Tuesday, August 19, 2008

A stubborn bolt. van update

Reality check! I thought that I would have gotten much more work done before the fall semester started. In my head I envisioned it being at least ready to sleep in by the end of July. I have been working on it regularly but I haven't even got the seats out of the back yet or started on anything inside. I wanted to get all the drive-ability issues resolved first so that I wouldn't end up building my new home in an immobile vehicle.

The van really is in great shape for being almost 20 years old. It got many compliments from the guys at the Ford dealership when I took it in. Mike the service guy said, "Man, that is a nice looking van. Most of the 89's we get in here are beat to shit. Yours looks like it was babied"

That's a plus on several levels. Firstly, it should serve me well and be a reliable ride. Secondly, it keeps up appearances. It looks more like a family vacation van than a sketch rapist van. So it won't draw much attention if I have to stealth park.

I had the oil changed and transmission serviced at the ford dealership. I've changed oil before and while its an easy task to do, its a pain to properly dispose of the used oil and you usually get it all over the place. So I opted to have them do it for the 20ish dollars which is well worth it. While it was in the shop I had Wade work on it. Wade is a good ol' union county guy, I went to high school with his son and our families went to the same church when I was younger. He's a nice guy. I felt more comfortable having him work on it than some other joe-shmo at ford. I told him about the overheating problems and so he checked over the coolant system and found a leak in the water pump. It was going to be about $500 to have them replace the water pump and another 80 for the coolant flush and refill. Yikes. My brother thought it was the water pump when I called him on my first night driving home after I got the van. He said that it is fairly simple to change the water pump but it is time consuming and you have to take a lot of stuff apart in order to get to it. I'm good with my hands and very mechanically inclined so I opted to do it myself. I picked up a new water pump for about $30 and I got a new thermostat since I would be able to change it while I was in there.

It was a lot of work but I learned a lot in the process. The old adage, "There is no greater teacher than experience" rings true again. The only hang up I ran into was when I torqued the head off of one of the old water pump bolts. All of the bolts were seized and bonded together with corrosion to the engine block which made them very difficult to get out, but one bolt in particular was a real pain in the ass and would not budge. I tried every single trick to get a stuck bolt loose but it just laughed in my face. I tried liquid wrench, tapping, torching and cranking the wrench like hell. Still nothing. That last one, "cranking like hell" got me into trouble though. While I was wrenching with all of my studly might I felt a budge and the wrench moved. I thought, "I have it for sure now!" as it got easier to turn. Then it got too easy. Then there was no resistance at all and I knew that something was not right. I thought, "I couldn't have stripped it. What is wrong?" I took off the ratchet and the head of the bolt was gone and the shaft of the bolt defiantly laughed at me, still unmoved and now stuck in the block with no way to turn it.

When the bolt broke it was one of those "Fuck it." moments. I can work tirelessly until something like that happens and then I have to give it a rest before I get frustrated and start bashing things like a primate while endlessly spattering profanities. Once my emotions are gone I can come back and work with a clear head and think out more graceful solutions.

The van sat for a couple of weeks before I attempted to work on it again. Then I called in the cavalry. My brother Jeff is really great with cars and knows a lot more than I do. I think he's one of the few male role models I would admit to having. My father obviously isn't one of them.

The silver lining of the broken bolt was that the portion of the shaft that passed through the water pump was not threaded. So we were able to get the water pump off after some persuasion. That exposed about two inches of the broken bolt, which we now had to extract before putting the new water pump on.

We broke about 6 tools before removing that damn bolt. One of which was a high torque industrial power drill. Also KIA were 3 drill bits and a titanium & diamond cutting wheel. It was getting ridiculous but also pretty ironic and funny. We would think of an idea, try it, and then the tool would break. After two fruitless hours and multiple failed ideas Jeff brings out a 2 foot long pipe wrench, a large and crude plumbing tool. And it works! I get a smaller one that fits better in the tight space and we spent the next hour taking this bolt out at a sluggish pace, a quarter turn at a time but we got it out nonetheless. A lesson in patience for sure.

We still needed a replacement bolt. I thought that the Ford dealership would most certainly have them. Nope. We went to 2 other stores before finding what we needed at ACE hardware.

Everything went back together without a problem. Saved a few hundred dollars.

Tonight I topped off the radiator with coolant flush and water, to clean out the radiator and everything. Started it up and went for a spin to get it warmed up and to check for any leaks. She ran like a dream. I really melded with the van for the first time and it really became easy to drive. I was so used to driving the small civic I dubbed "the little honda that could...sometimes" that getting behind the wheel of this huge elephant of a van was intimidating at first.

School just started and I've had a hectic first couple days. Today was the worst, but when I started driving the van it all went away. I just kept driving it even though I didn't have a place to go. It was a great feeling. The cool, sweet summer night air blowing through the windows, the moon orange on the horizon, and the only thing I heard was the the engine, the road, and the crickets. Had it been ready to sleep in there is a good chance I would have parked it at school and stayed overnight. Needless to say there were no leaks. It ran like a dream and didn't even break a sweat doing it.

Now to get started on the inside. First order of business- gut it. Out with the back seats, out with the carpet and floor padding, out with the curtains and trim, etc. The seats are in great shape, hopefully I can sell those. I've got insulation to put in and Jeff is going to help me acquire hardwood flooring. He's got the hook up because he runs his own sub-floor business. Once I've got the floor and walls done I'll be able to start on the furnishings. I've prioritized everything in order of basic needs.

First I'll put in the water reservoir and sink, then the bed, porta-potty, roof vent, and stove. Once I have the stove done I'll mount my catalytic heater and various fans. So that's my food, water, shelter, hygiene, and a little comfort too. From there I'll have to work out a system for organizing where everything will go and also work out my electricity system. I'm planning on using a 12 volt system with two deep cycle marine batteries, charging via solar panel. I've got a sweet concept I'm going to use for internal lighting, *nerd alert* I'm going to run about 30 LEDs on a regulated 555 timer circuit configured so that they are drawing half the current they normally would while still providing the same amount of light.

How it works:
The human eye can only detect changes in light that last more than several milliseconds. For instance, when you watch a movie you are actually watching a series of still images flashed at a high rate. Your eyes can't see fast enough to notice the individual flashes, so they all blur together to form what we see as a single constant moving picture.

Now knowing that I don't need constant light to see effectively, I can take the human eye's limits and use them to my advantage. By using a special circuit to flash the light on and off at a high rate, I can essentially have the light OFF for half of the time that it is in operation without ever noticing the difference. If the light flashes on and off at equal intervals thousands of times per second, it will in effect be off for half of each second but my eyes won't be able to notice.

That's an efficiency increase of almost 100% if you neglect the small amount of current draw the switching circuit needs. Pretty bad ass.

That's all for now. the next few months will feature a photo-journal documenting my progress in converting my conversion van into a home.

I need to think of a name for my van. It is big and white. I was thinking white elephant, because it is both a blessing and a burden sometimes but I'd rather it be a name or something with more character. Maybe it will have to earn its name like the "little honda that could" did.