Saturday is Car Project Day

So I find myself with that rarest of things: a summer Saturday with nothing scheduled *and* decent weather. Miss E had to work the breakfast buffet at the hotel where she started earlier this week, and K had a volunteer shift at the local DV shelter, so I had the place to myself (well, myself and Scooterbird). And I had things to do to Leviathan: try to fix the parking brake, and solve the leak in the rear axle cover. To that end, I purchased a front parking brake cable (which is what had failed the last time and it sounded like it had failed again this time) and, to replace the replacement stamped-steel rear axle cover (the original rusted through in about 3 years and 85,000 miles, this one has about 120,000 miles on it), a nifty die-cast-aluminum cover with cooling fins that Ford has made available on the 2008 model year F-Series Super Duty pickups.

(There’s an aftermarket aluminum cover available as well, but it runs about $250, and this one is $50. Guess which one I bought?)

Anyway, I needed RTV form-a-gasket, brake clean (great degreaser), a drain pan that would capture the old lube and allow me to transport it to the oil change place for proper disposal, and 4 quarts of synthetic 75W-140 gear lube. $85 and change later, I had the stuff. Yep, $85: $4 RTV, $3.20 brake clean, $9 drain pan, and the synth gear lube runs $15.99 per quart. Ow. On the other hand, the stuff works great, and when I cracked the cover loose on the diff, what came out was in very good shape for being 5 years old with 120K miles on it.

By the way, gear lube? Don’t get it on anything clothing items you like. Particularly used gear lube. The smell is less with the synthetic than with the traditional dino juice (and in really old days, legend has it sperm whale oil was a component), but it’s… bad.

So, spray the rear axle with Simple Green to first knock loose as much of the accumulated cruft as possible, then tackle the parking brake cable.

Sigh. I’ll skip to the end: it’s not the cable. But to determine that, I had to disconnect the batteries (yep, plural: most diesels have two in parallel), which involved some effort on one of the ground terminals, then work my arm down into the back of the engine compartment and undo the 104-pin connector for the transmission computer (which is attached with a 10mm captive bolt), which ended up also requiring the loosening of the fenderwell splash shield so I could retrieve the ratchet wrench I dropped. Once that’s done, you can then crawl under the dash and remove a nut and a bolt to remove the trans computer… and THEN you can see the parking brake pedal mechanism…. at which point I learned that the cable was, in fact, intact. Something else is broken, probably the pedal itself. And I don’t have one of those. So I’ll have to try that again later.

Put it all back together up front and started in on the rear end. It’s pretty straightforward: remove twelve screws, pry off old cover. There’s a neat trick I learned years ago: leave one screw at the top of the cover in place but loose, so when you pry it loose, it won’t come crashing down on top of you in a shower of used gear lube. Instead, when you pry it loose, the gear lube hits the shallow drain portion of your storage-style drain pan and slops up over the side, getting your gravel & dirt driveway all oily. And that smell…. ooh, that smell. It also runs down your arms and while you were smart and are wearing surgical gloves instead of your preferred (but not oil-resistant) Mechanix Wear work gloves, your forearms are now seriously slimed.

Did I mention that you’re under a truck, lying on your back or side, and if you jump when this happens to grab from your Box O Rags (disposable paper ones, not your good red shop rags. See above on gear oil smell and cloth), you hit your head on an assortment of metal objects with varying degrees of rust and an array of edges, sharp pokey things, etc.? Well, I didn’t jump, at least.

Anyway, old cover off, let the axle drain, then start cleaning up the sealing surface with a razor blade and the brake cleaner. Clean the new cover with the brake cleaner as well, let it dry, and then apply a bead of RTV to new cover. Now the really tricky part: get yourself and the now-gooped cover from tailgate to under the truck without bumping it against anything or dropping it on the dirt & gravel driveway. To my utter and complete amazement, I did it on the first attempt. I even remembered to put the bolts down there (in a nifty magnetic parts tray so they weren’t in the dirt, either) first. Cover onto the rear end, get the 12 bolts started while holding it, tighten a couple down to secure the cover, then finish tightening them.

Then take some time to clean things up a bit, because you want to let the RTV set up a bit before you subject it to the new gear oil. Which mean that almost an hour later, I was ready to put the oil in. Which is done via a small plugged hole on the side of the differential housing. You remove the plug, and start putting the oil in. When you have enough oil in, it’ll run out the plug hole. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Well, you can’t get all the oil out of the jug unless you attach a piece of rubber hose to the nozzle on the oil jug so you can tip the jug upside down. At which time the hose slips off the nozzle, comes out of the plug hole in the axle, or both, and you have another mess on your hands. And arms. Took a while, but got the required 3.3 L of oil in there. I wasn’t measuring, I just filled it ’til it ran of the fill hole. 🙂

This is where the aftermarket cover has one advantage: there’s a dipstick whose hole is on top of the cover, so you can tip the oil jug completely upside down into it without the hose. Their dipstick is marked funny, though, so you’re best off removing the regular fill plug to serve as your level indicator, then mark the dipstick with the actual correct level. But I don’t have one of those, so I did it the regular (messy) way.

But… no drips, no leaks, and it looks cool, too.

I wound up shoveling up the oil-soaked soil and gravel and disposing of it… Finished up everything including the test drive around 12:45 — after both Miss E and K had returned home.

Tomorrow, if I have time, I may swap out my front side windows for the thicker ones a friend of mine got for me — thicker glass means less noise into the cabin from outside.



It’s Thursday.

I’m alive. Really.

Been busy. Still will be busy for a while yet.  This isn’t really a problem. 🙂

Snurched from


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Sunday: The Good, The Bad, and The Weird

Sunday. First, the weather was lovely. Second, the Solo Trials course was a blast. I was deep into 3rd gear, and tripped the radar gun through the finish at 90+ mph. Whoo-hoo! There was this monster sweeper that I was running somewhere in the neighborhood of 70 mph. THAT was a blast. The car loved it, the driver loved it. Gotta do one of those again.

Okay, so after that, we loaded up and headed for home. I-75 southbound from “up north” back to the Detroit area on a Sunday afternoon is a drive fraught with peril under the best of circumstances, and when you’re towing a 26′ enclosed car hauler, with the combined rig weighing in somewhere in the general vicinity of 17,000 lbs, it’s just that much more perilous.

So I’m motoring along in the far-right lane, with my speed in the general vicinity of 70-72 mph (speed limit is 70). We’re a bit south of Saginaw, not quite to Frankenmuth, and the highway is 3 lanes each direction. Ahead of us is an empty space and then all three lanes are wall-to-wall vehicles. When this black Cadillac SRX kinda-sport-ute-thing (it’s car-based, not truck-based like the Escalade) goes flying past at 110-115 mph, sees the traffic ahead, and dives from the far left lane all the way to the right shoulder, thinking he’d go around there. He’s followed shortly by a Saginaw Police cruiser with lights and sirens. Well, as soon as he started his move right, I lifted and started braking — and a good thing, too, because he got to the shoulder, saw it was partially blocked by a blue Chevy van, and still under hard braking tried to reverse course back to the left. Which tripped the SRX and it rolled. Just past the hard shoulder, the ground slopes away quite a bit, and he did about 1.5 rolls in the air before hitting and finishing with about 5 rolls and a half-flip with a twist to land partly on the wire fence and partly into a sign for a business on the other side of that fence. The SRX has front, side, and side curtain air bags, and they ALL deployed. Could not see inside of it despite no glass still present.

2nd and 3rd cop cars come past me, all three are now on the shoulder ahead of me, and the cops get out, guns drawn. I’m now stopped, but decide I don’t want to be there, and pull away, back onto the road and on for home — looking back to see another 6-8 cop cars coming up behind. It looked like the chase scene at the end of “The Blues Brothers”.

We found out today that the runner was wanted in Detroit for an attempted murder outside a church earlier Sunday, and he was spotted by Saginaw Police at a gas station. When the officers moved to talk to him, he instead jumped into the car and fled. The chase was only a couple miles long. He was treated and released into custody at a local hospital, and Detroit PD picked him up this morning.

Stopping 17K lbs from highway speeds requires a fair bit of distance… the lesson here, of course, is you have to pay attention to your surroundings when driving, and you also need to know the capabilities/limitations of your equipment.

If it’s Oscoda, it must be raining…

Autocrossing in Oscoda this weekend. One of our regular event chairs has, for two years now, tried to do a special-format event up here. For two years now, the weather had other ideas. Basically, Larry’s events counted on a fairly intense timing in order to pull everything off in a reasonable amount of time; big weather delays (we run in the rain. Lightning, however shuts things down) throw the timing off and make it mighty tough to make it happen. Last year it was a similar format to a ProSolo, with two mirror-image courses and a “Christmas tree” starting system like at a drag strip, rains flooded out some specialty timing equipment (which is a whole separate rant in and of itself, but see below), which resulted in the event format changing significantly. This year, conventional course, but run 3 in the morning, then 3 in the afternoon in the opposite direction. After that, the top 32 on index would be in an elimination challenge. We got the morning runs in, but during the 1st run in the afternoon, the lightning started making an appearance. We got the run completed for all drivers, but then (another rant) I was asked my opinion (I end up being the weather steward on stuff like this, probably because of the Oklahoma and Skywarn background) and it was shut down, all the course workers off the concrete plain and into vehicles.

We had two more such stoppages, but it was the 3rd that finally prompted Larry to a) end the event and b) punt the challenge. By this time, it was around 7pm and well past the “give it up already, Larry” time…

Okay: equipment. The SCCA National Office, a few years ago, replaced the mostly-reliable ProSolo setup (the timer box itself had was getting obsolete and did not have a computer interface for scoring, but the track hardware was pretty solid) with a brand-new system from a different vendor, who had never done such a thing before. So they did things like make “all weather” photohead boxes with indoor-grade RJ-14 connectors instead of something water-tight and put a heat-sensitive circuit board that controlled the whole thing inside the Christmas Tree just above a AC to DC voltage transformer that generated a whole bunch of heat. It took a bunch of work to by some electronic wizards (who happen to be Detroit Region members) to modify that system into functionality.

So what does Detroit Region do? They spend a whole bunch of money to buy a duplicate of the National Office system. Except that it comes without the mods and thus is subject to exactly the same problems as the National system was 3 or 4 years prior. The only change was that the voltage transformer was removed from the electronics bay of the Tree (as it had only taken one race to abandon the 12VDC yard lights they started out using for the 120VAC “standard” lights that needed no transformer). So the first time it’s used… we get a torrential downpour which floods the non-water-tight photoheads and it stops working altogether… haven’t seen it since. Hope they sent it back for a refund.

Okay, weather. The rule is simple: see lightning and/or hear thunder: shut the event down. Get everyone into some sort of shelter. Monitor the conditions, and when it’s gone, you can restart. But event chairs want to run their event, so they think if the lightning is “over there”, it’s okay. Nope. K had my scanner, which has the weather band, and was explaining to the event chairs that it was past time… but it took one of the safety stewards to ask me before they stopped it. The funny thing about that is when Dave headed toward me (I’d just done my first afternoon run and was still in the car), I saw K behind him with my scanner in her hands, so before Dave could say anything, I made the “cut” motion across my neck followed by the F&C hand signal for “now”. Which Dave, not being F&C, didn’t understand and had to ask K, who explained it.

Had a word with both Larry and Dave about how K knows this stuff almost as well as I do, and if she says “time to stop” for weather, she’s got a damn good reason to do so and they really ought to listen…

And now I have to go to bed. Early morning tomorrow…


Simple enough: get poked for blood draw (performed ably by Gabrielle, my favorite Romanian phlebotomist, who besides being cute as a bug, revels in the delicious irony of being a professional vampire and Transylvanian…), eat, run errands, run some storage tubs out to our storage locker.

Well we got to the storage locker and realized that we’ve been talking for two or more years about straightening it out and we never really have and we really need to particularly if we’re going to fit those 6 new tubs in and there’s a lot of cruft here that can either go to the trash or to the conviently-just-down-the-street Salvation Army thrift store/drop point and the weather is nice and I’ll just get started and…

…almost two hours, and two runs to Salvation Army, and countless on-foot trips to the on-site dumpster later, the storage locker is in remarkably good shape, reasonably organized, and still the hibernation place for my ’65 Mustang, which hasn’t moved from that spot in almost 9 years now. 😦 I just don’t have any place to work on it. I miss having that car where I can do something with it.

Friday’s adventure in more detail

Last Friday, I left the house at 4:20 am, drove to Detroit Metro Airport, parked Leviathan in the McNamara Terminal deck, breezed through security, got a McBreakfast, and made it to the gate for my commuter-plane flight to Indianapolis (which was scheduled for 6:20 am) at about 5:30 am.

Yes, commuter plane. I had an exit row window seat. Full flight. My customer/colleague CL was a couple rows ahead on the other side of the plane. He had some difficulty at security as he was carrying a bubble-wrapped prototype water pump in a large tote bag, said pump weighing in at about 20 lbs.

Okay, we’ve established that I’m not small. I’m 6’4″, 250ish pounds. Seated in the aisle seat next to me on this undersized CRJ commuter jet? A transiting Pinnacle Air Captain who is every bit as big as me. Luckily for both of us, the flight was only an hour.

Hit the ground (figuratively), caught the rental car shuttle, selected a smoke-free car (not as easy as you think), and I had to figure out how to start the damn thing. It was a new Nissan Altima, and it doesn’t have a key. It has a fob that goes into a little slot on the lower left of the dash (and if you don’t do it exactly right, it spits it back out at you with enough force to bruise your shin just below the knee. Three guesses as to how I know that, and the first two don’t count). Then you have to step on the brake and push the “ENGINE START/STOP” button that’s located where a sensible person would put the key (on the dash just right of the steering column).

Drove off to Columbus, Indiana (about an hour) to meet with the customer, including a nice lunch (as the supplier, I picked that up. Thank you, expense account!). Drove back to airport, gassed car, turned it in, shuttled to terminal in plenty of time for 4:52 pm flight home. Security was interested in the water pump hub and bearing in my satchel. To the gate, stop at bar for a beer on the way. On the plane (full-size Airbus 320 this time), sit there, ready to go… and electrical fault. Mechanic summoned. Attempts to fix made. People are able to leave ’cause the fault prevents lavatory use, but the rest of us are sitting there (at least the AC works). After about 45 minutes of this, they get all of us off the plane… people are trying to make complicated connections through Detroit and 6 other airports in order to get to Swaziland or such. I call K to tell her I’m delayed; she gets on ‘puter and says next Detroit flight has 23 seats open. I stop counting heads in line at 70. Minneapolis? 10 seats open, and only open connection to Detroit gets to DTW somewhere in the 12:30-12:45 am region. After several “we’re still working on it, more in 10 minutes” announcements (I’m having deja vu for reasons I haven’t explained here yet dating back to return from the vacation we had in February), they say they haven’t fixed it and all checked luggage is being unloaded to Carousel 1. CL and I, with no bags, decide we can drive back to DTW faster than we can now fly there as it looks like an involuntary overnight stay in Indy otherwise (without any of our own provisions for doing that, and at this point I’m REALLY having deja vu back to February in Ft. Lauderdale except then we had our carryons… that didn’t have a change of clothes or our toiletries in them).

Back to airline ticket counter to “un-check-in” so we can exercise the refund provision of our corporate-paid refundable fares, then back to rental car counter. Guy in front of us has USAF bags and is trying to price a one-way rental to Minot, ND. Ugh. He ultimately decides to go the Minneapolis route. I have Emerald Club membership at National, and I’m told they have “corporate cars” for one-way rentals to Detroit, and all I have to do is tell the shuttle driver.

Who is the same shuttle driver who dropped us off a couple hours earlier. And she knows this. We are hoping there’s a Cadillac DTS on the one-way line. No dice: Chevy Impalas, Mitsubishi SUVs, and, hiding between two Impalas, a little dark-blue Volvo S40 we take ’cause neither one of us had been in one before. As the “pre-pay” fuel price is a good $0.25/gallon cheaper than any gas I’ve seen in Michigan lately, I opt for it, thinking (correctly, it turns out) that I’ll be able to turn the car in pushing empty and not have to put any gas in it on the way.

I do not have my radar/laser detector with me. This bothers me a bit, but I know the route so well from countless drives that I also know where the cops lurk, so we press on. We pull out of the National lot at 6:59 pm according to my receipt. Get a few miles up the Circle (I-465) and grab take-out from Wendy’s, then back on the road.

The cops cooperate and are exactly where I know they’ll be. At one point on I-69 in Michigan, I drop out of the cruise control and settle in at precisely 68 mph. CL wonders why… then sees the State Police Tahoe lurking in a wood-lined “AUTHORIZED VEHICLES ONLY” turnaround shooting radar at us northbounders. That past, I hit resume and we’re back up to normal cruising speed (84 mph, in case anyone was wondering. 14 over).

310 miles and 4 hours, 33 minutes after I checked the car out, it’s checked in and we’re on a shuttle bus from the DTW National lot to the terminal where our own vehicles are parked. I’m home by 12:30 am.

And when I call the corporate travel agent on Monday, I determine that with the refund, I saved the company about $172 by renting the car. And CL the customer thinks I’m pretty much unflappable.

And after a 20+ hour day, the boss is gonna give me some comp time off.

Something funny lets you do silly things with pseudo church signs, and has a gallery of real ones, too. Behind the cut below is my effort this evening:


Note: choice of AoG church is deliberate. They’re right up there with the Pentecostals for frothing fundamentalism. Jimmy Swaggert is perhaps the most (in)famous AoG minister…

Try it yourself! Elsewhere, people are doing katzLOL and l337 versions. I’m not that cool. 🙂