Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Of battling blight and rust and general decay

Here's our new Rover ready to do some farm work. I'm happy and amazed at how little work it has taken so far to get this rugged little truck serviceable. There's little love lost between the citizens of Sheffield and Birmingham, where the Rover was made (in Solihull), and indeed the two have been industrial rivals for two centuries at least, but these Rovers are a fine product and something to be proud of. 

Of course, it will be better once it has a properly galvanized Sheffield steel frame!

More than likely the steel for the old frame was actually rolled in Sheffield too, considering that this vehicle dates back to the herioc age of British socialism, when the government would have made sure that steel for one government enterprise (if you can use that term!), British Leyland Motors, would have come from another, British Steel.

I find it ironic that at this late stage in my life, even after giving up on Margaret Thatcher's Britain and emigrating to America, I intend to drive what is essentially a socialist truck for the rest of my life. But it's time. I'm sick of battling rust on these disposable Japanese and American cars. I don't care what regime produced it, it's fully repairable, and that's what I need.

The first and most important job, considering we can't afford that galvanized frame right now, was, however, to battle the rust on the old Land Rover. It was a pain to get the old bed bolts out, but the pressure washing blasted away most of the rust, and a light touch with the wire brush on the grinder removed the rest. The two rearmost outriggers were capable of accepting a patch. The two front ones were not salvageable, and so I sent away for replacements. Here's the patch for the rear left outrigger.

The rear crossmember was a terrible mess and probably should have been replaced with a whole new section, but not wanting to have to come up right away with the three hundred dollars that would cost, I salvaged it for now, a real dogs dinner of metal butchery performed with large sections of old oil tank from my recent home-built smoker project. Ugly as sin, but serviceable.

The main question will be whether the crossmember repair lasts until galvy frame time, or whether I still need to put in a new crossmember next year or the year after as a stopgap. We'll see. 

Only time will tell.

I sprayed the rear frame with underseal and sprayed a bunch of this new product "Fluid Film", made from lanolin from sheep, inside the entire rear frame length. Then I replaced the bed and most of the cab, so the truck can be driven. The front outriggers, when they come, can be welded on without re-removing the bed. then we'll spray the whole of the underside and be done with frame work until next summer at least.

Next up for attention was that tired old engine. I borrowed the battery from the Ford, which is waiting for brake parts to be delivered, so I could evaluate the engine's on-road performance. Having done the wet/dry cylinder compression test comparison and discovered the low compression and need for a ring job, I wanted to get the car whole and drive it up and down the Great Farm Road a bit, to see if the rings would hold for a few months to a year, while I find a spare engine and rebuild it, or whether I needed to put in new rings right away, essentially a partial rebuild, and fully rebuild the spare engine over the longer term. 

This is less a question of money than the frame is. The parts to rebuild the spare engine are only a hundred or so dollars more than the parts to partially rebuild the current one, essentially replacing the rings and big end bearings. You'd do a valve job either way. The only extra components for the spare engine rebuild would be the crank and camshaft bearings.

While the attractions of getting a good look inside my current engine and fully evaluating it are great, especially as I have time remaining this summer to do so, I'm also very conscious of the old American countryman's adage "if it ain't broke, don't fix it!". This Rover will only be asked to drive two or three thousand miles, if that, this summer, winter and fall, and far less, if, as is likely, we need to wait to buy the big farm trailer that is needed to fully replace the capabilities of the Nissan truck with it's large flatbed. If those rings will hold for a few miles more, which is likely, we can get by as is. And if I'm to rebuild an engine, I'd rather have a spare one around just in case. I can rebuild a different engine and keep the current one as a spare. Once the different rebuilt engine is installed and has proved itself, we can rebuild the original one.

I'll take my time with the farm-road testing. The lights will need to be fixed and the vehicle inspected, registered, and insured before I can do more than run around on the farm roads. That's all going to take a few weeks of puttering and a paycheck or two. 

I also need to find a proper hard top, that silly bit of rag being more suited to some redneck kid's jeep run-around than a real farm truck. There's also the tricky question of whether to polish it up or not. The Land Rover enthusiasts answer is an emphatic "No"! The "patina", it is said, adds to the value. But this Rover will be kept outdoors year round, and wax adds to the life of a paint job. And while I've always admired Rovers, it's for what they can do, not because I'm a Land Rover anorak. This is a working car and I want the paint to be protected. So, polish we must.

This is all just puttering, really, in comparison to the last few days of serious hard work. By the time it's on the road legally for a few days, I'll know how bad those rings really are based on the oil consumption.

In the meantime, the car can be used on the farm as soon as I hook up the trailer hitch. From junkyard to serviceability in less than four days! The rest of the project can be taken at a slower pace.

It's not as if there isn't a great deal of other work demanding my attention around the place. The garden is burgeoning and will soon deliver a bumper harvest which will need to be put up. The usual pests have arrived in great numbers: the flea beetles in the cabbage and indeed just about everything else, the potato bugs which need to be picked daily -- someone should invent a hand-held wet-dry vac for organic control of potato bugs! -- and the ever-present weeds.

But the worst Maine pest of all, the late blight -- has held off!

Touchwood, there's no sign of it so far. We're better prepared than ever if it does hit -- we have a selection of our tomato plants in the new greenhouse which can be dried out completely and the blight starved of moisture, while the outside tomatoes are all pruned for the first foot of their growth, as well as planted in a single row to allow the wind to circulate.

All in all, we should have about two months sporadic work to put up all the storage crops, starting soon with tomato canning.

The other area of ongoing husbandry and weed control demanding my attention now the first flush of Land Rover labor is more or less done is in our small grazings. These need to be rotated and mowed for weeds on a more or less constant basis. These sheep, relaxing nicely on this patch of old hay, don't have any notion how hard we work to keep them in fodder.

Finally, there's one more area in which I'm battling decay, and that's personally. I'd begun to notice a diminishing agility the last five years or so, as I put on more and more weight on my gut. As a working class Briton from a very practical northern background, I don't expect to look like one of those svelt latte-sipping young things you see in the cities. My genes, based on the rest of my paternal family, are designed to be broad and bluff and strong in my middle age, not skinny. But I do want and need to be able to keep working a farm until the day I die. I needed to lose some fat, especially the visceral fat in my big beer belly.

I did some research.

The online medical advice said I needed to lose about forty pounds to have the best chance of remaining healthy through my next few decades. This meant, most simply, altering the eating habits of a lifetime. I've always eaten whatever I wanted to eat, and have been perfectly capable of putting away five thousand or more calories a day. Until my thirties, I could do this and not put on weight. During my late thirties, in graduate school for my PhD, and having moved from western Montana with its short harsh winter to the snow belt where winters last until April, I started to put on weight in the down season and lose it in the summer. By the time I moved to Maine and became a professor, this problem became acute. My winter schedule is stressful, adding cortisol to the problem, and the opportunities for calorie-burning exercise are few because of the long hours.

The first job was to burn off the current excess poundage and I began that about three weeks ago. Based on what I read, and a simple input-output model, I put myself on a 2,500 calorie limit, and stuck to it. I've lost just under twenty pounds so far and can feel the difference. My knees are arthritic from years of climbing mountains and hiking the backcountry for a living, and they are grateful for the reduced workload.

The next step is to find a routine of about 2,800 calories, and stick to that. I'll need to work a little harder in the winter, too. Most essentially, this means that I need to accept less workload, and less stressful workload, from my employers in the winter and fall, and spend some of the rest of the time working more around the farm and walking the dogs.

If I can pull this off, the Land Rover and I will be in a slow bicycle race of sorts, to see who dies first.

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