When it hits the fan

What a week. I’ll refrain from giving the specifics of the biggest event and just say that God came through when no other solution was possible. Monday after a weekend of work some things came up that I guess I didn’t think much of at the time, but ended up being quite a big deal. I knew better and yet put myself in a difficult situation by the actions I chose to take during our weekend work. I guess I thought crossing certain boundaries were ok as long as it didn’t happen very often. Probably also a bit of it was that I was trying to take care of something that came up unexpectedly in a way that hid the shortfall in preparation. Even though we’d been pushing the whole week prior to this to prepare it still wasn’t enough. Either way it has been painfully(in a good way) pointed out that I need to rely more on the people around me even when I feel capable of taking care of a situation. So I got myself in a poo load of hot water and almost had quite a bit of free time on my hands. Most difficult situations I encounter don’t cause me to lay awake at night and literally lose sleep, but I definitely didn’t sleep a wink Monday night. Dad came up that night to advise, encourage and pray with me. Tuesday came and I really didn’t know what to expect. I came to face the music, to pay the piper, to go down with the ship, but was shown mercy coupled with grace. Now I move on corrected and wiser from the experience. Proverbs 20:30 says, “Stripes that wound scour away evil, and strokes reach the innermost parts.” Some may look in from the outside and say well here’s a man not at all evil and this was unjust retribution for overly strict rules and regulations. I think though in this case the most difficult sins to be driven out can be those that we don’t quickly recognize for what they are. God had already been dealing with me on submission to governing authority just ask me about iPads and Nebraska’s fine state police sometime. However He wanted to drive the point home a little further and remind me that there are others also in authority over me whom I need to recognize as being placed there and show submission to as well. Secondly though I’m used to being able to do quite a bit on my own at work that I must recognize the importance of others in working towards a common goal. Having strong abilities and understanding is not a bad thing, but having pride enough in those skills to cause me not to engage others when I should is not wise.

So you’d think all this would make for a full enough week in of itself…

Well to top this off I’d been working on my Honda in my folk’s garage getting it ready to sell. It’d been up on the jack for about two weeks while I encountered problem after problem with getting the lower control arm bushings pressed out and replaced. The problem, as far as I’ve been able to interpret it, is that because the front jack point is slightly off center it causes the front of the car to twist slightly when you jack it up. One side jacks up higher than the other which is not a big deal normally as this is something cars are engineered to handle. Unfortunately somewhere during this process I opened the passenger door to get something out and because of the slight tweak to body while up on the jack it didn’t latch back immediately and so sat barely opened and tweaked the whole week and a half until I got the suspension pieces all put back together. I dropped the car back down and closed the door, but went to open it later and it wouldn’t open. It was binding up against the body by the hinge. As my boss Dave put it, two steps forward and one step back. So here I was swearing, and I mean SWEARING, at my car, my beard waving and aflame with anger and rage. All this after having just seen God intervene in my life in one of the biggest answers to prayer I’ve experienced only a couple days before. Dad brought a tough, but necessary correction. He pointed out that whatever I touched was going to fall to crap while I was in this raging, unclear frame of mind, that I needed to walk away and that I needed to rectify my attitude. So in the end I loaded my passenger door into my car and drove it up to the Honda body shop to get fixed. It sucks that I’ll have to drop another chunk of change into it just in order to sell it, but that’s just how it goes.

Fortunately with this correction I was set to be able to approach my Fiat the day after and undertake my fourth or fifth attempt at changing out the struts. I’ve had to strip down and then put the whole assembly back together so many times I could do it in my sleep. First I thought I’d use the struts from the Yugo, but after getting the Fiat all stripped down and the strut assembly out of the Yugo I couldn’t get the top nut loose in order to use it on the Fiat…so I put it all back together. Second, I bought new X1/9 struts because the struts for the 128 are a bit more expensive and hard to find, but are basically the same as the easier to source X1/9 parts…basically the same is not the same. So after getting the Fiat stripped down again and ready to go with the new parts I had to put it all back together because the thread on the strut is bigger on the X1/9 strut and the pieces I have from the 128 don’t fit. So I put the old ones back on. Then after getting new pieces to fit the thread for the top part of the assembly and grinding away to modify the to work I peeled it all apart again to finally replace them…not so fast sucker. There was a second bell shaped washer underneath that also needed to be ordered to fit the larger X1/9 strut thread. So one more time I put it all back together and ordered hopefully the last part. Finally after receiving the new pieces in and still needing to modify them just so the nut will thread at least a little ways down I finally have the struts replaced. However since I also used the shorter X1/9 spring my alignment was now super wacky. The car is now a full two and a half inches shorter and has some pretty wicked negative camber and some pretty extreme toe-in. I thought I’d be able to drive it home, but I had to put off one more day in order to try a DIY at home alignment just so the wheels won’t squeal while driving in a straight line. So I read up some tips on slotting the top strut mount holes to gain back a few degrees of camber and had to figure out how best to do the toe alignment. Handy tip #1 a couple of linoleum tiles with grease in between them make for great slip plates in order to work with the alignment. 66 cents a piece and totally worth the money. So I read up what to do and after a bit of trial and error it’s at least decent enough to be able to drive. I’ll probably take it somewhere this week to get it done by a pro. While I was doing the work though I went ahead and jacked up the rear to try and fix the bad toe-in on the driver side tire, which actually went smoothly. I also ordered new lower control arms with new ball joints which go on this next week after which the front of Sweet Pea should be tight and smooth.

So I think partly because of all the crap that I seem to be encountering lately I’ve been struggling with a defeatist attitude. I’ve almost come to expect that things will be difficult and whatever could go wrong will likely go wrong. This is not really a response that I want to foster so I’ve got to work at it. The Dude from The Big Lebowski is probably not someone I’d tell a teenager to model their life after, but in one regard he certainly has a quality to be admired. The dude abides. A china-man peeing on his rug(not the rug man), having his head dunked in the toliet, a weasel being thrown in the tub with him, Walter’s crazy scheming, or any of the bizarre circumstances he encounters the fact is that the dude abides. He abides in his dudely outlook and response to the trials and tribulations of life. He is the modern day expression of the maxim this too shall pass. That’s something worth thinking over. No matter the difficultly, no matter the ease, no matter the good, no matter the bad; this too shall pass. The situations we’re encountering will eventually pass by; either by their remittance or through our ability to learn how take them in stride.

Consider it pure joy dude, when you face gnarly trials of many kinds, because the testing of your faith produces wicked awesome perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James 1:2-4(The Dude translation)

As an additional Fiat update Sweet Pea’s original engine is at the machine shop and it should be getting worked on in the next few weeks. I’ll soon have at my disposal one more working Fiat after I get the engine pieced together and dropped into The Swede(my yellow 74 128, still working out a nickname for it). This is extremely exciting.

Utah…t you tah a Fiat?

7 states
2534 miles
94 hours
60 mph
172.19 Gallons at 616.44 dollars
4 nights sleeping outside
5 bags of pistacchios
1 tow bar
2 beards
=1974 Fiat 128

From June 2-6 I drove out to Salt Lake City and back to pickup another Fiat 128. I already had some vacation time saved up that I needed to use or lose and this car popped up a couple months ago so this was as good an opportunity as any to travel a bit, visit a couple states I haven’t been to before and pickup another Fiat. The car itself wasn’t in as good of condition as I’d hoped, but I suppose I should just expect every Fiat to be worse than I’ve imagined it or the owner has described it. I took the tires off Sweet Pea(my 72 128) and I had planned on unhooking the axles from it once I got there in order to tow it, but quite honestly once I got there I thought it wasn’t worth the hassle and I’d just tow her as is. Not necessarily the best or recommended method for a four wheel tow, but I had to be realistic about it and it would have taken me more hours that I didn’t want to spend to get it done. So screw it, it’s not like it’s a Dino, this is just a little Italian bread box. Maybe next time I’ll just take a trailer…or maybe next time I won’t drive to SLC at all.

Wyoming was by far my favorite state on the way out and in particular the city of Laramie. I had gone on a slow incline up interstate 80 when just after a national park the road began it’s descent over 5 or 6 miles down into the valley where Laramie is situated. Seeing the city suddenly emerge from the peaks and spread out like a blanket on the valley floor brought to mind how I’d pictured Laketown in the Hobbit to have looked, minus the lake of course, eerily similar though the way the city sits in isolation from the rest of the world. When entering the city it seemed very similar to Colorado Springs where we spent a week last summer. A very relaxed town, cooler weather still at the beginning of summer and all sorts of interesting things to discover in the area. I can definitely see myself going back to visit Laramie. I spent the night about an hour past Laramie near Elk Mountain for the most relaxing night of the trip; pulled back near a national forest area, a full moon, and no sound of civilization.

I arrived in SLC on Monday afternoon. Brandon, the seller, and I worked for a few hours to get the car ready to tow. He was immensely helpful getting the tow bar fastened to the bumpers and helping just in general getting her ready for the long haul. We shared a couple of beers, well 3% Utah beers if that’s really a beer, talked about cars, life and generally had a very pleasant afternoon. I had thought about staying at Camelot hostel that night, but decided to forgo it and just get back on the road. BTW traffic around SLC is thick.

I then turned my gaze towards home. Monday night I spent the night by a river near Lyman, WY and Tuesday night I crashed just west of Wakeeny, KS. The night near Wakeeny in particular was especially nice and quiet. As I woke up there were deer in the fields on both sides of me and the golden color of the wheat was slowly being brought to light by the rising sun. On the way back I even came across Westfall which reminded me of World of Warcraft so I had to stop and take a look. It was so close in appearance to the Westfall from the game that I’m almost certain this little town is the namesake for the location in the game.

Finally after hours and hours on the road and drawing nearer to home I spied a motorcycle in the rear view mirror which ended up being my parents coming back from their trip to Arkansas. After having traveled 2500 miles we both arrived at their place within 10 minutes of one another.

An interesting trip, though maybe just a bit too long for my liking. I’m supposed to go back there later this summer with some guys from Emmaus, but I’m not sure I feel like going back at all.

Sometimes I go opposite

No shave November this year took a slightly different course for me. To some degree I wear this hairy visage as a testament that I stand out from the crowd so I suppose it is only fitting that while the world turns one way that I should turn another. The beard is gone. Impressive as it was this time and even though I’m normally nearly a spokesperson for beardedness it is a fitting change at this moment for more reasons then I care to delve into. However much like Frosty returns each Christmas, my beard will surely return in its full glory even if only for a time.

Sweet Pea the menacing behemoth, the car of all cars and I spent Saturday out on the farm burning brush in the rain. She was a bit nervous when I popped that first road flare, but in no time and just a few more flares, she could see that her old man had things under control. The crackle of the fire along with the hiss of the rain soon rose from the pyre. My neighbors must have wondered to see such a sight as a man standing in the rain tending his fire. Brisk the wind blew, but hot the fire burned and so went my day. Sweet Pea’s looking forward to the day when she can spend these kind of days indoors and out of the elements that is for certain, but no complaining no sputtering just faithfully whirring and puttering in the background.

I went to see Matisyahu the other night at the Gilloiz and was sweetly rewarded by an absolutely great show of which I captured a little bit for you here. It’s shaky at first, but I promise it settles out quickly.

Download video: MP4 | Ogg

I also came across some photos that my mom had and much to my surprise and chagrin I was apparently a hipster back in the 8th grade. Who knew I was so ahead of the trend.

I have some other great pictures, but that is enough of the nostalgia for now.

Honda, truck, Fiat, Honda truck, hitchhike, push, walk, tow, Fiat, Honda

Well to be a traveling beard you have to do as the name implies, travel. As of late though my mode of transportation has been less than reliable from week to week. While battling problems with the Honda I’ve had to rely heavily upon the Fiat to fill in the gaps. However it has had it’s own problems too. We drove it up to watch the Rally races at the end of February in Salem, Rolla, Steelville area and she drove like a dream the whole way up. We even got pulled over for speeding by the highpo. Speeding in a car with 50 horsepower, it can be done. The second day though while we were winding our way into the back woods it started to cut out and bog down. This is not a good development on a one lane dirt road that curves unexpectedly, crosses rivers and the altitude climbs and drops dramatically while being followed by scores of other cars on their way to the spectator points. Fortunately it held out enough to make it into and out of the first stage of the day, but on our way to the next stage and after having more problems we decided to cut our loses and head home. We didn’t feel like taking the risk of getting stuck in the way of spectators and rally cars alike in the back woods of central Missouri. Good call. About 5-10 minutes outside of Rolla the Fiat rolled to a halt. Nothing we could do could coax her back to life. Dad and I walked a few miles up to a gas station and called home. Between calling and being picked a few hours later up we ran into Henry. Let me tell you Henry is a good guy to run into if your car is on the fritz. He helped tow the car back up to the gas station and even helped us do enough preliminary troubleshooting to get the car running again, albeit roughly. And then even after he left Henry was still on the job checking car manuals and the local parts stores to try and help us out. You couldn’t ask for a better person to cross paths with. The next day we came back up and towed her home. I then spent the next 5 hours working with the distributor, coil and timing to try and resurrect life into this fallen beauty…nothing. Well I can’t say nothing, there was a whole lot of frustration and confusion(and probably swearing) about what was the true root of the issue. A week later with a clear head and a fresh outlook I got everything set back to its proper state and even drove around town without a problem. Then about the time the automatic choke warmed all the way up though(that’s the closest I can figure) the car started behaving poorly again. I limped her back home and later on in the week went to remove the carburetor to order a rebuild kit and while taking it off the intake manifold I noticed a few loose jet screws on the top of the carb. After tightening these back down whoa black betty bam-a-lam and everything is back in working order. Strangly though the exhaust expansion chamber in the meantime has developed quite the embarrassing rattle, bad enough to try running without a muffler for a little while. While sounding super cool it is just a bit too loud for even me to handle so back on it went. At least she’s running though…for now. Then finally today my honda woes are at an end. After replacing basically all the front end suspension components, motor mounts and then having Honda re-replace the axle shafts that a local shop had done already then voila no more violent shaking car.

I don’t know what I’ll do now that I have two fully functional cars again. Hopefully stop dropping cash into a bottomless bucket long enough to get the land that I’ve been looking at purchased and a home build started. I say home, but the term I favor is Harage. That’s a house collapsed and merged together with a garage. Work areas that flow together with and are an unseparated part of the rest the house. In my mind this is a way to merge relaxation space with project space allowing use of the whole house with minimal disruption to flow, maximum use of resources across spaces, a warm shop area to work in, the ability for people that don’t care to get their hands dirty with a project to still come over and hang out in comfort, and enjoy the media benefits in the home while working on a project. It also facilitates a constant reminder and opportunity to work on your current project because it is basically sitting in your front room. 20 acres, a harage and a slew of Fiats to work on. Is there a better dream? Well there probably is, but for now this is the goal ahead of me.

WRC to Sufjan

If the WRC came to the US where would an epic location be for it to be hosted?
Grand Canyon? Tennessee/Kentucky hills? Death Valley? I feel like championing this cause, but if a bad location produces a poor turn out then that’s it. It’d be years before they even thought about trying it again. Could we even pull it off in the states? We already have so many spectator restrictions and low turn out(in comparison) for our Rally America that I can’t imagine we could produce a turn out for the international drivers that they’ve grown used to elsewhere. Kudos to Ken Block for sticking to a second season in the WRC too. He had a tough year, but is giving it another go. Why didn’t Travis Pastrana make the switch over? He’s shown the most potential and put in a number of years at the top of the pack, but instead of crossing over to the big leagues this year he choose to defect to NASCAR. I mean seriously Pastrana, NASCAR? That’s not quite the edgy type of motor sport that we’re used to seeing you compete in. Sure you would have been competing with the likes of Loeb, Latvala and Solberg, but the determination and drive that you use to push anything on two or four wheels to the limits may have proved a match. You were crucial to our hope for rally to have a resurgence in the states, but now you’ve thrown in the towel with a sport arguably more boring to watch than the PGA tour. Where’s your lust for thrill and excitement now?

But I digress, and probably into complete randomness.

Driving the Fiat has been quite an adventure. It snowed last week after I’d just outfitted new tires onto the old steel rims and so I’ve been driving it around through all of the snow and ice. It gets around amazingly well for such a little guy and minus a couple minor situations that I was able to rock myself out of it didn’t get stuck at all in the snow. If you were one of the lucky spectators you may have seen me sporting a rad blue motorcycle helmet and ski goggles drifting around town at speeds in excess of most 4×4 trucks and the occasional sporty Subaru.

Also last night I had a dream that I was in a large choral ensemble singing Vesuvius from Sufjan Steven’s latests album The Age of Adz(pronounced odds). It’s pretty ridiculous how great his new album is. If you think you knew what he was capable of before or if you’d drawn a box around Sufjan and marked it indie folksy hipster then get out your magic marker and cross out folksy and insert 80s tronic. Ok so not much of a stretch, but it’s quite a deviation from his previous work. I’ve been a fan since ’04 and was pretty used to his old material so you’d think the new album with its electro-synth experimentation would be lost on me. It fits quite well though and seeing his music mature and expand into new areas has been quite fulfilling even for the spectator. I went to see him at the Uptown Theater in KC a few months ago unsure of what would await me there. Three words, ‘Beards and Boots’. When the king of all hipsters calls a convention his followers turn out in droves to show their support. In tribute to his older material on the album Seven Swans he started out the show with a climactic banjo driven rock version of the title with the same name. It was incredible. You’d never be able to guess the the depth and room available to push and drive the song to such new heights. The concert then proceeded into another hour and a half of digital and analog give and take. From song to song he’d demonstrate his prowess to fill the expansive hall with such large tones and melody that you’d think the whole world had to be dancing along with you. Then the advancing tide would draw back to the sea and the intimacy of his music would convince you that he was playing just for you. With a build up from incredible MUTEMATH, Murder by Death and Phoenix shows earlier in the year this was a fitting Zenith for my 2010 musical thrill ride. It’ll be interesting to see what 2011 holds.

Via con Dios, I’m off to my spanish class at OTC.

Fiat Update

Well last weekend Dad and I started in on the Yugo to Fiat engine swap. We powered through until Sunday when we had to get the Fiat rolling so we could get it home and out of the way. Monday I got the water, electrical and gas all hooked up and flowing, but the carburetor is now the hurdle left to clear. Plus a few minor linkages for the accelerator that need fixed before she’ll be drivable. I think tomorrow night I’ve got a pretty good chance of getting all the vacuum lines hooked back up to the right places and she’ll fire right up. Boy that’d be nice. Here’s a couple pictures from the weekend.

Fiat Update

So I’ve been meaning to give an update on the Fiat saga for a while. Late last December I went outside to start her up and she made a pretty heinous grinding noise when I turned over the key. I was thinking starter grind possibly as it still ran and didn’t sound rough so while curious about what on earth could possibly have made the noise I didn’t have time to check into it any further. Then on Christmas she wouldn’t start at all. Fuel was getting there and spark was good, but it just turned and turned but wouldn’t fire. I didn’t really have too much time to look into it so I had to move on. Luckily this happened before I had the chance to drive it down to Atlanta for New Years Eve and get myself stuck.

Ever since I’d first picked up the car I’d intended on ramping up into rebuild/restore mode, but didn’t have the motivation or time to do it until now. So fast forward to March when my lease was getting ready to run out and I knew I’d loose the facilities of my precious garage. I decided to go ahead an pull the motor so I’d be able to work on it back in the corner of my parent’s garage. The day before I was scheduled to fly out to Denver for work, coincidentally this cars original home, I decided to pull the engine and begin to get down to the bottom of things. I’m still fairly green when it comes to working on cars and thought ripping her down to the core was as good as any place to start my education. So after a very long day and missing a few very, very important steps in the removal process I was able to get the engine removed. There was a bit of jumping on top of the engine to get it to break free and I can definitely say I’ll read instructions more thoroughly from here on out, but it is out none the less.

Once my lease was up my friend Dusty was kind enough to volunteer a spot in a barn at his folks property for the chassis to sit while I work on the motor. We loaded her up and rolled her back into an old barn they had used to raise rabbits when he was a kid and trailered his old VW Beetle back over to his place so he could start a bit of tinkering with it. If you ever get a minute he’s got some pretty hilarious stories about raising rabbits.

Back over at my dad’s garage we built a makeshift engine stand out of some old casters and chunks of wood that would suffice for the first part of the engine deconstruction. After removing the cam towers and getting to look at the cylinder head I noticed one very heinous problem with a shim bucket that sits on top of the valve springs. The bucket had somehow ruptured and the metal split open banging into the cylinder head when the engine turned over and then eventually jammed in place in the cam housing…not a good thing, but I’m still not entirely convinced that was the root of the problem. As nasty of a break as that was I would have thought the car would have at least started or attempted to fire and just run really rough.

I’d originally planned to do this deconstruction over the two week period of vacation in July, but soon found that wasn’t going to happen. I tend to go into very minute detail when I’m working on something I really care about and I want this to be a thing of beauty when she’s done. I was watching some hot rod tips on block preparation and one mentioned smoothing off the block before repainting so you get a really nice glossy finish. So I think I’ve put in roughly 20-25 hours worth of grinding with my Dremel during the crazy heat of late July and August to as much as I can create a smooth surface. I took home the distributor and worked on it up on my kitchen table; cleaning, disassembling and inspecting and then piecing it all back together. Keep in mind all along the way is a whole new discovery process for me. I mean I get how the basics work, but seeing how they’re implemented and pieced together is a whole other level of detail that I am pretty excited to understand.

I finished the block preparation and was ready for the first spray. We took it up to the chem bath at a local shop for one final wash before the spray to get all the junk and shavings out of all the little nooks and crannies. Let her dry and then plugged up and covered all the holes and did the first spray. And with the exception of some residual chem wash seeping from the radiator plug hole the paint went on beautifully. Even with the knowledge that I’ll have to sand a bit and do another spray I’m pretty satisfied considering I’ve never done anything like this before.

So my next steps are to send off the cylinder head to get ported, repaint the oil pan, powder coat the pulleys(obviously no functional improvement, but I think it’ll look really sharp), replace the core plugs, and then slowly put everything back together cleaning and reconditioning as I go. Sorry I didn’t get a chance to get any pictures of the finished paint on the block, but I’ll have some soon. For now here’s some before and after pictures of various camera quality from the process so far.