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Can't keep a Stovebolter still
By Steve VandenBerg
Note: If any of you have a different recollection of the events or the day they happened on, feel free to discuss it and argue as you see fit. These are all factual things that happened, but they may have happened in a different order and I may have left something out. But this is my story and any reference, names, places, circumstances or anything that may seem familiar with this story, may be just a coincidence or a figment of my imagination.
I went back to Jo’s house and loaded up the gas tank in the trunk of the rental car. I put extra cardboard in the bottom of the trunk and had the gas tank in garbage bags. I drove to Escondido and found the radiator shop that had been recommended to me by several people. They said they could have it done in two days for around $180 - $200. I asked them directions to the Chevrolet dealer and then took off. About a block away I take a left and see a shop called Hot Rods. I decide that a couple of minutes poking around would fit into my schedule. This shop built some nice rods. I asked them about the possibility of getting a new gas tank for a 1969 Corvette and they said that they could get one for $244 plus shipping. I asked them to overnight it in for another $75 and they asked “cash or credit?” I fired up the old Discover card and then headed back to the radiator shop to tell them to forget it. This put me back to four days instead of five. They hadn’t started working on the tank, so, I loaded up the tank and went to the Chevrolet dealer to get some parts. If I remember correctly, I picked up a gasket for the gas tank sending unit.
The parts gal at the Chevrolet dealer who helped me out was really good. In fact, several of the parts stores that had women working at the parts stores that I had been frequenting, had much better experience and know-how than the men by a long shot. It got to the point that if I saw a woman behind the counter, I just talked to her. One of the best parts girls that I encountered was at a NAPA store in Carlsbad on Oceanside Boulevard. She was all tattooed up, a nose ring, pleasantly plump, really white blonde hair with two long braided pig tails coming from the side of her head that were dyed a bright red.
Now, when I first saw this parts girl, I was reminded of a quote I had read many years ago by Dennis Miller. Dennis was referring to nose rings, spiked hair and tattoos. He asked, “What else can I do in this highly competitive job market, to make myself less employable?” This quote held meaning for me years ago when I was nearing my graduation date from college. I had long hair down my back and the quote resonated in my mind every time I read it. I happened to read it a lot because I had it taped to my computer monitor.
I was compelled to ask this parts girl “Why is it that the women parts girls that have been helping me out, seem to have much more parts knowledge than the guys?” The gal replied, “Because if I screw up, I get yelled at.”
I guess I was expecting a less honest answer like “I just figured if I wanted to do well in this man’s world, I would have to try harder.” So the real answer to my question, in a Freudian way, must be that verbally abused women are smarter than men. I’m glad that I took Psych 101.
Now I head back to Jo’s garage. It’s already early noon because of the drive and extra stops. I thought that it was time to get the engine running. I spun the motor over again really good to help remove any extra oils or lubricants from the cylinders and put in new spark plugs. I found top dead center of the number one cylinder and pulled the rotor and points and condenser out. Crap! I always get the condenser as a separate unit from the points. This distributor has a uni-points/condenser set. That is normally not an issue, but one of the screws is missing that would hold the separated style that I bought in place. Of course in my garage, I may have been able to come up with this screw. So, back to the parts house and exchange for a uni-points/condenser set. I can’t remember if they had no screw or if there were no parts women available. I got the points and went back to Jo’s garage. I got the points in and set the gap. I put the new rotor in place and then the cap. I started to put the new plug wires in making sure I had the right firing order and now all I need to run this pile is some fuel to the carburetor.
NOTE: A “pile” is a term of endearment that I have used from way back when I was Harley mechanic when a fine machine of high caliber seems to be a large “pile” of work.
I checked the carburetor linkage and made sure it was operating smoothly and found that the cable needed lubricating. Not doing this would probably end up with the engine starting and running wide open. It seemed to be working smoothly after lubricating the cable. I replaced all of the rubber fuel lines. The inline fuel filter was not to be found at the parts stores. I tried going through the boxes to find one that matched up close enough to use, to no avail. The fuel filter that this car uses has a return fuel line to the gas tank. If I start the car without a receptacle to catch the returning fuel, it will just end up on the floor. I elected to reuse the old fuel filter and cleaned it the best I could. I flushed the steel fuel lines going to the rear of the car, where the gas tank is located, with carb cleaner. I had also put in a new fuel pump. Now the fuel system was in order with the exception of the gas tank and the assumption that the carburetor would operate with no repairs or adjustments. I had extra length of fuel line, so I cut a section off to make two lengths and hooked them to the steel lines that lead to the tank and stuck them both in a five gallon container of gas. I had a small amount of gas in another container and I used that to prime the carburetor. I got in the Corvette and turned the ignition. It fired right up for a moment and quit. I primed the carb again and the same thing. One more time and the Corvette was running.
Throughout the rest of the evening, I started the car several more times and checked the headlights and vacuum systems. The headlights pop up using vacuum as do the windshield wiper cowl. The windshield wiper cowl is pretty cool. The cowl is fitted right up to the bottom of the windshield. The wipers are not visible. When you move the wiper switch to the on position, the vacuum lifts the cowl up and forward, and the windshield wipers appear. When you move the wiper switch to the off position, the wipers fold down and the cowl moves back and down making it appear that there is no gap in front of the windshield. Now the windshield wipers are invisible again. In case of a vacuum malfunction, there are manual overrides that the driver can use to operate the wipers and headlights. Pretty cool. I decided that some new wiper blades would be appropriate also.
I only ran it for a half a minute at a time because I had removed all the coolant hoses. I couldn’t flush the coolant system yet because I was afraid if I pushed the car outside of the garage, I wouldn’t be able to get it back inside because of the slope on the driveway. Flushing the coolant system would have to wait until I got the gas tank in place. The thermostat housing on the engine was completely destroyed with corrosion. There was a hole eaten through it the size of a silver dollar. The top half of it was gone and turned into a white/green powder sitting on top of the engine. I did my best to clean it off without getting it inside the engine. I wanted to flush the engine separate from the radiator because of this, so it wouldn’t end up clogging up the radiator or heater core. One of my parts gals took care of finding a thermostat housing for me.
I decided to call it a night. I still hadn’t had the car off of the jack stands. One of the jack stands in the rear was loose under the car. Either it had been teetering for 18 years or I suppose an earthquake could have jostled it to that position, too. Tomorrow would be day four.
I get back to Aunt Louise’s house and cleaned up. I cannot get my fingernails clean any more. They are so sore underneath from trying to clean them. And my fingerprints are starting to be other than flesh colored. My arms are so bruised up from squeezing them into tight places and banging them around. My hip bones and shoulders were getting sore from rolling around on cement under the Corvette. Kelly gave me an old creeper that she had in her Mom’s garage, but one of the wheels broke off one of the first few times I used it. When I spilled something on the floor under the Corvette, I would get on my belly, on the creeper and wipe it up with the water base degreaser and then dry it up. By the time I left, I believe that a majority of Jo’s garage floor was pretty clean. I was a little worried that Aunt Louise’s bathtub and walls would get dirty so I tried to be careful not to touch anything. I remember talking with Kelly and starting to lean on the stairway rail and she lets out a gasp like the boogie man was behind me. I knew right away that it was my dirty elbow that was about to come in contact with the rail. I had hand cleaners at Jo’s garage, but no sink. I guess I learned to deal with the grease and grime a little better than I would at home. I remember Aunt Louise telling me of Jo’s statement at work the previous day of how black my clothes were. I had been crawling around on my back on the floor and had been sanding the brake rotors and pad pins on my lap as there was no bench in the garage for me to work on.
I asked Aunt Louise, Kelly and Rueben if they would like to go out to eat. Reuben and Kelly had just been out to eat, so they elected to stay home. We drove out to a local place called the Outhouse, or something like that, and we had some steaks and I had a few Jack-Cokes. Aunty was driving.
One thing that I notice about going to visit relatives versus them coming to visit is, that when they come back here to visit, a person rarely gets to spend some quality time with them because everybody is clamoring to get some of that time with them. When you go to visit them, you are the object of attention. What a nice feeling. I wish I could have spent more time with you guys. I really enjoyed it.
The next morning, I decided to get an early start since the tank was coming in today, and I happen to get up early. I had breakfast and coffee with Kelly (by the way Kelly, thanks for making coffee for me. I’m such a man when it comes to kitchen appliances), and took off for Jo’s garage.
I started to prepare for the gas tank to arrive around 10am. They called around 10:30am and said that the UPS truck had come in and they went through all of the packages and my tank didn’t come in. They informed me that they would look into it right away and call me back with the news. I asked about the $75 that I paid for overnight shipping. They told me it would be refunded. I guess with items of drudgery, there is something to be joyful about.