Sunday, May 16, 2010

Here's a Random Picture I Took 2

Here a couple of giraffes doin' hard time.
I took this picture at Brookfield Zoo. Because I knew a zookeeper, I was able to hand feed the giraffes.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Escort Service: Driving the Train

Some readers may notice I haven't posted in quite some time. Those same readers may also feel that I have slacked or perhaps been lazy. But I assure you, since April 27, I have been on the go. You see my country recently came calling, asking for a super-smart, super-sexy spy to serve this country on super-secret subversive missions. While I can't divulge much, I will say that delivering healthy portions of assonance to consonant-rich, vowel-hungry cities in the Balkan States was the EASY part of my mission1.

Between forays to Sarajevo, Zagreb, and other, more linguistically challenged cities in the region, my racing partner Alan and I decided that our stubborn ol' Ford Escort needed a new heart.

Last last weekend2, we finally embarked on our two-day quest to drop the drivetrain from Alan's brother's wrecked ZX2 into our 1991 Escort LX, thereby creating a Ford Escort ZLX2.3

It was to be a simple task: just pull some crap off the ZX2 engine, remove the motor mounts, lift it out using a borrowed hoist, tear down the transmission, rebuild the transmission, replace the valve cover on the engine, remove the wiring harnesses from the ZX2, disconnect the LX engine from everything, dismount it, lift the LX engine and transmission out of the car, drop the ZX2 drivetrain into the LX engine bay, replace the wiring in the LX with that of the ZX2, depower the LX power steering, reroute the serpentine belt, hook up the rest of the hoses and whatnot to the engine, and then test drive it to mind-numbing speeds.

What could possibly go wrong?

Plucking the engine from the ZX2 went smoothly enough. After that, things sucked. As we disconnected hoses from the ZX2 engine, we began to notice that the car's impact had damaged or broken a significant amount of parts. This included (but is likely not limited to): the valve cover, thermostat housing, oil pan, alternator mounting bracket, dipstick, and some other crap that I can't at the moment remember. We had a replacement valve cover, which I replaced first thing Sunday morning. We put some JB weld on the oil pan leaks and on the alternator mounting bracket. The bracket didn't set strongly enough, but the alternator will still mount without the third bolt, which is where the bracket snapped. The oil pan leaks sealed perfectly and the JB weld looks extra sloppy, as a real LeMon should4.

On Sunday, we went to the junkyard to pick up some random replacement parts, including the thermostat housing and dipstick. Again, we figured in a 50% success rate, as the dipstick worked and the thermostat housing didn't. The housing was from a different year, one where Ford had inexplicably changed the design. Screw you, Gerald Ford! And your Motor Company.

Hmm...where was I? Oh yeah. The important thing: we rebuilt the transmission, as the ZX2's third gear had been failing before the rest of the car's demise. As someone who had never seen the inside of a transmission case, I was amazed at how absolutely pristine it was. It looked as though it had been sealed5. Anyway, we adequately tore down the transmission and swapped shifting forks with a beefier pair of them.

However, whilst tearing the mother down, we noticed that the shift rod was completely bent. This was a 3/4" solid steel shaft6 that had been knocked at least 5 degrees from straight by the impact. Ouch. We discovered this late on Saturday, and a feeling of utter stomach illness overcame us. We quickly ran down our options, in order of preference:

1) Find someone with a machine shop to bend the shaft back straight.
2) Tear down the LX transmission and hope that the shift rods are the same diameter, length, and machined with the same notches.
3) Mate the ZX2 engine to the LX transmission.
4) Send the car off with a hero's welcome.

We started off Sunday morning with a light breakfast, while Alan called machine shops in the area. We knew full-well that nobody would be running a machine shop on a Sunday, but we had little to lose. Fifteen minutes after a round of answering machines7, Alan's phone rang from an unknown number. It turned out to be a guy who rented part of a machine shop from an older gentleman in Ridgefield, Illinois. He said he'd be able to help us out if we could be at the shop around 3 in the afternoon.

We spent the most of the day at the aforementioned junkyard and replacing the aforementioned valve cover. With little else to do after 2, we headed over the machine shop a little early. We got out of the car to look around a bit, and we were greeted by the shop's owner. We told him what we were there for, and he said he'd help us out since he didn't have much to do. The shop didn't appear to be used very much, and the H-frame press he wanted to use actually didn't have any parallels anymore. So he sorted around through some scrap piles and came up with two pieces of scrap steel onto which he'd put the shaft. After donning a pair of coke-bottle bifocals, he undertook to press the shaft until it looked straighter. He took it off the press, squinted at it for a bit, then plopped it back on the press. He did this twice before he held it up to the light and said he thought it looked alright. We liked the way it looked, and we handed him a little cash for his troubles.

It was about this time that the machinist we'd set the appointment with showed up. He seemed a little disappointed that the older fellow had already fixed our problem, but he got out his instruments anyway to see how good it was. His instruments indicated that the shaft was .003" from being perfectly straight. In other words, this amazing old man8 eyeballed this press to what was essentially perfection. See below (photos courtesy of Alan):



Despite this success, we were unable to reassemble the transmission correctly. With defeat looming, we decided to just pack up and call it a weekend.

Over the course of the next week Alan's dad tinkered with the transmission and figured out where we'd made our mistake. Yesterday, Alan and I set out to swap fuel pumps and pull the ZX2 wiring harnesses. That was difficult and sucked, so we instead just reassembled the transmission and sealed the case. We decided that was a perfectly good stopping place, so we called it a day.

To recap: Our engine/transmission swap is essentially (about 30%) done.

Read Alan's account of it here and here.

Muchas gracias to Alan's friends Brad and Rob, who showed up to help out last last Saturday.

1 I did have a fun time; I found a nice opskrbljivanje. I was sorry to have to rename Skopska Crna Gora as Mount Vowels Are Our Friends. The natives caught on quick, though I may have to teach the Macedonians about acronyms next. A recent voting ballot revealed not only blood stains, but also that those fools have a political party called the VMRO-DPMNE. This is an acronym for "Forget the bad times, friends, for we are done firing rockets into Serbia, provided of course they stop deserving it." Their chief objective, I gathered, was finding vowels to put into their acronym to make it pronouncable.
2 Some languages demonstrate superlatives and such by the repetition of the word. Most of you are familiar with this, as in this example: "Michael Bay is a really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really shitty filmmaker." In my example above, I am simply saying "two weekends ago." So why not say that, you ask? Because it's my damn blog, and I wanted to put in a linguistics-related footnote. That's why.
3 We may borrow some consonants from the VMRO-DPMNE1 to throw in there as well.
4 Having the oil pan off at least allowed us to clean it, too. I think that's like polishing turds or something. I don't really know what that means, but I heard it once and "turd" is a funny word. "Turd, turd, turd, turd is the word..."
5 You know...because it had. This is an example of me mocking my own writing. I could very easily just edit it so it didn't exist, but then you wouldn't have anything entertaining to read.
6 Please contain your shaft (jokes).
7 Is it weird that I still say "answering machine" even though nobody actually has an answering machine anymore. Do you have an answering machine?
8 It's worth noting that this fellow seemed genuinely interested in us after he found out we were building a race car. After fixing the shift rod, he talked at length about building old race cars and modifying hot rods. He also swore like a sailor and entertained the holy hell out of Alan and me.