Boston Driver’s Notebook 4/1/12

29 03 2012

Wareham Harbor

It’s a good truck that will get you home before it gives out.  It was a windy October day that I went to Wareham to put up a gutter at the small beach house of the mysterious Helen of Cambridge.  I caught a radio traffic report that predicted an extremely slow drive from the entrance to Rt. 93 N at the junction of Rtes. 3 and 128 in Braintree all the way to downtown Boston, where traffic wasn’t moving at all.  The report was accurate enough.  I finally escaped at Leverett circle where I picked up Rt. 38, the McRoadRage at Lechmere just past the Science Museum.

I was having a bit of trouble getting the Blue Barrow into gear by the time I beached the truck in front of our nondescript triple-decker.  It’s a sun-bleached slate blue color, at an undisclosed location in Somerville.  I went to move the truck for street cleaning, but there was no clutch pedal to be used.  The pedal just went to the floor with no effort.

Luckily the landlord was gone for a week, so I parked his car on the street, moved the Tunacuda to the street as well, while I pulled Clyde the truck into the driveway.  I rolled forward in neutral, out of the parking spot into the neighbor across the street’s driveway.  Making sure the coast was clear, I jammed the shifter into reverse, the only gear that I could get into.

I had the RPMs up pretty high so it wouldn’t stall, so the wheels gave a screech and shot me across the still unoccupied street into the driveway.  I got to the back of the driveway and stomped the brakes and stalled out.  Then I re-drivewayed the landlord’s car and finally pulled in the Tunacuda.

The Mighty Tunacuda

I jacked up the truck and looked under at the clutch area.  Fluid leaked lazily from the slave cylinder, which had the dust boot askew and was looking past due for retirement.   I had paid a large sum to have a local brake shop replace the clutch hydraulic line, during which operation they may have allegedly destroyed a brake fitting.  I had done that rather than learn how to bleed the clutch hydraulics, but now that I lay under the truck staring at the expired slave, I could see it had a bleeder next to the line fitting, and would be as easy as Sunday morning to purge.

New Slave: Bleeder @ Top

The slave cylinder pushes the clutch fork which advances the throwout bearing into the whirling pressure plate to disengage the clutch.  In my old cars there was a lever system which was not prone to leakage and failure.  You pushed on the pedal, which pushed a rod, which pushed a lever, which pushed another rod, which pushed another lever, which pushed in the throwout bearing.  The lever was already popular when Archimedes was born circa 273 BCE. 

The local amusing auto parts store had cheap chi-com ones in stock, but I had time to get some original equipment parts.  The big clutch supply company for Toyota and others in Japan is Aisin, so I ordered a master and slave cylinder from, which said they would take an extra day for some reason.

New in Box

It took as long as they said it would.  I took out the old clutch master cylinder and slave cylinder, and replaced them and re-attached the new, expensive clutch line.  Bleeding it was easier than even Lionel Ritchie could have imagined.

Original Equipment, Peoples

Now that I had the Tunacuda unleashed from the driveway, I decided to take a leisure ride out to the Land of Charlie Paradise and possibly to drive vehicle number 3, the Shark Cuda, big brother to the Tunacuda.  I decided to name my other 67 Barracuda after the Shark Tuna, a 1968 Dodge Coronet that Charlie Paradise and I had recently sold for $1200.00.  Not bad considering I had paid $125.00 for it when I bought it from Mary McBabe’s then boyfriend Kevin, who was later her husband while she was still alive.  Now Mary was gone, and so was the Shark Tuna.  So it goes.

The Shark Tuna: A Vanishing Breed

Kurt Vonnegut, also gone.

Charlie said he’d be in and out at the House of Paradise.  I hadn’t visited the Shark Cuda since getting it inspection stickered back in August.  Between my world travels, kitchen remodel back at the ranch, and sporadic construction work,  I had had less spare time to spare.  The sticker expedition was the only test drive of the Doug Nash 5-speed transmission that I had rebuilt in the basement a year earlier.

Inside the DN 4+1 Transmission

The Tunacuda was driving really well, but needed an exhaust upgrade and some bigger jets in the carburetor.  It went up the Route 2 hill out of Arlington with good power.

Mr. Paradise was not at home, so I let myself into the garage which was jammed with irrelevant junk, yard sale purchases, recycling and general trash.  This jetsam filled up the bay which should have been filled with Charlie’s 1966 Plymouth Valiant convertible, currently under a tarp in his driveway.

The hoard of useless detritus had spilled over into the open trunk of my car, which was now full of paper bags full of paper bags, and some strange puffy zippered bags, made out of matress pad quilting in the shape of Jackie Kennedy’s pillbox hats.  I couldn’t even begin to fathom.

I relocated the contents of the trunk to the pile of assorted worthless items in the other bay.

The Garage of Paradise

The real pièce de résistance was on the roof of the car, a brown bag full of dried ears of corn.   Various holes had been gnawed in the paper bag, and a few housebound mice bolted when I whapped the side of the brown bag with the backs of my fingers.  I lifted the bag gingerly, and it came away in one piece, leaving a circle of brown gunge and little mouse poops.

I had worked for six months in the mountains of the Philippines to pay for that paint job, I reflected- with a very small amount of enjoyment.

As I hooked up the battery, which had been relocated to the trunk by the previous owner (PO), I realized that Charlie Paradise had borrowed my battery and left his played out one, allegedly recently recharged, in the trunk.   The battery relocation helped the weight distribution, although it was relocated to the driver’s side of the trunk.  Even better would have been moving it to the right side of the trunk.   That location also allowed me to have a quick-disconnect terminal on the battery ground.  I could disconnect the battery and lock the trunk, as a quick theft-prevention measure.  The hoods didn’t lock on the old cars.

Shark Cuda Trunk w/ DN 4+1

The Paradise battery cranked the high-compression 340 c.i.d. V8 half-heartedly.  A final mouse bolted across the base of the windshield and disappeared into the open hood.  The car started and ran without its usual vim.  I let it warm up for a while.  The formerly noisy Doug Nash 5-speed transmission that I had overhauled last year spun silently on its luscious new bearings.  The windshield was dirty, and the rodent population was greater than the human population, but I backed out of the driveway, and proceeded apace to nearby Route 2.

The stretch between Walden Pond, and the Concord Penitentiary was a 45 MPH stretch full of soccer moms and traffic lights.  I was in line at a red light behind what I thought was a soccer mom in an Infiniti mini-van SUV truckster affair.  The SUV trudged off the line when the light turned green, while in the slow lane, a suburban driver sat there contemplating the green light, motionless.

340 Engine. Originally in a 1970 Six-pack T/A Challenger.

I pulled into the right lane and gave the thirsty V-8 a shot of gasoline.  It lunged forward and got up to the speed limit in a comfortable lope.  I went to pull back into the left lane, when I noticed the Infiniti had decided to race me and was screaming along in my blind spot.  I didn’t feel like ignoring the speed limit in the extremely conspicuous Barracuda fastback, so close to the Concord jail.  I hit the big disc brakes and power merged directly behind the blazing minivan.

Then I hit the brakes for real, and was far behind the chubby suburbanite when he panic-stopped, long after such a  highly inappropriate reaction would have caused me to rear end the sport utility minivan.

He was all but stopped in the fast lane as I drove sedately by him in the slow lane, and passed the State Police cruiser in his usual location across from the jail at the rotary.  I got out onto Route 2 and got up to the higher speed limit quickly, somehow inciting another rabid suburbanite to go rocketing past me in a blue VW.    I don’t know if it was a repressed white guy thing, or too much caffeine, but it was getting on my nerves.

My car could go 160 MPH, but I didn’t feel the need to prove it.  I turned around at the turn-around, and headed back without having to drag race any more overachievers.

MCI Concord

I stopped at the hardware store for some mousetraps, and saw they had a sale on Pratt and Lambert paint which they were discontinuing.  It was $5 a gallon, and since I was painting my kitchen, I figured I’d pick up a couple of gallons of similarly-colored paint to use as between the primer and finish coats.

I carefully selected the one clerk who appeared sentient, but he quickly fobbed me off on an odd young man.  The child had luxurious sideburns and eyes that seemed to look into themselves rather than outward onto the world.  A world where I needed some cheap paint quick, before the Shark Cuda cooled back down and became harder to start.

I rapidly selected colors during which time the chubby young clerk diddled with a cellular telephoning device.  It was hard getting him to focus again, but I handed him the color chips which he reluctantly accepted.  He stared at the samples dejectedly, and then rotated his bulk and trudged off toward the back of the store like a Pliocene herbivore.  He came back with the sentient clerk, who showed him how to read the card with its information about how many squirts of which color to squirt into the can of what base color.

I Was Told I Would Not be Required to Mix Paint

            I expeditiously grabbed two gallons of the base color indicated by the sentient clerk, and deposited them on the shelf of the color machine.  That was ten minutes saved by the milk-fed gameboy not having to go find his lifting belt.

            I left him alone to ponder the color machine, while I went to see if any primer was on sale.  Then I went and got mouse traps and roller covers.  Game Boy was finishing the first gallon, when I checked.  The sky outside was turning from dark blue to dark.

I wandered around the store, looking at tools, rope, power tools, automotive tools, plumbing supplies.  Then wandered back when I imagined Game Boy would have the second gallon done.  It wasn’t completed yet, but as he screwed the top on the second weird-ass gallon bottle of paint which looked nothing like the color sample, I was there to remind him to put the paint in the paint shaker.  He passively followed my instructions as if I were the sentient clerk himself.

As I carried the two gallons of paint, the mouse traps, the roller covers, and a bicycle strobe light that I had found, up to the register, I was cut off by a retired woman with bright orange hair and a shopping cart full of sale items.  It was the day before Christmas, and all good Americans were out bargain hunting at the True Value.  Recognizing that the Buddha was trying to teach me a valuable lesson in forbearance, I placed the paint on the floor in front of me and tried to invent a back-story for the orange-haired lady.

It's a Trap!

By and by, I emerged into the mild-for-December night with my armful of paint.  The stone-cold engine of the Shark Cuda turned over with a very similar attitude to the one shown by Game Boy as he mixed my paint; a notable lack of enthusiasm.  The person parked nose-to-nose with me had returned to his car to witness the death throes of the battery of Paradise.  I turned the key one more time, and the car made a feeble click.

The guy parked across from me emerged from behind his car with a device and walked around to my window.  “Pop the hood, and  we can use this starter,” he said.  He had one of those emergency jump starters.

I got out and went back to the trunk.  “The battery’s back here,” I said.

We hooked up the starter, but the motor barely rotated and then died again.  I speculated that the battery might be dead dead, but he speculated that his starter might not be fully charged.  He drove his car around and we tried the jumper cables with the same result.  “It looks like the battery is just too fried,” I said.  The crappy battery might have killed the voltage regulator as well.

I tried to call Paradise again, and this time he answered.

Paradise Awaits

“Truck running good?” I asked.  “With my battery?  Maybe you can get the battery out of my truck and drive it over to Crosby’s parking lot.

“Then I can let the good Samaritan get on with his life.”

I thanked the good Samaritan and found out his name was Joe.  That information would save  the time saying “good Samaritan.”

“Thanks Joe,” I said, “You’ve done your good deed for the day.”  Joe maintained his bland demeanor; good New England type, there to take care of business.

A Really Strong Lady @

            Eventually Paradise showed up with the Optima battery that had come with my truck.  The Shark Tuna roared to life, sucking down all the gas flooding the carburetor from our repeated attempts to start the engine.  The alternator gauge read full discharge, where one would expect it to show maximum charging, so a new voltage regulator was in my future.  I had one and an alternator on the shelf at home.  Two is one.

            I parked the Shark Cuda in the garage of Paradise, and laid out some glue traps around the wheels.

“Those are pretty cruel, aren’t they?” asked Charlie Paradise.  “Letting the mice starve to death.

“I think they get dragged down into the glue and suffocate, so yes, cruel.

“All they have to do is not go near my car, and they’ll be fine,” I said, venomously.

“They’re your mice, though, so feel free to substitute your mousetrap of choice.”

On the way home in Clyde Truck, no one tried to race me.



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