Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Camp Car

1955 Volkswagen Bus - Camp Car
I love this scene!
I would imagine that in 1955, most Popular Mechanics readers in the United States had rarely seen a Volkswagen of any kind.  Type 1 (bug) sales got off to a slow start here in 1950, but were steadily climbing.  The Type 2 (transporter) had been introduced as a commercial vehicle in 1950 and by 1951 Westfalia-Werke was already converting them into the "Camping Box".


But with their unusual shape and air-cooled 40 horsepower engine (in the back, no less) they must have seemed strange indeed to the average US consumer.  They could be special ordered, but it seems most in that era were purchased in Europe by tourists or military personell and brought over.

Look at that magazine cover - who could resist this idyllic scene?  Three buds, probably on the same bowling team get together for a weekend of fishing and bonding.  Or maybe it's a dad (resting with his book) and his sons out for a weekend of quality time.

The Popular Mechanics article, in which the Volkswagen is described as "... a disease, and a contagious one at that!" also optimistically states that the engine will "normally go 100,000 miles without an overhaul" with a fan belt as the only spare part needed. My actual experience has differed slightly from that, but nevertheless I would happily own and drive one of these, if only the current purchase price (originally around $2,500) had less in common with the average 3 bedroom, 2 bath suburban home.

View the original article here.  Scroll down about a third of the way if you don't want to see all the adds, but they are fun to read also.


Saturday, November 24, 2012

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Diesel Vanagon Battery and Charging System

Ok, I know I haven't produced any new blog posts all summer.  Not that Westly and I haven't been spending a lot of time together though - quite the contrary.  It's just that life as I knew it took a rather dramatic turn when Van Spouse and I separated (for reasons beyond the scope of this blog).  Following a tearful goodbye, Westly and I headed off under a stunning sunset that seemed especially suited for the occasion.

The intrepid van became my full-time home for a time, inhabiting rest areas and parking garages until I was offered a comfortable basement room in the home of some very kind and gracious friends. Westly no longer has quiet, secure off street parking and was even egged a few nights ago (really - people still do that??) but he's adapting well.

One of the worst aspects of the situation is that Van Kid is no longer "allowed" to go camping with me.  Hopefully we can work that out in the future but camping without him is kind of dull and now that school has started weekends are the only time I see him, so outings have been greatly curtailed.  One of the more memorable though was a day hike to Talapus and Olallie lakes.  Van Kid traversed the entire eight miles with no complaining, carrying his own pack.  Way to go Kid!

Van Kid at Talapus Lake
Too cold to swim but we had fun watching crayfish along the shore
Taking a break along the trail
Photo by Van Kid
Gawd I'm looking old!
So what else did we do all summer?  My friend Redwood and I took a trip to Seven Bays on Lake Roosevelt in North Eastern Washington.  Redwood's dad lives there in a unusual combination  of house and airplane hanger.  With the temperature hovering around 100 degrees F, we did a lot of swimming and exploring the lake in a rented skiff.  This is a large reservoir lake, about 150 miles long with 600 miles of shoreline, so we didn't get to see it all (understatement alert!).  You can rent a really nice houseboat here for $1,000 a day or so depending on the size and season.  The largest boat sleeps 13 (but with only 10 pillows so somebody will have to bring their own) and sports a hot tub.  Our skiff didn't have a hot tub, but did feature a lovely swirling pool of bilge water.

Redwood's dad - the Pilot Poet
Physically grounded but mentally soaring
View from inside the cool dark hanger to 100 deg f bright sunshine outside
That's one serious garage door!
The grassy area beyond is a runway
Piloting the skiff on Franklin D. Roosevelt Lake
Along the way, we stopped at the Reptile Zoo near Monroe, WA.  At this serpentarium (real word - I googled it) we were awe-struck beholding such sights as a two-headed turtle (they claim the heads have individual personalities), albino alligator (looking forlorn in it's concrete tub), the Worlds 10 Deadliest Snakes(!), a Goliath Bird-eater Tarantula (name not so representative of the actual product) and my favorite, Blaberus Giganteus - the giant Brazilian Cockroach with prime specimens approaching 3.5 inches long (sometimes kept as pets & tethered by tiny leashes).

By the way, I was reading recently that incorporating too many parenthetical statements was a sign of poor writing.  Well ok...guilty!

Green Mamba- bite 90% fatal, can slither up to 15 mph (yikes!)
Or maybe it was the African Bush Viper, but the Mamba is just way more interesting
Other shorter trips took us hiking, fishing and sightseeing but plans to journey to Yellowstone and make more campouts with the WetWesties had to be postponed for a future summer.

Westly performed flawlessly, if ponderously most of the summer except for a period where he petulantly refused to start, particularly after sitting alone all night.  Some mornings he would start right up with vim and vigor, other mornings just an abject clicking or worse - no response at all.

The diesel engine is an utter power hog during starting.  First the glow plug circuit is activated - essentially four heating elements that glow red hot to get the combustion party started.  Then, the starter motor which must overcome 22.5:1 compression (some 2 to 3 times that of a standard gas engine) to turn the engine over.  Once it's going though, because a diesel has no coil or spark plugs (and in one of this vintage, no computerized anything) it has virtually no electrical load - just a small fuel solenoid that could operate on a 9-volt battery if necessary.  In fact, here is a keen trick I learned.  You can wire up a 9-volt battery (we used to call them transistor radio batteries back in the day) to a pigtail that connects to ground and the solenoid wire.  Then if the van battery it totally dead, you can attach this small battery to open the fuel solenoid and push start the van.

Portable jumper battery under the back seat, wired through an Anderson Power Pole connector
directly to the starter and ground.  Makes jump-starting sooo much easier and quickly
detaches for other uses
Anyway, the voltmeter during the less active starts would show only 8 or 9 volts, not nearly enough to accomplish the formidable task before it.  It would jump start easily, or after having a battery charger on for a short time.  And it would push start readily so in addition to the portable jumper battery, I took to parking on hills whenever possible (not too difficult around Seattle) so I could coast a few feet and pop the clutch in 1st gear.  Works, but I imagine this procedure is a little taxing on the equipment.  I cleaned and tightened the battery cables to the engine block, the starter and the braided ground strap between the transaxle and the frame.  This helped, but not enough.
Interstate MT-41
650 cold cranking amps
This is the battery you want for the Vanagon diesel
Even though the battery was not quite three years old, I suspected a weak cell or two and brought it to the local Interstate Battery Center for testing.  They pronounced it adequate.  I countered that it certainly would be with a gas engine, but was sorely lacking in getting the diesel motivated.  After some deliberation, they agreed to replace it.  The battery has a 72 month warranty but reading the fine print reveals that if installed in a diesel engine vehicle, the warranty period is halved.  With the pro-rated warranty I ended up paying $60 instead of the original price of $135.

This effectively solved the starting problem but then a couple of months later the charge indicator light stubbornly refused to go out.  The voltmeter showed no charging action at all and the drive belt was tight so I called my favorite local parts store and ordered an alternator which arrived within the hour.  I had trouble removing the alternator from the mounting bracket, so unbolted the entire assembly and brought it in.  The helpful folk at Auto Sports Imports in Seatac, WA got them separated and swapped the pulley from the core to the new alternator for me at no additional cost.  I love you guys - if you had a website, I would include a link to it here!

Rear view of the Bosch AL33X alternator with "W' terminal
that sends the signal to the tachometer
Back home, I installed the alternator and bracket along with a new belt.  Success - now charging at 13.8 volts!  I noticed that a little over 5,000 miles had accumulated since the last full service so Westly also received an oil and filter change, air filter cleaning, new fuel filter, tire rotation and heaps of positive affirmation.

On another day I replaced the bushing that supports the sliding door handle as mine was missing, allowing water and dust in and making the outside handle all floppy feeling.  The little knob that locks and unlocks the door from the inside had fallen off and gotten lost on some bumpy dirt road so I made a replacement from an extra front door lock knob I had scavenged from a parts van.  While the inside door panel was off I tightened and lubed the lock and connections.

Now Westly's charging system, engine, tires, and doors are all operating smoothly.

Hoping my life will smooth out as well...


Monday, June 25, 2012

Vanagon Transaxle Oil Change & More

Westly's transaxle has a leak. A very occasional drop on the driveway and when I'm crawling around underneath (which I do periodically to check things out) I wipe the shiny spot off the bottom of the case. It's not the flange seals as I replaced those when renewing the CV joints. It's coming from somewhere deeper -  maybe the seal/o-ring on the adjusting ring - but lacking a puller to remove that part, I just roll with it. 

But after enough drips, I knew the oil level had to be getting a little low and there was no record of when the oil was last changed. Ideally, it should be done every couple of years, so one spring morning when the dew adorned the daffodils like sparkling baubles, I set about the task.

The fill plug can be difficult to remove. It's a good idea to make sure you can break it loose before draining the oil - otherwise you would be stuck in your driveway, friends driveway, parts store parking lot, etc until you are able to extract it and refill the box. As gear oil is highly viscous, I let it drain for a day or so, raising the front of the van to coax it all out. The DZ transaxle capacity is a little over four quarts. Only around three drained out. Guess it had been leaking a long time! The oil had a few tiny yellow metal flakes suspended in it, the magnetic rod on the drain plug was mostly clean.

I put in four quarts of Royal Purple Gear Max Synthetic 75W90 oil. This wonder of modern technology is API rated at GL-4 and GL-5, is non-corrosive to "soft yellow metals" which are evidently found in abundance inside the transaxle, and possesses "proprietary Synerlec additive technology". This is some way pricey gear oil, but I figured a transmission rebuild isn't cheap, so why not be protected by the best I could get? Subsequent research online has me thinking that most any gear oil with the proper rating would suffice - the key is to change it on a regular schedule.

Synthetic oil does pour much more readily than honey-like dino oil (which requires a pump that usually breaks when you're about half-way through filling). I set up a funnel with a clear pvc tube on the end to poke into the fill hole and the bottles dumped quickly. With the van level, you keep filling until oil dribbles back out of the fill plug hole, then close it up.

Fill plug on the left.
Drain plug on the right with a magnetic rod to keep
any metal bits from circulating in the oil.
There's not enough room to get a 17mm allen wrench on the fill plug.
This adapter tool makes getting the plugs
in and out easy.  You could also use a double-nutted
17mm head bolt and wrench.
Removing the right rear wheel allows better
access to the fill plug.
The fill plug is on the right rear of the box.
The white blobs next to it are lithium grease on the shift rod coupling.
The bottle just fits in the funnel.  Avoid contaminating your new oil by
washing loose dirt and debris away from the area ahead of time.
Prior to the oil change, I would hear and feel a little "snick" when shifting from 1st to 2nd gear (particularly after having not driven for a few hours) unless I did so very slowly and deliberately.  I don't know if it was because the oil level had been low before, or it was due to switching to synthetic oil, or maybe the "proprietary Synerlec additive technology", but after the change that "snick" is history.  

Air Filter
When Westly's engine was replaced, the original air filter box was discarded and a funky ABS drain pipe fitting was constructed with a K&N filter on the end. It attaches to the intake manifold with a flexible rubber "hub-less" connector. It has apparently performed it's task well for 30,000 miles or so, but over time heat from the nearby exhaust manifold caused the ABS to shrink and crack. The best part about this is that all the parts are readily available at most any hardware or home improvement store. I glued up a new unit with an additional piece to situate the filter in a more protected area - it formerly hung down low beside the engine where it was subject to all manner of road grime. After washing and re-oiling the filter it all went back in place with the addition of a support loop of heavy gauge wire to keep it from bouncing around so much.  

Westly's custom low restriction air intake system
I've seen online where some Vanagon owners with non-stock engines have adapted the air filter box from from a '90s Chrysler mini-van.  The filters are easy to find, inexpensive and it all fits very well in the space to the left of the engine.  And you can attach the original snorkel hose that runs up to the left side air scoop (left over from when the Vanagon was air-cooled) so the air intake is situated high, out of the trail of dust and water spray kicked up under the van. Next time I'm at the Pick and Pull, I'll check one out.  

Vacuum Pump
Vehicles use vacuum for various accessories such as cruise control, heating & A/C controls, door locks.  The Vanagon's primary use of vacuum is the power brake booster.  Diesel engines do not produce vacuum as gas engines do (during the combustion process), instead they have a mechanically driven vacuum pump.  While doing some poking around Westly's engine I noticed the hose connected to his vacuum pump was cracked. Bearing in mind that plastics become increasingly brittle with age, I slit the hose where it attached to the pump fitting and pulled. The fitting brashly responded to my careful preparations by separating into two pieces, shamelessly exposing it's inner parts. After an unsuccessfully attempt at gluing, I made a plea to the online Vanagon community for help.  

The broken fitting.
(white with a little red thing poking up the middle)
The new fitting, hose, and check valve in place
It seemed the preferred method of repair was to remove the cover and the original fitting (which was pressed in), cut threads into the hole and insert a brass hose barb. The threads of the barb must be shortened and ground flush so they don't interfere with the pump vanes which spin directly below the cover. I accomplished all this quite handily, and put it back together with new hose and a check valve from a BMW (keeps some vacuum stored in the hose and booster so you get a couple of assisted brake applications with the engine off).  It works perfectly and should last a good long time.

Alternator Bracket
All relationships come with some baggage. When Westly rolled into my life, he had this un-orthodox alternator bracket cobbled together from an old Ford part and some scrap metal. The drive belt was impossible to fully tighten which led to incessant squealing. This was highly embarrassing - I just couldn't take him anywhere.

M-I-C-K-E-Y   M-O-U-S-E
Because of the engine cover directly above, and the battery directly to the right, the space allotted for a bracket was very limited. I had an idea of what the ideal bracket should look like, and searched around wrecking yards but came up with nothing. I tried to contact a friend who has metal fabricating skills and equipment, but he pretended he never got my message so I knew I was on my own.  

Looking around in my pile of Stuff That Is Pretty Much Useless But Too Good To Toss, I came upon a bracket left over from when an old garage door opener motor failed and it was cheaper to buy a whole new opener package than just replace the motor. This is the bracket that attaches the chain drive mechanism to the door. It's fairly thick steel, though not all that hard. The curve looked just right, and I figured it was worth a try so cut out a notch to clear a protrusion on the alternator body, and a slot for adjusting belt tension. The lower mounting hole needed to be opened up slightly for the bolt to fit.

Original door opener bracket below.
Modified bracket above.
The bracket in place and looking
just slightly less M-I-C-K-E-Y  M-O-U-S-E.
I put it all back together, and determined a shorter belt would be needed.  With that in hand, it all fell into place and has performed well now for 6,000 miles.  I always check it over carefully whenever the engine cover is off.

Mud Flap Mend
Vanagons with the Westfalia conversion are equipped with a single stout mud flap behind the left front tire.  It's purpose is to stop debris kicked up by the tire from damaging the propane tank that hangs under the van directly behind it. I noticed Westly's flap was starting to tear and had some vague idea about reinforcing it before it separated, but didn't get around to it. Then, on a particularly rough road near the Wild Horse Wind Farm, it let go. Luckily, we were turning around at the time because the road was quickly becoming impassable, and Van Brother, who was outside directing me so I wouldn't get stuck in a ditch, found the detached part. I later used some galvanized straps and a handful of brass bolts to re-unite the two pieces.

Yeah, it's ugly but it will do until I can get
a full set of mud-flaps from Van Cafe


I had inquired about getting "Slopoke" for Westly's license plate, but found it was not available. We discovered it on this supercharged Saleen Mustang at a Father's Day car show. In fact, in Washington state every variation of the word 'slow' is already in use, likely all on 
vehicles with exponentially greater horsepower than Westly. Such irony. 


Another intriguing ride at the show, the 1958 BMW Isetta. The 13 horsepower single cylinder motorcycle engine propelled the car via chain drive to a top speed of 53 miles per hour.  The only way into the car is through the front door which includes the wind screen, the instrument panel (speedometer, light switch and ignition key), and the steering wheel (the shaft is hinged so it moves aside as the door opens).  This one had two wheels in the rear with a narrow track so no differential is needed.  Earlier models had only one rear wheel and were subject to tipping.  I assume the third brake light is original, as the rest of the car seemed so.  Looking at the size of the license plate relative to the body of the car gives an idea of the proportions of this micro-machine - like a Smart Car ancestor.


I have a foggy memory of my cousins and me playing with a toy model of this car while visiting my grandmother in Santa Ana.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Wild Horse Wind Farm and Other Destinations

Van Brother was home from college for a few months and wanted to do some camping before starting a summer job. The Western Washington forecast of overcast skies and showers had us longing for a healthy dose of vitamin D, so after a day (which turned out surprisingly sunny) at the Seattle Folk-Life Festival, we packed a few essentials and directed Westly to Eastern Washington.

 
First, a few scenes from the Folk Life Festival

Sunrise at Indian John Hill rest area
Not too far over Snoqualmie Pass, the Indian John Hill rest area is a great place to stealth camp - clean restrooms, free coffee and enough parking so you can usually find a somewhat quiet spot.  Following an abbreviated breakfast, we continued West leaving I-90 (decidedly un-blue) to mosey along on scenic Hwy 10.  In Ellensburg, just past Central Washington University, the route continues as the Vantage Highway.  We turned North at Beacon Ridge Road to visit the Wild Horse Wind and Solar Facility.

We picked up this spare wind turbine to keep Westly's battery charged

Van Kid is ready for
the tour
The wind blows through here almost constantly with gusts up to 95 miles per hour. A total of 149 wind turbines generate enough electricity for 80,000 homes needing as little as 6 mph of wind.  These windmills are impressive!  The towers are 221 feet tall, anchored in bedrock up to 32 feet deep with 120 bolts that each weigh 150 pounds and are 28 feet long.  The three turbine blades are 129 feet long and weigh 7 tons each. The rotations are limited to 16.5 revolutions per minute (greatly reducing bird fatalities) but even at that speed the blade tips are traveling at 150 miles per hour.  Two solar arrays of 2,723 panels provide all the power needed for the entire facility including the Renewable Energy Visitor Center.  We toured the facility and were only temporarily dismayed that we could not climb up in the tower, only step inside the base and look up at the very, very tall ladder.


One of three Elk herds we saw along the road
Inspecting a carcass
Looking East toward the Columbia River Gorge
The road became so rough, we had to turn back
And it mostly was...



While there, we signed up for a permit (yet another pass to add to our collection)  to drive through the 10,000 acre property which covers rolling hills, valleys and piney woods.  The wind turbines occupy a relatively small part of it with the remainder being open for recreation - mostly atv trail riding and hunting in season.
After leaving the wind farm, we continued on the Vantage Highway to the Ginkgo Petrified Forest.  The forest, discovered in the 1920's during road construction, is considered one of the most unusual in the world. More than 50 species of trees have been found here, dating from 15.5 million years (give or take a few) ago.  It's hard to imagine such a lush forest while standing there in the sand and sagebrush, but I suppose you should expect a few changes over that passage of time. The park construction was originally done in the charming manner of '30's era Civilian Conservation Corps.  A small museum has a stunning display of petrified wood (the official Washington State gem) and petroglyphs made by the Wanapum tribe.  Crossing the Columbia River requires returning to I-90 as the Vantage Highway just ends right in the river.  There was an old bridge here that was disassembled in 1968 and used to cross the Snake River near Starbuck, Washington.


Van Kid receives first aid after a mishap on the trail
The cage we're sitting on covers a partially buried petrified Horse Chestnut log
Did I mention it was sunny and hot?  Just what we were looking for!
Grandfather Cuts Loose The Ponies
No trip to Eastern Washington on I-90 would be complete without stopping here
On the Interstate again, just past George, Hwy 283 heads off to the Northeast, intersects with Hwy 28 near Ephrata, and then; next stop - one of our favorite destinations - Smokiam (Soap Lake).  We settled in at Smokiam Campground on the South end of the lake.  Small, clean and inexpensive, though we paid extra for an RV spot this time because they are right on the lake while the tent sites are just a chain-link fence from the road.

Radiant in the late afternoon sun
Van kid hangs out at Smokiam Park...

and does the jungle gym

Breakfast is ready!
Following breakfast, we hiked near Lake Lenore exploring caves and an old abandoned ranch. Along the trail we were startled by a Western Rattlesnake (crotalus viridis) which (being just as startled at seeing us) hid behind a rock, but left it's rattle exposed.  My friend Redwood was bitten by a rattler near here last year, so we were trying to be cautious, but the fact is that when a snake is lying there among the rocks, dirt and dry grasses, it is next to impossible to see. We named the area Rattlesnake Gulch, and then vacated expeditiously.  


Here's what we saw of the snake
The very pleasant Westy Family
At one trail head, we parked next to a blue Westy, then later met it's people.  Before their son was born, they spent most of a year visiting 41 states and 5 provinces, traveling over 26,000 miles in the van.  They blogged extensively about the adventure here.  

Lake Lenore in the distance
Unusual rock formation on the shore of Lake Lenore
Now thoroughly hot and dusty, we intended to take a swim in Lake Lenore, but the afternoon winds had freshened and the water was feeling rather cold.  We waded knee-deep, then dried off on the warm rocks and ate clam chowder.  Way too soon it was time to go West, back to Seattle to prepare for work, school, and get the garbage and recycle cans out to the curb.  

As usual, the rain started in around Hyak.  

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Ethereal T2

Re-blogged from  http://darling-briannaford.tumblr.com/ 


There's something surreal about this image...


Under a masterfully painted sky, filtered sunlight provides just enough brilliance to bestow an Orton-like glow on the van which occupies it's space as if hemmed in by the menacing hedge behind and the more benign growth ahead. A scrap of clothing hangs from a mirror in frozen motion suggesting a storm blowing in. The cooler and picnic blanket bide their time, yearning to fulfill their roles under sunnier skies. Idle surfboards attempt to make themselves inconspicuous as if aware that apart from the breakers, they are without purpose.  And upon closer inspection, a body "lying in state" in the top bunk.  


The driftwood barrier conveys a message: "Come no closer - there is no berth here for the cognizant.  This ephemeral stage is reserved for the dreamer".


Wish I were there...