Friday, February 7, 2014

Modern Mule

Ruth, the old Jeep, continues to soldier on as the stand in for number one car until I get a day when its not raining so I can change the car's crankshaft position sensor.   The sensor is behind the harmonic balancer and the engine sits sideways with the frame in the way so its a little more time consuming than it would be on something with Hotchkiss Drive.  Despite being as dependable as gravity, Ruth doesn't like to be mistreated and she hates being ignored.

One of Ruth's little idiosyncrasies is her electric choke.  I wired it directly to the battery instead of through the ignition switch so it wouldn't compete for power directly with the ignition system.  It has its own switch that has to be turned on and off and I usually do that when I turn the fuel pumps on or off.  The problem last Friday was that it rained and when I turned the wipers off when I got home, my brain counted two switches (fuel pumps + choke = two switches) shut off and said "all is good."   Only wipers + fuel pumps+choke = three switches.

So, Monday morning, I get in, turn on the fuel pump and find the choke has been on all weekend.  No problem.  I'll just pump the gas an extra time and she'll fire and I'll keep her running until she warms up.  Except that the battery was about dead.

She'd go "A-ruh---A-ruh---A-ruh-Vroom" and then sputter out no matter how fast I fanned the gas pedal. She finally caught and stayed running at about the fourth try but now the alternator belt was squalling.  It must have been a little loose and when the alternator hit full charge to replenish the almost dead battery it began to slip.

I figured it would stop in a few seconds but Ruth figured otherwise.   It took a lot longer than a few seconds and it just ate the belt up before it stopped making noise.  The smoke cloud was so bad that I opened the hood just to make sure nothing was on fire.   It did stop making noise so I decided to head to work to give it a chance to recharge the battery and i'd put the spare belt on it after daybreak.  I got maybe three miles when I heard it starting to squeal.   Then I heard a soft little thump on the underside of the hood.   Just the kind of thump a belt makes when it breaks and hits the underside of an old Jeep hood. Well, I thought, I have a little juice in the battery.  I can probably get to the office.  Then I can put on the spare belt after daybreak and get a jump start when its time to head home so I continued on toward town.

The closer I got to town, the more I noticed that I was having a hard time seeing whether my headlights were on.   Now Ruth is getting on in years but she has good headlights.  H-4 Halogens with lead crystal lenses that are known to the State of California to cause reproductive harm.   I like to see and be seen.  The light they put out is so white its racist.   Only, the light shining on the pavement in front of me was about the color of dried tobacco.  

I did some figuring and it was just a handful of miles to the nearest auto parts store.   I could put my spare belt on and they'd jump give me a jump start to get me the rest of the way.  Hmmm.   Electronic ignition, electric fuel pumps, electric lights, electric choke.  How can I buy a few more seconds before something critical shuts off?   I shut off the electric choke, dimmed the dash lights and prayed for green lights all the way to the store.

Providence smiled on us.  Just about the time I was deciding to change the Jeep's name to "Lady Be Good" and try to use my cell phone for a headlight, an Advance Auto  Parts sign popped out from behind a tree.  My turn signals didn't work by this time but what the heck.  Nobody but me uses those anyway.  I pulled in the parking lot to wait for the store to open.

The Lady Be Good as Discovered in 1958-1959

My windows were a little fogged and I didn't like the idea of sitting blind in a parking lot so I got out and walked around a bit.  After maybe half an hour, the manager showed up and asked me if I was broken down.  She was thirty-ish and pretty.  If it wasn't for  her smoker's voice I would have thought she was an angel.  Whatever.  At least I wasn't stuck in the desert with half a canteen of water.   I told her "no,"  it was more of a crash landing and that all I needed was a new belt and a jump start whenever they opened.  I didn't tell her that I had a spare belt or that the spare got automatic transmission all over it sitting in a box in the back of the Jeep.

The store wasn't supposed to open for another half hour and I spent the time wondering how the manager could have been in such a "condition white" that she'd approach an old hick in a dark parking lot all by herself but  I decided that maybe she was armed or maybe she was an angel and didn't have to worry about bad guys.  At any rate, after a few more employees showed up, she opened the store up  a few minutes early and proceeded to help me find a new belt.  Fortunately, the old one landed on the intake manifold and didn't break through the numbers so getting the new one was easy.

I put the belt on and tightened the hell out of it.  While the manager angel  was getting their jump starting cart all untangled, I decided to see if Ruth would crank.  I left the fuel pumps and choke off and hit the starter.     It was like the scene in Das Boot when they surface the boat in the Straits of Gibralter after spending the night on the bottom trying to patch enough of it together to save themselves.

There was one long, low "Aaaaaa-Ruuuuuuh" and then a "Vroooom."

Wow.  Not enough juice to run the headlights or the turn signals but she will still start.  I turned on all the other switches and headed to town.  Her wrath was now safely placated and she was happy with her shiny new belt and the attention that I gave her.   Ruth is back to being a loyal, dependable old mule again and I will make sure I shut off as many switches as I turn on from now on.


Brad said...

Enjoyed your story!

Lantry said...

Sounds like you might have a Jeep or at least an old truck!