Monthly Archives: June 2015

The Head is On

Update: The head is on the engine; it’s not torqued down yet, but it’s on there, and the new head gaskets are in there.  The cylinders don’t look bad and the mating surfaces look good, so I think things are going to be okay.

I’ve started emptying little baggies of nuts, bolts, screws, and other bits and bobs.  I’m still hopeful I can finish tomorrow; if not tomorrow maybe I’ll have to wrap up the last bits on Wednesday after work.

I’m dirty, but feeling good.


My kingdom for a screwdriver!

Stuck (and frustrated) on a piece of sheet metal.  The cooling tin that is on the under side of the head is stuck; there’s one screw that holds it to the bottom of the head and two screws that hold it to the engine block.  The screw on the bottom of the head is totally stripped out (d’oh!), and the two on the engine block are so tight I can’t move them!

Taking a break to charge my drill battery so I can (hopefully) get the screw out from the bottom of the head.

Head Update

(Note: the beginning of this story arc starts here, you should probably go back and read that if you haven’t already.)

Well, I’ve been slowly chipping away at head removal all weekend.  In the past I’ve pulled the engine out, put down cardboard, and worked on it on my kitchen counter (don’t tell my landlord), but I live upstairs now so that would be nearly impossible.  What I’m doing instead is pulling the head with the engine still in the vehicle, a non-recommended procedure, but it’s one I’ve done before so I know it’s not beyond the realm of possibility, unfortunately it does make the job a bit more challenging.

So far I’ve removed spark plugs #3 & #4, the driver’s side fuel injectors, the driver’s side intake manifold, Temp Sensor II, 3 pieces of cooling tin, the muffler, and the driver’s side exhaust manifold.  Tomorrow I’ll remove the old head, and with any luck I’ll finish with that just around the time the new head arrives; then reassembly!  It sounds so simple when you read it.

It’s supposed to storm tomorrow and Tuesday (oh the dreadful wind and rain!), which is unfortunate as those are the only two days I have to finish.  It should be a woodstock-grade mudpit in the backyard (it always is when it rains), but I guess there isn’t anything I can do about it; I’ll just have to invest in some tarps.

Made it Home

(Note: The beginning of this story arc starts here, you should probably go back and read this if you haven’t already.)

Well, I made it back home, and I’m typing this blog entry up now, rather than hand-writing it in my notebook. I was going to sit in the bus and hand-write it before I came upstairs, but by the time I got home it was already getting dark, the mosquitoes were coming out, and I was tiiiiired! It’s been a long drive, and a long day; but I guess I should start at the beginning.

I got started this morning at around 8:00 or so. I knew I needed to get up early to get started so last night, before I went to bed, I made a promise with myself that I would get up and around as soon as I got up to pee, assuming that it was light out when I did. Now that’s not a 100% accurate alarm, but it does put my rise time within a pretty defined window, I’d say between 6:00 and 8:00. Anyway, I got up, did my aforementioned business, then packed up all my loose ends, brought down the top and hit the road.

Now, let me turn the page back to yesterday (so to speak) when I put the valve cover back on. The gasket, you know, the one that was warped and slightly misshapen? It turns out warped and slightly misshapen gaskets don’t seal so well. So where, before, I had a “pretty bad leak” in the left valve cover, now I’ve managed to upgrade it to “if you drive like that, you’re crazy” status. We all know I’m crazy.

So, I said before that the Bus was “hemorrhaging oil,” but that was before I knew what a real hemorrhage looked like. My first stop this morning was in Paradise so I could buy a couple quarts of (very expensive) SAE 30 oil. I also topped off the oil (most of the first quart) and advanced the timing a little bit. I drove through the U.P. with one eye on the oil light and the other on the road, but didn’t have any complaint from the light.

Second stop: Java Joe’s in St. Ignace. It’s become a traditional stop on the trip home because of their great coffee, great food, and great atmosphere. Oh, and Joe’s pretty great too. While there I pulled out my neat and nifty new smart phone and ordered $500 worth of parts, shipped 2-day so they’ll arrive on Monday. It’s amazing how quickly you can go through money ordering car parts. After an expectedly sensational breakfast (and 3 cups of coffee!), I went out to the Bus to survey the oil situation. I added a little over 3/4qt. of oil and headed on my way toward Da Bridge.

I crossed Da Bridge without too much incident and kept rolling South. The going was a little rough, but through trial and error the Bus and I managed to work out a speed we both liked, somewhere around 55-60MPH; that’s where it seemed to run the smoothest, anyway. All this driving at speed and still no complaints from the oil light. I decided, though, that it’d be smart to stop often (every 50 miles or so) to check the oil and let her cool down.

I made it to the Gaylord Meijer, about 60 miles from Java Joe’s, and went in and bought 5 quarts of Meijer brand SAE 30; they were about $3/qt. cheaper than the oil I bought in Paradise. I put in another 3/4qt. of oil and I also filled her up with gas, premium gas! I figured that if I was asking those two nearly-dead cylinders to put out, I’d better give them something a little more explode-y to work with.

My next stop was in Prudenville. It was here that I formed the ritual that became so familiar today: stop, make a phone call and chit-chat for 20 minutes or so, check the oil, add about 3/4qt., drive off. And that’s precisely what I did in Prudenville, then 50 miles later in Pinconning, then 50 miles later in Birch Run, and one last time in Brighton.

There’s something about driving a trip in 50 mile chunks that’s really different from what I’m used to. It seems like it broke it up a little, and made it more memorable in a way. Instead of a long, unending slab of concrete, I have these distinct points of interest (though none of them were very interesting) that turned one long trip into a bunch of short trips. Nonetheless, it /was/ a long trip!

I pulled into the driveway a little after 9:00PM, pulled her around back, drained the cooler water, brought in my pillows and the cooler, and put away my groceries and leftover beer; I’ll unpack the rest of it tomorrow. I have all day tomorrow to get the engine out and get the head off, and that’s all I can do tomorrow because the replacements don’t get here until Monday. I’m just glad we made it home in one piece, I need to make a personal apology to 1st gear, it got a real thrashing today.

More news tomorrow, and hopefully I’ll get time to actually put this all up on a new blog somewhere so you can actually read it! Now, I’m gonna’ go take a nice, hot, modern shower!

Tough decisions.

(Note: the beginning of this story arc starts here, you should probably go back and read that if you haven’t already.)

(Note 2: This post was hand-written when I was in the U.P., the publish time is approximate.)

So, I’ve decided to head back early, not for my sake, but for the Bus.  I need to order parts and swap the head, and until I do that I can’t go joy riding all over the U.P.

If I had another week to spend up here it would be different; I could order parts in Newberry, hang around for a week for them to come in, then swap the head out right here in Paradise.  God knows that’s what John Muir would have done!  I don’t have the luxury of time, though.  I start my new job (officially) on July 1st, plus I have three Masses to play for this weekend, and it would be hard (not to mention it wouldn’t look good) to reschedule them now.

The plan is to stop for breakfast tomorrow at Java Joe’s in St. Ignace, as is the tradition.  While I’m there I can use my neat and nifty new smart phone to order parts online and have them shipped overnight.  I’ll drive home oh-so-carefully, keeping my lead foot at bay and one eye on the oil light.  Then on Friday I can take the head off.

I suspect a new, loaded head is going to cost Stupid dollars so, unless I’m wrong, I’ll take the old head to Spring Valley Motors in K-zoo and get one of their used-known-good heads.  Then I can take that over to my friendly local machine shop in A2 and have them install new valves.  it takes a village, eh?

So, I’ll get the used-known-good head back on Monday and can get it installed that afternoon.  That gives me Tuesday to tinker.  Now job starts Wednesday, I work Thursday, Friday is my day off.  Friday is also the annual Baroda Fireworks, with the traditional “lets see how many people we can cram into the Bus” event.  Ah hah! There’s a method to my madness!

I’ve learnt a lot this trip.  First, the mosquitoes are TERRIBLE! I mean, I douse myself in bug spray and the damn things just hover in a cloud 3ft. from my body, waiting for it to wear off!  That’s not hyperbole, that’s the truth!  I’ve never seen them this bad before.  Second, always know what gear you’re in.  Third, there’s something about my Bus that makes me happy, makes me balanced, makes me Me.

I don’t understand it fully, but my Bus completes me somehow.  It’s probably the first thing in my life that I was passionate about.  It’s never been a smart investment, It’s never been reliable transportation, It’s never been in good shape (as long as I’ve owned it), but it’s never been about that.  My Bus shows me, again and again, that it’s okay to not know all the answers.  Hell, when I bought it I didn’t even know the questions!  And, somehow, It always knows when I’m in need of another lesson in humility.

The Bus has been hemorrhaging oil since I got it out of storage in May.  I ignored it because I didn’t know what was wrong and I didn’t want to admit that.  Since I was ignoring the problem, I was also ignoring the Bus and not driving it.  I’ve put <600 miles on it since May, no wonder I’ve been feeling depressed!

WELL NO MORE! I’m going to replace the head, drive to the Baroda Fireworks (and back), and keep driving, and tinkering, and adjusting, and tweaking.

And you, dear reader, will be my witness to these events, these repairs, these road trips.  You will keep me honest and motivated, even when I don’t know what’s wrong.

For now, we’ll see how this head job goes.

“Trouble in Paradise” or “My Aching Head”

(Note: the beginning of this story arc starts here, you should probably go back and read that if you haven’t already.)

(Note 2: This post was hand-written when I was in the U.P., the publish time is approximate.)

page 455

Well, the starter situation wasn’t bad, the wire that runs from the bypass relay (my addition per The Book, p. 455) to the solenoid slipped off at the relay end.  So that was easy!  Unfortunately, I noticed two new things on my drive from Black River Campground to Paradise: 1) a lack of power, and 2) a “fffttt” noise present on deceleration. Uh oh!

So I came to Paradise by way of Newberry because I know there is a parts store in Newberry; it’s where I bought my new starter in 2012. There’s also a great hardware store, plus the IGA in Newberry has everything you need, and a sewing kit, so I can patch up my shorts.  I got a compression tester at the Auto Value, MAPP gas at the Do-It Best, and a sewing kit at the IGA.  Everything I need in one town, what a country!

I made my way up to Andrus Lake, checked into my campsite, made and ate dinner, then ran a compression test.  The results aren’t great; cylinders 3 & 4 are both reading 75PSI, meanwhile 1 & 2 are grand, 125 & 135, respectively.  Well, half an engine is better than none, I guess.  Running out of daylight, I put the engine back together, put all the tools away, and packed up for the night.

Comp Test.png

This morning I made breakfast and made plans to check out the situation with the Driver’s Side cylinder head.  Since 3 & 4 are reading the exact same I have to assume that the issue is with what they have in common, the head.  Besides, it’s always the head!

If I was lucky the culprit would be a simple loose head (which happened before on the other side), and I could simply tighten it up, run the compression test again, and hope that the adjustment shored up the numbers a bit.  Of course that means popping off the valve cover and potentially tearing the valve cover gasket.  I’ll just be really careful pulling it off and hope for the best.

The gasket came out in two, distinct, oil-soaked pieces. Damn!  I rummaged around in my stuff and found a spare, slightly twisted and misshapen, and a tube of Permatex.  It’s better than nothing, I guess.  I carefully cleaned off a spot on the picnic table and set the cooler on top of the gasket to (hopefully) flatten it out while I checked out the engine.

I determined, as best I could with the tools on-hand, that the head wasn’t loose.  Now it’s hard to be 100% sure, because who takes a torque wrench camping?  (From now on, this guy!) While I had the valve cover off, I took the opportunity to check the valve train.  I broke down and used my phone to video the valves while I turned the engine, so much for staying off the grid!

The valves look fine, so I’m guessing there’s something wrong with the head.  I can picture, in my mind, a small crack forming between #3 & #4 exhaust valves.  It’s small now, but it’ll be larger by the time I get home. Or the head might be warped a bit.

It was probably that stretch of I-75, between the Kawkawlin rest area and Standish that did it.  I didn’t realize I was in 3rd gear… and going 65… for 15 miles.  Oops!  I’d be pissed off too if someone did that to me.  My poor, faithful Bus; always does what I ask, even to it’s own demise.  Let this be a lesson on absentmindedness.

I fixed my “Gene Berg” oil-temperature sensing dipstick this morning, that will give me a better feel for the engine/oil temp on my way home.  In retrospect, it would’ve warned me about 3rd gear too, had I already fixed it before I left.  If I take it slowly, switch to premium gas, and pay attention to the temperature, we should be able to make the 400ish miles home.

“Back in the Red Dog Saloon era, there was a garage in Carson City run by a sympathetic super mechanic named Muldoon.  When you were pushed into Muldoon’s, he looked and listened to your sick engine, asked how far you needed to go and how much bread you had, then he nodded his head and showed you where you could work on your engine out back. When you ran into troubles, he left his profitable highway trade to give you a hand.  You made it to where you needed to go, but God help you if you tried to drive fifty Miles further.”

“…explain to your car that these are temporary measures and that you’ll fix her when she gets you to L.A.  Then keep your promises because the burned valve was just an indication that your engine’s at the end of a wear cycle.”

How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive, 19th Ed., p. 235


The trip North.


(Note: this post was hand-written when I was in da U.P.  The publish time is approximate.)


These are my new Birkenstocks, my favorite brand of sandals; and this is their first trip to the U.P., my favorite place in the world.


This is my VW Bus, it likes to break down create interesting stories pretty much wherever it goes.

Yesterday I drove to the U.P., my favorite place in the world.  It’s a long drive from home, about 5 hours to “da bridge,” and at least an hour more to get someplace quiet and secluded.  I got a late start, as usual; hit up Meijer on the way out of town, as usual; stopped in Grayling to fill up with gas, as usual; and slowly made my way Northward.

The sun was far to the West when I finally made it to “da bridge,” the cold rush of air felt good after a long, hot drive.  I was about halfway across when I said to myself, “Well, I finally made it to da U.P.!”  Then I thought better of it and relented, “I’m still on the bridge, I haven’t made it yet. Don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched, Kris.”

There was blissfully little traffic, so as I pulled up to the Cash Only lane at the tool booth I was only second in line; finally da U.P. at last!  Then it happened, as I got in line behind a red pickup, the Bus stalled.  I was still rolling, so I went to pop the clutch but I just didn’t have enough momentum to get it going again.  The red truck pulled away so I pushed the starter button… and nothing happened.

I pushed the button again, still nothing.  I turned off the headlights and pushed it again, nothing.  I looked in the rear-view mirror at the line forming behind me, then I looked at the tool booth lady, then I looked back at the line, then the lady.  Shit!

I undid my seatbelt, opened the driver’s door, popped it into Neutral and pushed.  I got as much speed as I could, jumped in (tearing my shorts on the rusty fender), and tried to slam it into 1st and pop the clutch again.  No dice.

By now I was up to the toll booth and the lady asked me if I needed a tow.  I replied, “God, I hope not!”  I continued, “I think if I can get it rolling I can get it started.”

She said, “OK, pay your toll, then I can open the gate and you can push it through.  If you need help The Bridge Authority is waiting for you.”

So I handed the toll lady a $20 bill, she gave me $16 back, opened the gate for me, and said “Good luck!”

I pushed the Bus up the hill, through the toll booth, crested the peak, gave it a good push down the hill, jumped in, jammed it into 1st, popped the clutch, and she roared to life; thank God!

So now back to the Birkenstocks.  They have finally been inaugurated in the U.P., and the very first steps they took on U.P. land were used to push the Bus into the U.P.

How unusual!