Invasion of the body snatchers

When there’s a lot on your plate to do, time just seems to wiz right by and this month both David and I can say that the last couple months have flown by with the speed of lightning. We were both busy during the summer and then in September, Schooner Chandlery exhibited at the Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival. It was a fun event and we enjoyed having John Fruehwirth do demos of wood carving at the booth during the event.

John Fruehwirth wood carving Schooner Chandlery booth at Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival

Following the Festival, David had a software project in Colorado to attend to for a bit. He brought back a doozie of a Colorado cold and after nursing it for a week, passed it on to me to let it linger in the boat longer. We both finally felt un-sick and capable on Saturday the 14th of October, a full month after the Festival.

Earlier in the week, I was feeling guilty for letting Mahdee get so dirty without a good washdown so I scrubbed a month’s grime off Mahdee’s topsides. I’m happy to say her varnish is still glossy and bright from last fall’s varnish-fest. The covering boards and bulwarks look so perfect so that only I would know that it’s been a year. Running out of time, this may be the first year that since 2009 that I do not complete a full varnish round-robin on Mahdee. I have to do the butterfly hatches as they won’t make it through the winter without another few coats — and the canvas covering their piano hinges needs to be replaced or we’ll have drips of water in the main saloon during the winter rains. I put on the canvas hinge covering–at the suggestion of Chris Frost of Downwind Marine–in 2009 so I’m pretty happy that it’s made it through 8 years without real leaks. However, the edge of one bit of canvas hinge cover is getting frayed and we noticed during spring 2017 saturating rains it would eventually leak below onto the main saloon table.

Mahdee’s charthouse exterior has not been re-painted or weatherproofed since 2010 and it’s showing cracks in the paint along all the structures like the corner posts and whatnot. A few bungs have cracks in the paint showing and one has a nasty red rust stain as a reminder that, while we did replace all the iron fasteners in the hull and deck, we didn’t replace all the iron fasteners in the charthouse. I put together a little pile of scrapers and sanding papers for my assault on the butterfly hatches and charthouse this week. Tomorrow I’ll be out and about most of the day but mid-week begins my “mini” paint and varnish-fest to include aforementioned hatches and charthouse as well as the cockpit bench seats and combing interior that have flaky paint. Midwinter flaking paint is never a good thing and usually, I sand and re-do the cockpit seats every year. Last year I didn’t do it and it’s very easy to see that.

The charthouse roof canvas and the canvas in the cockpit surround are also looking worn and in need of repair or replacement. Since the real water proofing is done with the metacrylic membrane under the canvas I know I can put off the repair/replace until next spring. I may just remove the canvas this week and go with the naked metacrylic through the winter. It’s gray color isn’t as nice as the straw color of the painted canvas but I’d probably be happier to be rid of canvas with little rips and flaking paint. Another project for the list.

Sherwood Raw Water Pump Impeller Housing with broken bolt

The Mahdee tasks that have been delayed by life intervening are now slowly getting put onto a list and much more slowly ticked off the list. This weekend’s Mahdee “togetherness” highlight for David and I was changing the oil bypass filter and replacing the raw water impeller on the Cummins while also flushing out the raw water and coolant systems. Finding the pencil zinc largely intact in the heat exchanger was sort of a bonus. Usually, it’s a pile of mush that has to be cleaned out of the exchanger. The low-lite of the experience for me was breaking one of the three corroded stainless bolts that hold the Sherwood impeller housing onto the engine while I was removing it. Usually, David does the honors of breaking bolts and I can make fun of him for it. This time, I was the culprit. The low-lite for David was tearing up his hands while contorted into the required spot and turning the wrench to get the impeller housing back together. What should have taken us two hours turned into a whole weekend. Break a bolt, 5 minutes. Replace it only after driving to a store and finding a replacement, 2 hours.

Somehow we were both pretty exhausted at the end of our mini-maintenance weekend and wondered what had come of our energetic and nimble bodies we’ve spent a lifetime abusing. Had bodysnatchers invaded and given us these low performing versions in return for our old selves? Happy with the Cummins basics completed, we chose to just enjoy a Sunday evening petting Beryl and watching a movie on the computer, stuffing the spectre of the body snatchers into the recesses of our minds.

Beryl the body snatcher?

Another Saab Story

I’d love to tell you about Mahdee, sailing, or even working on Mahdee.  Alas that’s not to be.  We have been very busy preparing for the Schooner Chandlery booth at upcoming Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival (Sept 8-10). A big box of indoor/outdoor rugs and storage baskets arrived to be part of the show.  Other fun stuff is trickling in including a display of bronze fasteners from our seller, Ron, Adventure Mats, Freebags, some soap, nautical rolling pins, Q Squared NYC nautically themed melamine, brochures, paint samples, as well as other nautical bits and pieces.  Nothing resembling a sail on the water is coming our way until after the festival.  We’ve promised ourselves a month of wandering with Mahdee –with high hopes for October–and I’m beginning to look forward to it.  Along with the Schooner Chandlery bits coming in, we also have a few parts for Mahdee to prepare for our little fall excursion.

Buttercup and rudder

Mahdee reference:  Here’s Buttercup carrying Mahdee’s new bronze rudderstock on the roofracks in 2008 while we were rebuilding the boat.

 

So what about those cars? What’s the Saab Story?

Buttercup

Buttercup, the 1976 Saab 99 GL (above)

Well, it was bound to happen. Owners of these Swedish cars already know that the cars are fiercely jealous of each other and every other car you might happen to own–or drive–for that matter. Wesley (the 1987 900 Turbo that I’d love to throw off a cliff) is out of commission and neither David nor I have the goodwill towards that car to fix it so it’s just sitting for now whilst we contemplate its future. Buttercup, the 76 99GL, is so happy and runs like a champ (usually) during those times when we’ve given up on Wesley for some reason or other. We’ve owned both cars for almost 20  years now and we’ve gone more than a year at a time just letting Wesley sit (and hoping someone steals him) while Buttercup proves over and over again why she’s our primary car. Buttercup just loves being the only child — or only CAR in the household. Happy and reliable.

 Oops — she’s feeling sibling rivalries.

Last week we stumbled upon and then (Thursday) purchased a 1977 5 door (CombiCoup/Wagonback) 99GL with a good body from a salvage yard.  Like me, Buttercup’s body isn’t what it used to be — she’s got structural rust and rather than do a big cut and weld job on her we’ve been in search of a donor body.  Last year I had a donor ligament put into my ankle to tighten up things whilst the joint was also repaired — I tell Buttercup that she and I are just going through the same things as we get older.  In her case, her engine and systems will just be plopped into a largely rust-free body.   She seemed OK with the plan.  Buttercup and I have taken several trips here and there to look over potential cars or parts of cars for the operation.

She’s never faltered.  Always up for the trip.

I suppose it’s all good in theory but then when we got on with it and actually purchased the donor car, both Buttercup and the humans involved begin to rethink things.  There’s always history involved.


The 1977 “Donor Body” car.

Buttercup came to us in the late 1990’s as a donor car: she was $200 and she was intended to provide a spare 4 speed tranny for our hero of a car, Pepe, the 1974 Saab 99LE that David’s family bought new and we purchased from Dad in 1982 when David, the family SAAB mechanic, was leaving home for his first post-college job.  Dad wouldn’t be able to find a local mechanic to keep Pepe going without significant cost so he bought a new car and we bought Pepe.  For us, Pepe ran long and strong and good.  We treated him well but used him in tough backroad conditions for many many miles.  We had over 450,000 miles on him when we ran across the Craigslist ad for Buttercup as she was on her way to the crusher.  We got her home and realized that she was low miles, at 67,000, and could have a long life ahead of her.  So, we cleaner her up, had rust patched, painted her a PPG Saab Monte Carlo Yellow, installed new rubber all around — seals, tires, windshield replaced, did new brakes and shocks and spring inserts–and she did live on and on and on.  Happy days, months, years, and decades. We all recall that in 2006, Pepe quietly slipped away to the crusher himself after 500,000 good miles and a deeply fatigued but non-rusty body.  He literally flexed over almost every little bump.  He was ready to go.

Buttercup knows all about it.

Pepe

Pepe, David’s 1974 Saab 99LE at the 2000 Saabtoberfest in Central Pennsylvania.

Now comes the 1977 Saab 99GL Combi Coupe.  Good body, unknown engine/tranny — we haven’t even started the diagnosis other than to check the pistons aren’t seized up and that with a good battery the start motor has the engine trying to turn over. Funny noises from the fuel pump and we’re now in the mode of clean the lubes and fluids, change the gas, and get it ready to start.

Wait! why are we trying to START the engine of a car that we picked up for the body?  Almost certainly THAT thought was going through Buttercup’s Swedish CPU.

So…what does Buttercup do? Throw a hissy fit, of course! This particular hissy? Well she took that little bit of belt noise of the past few days and turned it into a full blown fragging harmonic balancer (part of the crankshaft pulley) problem. Sure, the model 99 doesn’t usually do this sort of thing — it is always a 900 that’s fragging out the harmonic balancer. Oh, but Buttercup, she’s a smart cookie. Probably been chatting it up with a 900 somewhere in a parking lot while I was in a store shopping.

The bottom line is we’re now down to NO cars until the harmonic balancer (ordered but won’t show up until Tuesday afternoon) shows up AND we manage to pull together the resources to get the job done.  Since when did David and Brenda have to worry about all that? Things we once took for granted, now that we’re living aboard a boat are rather scarce: Space, time, parts, tools… in my mind, Buttercup is joining Wesley in my search for a good cliff.   A friend tells me the levy roads work well.  Buttercup’s in more danger: I can actually DRIVE her to her demise and enjoy a good swim afterwards whereas Wesley wouldn’t make it out of town to the cliff or the levy.

Back to resources.  Time: David’s birthday is on Tuesday.  I know he was probably looking forward to a nice relaxing evening but there’s nothing like a good car-fixing party right?  Relaxing is over-rated.  Besides, he’s always grinning when he’s up to his elbows in grease.

Let’s see…space…Ah, that would be the workshop we rented a few months ago.  It is presently chock full of the new but not working Combi Coupe. Yep, the car without registration and license plates to park on the street, that would be it.  We’ll just play a little roulette with that on I suppose.



Space? Filled.

Parts? On order and showing up 3pm on David’s birthday.  Tuesday. Yep.  Perfect.  I think we even have a spare oil seal for the engine if we want to put it on at the same time.

Oh, yes, then there are the tools. Last time we removed a crankshaft pulley from a 99 it was Pepe’s. Way back in 1987 or so. The engine was OUT of the car and we broke a couple socket extension (cheater) bars. In the end, it took David pounding on the nut with a hammer, after a couple heat (torch) and cool cycles, a Snap-On extension bar inside a 5 ft fence post with a 200lb guy jumping on the end and pushing off the garage door frame with helpers me and another friend pushing down on the cheater at our stations along the 6 feet.
 
Yes, crankshaft pulley removal conjures up an image of the old I love Lucy show. We did it exactly as Lucy, Ricky, Fred, and Ethel would have done.  Bring us forward 30 years. This engine is still IN the car not sitting out in the garage with lots of room all around.  We’re 30 years older, too.  And those young friends who helped us? They’re hundreds or thousands of miles away.  Old and wily is supposed to trump young and energetic but I dunno.  At least we have the internet now. I’ll count that for wily.  Thank you Saab Central: we’ve gotten the advice of experts — or at least other amateurs who have in theory been successful:

It is possible to remove the crank pulley from a B type engined car, but not possible with the later H type. 

B type pulley removal (engine in car)

1. Remove fan belt (also if fitted remove power steering and ac belt)
2. Remove engine mounting nuts and use two wooden wedges between engine and bulkhead to move engine slightly forward.
3. Lock the engine using Saab tool 8392978 inserted into the opening on the bottom of the gearbox primary housing and into the flywheel ring gear, or similar tool, I use a segment from an old ring gear.
4. Raise the car, best to use a proper car lift for this one.
5. Remove pulley bolt using Saab tool 8392961 or a good quality off-set ring spanner.
6. Remove pulley and it’s also worthwhile replacing the oil seal.
7. If using proper Saab tool, torque the pulley bolt to 70Nm if using a 400mm torque wrench.
8. And most important of all, have fun!!!

So back to tools–can you believe we own that Saab tool 8392978? yep.  Not only own it but actually can find it, too.  I’m feeling pretty good.  We have a 27mm socket that was used so many years ago on Pepe’s project. It was painstakingly ground down so it fit over the nut with no extra depth. Ah, a test fit shows us that it might not work while the engine is still in the car. Firewall. On to the Internet shopping and a bike ride to Home Depot gives us a straight 27 box socket that might do the trick but well, maybe not. An offset is actually needed. Offset sockets can be procured via Amazon and other providers to show up…Wednesday. That doesn’t work. I have other commitments all day Wednesday and it would be really nice to not have to rent a car for those.  Tomorrow morning I’ll give the local SnapOn Rep a call.  They have roving trucks and it is possible that between Monday morning and Tuesday afternoon I can nab a really nice SnapOn offset box wrench to do the job.  Maybe. Perhaps another tool place nearby will be open on weekdays as well.

And there you have it.  Stay tuned for the rest of the story.

We are the people who work on old things

Yes it’s true, we are now the people who work on our old boat and we used to be the people who worked on our old house.  Plaster, woodworking, repairing marble surrounds, copper flashing and mission tile roofing, replacing galvanized pipes for newly soldered copper ones, refinishing floors, repointing bricks, reglazing windows, and restoring intricate plaster crown moulding.  That was then: the house.  This is now: the boat.   Someone really introduced us to another couple that way “those people who work on their old wood boat.”  At the time it made some sense because when we were in a slip it was because we needed shore power to work on the boat more conveniently and when we were sailing we were “out there” and absent from the view of the particular fellow.   It’s an interesting life–being the people who work on their old wood boat.

But right now all I can think is “Buttercup, oh Buttercup. How many ways can you make my life interesting?”  David and I recently took Buttercup for a “spirited ride,” let’s call it. A Sunday, a glorious day of driving our 1976 Saab 99 on winding roads, dirt and paved, up hills and over mountains, and along the seashore just as Buttercup loves to be driven. The drive was a ‘post tuneup check’ to see how she was doing.  She was to have her state safety inspection the next day and I needed to make sure she was in good form.  With little bits of rust here and there, the old girl is not looking her best and it was all the more important that she pass the inspection with flying colors.

On the drive we found all was good with Buttercup except we noted the rear shocks had seen better times and further since the ball joints I’d ordered from Rock Auto had arrived, it looked like we’d be spending a day working underneath Buttercup sometime very, very soon. We’d just need to find someone to do the alignment.  As an aside — Rock Auto has amazing deals on car parts for, shall we say “elderly” cars.  A further aside, Buttercup did pass her safety inspection just fine — more or less an emissions check, the inspector must still make sure brakes, lights, and all the rest work.  Lucky for Buttercup they are not as picky as we are and they didn’t do the big sideways jiggle/push/pull thing we do on the front wheels or they’d have noted the tiny bit of a giveaway that her right front ball joint wants to be replaced and they didn’t take her on a spirited drive or they’d have known her shocks weren’t up to snuff.  Fine for normal driving but not so great for rutted country roads.  

Gone are the days where one can get a selection of good shocks for any USA-based pre-1978 Saab model 99.  Having owned our 1974 Saab 99 Pepe for his last 34 years and 400K of his half a million miles (1982-2006) and Buttercup since 1998, I know a little thing or two about shocks for the model.  Before we owned Pepe, David’s father owned the car since it was new.  David had cajoled Dad into many things that were lifetime warranted to the purchaser — and since David did all maintenance for Dad on Pepe, that meant David owned the lifetime replacement guarantee on let’s see…a JC Penny (later Firestone) battery, lifetime alignments, and even lifetime warranted Koni shocks.  We used those on Pepe for about a decade during which we re-valved a few times and then gave up. The lifetime warranted Bilstein shocks? I blew through those on our Saab 900 in less than a month. Replaced and ruined again within weeks.  Let’s not talk about the 900 for now.

Back to shocks for the 70’s era 99 models. For our Mexico jaunts in Pepe, we used different springs, lifting kit/spacers and I obtained Bilsteins meant for a particular import truck with the same vertical pin shock mounting system and a little different range of motion. Alas while that was good for our ’74 99 for many back road excursions in the 80’s and 90’s it likely contributed to every shock mount point being ripped apart (on the road) and rebuilt (in a local welding shop nearby) a few times…even those trusty (lifetime warranted) shocks were rebuilt a few times and swapped out with the Konis on Pepe until finally I gave up on them when we said our farewells to Pepe in 2006 (RIP.)  Buttercup, with her original 1976 axle is stuck with those same old-style shock mounts.  When we got the car, we put the Koni shocks on her, or maybe it was the Bilsteins — whichever ones that were not on Pepe.  A few years later we threw some KYB shocks on the car thinking “we’ll find something different, later” and so now is “later” and we see that shocks for this car are available from only a few makers.

Though David reminded me that KYB really just means “keep your Bilsteins” I had decided I’d just get some decent KYB shocks for Buttercup and probably just needed to find a local sale.  It’s so hard to justify more than the basics for Buttercup when we drive so few miles and well, we try to keep the maintenance funds together for Mahdee’s much larger appetite.  These old ladies vie for attention, that is for sure.

Yesterday when suddenly Buttercup’s passenger rear side started making a clunk-clunk-clunk over rough road spots, I thought “hum, I’ve heard that noise–the shock bushing just popped off top or bottom of that shock.” David and I both have a lot going on right now and I hate getting dirty anyway so I also thought “I have an excuse to get someone else to replace these shocks! I’ll take the car by the local auto parts place” where I’d recently seen they have a model of decent KYB shocks “and I’ll have them put a set on the rear of Buttercup.”  I texted the same to David.  He came back with “sure, ha!” implying the shop couldn’t do the work.  I won’t say he jinxed it but I will say he was right.

I looked at the estimated cost and almost just bought the shocks and took them to the workshop to install myself.  But I hate getting dirty.  I have mentioned that? It’s always dirty, gunky, yucky work to get the nuts loosened up and off of the top and bottom pins of the shocks.  It’s sometimes really difficult to do, as well.  Wesley is playing “garage king” in the workshop while we wait on an electrical part so the logistics of getting Buttercup into our workshop would involve me PUSHING Wesley out of the way…no, no, not going to happen because then I’d have to push Wesley back inside the workshop, too.  The car is heavy and there’s a lip on the concrete sill that I would find difficult to deal with.  Therefore installing shocks on Buttercup would mean doing the work outside the workshop door rather than inside. Outside on the pebble-strewn, dirty, gritty asphalt.  Nope.  Not going to do it. Nope.  And David was tied up all afternoon with other things–so much the more perfect excuse to just pay someone to do the work.  The only things Buttercup has ever had anyone besides David and I do? a couple wheel alignments when we’ve replaced tie rods or ball joints– and we had a gas tank lining installed once.  Lifetime warranted lining, I might add.  Old habits die hard.

As I was filling out the paperwork for the shop to replace the rear shocks, I wrote details of the noise and then wrote “please report whether the top and bottom bushings were in place on old shock rear passenger side and if both are in place, please do careful inspect the rear suspension, panhard arm bushings, shock mounting points, and related that might produce a clunking noise from that area.”  No work on the front suspension requested.  I  knew they’d be likely to note the right front ball joint and was in enough of a hurry that I didn’t want to deal with a full suspension inspection by them.  Because Buttercup still has her reverse lock intact, I also gave them the standard Saab bit about “key between the seats, car must be in reverse to remove key, reverse lock is annular ring around shifter knob, pull up on ring while clutch is depressed to put shifter into reverse.  Only try to remove key once the car is in reverse. Do not remove key if you cannot get car into reverse.  Just leave key in ignition if you experience any problems.”

I sat in the waiting room an hour, anxious and unexpectedly worried about that reverse lock–playing the game of odds: will they break it or not? Thinking how ridiculous it would be for this car to have survived 41 years of driving without the reverse lock being broken and having it get broken now.  The service manager came out to the waiting lounge, handed me the paperwork and said “we can’t fix your car.”  I said “fix? what fix? do you mean install? Do you not have the shocks? You cannot install the shocks?”  and he said “No, we can’t fix you car.  There’s too much wrong with it.”  I asked “what’s wrong? Is a shock mount to the body ripped out?”  thinking that even though the shock itself seemed fine, my worst fear was true and I’d have to find a local welder for the work.  “No mam, there’s just too much wrong. ”  Now I was perplexed. I asked to speak to the mechanic to find out what “everything” was.  After all, I already knew about the ball joint… maybe he was looking at the front end, not the rear suspension. I actually knew that we should replace the brake pads sometime in the next few months.  We do that as a preventative though.  Brakes are not suspension…he couldn’t be thinking about brakes?  The hard to find MetalMasters are on back order and will be here in a few weeks.  My mind went automatically spinning through the logistics of going ahead and bleeding the brakes at the same time as doing the pads. Solid rotors made for different pads.  I really like the vented ones.  No reason to change them though. But I really like the vented ones.  Finding a place to take the old brake fluid.  Does O’Reilly’s do that? How about the US Coast Guard Auto Hobby Shop? But bringing myself back to reality, today! The brakes would be no reason to say “too much wrong” and not install new rear shocks.

The mechanic, a small Hispanic fellow, came out and said “the car, it pulls a little to the left when I push hard on the brakes but other than that I could find nothing.  I don’t work on old cars.  You should take the car to the people who work on old cars.”  I ask him “what about the bushings on the top and bottom of the rear passenger shock?” and he says “the bushing is there.” And I say “did you see any other missing bushings? Panhard arm or nearby anything?”  to which he says “no.”  And I ask why he didn’t go ahead and replace the shocks.  I learn that again “I don’t work on old cars, you should take the car where they work on old cars.”

So an hour wasted and I still don’t know what is causing the clunk, clunk, clunk.  As I got in the car I noted the key was in the ignition, turned to the position to keep the radio on, the car was in 2nd gear.  Guess the guy didn’t read the instructions but thankfully he didn’t break the reverse lock. I look at the time and realize David is likely on his way to the boat very soon, riding right past our workshop, so I text David to meet me at the workshop and I drive the few blocks there.  Took a look under the car.  Missing shock bushing as suspected.  Drove the two blocks to the O’Reilly Autoparts store to purchase something to use for shock bushings thinking “we have these things somewhere… but it would take more time to find them than to buy them.”  A four-pack of generic bushings is $4.49 plus tax.  One bushing needed.  Three spares for the glove compartment.  I wonder if I’ll remember they’re there in a few years when they may be needed? Jackstands and chocks in place, David laid in the gravel and grit on the asphalt and got gunky greasy fingernails while installing the cheap bits of rubber. He has a big loopy grin on his face.  He’s happy–but won’t admit it–that the mechanic didn’t work on Buttercup.  I wonder if he even notices the dirt?

We put David’s bike in Buttercup’s trunk and drove together to Mahdee.  The clunking is completely gone.  I mused on the way home thinking of what the mechanic said “you should take your car to the people who work on old cars.”

We are the people who work on old cars.

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