Saturday, September 18, 2010

Tattooed Lady

Cedar Springs, Michigan

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The starter saga continues. Monday I bought another one, and Tuesday I put it in. It started the motor home just fine, but continued to make a sort of metallic ringing noise afterwards. This didn't bode well, so I turned it off immediately. It sounded very much as if metal was still interfacing with metal within the starter, even after the starter's job was done. I looked all around, crawling under the vehicle to make sure the sound was coming from there, and I was pretty sure it was. (I thought of Billy Bob Thornton, in the movie Bandits, looking around desperately, asking "Does anybody else hear that ringing?!")

I slid back under the motor home, where I was starting to get quite comfortable, not to mention rather adept at installing and removing the starter. I took the new one off and had a look at it, not expecting to see anything useful to my investigation. But when I compared the new starter to the old one, it appeared that the bendix gear in the new one wasn't retracted on the shaft quite as much as it was in the old one, by about half an inch. I reasoned that this might have been the problem with the new starter--the nose gear was still making contact, however slightly, with the flywheel, causing that metallic ringing. This kind of detective work is, of course, only necessary for someone like me who doesn't work with cars on a regular basis. Any mechanic probably would have listened for a second and a half and come to the same conclusion I had.

Wednesday I went back to the parts store and tried out my theory on the girl who had sold me the other one. She looked thoughtfully at the old starter and at the new starter, back and forth, as I explained that I didn't think the bendix gear had retracted enough on the new one, hence the funny sound emanating from the starter. I thought she was going to tell me that my idea was all wrong, and that all the new ones looked like that, or that the clearance was sufficient on the new one. (I say this because I'd already observed that this girl--which she was, barely out of high school--knew a thing or two about auto parts.) But instead she shook her head and said, sadly, that that was the only starter of its kind they had in stock. She explained that they don't carry many of those starters, because they're for an old model vehicle. I wondered how much starter motors have changed over the years, other than things like the positioning of the attaching bolts. After all, it's a relatively old bit of technology, the direct successor to the crank handle people used to have to employ to get cars started. But what do I know? Except that planned obsolescence has been an integral part of automotive technology at least since Henry Ford stopped making Model T's. Anyway, I had a starter ordered from another location, to be delivered the next day.

Back to the girl at the parts store, though. I remembered her from a week or so earlier when I'd come to retrieve a battery that was being charged. As she came up from the back room I couldn't see her hands and it didn't look like she was carrying anything. Then when she arrived at the counter, up swung her arm with the battery, at least three and a half feet, as if she had been carrying nothing heavier than a loaf of bread. When I pulled the battery off the counter to take it home and felt its weight, I was very impressed--with her youth and strength, and with my lack of both. I took a long look back at her. Smart, bordering on cute, a bit of an attitude, all of her own teeth, no visible tattoos, strong as hell, and with a great knowledge of cars. I was tempted to ask her if she liked college football and the New York Yankees, but if she'd said yes I might have ended up saying something really foolish. But I did tell her that she had a lot going for her, and not to settle for the first grease monkey who came along. She accepted the compliment for what it was--a little meaningless advice (which she no doubt would not heed) from a guy her grandpa's age. Driving away I convinced myself that she probably liked NASCAR and country music, had quit high school because she needed more time to hang out with her boyfriend, and that the tattoos were indeed under there somewhere. So what the hell.

Moving at my usual snail's pace I picked up the new new starter on Thursday, then found other things to do and didn’t get it installed until during halftime of the Michigan-UMass game this afternoon. (Glad U of M won, but was disappointed in the defense and in some of the play calling and coaching decisions by DickRod. When are people going to wake up and realize that the guy is a BAD COACH, who’s just damn lucky he has a hotshot quarterback this year? And why the hell don't they get a foreign soccer player to kick field goals for them, like everybody else?)

The starter went in without a hitch, doing its job with just the right kind of noise and no more, and now it’s on to bigger and better things—a refrigerator and a generator for the motor home. More later. Go Blue.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Good Dutchman

Cedar Springs, Michigan

Monday, September 13, 2010

I've enjoyed reading your comments on the last blog posting, and it's good to know the peanut gallery is warming, as I am, to the resumption of the walk.

I wish I could say the starting problem with the motor home is behind me, but it isn't, quite. On Saturday I drove it down to Byron Center to buy a new towing dolly, from the same place where I bought the last one (which went with the other motor home when I sold it). The guy sells motor homes and dollies and other such things from a barn behind his farm house. Born in the Netherlands, he came over here as a boy of seven in the early 50s.

As I mentioned in a posting last year, the majority of the Dutch in western Michigan came earlier, and were mostly right-wing evangelical farmers from Friesland and elsewhere in the north of the country. The Netherlands was no doubt happy to be rid of them. I can only imagine wistfully such an emigration from this country, perhaps to an archipelago in the far Pacific, or in an expedition to enslave and exploit the natives of New Guinea and build the New Jerusalem. Unfortunately, they seem instead to be headed for Washington DC.

Politically, the towing dolly man was no exception to the rule hereabouts. He said his father left their little town in Groningen because he was tired of the government telling him how much he could make and what he could do. "That's not freedom," his father had said. An early refugee from postwar European social democracy. Well, no worries here on that head. The Birchers who seem to control our national dialogue would condemn the very idea of stop signs as a socialist plot if it were proposed today, and if there were any socialists around here to do the plotting.

Meanwhile, back in the driveway of this "good Dutchman," as my father no doubt would have called him (the adjective "good" being by him indiscriminately applied whenever the word following had anything to do with the Netherlands), the damned motor home once again refused to start. This time, however, it wasn't the battery hookup--at least not entirely--but the starter. It made a sort of vrooooming sound nine times out of ten, but finally did start. The good Dutchman opined that it sounded like the bendix gear in the starter wasn't working. He suggested I replace the bendix. I thought, maybe you could do that, but I think I'll splurge and get a whole new (or rebuilt) starter. I can just see me taking the starter apart and ending up with a bunch of extra parts when it's all together again. (Come to think of it, that happened to me one time when I replaced a carburetor. I had a handful of cotter pins and widgets left over, but the car ran. Not well, of course.)

So today it's off to the auto parts store again, where they're starting to recognize me when I come in. Nice bunch of guys, too.

Fix Or Repair Daily.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Real Thing

Cedar Springs, Michigan

Thursday, September 9, 2010

When it comes to the enduring icons of U.S. culture--the ones people both here and in other countries love to hate but usually can't do without--Coca Cola is sure to be high on the list, along with McDonald's and Ford Motor Company and a few others. So it's fitting that two of these emblems of our culture should have found themselves bound together today in a heartwarming story of American know how.

I mentioned that the motor home wouldn't start, and that I'd done about all I could do within my very limited mechanical means. Bright and early this afternoon, after The Price Is Right was over, I tried the last of my little potential fixes, after having already checked out the starter, the battery, and the solenoid. The piece I replaced this time was the voltage regulator. It didn't seem like the thing that was wrong, but what the hell, it was small and easy to change, so I got a new one and put it in. No luck. The damned motor home (this was now its official name) still wouldn't crank. So I called for a tow truck and arranged to have it taken to a shop, bracing for the usual few hundred dollars in miscellaneous diagnostic fees and repair charges.

When the tow truck arrived the guy suggested that before he took it away it might be a good idea for him to try a couple of things, and he hooked up a booster to the battery and gave it a try. Very quickly he said he knew what the problem was--that the negative battery connection was bad. Here I must say that I felt a bit embarrassed, because one of the things I had already done, quite conscientiously, was to disconnect the battery, cleaning and scraping the lead on the posts and the terminals until they gleamed. No one, I thought, could gainsay my diligence there. But the fact is that while I did what I did quite well, I hadn't done enough. The place where the little bundle of bare wires of the cable bolts to the terminal was where the corrosion was.

Here was the interesting part. He asked me if I had any coke. At first I thought he might just want to get high while he fiddled around with my vehicle. I'm a live and let live type of guy, but, well, I just didn't know about that. Immediately my mind went to that scene from one of the Naked Gun movies where Leslie Nielsen is leaning over O.J. Simpson's bed in the hospital and Simpson whispers, "Heroin, Frank," and Nielsen says, "That's a pretty tall order, Nordberg; it might take a little time, but I'll see what I can do." I gave the tow truck guy a bit of a sidelong glance. Then it hit me like a bolt of refreshment: "Oh, Coke!" "Yeah, what did you think I meant?" "Oh, nothing. I mean, uh, would Diet Coke be okay?" "Yeah, Coke, Diet Coke, whatever."

So I went inside and got a two-liter bottle of Diet Coke and took it out to him. By now I knew he wasn't going to drink it, so when he opened the bottle and began to pour it out like a libation over the oxidized bunch of copper wires at the end of the battery cable, I wasn't surprised. The copper began to sizzle and fizz. We poured a little into a dish and dipped the end of the cable into it and let the magical soft drink do its thing. Before long the copper was cleansed of its green patina. A little sanding and scraping of the other contact points and a reattachment of the wire, and once more, for the first time since the day I brought it home, I heard the reassuring sound of the starter. Ignition, blast off!

So here's to the confluence of Ford and Coca-Cola. And here's to simple solutions to all of life's problems. I couldn't help but imagine that in France this would have involved a Citroen, a piece of soft cheese, and some paperwork; and in Italy it might have been a Fiat, some olive oil, and a great deal of noise. Pretty much anywhere in the Third World there would have been a Range Rover, a bribe, and a baby goat. So comparatively speaking, this was a pretty clean fix.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


Cedar Springs, Michigan

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

I bought another motor home about two weeks ago, from a private seller. It's a 1988 Winnebago, build on a Ford Econoline chassis. This is a picture of it, and it's appropriate that you should see it in situ, as it were, in my driveway, because it hasn't started since I got it home and backed it into its present spot. It doesn't crank at all. With some help from my son-in-law I've tried to trouble-shoot the problem, removing the solenoid and starter and getting them checked out, and having the battery charged. So far, nothing has helped. I have one more little gizmo to check out and then I think I've exhausted my limited knowledge.

My son-in-law, in an effort to help, asked a friend of his what the problem might be, adding, "I don't know much about Ford electronics." The friend replied, "Neither does Ford." I must say that my lifelong prejudice against Ford products is beginning to come out. Like many of you who read this, I was raised in a GM environment, and we always understood that FORD stood for "fix or repair daily," "frequently overhauled, rarely driven," or "found on the road dead."

Ironic, perhaps, that of the Big Three, as they were once known, the one that should have ended up in the best shape, and in all likelihood most worthy of surviving, should have been Ford. But there it is. Were it not that so many more jobs would have been lost and so many of my old friends probably would have been fucked out of their pensions (even more so than they already have been), I would have been happy to see GM and Chrysler die off completely in this country, as they so richly deserve to, thanks to the incredibly short-sighted and incompetent ways of their ruthlessly greedy and reckless owners and managers.

People have lots of weird explanations for why GM, especially, has tanked in recent years, almost none of which bear much relationship to reality. For instance, I'm always amazed at how many otherwise smart people have bought into the palpably ridiculous idea that the American car companies have done poorly because they are saddled with more expensive safety regulations than, say, the Japanese. There are only a few things wrong with that argument. First, it doesn't explain why Ford is still solvent and only GM and Chrysler are moribund. Second, it ignores the fact that most foreign cars for the U.S. market are assembled right here in this country, subject, I daresay, to the same wicked regulations that the rest of the companies are. And third, even if they weren't, who in their right mind would imagine that places like Japan and Europe would have less stringent safely regulations than we do? We're talking about modern social democracies that actually feel responsible for the welfare of their workers and citizens, not places like the U.S. that only pretend to.

Which is not to say that I think Ford has been doing everything right. Probably they have succeeded in getting a larger number of their component parts made outside the country, where labor is cheaper. But just maybe they did give some thought over the past two decades to trying to compete with the Japanese for the small and mid-sized car market, instead of just selling gas guzzling SUVs to suburban housewives for a quick profit. I don't know. It does seem that all three of the U.S. car companies make a hell of a lot of their money dealing ridiculously large vehicles of all kinds, including selling lots of oversized pickup trucks to guys who otherwise would be buying male enhancement products on late night TV.

In saying I wouldn't mind seeing GM and Chrysler go down the tubes I don't mean that I'm opposed to the government having become involved in the situation. Not me. I love the idea of the government owning car companies. I think all industry should be nationalized. But of course we didn't go about it that way. We just gave the money to the same pigs who have been running things all along, and said "Go and sin no more." Give me a government bureaucrat over a capitalist or a bushy-tailed entrepreneur any day of the week. Those business guys are the ones who scare the hell out of me. At least the bureaucrat works for the people, and not for himself.

Well, you're thinking, leave it to Pete to turn his motor home troubles into a political screed. But hey, the right wingers find a way to twist everything their way, so what the hell? And we can all, when the chips are down, blame everything on the Chinese.

Back to the motor home, I think I'm just about at the point where I'm going to have to get it towed somewhere and get the starting problem fixed the right way. After that I have to get a couple more things taken care of. It needs a new refrigerator and a generator, as well as a minor tweak here and there. But getting the vehicle is a start, and has me thinking about the open road.

P.S. If any of you gearheads out there have any last minute advice about the starting problem before I bite the bullet and send it to the shop, I'll be happy to receive it.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Concentration Of Mind

Cedar Springs, Michigan

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Some followers of the blog might remember that I began the walk almost exactly a year ago. It was the day after Labor Day, as today is, but it was September 8. The first hopeful 10.1 miles, which seemed like a lot of walking at the time, commenced from the house and ended just down the road, practically in my own back yard. Over time I gradually (too gradually, in hindsight) increased the length of each day's walk until I reached a daily distance of about 21 miles, which was both manageable and filled the day up nicely, still leaving time for all the necessary driving back and forth followed by blogging.

Looking back after over two thousand miles I can say that some things went just about the way I thought they would, and some didn't. For instance, I figured I'd walk about five days a week, for a hundred miles total, and I did. I thought I'd walk five days and rest for two, whereas I usually walked three days and rested for one, which came out to a little more than a hundred miles a week. However, I didn't plan on taking as much time off from walking as I did. Trips back home for holidays and other rest aggregated to over ten weeks away from the walk--two and a half months. As a result of all that off time, when I stopped at the end of April I was almost a thousand miles short of where I originally thought I might be at that time. That meant that I wouldn't get to the west coast before summer. Contributing to that shortfall in distance was something else I hadn't anticipated--how tired I would get of being out there on the road alone. The solitude, in fact, was both exhilarating and nerve-wracking. It was my friend and my enemy. Eventually the loneliness of the trip would defeat my love of solitude, and I would begin to long for the company of family and friends and the comforts of home. Then a little bit of home would make me wish I were out on the road again. A cycle of discontentment. I think I'm stuck with that, and it'll only be the looming of the end of my life that will make me appreciate both things simultaneously. As Dr. Johnson said about the man who knows he is to be hanged soon, "it concentrates his mind wonderfully." I do not yet possess that concentration of mind.

Another aspect of the walk that went just about the way I'd hoped it would was the vehicular logistics. The motor home performed very well, except for the brake problem in Texas, and was a reasonably pleasant home away from home. Also, my car ran like a champ (270,000 miles and counting), and the towing dolly worked perfectly, except for some trouble with the lights. Even more importantly, the daily tasks of finding a place to park the motor home and my car, and the driving back and forth, almost always went off smoothly, especially after I learned to trust my instincts about spots that were both safe and inconspicuous. To be sure, in 118 days of walking I made a few parking mistakes, but to my surprise they involved the car and not the motor home. The closest I came to having my car towed was on a Sunday on the north side of Jackson, Mississippi, and fortunately for me my nephew was in a position to intervene on my behalf. As for the motor home, almost every night I parked it safely and for free in a Walmart parking lot, and never once did anyone complain. Even when I finally decided to sell the motor home and dolly, everything went off just as I'd hoped it would.

I can't say I had any firm expectations about the people I would meet along the road, but soon after I began I came to the conclusion that most folks want to mind their own business, or to be helpful. I have yet to cross paths with any of those few who wish to do harm to their fellows. Knock on wood there.

I mention all these things in case some of you might be wondering how you would do on a walk like this. I don't figure I'm much different from anyone else, except that I happen to be fortunate enough to have the desire, means, ability, and opportunity to take a trip like this, which I know some do not.

In the next post I'll tell you how my preparations for the resumption of the walk are going.