I’m sipping coffee and sitting in a mod chair in our beautiful AirBnB on the second morning of our stay, thinking that I should have brought warmer clothes. It’s already 81 degrees (feels like 87) outside and the high yesterday was 102, but the most uncomfortable I’ve been is inside where the Texans chill everything off around the Meat Locker setting. Jen warned me, and I took her seriously, but I didn’t pack warm enough PJ’s to cope.
We landed on Wednesday afternoon, got our little Buick Enclave (review: perfectly fine for our needs but terrible visibility out the back, which is crucial for merging on and off Austin’s many feeder roads. At least we could pipe Jen’s phone into the dashboard display) and then checked into our rental. What a beautiful little house. It’s designed perfectly for a family of three, laid out in an L shape with Finley on one side and us on the other. It’s mid century modern all the way through, filled with thoughtful touches, and situated in East Central Austin, walking distance to a bunch of awesome restaurants.
Austin is beautiful, definitely weird, eclectic, and interesting. The architecture is amazing everywhere we look. They spend so much time on signage and textures and buildings made of unusual shapes it makes Catonsville look like an old gray dish towel. There’s functional neon everywhere we look. There’s garish graffiti all over the place. There are hand painted signs and metal signs and old weathered signs on every corner. Welded steel is everywhere. It’s a festival of the senses for design.
With the parade preparations basically monopolizing my time last weekend, I neglected to mention the update from Lexington Park, where we visited with Jen’s Dad and continued helping him get his affairs in order. While Jen focused on paperwork, I hooked the boat tank up to the Chrysler and primed the carburetor with fuel. I should back up here and mention how difficult it was to find the correct fitting for the carburetor fuel inlet; between three different stores, five websites, and two handfuls of brass and nylon parts, I still didn’t get the proper size or thread combination correct. Instead, I hooked the hose up to the lower section of the existing steel fuel line and called it done.
When I primed the carb it leaked out through the gasket, so I torqued the screws down good and tested it until it stopped seeping. This seems to have flooded the carb, because I couldn’t get it to start for love or money, even after letting it sit for four hours. So we’re back to square one there.
I went back outside to the porch ceiling, which I’d powerwashed a few weeks ago, and scraped the remainder of the flaking paint off before hitting it with two coats of white exterior latex. The door surround got two coats as well, which brightens up the front of the house immensely. Then I threw almost all of the breakers in the house until I found the one that killed the outlet on the porch. That plug was flopping loose, which made me nervous. As I unscrewed it, it disintegrated in my hands. Five minutes and a new plug from my electrical stash, and it’s good as new.
There was a time when Jen and I could organize, prepare for, and host a parade party for 100+ people on our own. It was several days’ worth of preparation, purchasing and manual labor. By the time the last float passed the house and people were picking up their chairs to return to the backyard, we were tired but usually had enough gas in the tank to power through until the sun went down, and at that point we closed things down to relax. We’d be tired and dirty and still a little tipsy but we could drag stuff back inside and then pass out to the sound of the Catonsville fireworks going off over the hill.
These days, I’m good until maybe an hour after the end of the parade, and then it’s go the fuck home o’clock. We hosted our sister and brother-in-law and their kids yesterday—cooking nothing crazy, just some burgers and dogs, guacamole and coleslaw, and drinking some beer—and it damn near wiped me out. Perhaps it’s also the aftermath of the six Coronas I drank through the course of the day, but this Tuesday I am a withered husk of a human being. We did have fun, and it was great to see the family, and the parade was good (although still slightly less engaging than years past) but I’m straight exhausted, and that’s after a good 10 hours’ sleep last night.
As I get older I understand more and more why my uncles all drank Coors Light out on the lake at this age. Heavy beers don’t treat me well. I enjoy the flavor but I can’t handle the headaches they give me these days, so I’m writing them out of my life. I went through the kegerator last week and consolidated a bunch of beer I’d been avoiding into a six-pack container: several heavy chocolate stouts, double IPA’s, a Troegenator, and a coupe of others that all registered over 8.5ABV. About two hours before the parade I ran them next door to my neighbor’s, who has a liver made of cast iron and hosts a party for roughly 30% of Catonsville: surely someone there could put them to better use than I.
That also means I’m going to organize and put the homebrew equipment up for sale in a week or two, as it’s just gathering dust in the basement. It’s a sad situation, but I can’t brew anything that doesn’t give me a headache anymore. I’ve got a couple of go-to commerical beers I enjoy very much, so I’ll continue drinking those and retire the homebrew hobby for good.
Gas is still $5 a gallon, but that didn’t stop me from taking the Scout over the bridge to Chestertown to pick up a day’s work on the schoolbus. The forecast for the weekend was a beautiful 81˚ so I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. Brian has gotten a ton of work done since I saw it last—we put the battery box in all the way back in April—as Robbi and Matthew make firm travel plans for the fall. I pulled into the driveway to find a completely painted bus with scenes of kids and animals reading books from the headlights to the rear bumper.
The roof tent had also come in, and they’d put a platform down, screwed it into place, and hooked up the electrical system for the motor lifts. Inside, Brian had roughed in cabinets around the sink area and opposite the aisle for the locker fronts. Instead of using the locker cubbies they asked him to seal the doors and use the locker fronts as two swinging doors to conceal a set of sliding drawers.
We got to work trying to diagnose a faulty electrical motor on the roof tent, then moved inside to work out cabinetry. I cleaned, painted and installed a floor baffle for the heating hoses directly under the kids’ seats, and when that was done we set up an assembly line to cut and build the shelves and drawers. By 5:30 we had those in place and then installed a shelf cubby over the captain’s chair on the passenger side, which will be mirrored on the driver’s side over the kids’ seats.
I hit the road for home at about 7, driving into a beautiful setting sun over the Bay, feeling very fortunate for the ability to work with my hands and make visible progress on a project with a clear end goal.
On Sunday we packed the CR-V and headed down to Bob’s house to continue sorting things out. After eating lunch I headed out into the garage to continue working on the Chrysler. When I was there last, there was no spark at the plugs and I didn’t know why. I’d bought a $9 tool to test it conclusively, and my suspicions were correct. The next point of failure were the points and condenser inside the distributor, so I swapped those out with some new parts in about 10 minutes. With Bob behind the wheel, we tested for spark again, and there was success!
I squirted some gas down the carb and had him fire it off, and it caught and turned over for a few seconds until the gas evaporated. A couple more tries, some more gas, and she caught and ran—loudly and choppily, but she ran! The smile on Bob’s face was huge.
The next steps are to buy a boat tank—basically a small jerry can designed for a motorboat with a built in float and pump—and hook that directly to the carburetor. That will take care of providing fuel. If I can keep her running from the carb, we can test the transmission to see if she’ll pull out of the garage, and I can pull the drums off the rear wheels to diagnose the brake system. I’m sure that will be a leaky nightmare.
I’ve already cleaned the front seats off with 50/50 water and vinegar to kill the mildew growing there, but the back seats need extra love and attention. Getting it out into the driveway will also let us wash off 40 years of dust and grime and really assess the condition of the paint. There are a thousand little dings and chips from being a shelf in the garage for years, so I know it’s not going to be perfect, but I bet we can cut and buff a shine back into the paint with some work. I also want to use some engine degreaser and the pressure washer to shine up the engine bay.
If I’m completely honest, a part of me didn’t believe I would be able to pull this off; I’m mechanically adept but this project is a lot more than I’ve ever attempted, and there were many places I could have screwed it up. I like to think I’ve learned to be patient and careful as I’ve gotten older, and that approach paid off with every obstacle the car threw at me. The next couple of months will prove out the theory, I guess.
I had Monday off, so we all enjoyed sleeping in. Jen took care of some work in the morning while I pressure washed the front stairs and fooled around in the garage, and in the early afternoon we drove out to Frederick to spend a little family time together. We got some lunch at the Tasting Room, which was about ten steps up from where we took Bob for dinner (the Cracker Barrel was the only place open without a half an hour wait) where we sipped fancy coctails and ate a delicious late lunch.
From there we walked through the town, stopping in various stores for Finn to shop through. I found a cheap Django Reinhart LP at the used record store and Finn found some inexpensive jewelry. We stopped and met several dogs who all put Hazel to shame for their calm and relaxed natures. She was our alarm clock, so at about the four hour mark we headed for home. We all spent the evening quietly doing our own things, enjoying the cool breeze, happy to be together.
I’m a bit worn out but wanted to put a couple of pictures up from Pat & Mel’s wedding this weekend. It was excellent to see family and spend time with my Mom and sister and kick back for a couple of days.
It was wonderful to spend a beautiful evening at the farm catching up with everyone; Renie and I were among the last to leave, and we finished up the evening down at the Fargo for a nightcap with the diehards.
First and foremost, Happy Anniversary, Jen. I love you.
We did not have any spectacular anniversary plans because we drove down to my Father-in-Law’s house to continue helping him sort his house out. We got a lot done in two days—not as visually impactful as previous weeks, but we’re making steady progress.
I drove the Scout down separately from the girls because I had it stuffed with tools and four new tires for the Chrysler. The first thing I did after we got settled was to jack up each corner and put new shoes on the old girl; she looks so much better sitting on fresh tires. When that was done I jacked up the front end, put a 1 1/4″ socket on the crankshaft, and gave it a tug with the breaker bar. It moved! Putting a socket wrench on it, I got one full revolution going both ways, which means it’s free!
Next I pulled a heat shield off the steering column so that I could get a smaller ratchet on the socket stuck on cylinder #7, all the way up front on the driver’s side. With some careful maneuvering I got the socket and the plug off, and dumped some Marvel Mystery Oil down that cylinder as well. Then I replaced all of the plugs with fresh ones and reconnected the old wires (new ones are on the way).
Then I pulled the alternator off, flipped the bracket around and re-mounted it; it fits much better but I need to find some bushings to help secure it in place (I’d guess the originals fell off when the old unit was pulled in 1980). When I’ve got those I can mount it up permanently and hook it back up to the electrical system.
- Clean and rebuild the carburetor. I’ve got a kit coming with new gaskets, needles, floats, and hardware. I’ll douse the whole thing in brake cleaner and get it set up for surgery tomorrow.
- Order plug wires, a rotor for the distributor, a new coil, and some fan belts.
- Order a drum brake kit for the fronts—If I can get it to stop reasonably well when it’s running, I’ll drive it to a brake shop and have a pro go over the whole thing properly.
- Read up on testing for spark, using a multimeter to test the coil, and diagnosing distributor issues.
Other than that, I did a lot of stuff around the house, like fixing his garage door, fixing a window, further organizing his garage, and hauling a load of stuff to the dump. It was unbearably hot this weekend, so I was covered in grime at the end of both days. But I had fun driving the Scout—even in heat, it is a ridiculously fun road trip vehicle—only having to pause under a Shell awning for an hour to let a thunderstorm pass by.
Monday morning: I feel like I got hit by a truck. But we made a bunch of progress at the FiL’s house, and the Chrysler is one step closer to being on her own feet.
We began with more filing and organizing inside the house, and then I turned to the garage. First, I installed a fix for one of the rollers on the garage door, which had broken off at some point in time. At home, I cut down a plate of flat steel, bolted it the original plate, and greased the bearings. At Bob’s, I bolted the new assembly to the door. I put two nails in the ends of the tracks to keep the door from falling off when raised, and re-routed the spring wires to work the way they were installed—they’d fallen off the pulleys at some point, binding up the top roller, which led to it breaking off. With that done, I raised the door and assembled two wire shelves we’d bought for more storage out there. After moving a bunch of stuff out of the kitchen and organizing the shelves, I turned to the Chrysler.
All four tires are at least 40 years old, totally flat, and completely dry-rotted. I brought a quartet of new jack stands with us and started getting the car up on them starting with the front; in about a half an hour she was off the floor and ready for the next phase. I hit all the lug nuts with PB Blaster and moved to the spark plugs while they marinated.
The biggest concern I have right now is that the crank doesn’t turn. I don’t have a socket big enough to sit on the crank bolt—the interwebs tell me it’s titanic 1 1/4″ —but just putting a hand on the pulley wheel doesn’t budge it. That’s not a good sign. I don’t think I have a socket that big, so I’ll hit the Lowe’s this week and grab one.
Chrysler 440 plugs are apparently oriented almost horizontally compared to International’s design, something I wasn’t ready for; when I put an expandable funnel down the first hole and poured Marvel Mystery Oil in it, I promptly dribbled it all over the floor. I think I got each cylinder filled by tapping on the funnel, but I’m going to need an easier way to get the oil into the passages—probably a funnel mated to a hose. And due to Chrysler’s awesome engineering, one of my 9/16 long sockets is stranded on the #7 plug; they decided to route the steering wheel column directly behind it with about 2″ of clearance to spare, so I have no way to get the ratchet onto the socket without pulling a rusty heat shield off the column. It’s soaking in PB Blaster but I forsee a need to drill the bolts.
Moving back to the lug nuts, I got a bunch of them started and had Finn remove most of them. As they soaked they began to come loose, and one by one the wheels came off. The passenger side front was the most difficult; I had to bust out Bob’s plumbing torch and heat the nuts up in order to break them free. The passenger rear tire was frozen to the drum but all of the other wheels came off easily once the lug nuts released. Now I’ve got to find a local shop with a compatible tire in stock and get them mounted and balanced.
The carburetor is much simpler than my Thermoquad and came off easily—only three linkages and a couple of hoses. This car was built before smog laws went into effect so it’s blissfully simple compared to the truck. I’m going to soak the carb and get a rebuild kit ordered so we can have something useable to fire it off.
The new alternator is a carbon copy of the one I found in the trunk, but when I mounted it up I found that it sits way too close to the fuel filter and looks like it sits too low. I’ve got to find some good photos of an optimal installation and adjust it to fit better, then thread the belt back on. The connections on back are simple to understand. Once I have that sorted I have to move on to the cooling system, which is empty as far as I can tell.
By the end of the day, my back was singing Ave Maria and my stomach was grumbling loudly; we packed things up and got on the road at about 7. There’s plenty more non-car related stuff to tackle, but I’m looking forward to putting shoes on this yacht and setting her back down on the ground.
So plans have changed a bit and we’re headed back down to Lexington Park for more work at my Father in law’s. In looking at the Chrysler in the garage I’ve been putting together a plan to resurrect it, carefully, without blowing up the motor. Here’s a rough outline of the approach:
- Turn the crank pulley and see if the engine turns. If not—and in any case—on to step 2:
- Pull the spark plugs and pour Marvel Mystery Oil down the cylinders. I was able to get my spare 345 in the garage freed up and moving again with this technique, and I hope to god the Chrysler block isn’t frozen solid.
- Pull the carburetor off the engine, cover the inlet, and bring it home for soaking and a rebuild. Well, I’ve actually got several options here—
- I can rebuild it as best as I can to get things moving.
- I can buy a replacement Edelbrock or other aftermarket carb to drop on top of the engine, and get it running reliably.
- I can buy a rebuilt Carter AFB (the stock carb) from an online vendor and swap it onto the engine.
…At this point a rebuild is the cheapest option and I don’t need to have it run perfectly, just enough to get onto a trailer or move under its own power.
- Jack it up and put it on stands so we can pull the wheels off and have new tires put on. All four tires are completely shot, so this is mandatory. Plus then we can sweep underneath and see what’s going on with the exhaust and frame. One thing to remember: The driver side has left-hand threads and the passenger side has right-hand threads.
- Install the alternator. We found the original alternator in the trunk, removed at some previous time, and I have no idea what’s wrong with it. A $40 replacement from Rock Auto is packed and ready to put in.
- Drain and replace the oil. God only knows what’s in it, and it’s a quart overfull anyway. So that’ll come out and be refreshed.
- Test the ignition system for spark. I have no idea what condition the coil or points are in, so I’ll bring a spare set of plug wires from the Scout down in case one or more are garbage.
I put the pod on the roof of the CR-V this morning so that we can throw the useless tires up there and bring them back up here; I’ll order four new tires and have them mounted and balanced locally, then bring them back down and put them back on. I’m going to try and get through as much of the list as I can—I’ll probably only get up to #4 before we run out of time.
I spent the weekend down at my father-in-law’s house emptying about twenty years of stuff out of his garage. We rented a 20 cubic yard dumpster, which looks very big in the driveway, but fills up very fast. I drove down solo on Saturday morning while Jen was working and waded in to the debris, first finding a way to grease up the wheels on the garage door and get it raised out of the way. Then I started moving things around and working with him on what to keep and what to throw away.
It’s been a delicate balance. I’m not there to just empty the space out, so I had him stand with me for as much as possible and give the thumbs-up/down on all of the major items. There were a lot of things he’d forgotten were in there, including two lawnmowers he didn’t recognize, and overall he was happy to see most of it leave. It was fun to find something obviously important, walk it over to him, and see his face light up with recognition.
While I worked, I consolidated a bunch of different things—tools scattered throughout the garage all got collected on the workbench and later sorted into shelves out of the way. Military gear was assembled and stored safely in two new plastic bins. Important papers were gathered in one place. All of the toys and children’s books were set aside and later stored in a cabinet up off the floor and out of the way. All of the electric tools were tested and tossed if they weren’t functional. We got rid of a lot of ancient technology: both lawnmowers, two CRT televisions, and two weed whackers—one big enough to warrant handlebars and a support strap. Heirlooms like family chairs and sleds got hung on the wall, up and out of the way. By the end of the day I had most of the left bay clear and the car uncovered. I got some dinner, took a long hot shower at the hotel, and got a terrible night’s sleep (mostly climate-control related).
Sunday morning I brought Bob a chocolate donut, finished my coffee, and got back at it. By noon I had the far side clear, all of the boxes stored away, and the inside of the car cleared out. Jen and Bob started chipping ice from the ancient freezer by the back door, depositing about ten gallons of ice on the side lawn to melt. When it was empty I manhandled it out into the back of the dumpster and pulled the door off. After that it was mainly cleaning up after ourselves and finding places to store stuff until we get some shelving to help organize.
I took a little time in the afternoon to find the hood release on the Chrysler and pulled it open to find a dirty but mostly intact 440 with a single-barrel carb and no alternator. Talking it over with him, he agreed to let me try and get it running again, so I’ve got a shopping list for future visits and a plan for how to get started. And luckily I found a working set of door and ignition keys to make the job a little easier.
By the end of the night I was a sore, tired mess. The dumpster is full and will be hauled away tomorrow. The door (mostly) goes up and down by itself, and I’ve got the broken part in my toolbag to source some replacements. Most importantly, we’ve got more room to move and store things as we help him sort out his house.