A tale of two hubs

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Have I got a story for you. A parade of failures, followed by success. Be grateful that it was I that lived it, and not you. Never have so many mistakes happened in a row in such rapid succession to me. Here is the narrative of some of these errors, and the trials that followed. I lost about a thousand dollars in ten short days.

Sit tight and read my account of epic heavy maintenance of the emergency kind. It starts back in June, when I purchased a long sitting bread truck that Norman had turned into a franken-rig, by replacing a 6 cylinder with a standard transmission with a 400 small block out of a Chevy Caprice. I re-cammed the engine, and did two dozen other things. 2 months worth of work, actually. One of the tasks was to replace the gasket in the ‘pumpkin’ which is the rear end, where driveshaft meets axles. Never do what I did. Do not let your RTV dry before you put it on. I thought a thick layer dry first, then a paper gasket, would work great. Wrong. We left Seattle with the truck and all of my belongings, plus about 500 pounds of books on their way to a house in Berkley.

The noise the rig was making on the way out of the Bay Area sounded like grinding, knocks, and whine from a dying transmission. We had just passed the exit for Westley when it finally went out entirely. No go in any gears. The tow charge was close to $200 to bring it to a place called Precision Diesel where I was stranded for seven days.

My view at sunset

On the first day, I said goodbye to my passenger; a friend on his way to his wedding. I then made another mistake. I assumed my transmission was out and proceeded to source one, pay $300, and upgraded to a truck transmission instead of a car one… go figure. I got to know the guys working on trucks and the occasional car coming in – but they didn’t lift a finger nor lend a tool on the heavy maintenance on my rig.

Dude, where's my transmission?
Dude, where's my transmission?

There was some helpful advice given, and some three bottles drank and shared from my 9 bottle stash of good Northwest and European wine from Seattle. Stuff you cannot get at a truck stop. This was to be my first entire driveline re-do, and most of the time was sourcing the parts.

Five days later, after going as far as Stockton to find a driveline component, I had the drive shafts set up right with the 2″ shorter transmission that I put in myself. Engine start: good. Transmission spinning only its yoke: good. 3 fluid level checks. Tranny clean bill of health. Installed driveshaft U-joints one “final” time, put in gear – driveshaft spins, truck no go. A heart wrenching moment. It was the rear end all along. I then was back to square one, as though I had just arrived at this God-forsaken place and now I had to source a rear-end. A man named Mike Sandhu helped me out through all of my misguided maintenance, and now that I was on track, I found a rear end on Saturday and put it in, myself, that day. I would have been fucked without his help. I put 145 weight (not 85w90) oil, 4 quarts this time, into the rear end and sealed up the plug with an o-ring. It was then I made my next major mistake by failing to check on my front wheel bearings when I had access to a jack. I also should have bought a jack at the Napa auto parts in Patterson. On Sunday morning I left, after a hard cold start. The driveline spun beautifully. It was about 180 times harder than replacing a bicycle’s cassette and chain, my friends.
I proceeded to try to go around Los Angeles via Bakersfield and ended up going down in there at night and onto the Northernmost freeways. It was a bumpy, hilly, rainy drive. I somehow ended up back on I-5 and I knew I had gone west without knowing it (Route14 – very deceptive. Signs say East, then South, but actually the road goes 25 extra miles West right into LA.) This burned about $20 extra in gas, but the road conditions were what set me up for the next and most distressing emergency, and a bike ride most exceptionally sober and sober-ing in so many ways.

I parked somewhere random and went to sleep, the next day going right back onto I-10 and I started hearing knocks and noises but I knew the muffler pipe was loose so didn’t think much of it. I did pull over on a hill among more random road debris and inspected the steering box for leaks or lack of lube, and tied up the rubbing exhaust pipe with wire. The noises didn’t end. Subsequently, the groans and squeals got loud enough to drown out the 3000 RPM gas drinking monster, and my steering now was affected, shall we say, by severe wheel camber drift. I knew that one of my wheel bearings was toast. I got lucky enough, looking up to see a way off of the Interstate, to a fairly remote exit 23 miles West of Blythe, California, and was there stranded for two more nights. I found out that that the noises included one of the brake pins being sheared nearly through. I took my road bike out onto I-10, up onto the entrance ramp, it’s slope littered with urine filled plastic bottles of all shades and other debris, onto a breakdown lane that featured a nasty crack every 20 or 30 feet.

On the way, I saw a bicycle touring kid with very little gear – not even a hat or sunglasses. He asked me the same question about 3 times and I thought he might be a dipshit – I was amazed when he said – “I don’t mind riding on the 10” He seemed like a guy that would just skip the scenic route and go shortest straightest and I realized that I was doing the same thing, and as bumblefuck as this guy seemed, he was at that moment in better trim than I. I lacked even a spare tube for the road bike.

It was strange riding alongside another bicycle, circumstances being as they were, and I didn’t talk much more with him. I was in need of parts and on a mission. There was a tail wind. A new chain, bottom bracket, and crankset sang with my long-unridden legs. I marvelled at my stupidity as I recognized how I had been so meticulous in keeping this road bike perfect – every bearing swimming snug in nice clean grease… while with my 40 year old truck, I skipped the check list.

I got sidetracked on the next exit but figured it out, rode to town, went to Napa, bought a wheel bearing, got a ride back, found out the spinning bearing peices had changed the inside diameter of the hub where they rest, thought I had the wrong bearing, went back and tried to get a bigger bearing and a hub, cruised around a junkyard looking for one, found out I had the right bearing, and then had to ride the bicycle back to the Ford Dry Lake exit up I-10 24 miserable miles of head winds and bumps. I then removed a pretty much fused in bearing inside race from the inside axle, the day saving tool being one punch that I had made in machine shop. I replaced the bearings without once dropping the grease covered rollers in the sand, and then when it came time to put the wheel on, I discovered that I had not raised the left front end high enough with the borrowed jack.

I spent another night there after asking a few truckers that had stopped if they had a jack and getting no luck! I started to go crazy trying to think up ways to get my truck just two inches higher and finally went to bed, imagining another ride on the 10 east back to the same town I’d gone to twice, buying a jack, and riding back. Intense regret of leaving my 6-ton bottle jack in Seattle where I built a porch. I woke up in the middle of the night after hearing a truck pull in and asked if he had a jack. This one did. With vitesse and prison-break joy, I jacked the two more inches and got the wheel on. My truck was now able to roll.

The next day I drove out after sleeping within a 1/4 of a mile of a very busy interstate highway for 9 nights total. With ease, I stopped in Blythe again and bought a new bottle jack – never again to be caught without one. The next emergency was easier to deal with as it was only another mistake, but had a beautiful solution… somehow my plastic oil pressure line shifted and melted, dripping motor oil onto the manifold. I smelled it and saw blue smoke blowing by and pulled over. When I began to pull the bonnet, a fire erupted and the second latch was catching. “God-damn you Norman!” I swore for the hundredth frustrating moment. In ten more seconds I had the fire extinguisher (at least I had that) pin pulled and blew out the fire. I attempted to shorten the plastic line and re-connect the oil pressure gauge, but crushed the little tiny brass ferrule by accident.

The only way I can think of to install this cap onto its fitting without the little 1/8″ line is with a ball bearing. Searching through my 3 little compartmentalized bicycle part boxes, I couldn’t come up with a single one! I was dumbfounded by this, and had to borrow a bearing from a chorus hub in my bottom drawer. I brought the rig back up to speed and drove it down 85 over to GIla bend, (where my extra transmission almost slid out of my open door, and East on I-8, then back to I-10. 60 miles from Tucson, I stopped for the final portion of gasoline. Getting off the highway, I heard more noises, this time from the rear end. Flatter, softer noises. Lumpy noises. I noticed that one of the outer rear tires was flat and started to have chewed out portions. Basically, just blown out.

The final serious upper body workout of the week was removing that rusted-on wheel, and with the sun going down I rolled into Tucson, Wednesday, on five wheels. The bread truck is now parked and will be for the rest of its life, because I never want to go through that again. The heat that comes off that engine is intense, and I had to run the heat blower a lot, and drive without the bonnet for maximum ventilation. I had put the dog and myself through an agonizing 2 weeks. At least I had built the engine right, I did not run out of dog food, had the right tools minus a jack, and never gave up on 2011 G72. My first night in a quiet place, I slept really good, even had a dream about a nuclear plant about to melt down and then running away, and that’s when I know I’m sleeping really deep, and makes waking up to reality a relief. While stranded in California, I had dreams of several women that I knew in years past that didn’t get to have sex with.

I am now in Tucson, and this winter I hope accomplish some rides that I did not do in years past: To ride over the other side of Mt. Lemmon, go out to the Kitt Peak observatory, and ride to and from my East side location. From where I sit, I’m only a few miles from the Sahuaro National Park loop road, the kind of place that is heaven on those orange long shadow mornings. I’ll be riding that more often this time.

Parked, levelled, and quiet.  Cactus as promised.
Parked, levelled, and quiet. Cactus as promised.
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About littlejar

5 - Learned to ride in paved alley behind liquor store in Lowell. 16 - Road bike riding alone while peers do soccer practice. 18 - First new road bike bought with winnings from Project Graduation. 20 - Burlington VT. Nuff said. 22 - Joined the Air Force. 23 - Joined team Fair Wheel in Tucson - rode the Shootout. 24 - Rode El Tour in under five. 26 - Toured to Quebec City 28 - Toured Oklahoma to Vermont 30 - Found my dream bike - a 1989 58cm LaBan (#22) 32 - Experienced Minneapolis and saw BIKE CULTURE. 34 - Building my first bicycle frame, with a self made jig. USA

44 Replies to “A tale of two hubs”

  1. shouldn’t this be posted on something more appropriate… drunkautomechanic.com or something. boring.

  2. Glad you made it lj. Damn you have some patience. I’d have pushed the whole rig off a cliff.

    Your story did make me feel better, though. All that happened to me today was my tailgate flopped open on my way home and my snowboard fell out…somewhere. Went back 20 miles to the hill and never found it. Fuck.

  3. Why does the typeface get all microscopically tiny and shit after the second photo? I’m not complaining, mind, but I’m not getting any younger either, and I’d sorta like to be able to read it.

  4. LJ disregards the finer points of HTML markup that why the tiny font. mebe big Kitch can sort that and the photo blowouts. I’m @ work.

    otherwise it seems LJ’s possession own the shit out of him. painful to read. glad I wasn’t there. ugh.

  5. replacing the wrong parts is exhausting. the regret of not troubleshooting correctly the first time, hours earlier, demoralizing. life lessons, indeed.

  6. i would have lit that piece of shit on fire, rode away and never looked back. you are a stubborn bastard!

  7. …in light of the situation, i honestly have empathy for you, littlejar & you’ve proven yourself to be both diligent & tenacious…

    …however, i find it both absolutely remarkable & highly ironic, that you of all people in particular, a guy who rants n’ raves the loudest about our reliance on internal combustion vehicles, have such a need to share & be appreciated that you’re willing to burden us all by composing a long & arduous post based solely on your unfortunate travails with a motor vehicle…on a cycling site, no less…

    …after ‘reading’ you for a while, i think i understand it but nonetheless i do find it remarkable…

    …i guess we all need to learn to transcend certain aspects of ourselves, huh ???…

    …see how i did that ???…i left the door open for you & your ‘scathing’ & defensive reply…

  8. Funny thing. I’ll wrench on my bikes all day long and be happy. Hell, I’m a commercial electrician by trade. Eight, ten, sometimes twelve hours at a stretch with tools in my hands. But I’d sooner take a beating than work on a frickin’ car. Go figure.

  9. Two things. First, I am glad to hear you made it to the warm winter pasture of Tucson. Life will indeed be good for the next few months.

    Two, leave it to a Campy bearing (one single bearing) to save the day. How ironic that our proud champion of all thing self-powered was saved from roadside distress by bicycle parts.

    Good on ya. Now sell that damn truck!

  10. Reminds me of a trip we took to lake Powell in a borrowed RV. We had the brakes glowing red and fading fast on the way out through the mountains. I seriously thought we were going to die. Then it started running rough, so we spent the day in Moab getting it tuned. (in July) Next, it started overheating, so we had to find a new thermostat on the 4th of July. Finally, on the return trip it started overheating again so we replaced the thermostat again (in a hailstorm) only to finally realize that it wasn’t actually overheating, the temp guage wasn’t working.

  11. dood, I think I have learned something from your horrible journey.
    when someone wants to sell old broken down shit, there is a reason they want to sell it, and they let it get old and broken down. oh and not to buy it.

  12. jte @15 – word. working on cars sucks and i have no interest. reading posts from LJ confirms that he is just another “poor me”.

  13. We have all been there in different ways. I own a 1971 Ford F250 and once replaced the transfer box instead of simply adjusting the linkages :(
    I suppose the lessons are numerous, top of list for me is “Make no assumptions”. Thanks for sharing the story, May Bru.

    I get the impression that honest posts push a few buttons?

  14. Ahhh.

    Ya gotta love a road trip that turns to shit.

    I know I had a few of them back in the day.

    Now a days anything goes wrong I call AAA and whip out the credit card.

  15. 9 days at Ford Dry lake?! That will change a man. All you had to do wias give a call man, i’m 2 hrs down the road in Tempe! … there is a pretty good chance that i will be in Tucson monday night, and i will be thirsty. Look me up

  16. I believe we listen to the blues for empathic wound healing for our bruised souls. Littlejar thank you for sharing, it makes my simple life trials more bearable,M

  17. “LJ is a country western song with two legs and no guitar.”

    Wouldn’t that be the sound of one hand fapping ??

  18. For once (okay, maybe twice or thrice) LJ is not the one coming off as an asshole, and some of ya’ll still feel the need to shit on his un-lucky parade? C’mon people, give peace a chance.
    Fuck, he didn’t even respond to any of your inane vitriol.
    Live.Rock.Ride. My 11 year old sonsaid that to me one day while we were climbing a pass in the Dolomites. If he can do it, you can too.
    Sorry that shit happened to you LJ, but FUCK man, you’ll never forget it!

  19. I’d make sure that propane tank in the last picture was filled.
    Step back to a safe distance, and blow that fucking thing up!

  20. Can’t go and throw out that truck, it’s about new now that you’ve replaced everything! Now campy equipped!

  21. I guess that the issue is that after several months of LJ ‘entertaining’ us with tales of his van rebuild, it transpires that when the proverbial ‘ rubber hits the road’, he’d negelected the basics.

    One of the few pearls of wisdom that my Dad gave to me was regardless if its a Truck/car/ motorcycle/bicycle, it’s tyres/ brakes/ wheel bearings, everything else will raise their hand at the appropriate time.,

    And @AfrcianSingle, as a country man, please stop trying to talk like a cape coloured gangsta, it’s embarrassing

  22. Don’t let it bring you down, its only castles burning

    Good tale. Every young person should do something as naive as trying to rebuild a van “on your own”, with no real experience or qualification to do so. And then drive it cross country.

    Next time you could spend half the time you spent working on your van, working a “job” to earn the money to pay a professional to do the work right the first time.

    Ride or die

  23. Hey Hurben,

    You did the chicken run man, I’ll talk how I like.
    And, if you please, refrain from the Apartheid era racist lingo, but then I guess that’s why you ran?

    Google “May Bru”, you could be enlightened, but again, maybe the subtleties of our new country are beyond you?

    I guess LJ’s honesty has also pushed your buttons?

  24. LJ-I used to think you were crazy. Now I think u probes still are but at least you tried to jam. Don’t listen to all the haters and the convenient after the fact advice. As an old friend likes to say in such situations-sometimes you just gotta party

  25. @AficanSingle, interesting, you’re the second person in my life who called me a ‘chicken runner’, the first was my german boss at Bayer.

    Yep, I ran, after 17 years of either going up to the bush in Northern Nambia or spending months running around the townships defending a regime that I did not support, at the first oppurtunity, I ran & it was the best decision that I ever made in my life, I’m here in the greatest country on earth.

    So fuck you , Does, your new rainbow country is shortly about to become the next Zimbabawe, feel free to email me how great that’s going to be.

  26. My heart goes out to you. I used to drive around in a Ford Explorer I nicknamed the Exploder because it was always crapping out. It sucks when your bike is 100 times more reliable than your car. Eventually I bought a Toyota 4runner and my life is so much better. I hate the feeling of being overwhelmed with dread every time you turn the key of a vehicle, thinking, man, is today the day the brakes give out at the worst possible moment?

  27. Just to clear things up – I would have abandoned the truck if it did not nave in it:
    Two toolboxes full of tools and valuables
    Three bicycles, only one which I could ride away.
    A dog, who doesn’t do I-10 all day long.
    A bed, nice warm blankets, lots of gear – lots and lots of gear.
    When you work for ten years and have all of what you worked for that remains in a big box with wheels, one does everything one can to move that box to safety. you would not burn it.
    It was 7 days at the Westley exit on I-5, and 2 days at Ford Dry lake exit. Someone must have mis-read.
    YES, THE MORAL OF THE STORY IS DO NOT BUY A 1972 VEHICLE even after you worked on it for 2 months getting it road worthy, it still will THROW YOU DOWN.

  28. I forgot to mention the batteries that are still going strong after I lost my solar panel (yes, chose to not mention that one) and the inverter, and charge controller, and fridge. Shit I spent almost 2 grand on. And, I didn’t respond since posting because I have to ride 2 miles to STARBUCKS a place I don’t give money to, to get the internets. Needless to say I have zero emotional investment in your concerns at this point. I write to inform and entertain. Remember the story of the ball bearing in the oil pressure fitting and it might save YOUR ass some day.

  29. I couldn’t agree more that ditching it on the side of I-10 was not an option. But lighting it on fire and rolling it off a cliff might make for a better parting shot.

  30. I wish you would “get it” duder. So many open doors, it’s like fish in a barrel up in here. And the ball bearing deal hardly matters. Although it was a nice story, maybe you could just… you know?… be a better mechanic to begin with? I mean, you’re cutting your teeth anyhow. Start remembering shit the first time. A chevy unit ain’t rocket surgery, afterall. 1-8-4-3-6-5-7-2. Remember the campy/shimano cable issue too? Little less arrogance on your part and you might actually have friends. Or at least fewer enemies.

    I know, I know. It’s my fault. I’m the one who offends. All you’re doing is sitting there. And that’s offensive to you (ironically) just like your rebuttals are to anyone else who reads your excuses for, and efforts against, your own self sabotage.

    Curb up your tact sunshine.

    Getting tired of it.

  31. Man, what an ordeal. Sounds like you ended up pretty close to my house in Tucson. Perhaps I’ll see you on a ride at the monument or on some singletrack. Enjoy the winter, it’s almost hot out these days