Boston Driver’s Notebook 8/30/11

30 08 2011

This summer almost past, I have been working hard to gain a couple of weeks in August for a vacation.  I had largely finished rebuilding a two-story porch on the front of a house in Jamaica Plain.  The owners, old friends of mine, were so construction-weary that they had stopped talking to me, and only cast irritable looks in my direction.  They owed me a lot of money.

Handmade Dentil Mouldings: Old World

As a result, I had left the final clean-up and punchlist for later, and moved on to a job working for the golden-haired Helen of Cambridge.  She had an appreciation for high-quality work performed by a trustworthy skilled professional, and was pleasant and easy to deal with; a Glenda the Good Witch dream customer.  I could drive to her house in 10 minutes, in contrast to the vicious slog to JP, either by way of the unpredictable Big Dig Expressway, or through the bowels of Central Square Cambridge, across the occluded BU bridge and then through the alimentary canal of Brookline Village.  That, or a suicidal plunge into the gnashing steel jaws of the Jamaicaway.


My first day at the Cambridge job, I looked under the truck to check the gas tank bolts.  I was rehabilitating the gas tank brush shield in my basement, and I wanted to make sure the tank was holding up against whatever brush there was on the streets of Cambridge.  The gas tank was fine, but the differential was dripping gear oil.  There was a spot on the formerly spotless cobblestone driveway where a few drops had dripped.  Later I noticed that there was no oil spot on my street where the truck had been parked overnight, so I caught the problem at its inception.
I took a scrap board from the truck bed and put it over the new driveway spot.  That night I went online and ordered a new seal and pinion bearing.  While the driveshaft and pinion yoke were extracted, it would be easy enough to replace the outer pinion bearing at the same time.  In addition, it was likely play in the bearing that had led to the leaking seal.
It was forecast that it would begin raining late Sunday, so on Saturday, after various procrastinations, I jacked up the Blue Barrow, and carefully placed jackstands under each side of the rear axle.
The factory service manual that I’d downloaded showed the procedure, and called for a couple of specialty tools.  One of the tools was a bar with two holes drilled in it to keep the pinion from turning while the large pinion nut was loosened or tightened.

Homemade Specialty Tool; 30 MM Socket

Differential work is ‘black diamonds’ territory, mainly because the pinion nut must be tightened to about 150 lb/ft, and if overtightened reinitializes the entire process.  Then the differential must be torn down, and a new crush bearing installed.
Mostly for my own amusement, I fabricated my own specialty tool out of a section of old bedframe.  I would deal with the bearing puller specialty tool when the time came.  I still had my Mitsubishi dealership pinion bearing puller that I felt I could use to extract the pinion yoke.
I had the driveshaft disconnected and the specialty tool bolted to the pinion yoke as Saturday evening closed in.  My lovely downstairs neighbor Chris had a kitchen full of beautiful young women, so I decided to wrap up and socialize.

A Beautiful Girl Downstairs

The projected Sunday evening showers were coming down steadily at dawn on Sunday, and it was hot and humid in my dank tropical apartment.  I had to get things done Monday, so I girded my loins and got myself mentally prepared for a Philippine-style day of work in the rain.  There was a break in the morning rain, so I headed out to see what I could do.
It went perfectly, at first.  The specialty tool worked to immobilize the pinion yoke, I went to unbolt the pinion nut, but found that none of my large sockets would fit.  I looked everywhere for a 1 3/16th” socket.  I knew I wouldn’t have the metric 30MM socket that I needed.  Finally I gave up and walked to the parts store.  It began to rain again on my way there.  I got the socket and returned to base.
The 30 MM socket worked as advertised, and to my surprise, the splined yoke just fell off, specialty tool with it, once the big nut was removed.  It clearly had been undertightened the last time someone had disassembled it, most likely a previous owner, who I assumed had replaced the seal and not the bearing, leading to it’s repeated failure.

The old bearing came right out with a magnetic probe that I’d tried as a quick “Hail Mary” attempt.  So far so good.  I even had the awful thought that re-assembly would be perilous but straightforward.  “I didn’t just think that,” I thought, but it was too late.   The new bearing was the wrong size.  One is none.
In the renewed downpour, I set out for the local joke parts stores on foot, again.
The Vatozone could order a part for me, so it was on to Advanced Unhelpfulness Auto.
I had the used bearing with me.  The semi-competent guy was behind the counter.  He brought out a bearing, but it seemed to be the same size as the wrong new bearing I already owned.  They had another bearing, but the semi-competent counter guy said it was “much bigger” than the used bearing.  For some reason I took his word for it, which was a mistake on my part.  “If there is any doubt, there is no doubt.”
Without bearings I returned to the scene of the crime and reassembled with the new seal and old bearing.  The plastic bed liner of the blue truck had filled up with water, I noticed.  Empty brake fluid bottles and wood scraps floated chaotically in the pool.

In the Wet

I cranked the pinion bearing to the limit of my torque wrench, and it seemed to be on there, with the differential seeming tighter but not too tight.  Better than it had been, but not all I could have hoped for.  Reassembling with the used bearing was like taking a shower and then putting on dirty socks.
I was tired from the extreme torquing and the relentless rain and the endless failure of reality to live up to my expectations.  I rolled back on the creeper and lowered the jack as I lay under the tailgate of the truck.  I actually laughed out loud as twenty gallons of cold rainwater drained out of the bed onto me.  What are you gonna do?

The differential didn’t leak, but I figured it would wear out again before too long.  Maybe I’d find a bearing by then.
I finished the Helen of Cambridge job and stabilized the JP situation as much as possible.  I had only to get a sticker on my white fastback Barracuda.

Back to Paradise

Accordingly, I went out to Land of Paradise, Concord, MA.  Absent Charlie Paradise, out camping with a divorcee and her offspring.  Steve came out to the garage where I was unearthing the Barracuda from under a pile of recycling and bicycles that had accumulated around it.  The car had been up on jackstands since the day of its last inspection stickering.  I had removed the aftermarket Doug Nash 5-speed transmission and refreshed all the major bearings: another black diamonds trail of adventure.

Can of Worms, Anyone?

Now it was all hooked up and linked to the gearshift.
The right brake caliper, a rare item that I’d just rebuilt had been leaking due to the inexcusable omission of an O-ring.  Now with the requisite O-rings in place, I bled the rear brake, and noticed the front caliper leaking again.  Like Bob Dylan, I wondered what would be the price I would have to pay to keep from fixing all these things twice.
There was also an oil leak from under the engine, which I had recently re-sealed thoroughly.  I sighed deeply and traced the source of the engine oil.  It appeared that in addition to the regular drain plug, the oilpan had a second drain plug with a complicated allen wrench plug.  It seemed to call for a 3/8” allen wrench, which I had at home.  Charlie Paradise wasn’t there to ask if he had one.  I made a half-hearted attempt to find one before heading off to the local hardware store.  I came back with the wrench which surprisingly was the right size, and turned in the allen screw, with no conclusive tightening feeling.
I mentally shrugged and turned my attention to the leaky caliper.
I tightened the large bolts holding the two sides of the casting together, which were not really tight enough, easier to tighten now that the caliper was in place on the car.

Rare Bendix Casting

Finally I noticed that the bleeder was slightly open, which was probably where the leak was occurring in the first place.   I bled the braking system all around, and it appeared to be holding pressure.
The new used tires I had driven to the inspection station last year had felt wobbly, and the junkyard that mounted the tires hadn’t balanced them.  I had showed up with the freshly balanced tires, so now I attached them to the car, which was still up in the air.  I started the car, which started, after years of being a finicky starter.  Now the old 340 V8 had been sitting for a year and fired right up.  “Take that, Bob Dylan,” I said to myself.

Thank You, Bob.

Bob Dylan didn’t answer, but he most likely would have pointed out the many times I had worked on the ignition system.
Steve came out of the house, blinking in the cloudy light.  He looked like a miniature Hulk Hogan, if Hulk Hogan had a shaved head.  He tried to sell me a Jimi Hendrix CD, some nicely-packaged rarity.  “I had some guy offer me $20 but I was asking for $30.  I wouldn’t sell it to him for $20, but I’d sell it to you for $20.”  I was at a loss to follow this train of thought.  I needed the cash I had to pay and grease the inspector.
He watched me think through the whole situation for a while.
“I blew out my rotator cuff,” he said.  “This is as high as I can raise my arm,” he said raising his arm a few inches.  He was a former gymnast and still was buff.  His big deltoid muscles weren’t doing him much good at this point.  “I think it was when the ladder kicked out on the back deck here, while we were painting the back.”  Steve had already had late-night visits from federal marshalls, state and local police.  Charlie Paradise, a real swamp yankee type, had refused to let them in even though the Fed was pushing his flack jacket into Charlie Paradise’s narrow chest.
I shook my head to clear it.  The car was still running up on the jackstands, and the right rear wheel was definitely wobbling.  We stood there and looked at it.  “That wheel don’t look too good,” pointed out Steve.

The Steve

I shut off the car and pulled out the axle, a cinch on these old cars.  The bearing looked fine, and the axle looked straight enough.  I switched the wheels, and now the other side wobbled.  Definitely the wheel.  I pulled off the wheel and made the center hub a bit larger with a half-round bastard file from the basement of Paradise.  I put the wheel back on and it went around and around without perturbation.
It was the work of a few minutes to get the car off the jackstands and out on the road.  After a stop to get gas and wash the windows, which turned into just washing the windows due to large trucks slowly filling at the new improved slower filling gas pumps.  I drove around them and onto Rt. 2.
I tried to make the Barracuda go slowly, but the snarling V8 kept begging for speed.

1970 T/A 340 V8

Surely, the car was in much better shape than it had been a year ago, wobbling along with its noisy transmission and pulling badly to the right whenever I applied the brakes.
There was a loud bang and clunk, which turned out later to have been the radiator cap blowing off that I hadn’t secured after checking the radiator level.  But on the whole, we were in business.
At the sticker place, the mechanic tried to buy the car, but I told him that even though I didn’t drive it much, it wasn’t for sale.  The market for classic cars is depressed, and it’s not the time to sell.  I made it back without incident.  I considered walking on the railroad tracks out behind the Paradise ranch to Walden pond for a swim, but it was late and cloudy, and not very inviting.  Mosquitos were swarming around me and Steve who was trying to move a pile of wood chips that had been the central feature of the Paradise front yard for several years.  He was shoveling with one arm and dropping the shovel to bat at the flying pests.  We called it a day.

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