Category Archives: Cars

The New Jeep

Well it was two and a half years ago I made a post about our 1996 Jeep Grand Cherokee and how we didn’t know what we were going to do.  It was dropping oil pressure and the transmission was slipping.  The decision ended up being, keep driving it.  It’s either going to explode, or… it will keep going.  28 months later, it’s still going!

All the while though we’ve been saving up in the event it does explode.  I mean that in the parts of engine blowing through cylinder walls sort of way.  Not the fireball in the sky sort of way.  Every couple of months Andrea and I would casually look around local classifieds for vehicles that were up our alley.  But we never were in dire NEED of a vehicle, so it was easy to look at stuff and say, “nah”.

I was leaning more towards a Tahoe or Yukon, but Andrea has caught this Jeep bug somehow.  So I figured, maybe a Commander.  But the third row seat was really unnecessary.  And Andrea kept coming back to Grand Cherokees.  She found this one for sale in Hutchinson, so one day took off early to go look at it.

It wasn’t perfect, what 10+ year old vehicle is?  Needed some steering work, tires and some other misc things.  Nothing that seemed too daunting though.  So we made an offer, they took it.  We drove the Jeep home.

Been going through that stage of “getting to know” a vehicle now.  Every car seems to have a thought process behind it’s construction.  Reverse engineering that and getting to know your way around is kind of like moving to a new town and finding where everything is.

But the good news is that (for now) this thing is just about as darn close to a new vehicle as I’ll ever get.  And it’s classy!  Andrea and Luke like it, and I have to admit, the body style has been growing on me.  I love the chrome wheels and all shined up, a black car just looks slick!  And the 330HP Hemi is pretty addicting too.  Hehe.

 

Places and Things and Time

I like stuff.  You know things.  All the great advice for being happy though tells you not to put value into things, but rather put your value into experiences.  For me though, “things” tie me to those experiences.

Sure, it’s fun to get new stuff.  I enjoy it as much as the next person.  But I really like old stuff.  Things that have a story.  Things that bring back memories.  It’s not about the monetary value of the stuff.  When I’m gone, and no one cares about the stories anymore, all of my old stuff will just be junk.  And by the same line of thought, I don’t expect anyone else beside me to consider my stuff anything other than junk.  But let me tell you, I really enjoyed some old junk this past weekend.

Early summer in 1999 I quit my job at the IGA.  I worked all through the school year every year, and when summer came, I’d quit and soak up the long days with my friends Bob, Bef, Biebs, Chris and my girlfriend at the time, Andrea.  Ingalls, KS was far from the cure for teenage boredom.  So our cars and trucks gave us the freedom to break free of the predictable monotony of Ingalls and escape to things that at least by comparison were more interesting. We would spend nights and evenings fishing out at Dwyre’s sandpit, or Norb’s pond.  We’d drive to Garden to see a movie, or head to battle hill for an all night paintball battle.

Our good times were very much manufactured on the fly.  I remember one afternoon Bef in his 68 GMC and me in the 79 Caprice headed out to the Ingalls Airport and decided we were going to drag race each other there on the runway.  We rolled down the windows, lined up even with each other, and hit the gas!  The reluctant roar of both engines were followed by slow lurches forward, but all that mattered was who was going least slowest.  I don’t remember who won that race.  But I do remember one of the guys who worked at the airport running towards us out of the hangar shaking his fist and screaming something that I couldn’t quite make out over the roar of $30 worth of cherry bomb mufflers.

17 years later, the City of Ingalls and the Lions Club are organizing drag races on the runway at the Ingalls Airport.  And I still have that same Caprice.  They always say “you can never go back”, but damn… this is about as close as it’s ever going to get.  My stepmom, Carrie, asked if I was interested in going.  I played a cool “sounds like fun” attitude, but inside I was as excited as a 7 year old is for Christmas in November.  The day couldn’t get here soon enough.

Between then and now, plenty of life happened.  All of the work stuff and Luke’s school stuff, that I had expected, but Andrea’s mom’s health was starting to take a turn for the worse.  We decided that if she was willing, she could come stay at the house with us here.  We both knew it would bring a huge change to our daily life and what we’d grown to call “normal”.  As each week passed, she simply wasn’t getting better.  After a few scares and close calls, Jesus called her home.  Our life that had been less than normal, and for Andrea more challenging than ever, all of a sudden to a big punch straight to the face.

Working on the car had been an afterthought for weeks.  Instead I’d been building wheelchair ramps, juggling schedules to help with Luke so Andrea could go with her mom to appointments.  And taking evenings after work to get everybody out of the house so everybody wasn’t confined to the house until we all went crazy.  Suddenly, none of that mattered any more, but if life was now anything, it was less “normal” than ever.

A few days after her mom’s passing, Andrea said to me she felt like she just needed to get away and go spend some time with her aunt.  I told her to sleep on it, and if she still felt the same way in the morning, that she should go.  That next day she booked a flight to North Carolina to spend the week.

Luke went to stay with Andrea’s sister.  And I was a bachelor with one week to go before the race.  I had a pile of parts to put on the car, but nothing had gotten started.  At the time it just didn’t feel important.

The first night coming home to an empty house I mostly just sat and thought about everything that had transpired over the last 8 weeks or so.  8 weeks doesn’t seem like a long time when you think about life.  But it’s shocking how quickly 8 weeks can change your life.

Eventually my thoughts turned to the weekend coming up.  For a while with everything going on I did think about cancelling.  But I knew people were looking forward to it and even for Andrea it was going to be a pleasant distraction.  So I started tearing parts off getting ready for the new.

pulled apart

Ever since we got the car when I was 14 years old, it’s always driven like a yacht on choppy seas.  It started out I was just going to do an alignment, because the steering wheel was crooked and the wheels weren’t quite parallel just by looking at them.  But after I got the wheels up in the air I started checking out other parts.  The steering coupler in the shaft was worn out causing a big deadzone in the steering wheel.  The idler arm was toast, and so was the center link.  The tie rods weren’t terrible (must have replaced those at some point) but since they were less than $10 each… might as well replace them while everything’s apart.  Then I checked out the ball joints… after 37 years the original ball joints were still riveted in place!  So with the determination that the whole front steering needed replaced, I ordered up a pile of parts from RockAuto.com.

Parts.jpg

First thing I tackled was the wheel bearings.  Never done this job before.  Removing the bearing races was more of a challenge than I expected.  I remember the guy at Autozone asking if I wanted to rent a slide hammer to get the old ones out.  “Nah, I have a shop press.” I answered puffing up my chest.  “Oh.  Ok.”  He said.  What I found out is that the press is SUPER for installing the new bearing races.  But doesn’t really help you get the old ones out.  I remember thinking.  Boy.  A slide hammer would sure come in handy…  Nevertheless, I got it done by using the handle of one of my other tools and a rather large hammer.

bearings

bearings ready

With safety in mind I knew it needed a new gas tank.  One time when the drive shaft busted Dad pulled the car over on to the shoulder which angled down pretty good.  I noticed at that time that gas was dripping down onto the hot exhaust.  We played it pretty cool, but deep down I was ready to run.  Before we went out to the race, I knew I had to get that replaced.  Actually found a replacement gas tank at Autozone to my surprise.  And from experience I’ll tell you changing the tank on a 79 Caprice is quite a bit easier than it is on a 94 Blazer.

Next was the part that I dreaded the most.  Ball joints.  They just aren’t fun.  Grinding the rivets off takes forever.  And punching the rivets out is even more of a pain in the ass.  I end up using a combination of a screwdriver to pry up on the old ones and punching down on the rivets to get them out.  It just sucks.  Getting the lower ones out wasn’t difficult at all.  But pressing the new ones in was a nightmare.  They make the new ball joints bigger than the originals on purpose.  Thinking that after all this time a car has probably had it’s ball joints changed a few times and the hole it fits in has gotten a bit stretched out.  Well… since this old beast had NEVER had its ball joints changed, these new ball joints were a SUPER tight fit.  I kid you not, it took two whole nights just to get 4 ball joints changed.  You couldn’t pay me enough to be a mechanic every day.

After that I figured I was pretty home free.  Except that then I couldn’t get the tie rods to separate from the center link.  No problem.  I’ll just take the center link out with the tie rods still attached.  Except I couldn’t get the center link separated from the pitman arm that connects to the steering box.  I hammered away for probably 45 minutes.  Until finally I switched to a different sized fork, the one that I thought would be too big.  A couple solid smacks it came right apart. All about having the right too I guess.

tie rods.jpg

So after some cleaning, it was finally time to start putting things back together.  First the idler arm, the center link.  The spindles back onto the new ball joints.  The tie rods to the center link then to the spindles.  Before cinching everything down, one last look over everything.  Cranked down all the nuts and greased up the new joints and packed the new bearings.  The last part of putting it all back together was finally fun.

The Friday morning that I was supposed to leave, I still had to put in the new heater core.  I had gotten all the prep for that done at 4am, got a couple hours of sleep, and the new one went in with only a few problems.  I couldn’t use the original retaining bracket since the new heater core was slightly different than the original.  Nothing a few zip ties couldn’t fix.  No one will ever see them since it’s covered up by the heater box top.  Hehe.

heater core

Can you tell which one is new?

With everything finally put back together it was time to do the alignment.  I bought some neon orange twine and lined it up to be exactly parallel to the rear wheels.  I then set the alignment for the front wheels and some how, some way got each wheel set with just 1/8th of an in inch toe in.  I felt pretty good about it, and the car drives insanely better!  Now I just need new shocks….

With the work done and a quick road test from Andrea, it was time to hit the trail.  The car made it clear out to Cimarron with little fuss.  Dad got to take it for a spin around town.  I was happy for him to do so since he built the thing into it’s present form.  Except that every time I’m in the car with Dad… something breaks.  As we’re heading back to the house and Dad is gunning it around corners raising all hell across the town, I notice a CLUNK CLUNK CLUNK coming from the rear end.  We get home and I look under the car and can’t seem to see anything out of place.  Oh well.  If the car breaks on the track, we’ll figure something out.  Too late to do anything at this point.

I was up at 6am on Saturday morning.  Got my self cleaned up for the day and went to grab a cup of coffee.  The night before we’d fuel up the Black Car and the RV.  So pretty much all we needed to do was hop in and go.  We set out for the track around 8am.  When we got there there weren’t but maybe a dozen cars there.  Already though, they were cars all over the map.  From fairly stock cars to full blown track-only drag racers.  None of the workers really knew what was going on.  I thought this would be a pretty interesting day.

At-The-Race

Around 10am things started to get a little more organized.  We had a meeting with all the drivers who were there so far.  They made sure everybody knew this was just for fun, and to be safe so they’d have the opportunity to do it again.  Perfect.  This was going to be just my speed. And by my speed, I apparently mean slow.

fast cars

Sure.. I can beat these guys.

I will say, I have never driven anything faster or with more power than the Black Car.  But man compared to a lot of other cars there, sometimes it felt like I was just putting along!  Don’t get me wrong, it was still a blast!  I won I would guess 3 out of 20 races.  But I had fun every single time I went down the track.

It was such a cool feeling to pull into the box, light up the tires and smoke them.  Then back up to the line just like you see the big cars do.  Then everything after that happened real fast for me.  I’m sure after you’ve been at the line a hundred times, it all slows down in your mind.  But man from the moment they stage you to the moment the light comes on feels like a blur to me.  But then you hit the gas and go.

at the line

There’s definitely a skill to drag racing, and one I never mastered that day.  I spent most of the day trying to figure out how to get a good launch off the line.  I would spin my tires every time and the other cars would just drive away from me.  Maybe it was my tires, maybe it was my car, but I have a feeling it was the driver.  I saw cars with smaller tires than me get a lot better start!  So I do have a new respect for these drivers, as it’s more than just mash the gas and go.

I just enjoyed being there and being in the middle of it.  We love going to the drag races here in Great Bend.  But here I was really a part of it, even if not the star of the show.  I like to think there were people out there in the crowd rooting for me as the underdog.  It was fun to put the Black Car out on the track and see what it could really do.  It helps me decide the direction I want to take it in the future.  And it was just a great day to spend with the family.

Plus… I got to drag race on the Ingalls Airport runway again.

pit crew.jpg

Back With an Old Friend

It’s been a few weeks since the Toronado has been fixed.  But other than some late night test drives and a spin around the block or two, I haven’t taken it far because it hasn’t been tagged or insured.

Well Tuesday I noticed that the Cutlass was a little hard to start on the first try.  Then it would fire right up.  Wednesday, it wouldn’t start at all.  I tested the battery.  Good.  I tested the starter.  Good.  I replaced the negative battery terminal because it was stripped out.  I guess I’ll replace the positive one too.  If that doesn’t do it, it must be the wiring, which won’t be the most fun in the world to pull out, but oh well.  At least I have the Toro to drive!

Toronado not fixed.

This is from a couple days ago, so consider it tape delayed!  If you follow on Twitter you know there’s a happy ending!

Downtime

It feels kinda weird, yesterday and today not doing much productive around the house.  I suppose there’s a few things I could busy myself with, like organizing the garage, or getting the old server stuff migrated over to some new hardware.  Nothing critical though, and instead I’ve spent my time watering the grass and playing Minecraft.

There’s a lot of work that needs done, but it’s all in a holding pattern right now.  The Cutlass is at the transmission shop right now getting rebuilt.  The Jeep needs to be looked at next.  The Toronado is ready for ball joints, but I only have half of them, the other half should come in tomorrow.  Don’t get me started on the long list of stuff the Black Car needs.  The Toro obviously has kinda just been sitting there a while, but the Jeep and Cutlass both kinda all happened at the same time.  It’s a giant sucking sound to the bank account… but oh well.  Just a setback, nothing more.  Small potatoes in the grand scheme of what’s important in life.

So I sorta feel like I’m procrastinating if I kick back and game a bit.  But in reality, I couldn’t get much done right now in the automotive realm if I wanted to.  So the only real procrastinating I’m doing is by NOT gaming.  I keep talking all the time about how I don’t have as much time to play games as I would like to, so if I don’t take advantage of that now, I’m being a bit hypocritical.

So I’m off to play some more FFX-HD.  What a fantastic game.  This is probably my 4th playthrough of the game and it’s totally time well spent.  Even with the backlog I have piling up.  Oh yeah.  I need to update my Backloggery.  Welp, add that to the list!

I leave you with this video of Luke playing Duck Hunt for the first time.  =)

The Problem With the Jeep

Ever since we bought the Jeep almost two years ago, it’s had one basic problem.  We like it.  A lot.

This has definitely been the most high maintenance vehicle I’ve ever owned.  Seems like there’s always something up.  Sometimes little things, sometimes big things.  Even so, it’s not a difficult, nor expensive vehicle to work on.  Everything that has come up we’ve handled fairly easily.

But now it’s looking like the engine… and maybe even the transmission are about done for.  All said and done it would be around $6,000 to $7,000 to rebuild both of them.

So the crossroads we find ourselves at is this… we have enough money to replace the Jeep.  That being, the Jeep when running is worth about $3,500.  We could go buy another $3,500 vehicle.  But who knows what kind of work that will need, could be flawless (not likely) or it could be about to blow just like the one we have.  That’s a big gamble.

We’ve been looking around at vehicles in the $5,000 to $6,000 range and there’s a lot of crap out there!  150,000 to 250,000 miles with paint that’s all scratched up, interiors that are worn out.  There’s some decent “Grandma cars”, but Andrea flatly refuses to drive anything like that.  I guess I kinda understand.  You have to at least like what you’re driving or else you aren’t motivated to take care of it.

Or for $6,000 we get a brand new engine and transmission that has no miles on it at all, comes with a 3 year warranty and should be good for 100,000 miles if we take care of it, like we certainly would.

If we didn’t like driving it, it wouldn’t even be an issue.  But it’s comfortable, roomy, and it looks good!  Plus we just spent $1,000 on tires 6 months ago.

If we do this though, it pretty much guarantees we can’t sell it… ever.  It just wouldn’t be worth it.  Even after dumping $6k into it, it’s still a $3k vehicle to the rest of the world.

Sucks to be in this situation, but I always try to think about how we can come out better than before it happened.  Going to keep thinking and praying on it for now.

Just Another Snowy Day

Well despite the weather, today was pretty routine.  Up early to record School Closings from my basement with a hot cup of coffee.  Then off to work.  I had to leave a bit early because of the weather, but the roads weren’t too terrible.  There weren’t a lot of people out, so I didn’t feel bad driving 45 mph the whole way.

On the way home, the the weather was certainly worse.  The wind picked up to about 20 mph and started blowing all the snow around.  I got to put the 4×4 to the Jeep to good use.  I was glad it worked well because we’d been having issues with it recently.  But I changed out the fluid and adjusted the shifter linkage and it seems to work great now!  It was about the smoothest repair I’ve had; on that Jeep for sure at least.

Back at it tomorrow.  I’ll probably take the Jeep again, though the weather is supposed to be much more mild.  The hi-ways are probably sure to be clear, but I bet it’s still a mess in town.

For now, it’s off to bed!

8 Below

Well, it was downright cold this morning.  -8 degrees.  The Cutlass had been sitting outside all frigid weekend long, so I really had my doubts as to whether it would start up.  We’ve had issues with the choke sticking in cold weather before.  But with some reluctance, it cranked right up!

I was a little worried at first when the gauges didn’t read right, but after a gentle tap, they all sprung to life!

Sure it’d be easier driving something new, but you wouldn’t get that thrill of living on the edge, right?

Vegetating and getting caught up.

What a great day.  I slept until 9AM and got out of bed and Luke was already up, goofing around in his crib.  The Saturday morning ritual commenced with pancakes and Care Bears.  I actually had zero obligations today.  Well… I did have to work on a website for somebody, but that only took about 15 minutes.

hexxit

Biebs has been bugging me to play Hexxit, a Minecraft mod pack with heavy emphasis on adventuring.  Today I finally got the opportunity.  At first I pretty much dove right in.  I made a wooden sword and started rolling through some of the light dungeons near the spawn.  I promptly got my butt kicked.  So at that point I decided I needed to establish a stronghold and build up some resources.  There’s a TON to do and a ton you can do in this version of Minecraft.  And I’m excited to dive into it.

I’ve been enjoying Animal Crossing: New Leaf to a great extent.  With only one big gripe… there’s only been the fishing pole, net or shovel for sale at Nookling’s since I started the game.  I really need my slingshot, watering can, and axe.  It bugs me to no end as I’ve seen about six presents floating overhead so far and no way to get them.

This is the first Animal Crossing game since the first that really feels different.  The biggest difference is you get to be the mayor as Tortimer has retired to a tropical island.  It’s cool because you get to decide in what order you want to enhance your town.  It definitely would benefit from multiple players as many of the projects are pretty expensive.  Right now I’m working on getting my house filled out with more room, so that soaks up all my bells.  But there will be plenty of time to get to it all.  Animal Crossing is a long term dedication.

I’d really been craving a game of this type too.  Something you can build on incrementally.  You end up feeling pretty invested in games like this after you’ve been playing off and on for a couple years.  You have your favorite residents, the collections you’re trying to complete and all the different holidays you want to check in on.  We even used Animal Crossing as our official New Year’s Eve countdown!

All of the holiday travels are done.  And they weren’t without some eventfulness.  We got all loaded up to head to Kansas City for Christmas with Andrea’s family, that’s when I noticed a steady stream of antifreeze dripping from underneath the Jeep.  It was coming out quick enough that I knew we weren’t going to try taking it.  I looked it over quickly and couldn’t exactly deduce where the leak was coming from, so Andrea, frustrated, loaded all our gear into the Cutlass instead which made the trip without issue.

Old Water Pump Removed

New pump installed!

When we got back home Thursday, I looked the Jeep over a bit more and it looked like it was leaking from the gasket.  Which meant the pump had to come off, which in turn meant, might as well replace the pump.  Long story short: I have learned never to be shocked by what you find when you buy a used vehicle.  The water pump had a HOLE in it!  Like an actual hole through the pump.  Sometime before we bought the Jeep someone had dabbed some RTV sealer over the hole.  It’s amazing that it lasted over a year.  But now we have a new pump and thermostat and it seems like it’s working great and doesn’t leak a drop.  Even got it put back together in time to head to Cimarron on that Saturday!  Not too bad for the old KartMaster’s Garage.

Bright red amp power cable and fuse.

Also did some work on the Jeep that was more, “scheduled”.  For Christmas I got Andrea a new amp and speaker box.  We already had the speaker which is what made the project affordable.  It was quite a bit of work, but I’m glad I did it right.  Had the front seat out and all the interior trim apart on the passenger side to run the power cable.  Ended up breaking off one of the bolts that holds the seat down because it was siezed up, so that won’t be fun to drill out and fix… but I’ll get it done eventually.  The finished product is the only thing you can really see is the power cable under the hood, and the speaker in the back.  No ugly wires showing anywhere.  Real clean.

So that kinda gets caught back up to today.  Got a little more snow, but just about an inch or so, nothing that will slow anything down.  Maybe enough for Luke and I to go play in tomorrow morning!

Getting the Car

For those out of the loop, this ’79 Caprice is my first car.  Not a lot like my first car… this IS my first car that my Dad is letting me keep for a while… I say that because I still say it’s his that he can have back whenever he says the word.  Until then… Hells Yeah.

I have a lot of respect for those who can proudly proclaim they bought and paid for their first car.  I’m not one of those people.  My parents 100% bought and paid for my first car.  I remember seeing the car sitting with a For Sale sign on the west edge of Cimarron, KS.  At the time I thought it was a Monte Carlo.  It had the same curved back glass I’d seen on many Monte Carlos before, and it just looked too darn sporty to be a regular old Caprice.  Cruising through town in the back seat as Mom karted us around, I remember thinking that would be a cool first car.  But I never really thought it would happen.

A week or two later, Dad said we were going to go look at a car for me.  We pulled up next to that exact car.  I remember thinking “THIS might be MY car!  Hells Yeah!” Dad was busy talking to the owner, a guy we had actually met before as he ran a limo service that we had used a couple time for birthday parties or whatnot.  They were negotiating, but I was circling the car and daydreaming.  Eventually the deal was done.  For $1,000 I had my first car.

So I didn’t buy it.  I STILL have never paid for that car!  My responsibilities were everything that came after that.  Gas, insurance, parts, you name it.  It was my job to keep it running.  The first couple weeks, the car was literally on blocks in our driveway.  Dad took me too the parts store, he told the guy everything we needed and I paid for it.  Not knowing what the heck to do with brake cylinders, spring kits or calipers, I spent a lot of time holding flash lights and just trying to figure out what the heck Dad was doing, why he was doing it, and wondering, how the hell he knew how to do all this stuff!

Once the brakes were fixed, we could finally actually drive it.  I remember taking the car out south of Ingalls and going around some of the curves on the county roads.  The shocks were so bad it felt like you were on water more than you were on solid ground.  So that was obviously the next task.  That was one of those nights I remember Dad staying up probably much later than he wanted to.  I remember he ran into some problem replacing, I think the rear shocks and it took a lot longer than he expected it to.  But he got it done.

The exhaust was shot on it, but instead of taking it to a shop to get it all re-done, Dad and I took it to the shop at the feedyard and took some old fence pipe and welded up some pipes with some “cherry bomb” mufflers.  It definitely had a unique sound, and you could see the bright red mufflers sitting under the floorboards from a distance.

The radio either didn’t work at all, or barely worked.  It was the original cassette deck and I know the tape deck didn’t work at all.  For either Christmas or my Birthday I got a Pioneer CD player and some Pioneer 6×9 speakers to go with it.  One thing I did understand fairly well was how to hook up a stereo, I’d been playing with that stuff for years already in my room in the basement.  So we got that hooked up and from that point forward, it was the car I really remember.

I seem to remember some confusion early on about whether it was an Impala, or a Caprice.  Despite saying Caprice Classic on the dashboard, the insurance and a lot of the other documentation said Impala.  But it certainly was a Caprice.  I’m sure the confusion was mine alone.

As I look at it now, there’s a lot of stuff that’s broken, missing, or not working… I don’t really ever even remember giving it a second thought back then.  It was a cool ride, that was loud, and got me where I wanted to go.  That’s all I ever really wanted.  And I suppose it shouldn’t bug me now.  There’s a lot of things I want to do, like replace the carpet and put bucket seats in there.  Stuff that I’m sure I talked about at some point when I was younger too.  And now that I have the means, I’m sure I’ll get around to it.  But for now… I’m going to keep enjoying it, and driving the heck out of it just like I did back then… only this time with some bite to back up the bark!