Sunday, July 19, 2015

Stitch 'er up

The Great Bus Restoration continues. Here are some more shufties. This first is of the new B-post area under construction. New outrigger, jack point, new door rail and sills, and new metal to join them all.

The new B-post "top hat" section in place.

The door is fifty inches from bottom of bottom roller to top of top roller. We need to make sure the new door rail is ready to use, so we're looking for fifty inches.

Cleaning up the door threshold, ready for some new metal reinforcement.

Patch for the B-post edge to the right front wheel well: sized up...

... and plug-welded in.

And a patch to cover the top hat.

I'm ordering primer, seam sealer, and paint. I don't expect to hang around with this project. Full steam ahead!

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Just rotate

We've been bodging along on summer repairs and projects like an old bodger should.

The old Troy-Bilt tiller that does our mid-season garden work is a good example. It broke down because the drive pulley bolt sheared. Left with a broken tiller up at the garden and a workshop full of tools needed to repair said tiller, I needed some help with lifting and carrying the tiller to the shop. Turns out the Kubota tractor loader can accommodate a tiller -- but only just. Not wanting to damage either piece of equipment or ourselves, we went very slowly indeed.

You can see the sheared bolt in the end of the driveshaft. That bolt fragment needed to be removed, a classic fitter's problem.

I opted to put the whole engine on the drill press. That gave me a nice, straight, clean hole in which to insert an Easy-Out type bolt extractor.

You can use vice grips or an adjustable spanner to grab the squared-off end of an Easy-Out and turn it, but the handle for a set of taps gets you a more even pressure.

And the result. A clean extraction. After a trip to the hardware store for new fine-thread bolt, I put the whole thing back together again, and it made it back to the garden under its own power, where we promptly weeded a row or two.

The other project is, off course, our old VW van, currently under reconstruction. Here's what VW is pleased to call the "B-post", a structural component that holds up the roof, after I removed all the rotten metal.

And here it is after I welded new metal in. I have about fifteen or twenty repair panels either ordered or already arrived to repair this van, but there will still need to be lots of these kinds of patches, made out of stock mild steel sheet metal. With this thin 22-guage sheet metal, I use the MIG welder, which I'm only just learning to use. I'm starting with out-of-the-way places like this so I can build up my skill.

Here's another example of a repair. This is the main frame member on the driver's side. On the left you can see a new patch, on the right is rotten metal awaiting removal. I had to repair this part is sections because to do it all at once would have bent the VW's shape.

Here's the rear of the same part, showing a completed patch.

I use the Lincoln Electric "tombstone" type stick welder for this heavier kind of work. This "new" metal, actually recycled from an old oil tank, is 12 gauge, just under 1/8th of an inch thick. The old chassis is 2 mm, just under 1/10th of an inch, so the new is thicker and stronger than the old, and is worked in with the stick welder all around the rear torsion bar. You can't weld to rust, it's true. But with a stick welder you can cut rust out of the way, or fuse it into "new" metal.

It isn't artistic, but it's strong, and will give a new lease of life to this van, which is otherwise only good for the scrapheap.

This is what I look like after a day of this kind of work. Old cars are filthy with road dust and rust. The job will get cleaner as it goes along. Eventually this vehicle will be so clean and bright, with new paint everywhere, you'd have a hard time getting dirty at all while working on it.

Meanwhile, back at the farm end of the Womerlippi operation, the pigs got some beer. This was some of the nasty stuff that breweries make for people that really don't like the taste of beer, so they put in fruit to cut the taste. In this case it was blueberries. I hate fruity beer, so if someone brings me some, I have to pass it on to someone else, or get rid of it some other way.

The pigs seemed to like it fine, despite the fruit. There's no accounting for taste.

Finally, Aimee's new chickies, now around  ten weeks old, were exploring and invaded my workshop! Ernie was desperate to be given the job of herding them out, but that seemed like a recipe for disaster, so I made him go on the porch instead, and they left quietly of their own accord.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Cutting out the rot

There's an interesting moment at the beginning of any restoration project, whether it be a building like this old house, or a piece of mechanical equipment like a car, when all of the rotten material is removed, and you can "see what you've got." In the case of my old VW van, there was a lot of rot, and so there wasn't much left when I got done with the passenger side. I still have to give the driver's side the same treatment, but that will happen later, when I can turn the vehicle around on the lift.

The first order of business was making a "rolling chasis" so the turn-around could actually be effected. My assumption that the engine had seized, causing the problems with rolling described in the previous post, turned out to be incorrect. What had actually happened was that a brake drum had seized. Seized so badly, in fact, that it had to be cut off.

I've had a lot of brake drums seized on me, but never to this extent. Cutting it off was a novel procedure, but effective.

You can see the left hand brake shoe has lost it's lining. This had jimmied up the drum, causing the seizure.

The engine turned freely once I got it out of the vehicle, a big surprise. It's been so long since I parked this vehicle, a whole decade, that I'd forgotten what was happening that caused me to park it. But the only engine problem was a dropped valve seal. This could have caused a lot of noise, but it likely wouldn't have stopped the negine from turning over and even starting.

The dropped seal had damaged the piston, but not badly. The block with crankshaft, camshaft, and all the associated bearings, which I remember rebuilding myself back in 1998 or 1999, was still fine. Back in my days of student and graduate student poverty, I probably would have slapped a junkyard head on this rig, and lived with this dinged-up piston. But these days I have more resources, so we'll get a new set of pistons and cylinders and do a "top-end" job, a partial engine rebuild. The block, a salvage head given me by a friend a decade ago, and the fan housing are now at the machine shop, getting ready for this rebuild.

Then it was time to cut out rotten body metal. We started at the front and worked to the back.

I used a paint pen to scribe lines to get straight edges for the butt and lapp welds that will hold on the new steel.

By the time all the rusty metal was removed, there wasn't a whole lot left of the passenger side, and I was pretty tired. But everything that's left is more or less sound, and I can see how to repair it all.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Resurrecting the bus

I had spent quite a few weeks getting myself and Aimee mentally prepared for this particular project -- finally doing something with our old VW bus. Neither of us was particularly looking forward to having another junker lying around, but Something Had to be Done.

This vehicle was a gift from a college friend and helped me get through my college years. I first drover her twenty-two years ago. I've had her ever since. For the first thirteen or fourteen years, she was my main vehicle, and saw daily use. I drove her through my B.A., M.S. and Ph.D degrees. As I began my teaching career, with more responsibilities but not much more money, she was eventually relegated to summer-only use, and I began using other vehicles in Maine's cold, snowy winters. I drove a long series of second-hand Saabs, all towards the end of their working lives. They were an improvement on the bus, mostly because they had heat and could handle the snow. (The bus originally came with a gas heater, but it never worked, and eventually I removed it.) 

I drove across the country east to west and north to south in this vehicle. I visited Canada in it, used it to tow sailboats and carry canoes, camped and toured and studied in it. I built a house and a barn carrying materials in this bus. My old dogs Liza Jane and Cocoa loved it, and so did I.

But, after Aimee and I got married in 2004, the poor old bus languished, and was eventually abandoned over at the Bale House, mostly due to lack of money and time, where it began to rot into the ground.

But all such things change. I now have a pretty well equipped workshop and automotive lift, and, despite having a baby, I have more time, at least in summers, mostly because I'm not building any large buildings for the foreseeable future. It was time to do something with the van, before it rusted so badly that nothing at all could be done with it except cut it up for scrap.

The first job would be to get it over to my workshop. On Wednesday afternoon, I trundled over to the Bale House with the Rover and an air tank, pumped up the tires and tugged the vehicle out of it's nest of weeds, just to make sure it could roll. The next day I went back with a tow dolly.

Using the tow dolly turned out to be more difficult than I thought, mostly because my earlier experiment had failed to show that the passenger side back wheel was locked up, probably because the engine is seized. There was too much mud and wet ground at the Bale House to know this. The wheel just slipped, out of sight at the back, and for all intents and purposes acted normally. It was only once the vehicle was down on the road that the resistance was obvious. After dragging her for about half a mile, I came to a suitable turn-out, and, with some extra labor, switched from rolling on the back to the front wheels.

There was also the matter of having to change a wheel without a proper jack, but we won't go into those details. Suffice it to say that by the end of the day I was pretty pooped out.

Yesterday Aimee decided to take Roo to town to shop and to the doctors for a routine check-up, so my services were not required. Instead, I was able to spend the time getting the vehicle positioned on the lift, not easy with a locked-up wheel, and then removing the camper furniture, carpet, and engine.

There was a lot of dirt and junk, as well as various nests of insects and mice.

Here's the engine in the process of being removed, a job made a lot easier with a lift. The engine needs to be rebuilt, but pulling it early in the process would make a "rolling chassis", which would be a lot easier.

Here's the engine on the ground. These VW engines are relatively light and easy to handle, as engines go. Next job is to grind out the rot and see just exactly what's left.

All this heavy work took a toll after Thursday's major efforts. Today is an official federal holiday, but also, now, by declaration, an official Husband Holiday.