28 August, 2019

Was it inevitable? Was it always bound to happen?

     Okay, so if you're following this blog, you know that I've got arthritis in my knees.  Well, I think I may have found part of the reason why my right knee has gone on strike a couple of times--for years here in PNG, my daily rider has been a much modified 1985 Honda XR600R.  

       I love the old XR600.  It was one of my dream bikes as a kid and so when a rebuildable one came up for sale here back in what, 2003? I bought it and gradually built it into what it is now.

        What it is now is a long story.  Sometimes at night when I can't fall asleep I try counting how many different bikes are represented in my old XR.  It's a long list and I usually fall asleep before I get to the end of it.  Suffice it say that even in it's original form the XR600R is generally not considered to be an easy bike to kickstart, and they did not come with electric start.  Some of the modifications I have made to mine give it plenty of power, but also make it even more difficult to start.  I can usually start it in 2 or 3 kicks, but it does take some effort, and when you consider the fact that I start it at least 4 times a day 5 days a week and usually at least twice on Saturdays, that amounts to a lot of kicking. 

      So, as an experiement,  I stopped riding the XR and switched to a variety of other bikes, most of which belong to customers of mine and which have electric start.  Interestingly, my knees seem to like this new arrangement, so I decided to finish up a long term project bike of mine that has electric start.

      Unfortunately, this long term project bike was proving to be a pain to resurrect.  I'll eventually get it sorted out, but it still needs quite a bit of work before it'll really be daily-rider usable.

       And then it happened.  Out of the blue, I learned about a 1998 Harley-Davidson XLH883 Sportster for sale in Madang:





         My initial reaction was "No way.  Not practical for PNG, plus everybody will think I spent a fortune on it."  Still, it was the only Harley I had ever seen in PNG, (I have seen an incomplete WWII era wreck on one of the islands, but that doesn't really count), and that made it interesting.

         Harleys and I have had a complicated relationship over the years.  I've always liked them, but have never been able to justify spending the money people seem to want for them.  On the rare occasion when a really affordable one pops up, (like the time I saw a complete and running flathead 45 at a flea market in South Carolina for $1,500), I've just not had the cash. 

         And yet people have always assumed that I had one.  I can't tell you how many times people have approached me in various places and asked "is that your Harley parked out front?"  I guess being a large, heavy man with a big beard it was only natural that they would associate me with large, heavy motorcycles.  But for me it was hard to spend thousands on a Harley when there were so many old Hondas out there available for $1000.

        But times have changed.  A lot of the bikes that I used to pay $750-$1000 for are suddenly classics now and going for $5000-$10,000.  Dime-a-dozen Japanese bikes that I used to haul off for scrap just because we had so many of them cluttering up the junkyard at the shop I worked at in Tennessee are suddenly being sought after by custom bike builders.  Dozens of shops, (Wrench Monkees and Cafe Racer Dreams to name a couple of the better known ones),  have made names for themselves by customising forgotten Japanese bikes that would once have been called "humdrum".  (Incidentally, I'm super happy to see that nowdays, if you want to build a bike you don't have to start with a Harley anymore.)

        So there I was, looking for something with electric start and coming to the realisation that the Harley for sale in Madang actually ticked all the right boxes for me: it needed some work but was complete and running, it was already here in PNG, it was an easy bike to find parts for, and anything I might want to do to it in terms of modifications had probably already been done by somebody else before and posted on the internet.  That fact that it had less than 9,000 miles on it was also nice.

       The price was reasonable, especially considering the fact that had buying and shipping any bike from the US (or Australia) would very likely have ended up costing more than twice as much by the time shipping, customs and duty charges were applied. 

       So I casually mentioned it to my wife, just to see what she thought.  "Well," she said, "I've been praying for you to get a Harley ever since we got married!"   What a woman!

       Finally the last hurdle was simply the fact that the bike was in Madang, and I almost never go to Madang.  Wonder of wonders, the manager of my department just happened to mention one day that he needed to go to Madang and needed somebody to go along with him, so there went that obstacle as well!

      So I contacted the seller and made him an offer.  He accepted, and a couple weeks later I was in Madang and loading my first Harley onto a truck to take back to the highlands. 

       Along the way, I learned quite a bit of the history of this bike. It was bought new in Ohio by a man who was associated with another missions organisation here in PNG.  In 2008 he shipped it to Madang, but he ended up leaving PNG sooner than he expected and sold it.  The man I got it from is an Australian who kept it in his bedroom, which was literally about 10 feet from the ocean.  I'll admit I was a little disappointed by the amount of rust that was on it until I realised that pretty much every rusty part was one that I was going to remove or replace anyway.

       I could not wait to get started!  As soon as I got it home I started stripping off bits of rusty chrome.  Away went the big, bulky turn signals (I'll install smaller ones later), away went the sissy bar (passenger back rest), away went various bits of rusty chrome trim.  In the process I learned that it really is true--the more stuff you take off of a Sportster, the better it looks!  The 11" long rusty rear shocks were replaced with 15" shocks for better handling in the dirt (and what a positive difference those made!) and finally, as a proof-of-concept, I put a used knobby dirt bike tire on the front wheel in place of the 12 year old, age-hardened and slippery street tire.


      Further modifications will have to wait until January, I think, as the parts I need are coming by sea freight.  But they will include a different rear wheel, new tires, handlebars, front suspension parts and other things.  I'm not sure what I'm going to do about the exhaust yet--it sounds nice the way it is, but I kind of need it to move for reasons pertaining to other modifications I want to do and which I'll explain later.

       At any rate, it is usable as is and I'm really enjoying it.  Yes, it weighs a ton!  Yes, other bikes ride better on the dirt roads of Ukarumpa!  No, it will never be a fantastic dirt bike! 

        But I LIKE it!






13 April, 2019

Arthritis? Seriously?!


        Christmas Break, 2018.  I had big plans.  There were a number of home improvement and maintenence jobs that I wanted to get done, there was a personal motorcycle project that I hoped to finish, and, if time permitted, I might even have started the resurrection of a dead car.  Big plans.

        And then, just as the shop closed for the Christmas and New Year's holidays, my right knee decided to stop working.  I could not move it without tremendous pain, could not walk, could not  find a comfortable position, it was bad.  I was pretty much out of commission for the entire Christmas break.  So much for my big plans!

        Joint pain is nothing new to me.  For several years starting back in my 20's I suffered occaisionally from tendonitis in my Achilles tendons, and sometimes pain in the little bones in my feet.  The first time it happened, I went to a doctor.  I described my symptoms and he said, "Oh, sure, that's tendonitis."  Relief flooded me, this wonderful dontor knew exactly what the problem was!  "Great!"  I said, "How do we fix it?"  I expected him to recommend a medicine or an exercise, instead, he brought my feelings of relief crashing down when he said, "Oh, there's nothing we can do about tendonitis.  You'll just have to try to stay off of it until it gets better."  Sigh.

         Tendonitis plagued me off and on for a long time, and then, sometime in my early 40's, it just stopped.  That is to say, I can't rememeber the last time I had it.  It's been a few years, I think.

         Also, from time to time, I have suffered a bit from gout.  Usually just mild cases, but sometimes more severe.  There is gout on both sides of my family, and they say it is heriditary, so no surprise there, I guess. 

         So when my knee quit on me, I assumed that it was just a terrifically bad gout flare-up.  But it didn't feel right--there was no redness and it wasn't painful to touch, at least not in the way that gout is.  I lived with it for a few days, then I started feeling like other joints were hurting, so finally, reluctantly, on Christmas Day in the evening, I called the Clinic.  I couldn't drive, so the nurse on call came and picked me up.  As she happened also to be on ambulance duty, she picked my up in the ambulance.  So I guess now I can no longer say that I have never ridden in an ambulance, though since I sat in the front passenger seat, I can still say I've never ridden in the back of one.

         Anyway, she studied my knee for some time, asked lots of questions, consulted the doctor, and finally said, "Maybe it's arthritis.  Maybe you're just getting old."  Ordinarily I might have been offended, but she was so nice about it that I just couldn't muster up any ire.  In the end, she gave me a crutch to use and made an appointment for me to see a doctor after Christmas.  As for the pains I was feeling in my other joints, that was probably just a result of the weird, twisted way that I was forced to move when I needed to.

        When I went to see the doctor, I was no longer in pain and we went through the usual question and answer time, blood pressure check and so on.  We talked about my knee(s), and what the possible problem might be.  Finally, she put a hand on my knee and asked me to straighten and bend my leg a few times.  Halfway through the first flex, she said, "oh, wow!  Yes, that's definitely osteo arthritis, it's just bone on bone in there!"  Then she felt the other one and said, "Yep, that one too!"  We talked about what could be done and she advised me that knee replacement surgery might be an option (sometime when I am not in PNG), but that replacement knees only last 10 years and they can only be replaced 2 times and then there's apparently not enough bone left to attach a new knee to, so many doctors won't consider doing a knee replacement on somebody under 50-60 years old.

        Awesome.  No wonder I hate going to the doctor.

        I'm in my mid 40's.  I don't feel old.  I feel like I am way to young to have arthritis.  Admittedly, I have not been kind to my knees in my life.  They've been through more than their fair share of trauma, starting way back in kindergarten when I fell under the school playground carousel/merry-go-round and got dragged.  While being dragged, my knee hit a big stone that was sticking out of the ground and it really hurt.  Eventually it stopped hurting and I more or less forgot about it, though that knee never did like to be bent for very long.

        In my late 20's, I was in a minor motorcycle accident which hyper extended both knees, and of course there have been various injuries to both knees over the years that I have pretty much forgotten about.  

        Add to all that the fact that all my life I've gone either barefoot, flip-flops or cheap steel toed work boots. And pretty much every job I've ever had involves standing and walking around on concrete floors all day.  I don't think I've owned more than 6 pairs of sneakers in my life.  I don't care for sneakers, the ones I have owned always disappointed me with how expensive they were and how quickly they wore out.  However, because I was suffering these various pains, I tried all different kinds of insoles and looked into putting rubber mats in my work area, (those rubber pads are expensive, so I haven't gotten one yet).  Eventually I discovered Merrill shoes, which are comfy and seem to hold up well, so those are what I wear most of the time now.  

        And of course, being overweight for most of my life hasn't helped either.  There have been several times over the years when I lost significant amounts of weight, but it's only ever been temporary, and the weight always comes back with reinforcements.  Obviously the key here is diet and exercise, but it's tough to exercise when you can't walk and when you've been warned that your knees are worn out.  It's also tough to diet when the most affordable food is bread.  Lately I've just been trying the most basic of diets; simply eat less food.  I eat very little sugar and I try to keep my carbohydrate intake down.

         Anyway.  This week I've had another bad arthritis flare up.  I don't know if maybe the weather has been affecting it, (it's rained every day here for weeks, there have been mudslides and road and bridge washouts all over the country).  So I've been holed in in my bunker (garage) "convalescing", I guess, catching up on e-mails, communicating with a friend in Albania who is writing a book and is interviewing me for part of it, watching old movies, that kind of thing.

         It used to be that when this kind of thing happened I would get impatient with everybody around me and would whine and moan to God about why it was happening to me, "Lord," I would say, "I only want to do the job you sent me here to do!  Why have you allowed this?  People are depending on me!  How is this part of your will?"  Basically trying to point out to God (silly me) that there was no reason for this, and that if it just didn't happen, we'd all be better off.  Silly me.

         And then one day I heard a recorded sermon from one of our supporting churches in England, where the pastor talked about trials, tribulation and pain in our lives and how we respond to it.  "Next time you are in a situation like that," he said, "instead of saying 'Oh, Lord, why me?' why not ask, 'Oh Lord, what are you doing in my life?   And try to find out what it is that he may be doing."

         I have to admit that when I am down for a week and incapacitated, I do spend more time in the Word and in prayer and I have been focussing on being less of a bear to be around.  More than once I've had the thought, "How sad would it be if the only way that God can get my attention is when I'm incapacitated?"

         I've said a number of things in this post that are probably heretical and will likely raise a few eyebrows among some of my theologian friends.  Don't worry, guys.  I'm not claiming to have it all figured out, and I'm aware of the fact that some of what I have said here could be seen as suggestions that God hurt my knee so that I would talk to Him.  That's not the thought I am intending to convey because I don't think that's how he works. 

         Anyway, I'm still learning how to live with arthritis.  I guess I just didn't expect to have to start learning that until I was, I dunno, 80 or something.

         I'm thinking of making myself a set of C3PO knees.


10 October, 2018

And Then There Was One


      So!  Last month the Grahams left PNG for the last time.  Well, maybe not the last time, who can say if they may not come back to visit some time?  But they sold their house, sold their beat-up old Toyota Hilux, packed up whatever they wanted to keep and shipped it back to the US.

      So who were they?  They were translators here in PNG, and God blessed their efforts to translate the Bible into one of the languages of PNG.  It was a long, hard slog and though it ends well, their PNG story has more than its fair share of heartbreak in it, especially in the early years.

      But who were they to me?  Aside from being my neighbors here in Ukarumpa, (they lived just a few doors away) they were also at my POC.  Not as fellow students, but as staff members.  In 2002 they were on staff at the Pacific Orientation Course, the place where I learned so much about Melanesian culture and where I learned Melanesian Pidgin during my first 15 weeks in country.

     The students (and some of the staff members) of the February 2002 Pacific Orientation Course.  All gone now, except for the hairy guy in the back row.

      I'm sure the Grahams had their doubts about my long term PNG survival; although I was quick to pick up the language, I struggled a bit with other things.  Melanesian culture is all about relationships, and I've always been a fiercely independent sort of guy.  I'll admit it, some aspects of the culture are hard for me.  The Grahams were always kind and gracious to me at POC, no matter what doubts they may (or may not) have had.

    Heading out on a three day hike during my POC training.  I was elected as "hike leader" which in itself was a valuable learning experience!  

    As part of my language and culture training, I lived with this family in their village in Madang Province for 5 weeks.

      Each POC group is different.  Some groups really "gel" and become close friends for the rest of their careers in PNG; others, not so much.  My own POC group never got super close--after POC I think we got together one time for a picnic and that was pretty much it.  We didn't hate each other, we just all spread out to different areas and moved in different circles.  Still, we had all been through POC together and though we may not have made much of that fact, it was still a fact.

      As the years piled up behind us, various people left for various reasons.  The couple who had been the directors of our POC retired, some of my fellow students ended up moving on to other countries, others left for personal or health reasons, and some of them stayed until they felt called to leave.  There are lots of reasons why people leave.

       Eventually only the Grahams were left from the staff of the February 2002 POC, and only myself and the Scott family were left of the students.  Then the Scotts left, and it was just me and the Grahams, last survivors of that particular session of POC.

       And now the Grahams are gone, too, and, to quote Job's servants, "I alone have escaped to tell you about it."

       16 years ago (almot 17 now!) I never would have guessed that I would be the last member of that group to still be here.  God has been good to me, he has provided for all of my needs here and so much more.  Certainly "more than I could ask or imagine".

      

27 June, 2018

Back at Work

Okay, so first things first:

The Grand Furlough Experiment RV was a bust.  Didn't work out.  I never got the generator working (a blow to my personal professional pride, if I'm honest, I mean, it's just a small generator, I've repaired dozens of them before, why did this one stubbornly refuse to cooperate?).  In the end, I sold it for less than I had in it, which was less than ideal, especially as I had just put all new tires on it.

*sigh*

Chalk one up to experience, lesson learned.  In the end I did buy a car, I bought a 2007 Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor.  In it's former life it was a Raleigh, North Carolina police car.  It was cheap, it runs good, drives good, and I like it.  It's almost as good as the '89 Crown Vic cop car I used to have before I went to PNG.  In some ways it is better.


The whole family likes it.  I'm sure I'm permanently warping my kids' taste in cars, but I'm okay with that.  We parked it at a relative's place when we left and I expect we'll use it again next time we're stateside.

Speaking of that, yes, we are back in PNG now.  We've actually been back for several months and have gotten back into the normal swing of things.

Now, the real reason why I am writing this today:

Among the motorcycles that I work on here are a number of mid 1980's Honda XL250R's.  If you know these bikes, you likely know that although they are powered by single cylinder engines, they are equipped with dual carburetors.  In fact it would be more correct to think of them as a single 2 barrel carburetor, because that's how it works--at idle, only one carb is actually open, and as you add throttle the other begins to open.  The linkage between the two is arranged in such a way that when the first carb is about 1/3 to 1/2 open, the other starts to open and they both reach full open at the same time.  Very much like an old car equipped with a 4 barrel carb--low speed driving/riding is done using only half of the carb, but at higher speeds the whole carburetor is at work.  In theory, the system gives you all of the advantages of both a small and a large carburetor.

Why is this important?  Well, those old "dual carb" Hondas use a unique cylinder head.  Later, when Honda abandoned the progressive carb in favor of one big carb, they changed the cylinder head casting so that the 2 heads are not really interchangeable.  It is possible to bolt a single carb head onto an engine that was originally equipped with a dual carb head, but then you run into all kinds of problems when you try to put it back into a frame that was originally equipped with a dual carb engine.

Why is that important?  Well, all those old dual carb heads are cracking now.  It's true that the cylinder head is designed in such a way that there is very little material between the spark plug hole and the exhaust valves, (which is where they crack) but in Honda's defense, Honda probably never expected people to still be riding these bikes 30+ years after they were made.  Nevertheless, they are still good bikes and as long as the head isn't cracked, they are pretty easy to keep running.

Where am I going with this?  Well, over the years I have seen a number of XL250R's, (and a couple of '84-'85 XR250R's, which use the same cylinder head) retired simply because of cylinder head cracks.  Finding an uncracked head nowdays is extremely difficult--in fact when I go looking on eBay, 9 times out of 10 the heads being sold there are cracked ones.  I'm guessing that the sellers probably don't know any better, but if you know what to look for and if the seller has included a picture of the combustion chamber, it's easy to see.  One poor friend of mine here, while on a trip to the US, paid $300 for a head from a junkyard in California, carried it here in her suitcase, and gave it to me to use on her bike, only to have me tell her 30 seconds later that the new head was cracked as well.

Anyway, the upshot of all this is that there are a number of overwise perfectly good old bikes floating around here with unusable engines.  Some time ago I started wondering what other people around the world were doing with their old XL250R rolling chassis, so naturally I consulted the interweb.  I had a couple of ideas that I thought would probably work, but I wanted to know what other people were doing.

Imagine my surprise when I found that there are basically NO pictures of repowered XL250R's on the internet.  I guess I shouldn't be surprised, really--I mean, who would bother with a 30 year old dual sport bike?  Anyway, I mean to rectify that situation today.  Here is a series of pictures of 2 things that you can do to repower your XL250R:

Zongshen/Lifan engine.  This would be a super easy one to do.  I had an XL250R on my bench with no engine in it and so I experimentally dropped an old Zongshen 200 into it:

This would be a super easy mod to do--the front and rear upper motor mounts almost line up as is!  You'd probably have to line up the rear upper mount, then make up new mounts for all the others, at least that's the way I'd do it.  The downside of course, is that you'd be going down a fair amount in power, but if you're living in a place like PNG, where just getting the bike going again is the most important thing, you could certainly do a lot worse than a Zongshen or Lifan Honda CG clone.  You could even work out a way to hook up the electric start.

There is plenty of clearance for the exhaust pipe.

and the intake is even more or less pointed at one of the intakes to the original dual carbs!  It's almost like it was meant to be.  This would be a super easy repower.

Access to the oil filler is not too good, but a bit of the frame (the flat part immediately above the swing arm pivot) could easily be cut away here without sacrificing too much strength.

And here is my OTHER idea, the one I'm somewhat excited about and I'll tell you why in a minute:
A Honda CMX250 "Rebel" engine.  Okay, so it's not the most obvious choice, but let me explain why I like it.  250 Rebels (and their ancestors, the CM185 and CM200 Twinstars) have been around since the late 1970's.  Engines are fairly cheap and easy to find.  This one I built out of parts of three motors, including all the kickstart mechanism of an old CM185, since the Rebels don't have kickstarters and I like any bike that is being used here to have a kickstarter, even if it's just a back-up for the electric start.  But Rebel parts are easy to get and there are millions of them out there.  If you are not familiar with the engines, they are 250cc twins and they have appeared in numerous Hondas around the world, such as the CA250 Benly, the CB250 Superdream, CB250 Nighthawk, CM250, CMX250, and possibly others I am forgetting.  On top of that, the chinese have copied it for various different bikes (and possibly ATV's?), so some really inexpensive parts are available out there if you don't mind buying chinese.

In this case, I made up some mounting plates that picked up the original XL250R front mounting points.  I was pretty happy with how these turned out.  The Rebel engine's front mounts are 3mm wider than the XL's frame mounts, and the way I mounted this engine, all of that 3mm ended up on the right side, which means that there is a 3mm thick shim between the frame and the mounting plate on that side.  I also had to relieve the frame a bit to clear the starter--this was probably the hardest part of the job so far, but I'm happy with how it turned out.  The starter motor in this picture came from the same CM185 engine as the kick start mechanism did, which means that it is a 6V starter.  I'm planning to just leave it in there and see how long it will last.  My 12V VW beetle had a 6V starter in it for years and it seemed to work just fine, naturally a 6V motorcycle starter isn't nearly as big as a 6V car starter, but we'll see how long it will last.

Here you can see how I relieved the frame for the starter--there is actually a carefully shaped plate welded over the hole that resulted when I relieved the frame.

Here's the rear mount I made up--the gray part.  It bolts in where the original engine's upper rear mount went.  It has two tabs welded on to it that reach down and pick up the Rebel's upper rear engine mount.

Underneath, I found that the lower rear Rebel engine mount was the same width as the original XL250R, so all I had to do there was cut out the original mounts and make up new ones to weld onto the stubs of the old ones.

I still have not got the exhaust made up, but I don't anticipate any problems there.  I'm a little more apprehensive about the carburetor--rather than using the original Rebel single carb (it would run into the rear shock so I can't use it) I am going with a dual carb set-up such as is used on the European version of the CB250.  I'll let you know how it goes!

So there!  Now I've fixed a gaping hole in the internet.  Now thee are pics of what you can do with an old XL250R chassis.



 







28 August, 2017

The Grand Furlough Experiment


“Clare?” I hollered over my shoulder, “Fridge!” It was pretty much routine now.
“I'm ready!” she called from somewhere in the dark far behind me.
The kids were all sleeping, the thundering of the mighty 454 V8 next to me slowed as I lifted my foot off the throttle and gently applied the brakes. Carefully, I eased into the curve.

So we're on furlough now. I know, it's supposed to be called “secondment return period” or “home assignment” or something like that these days, but in my mind, it's still just “furlough”.  Like so many things in life, it's good and it's bad.  Good to see family and friends, good to experience so many of the freedoms we have in the US and the UK, bad because it involves incessant traveling and doing that part of my job that I am least confident about my ability to do well, that is speaking in churches.

We have in the past often dreamed about how nice it might be to have a motorhome for our travels in the US. New motorhomes are well beyond out price range, but hey, I'm a mechanic, how hard could it be to pick up an old one and fix it up? Right?

So we decided to do an experiment. I started looking through craigslist ads in the area where my parents live and asked them to look at several of the more promising ones. We set ourselves a limit of $5000. We eventually ended up with a 1988 Coachmen Catalina for $4000. It's 31 feet long and, somewhat remarkably, had only a little over 25,000 miles on it. Also the roof had recently been sealed with a quality sealant.

 

Normally, when I buy a used car, the first thing I do is put new tires on it. I know how important good quality tires can be for safety, but in this case the previous owner assured us that it had new tires on the rear. So we decided to get new ones only for the front. As they were kind of an odd size, we ordered them online. While waiting for them to arrive, I discovered that the previous owner had not been perfectly honest about the condition of the rear tires—they were old, and out of 4 tires, 3 different manufacturers were represented. One of then looked like it had good tread on it, but it was the lowest quality one of the bunch. In fact, an identical one that had been on the front had gone flat while the previous owner was driving the motor home to my parents' house. And another one, also flat, was found on the spare wheel.

We also discovered that the generator was not working, though it looked like it could be repaired. Since we were planning to be in Waxhaw, North Carolina on the 21st, I had the new rear tires and the parts to repair the generator shipped there.

And then something happened. When the new front tires arrived, there was only one of them. The other was supposed to show up in a couple days, maybe. Anyway, we ended up with an extra week in Florida waiting for it to arrive, much to the delight of my parents!

Since we had time to kill, Dad and I did some work on the brakes, on the lights, and on various other things that needed attention. Eventually the missing tire arrived and we had it installed.

Was it all ready to go? Not really. We had new tires on the front, the engine ran good, the transmission shifted properly, the brakes worked, the lights worked, it was good enough for the 600+ mile trip to Waxhaw. During my last test drive, the refrigerator tipped over when I went around a curve, but I put it back into place and made a mental note not to take corners too fast. As the dash board AC wasn't working and the roof AC wasn't usable on the road, we decided to travel at night. Night time would also mean cooler road temperatures, and I was hoping that would make life easier for the rear tires. I knew that if I could keep the tire temperatures down, that would maximise the chances of them lasting 600 miles.

So finally the day came. We spent much of the day loading up our stuff, (how have we ended up with so much stuff?), and at around 7 p.m. we headed out onto the road. It started to rain pretty heavily, which was fine with me as it kept road temperatures and ambient temperatures down. Travelling at night, raining, and keeping our speed down around 55-60 mph, I figured our rear tires just might make it.

The journey was not without it's little hassles. Every time we went around a right turn the fridge would tip over. (Clare and I worked out a system where I would call out “Clare! Fridge!” and she would rush over and brace herself against it to keep it from tipping.)  The cruise control didn't work. It was hot and the windows weren't really big enough to get a good breeze in, but the wind noise was pretty loud, loud enough to make conversation difficult without shouting. When it got really dark, we also discovered that none of the 12V interior lights were working, nor was the water pump for the sink, toilet and shower. On the plus side, the engine ran great, the temperature gauge never got hot, the oil pressure was perfect, the charging system was rock steady at around 13 volts. And driving in the rain had not revealed any leaks.
We made it out of Florida, then through a small part of Georgia that we had to cross. We crossed the border into South Carolina and I was feeling pretty confident. Only 150 miles to go. Once or twice I looked down and realised that I was edging up to 65 mph.

And then something else happened. A little after 3 a.m., a little north of Savannah, in the middle of nowhere, BANG! Clare was up in the front seat and yelled “What was that?!” “We've blown a tire!” I hollered back. We were in no immediate danger—there are 4 tires on the rear axle, so with one blown out we could continue rolling on 3. My greatest concern was that the remaining tire was now overloaded and might blow out in turn, or that pieces of the blown out tire might cause damage to the remaining good tire. I turned on my hazards (emergency flashers) and slowed down to 45 mph. Thankfully, we were only a mile from Exit 28, (Coosawatchie, South Carolina) so I decided to limp into there rather than try to put on the spare on the side of the road.

Exit 28 proved to be almost completely empty. I followed signs to the nearest gas station, which was also a small truck stop. I investigated the rear tires, and sure enough, one of the inside tires, (the low quality one that had the best tread) was blown out. No problem, I had a spare. Admittedly the spare was not in any better condition than the other rear tires had been when we set out, but...

So I got out the tools to change the tire. I wasn't real happy with the jack, but it was there, so I put it in place and started lifting the motor home off of the ground. It was extrememly hard to use and eventually, (before the wheels were lifted off of the ground), it broke. It was then that I took another look at it and realised that it wasn't a jack at all, it was a leveling jack, which was never intended to bear the full weight of the vehicle. I made a mental note to buy a good quality hydraulic jack as soon as I could.

Frustrated, tired, hot and absolutely drenched in sweat, (rivers of it were running down my nose!), I climbed back in to the driver's seat and moved the motor home into an empty parking spot next to a semi/lorry. Before we had left, a good friend of mine in Waxhaw had told me to call him if we had any trouble, so I asked Clare to give him a ring. It was around 3:30 in the morning.

Well, long story short we didn't get ahold of our friend until almost 8 a.m., and it took him a little while to get ready. We spent the time trying to catch up on sleep, (tricky to do with temperatures around 90F when you are not used to it and when you are covered in a mix of sweat, axle grease and South Carolina sand). I managed to doze a bit, and a little after 1p.m. he showed up. He had with him several jacks and other tools and parts. Together he and I got the spare tire on and then he followed up most of the way back to Waxhaw.

So that was our first motor home experience! Things to fix:
--dashboard air con. This will make it much less tiring to drive.
--cruise control. This will make it much less tiring to drive.
--generator. This will make it much easier to actually live in.
--12V power in the house part. So that we can have working lights, outlets, and running water even when we are running down the road.
--get the new rear tires installed.
--get a good jack that is big enough to do the job!!
--that cabinet under the refrigerator!

29 November, 2016

The CHEVOTA Part 2 engine installed

      So Ben left PNG a few weeks ago now.  But before he left, he and I managed to get the Chevy 350 engine into the Land Cruiser:










    And because the internet is so slow these days, it just took me 15 minutes to up load these 4 pictures.  Will add more later.

27 June, 2016

the CHEVOTA, part one: the V8


       Alright, so if you've been paying attention, you know that some time ago we got a new rescue truck for the shop, a 2002 Ford F350 with the big, bad, beautiful 7.3 litre International turbo diesel V8.  And it has been great.  Going out on a rescue knowing that you have enough power, weight, and traction to pull a Land Cruiser out of a ditch SIDEWAYS is an awesome feeling (if you are into that sort of thing, and I am).  Also, having 6 big, lockable tool storage lockers is something you quickly come to appreciate after you've had a few tools and jacks stolen.  That and still having a full length cargo area and 4-6 seats in the cab, (I could go on and on); suffice it to say that our F350 is truly an awesome PNG rescue vehicle and one I thank God for providing every time I use it.

      Our old rescue truck was a late 1990's Toyota Land Cruiser pick-up truck, (an HZJ75 for those who want to know).  Old, beat-up, half-a-million hard kilometers on it, seems like every time we took it out we discovered yet another area where it was lacking something we needed.  And yet...

      There are times and places where the Land Cruiser is still the better vehicle.  A rescue out in a place where the bridges are nothing more than a couple of logs laying across a river, or where the risk of damage to the rescue vehicle is particularly high either due to road conditions or due to unrest among the tribes in the area where the rescue needs to happen.  In short, if we have to lose one or the other, we'd certainly rather lose the Toyota.

      So the Land Cruiser is lighter than the Ford, has good 4x4 capability, and is more expenadable.  It is also (perhaps surprisingly in a country where Toyota is pretty much far and away #1 in sales of new vehicles) harder to support.  The Ford is no problem; if we need a part, we simply look up the part number, contact our co-workers in North Carolina, ask them to buy it and ship it to us and in a month or so it's here.  No drama.  The Toyota on the other hand can be a huge hassle.  Finding part numbers can be a pain, trying to figure out exactly what you need with the dealer (often while communicating in a mix of English and Pidgin) can be a pain, and then it still takes a month to get the part from Lae (around 250 km from here).  Then we often discover that we've been sent the wrong part and have to start all over again!  And before you suggest it, getting parts for a General Export Market Land Cruiser from Australia or from the US is not the neat solution you might think it would be.  In their infinite wisdom, most car manufacturers make very different cars for different markets, and I'm not talking about just different engines or different emissions control systems, oh, no!  Simple things like tie rod ends, ball joints, suspension parts, things that we have to replace all the time here are usually not interchangeable from one market to the next.   Plus a car sold here as new in 2005 might not be anything like one that was new in Australia in 2005, but might more closely correspond with one that was new in say, 1997.  So we've learned over the years that it's best to try to get the parts from our local dealers, even though it's a hassle and they tend to be very expensive.

      So back to the Old Black Land Cruiser.  We had another similar truck in the fleet that was due for retirement.  We stripped it down and transferred a lot of its good parts to the Black Land Cruiser, which caused it to become the old Black and White Land Cruiser now.   The engine from the retired truck was still good, but we saved it for another truck, which means that the Old Black (and now White) Land Cruiser was still suffering with a worn out 1HZ diesel engine.  Because a lot of us in the shop are sort of natural born hot-rodders, we used to laugh and joke about how cool it might be to put a 350 Chevy engine in the shop Land Cruiser.  "Hahaha!" we'd say, "cool idea, but it'll never happen." this was usually followed by a collective sigh.  Not that we dislike the original diesel engine, it's fine, and not bad for a diesel, but it's nothing special, either.  1HZ fuel mileage is terrible, power is so-so, they don't handle abuse terribly well, and they can be expensive to support.

      So when it became clear to us that we needed to keep the old truck around as a general use/extreme rescue truck, (replacing it with a new truck wasn't an option for us--I won't get into that right now), and when it became clear that we needed to either rebuild or replace the engine in it, we did a feasability study.  We checked on what it would cost to rebuild the original engine, (doing the work ourselves here in our own shop) vs. replacing it with a brand new small block Chevy V8 and the assorted adapters needed to install it.  After months of research, it eventually became clear that the cost of rebuilding the Toyota engine was going to be almost exactly the same as converting to Chevy power.

      At the time, me and Ben were managing the shop, so it became our decision.  We thought about it for a while.  On the one hand we'd end up with a rebuilt Toyota engine, an engine that was adequate at best, got lousy mileage (for a diesel) and really wasn't the best engine for our use (lots of short trips) and on top of all that was hard to support and getting harder to support.  On the other hand, we'd end up with a completely new engine, one that is perhaps the easiest engine in the world to support and (perhaps surprisingly) gets just as good a fuel mileage.

     Yeah, it wasn't a hard decision.   Last Saturday Ben and I started getting the engine ready for install (happy, happy, happy):