55truck on 4th of July Barb on 4th of July 55truck on 4th of July Donna on 4th of July Donna on Herron or Bust
Ah, spring – the trees are treeing, the birds are birding. It’s a perfect time to put in a rebuilt heater core! It’s been some time but it’s nice to look back and see the improvements over the last couple years:
* New heater control valve – now the truck has adjustable heat – I kept the old valve but it needs to be rebuilt
* Rebuilt heater core – no more leaks and wafting antifreeze steam in the cab
* Drained and refilled radiator
* New oil and filter as well as new oil in the oil bath air filter
* Terry and I did a car clinic on Mel last year and put in a new fuel gauge meter – now I can see how far I can really go
Next up: fuel tank swap out and interior! Worth noting that people really like the patina, many urging me to not change anything. Some have even gone so far as to recommend clear coating the exterior altogether. Your thoughts?
Mel made it out to Herron. 75 miles down I-5 each way running like a top after a visit to Earl’s Garage. Seems the fuel problem was in the carburetor. Several problems were evident: a stuck valve, a missing spring (!), and a faulty fuel accelerator pump. Amazing that I was able to drive him at all. Afterward he drove like a champ, better than ever since I got him up and running. It was amazing! No longer the three tries on the starter to get started, the fainting spells going up hill, the poor acceleration getting up to speed, or rough idling.
Decided to give Mel a bit of bling for the upcoming parade:
Mel got lots of attention on the island. The poll on whether to paint or keep as is has tilted toward – drum roll please – keeping as is. Several have gone so far as to recommend clear coating him to preserve the patina. That may be a bit extreme but I do know that more work is needed on several fronts:
1. Replace the fuel float so I can tell how much gas is in the tank
2. Replace the valve cover gasket and adjust the valves while at it.
3. Replace the heater core
4. Redo the interior
5. Deep clean the motor and interior.
But that’s for later. In the meantime I’m happy to report a very successful trip down to the island and back. On the highway Mel enjoyed the 45-50 mph range. He’s geared so low in the rear end that much higher than that is excessive. The new tires and shocks made a huge difference.
For now, back to basic trips around town. Maybe an upcoming auto show?
Apologies to all. Been way too long, I mean WAY too long since I put up a post on Mel. He’s been quietly waiting for me to do so and what with all the news to report I’ve decided to make it so.
First, some history. Mel is 57 years old this year. A riddle. You tell me Mel’s VIN based on the following clues and I will reward you with a free ride to the nearest McDonald’s for a cheeseburger! The clues:
– Built in 1955 in Oakland, California (yes, he is a beach boy)
– 3100 series
– He was Number 2379 rolling off the line
Hint: click here for dechiphering hints.
OK, now back to the business at hand. Yes, did I say Road Trip? (!). For the past year Mel has been moving around Lake Forest Park, no highway and mostly local trips to Ace Hardware, taking Claire to her friends’ houses, picking up a friend’s lawnmower or getting gas. He was getting bored, albeit dutifully serving his chores with steadfast support.
Spring of ’11 came, then summer and we realized we would not be able to fit him with a new set of tires. New tires are essential for getting Mel anywhere. The rubber he was riding on was ancient and I could not stomach a blowout on I-5 that might damage him or his occupants, not to mention the cost of having to replace all tires at once since the old bias ply tires can’t be matched with new radials. So he spent the summer at home.
Fall came and with the occasional drive I was content to leave him as is, occasionally taking him out for a spin around town. Winter came and Mel spent the time peacefully dreaming of his days long ago in Pasco, when the sun was shining and the roads were flat and long.
Spring rolls around and I realize, WTF (shorthand for What the Ford), that my old Chevy needs a new pair of shoes. I go down to Earl’s and a few other locales to price tires. They’re steep but I just can’t stomach the alternative of not taking Mel down to Herron for his Big Coming Out Party (4th of July parade on Herron Island – check local listings for dates and times).
Finally I settle on a set of Cooper H/T all season radials to put on his rims. I go back and forth quite a bit, many many conversations with various folks on whether to paint the rims before mounting new tires. In the end I decide to keep the old look. No sandblast or paint. Keep everything original is what I keep hearing from folks. No sense calling attention to new buttons on an old coat.
The folks at Earl’s give me a good price on the tires and agree to clean the rims and seal the inside rivets (yes, old rims were riveted together). New tires I think, new shocks. I love Mel but riding on those old tires and shocks gave a close approximation of what it must have felt like on a Conestoga wagon heading for Missouri. And bias ply tires love to follow whatever rut in the road calls their name, often requiring heroic efforts on the steering wheel to overcompensate while my ever-lovin’ blue-eyed daughter Claire looks at me wondering with the clearest expression in her eyes, why does this truck have no seat belts?
Susan and I swallow the prospect of another chunk of change for the old boy. On the other hand this guy is getting ready for a real road trip to Herron, at long last. Seems we have had him forever but Mel hasn’t even been here two years.
We’ve come a long way in the past couple years. Lots of repairs and now getting him ready for Herron, what a treat. Thank you Aunt Bernie and Uncle Mel.
Of course Mel has something to say about all this. I take him down last week to get the new tires, drop him off. Typical Seattle weather. Tim asks if it’s ok to leave Mel outside and I agree, yes of course. He’s running like a top when I bring him to Earl’s. Me and Mel have a procedure of getting going in the morning. Three pumps on the gas pedal. Push the magic button. Chugchugchug…no. One or two more pumps of gas. Chug…whumpffh yeah I’m awake baby! Nice fast idle, then slow him down. Then off we go.
They change the tires, everything is cool. I go to pick him up the good folks at Earl’s tell me for sure he will ride better and I am looking forward to that ride. Just one problem…
I go start and he chugs and huffs and damn if I barely get him home. He loves Earl’s so must have decided to throw a fit to get back. Dammit. I call Earl’s. Of course they didn’t do anything on the motor. I figure two things: leaving the old boy out in the spring rain downpours and not starting him up properly with the due respect his old choke deserves. Or maybe because he hasn’t had a tune-up in 30 years?
I fire him up again and decide, time for new sparkplug wires and plugs. I change out the wires. Not much improvement but some. Cracked plug but overall they look good, nice and tan, no sign of bad burning or oil. I change out the plugs and still not the same. Tune up time.
Check out the new plugs, wires, distributor cap and rotor. Doug the mechanic at Earl’s was amazed at the age of the components and original heater hoses. Slowly but surely.
Spent some time with Doug as he installed new points, rotor, condenser, distributor cap and timed Mel to purr with some carb adjustments. This guy was amazing. Even made a special part to get a distributor bolt
off. Used to own an old GMC dumptruck of same vintage that belonged to the Boeing family. Amazing stories that Mel brings home.
Now Mel is running like a champ again, except (new carb fix imminent). Always something, right?
A few extra shots of recent improvements:
Next stop Herron. Here he sits on a spring day awaiting the trip. Will assemble an emergency kit (in case of radiator hoses blowing, etc.).
I think we’re pretty ready to roll. New colleague at work knows these old trucks and we’re going to continue on with new repairs – fix the gas meter float, change the valve cover gasket and adjust the valves, price out new interior, change out radiator fluid, thermostat and hoses, the list goes on….long live Mel.
It is great to have Mel up and running. My miracle moment is when I push that little unmarked white starter button to the left of the steering wheel on the dash. The 6 volt starter starts Chug…Chug…Chuuuuggggh…Whooomph! and Mel starts up with a nice roar. The automatic choke sets in, I reckon 2,500 rpm, fast – fast – fast. A couple minutes later I jump in, and give the pedal a push to damp down the idle speed. If he’s warm, he settles down. If, not, fast – fast – fast. A few minutes of this and I damp the pedal and he settles into a nice idle, fast enough to keep up to speed and low enough not to bang the automatic transmission. (“Bang” being a technical term denoting the slamming of gears unneccesarily – ed.)
I find it best to fire Mel up with a 6-foot piece of metal tubing over the tail pipe tucked under the garage door (mostly closed) with the business end pointed toward the diminishing ozone layer outside the garage. This is the safest way to control unburned hydrocarbons, CO, NOx, etC. that would otherwise permeate the garage and set off the CO alarm faster than you can say no catalytic converter.
Ten minutes later after pushing that tiny white unmarked button that makes this miracle possible, I raise the garage door, jump in, make a silent apology to the polar bears, and put the truck into reverse.
A slight digression: in my humble and unsophisticated opinion the Hydramatic transmission is a miracle. The truck is 55 years old plus and is simplicity itself in what I understand of cars, with the exception of the transmission. With a small column shifter (everything about this truck except the truck itself is small, indicating a time before testosterone driven marketing teams beefed up knobs, shifters, etc.), I move the transmission lever to N, 1-2, 1-3, 1-4, or R. There is no P for Park. To park you put in neutral or reverse when stopped and set the parking brake.
Whenever I shift I make a leap of faith that all of the engineering of bands and gears and transmission fluid and a lot of iron will simultaneously work, causing the truck to move forward, backward, or stay where it is without springs and gears flying down the street. Truly a miracle.
So as spring approaches we move into the next phase: details. Here you can see the detailing and cleaning and painting that will be needed.
Inside the cab we will definitely be looking at redoing the interior – new seat and door panels. It may also involve new flooring since the linoleum Mel put on the floor is ancient.
Here are some other shots of detailing that we will be undertaking.
Mostly everything is in great shape, and will involve gentle cleaning. Some additional repairs will involve the fuel gauge (not operating), flush the radiator (although the fluid looks good), and begin cleaning the motor and undercarriage.
As I have been looking at the Stovebolt forum (a great resource for learning about these trucks), I have come to understand that the best course of action for Mel may be preservation with some restoration as needed. Uncle Mel took great care of the pickup and it shows more than half a century later.
Seats are torn, no big deal. These things are easily fixed. I find my mind recollecting all the cars I’ve had in my life. Mel is at the tops. I used to to go out to the Mel and Bernie’s garage as a young child, climbing on the truck and imagining what it would be like to drive such a vehicle.
Later, when I was a teenager I completely forgot Mel as I got caught up with a lot of my friends in Richland. We were obsessed with muscle cars. Ed had his ’72 Dodge Charger, Billy his ’74 Charger with the hemi. Barely put your foot on the pedal and you were flying past 40 mph on a 25 mph zone up Stevens Drive or George Washington Way. Steve had his ’67 Cougar with the 283, burgundy red, georgeous. Turns out it later got cracked up in an accident. Such a beautiful car.
Me? I had occasional access to my dad’s ’74 Plymouth Scamp (light baby blue), with dual exhaust glass pack mufflers and a 1968 Rambler Rebel, bought by dad at auction for $250 from Department of Energy, replete with gray paint job, painted out black lettering, black vinyl seats (pleasant on 102 degree Hanford summer days), and a posi-traction transmission which saved my bacon in the desert more than once (more on driving adventures in Richland later).
The Rambler was a great car. The last new car my dad bought was the ’63 Rambler station wagon, the same year I was born. Dad had a thing for Ramblers so I guess the ’68 was meant to be (note: watch the cult film, “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” and you will see what these cars are capable of doing).
The Plymouth Scamp (1974, 318 c.i. V8) served us well, despite its dowdy appearance. The 318 was a great engine and the glass packs with the dual exhaust was a symphony to my ears.
But I wanted my own vehicle. I really wanted a Chevelle, blue, four speed Hurst on the floor, 350 c.i. and Holly carbs, but as my wallet would have it, came upon a 1974 Pontiac with a straight six and three-on-the-tree manual Ventura owned by Fr. Murtagh, a Catholic priest and very tolerant of a young pup without much money to spend on his own vehicle.
With a three on the tree, an inline six cylinder and a clutch that had never been replaced, I was in no shape to compete against Ed, Bill or Steve. But it was freedom, and for $250, the Ventura was a glorious old car that I took out to Waitsburg and Dayton and other side trips enjoying a vehicle of my own.
Being idealistic and as the Tappett brothers would say, unencumbered by the thought process, I drop-kicked all reason into a 55-mph headwind and decided to put a V-8 under the hood of the Ventura. I really thought it would be the sleeper Chevelle, despite the six cylinder engine and three-on-the-tree transmission. It would emerge as the blue Chevelle with a Hurst 4-on-the-floor and V-8 power to screech the Radial TA’s on the back end. As some might say, Not!
Advertising the motor for trade, a certain person, who shall remain anonymously known as Dirk F., Pasco, WA (ca. 1979), accepted my offer to exchange a perfectly running six cylinder for a rebuilt V-8 motor. After undergoing an unceremonious operation involving removal of the 6-cylinder from the Ventura and placement of his so-called rebuilt 283 c.i. V-8 next to the now soulless vehicle on canvas tarp, there both sat in the cul-de-sac at my parents’ house in Richland throughout a very long summer without a functioning car.
Little issues arose, such as putting the motor in the Ventura and hooking the transmission to the V-8 which as it turned out would require some extensive modifications. Now reader beware, this is a warning to putting wants above needs. I had no clue and thus spent the summer trying to find a way, without financial resources or reliable technical expertise, on figuring out how to put the 283 V-8 lying dolefully next to the Venture, as they would say, together.
This amused my father greatly. Today, having a place of my own, envisioning a car without an engine occupying the front curb with my progengy not knowing what to do, I can say he was quite generous in not having the whole mess towed away.
I, nursing what little pride and entrepreneurial spirit remaining, decided to put an ad in the paper for both (then not being Craig’s List or the Internet, but our local newspaper, The Bird Cage Herald).
Amazingly, within days I had offers on both. The Pontiac Ventura sold to someone and then someone else came forward and bought the rebuilt V-8. What really amused me and greatly amused my dear mother is that I sold both for more than what I paid for each, essentially making a profit on an otherwise bad gig gone wrong.
Lesson of the story: be careful taking on “new” vehicles and getting in over your head, especially anything involving V-8’s, 4-speed manual transmissions on the floor, and testosterone.
Back to Mel. Basic commitments: #1: I have absolutely no interest in swapping out the 235 c.i. straight six for a V-8! #2: I have no interest in swapping out the automatic transmission. #3: NO drag racing!
More pedestrian pursuits include repainting the hubcaps and exterior paint detail when we get to that point. For now I want to do more research on going about exterior restoration before undertaking anything radical.
Here are some additional details to focus on once we move beyond the interior: repaint the hubcaps, shine up the rear view mirrors (looks like they could use reglazing), and shine up the windshield wipers. They are vacuum assist and quite loose. Suz will work on repainting the hub caps. I may do so when we have the tires replaced so I can repaint the wheels.
I went to a local auto parts store but the new blades they put on looked ridiculous so I am keeping the current blades which clearly aren’t designed for heavy use in western Washington. The springs are loose so they don’t fit snug against the windshield. A related issue is a fairly good sized pit from a rock that struck the windshield at one point. No idea how much that would cost to replace and that point I would be looking at resealing all the windows.
As the days get longer so do my plans for getting some work done on Mel. Unfortunately it’s still winter in western WA so the probability of a nice sunny weekend day at home coupled with no other commitments and several hours to putz around is expressed mathematically as 1 x 10 -6. Not that I can’t dream for warmer days, a can of degreaser, a boat load of rags, and a Corona.
We just returned from a business and vacation trip to Washington, DC. Had a great time, especially going to the Smithsonian museums, including the Museum of American History. Claire and Susan went while I was at a conference and look what they found! Mel’s cousin Bob from Oregon! A 1947 GMC looking like it just stepped out of the showroom.
I really enjoyed the exhibit and seeing a place in history for these trucks.
We also saw the Tucker automobile, clearly a car ahead of its time. I’m looking forward to seeing the movie again.
So today is somewhat sunny after a stormy day yesterday. Other duties call so I will content myself knowing that Mel is up and running and spring is on the way.
Mel is home after a long visit to Earl’s Garage. It was great to pick him up with Claire. Tim had Mel in the back garage when we arrived. To my surprise and great satisfaction, their mechanic (also named Doug), repaired the fallen driver’s side window with what looks like new lining so now I can roll it up and down with no hassles. They also fixed the driver’s side door latch which had worn loose after so many years. First they tried to tighten it up but eventually they rewelded the latching mechanism so it shuts much more easily. Nice touches and much appreciated. Oh, and the rear right taillight is now working. I learned that you need 6 volt bulbs for a 6 volt operating system. They also adjusted the carb so it has a nice idle and runs well in gear.
Claire and I rode home with no major events and it looks like most of the leaking is done. I took him out several times last Saturday and everything is running well. I also drove over to Les Scwab and got an estimate for new tires. The rims are tube rims (not tubeless as is the standards nowadays) but they were able to find a tire and tube arrangement in a radial that would work out fine. I may try to figure out a way to paint the rims while the tires are off if Les Schwab gives me the time to do so. Or maybe buy the tires and have Earl’s keep Mel while I do so and pay them to mount and balance the tires. It should make a great difference in the ride and will be much more comforting since the old tires are showing a lot of cracking on the sidewalls. I think we will take the old tires out to the cabin at Herron Island and use them for steps on the pathway down to the beach.
Our house no longer smells like a garage and we are much relieved to have Mel back under cover. I’ll take him out next weekend. Hopefully Susan will get her inaugural ride with no major events! It is great to have Mel back in running condition.
Once the weather gets better (officially July 5th in western Washington), I will begin cleaning underneath and the interior in earnest. We will look into getting the interior refinished at some point as well.