Mechanically Declined

Mechanically Declined 042711


The Prospect van has an electric window that will only roll down if the temperature is below 20 degrees Fahrenheit.  I tried to pull off the door panel to see what the problem is, but the problem is probably not in the door panel  It's probably in a computer part somewhere, so the only benefit from my attempt is a new cup holder in the door panel I made when I got a bigger screwdriver.


The van isn’t the problem right now, it’s the venerable old Chevy ¾ ton 4x4.  It's exactly like the one used in the early 1990s to represent an old pickup in the television series “Northern Exposure.”  Every time I see re-runs of that program I dream that my pickup was in as good a shape as that.


I swear by this pickup and won’t buy a new one because this one is made of steel, and you can work on every part of it, it isn’t some computer driven piece of crap like a new pickup.


The pickup and I go back a long time.  It came to me with a cracked freeze plug, a leaky radiator and one spark plug was powered through lamp cord.    Once I owned it, it started to deteriorate pretty fast. 

In the last few years it’s developed a weather-related tendency.  If it would run, it would power easily through two feet of snow or more.  But, the clutch is pretty thin, and some of the linkage wobbles, and I think it just doesn’t like the cold anymore, because it won’t start and run if it’s cold. 


I don’t mean it’s a simple problem like “replace the coil” or “buy new battery cables” or even “use ether starting fluid.”  It’s more like a series of things.


A few weeks ago I started it and it busted through the snow like a champ, all the way down hill.  Coming back up, it sputtered and died square in the middle of the road.  The fuel gauge stopped working when I went over a dry wash one time long ago, so I took my gas gaugin' cedar branch and checked; it needed fuel, so I trudged home and got a jerry can and put five gallons in it.


The next day I fired it up to tamp the new snow down and it ran great down hill, but coming back up it sputtered and stopped.  I got out in disgust and threw the hood open to find a nice little fire burning along the top of one valve cover.  Long experience has taught me that fire isn’t good anywhere under the hood.  I heaved handfuls of snow which, at first, made the fire sputter and flame gaily, but eventually smothered it completely.  I cleaned some of the built up crud from the leaky valve cover gasket.  I poured gas into the carb and it started up and drove home.  On the way home a clod of snow fell eighty feet from a bull pine onto my windshield, and when I cleared the snow, Old Faithful, my remaining windshield wiper blade, was gone.  Once home, I threw a precautionary handful of snow on the valve cover gasket.


Two days later, another two feet of snow fell and I tried to fire it up.  Was it the spark?  I pulled a wire; no spark.  The distributor and even the coil were frosted up from steam rising from the manifold which turned to ice.  Many scraped knuckles later it fired up, ran a few seconds, and died.  Was it spark?  I told my helper, “wait until I say 'go' and turn the key.”  I pulled a plug wire, looked for the greasy rag I use to hold the lead to test it and discovered one of the goats chewing on it.  “Goat,” I cursed, and my helper twisted the key giving me a dozen or so shocks which left me trying to decide whether to control my bowels or my bladder.  When I was finally able to let go of the lead, I shouted, “OK, we’ve got spark”.  Checking all other systems led me to the gas tank.  I took my gas gaugin’ stick and poked it down in to the tank.  Empty. I put another five gallons of gas in.  It never did get very good mileage off road, and I’d already gone almost two miles.


It fired up and went forward and backward a few yards, then puttered out again.  I poured a little gas in to the carb and said “go ahead” to my assistant.  They turned the key and it started, then died.  Dirty filter, or water in the gas.  Maybe we could pull it through.  I poured gas into the carb and, thinking safety first, I set the air cleaner cover over the carb and stood back.  “Go ahead”.   The truck gave a couple of coughs and backfired and the air cleaner cover bounced off the underside of the hood and whizzed like Oddjob’s hat right past my head.  The ball of flame started a mouse nest on fire and burned most of the insulation off the battery wire to the coil.  I pulled the nest out and hastily repaired the wire with electrical tape.


I decided to pull the fuel filter, which is under a little rounded off nut on the carb.  I jumped up on the bumper and a ton of snow fell from the roof of the truck onto the hood which slammed down, displacing a vertebrae in my spine with the hood latch.  I lay there for a moment like a lizard stuck on a on a thorn bush, and I considered crying for help but didn’t for fear my assistant would start the truck.  Eventually, feeling returned to my legs and I pushed the hood open and struggled to my feet.  To my assistant I said, “if the hood ever closes like that with me under it again, come on out and open the hood, OK?”  OK.


I drove down to the station to get some gas line deicer and discovered it would be cheaper to buy vodka for the truck.  “We get a lot more call for vodka” I was told when I asked why.  Would vodka work as well as the deicer?  A well-known local waiting at the counter said “I’ll taste ‘em for you and let you know”.  No, he said after a couple of quick swigs, the deicer had a much better kick.


Back up to the house I stood looking at the pickup.  Daddy had an old jenny mule that was gray and ratty just like this pickup; it’s like an old mule with aching bones and a rheumy chest.  If I wait until summer, it will pull some logs or pull something out of the mud, but while the weather was cold it would always be a problem, and it might even persist in trying to kill me for getting under the hood.


I threw the deicer into the cab and went in the house to watch a movie.  Warm weather is just down the road.


I swear by this pickup and won’t by a new one because you can buy two houses in Loyalton for what a new pickup costs.




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