My story, Part 2
from 1984 to 1998
(Click images to enlarge)
from previous page . . . "This is going to be fun," he laughed. Fun for whom, I wondered, but I heard my engine running for the first time in a decade and thought he just might be right.
By now, in 1994, I was the ripe old age of 36. And I would have to learn to walk all over again! I had been stuck inside a museum display building for ten years, and I was having some problems with moving. My oil was old, my engine crusty, oh, and I had NO BRAKES! My new caretaker was a man with little or no mechanical aptitude and the museum was kind of broke. But, my motor ran, and got better with every start. I didn't always start so easy, and sometimes I would not start at all. Just how much fun was this going to be, after all?
Not much, and not for the next four years. The other museum volunteers reacted with a quiet bemusement to the turn of events. 'He'll soon give up,' they said, 'Even if he could do it, it isn't worth doing.' Old Hugh, to whom I shall simply refer, from now on, as He, was still an unknown quantity to everyone, including me. I would have to hope for the best. I was started on a regular basis, but my locked up wheels were very problematic, of course. My front wheels and hubs came off easily enough and that is when we all found out my brake fluid had turned to the consistency of wet sugar. It is hydroscopic, which means it absorbs moisture, and as it had, it had expanded and oozed past the pistons in my six brake slave cylinders. Getting my rear wheels off is quite a lot more difficult than my front wheels, so, I was moved, haltingly, down to another building, the museum's repair shop.
Feel free to file the following under the "Dont" column in your mental listing of mechanical advice, by the way. I do! I am not a narrow car, almost seven feet across, and just getting me into the building was a nightmare for me. The aperture was not much wider than I am, and the road outside did not exactly afford a wide apex for the turn in. Add in my locking up wheels and no brakes and you have a recipe for a paint scraping adventure. Um, once safely snuggled inside the cavernous building, built for working on locomotives, the serious work began.
I should mention that my luck was not all bad. He had an accomplice, a man called Tony. Tony, a highly trained electrician, had been a motor pool sergeant in Vietnam. This is a very useful qualification as not only is he a good mechanic, he has, obviously, worked under infinitely worse conditions. It is also pertinant to mention, and maybe just a little impertinant as well, to becry one's benefactors, that both He and Tony are both a little looney. In different and yet strangely complimentary ways. There were like Laurel and Hardy. Tony was forever saying, "Do you think we should do this? And he would reply, "You think we shouldn't? They really did make quite a team. He was the spark, the pusher. Tony was the brakes, the voice of reason. Together they got me running again, and, all things considered, particularly as there was not exactly a line of volunteers waiting to take thir place, I am grateful. You know, all things considered.
Getting my rear wheel hubs off was quite a farce. It really was. First of all, I was jacked up in the back and supports placed under me. My wheels were removed. Then they had to figure a way to get the hubs off without a puller. But first my hub retaining nuts had to come off. On the paasenger side, it began to turn with only the help of a short cheater bar. I mean, it was on tight, way too tight, but it came off without what you might call drama. Yes, they did remove the cotter pins! But the driver side was tuck on but good. They ended up with a cheater bar almost as long as me, if not longer. Still, the nut would not turn! They sprayed on liquid wrench and let it sit for a week, then cam back again. Still as tight as a, well, I was about to say drum, but that would be redundant, really. Anyhoo, They set the angle of this great big cheater bar way up high. He then got a chair and positioned it at the end of the bar. He grabbed the bar with both hands and jumped off the chair and began pulling on the bar at the same time, jerking his full weight on it.
For a while, nothing happened. Then, all of a sudden, there was this very loud bang! Very, very loud. They rushed to see what damage had been done. Had my axle snapped, or a leaf spring, or a U-bolt? None of the above The nut has moved, is all. A mere fraction of an inch, but it was movement none the less. Back to the cheater bar. Another swinging monkey impersonation, and another, less dramatic but equally small, movement. Then another, And another. Before too long, they could shorten the cheater bar, but they continued to need one until the nut came off.
How embarrassing! Not for them, for me. You think they had conquered Everest, but their smiles froze when they began to try to pull the hubs. Man, they were glued on. In came the chemical attack - Brake cleaner by the pint. In came the physical attack, with repeated hammer blows, to break contact between the shoes and the drums. They could not use pry bars as the backing plate is just a thin piece of metal. They did not have a proper hub puller, really, either, at first. They had a gear puller, which is smaller and less substantial. they didn't have it for long as it broke pretty quickly. Another volunteer lent them a pot metal hub puller the next week and it disintegrated rapidly! Time to get the Real McCoy No more pussy footing! A volunteer who is an army motor pool civilian employee got permission to bring out a very rugged hub puller. Once attached, it looked almost too big for the task. It had special strike pads at each end of the arm attached to the square nut in the center. With a few blows from a good sized hammer, the hub came off nicely. Don't send a donkey to do the work of a horse, or vice versa! The other rear hub came off remarkably easily, but then again, they had the right tool by now.
So, OK, these guys ain't the brightest in the world, but they are doing their best. learning as they go and showing some initiative and resourcefulness. What came next made me feel a whole lot better about my situation, and my prosects.
And they needed to be brightened! I was now out in the sun and my cheapo paint job was suffering badly. Not only that but I had some ongoing problems that they were having difficulties addressing. My water pump was one of them, but more about it later. My brakes were gone. They were driving me around on the museum's private, unpaved, very bumpy roads and using my parking brake to get me to a halt after coasting and slowing down in neutral. This was no good for anyone and would have serious repercussions a few years later, when my main U-joint at the transmission failed completely on the freeway, but again, I'm getting ahead of myself. The very worst thing that happened was when he backed me over a berm at the museum by accident. Even he cannot recall exactly how it happened but being in reverse on a small incline with no brakes didn't help! I went crashing through the plants on the steeep incline and ended up with my tail pipes deeply embedded in the dirt at the bottom of the berm and only the underside of my front bumper visible from the top. They dragged me out using a 6X6 army truck and I was remarkably unharmed by the experience, but as I awaited their next "trick" I was suitably nervous.
With my hubs finally off, they were faced with the task of completely dismantling my brake system. Unlike more modern cars, I have a single brake line, not the dual circuits, designed to keep at least two wheels working in the event of a catastrophic failure. My master cylinder was leaking, the brake lines were clogged with mushy old brake fluid and my whels cylinders . . . ugh! The fluid had expanded and overflowed all over them, the drums and the brake shoes. In essence, they would all have to be replaced, so off everything came. The wheel cylinders seemed to be the worst components. I have two on each front wheel and one on each rear and the were in just a horrible state. At that time, the internet was still new and neither had access to it anyway, and even before they began to look for replacements they decided to examine closely what they actually had. Dislodging the cups was an ordeal, as they were pretty much glued on. Tony tried to get him to go easy and gentle but his Irish temperament didn't go for that approach that well. But, glory be, they got them all apart and found the components, once cleaned, to be in relatively good shape. He spent a long tome polishing the drums and the small parts that fit inside the cylinders, but the cylinders themselves were a problem of a different order. They looked awful and were resisting being cleaned.
He then went of and acquired, despite an almost complete lack of knowledge about what he was doing, a small brake cylinder honer. He had to get it from a specialised parts shop that usually only sold stuff to those in the business. The honer was a a tightspiral arrangement of little graphite balls on flexible wires on a central spindle. The trick was to clean the surface but not remove any of the actual metal, as this would enlarge the diameter of the cylinder and thus make for a poor fit with the cups designed to keep the fluid inside while moving in controlled expansion to press the shoes against the drums. A neat trick for a pro, but for a total beginner amateur? And he managed to get it done! He used a very old belt driven, table mounted, drill that had an adjustable speed. With my cylinder firmly attached to the bench, the drill turning very slowly, he gently lowered the honer inside for some quick passes. He had bought a honer one size too small, and it gently removed the dirt and congealed brake fluid and gave the surface a gentle polish. To everyone's amazement, his and mine included, they came out great! Using all my original pieces, they put my brake system back together remarkably well. You should have seen their excitement when they saw those brakes shoes make the first small movements. Of course, all their movements are small, but you'd think they had conquered Everest, they were so excited!
Tony finished off the adjustments needed to make them work properly after my hubs and wheels were put back on. One end at a time I was lowered back onto the ground, which felt good, let me tell you! With a great deal of trepidation, I was backed out of the building. And . . . my brakes worked! It felt so good! Now, I could start thinking, allow myself the luxury of the dream, of actually going out onto the public roads. No more bumpy short circuits around the museum grounds. Now I could be sure it was going to happen. These guys were sticking by me. Sure, they had other museum projects and tasks to do, but they kept on coming back to me and they were figuring out how to make me run well and safely. Things were looking up!
The saga of the water pump is really a lesson in the worth of other peoples opinions. Himself was given a piece of information that held me back from being back on the roads for three years. The information was completely incorrect, and it took a chance conversation at a parts store to resolve what had become an otherwise insuperable stumbling block. Here is what he was told, when my water pump failed:It cannot be rebuilt! That brief statement would lead to a search through every scrap yard in the area, a quest that would take three years and be an exercise in futility.
My engine was running quite well. My brakes were not perfect but actually improving as they fine tuned my shoe adjustments and continued to bleed my fluid lines every once in a while. But my water pump was shot. It would hold water when my engine was running, but drain out everything once it was turned off. They had not cleaned out my block at all and all the rust and accumulated debris clogged up the impeller and the bearings failed. I obviously could not go outside the confines of the museum under the circumstances, because who knew if it would not just fail completely. Maybe Tony should have known better, I don't know, but Himself was told the pump could not be fixed and so he set off to find another one. Now, I have a wonderful engine, the fabled 392 Hemi, but it has not been in production since 1958, so parts are not exactly easy to find. If he had had access to the internet back then he would probably have located one quite quickly, but he did not. If he had been a member of his local Mopar Club, they might have been able to help but he was not in that either, so he used his own resources. Magazines like Hemmings, and their lists of parts suppliers did not help. My engine is not listed on many computer systems, so a water pump for me from them proved difficult to say the least.
I cannot say for certain how many scrap yards he went to in and around the San Antonio area. Lets just say he never found another 392 in a yard . . . ever. He found a good yard that had a lot of Mopars, indeed a lot of Imperials, when he was on a steam train excursion called the Hill Country Flier, in a tiny town called Bertram. He bought one, even though it was from a different engine, because it was so close, but not close enough! Then, just as we were all resigning ourselves to my fate, he had a conversation with the then manager of a nearby NAPA store, which changed everything. Like a fairy godmother talking to Cinderella, apparantly I could go to the ball! "Why don't you just get the pump rebuilt?" queried the NAPA dude. "Can that be done?" he answered, I dare say with a tone of incredulity, "I was told it was impossible!" "Anything put together can be rebuilt," he calmly replied, and he arranged to get it done at NAPA's own location for that kind of work. My pump was delivered to him very quickly, as I recall, and only a day or two later, it was ready to be picked up! For only $25.00!
Imagine that! The impossible was not so impossible after all. Regrettably for our purposes now, this narrative, I cannot show you the sad and sorry little old pump they removed, but look at the snaps of the surrounding areas and you'll get a rough idea. We got back almost a brand new pump, for all intents and purposes, with a lovely coat of paint, no less! My engine block was thoroughly cleaned out - you should have seen the colour of the residue and the size of some of the rust chunks that they washed out of me - before the new old pump was re-installed. It was great to be back in one piece, again, and now the open road was getting closer! And, the moral of this story is obvious. Most people don't know that much, when it comes right down to it. Himself didn't ever give up, and neither should you. Ignore the nay sayers. Facts and information will show whose opinions are right or wrong, and whose are worth paying attention to. Regrettably, most people are full of baloney.
This brings to an end, almost, this accounting for my days in extended limbo. With my brakes and water pump working again I was essentially ready for the road again. They did do a lot of other things, too, mind you, in this time. Only one of my window motors worked when I was restarted. They removed the other three and rebuilt them themselves. The motors were completely seized. One in particular was deemed by the "experts" to be beyond repair. Having fixed two, and it having been determined that the third was beyond all possibility of reapir, as it was burnt out, rusted and had sat in water for over a year - the drain holes in my door were clogged up and maybe a gallon of water, or more was trapped in there - himself decided he would try to dissamble it for grins, anyway. He was certainly having no luck finding another 58 or 57/59 in a scrap yard for a replacement. He look the thing apart, cleaned it up till it no longer looked so atrocious, put it back together, applied voltage to it, and, lo and behold, it spun! Not fast, not strong, but it spun. He took it to an automotive electrical shop and they got it running like new. Never underestimate a determined person and Mopar parts! They take a licking and keep on ticking.
Fortunately, my electrics were essentially sound. Over the successive years, I have had more work done. My generator has been rebuilt, due to a mis-diagnosis of a problem, but certainly no harm done. My fuel pump gave way and proved to be a huge problem. Himself decided he would just just replace it with an electrical one. But, my exact mechanical pump had not been built since 1958, with the discontinuation of the original Hemi, itself. A conversation with a supplier led him to a small miracle worker, going by the name of Quality Engineered Products. He makes a small spacer that allows for a very common Dodge pump to be installed. The pump is all but identical except its "arm" is longer. With the spacer, the Dodge pump could be installed at very low cost and easy replacement, if needed. Only a fanatical expert could ever tell a switcheroo had been made. It is still Mopar, and looks all but identical.
Before I really do finish this chapter, a word or two about my appearance in those days. I had white wall tires while trapped inside the museum, and Lincoln hubcaps. At some point my wheels were "enlarged" from 14 to 15 inch wheels. They are Mopar wheels, and exactly why the switch was made is outside my recollection, I'm sorry. I am mainly a ballet - light - blue colour, but my roof was "wrong." It is split in to a two third section towards the front and a one third section at the rear, with a shallow "V" chrome strip dividing the two. The way it should be is the back one third is the same colour as the body and the front part is different. In my case it was now back to front, with the rear section covered in vinyl. Actually it looked quite good! But, as is common with vinyl, it mas creating and masking a horrible problem: RUST! Water get trapped underneath it over time and has nowhere to go and it created a moist and warm envoirenment for "car cancer." The vinyl began to peel off and reveal it's shabby secret. I am glad my sheet metal is so thick! I have some deep scars that would mean gaping holes in lesser vehicles! As of this time of writing the colours are back to correct, but not well. I am (STILL) due a nice paint job. Himeself is waiting either for the price to come down - in other words a miracle - or for all the other mechanical stuff to get done. As I was hardly prepared properly to lay idle for so long, and I was not thoroughly gone over to return to active duty, plus being that I am now over forty years old, I suffer from an occaisonal problem or two. Or three. Or four . . . you get the picture! But with a small transaction at the tax office - which was not so small, after all - I was ready for the road again, almost!
Getting to be legal involved facing two hurdles. One was expected, the other wasn't. Not having been on the road for fourteen years, you could say that my tax and inspection stickers were just a tad out of date. Paperwork completing the transfer of my ownership to the museum had never done, and so himself was facing an adventure in modern bureaucracy. He found the signed title and a very faded carbon copy of a signed IRS gift certificate, issued for the benefit of the donor. There was no signed transfer of ownership document as such. With a justifiable amount of trepidation, he went to the local county tax office where, to his delight the clerk just sighed and signed off on the transfer. Cool beans. Now I had a tax tag and some modern plates.
Getting my inspection sticker proved to another matter. Himself decided to do a last minute verification of all the items they check on such inspections. Lights, horns, indicators, wipers, etc, etc. Everything was good until he noticed the brakes were incredibly stiff. What timing! My brake booster, a bellows unit above my master cylinder, had sprung a leak. Treble rats!!! Essentially these things are not fixable. Rubber rot had finally kicked in and the unit failed. It didn't fail where you would expect, either. Itis a bellows design, and works when the air is sucked out the vacuum tank. They fail, not in the valley part but at the ridge. The unit is being both pulled in by the suction and pushed out at this wekest point by contraction. This problem set me back from getting out onto the road legally for another six months! I had ventured out once or twice illegally, not too far from the museum. Call them shake down cruises. The first couple of times, my brakes were very erratic, but they, himself and Tony, were able to make improvements and get me working relatively close to normal. Well, normal enough for a car badly in need of front end work.
Around this time, himself finally found some '57 & '58 Imperials in different scrap yards. Actually, after four years of fruitless searching he found two, in two seperate yards within the space of a week. Go figure! No booster worth having, however, but he did acquire another booster unit, even worse than mine. Having learned by experience, he decided it just might be possible to fix it after all. He took the spare apart and glued in, using silicone glue, rubber patches on the inside. He then put it back together, which is easier said than done, let me tell you, applied some more patches to the outside and sealed up everything with silicone. Red silicone! So if it split he would see the black underneath. To even his own surprise, this extraordinarily ugly arrangement actually worked! Quite well. The silicone stayed flexible and airtight. It worked well enough for me to . . . TARA! . . . pass my inpection! And become, once again, legal for the streets. Watch out, South Texas, here I come, ready or not!
Continues In Story 3 . . .
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