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Can't keep a Stovebolter still
By Steve VandenBerg
I’m about 100-200 miles out of Las Vegas now, and it is hot. The windows are down and the heat seems to be rolling from the floorboards. I was prepared to deal with that as I read that Corvettes had a tendency to get hot floorboards. Good thing Kelly told me to take water into the desert. Oil pressure good; amps good; temp good. The radio never did work, so I was forced to continuously listen to the Corvette.
What is that sound I hear?
One thing I had learned from years ago, is that when you have trouble pinpointing the sound, roll up the windows. Now, I could now hear a metallic sound coming from under the Corvette.
I pull over at the next exit where I see a gas station. I looked under the car and the left side exhaust pipe had broken away from the muffler. I filled the Corvette up with gas and pulled it out of the island area. I went inside to look for some wire of some sort and found nothing.
I asked one of the clerks if there was any old wire hangers or some bailing wire that I could have. The clerk came back with a bunch of some nice stiff wire.
I pulled the Corvette around back and started jacking the left side of the car up. Jo had let me take the jack stands that had been under the car, and I now had a jack that the Alien Fresh Jerky people gave me. When I got the Corvette on jack stands, I started to wire up the exhaust.
Two cars came rolling around the back. Two guys were talking with each other and the attention gets put to me.
“I don’t know of anybody who uses baling wire on their Corvette. Huh Huh Huh”
My reply is, “Well, in South Dakoty we do things a bit different.”
I went through my plight and story once again and was amazed at how fascinated people are with me driving this Corvette back to South Dakota. They shake their heads and tell me I’m crazy. My latest response to them is, “I’m not crazy, I’m N’Sane” (a reference to Craig’s shop. Of course, no one outside of the shop knows what the reference is, so they do not find it quit as amusing as I do).
I get the left side wired up and decide that the other side will probably break loose at some point, too. I should wire it up as long as I am stopped. So, I jack up the other side and wire it up also. This was good thinking on my part because somewhere along the way the right side broke in the same place. I shake hands with the two men and they wish me good luck. OK, that was pretty minor. Things are looking up. I get on the highway again and start cruising.
I still haven’t been able to pinpoint the vibration that has plagued this car since leaving the garage. My experience being a Harley mechanic has given me some clues as to how things sound and feel. A lot of times they sound or feel just the same as when you left, but after listening to it, or feeling a vibration for several hours, it seems like it is getting worse.
I decide to call Uncle Carl. We are discussing the vibration and I tell him that when I accelerate, from 69 to 83 mph, I get a vibration. It goes away and is smooth all the way up to 95 mph. If I put the transmission in neutral and coast back down to 65 mph, there is no vibration. When I accelerate the engine with the transmission in neutral, I can feel a vibration at the rpm relevant to those speeds.
“Oh, Oh! I feel the car sputtering.”
"Does it seem electrical or are you running out of gas?”
“It seems like it is running out of gas. It’s surging.”
“The engine just killed Uncle Carl. Gotta go.”
I hung up real quick because I needed to take an exit that I had almost passed up -- I was in the left lane when it happened. I cut right and made the exit ramp. I looked, and ran the stop sign at the bottom of the ramp and coasted as far as I could. I was about 40 feet from a restaurant. It was just starting to get dark.
I walked into the restaurant and saw a young man sitting in a booth with his date. I asked if there was any one around that he knows of that might have some old Chevrolet parts. He seemed to be thinking about it and mentioned that he use to work at a parts house.
At the time, my first assumption was that the alternator or battery had failed because there was no power to anything. I got myself a Coke and sat down to ponder my situation. It was about 7:30 or so and the sun was about to disappear. I had the Corvette full of tools and stuff and I couldn’t lock the doors because I had no door keys. I may be paranoid because I fear leaving the Corvette unattended, unlocked or out of sight. All some one has to do is open the door and grab my metal suitcase and walk off with all of my tools. I figure that the tools in my suitcase had a value of around $950 and they were my lifeline on a trip like this. I just didn’t want the Corvette to be out of my site.
There was a motel about a block away and a convenience store across the street. I knew that it would take a very small problem …I mean “issue,” to keep me there until morning when the parts stores were open again. I talked to the young man with his date again and asked if he might consider helping me out. He said he would. His name was Anthony.
We walked out to the Corvette and there was a city cop there looking over the Corvette. Here I came with the pop in my hand and the restaurant’s glass. The police asked what the problem was and I again started to tell my story and plight. Another police car stops to check out the situation. This time, the officer that gets out of the car is dressed in all black combat style clothes and I notice by the car and his uniform that he is a narcotics officer.
Well, I’m not too worried because I know I’m clean and I had every piece of paper information there was on the car in my pocket. I told Anthony that we needed to try jumping the car and that he should get some jumper cables. I told the police that I needed to return the pop glass that I “stole” from the restaurant. They just kind of smiled and I returned it.
Anthony took off. The police asked me where Anthony went and I told him that he went to get some jumper cables. The officer told me that I had the right guy helping me. The officer (I asked the officers names and introduced myself, but I cannot remember their names) said that he had jumper cables and pulled up his police car closer.
The Corvette’s battery is behind the seat, so I had to remove a bunch of stuff from the car before we could get to it. As I unloaded the car onto the sidewalk, the officers just stood there watching. I figured it was their job to be observant and didn’t give it much thought. After I had enough stuff out of the car to get to the battery, I looked up at the officer and asked him, “Did you want to search the car?” He kind of laughed and said, “No, your doing a pretty good job of it.”
We put the jumper cables on and there was no power to anything on the car. Nothing. I wondered if the battery had taken a dump and I put a meter on it. It had full power at the battery with no load.
The sun was getting low and I told Anthony that I needed to get this car off the road if I am going to work on it. We pushed it about 100 feet and parked it in the restaurant’s parking lot. I got out my Alien Beef Jerky jack under the car and had one of Jo’s jack stands under the Corvette. I was jacking it up again to get the second stand under and then I had more help crawling under the car. I told that guy to get out from under there until I got the stands in place, but he wasn’t about to listen. After ignoring me repeatedly, I just waited until he finished.
He found the problem right away and it was pretty obvious after you got under the car what the problem was, and I am grateful for the help. Then he left. I don’t know who you were -- and thanks for the troubleshooting -- but I have to say that if you read this, you are an idiot to crawl under a car when it is being jacked up and before the car is secure. I guess he wanted to be the hero.
Apparently, Anthony dropped his date off at her Dad’s house. Pretty soon here comes her and her Dad back to where we were working on the Corvette. The police had left as soon as we pushed the car off of the street.
It was getting dark and Anthony had driven me to the store and I picked up a flashlight and some extra batteries. I crawled under the car and saw the problem. The 1969 Corvette battery sits behind the driver’s seat. The battery ground cable is connected to the negative terminal and directly to the frame of the car underneath the seat. There is another short negative cable attached to the frame (near the front wheel) and the other end of it attaches to the engine with a 5/16 bolt. That is the main ground for the car. The bolt that attaches to the engine holds a shield that protects the starter solenoid. The 5/16 bolt was missing, thus losing all ground to the motor and in turn to the ignition. The shields (once loose) fell against the positive cable end and nut on the solenoid. There was enough ground to short and it started to burn up the nut that holds the positive cable. One of the small wire ends was also broken loose from the solenoid.
Anthony’s soon to be Father in-law Tony appeared to help. I told them that in order to fix this problem, I would need a bolt about 1” long with a lock washer for the ground cable, a large cable end for the positive battery cable to the solenoid, and a small wire end for the small wire on the solenoid. The large cable end would present the biggest problem I figured, but Tony and Anthony were able to come up with one. They also came up with the other parts I asked for.
I told Anthony that I appreciated his help but certainly didn’t expect them to stick around if they didn’t want to. Anthony’s reply was that he would stick around and that he would appreciate it if he were in my shoes. I appreciated his convictions to see me through this. Thanks Anthony and Tony. Any one of those small parts would have kept me there all night until the parts stores opened. If you hadn’t stopped and helped me, it would have put me another 12 to 15 hours further behind. You guys are tops in my book.
After giving Anthony and Tony my thanks, and giving them a small money token, they gave me their email address, and I was on my way again. “God, just let me get this beautiful old classic Corvette home without wrecking it.”
So, now I am on my way again. I thought I’d better give Uncle Carl a call to let him know that I was OK. It must have been 1 or 2 am his time when I called. We discussed the vibration some more and we thought that it could be the torque converter bolts or the harmonic balancer. I figured that I would check it somewhere down the road. I was hoping to get it to Salt Lake City first. It would be a shame if something gave out now that would end this trip on a trailer. We decided that it would be best if I drove the Corvette under the vibration speed at 65 mph. I felt as if I had just got going and hadn’t made any good time since I left Carlsbad. It was darn right embarrassing to drive a 1969 Corvette under the speed limit.
When I drove into Salt Lake City, I saw a Chevrolet dealer and so I pulled over and parked in a WalMart parking lot. I figured that would be the place I would like to be if I needed something to get the car going again. It was around 3 am. I got myself another Cappuccino from a convenience store and gassed up. I took out my Alien Fresh Jerky jack out and Jo’s jack stands and got the Corvette up in the air. As I was putting it on the stands, I noticed what I thought was oil running out of the bottom near the front of the engine. It looks like I’m in real trouble now.