Thursday, June 28, 2018

Annie Turns 30!

Annie Turns 30
                                             WOO HOO!  ANNIE MADE IT TO LEVEL 30!

Maybe it is an age thing. 

We remember a time when we used to celebrate another year for our Annie with a photo and words beaming with pride.   Although we are still very prideful and beam when we think or talk about her, it seems that it just isn't enough these days.

Our girl wants more!  And, the general maintenance we had planned while visiting relatives in PA, apparently wasn't what she had in mind.  It seems that we aren't "playing" with her enough these days.

We are used to seeing a small river of oil on our drip sheet.  Coolant, on the other hand, is not something we expect to find.

So spotting this was not exactly exciting.

Even less exciting was discovering it was coming from the engine block (see tiny white arrow).  Um.... bummer!

Oh but wait, it is only a core plug.  These are "typically" replaceable.  Things are looking up!

What is a core plug? 

First off, you have holes in your engine block.  They are there as a result of the process used to form the block of your engine.   They exist so that the sand used in casting can be removed after the casting has cooled. 

However, once it is time to put your engine together, they must be closed off or the block could not hold coolant.  Thus, a need for plugs in the core.  Core Plugs.

On our engine there appears to be ten total.  Four are completely unreachable without removing either the engine or the transmission from the car.  The other six are within varying degrees of difficulty in terms of replacement without engine removal.  Though all six typically require the removal of something or some things.

Thankfully, Annie decided to grace us with a leak in the easiest of all to replace.  The one just behind the starter.

No problem!  We've removed the starter before.  So, off it came.

Next up, drain the radiator.  No problem.  Again, we've done that before.  Just open the petcock and wah-lah!

What?  That didn't drain the block too?  Ah, so!

Simple enough.  The block has drain bolts.  Just put a good lever arm on the end of a socket and boom.  Like that.


Our Annie was not going to permit such things.  No worries.

In the interest of not creating extra work for ourselves by breaking off a bolt that has been in the block for 30 years, we opted to instead drill a hole in the already leaking plug.

Yes, in hindsight, we could have drilled a larger hole for quicker drainage but instead we just eventually put another one in beside the one in the photo.

Next up, we took a screwdriver and a hammer and gave the plug a good whack on the top section (which in our case was the most solid part remaining on the bad plug).

That whack makes the plug tilt and allows easy removal with a good pair of pliers.

Do you see how relatively round the top portion of the hole is?  What's going on with the bottom portion and all of that other stuff inside the block?

What you see there is actually some of the deteriorated metal from the plug that had peeled off the back and either fallen inside the block or fused itself with the block.

(topside view)    Yup.  That plug was toast! 

(underside view)  You can almost see the layers of metal peeling apart.

All cleaned up and ready to be re-plugged.  We dug all of the nasty stuff out and wet-sanded the hole to ensure a smooth surface.

Some comparison shots with the new steel plug.

A bit beefy compared to the original.

Yup.  That should do it.  Looks like a good fit.  Just slightly larger than the original hole.

Um..... NOT!  That booger was not budging.  It may look good in the hole in the photo above but that was as far as it was going. 

"Use a bigger hammer" we kept hearing.  Despite our many hours of research that indicated this wasn't necessary, we did consider that we have the tendency to swing like women especially when upside down in limited space. 

O.K.  Bring on the big hammer. 


Darlene with two of our hammers.  The third, a good sized and more heavily weighted, metal mini-sledge is in use.

Two days, two people and many different hammers, angles and creative attempts later...  It was time to put our foot down. 

This plug was not going into our block.  It must be the wrong size. 

So, we grabbed a pair of measuring calipers and measured and compared down to 1/64th of an inch every angle of the original with the new and then we went to the store and pulled every one they had and measured them too.

Although not our desired choice, we eventually settled on a brass plug for two reasons...

It was 1/64th of an inch smaller than the solid metal and brass is said to be a softer metal.

Back at the ranch, only a few whacks in a few minutes and the brass plug was in.

Purdy and it only cost $2.10.  We thought the .70 cents of the steel plug was pretty great but at least this one went in the hole so they extra $1.40 wasn't the worst thing.

To work on Annie, we moved her to cousin Candy's house (.2 miles up the road, down the hill, up the hill and back down a bigger hill from Uncle Al).  We rode the bikes back and forth and, since we're pretty sure there was actually only two feet of flat terrain on our route, we gained a greater appreciation for our motors. 

Our original intent was to simply fix the core plug.  However, as we dug through everything we realized that there were other things that might be worthy of accomplishment given all of the coolant was drained out of the van. 

Since liquid in a pressurized system will find the weakest link, we decided that it was finally time to address our hose situation.  Believe it or not, some of them were still original!

This 30 year old heater core hose was mostly still going strong.

However, when we bought the van it had a rear heater and AC unit that we removed.  For years now we've simply capped the juncture.  Those caps though do not hold up well to under hood conditions and often spring leaks.  It was finally time to pull this juncture and run a new solid line.

As it turned out, when we followed the line to the other end, we discovered replacement was a really good idea.  The black arrow points to a coolant leak. 

Not only had this original hose developed a small leak

but the inside section that attaches to the block had started to deteriorate.  After 30 years it was time.

Also located in the same line was this vacuum activated heater control valve. 

Although the metal on the barbed end had started to corrode and had become sharp we originally planned to just file that down and put it back inline.

However, upon testing it appears that the diaphragm inside was beginning to deteriorate and not retaining the liquid as it should.  So, we had to replace it.  Unfortunately, they don't make one that looks like the original so we went for the design on the left above as it was close in size.

One of the reasons we prefer to keep original parts as long as possible is that we still have fully functioning parts on the van that are 30 years old. 

The newer parts we are putting on the van (like this hose above that was replaced 8 years ago) last only a small portion of that time.  Having realized this early on is one of the reasons that we will utilize the originals as long as we can or rebuild them whenever possible.

While digging through the engine bay and cleaning up around the thermostat housing which we planned to remove to replace the thermostat, we discovered this...

a bit of exposed wire on one of our ground wires.  We taped it up and cleaned the contact surfaces for good measure.

Another thing we accomplished since we had the coolant drained was a long-term project of Nicole's.  She has been wanting to sort through and more cleanly route all of the under-hood wiring.  However, much of it was for some reason or other wrapped in and out of the heater core hoses. 

Since we were taking those off it meant that we could re-route them away from all of the wiring and turn

Wiring 1

into THIS.  Neat-o.

Once we got the coolant system all put back together there were just a few remaining leaks to work through.  Two to be exact. 

Both were a result of being the last hose clamps we did at the end of a long day.  We were tired and just hadn't tightened them enough.  After a few cranks on the screws all was sealed and leak-free. 

Annie made the drive from Candy's place back to Uncle Al's with no problems and we set out to finally do a few of the things we had planned to do while here.  While we were waiting on our parts to arrive though we decided to do a few more things.

We pulled and checked all of the spark plugs and then ran a vacuum test on which Annie performed splendidly.  Woo Hoo! 

The potting material on the back of the 60 and 90 sec timers tends to lose its ability to stand up to heat over time.  As a result it begins to drip and run all over the rest of the engine.

Trying to cut down on some of that literal hot, sticky mess we filled in the backs with a non drippy hi-temp RTV.

Additionally, prior to the oil and transmission fluid and filter changes we decided to take a look at a few other things.  After changing the thermostat our girl still runs cool.  This has been something of a steady issue from the day that we got her. 

So we picked up an infrared temperature gun and started measuring temps all over the place.

As a result, we discovered a few things we were not intending to find.

2015-10-05 Mini Cat Catalytic Converter (1)
First is that neither our pre-cat (a.k.a. the mini ox)

2015-10-05 Mini Cat Catalytic Converter (2)
nor our catalytic converter are working. 

The good news is that they are not clogged at all.  So, since the lack of functioning is not affecting drivability, we can address this issue at a later date.

As for the always running cool issue, we have questioned the functionality of our fan clutch from the first day we got Annie.  Is is running as it should?  Is it changing speed or just running constantly on high?

A 'spin' of the blades while the engine is off gave some resistance and indicated that it might be in working order.  We attempted to use a photo tachometer to measure fan speed and compare that to engine speed but couldn't get one that worked as intended. 

It's only four bolts.  Why not just take it off and have a closer look?

O.K.  Off it is.  Our fan clutch is original and is the of the thermal variety. 

That means it has a small bi-metallic spring that responds to air temperature, opens and closes a valve which distributes the internal fluid to speed up or decrease the rpm of the fan.

Can you see the spring?  What about the valve in the center?  It was locked in solid with grease and grime. 

Pretty sure it would have a hard time responding to temperature much less turning the valve.

And, here it is after Nicole gave it the once, twice and thrice over.  Not too shabby. 

We tested it several times with a hair drier and watched the spring expand and contract and move the valve.  What we still don't know though is at what temperature the spring is supposed to respond or how much it is supposed to turn the valve.  What we do know is that they typically are set to open at a temperature lower than the thermostat but that is the extent of what we know about this 30 year old part.

Either way, in terms of functioning,

THIS has got to be better

than THIS.

Back to our original maintenance plans... Our transmission gasket started leaking a bit ago.  We were overdue for a fluid change anyway so we dropped the pan, swapped the filter and put a new gasket on her.
One thing we don't own is a torque wrench.  Although we've gone back and forth on owning one we have not settled on a brand, style, etc.  Knock on wood we haven't actually "needed" one yet either.  But this time around, we thought it might be a good idea to properly torque the transmission pan bolts to spec. 

So, Nicole did what anyone in our situation would do.

She built a Redneck Torque Wrench.  

Not our exact set up but the photo gives you the idea.  Use a foot long wrench or do the math if it is shorter or longer.  Attach fish scale and pull at 90 deg to wrench.  Wah, lah.  1 ft wrench pulled to 1 lb = 1 ftlb.  Need other calculations.  Just do the math.  150 in lbs on each bolt achieved.  Awesome-sauce!

When we were in FLA we began a project to increase ventilation in the van during situations where it is typically lacking; like when it is pouring down rain and we have to close all of the windows or when the van is going to sit in the hot sun while we are away and we don't want to leave the windows open but we'd really love for it to be cooler inside when we return.

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Enter... the Port Hole (a.k.a. a Deck Plate)

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This looks like a good spot for it.  That is the step up to the rear of the van.

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Although the hole creates really nice passive air exchange, the combined use with our roof vent creates quite the cool breeze.

When not in use and especially when driving the hole is closed up with the watertight seal to keep exhaust from entering the van.

What we hadn't completed yet was the installation of the screen across the backside of the hole.

It is done now so no more temporary screen placements when we go off for the day.   Just open, turn on the roof fan and enjoy cooler interior temps when we return.

Lastly, we finally got a long overdue opportunity to sanitize our water tank.  So, that was exciting. 

Now, we've got some zerks to grease, some tires to get rotated and balanced and Annie should hopefully consider all of that a really great BIRTHDAY and grant us with some more fun time on the road!

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The Eaton Tunnel Experience

Thought we would share a short, dark video of our Eaton Tunnel experience on the North Bend Trail in West Virginia.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Into The Darkness...

We left The Creeper Trail with plans for a direct run to PA for a visit with family.  

During a break from driving, we accessed the internet and the next thing we know...

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the North Bend Rail Trail in West Virginia became a part of the plans.

After all, anything is "on the way" if you take the right roads!

The 72 mile North Bend Rail Trail crosses 36 bridges and travels through an impressive 10 tunnels (including the "haunted" Silver Run Tunnel).  It is part of the 5,500-mile, coast-to-coast American Discovery Trail and there are plans in the works to join it with a few other long range trails.  The trail runs along a railroad bed that was built by the Northwestern Virginia Railroad before the Civil War.  The track was a major supply line for the Union Forces during the Civil War.

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We actually hesitate writing much about this trail because we had it all to ourselves and we liked that!  Pre-ride online research revealed some harsh reviews and critics in recent years.  Those are usually the kinds of things that make us want to try something and we sure were glad that we did.

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The kids -  packed, pointed east and excited to get going on down the line.

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Two minutes later - critter sighting.  A cute little cottontail.

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We found the ride to be beautiful with just the right mix of tree cover and wide-open.

One of the consistently positive comments about this trail that we clued in on was how much wildlife you would see. 

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Excited to see what we believe to be Phyciodes incognitus.  A new Butterfly for us - the Mimic Crescent.

Of course, that is difficult to confirm with an older specimen like this one because as the name implies it looks like others. 

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Spotting a photo-cooperative Groundhog was a new one for us.

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A real cutie.  We watched for a bit.

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Across the river...

1 Carolina Wren (1)
This Carolina Wren was singing its little heart out.

1 Juvenal's Duskywing
We saw this Juvenal's Duskywing flittering about and

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we passed by a small farm with miniature horses

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and some ducks who had their very own swimming pool with entry ramp.

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As we turned to head back to Annie

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this beautiful Eastern Wild Turkey crossed our path.

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The return trip was a pleasant one as we took in the scenery and finished our day at around thirteen miles.

That evening we did a check on the weather.  We had known that our rain free first day on the trail was a lucky one in terms of weather.  Strong storms reported to last two weeks were on their way.  Still, we were enjoying this trail so we decided to shuck the forecast and head to another trailhead down in the valley. 

There was a time many years back when traveling though Kings Canyon N.P. that our GPS tried to tell us to drive off of a cliff.  Despite her constant pleading.  We didn't do it.   Ever since then we have questioned some of her suggestions.

On our way to this next trailhead, she told us to turn down a road that had a sign that said "No Outlet" even though a zoom in on the map showed a through street.  We decided that the sign was just folks not wanting people to keep going down their quiet country road to get to the trailhead and forged on.

The road quickly turned to a one lane loose gravel road with a significant down grade toward the valley floor.  We weren't going to turn around on that so we slid our way to the bottom and were greeted by an impassible section of road.  At that point, we completed a 20 point turn in what limited space we had, dropped Annie into first and floored it up those slippery slopes with hopes that we would not encounter anyone sliding down.

At the top, we breathed a sigh of relief and opted for another route to our destination.  Although our second choice in roads was narrow and pothole riddled it was also paved and thus a significant improvement over the first attempt at finding this trailhead.

Funny thing is that we had just been discussing changing Annie over to more passenger oriented (quieter and better mpg) tire tread since we have been in a less adventurous mode with her then we were when we first hit the road.  Now we're not so sure!

It rained steadily throughout the night and when we awoke the threat of more loomed.

A look at the trail map however indicated that there was a tunnel only three or so miles from where we were at. 

So, we pointed Boneless and Hop-a-long toward the tunnel and were excited for this new experience.

We prepared for three miles of drizzle with a chance of heavy rain

and a very muddy trail by donning our $1 raincoats.

Save for a few puddles from the night before, the trail was actually quite solid.

With the threat of heavy all-day storms we motored the whole way to save on time.

We questioned our decision to forge ahead when we noticed that not even the birds or the critters were out but at least it would be dry inside the tunnel.

IMG_6199 - Copy
We stopped only twice.  Once to check out this item tied to a tree

which turned out to be the first of around five geo-caches that we spied along this section of trail.

IMG_6202 - Copy
Then there was this stop to view what used to be the left side of the trail now resting about thirty feet down in a gully.

A short motor later, we rounded a corner to see this....

the Eaton Tunnel!!!  At 1,840 feet long it is the second longest on the North Bend Trail.

While their Mom's get organized for their first tunnel ride, Hop-a-long and Boneless stare into the darkness.

Our steeds came with integrated headlights that run off of the battery so we took off our raincoats, turned on our lights and ventured into the cool, damp echo chamber that is the Eaton Tunnel.

Save for the low glow from our bike lights the slight curve to the tunnel threw us into complete darkness for a bit.

In the low light / darkness the wet and slightly slippery terrain required more focus than we had anticipated.  Nicole attempted to record the experience and we both focused on not letting the bikes slide out from under us so the first actual photo that we took was on 'the other side'.

The exit was eerie and mist covered.  It was a neat experience to emerge into the warm humidity.

For our return trip we decided to walk through the tunnel and look around.  We were surprised not to see any bats or other creatures.  There was plenty of graffiti though.

Cute elephant.

One cool cat!

A sad frog.

Wyle E. Coyote makes the tunnel go BOOM!

Back where we started.  The light at the end of the tunnel.

Near the entrance Darlene spotted something.  See the black arrow?  It is pointing to a little tunnel guard sitting in a hole.  He didn't move at all.  Not a wink, not a breath.  We took lots of photos and still nothing.  So, we thought he might not be real. 

Even the guards at Buckingham Palace blink or wiggle once in a while.  Not this guy.  But when Nicole eventually approached him, he darted back into his cave. 

Once we saw the toad we figured there probably had been a lot more stuff staring back at us as we walked through the long, dark tunnel.  It was a comforting thought.  Ha Ha

By the time we had ridden into the darkness and back again, the weather had cleared enough to rid ourselves of our raincoats

and we started spotting some critters stirring.  Pretty sure this butterfly and the one below are the same kind.

Most likely a Mimic / Northern Crescent although we are still trying to confirm a definite ID. 

IMG_6270a (1)
Since our return trip was only three miles we had plenty of time to look for critters.

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Just off the trail we found plenty of them on this day.

Like this Morbid Owlet Moth - Chytolita morbidalis

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Hmmmm....????   We're still looking for the ID on this one...

Black Firefly - Lucidota atra

Peek-a-boo, we see you in that leaf-roller cocoon.

IMG_6293 Carolina Satyr
Carolina Satyr - Hermeuptychia sosybius

IMG_6307 Black and Yellow Millipede - Apheloria virginiensis
A cool new discovery - Apheloria virginiensis - the Black and Yellow Millipede

IMG_6305a (2) Hobomok Skipper
Hobomok Skipper

IMG_6309 Zabulon Skipper
Zabulon Skipper

Red-eyed Vireo

Our final bridge crossing on the way back to the van.

We saw this beautiful and apparently freshly hatched Swallowtail right next to what we thought was its cocoon.

Further research on the cocoon however has us leaning toward Rusty Tussock Moth.  Just a coincidence to see the swallowtail next to it.

We peered at the water for a bit before continuing on to the van and hitting the road for our next destination.

One of our shorter yet eventful rides complete with our first tunnel experience under our belts. 

We are now just under the 200 mile mark on our trail rides.  Never thought we'd have gone that far in such a short time being back on the road.

More to come....