I just drove past the sign and driveway.  I’m cheap… and thrifty.

Better Days @ DeCordova: Big Hammer and Tunacuda

I stopped in at the Gropius house, a Bauhaus residence that was open to the public.  I could still get out and walk around the house free of charge.

Tunacuda @ Gropius Residence

I continued on past a working farm and took a right at Route 126 past Walden Pond.  You could also still drive by Walden pond for free.  There was some traffic backed up where the road crossed Route 2.  Walden visitors.  I took a left on Route 2, and took the next turn toward Paradise.
Charlie Paradise was supervising his tenants, who were on ladders, washing the side of the house with bleach in preparation of maybe painting over the nasty green-yellow paint with a less awful creamy yellow.  Charlie went inside the house, and Steve came down the ladder.  He asked me why anyone would paint their house yellow, anyway.  I didn’t have an answer ready, but said I’d give it some thought.
Charlie came back outside, as I dropped a bunch of front-end tools next to his 1966 Plymouth Valiant convertible that had been sitting in the garage for a dozen years until he had moved it outside, where it had remained in the driveway with a locked-up front wheel for two or three years.

A 1966 Convertible Valiant

Since I had converted my convertible to disc brakes, I had an extra front wheel assembly that I was going to swap onto his car, and at least get it back into the garage, which was full of junk and empty boxes, as his classic car moldered in the driveway.

Black: Sway Bar; Yellow: Strut. Dirty Yellow: LCA; Dirty: LBJ

We had the steering knuckle mostly detached, upper ball joint, brake hose, and tie rod.   All that remained to separate was the lower ball joint (LBJ) from the lower control arm (LCA)  It was being balky.  We had tried to take it apart in the fall, but unsuccessfully.  It was time for another assault on the LBJ, and I’d brought a couple of ‘pickle forks’ of different sizes, and Charlie had two more of his own.  I also had a three-leg puller and a ball joint puller with two fixed legs.
The three-leg puller gripped the LCA and pushed down on the threaded bolt of the LBJ.

Triple-Leg Pullers

I turned the screw tighter and tighter until it slipped off with a bang.  Charlie repeated the procedure with about the same results.  We both tried the ball joint separator.  The fixed arms were just a little too wide to grip the lower control arm, and slipped off.

“Pullers never work,” I said.  “Except on pitman arms.”

Pitman Arm Puller: Works.

I selected one of the pickle forks and slid it between the ball joint and the LCA.  I beat on it noisily with the saddle from a jackstand, lacking a big hammer (BFH).”
Charlie went a got a two-pound hammer, smaller than what we really needed, but I tried beating on the fork with the usual lack of results.  We tried all the different pickle forks, eventually each beating on a pickle fork from different sides.
Steve came over bringing a strong bleach smell with him.  He was a small wiry guy with a shaved head, and a Hulk Hogan mustache.  “I dumped the bucket of bleach all over me,” he said.
“I hope you didn’t get any in your eyes,” I said.  He was blinking rapidly.
“Oh I did,” he said.  His Red Sox sweatshirt was already turning white where it was wet.

Oh Say Can You See?

“You’d better go wash out your eyes with a lot of water,” I said.  My six years of pre-med had qualified me to make these kinds of recommendations.

Charlie came back with a ten-pound sledge hammer, more like it.   Steve reappeared looking whiter, in the Red Sox sweatshirt, still blinking a lot.

Fast healing organs, eyes.

“Are you one of those super mechanics?” he asked me.  I thought about it for a while.  Another saying from the machine shop: “If there is any doubt, there is no doubt.”

I grabbed the big hammer and a pickle fork, and set it into the ball joint with a few healthy taps.  I drew back the big hammer and really hit the fork.  It made a nice loud noise that audibly reduced the housing prices in the upscale neighborhood.  Later on, a real estate agent drove up in her Lexus, who had been holding an open house across the circle.

Nobody came.

The nice Greek lady came over and spoke words of desperation, and then went home to replace her face in a jar by the door.
It’s a tough market.

“Good luck selling a house in a neighborhood with us in it,”  I said to Charlie.

He had no idea what I was talking about.

Hi Neighbor!

One more big hit and the wheel dropped off the car to the driveway with a loud clang.  Steve looked impressed, and Charlie howled victoriously.

That was enough for the Valiant for one day.  I told Charlie to order a new upper and lower ball joint, and that I’d have some tie rods for him when I swapped oversized ones into the white Barracuda.  I dug out the wheel assembly I’d taken off the Tunacuda and left in his garage last summer.  The lower ball joint looked played-out.  I suggested he remove the lower ball joint (LBJ) from the steering knuckle, where it was held on by two half-inch bolts.  “Get some new grade-eight bolts for it, too.  Those are the weak link in the chain.”


In true Paradise fashion, he took the wheel assembly over to a nut tree in his front yard and wedged it into the crotch of the tree.  He tried to get the LBJ loose.  I would have used a vise, but to each his own.

Strange Fruit @ Paradise

It took until the next day for him to realize the LBJ bolts were through-bolted, and there were nuts on the other side of the brake shield which were turning freely. While he entertained himself thusly, I turned my attention to the white Barracuda in the Paradise garage.

I had with me a fitting I needed to hook up the front brake caliper.  They were rare giant Bendix calipers that I had rebuilt the previous summer, but in so doing had left out one of the two vital O-rings that connect the two sides of the caliper castings.  The car had pulled severely to the left as a result.  I brought the caliper back to Somerville and rebuilt it again with the correct number of O-rings.  Christa McAuliffe would have approved of the completed assembly.

O Rings

I screwed the blue anodized aluminum brake fitting into the caliper and attached the new braided stainless brake hose to it and tightened everything.  Job two complete.  All over but the bleeding.  I was on a roll.
I went under the car and attached the speedometer cable to the transmission.
The transmission was mostly installed, not that it had been easy, but it was in there.

Last August, I limped the white Barracuda to get an inspection sticker.
Immediately upon getting an inspection sticker, I had torn out the Doug Nash 5-speed manual transmission.  The car had begun to make a lot of noise in neutral which usually signifies trouble with the input bearing, or as transmission professionals call it, the “imput” bearing.  Once I had the transmission taken apart, I replaced all the other support bearings as well.  I replaced all the seals at the same time.  It was a big, scary job, and it taught me a lot about manual transmissions.
While I had the transmission out, I had welded together a creative superstructure to make up for the fact that the shop that had installed the Doug Nash had summarily chopped out the upper section of the transmission crossmember.  Then the transmission hadn’t fit with the new metal in place, so I had needed to cut most of it back out, by trial and error.  I couldn’t have afforded to pay someone to do it.
But now the transmission was installed, and the shift and clutch linkages were linked.  All that remained was the driveshaft, which was usually pretty straightforward.  “This should be pretty straightforward,” I said to Charlie, who was on hand to help out.

The only hitch was that I hadn’t brought my torque wrench.  It was a ‘click-type’ torque wrench that would click and disengage when it reached the proper torque.

Top: Gauge Style; Bottom: Click Style

I also didn’t have the book with the settings, but I thought it was about 45 lb/ft.

It wasn’t.
I borrowed Charlie’s antiquated torque wrench, which was a gauge-type, with a scale and pointer that you had to keep your eye on while tightening the bolt. Charlie kept the rear wheel from turning by holding a broomstick laced through the wheel studs of the right rear wheel.  We were having trouble coordinating the tightening and the holding, and finally I got the wrench to show some torque on the setting.  I turned a little more, a little past 45 lb/ft and suddenly there was a loud SNAP.
“What the hell was that?” asked Charlie.
I looked at the pinion yoke, and sure enough, the bolt had snapped off flush with the casting.  “I guess that’s it for today,” I said.  I’d have to come back the next day, Sunday, with drills, bits, extractors and taps, as well as a new bolt, it looked like.
“It’s totally my fault for saying it would be straightforward,” I said.
It reminded me of my teacher Sifu Li Fan Fung.  He had just died in 2008 at the age of 88.  He was especially tough on me since I came from the Northern Shaolin tradition, and he was a Southern Shaolin grandmaster.
I had made a mistake back around the time I began learning from him in 1990, I had somehow ended up on the wrong foot at the conclusion of a section of his long Fu Hok form.  Almost 20 years later, shortly before his passing, he had been dozing in a chair when I made the same mistake again, somehow ending up on the wrong foot.  Suddenly he jumped to his feet and came over to me.

In his rudest Toisan dialect he asked my why I kept making the same mistake over and over, and hadn’t he told me repeatedly to stop making a mockery of his beloved Hung Ga fist.  I had ended up learning some Cantonese just so I would know what he was saying about me.

It wasn’t good.

Another favorite of his was “边个教你?”: “Who taught you this?”

Or he’d turn away in disgust and walk out the door.  Just before he walked out, he’d look at me over his shoulder and shake his head.

A Grandmaster

Now, snapping a bolt, I felt the same embarrassment.  Making a beginner mistake like snapping a bolt.  No excuse.

Sifu Li was as pure and unforgiving as Grade 8 steel.

Charlie Paradise pointed out that his elaborate planning of each movement he makes prevents him from snapping bolts or pouring buckets of bleach over his head.  I reflected silently that it also takes him six months to complete a half-hour brake job.
I drove back home as it was getting dark, past the Gropius house and the DeCordova, and straight at Lincoln center, taking the nascent Trapelo Road parallel to Route 2.
There was an old farmhouse where somebody had a mid-60’s Dodge Dart convertible in an open garage next to a small pond.  I took a left before a small lake and took a back road to Route 2.  Up ahead, an animal crossed the road.  It almost looked like a fox, but it wasn’t lithe enough.  Maybe a raccoon.

A Red Fox

The next morning when I got to Paradise, Charlie wasn’t there, so I took the driveshaft back out again and set up the Sears drill I had brought with me.  It had a keyless chuck, and was one of the things I had inherited from my father.  That and a Patgonia fleece hat with hidden earflaps that folded down for extreme weather.  I had lost it while helping John Hane fix a barn in Vermont.  A friend from Woburn and I had been the muscle, stacking 8×8” timbers in a grid pattern to support screw jacks.  The hat may still be somewhere in that barn.
I stopped at Tags in Porter Square the way to Route 2  there I purchased a new center punch, along with some small pilot bits, and four new,  grade 8 ¼” x 20,  ¾” bolts and the smallest washers that would fit.
Back in Concord, I wedged a broomstick in the wheelstuds to keep the rear axles from turning while I unbolted the three remaining ¼” bolts holding down the pinion driveshaft retainers.  Took the driveshaft out once again.  It barely fit between the dual exhaust pipes.

Tight Squeeze

I drilled in as straight as I could with a new small drill bit.  I got it mostly in the center; off to a good start.  I went wrong on the next drill bit, that still managed to wander off center somehow.  The hole was still contained within the hardened steel of bolt.  The casting was iron and much softer and more attractive to a drill bit.  I was trying the extractor as Charlie Paradise showed up from the community gardens, a long-haired Yankee on a bicycle.
He bent down to look at me under the car.  “Extractors never work,” I said.  It appeared this one was no different.  I would have to drill for the next size larger extractor.  I had indeed wedged the bolt in there nice and tight.  The manual said 15 lb/ft rather than the 45 I had somehow overestimated, even less than the 50 lb/ft I had reached at the breaking point.  Rookie mistake.
I drilled for the next size larger, but by then had drilled past the perimeter of the bolt, so I was screwed, in the parlance of our times.  The vernacular.

Drill Bit Fragment in the Hole

An extractor, by then, would have hit the casting, stopping all possible unscrewing of the bolt.  Paradise appeared with a beautiful matched set of American-made square-profile extractors.  One was slightly smaller than the one I had been using, so that I could get it fit way into the bolt.  Even so, I couldn’t get it to turn, even after heating the area with a mapp torch, as much as I dared.

I tried to drill sideways in the hole, but only managed to snap off the drill bit.  “Things just got much worse,” I said out loud.  I did have a couple of extra pinion yokes, but not for this differential, with its larger input shaft.  Also torquing on the pinion nut was a bitch, requiring 180 lb/ft.  Overtightening was even worse.
I jammed two little screwdrivers down each side of the broken fragment of drill bit, that I had at least managed to dislodge, beating on it with a hammer and nailset.  I held the handles of the screwdrivers in one hand, and wove a third screwdriver between the two smaller ones, and turned everything left.

The drill bit coming out nudged the bolt the tiniest bit, so that a line appeared at the perimeter of the bolt.  Misusing an ignition screwdriver, and a hammer, I got the remainder of the bolt to unthread.  Charlie had gone to the hardware store to get the proper sized drill bit to prepare for a ¼” tap to rethread the hole.  By the time he got back I had already rethreaded the hole, and was bolting the driveshaft to the pinion yoke once again.  This time I used my clicking torque wrench, and stopped at 15 lb-ft like a normal person.
“I’ll re-install this later with some threadlocker,” I said.

“I never use threadlocker,” said Charlie Paradise.

“Well, never rebuild a transmission, then,” I said, knowing that he never would anyway.

Inside the Doug Nash 5-speed

That done, I tightened up the speedometer cable.  It was getting dark so I went home.  On the back roads of Lincoln.




2 responses

6 06 2012

I was wondering if you ever thought of replacing the page layout of your website? It is very well written; I really like what you have got to state. But maybe you can include a little more in the way of written content so people can connect with it better. You have got an awful lot of text for only having one or two graphics. Maybe you can space it out better?

3 07 2012

Thanks for the comment. Our movie critic Chris makes all the aesthetic and layout decisions, so I’ll bring it up with her.

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