Monday, February 11, 2019

Ten Years In, And Nearing The End

As some of you may have noted, when not on the water, I am kind of a gearhead. In that vein, it was ten years ago this spring that I answered a craigslist ad for a 1959 Impala, a car that had sat unloved, outside, in the Tri-cities area of Washington for 46 years.  In fact, in the intervening years, a tree had sprouted and grown up beside it, actually pushing in the chrome trim strip at the contact point.

As with all such cars, there was a story associated with the car.  It had been owned by the homeowner's son (he was the second owner), who joined the Navy in 1963.  This is not a sad story tho.  When the son was discharged in San Diego, he loved it so much that he made his home there.  And he never got around to moving the car south. 

After 46 years outside, behind the house

I paid more for the car than it sold for when new... but one must also consider inflation.  In 1959, gasoline sold for $0.29/gallon - now it is ten times that much.  In fact, by many other measures, the dollar has declined to 1/10 of its value in 1959.  So, I guess you could say that I got the car for about 1/10 of its price when new.

That tree was not there when the car  was parked...
This "barn find" (no actual barn...) was a true project:
  • All four tires were flat... and nearly 50 years old.  But the tow truck operator was able to get them to hold air long enough to get the car onto a trailer.
  • Despite the fact that it only rains a few days a year in the Tri-cities, the interior was heavily water-damaged.  But since I planned to change the color of the car to Roman Red/Snowcrest White (these were original factory colors available in 1959), this meant that the entire interior had to go anyway.  
  • The engine was seized.
  • It had the original cast iron Powerglide transmission.  For those of you not in the know, this beast is much heavier than the engine, and is only a two speed automatic.  I replaced it with a TH-350 (the only non-stock change I made to the car).
  • The gas tank was rusted thru... on the top!  The fuel level sender was nothing but rust, and in addition the gas gauge on the dash was inoperative.
  • The radiator was full of dirt.  And it leaked.
  • The wiring in the car had been hacked up pretty badly
  • The speedometer needed to be rebuilt.
  • Somebody had backed the car into a post, denting the rear bumper and the nearby body.
  • Part of the power steering gear had been 'salvaged' during those 46 years - notably the pump and the hoses.  This car is old enough that the power steering pump mounts to the back of the generator (not alternator...) instead of being belt-driven - finding another one of these was not easy.
  • The paint was shot - but not a problem since I intended to change the color of the car anyway.
  • I mentioned above that rain storms in the Tri-cities are rare, but...  But dust storms are common.  Every single cavity in the body and interior that could hold even a teaspoon of dust was packed full.  Close a door, and dust would fall out of the body onto the ground...  And after towing to the rainy side of the state, an entire garden of plants sprouted and grew up out of the grill in front of the windshield after the first rain!  Just cleaning out the dust was a major ordeal.
There's more.  I could give you a detailed, blow-by-blow of the problems that needed to be solved, items that needed to be trouble-shot, and things that needed to be rebuilt, but I won't.  There were three major things that sold me on the car:
  • Everything was there (well except for the power steering pump).  I would not be going on repeated eBay hunts for expensive little pieces of chrome, etc.
  • All four doors worked well with no slop - they closed like the car was new.
  • There was essentially no body rust

Engine compartment, before and after
Tho the car had only 77,000 original miles on it, the 50 years of neglect had taken its toll.  The engine was seized because coolant had slowly leaked into the #7 cylinder, and eventually filled up the space with corrosion products - it was packed solid.  I pulled the engine and tranny as a unit (not gonna keep that Powerglide...) and tore it down.  It took most of an afternoon to beat the piston out of the #7 cylinder bore...

#7 Piston.  Yeah, I did knock the top out of it beating it out...
Oooo... shiny...

My machine shop was able to salvage the block by installing a sleeve in the #7 bore.  The engine purrs like a kitten now.

Painting the car was also quite the ordeal.  Because I was changing the color, everything had to be painted.  The dash, the edges of the doors, the edges of the door openings on the body, the edges of the fenders at the hood, etc.  And of course, with a two tone paint job covered with a clear coat, there was even more masking.  I actually lost track of the number of times I masked - somewhere well beyond 16.

Dash, before and after

Interior, before

Interior, after
Here I must make a shout-out to Ciadella Interiors - they created, from scratch, the entire interior package (carpet, headliner, visors, door panels, seat foam, upholstery, kick panels, etc.) and it was superbly done.  Thank you Gina and company!


I should also add that I blanked off the original radio antenna location on the right front fender, and installed the slanted rear antennas mounted on the rear fenders.  See, this old codger we met at a car show years ago in Oregon while admiring another red/white 1959 Impala whispered to us that, "you have to have the rear antennas to get the chicks..."



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Monday, February 4, 2019

The Apostrophe 


People please.  Such a tiny little mark.  And so abused.

It has just two purposes:
  • To signify ownership.
  • To signify missing characters.
To see some of the worst abuses, look at any number of craigslist ads...  people in there seem to think that if a word ends in "s", then every third time or so, an apostrophe must be inserted.  Randomly, as far as I can tell.

The most common exception to this rule that I know of (pedants correct me) is with the word "its":
  • "It's" means "it is".
  • "Its" means the thing belonging to "it".  This disambiguation was required in order to separate the two meanings.
There are a few other special cases - see this article if you are unsure.



And please don't go back over my posts looking for cases where I failed to follow the rules...



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Saturday, January 26, 2019

Unexpected Benefit

I mentioned earlier that I had cataract surgery... Aside from the obvious benefit of being able to see clearly in the distance without glasses (!), there was an unexpected additional benefit.

New vs. Old

The lenses in my eyes had discolored just like a piece of Lexan left in the sun - they had acquired a yellowish/brownish cast.  Of course since this discoloration came on gradually over the decades, and because I had no other reference, I was completely unaware of the change.  I thought everything was normal - a real testament to the adaptability of the human brain.

In the picture above I have tried to show the dramatic difference between the views supplied by my new left eye and my old right eye.  The view on the left is completely unadulterated - it is as the camera saw it.  On the right is my attempt to show how that same view looked thru my old eye (there is actually less brown and more yellow in the old view than I could get into the picture).  Yes, it is that dramatic!

In another week I will lose this reference, because I go in for surgery on the other eye.  And then once again everything will be "normal".  So it is only in this brief interim period that I can enjoy the difference between "old" and "new".

A clearer more colorful normal!



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Monday, January 21, 2019

On Becoming a Refrigeration Tech

As I mentioned previously, and you may have read, Eolian's heat pump quit working due to lack of Freon.

Never fearing to tackle a new field, I ordered a 5 lb container of R-410a refrigerant and a syringe of leak-stop fluid compatible with R-410a.  Gonna find out if I can be a refrigeration tech...

Before I begin, some basics that I may have discussed before.

Here's how a heat pump works:
  • A compressor pressurizes Freon vapor.  This heats it up (feel that bicycle pump after blowing up your tire...)
  • The hot Freon vapor is passed thru a heat exchanger where it gives up its heat to the cabin air, and condenses to a liquid as it is cooled.  
  • The liquid passes thru a narrow orifice and is allowed to expand into a low pressure space (created by the inlet of the compressor).  This cools it down really cold.  
  • The cold gas is heated up in another heat exchanger , getting heat from sea water.
  • The re-warmed vapor enters the compressor inlet, and the cycle repeats.
Thus, the system extracts heat from sea water and delivers it to the cabin.

The problem aboard Eolian was that almost all of the Freon had leaked from the system, meaning that there was essentially 0 psi at the compressor inlet when the compressor was running.  With our current water temperature, the inlet pressure should have been around 100 psi.  Outlet pressure should have been 400 psi, but was only 200 psi.  When the compressor was not running, the system pressure was 150 psi, meaning that it was unlikely that any significant amounts of air or moisture had leaked in.

Clearly there was a leak - otherwise the Freon would still be in there.  Thus the reason I ordered some leak-stop.  This came as a blue liquid in a big fat syringe, with fittings to attach it to the low pressure tap in the system.

Here's what we did:
  1. Inject the leak stop:  Jane started the system, the inlet pressure fell to 0, and I injected the leak stop against the lack of backpressure.  I disconnected and Jane stopped the system.
  2. Hook up the Freon cylinder to the inlet port.  Jane starts the system again and the inlet pressure falls toward zero once again.  I turn the Freon cylinder over so that the outlet is on the bottom, meaning I will be injecting liquid.  I open the valve, briefly, and a shot of liquid Freon enters the system.  Inlet pressure rises briefly, and then falls again as the injected Freon evaporates and goes into circulation.
  3. Continue injecting bursts of Freon until the inlet pressure comes up to 100 psi.
Ta Da!  The heat pump is delivering hot air!

Too much is not good
But:  overnight, as the system cycled on and off maintaining out nighttime temp of 63 degrees, I noticed that the compressor was making an uncomfortable noise when starting up.  I assumed that I had over-charged the system, and the the compressor was inhaling a little liquid on startup.

A real refrigeration tech would have evacuated the system with a vacuum pump, and then charged it with *exactly* 1.45 lb of Freon. But I have no vacuum pump and no scale.

So I had charged until I showed the desired pressure on the compressor inlet, but I failed to look at the compressor outlet - it was nearly 450 psi. It should have been a little less than 400 psi. Aside from damaging the compressor by feeding it liquid, too much Freon in the system also meant that the condenser and evaporator would be flooded with liquid, reducing the capacity of the system to transfer heat.

I bled it down until the high pressure side read 400 psi.  Everything seems to be fine now.  Now the only question remaining is whether the leak-stop stopped the leak...  Time will tell.



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