Saturday, July 4, 2015

Resurrecting the bus


I had spent quite a few weeks getting myself and Aimee mentally prepared for this particular project -- finally doing something with our old VW bus. Neither of us was particularly looking forward to having another junker lying around, but Something Had to be Done.

This vehicle was a gift from a college friend and helped me get through my college years. I first drover her twenty-two years ago. I've had her ever since. For the first thirteen or fourteen years, she was my main vehicle, and saw daily use. I drove her through my B.A., M.S. and Ph.D degrees. As I began my teaching career, with more responsibilities but not much more money, she was eventually relegated to summer-only use, and I began using other vehicles in Maine's cold, snowy winters. I drove a long series of second-hand Saabs, all towards the end of their working lives. They were an improvement on the bus, mostly because they had heat and could handle the snow. (The bus originally came with a gas heater, but it never worked, and eventually I removed it.) 

I drove across the country east to west and north to south in this vehicle. I visited Canada in it, used it to tow sailboats and carry canoes, camped and toured and studied in it. I built a house and a barn carrying materials in this bus. My old dogs Liza Jane and Cocoa loved it, and so did I.

But, after Aimee and I got married in 2004, the poor old bus languished, and was eventually abandoned over at the Bale House, mostly due to lack of money and time, where it began to rot into the ground.

But all such things change. I now have a pretty well equipped workshop and automotive lift, and, despite having a baby, I have more time, at least in summers, mostly because I'm not building any large buildings for the foreseeable future. It was time to do something with the van, before it rusted so badly that nothing at all could be done with it except cut it up for scrap.

The first job would be to get it over to my workshop. On Wednesday afternoon, I trundled over to the Bale House with the Rover and an air tank, pumped up the tires and tugged the vehicle out of it's nest of weeds, just to make sure it could roll. The next day I went back with a tow dolly.

Using the tow dolly turned out to be more difficult than I thought, mostly because my earlier experiment had failed to show that the passenger side back wheel was locked up, probably because the engine is seized. There was too much mud and wet ground at the Bale House to know this. The wheel just slipped, out of sight at the back, and for all intents and purposes acted normally. It was only once the vehicle was down on the road that the resistance was obvious. After dragging her for about half a mile, I came to a suitable turn-out, and, with some extra labor, switched from rolling on the back to the front wheels.

There was also the matter of having to change a wheel without a proper jack, but we won't go into those details. Suffice it to say that by the end of the day I was pretty pooped out.

Yesterday Aimee decided to take Roo to town to shop and to the doctors for a routine check-up, so my services were not required. Instead, I was able to spend the time getting the vehicle positioned on the lift, not easy with a locked-up wheel, and then removing the camper furniture, carpet, and engine.

There was a lot of dirt and junk, as well as various nests of insects and mice.

Here's the engine in the process of being removed, a job made a lot easier with a lift. The engine needs to be rebuilt, but pulling it early in the process would make a "rolling chassis", which would be a lot easier.

Here's the engine on the ground. These VW engines are relatively light and easy to handle, as engines go. Next job is to grind out the rot and see just exactly what's left.

All this heavy work took a toll after Thursday's major efforts. Today is an official federal holiday, but also, now, by declaration, an official Husband Holiday.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

No leaks

Little Roo likes to "help" in the kitchen, so we built her this stool after a design Aimee saw on FaceBook. It places her at waist height next to any counter she wants to "work" at. She loves it. But you have to be sure there isn't anything within reach that shouldn't be dropped on the floor.

In other news, the Rover leaks were all stopped up after some effort, and we now have a working vehicle again. I put it back to work promptly on a fencing and gating project.

After seven or eight years of struggling with home-made wooden gates made with the cheapest possible wood, reject apple-ladder sides from our local apple ladder mill, we now are moving to "proper" metal farm gates. Here's the first one in place. I didn't mind the wooden gates but Aimee hated them. Each had some idiosyncrasy that made it impossible or difficult to use unless you had the "knack." I had the knacks, but Aimee didn't. But don't worry. She's paying for the expensive new gates.

The hay arrived Wednesday, and was duly put up by the hay team, consisting of Amishman Simon S., his four small boys, two "English" truck drivers, and myself. Three hundred bales later, we're all set for the year.

The new hay elevator worked well, once I took an extra link out of the chain. It had been catching. Last year it was too tight, so I added two links, but only one was enough.

Finally, here's the Rover, all shined up ...

And the Rover's "new" engine.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Father's Day trip

Aimee said we could all go to the Owl's Head Transportation Museum for Father's Day -- my first one. We took the stroller so we could wander around without having to carry Roo, but in the end she preferred to be carried.

We stopped on the way to get Aimee a new kitchen hutch from the Maine State Prison showroom. This is the place where you can buy nice furniture made by the inmates. We have a lot of their stuff around the house.

We saw old cars, old airplanes, and lots of engines, which I liked a lot. We had french fries and milk, and then drove home slowly through the Maine countryside, looking for good yard sales.

When we got home, I finished connecting the Land Rover's engine and took it for a test drive. No leaks, which made me very happy, so I poured a glass of wine and we took it easy for the rest of the evening. Today it's raining, so we'll clean up the wreckage left in the workshop from the rebuild effort. Apparently I'm going to get Greek eggplant bake for my Father's Day dinner.

All in all, a Very Good Father's Day weekend. But I hear from the baby monitor that it's time to go be an actual dad.

Monday, June 15, 2015


It's been busy around here. As summer comes in properly, the list of must-do items lengthens, while the weather gives fewer excuses. Among other tasks, I got the old fence around barn side of the North Paddock torn down, and ordered new "official" farm gates instead of old home-made ones. Aimee rebuilt two items of furniture, the coffee table from the porch, much-chewed by dogs, and a sideboard for which she has ordered a granite top, intending to make a surface for baking bread and rolling pie crust.

I would like to state for the record that I am quite definitely in favor of bread and pie.

The garden got weeded fully once and is in the process of getting weeded again. The truck and Aimee's Matrix passed their state inspections. I replaced the old doors in the kitchen with new, energy-efficient ones, which Aimee promptly painted "Colorado Dawn," AKA pastel orange for the rest of us.

The Land Rover got a second rear seal, which also leaked, prompting me to call a Land Rover mechanic I know for advice, which turned out to be wrong, and then I figured it out on my own and am now just waiting for parts. As a general result, I can now remove a Land Rover engine in only two hours, and it takes only three for me to refit one. Practice makes perfect, he said, glass half full.

Here's where the seal goes, right next to the rear main bearing journal. However, it goes on the outside of the pressure plates, not the inside. 

And this is the result of putting it on the inside.

I finally figured out where it goes Sunday, after a few hours of quiet tinkering. Who says an old dog can't teach himself a new trick?

And, last but not least, we looked after Roo.Who shows signs of walking soon. She can stand up and walk if she holds on to your fingers with both little hands.

Roo appears to take a "selfie."

Sunday, June 7, 2015

A small box of metal is all that's left

The Rover engine rebuild went well enough, at least as far as the rebuild part. Here's the motor on the chain hoist the day I put it back in.

There were some difficulties with a new, supposedly correct-for-the-model-and-year, clutch disc. After three hours of trying to mate the engine to the transmission, I stopped, lifted the motor again, removed the clutch disc and checked the fit, only to find the splines were all wrong. Luckily, the old clutch disc was within thirty-thousands of an inch of the correct maximum size, hardly used, in other words, and I was able to reuse it. I remember that the old mechanic I bought this Rover from, in Warren, Maine, had said that the car had had a new clutch recently. He must have changed the clutch plate or disc, but the not the pressure plate, which was trashed, scored and pitted. The adjustment was all wrong too, with the pedal way too "high and tight," encouraging slippage.

All this explains why I experienced a slipping clutch only to find a relatively new clutch plate on the rebuild.

I painted the engine with POR-15 engine enamel. I've had good results with this paint, which is actually a thin glue, using urea formaldehyde chemistry, the same as "Gorilla Glue" and most spray foam. It keeps the rust at bay. I use it on our three older vehicles. I don't expect this engine will ever be painted again, so we may as well make it last.

Once the engine was back in, though, I was disappointed to find I now had a rear crankshaft seal leak.

It's not uncommon on engine rebuilds to compromise the rear seal, and I remember thinking that this one went in particularly hard. On the older Rovers the seal sits behind its own metal plates, and they pressure load the seal. It's hard to fit, and there probably is a "knack" that I need to learn. Mine certainly didn't go on easy. Now the engine will have to be pulled again, and the seal replaced. I threw some stop leak in there just to see what would happen. There are no other rubber parts inside the rover except these seals, and so nothing that could possibly be hurt by the stop leak, which is essentially rubber solution chemical, and works by softening the seal to make a better fit around the crankshaft. If, as is most likely, this last ditch efforts doesn't do a durn thing for the leak, I'll pull the engine again and change the seal once more.
It took me a day or two to accept the seal problem mentally, since it was a bit of a blow to know I'd probably have to pull the engine once more this year. I badly wanted to have the Rover completely serviceable again as my summer run-around and as our winter plow truck, mostly so I could set it aside and work on other farm projects. But it won't take nearly as long, second time around.

The good news is, the rebuild itself is good, high oil pressure (much higher), smooth running, and a little more "pep", all pretty much what you would predict from a successful full rebuild on such a tired motor.

I'm convinced of the sustainability value of engine rebuilding. Not only does it give an old vehicle a new lease of life for very little embodied energy, but it also saves acid rain emissions, by increasing efficiency. These two small boxes contain all of the parts that were changed, except for the clutch pressure plate. I changed pistons, rings, bearings, valves, tappets, and the timing chain. The boxes weigh less than thirty pounds. Thirty pounds of metal gets you another fifty thousand miles at least of engine life, possibly a hundred thousand. 

This old truck has already lasted forty-three years, and I hope it will last at least another twenty more.

But other jobs were calling. Other jobs are pretty much what I have to do anyway, since I should give the stop leak a couple of weeks anyway, just to see what happens. Here's the garden, where Aimee has been weeding and tending. Things are growing well, and we now have spinach to eat.

The piglets are doing well, and now have a new grain bin set-up, allowing us to go back to bulk grain for the rest of the summer. We hadn't been able to fill the bins recently because the new truck wouldn't carry a thousand pound grain bag with the truck cap on, while the trailer is too large to fit in the barn door, meaning we couldn't back any vehicle up right next to the bins to unload the grain easily. Bulk grain is half the price of bagged, so this was an expensive problem. We invested in a set of castors for the grain bin, allowing the bin to roll to the trailer, instead of the other way around. These paid for themselves the first time we used them, saving eighty or ninety dollars on a load of pig feed.

I also fitted new front and garage doors to the house, something Aimee had been asking for, and which perhaps compensates somewhat for all the time spent on the Land Rover recently.

Little Roo, for her part is happy to have both her parents home most days, although she's not sure of the value of all these jobs Aimee and I are always doing that take our attention away from her.

There's an obvious solution to this problem: She needs to learn to help!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Bearing up

The Land Rover rebuild continues in fits and starts as parts arrive. Here's the Rover's lower middle main bearing shell, showing the pitting that was giving me low oil pressure. Definitely needed a rebuild, although it might have run trouble-free for quite a while yet.

And here's the block, upside down, showing the journals. This is after the rebore job.

In other news, the swing set arrived and was duly assembled.

Roo seems to like it.

This calls for a family selfie!

Thursday, May 21, 2015


I needed to get the clutch release assembly out of my Land Rover for service, since according to Haynes, it's "false economy" to replace the engine without replacing the bearing. Ordinarily I'd beg to differ -- many's the time back in my VW van driving days that I'd pull the engine without replacing the bearing, but I do have a little less need for economy now than I did when I was a student.

In any case, Aimee stole my camera to take this picture of me wearing a Land Rover.

In other news, we have a strange new row crop in the garden: lots of containers with tomato plants underneath them. This because of a late frost warning last night, and again for tomorrow night.

I quite liked the effect.

Finally, if we now have a kid, then we need a swing set. Ours arrived by truck late Monday, but had to wait for the rain to stop before I could put it up. Quite the "assembly required"; it took about five hours to get it done, all told. She does like to swing, though.