Saturday, October 25, 2014

Simply obscene

And no, I’m not talking about what happened on Parliament Hill this week.  The topic of the day is Ford Stealerships and for that matter, stealerships in general.

I’m likely a little more willing than the average consumer to buy online but, if I’m in the forefront of online purchasers, I believe there’s a tidal wave about to engulf conventional dealerships if they don’t wake up to the risk.  Yesterday I backed the Lincoln over a dirt ridge and ripped this thing open:

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The “thing” in that picture is the evaporative emissions charcoal canister which some bozo/engineer thought it would be wise to locate under the trunk of the Ford panther series platform. Every manmade problem in this world can be traced to either an engineer or a lawyer …. but I digress.

The box that is now flopping loose below the trunk contains the evaporative emission control system.  I’ve had an encounter with it already so its operation is not entirely foreign to me.  And other than the colossally stupid location on this particular vehicle platform, I don’t really have any issue with the concept.  The way the system works – and its been on all gasoline vehicles since sometime in the 1990’s – is actually relatively simple.  The gasoline vapours which we used to smell every time we walked up to a vehicle on a hot day are now directed to a charcoal canister.  The fuel system is under a low pressure by means of a sealed fuel cap which effectively forces the vapours into the charcoal canister without letting them leak out into the environment.

If that was the extent of the system, eventually the charcoal would become saturated with fuel vapour and stop working.  So the rest of the system is a solenoid controlled by the engine control module (computer) which opens periodically to connect the charcoal filter to manifold vacuum.  All gasoline engines operate with relatively strong vacuum in the manifold which is what draws air and fuel into the engine.  When that vacuum is connected to the charcoal canister it purges the vapour which has collected in the canister and allows the charcoal to continue to do its work of absorbing fumes off the fuel tank.  Apparently fuel vapours were a major component of the city smog that those of us who are of a certain age can remember, not fondly.  All modern gasoline vehicles have had some variant of the above system for 20 years now so the fact that most of us don’t know anything about the system tells me that they are pretty reliable. 

The stupid location of the system on the Lincoln – did I mention it was designed by an engineer? – means that it gets full of dirt and assorted road crap.  That was why I even knew it existed.  Last summer it got plugged up with crap and the computer started throwing a check engine code.  Last fall I pulled it all apart and cleaned it up which got it working again and stopped the engine codes.  This time it has missing parts so, rather than just replace the necessary parts, I decided I would change out the entire assembly.

Tasco Parts online has the assembly for $231, plus freight of course.  I found it in various other places including eBay for about the same money with only the freight charges varying widely. 

canister The genuine FoMoCo photo, complete with Ford watermark. 

I also need a little connector which got ripped off in the incident.  It is ridiculously expensive – the best I found online was $32 which is just stupid considering its the size of a coke bottle top.  I expect it is manufactured in Taiwan and the original manufacturer gets something less than a dollar for it.

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This morning I started phoning local Ford dealers to see if I could shop locally.  I phoned Preeceville first but they didn’t even have a message on their phone.  After about 10 rings I concluded that they likely weren’t open on weekends so I called Yorkton.  The nice man in parts took an incredibly long time to come up with a price considering that I gave him two genuine Ford part numbers.  Google or eBay will turn those part numbers into a price in less than 30 seconds but it took Dennis in Yorkton a couple of minutes before he came back with a price.  He wanted a mere $65 for the electrical connector.  And over $700 for the canister.  I asked him if those prices were negotiable and – while he did offer a slight discount – his idea of negotiable and my idea didn’t exactly mesh.

Now I don’t expect that local dealers will be equally priced with online retailers.  I’m perfectly willing to pay a premium to deal locally.  I’m not however willing to pay double and if the truth be known its not so much a percentage as an absolute amount that forms my barrier to dealing locally.  I’ll pay $50 to $100 for the “privilege” of dealing locally but no more and I’m not really sure why its worth any premium at all. 

If the local retailer stocked anything then I could justify paying extra for quick access to the parts.  The simple fact now is that nobody stocks jack shit locally.  So the online timeline may be the same or at worst only a few days longer than the local timeline.  There’s also the matter of professional advice and support but again, I’m not so sure the local person is better.  All too often I’ve gone up to parts counters and had the idiot on the other side of the counter tell me I didn’t know what I was talking about or that I didn’t actually want what I said I wanted.  Just yesterday I was forced into NAPA in Melfort where the old bat at the counter told me they didn’t have any panel mount volt meters.  I said “come on, you must have oil pressure gauges and voltage meters somewhere”.  She wandered over to the aisle that I hadn’t made it to yet and said “see, we don’t have one”.  I reached out and pulled the volt meter off the wall in front of her, pointed out where it clearly said “Volt Meter” on the packaging and then had to listen to her blather about how she thought I wanted something different.  That kind of experience happens all too often and I don’t appreciate having to work hard get around someone who presumably is there to help me.  So I’m not sure why I would willingly pay any premium at all for “local” access to parts.  The fact remains that I will pay more but increasingly I don’t.

Since I had an order coming from Tasco Parts I ordered the intermediate steering shaft at the same time.  There’s two u-joints in the steering column on the Lincoln, one up under your knees and the other exposed to the elements right next to the exhaust manifold.  Guess which one dries out and fails first?  I’ve squirted grease into it with a grease needle a couple of times now but that’s only postponing the inevitable.  It doesn’t sound like its very hard to change – one online mechanic says it took him less time than an oil change.  139 bux from Tasco – I wonder what the local stealerships would think it might be worth if I let them sell it to me and install it?

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Painting

The artist has returned.

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It turns out there’s an art group in Buchanan.  Who knew?  They meet once a week to do art.  SWMBO has been attending and she has started painting again.  She also drew Gray Hawk anchored in a bay with crayons.  (she drew the picture with crayons – Gray Hawk was anchored with an anchor)

I’ve been painting too.

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I got the little tractor tore apart and then hung it from the rafters in the garage.

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When I was in Saskatoon last week I picked up a few quarts of Case tractor paint.  I bought a quart at Hergott’s in Humboldt for $21 and 2 quarts at Redhead in Saskatoon for $56 – evidently there’s a lot more overhead at the Redhead store.  For the vintage of my tractors I should be using Case Power Red (which is actually orange) and Desert Sand (which is kind of a shitty brownish yellow).  I wasn’t able to find Desert Sand so I settled for Power Tan which is actually the Case construction yellow but its a pretty close match to the original colour for my tractor.  The whole point of this repaint is to make the tractor look better than it did.  I have no illusions that I am doing a restoration quality paint job. 

Last night I buggered around with the welder trying to patch up the rust holes in the front of the hood.  It was kind of like trying to weld tin foil so I quickly gave up, mixed up some epoxy paste with colloidal filler and goobered the hood up with that.  That went WAY quicker and once its covered by paint no one will know the difference.  I did weld the broken hood hinge back on.

This morning I started squirting paint onto the various bits and pieces hanging from the roof. 

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I’ve still got all my spraying equipment from the summer when I painted the bus.  I’ve also got a lot of odds and ends of paint leftover from that project so I had plenty of reducer.  It was moderately cold this morning – about 10C – so I threw in some additional hardener as well.  I don’t really know what I’m doing but it seemed like a good thing to do and the guys at Walker’s Auto Body Supply in Saskatoon thought it might help.  I had read online that adding hardener was a good idea but I thought it might just be internet bullshit so I checked with Walker’s when I was buying gunwash.  They said it wouldn’t hurt anything and might help in colder weather.

The forecast is good out as far as they can be trusted so I hope to get the tractor back together while I can still remember where everything goes.  When I was in Saskatoon I also picked up my used Roper garden tractor complete with new Linamar (Onan) engine.  The tractor is a piece of shit but the engine runs like a charm.  I haven’t pulled anything apart yet but maybe by Tuesday I’ll be ready to do the transplant.   

Monday, October 13, 2014

Turkey, tractors and a football game

The mayor and I spent most of the week not fixing the grader.  In the end our problem was so simple I’m reluctant to admit I was too stupid to diagnose it.  We had a fitting on the hydraulic cylinder that lifts the wing which just barely touched a support when the wing was fully lifted.  Evidently it was touching hard enough to eventually break the fitting.  We never saw it touch so we stayed focussed on the problem being too much pressure.  Finally on Saturday we had a supervisory crowd of locals and one of them spotted the real problem.  So ---- finally ---- that project is fully behind us. 

I immediately launched into tearing the 2nd of my two little tractors completely apart.

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You may recall that I bought the two tractors last fall, intending to use one while I fixed the other one.  I started out using this one but the mighty Onan had so much blowby that I eventually switched to the other tractor.  It wasn’t without its challenges either so the summer slipped by without any fixing getting done on either unit beyond what was absolutely necessary to get the lawns mowed regularly. There was only one time this whole summer where I drove a tractor to the other house, mowed the lawn and came home without incident.  That was the final mowing of the fall.  On every other occasion something happened during the mowing which necessitated returning home for repairs.  Neither of them ever made me walk home but it was a near thing a couple of times.

20141013_110225 These little Cases came with Kohlers or Onans with the Onan being the “big” engine.  The Kohlers were single cylinder, rated at 14 HP.  The Onans are twins rated at 16 or 18 HP.  Onan eventually licensed an outfit called Linamar to make a copy of the B43M which is the engine I had in the 446 Case.  Onan repair parts are stupid expensive but I was lucky enough to find a low hours Linamar that some guy in P.A bought new and stuffed into a piece of shit Roper lawn tractor.  He seemed astounded that I wanted to buy his lawn tractor so I could cannibalize the engine but that didn’t prevent us from making a deal.  Before I put the “new” engine in I’m going to slobber a bit of orange paint around the tractor frame.  It will by no means be a restoration paint job but once its covered with grass slime and oil slobber it should look OK from a hundred yards. 

Along with drooling some paint onto the frame I’ll replace the obvious things like worn out hydraulic hoses, worn out tie rod ends and boogy wiring.  I expect I’ll be able to cannibalize more than just the engine from the little Roper – the seat looks good as does the steering wheel.  My tractor is actually pretty tight, its just been neglected.  A simple cleaning along with replacing a few obvious parts, changing the fluids and adding some grease will go a long way to resurrecting it.  My goal isn’t a restoration – its a usable lawn tractor.  That shouldn’t be too hard to achieve.  I still haven’t figured out what to do about the tiller.  The tines on the ones I got are pretty well pooched and so far I haven’t been able to find jobber replacements.  We don’t have a garden so its not a big issue yet.

Today we had a few people over for Thanksgiving dinner and to watch the fiasco in Montreal.  That was a particularly forgettable experience.  We can only hope that Kerry Joseph injects some playoff life into the team.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Fall yardwork

Shortly after we moved in here at 515 I posted this picture of the house …….

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… and Jim Vancha quickly commented that he expected there was a chainsaw in my future.  As it turned out a Dewalt reciprocating saw did the trick just fine.  There are a lot of advantages to the Dewalt solution: its lighter, much lighter, it starts immediately when you squeeze the trigger, it doesn’t stink, it doesn’t puke oil and when the blade gets dull you chuck it and put in a new sharp one.  I used to own a really nice Husky 266 with a 26 inch bar but the more I think about it the less I miss it.

ChipperChipping We’d been holding off on cutting the trees until Marilyn’s new toy showed up and it arrived yesterday.  I spent last night putting it together.  Its incredibly well built but the assembly instructions were equally incredibly poorly written. In spite of the instructions I got it together and we fired it up today.  It easily chewed through six inch branches.  The specs claim that it will handle eight inch diameter and I expect it would.  The challenge is to get the branches that stick out from the trunk to feed in so even a branch that is much smaller than the nominal capacity may jam up and not feed through.  All in all though it worked remarkably well and we reduced several relatively large trees to a surprisingly small pile of wood chips.

Neighbour Keith was having as much fun as we were.  As soon as I fired up the tractor he was right in the middle of the project. When we got done our trees we pruned several obnoxious branches off his trees and quickly reduced them to wood chips as well.  We were clearly dealing with our own trees on our own property but in Keith’s case we were mutilating the village’s trees.  I hope that doesn’t come back to haunt us.

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Now we’ll have to paint the house because you can actually see it.  Once we got the trees out of the way I fired up the little Kubota and yanked out a couple of stumps.  It was a little spooky working that close to the house but I didn’t damage anything.  Apparently the plan is to allow the cedars by the front steps to regrow.  I don’t get to make the plans – I’m just the goof that helps to make them happen.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Giving back a little bit

We sure like this little village and they have been very welcoming to a couple of vagabonds who don’t spend a lot of time here.  We feel guilty – like we’re taking advantage of the community without ever contributing much.  So when I had a chance to help the mayor fix the grader I jumped at the opportunity.

Now you might wonder what I know about graders and that would be a valid thing to wonder about.  The answer is --- not a hell of a lot but maybe a little more than the mayor.  The second thing you might wonder is – what the hell is the mayor doing fixing the grader.  And the answer to that is that we weren’t so much fixing the grader as improving it. 

Last winter the town foreman moved on to greener pastures and his 2IC has been in charge ever since.  As Gary (the mayor) pointed out – all the work seems to be getting done with half the manpower and not only does Richard not book much overtime, he also takes off (unpaid) Friday afternoons to visit his girlfriend.  So things have worked out well.  But Richard would have been over his head doing to the grader what Gary and I did over the last week.  We may have been over our heads too but that never even slowed us down and certainly didn’t stop us.

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This is the “new” grader in its bright yellow Champion livery (and not so bright front blade).

The town sold the old grader to my friend “little buddy” Arnold Mayrand in Canora.  Arnie will take his standard $1000 markup and sell it on to some other unsuspecting fool.  Over the years I bought a lot of stuff from Arnie and so did Rex.  One time after Rex had been down on a buying trip Arnie phoned me and said “you know, every time after that Rex leaves here I have to go to the hospital and get a blood transfusion.”  But I think Arnie did OK over the years and he was a lot of fun to deal with.  I bought a grader from him one time and he phoned a few weeks later to try to buy it back.  He was prepared to pay a significant premium too but we kind of liked it by then.  I think that’s the town grader in Arborfield now if I’m not mistaken. 

Anyway, Arnie bought Buchanan’s grader and Buchanan replaced it with a fairly new Champion 730A.  “Fairly new” in this case meaning less than 20 years old.  Unlike the city operators who seem to relish dropping a snow ridge across every driveway they come to, here in Buchanan when they plow snow they drop a wing to clear the driveways as they go by.  Evidently Arnie’s purchase didn’t include the wing because it was bolted to the new grader by the time I arrived on the scene.  The problem that Gary & I were addressing was the lack of an open hydraulic spool to control the wing.  Redhead was willing to install the hydraulics for $3200 but we’re frugal here in Buchanan.  Our budget was “as little as possible” and we likely came in around $600.  Gary had hit on the idea of splitting the circuit that controls the front wheel tilt and using it to control both the wheels and the wing. 

The first I knew of the plan was at coffee row where Gary was displaying a hydraulic block with 6 holes in it and an electric solenoid on one end.  The topic of conversation was “which holes are connected to which other holes?” and there were a lot of opinions -- A LOT OF OPINIONS.  Anyone who has ever participated in small town coffee row will appreciate that there were A LOT OF OPINIONS.  The valve had come from Princess Auto and I expect whoever sold it to Gary had explained which holes went together but somewhere along the way that information had escaped.  I suggested that I could likely find a diagram online and in fact did find one but there was then some further debate about whether we could believe that diagram. (I never doubted that we could believe it but there was some debate nevertheless.)  Finally I proposed that we simply blow through the ports to see where the air came out which is exactly what we did and, not surprisingly, the diagram turned out to be correct.

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And this is the snow wing in the down or capture position.  Normally it would be raised for plowing and then whenever the operator comes to a driveway it would be dropped to hold the snow and save the homeowner from having to clean up a hard snow ridge.

The plan was to install the solenoid valve in the control circuit to the tilt on the front wheels.  We would install the valve so that the circuit would default to the wing but when the solenoid was energized the oil would still flow to the wheels.  And that’s exactly what we did.  It probably took us a day and a half in total and several trips to Canora for hydraulic supplies but this morning at 11:00 we buttoned up the instrument panel with big smiles on our faces and called the job done.

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This is the genuine Princess Auto solenoid that diverts the oil from the front wheel tilt to the snow wing.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Good on ya, Scotland

Last week Marilyn and I agreed that neither of us thought the referendum would come down nearly as close as the polls were predicting.  But I was still anxious to hear the real numbers Friday morning.  Not that Scotland’s departure from Great Britain would have had any particular impact on me, or anyone else in North America – I just hate to see countries going down this increasingly popular Balkanization route.  Its sometimes hard to live together, as any married couple can attest, but the benefits vastly outweigh the costs.

I hold to a view that is uncommon in western Canada – I don’t want to see Quebec separate either.  Unlike the Liberal solution to separation, I also don’t believe that Canada needs to acquiesce to every stupid demand that Les Quebecois may make on the rest of the country.  I listened to some dewy-eyed Quebec youth babbling on before the Scottish referendum about how wonderful it was to be part of this historic undertaking and how much they were looking forward to the results of the vote.  I doubt they were nearly as enthusiastic the morning after.  In fact I suspect the flight home was very subdued.  I hope those youths got a good solid dose of reality and were forced to take a hard look at their own beliefs about Quebec.  And more particularly about Quebec’s and their place in confederation.

Meanwhile, on a completely different subject ….

I decided to put new tires on my little tractor after one of the rear rims split wide open and threatened to let the tube sneak out.  I was actually really lucky that it didn’t die somewhere on a Buchanan street between our two houses.  It took a while to round up a new rim but the internet came through.  Then I phoned the tire shop in Preeceville.  I had a price from Combine World at Allan but he kind of pissed me off because he said he was going to phone me back about a rim and I’m still waiting for that phone call.  I guess he’s been busy.  For the past two months.

The kid at the tire shop in Preeceville was really pleasant on the two occasions when I was looking for an oddball belt so I phoned him about tires.  Turns out his price wasn’t much different than Combine World so I asked him to order a couple of tires.  Then I asked if he wanted a credit card number to guarantee the order.  “No problem – it will take a couple of days for them to come in – you can pay me then.”  Sure enough in a couple of days he phoned to say the tires were in so I took the new rim up but I still had one tire on the tractor and it was full of fluid.  They mounted the tire and again I offered to pay but he said to just wait until they had done both tires.  So Tuesday, about 2 weeks after he initially ordered the tires, we finally got everything done, and I finally paid him.  Try that anywhere in a city.  Whenever we get annoyed by the fact that everyone in this small town knows everyone else’s business we need to remember that they also trust everyone.

The big news in Buchanan is that the woman who looks after the water treatment plant put too much chlorine in the water.  Rather than that turning into a big problem our mayor – very sensibly – thought that this would be a good opportunity to flush the lines.  Apparently they need to shock chlorinate the lines every few years anyway so they just took advantage of the mistake and got the shock treatment out of the way.  We noticed that the water was off briefly one night and the next morning there was a strong chlorine smell to the water.  Other than that I haven’t noticed anything but it is a big topic at coffee row. 

I spent today changing oil in various diesel engines and losing the keys to the truck.  I have a bad habit of absent-mindedly setting them down in some spot that seems logical in the moment but is in fact an incredibly stupid place.  Normally I am eventually able to retrace my tracks and find them but, as of now, they have me stumped.  Fortunately Marilyn has a set.  And – unlike me - she hasn’t lost hers.

The only other excitement in our lives is that I have put signs on some of my equipment and set up a primitive website for my digging equipment – I hesitate to call it a “business” but I suppose it may someday qualify for that appellation. 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Prairie oasis and weird places

We spent the night before last at Cabri Regional Park.  We would have loved to stay longer but water and work kept us on the move.  Water was an issue because, despite the beauty of the park, their tap water is frankly disgusting.  We neglected to fill our tank before we arrived and refused to put their muddy brown solution in our lines.  Work beckoned as well because I’m hurrying to get my Assiniboia Farmland files wrapped up over the next couple of days.  So we only spent one night but we definitely will be back – with a full water tank next time.

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A winding trail from the bald prairie northeast of Cabri leads to a little oasis on the bank of the south Saskatchewan River.

After we got set up at Cabri I went for a drive over toward Shackleton.  I was in that area in July but it was so damn wet that I couldn’t get to any of the places I wanted to go.  I even ended up in the ditch briefly on that trip and – horror of horrors – had to be drug out of the ditch by a Chebbie.  In my defence the idiot driving the Chebbie had forced me off the road to begin with but mercifully stuck around to pull me back onto the road.  Its not a whole lot drier now but it was enough drier that I could get to the places I wanted to go this time.  Some of the ruts I made a month ago were still evident.

20140912_152744Western Canada has a lot of really big things which some local welder/artist thought would be a good idea.  I’ve profiled some of them over the years but this one is about the most bizarre example of the genre.  Go ahead – guess what it is before you read the next caption.  You won’t get it right.  Guaranteed.

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There …. I told you that you wouldn’t get it.  And, tempting as it was, I decided to give the museum a pass. 

We got a little rain overnight at the park.  It probably amounted to less than a 10th of an inch but it has been so wet down here that even that insignificant amount had an impact on the road.  The truck was just on the edge of spinning out all the way up the fairly steep hill as we left the park.  Then we chucked mud all over the undercarriage as we followed the gravel into Cabri.  I deliberately went slow and managed to keep the front of the rig clean but the undercarriage got blasted.  When we pulled into the Husky at Swift Current I discovered that we only had 3 shoes left.  Somewhere along the way the right front tire on the trailer had completely shredded.  Fortunately the rim was undamaged but all that remained of the tire was strings of rubber around the rim.  The night before I had looked at the tires and thought that they didn’t have much life left in them so we limped from the Husky to the Integra Tire store next door where we had 4 new shoes installed.  It was Saturday morning so there was only one guy on duty, answering the phone, manning the counter and installing tires.  Nonetheless he had us out the door with four new tires in under an hour and for just a shade over $600.   Two more of the tires were on the verge of separating so it was way past time anyway.

Last night we stayed in Notukeu Regional Park on the outskirts of Ponteix.  I’ve got a couple of visits nearby so we’ll spend one more night here before we go back to Regina and then on to Buchanan.  My farming gig fell through – evidently they found another truck driver who was prepared to come immediately.  While I would have appreciated a call to tell me they had found another driver I was actually relieved.  There’s no way they would have paid me even a fraction of what I think I’m worth and I’ve just got too many things to do right now to be doing charity work for farmers.  Particularly so for farmers who can well afford to hire the help that they really need.