Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.

Theodore Roosevelt, The Strenuous Life

August 9, 2010

Cars and Trucks, Miscellaneous Comment

Comments Off on The F-150 Repair

For context, please read the prior three posts concerning this topic before continuing.

Ford recommends changing the left and right lower intake manifold gaskets and the front cover gasket whenever there is unexplained coolant loss in their 1997 – 1999 pickups equipped with the 4.2 liter V-6. My hunch was that one of the intake gaskets had failed because of a rough idle when the truck was cold and because I had never f0und any sign of moisture in the oil. So I postponed replacement of the front cover gasket. The biggest problem I had was reattaching the IMRC actuators to the back side of the intake manifold. I would hold the lower cap screw, slip my hand in the small space between the left actuator and the firewall only to discover that I had dislodged the actuator and I couldn’t move my hand. My wife could do it, but I must admit being prone across the engine with no support at all from her feet and reaching down there looked like an activity that would shortly lead to complaints.

Upon finishing the job, I got another check engine light, but it was only the throttle position sensor. This was not a big concern because I did no work on the TPS but for unplugging and re-connecting it.  It did not re-appear after I reset the code, unplugged the TPS cable and plugged it back in. I may have a loose connection or a failing part, but I will wait for another check engine light before investigating further. The manufacturer recommends an immediate oil and filter change following the repair because removing the intake manifold causes coolant to enter the oil reservoir. I decided to drive the vehicle about one mile to get the water off the gallery in the engine, stir and mix the water with the oil,  and get it warm so it flowed out well. It did. It looked like a Starbuck’s frappuccino. Then the frightening part became apparent. When I re-started after the oil change, coolant started dripping from the exhaust pipe. This indicates a failed head gasket, cracked block or cracked head. But it could also indicate I pumped a slug of coolant into the exhaust on the last start before the repair. Based on the performance of the truck – it runs better than it has in years, the stability of  the coolant level, the continued lack of water in the oil, and the coolant drip ceasing on subsequent uses, I assume that my repair is holding and did in fact remedy the problem.

August 3, 2010

Cars and Trucks, Miscellaneous Comment, Opinion

Comments Off on Myth: Shade Tree Mechanics Can No Longer Do Major Engine Repairs

I had not played with head gasket or short-block replacements in over twenty years, at which time I did some work on two naturally aspirated (carburetor equipped) cars. One had an early computer control system and the other was fully vacuum controlled. Then came the needed repair discussed in yesterday’s post to our 1997 F-150.  If you are mechanically inclined and have done major work on old cars, you can work on modern ones, too. However, you will need more tools than in the old days. In particular, you should have an inexpensive OBD-II (On Board Diagnostics, Second Generation) scanner. This is the less-than-$100 tool that tells you what the trouble codes are after the check engine light comes on. I received two such codes in the course of my repair. One was a misfire in cylinder 3 on the final start prior to the repair. This allowed me to conclude the likely location of the coolant leak and pay particularly close attention to the area near the cylinder 3 intake. The second code concerned a faulty throttle position sensor. I reconnected the TPS, reset the code, and the code has not returned. I considered that code spurious, but will have to start repairs – probably starting with replacing the TPS –  if it occurs again.

The next thing you should have that is essential are directions. I particularly like factory service manuals, which are best purchased long before needed, while they are still available. It is an expenditure that has no return until years after purchase, but is well worth the expense. It makes sense to purchase these for your vehicles if you plan to keep your vehicles for a long time.

The last thing you need is a basic understanding of how fuel injection and modern engine control work. That will be the subject of a later post.

August 2, 2010

Cars and Trucks, Miscellaneous Comment

Comments Off on Fun with Ford F-150

My excuse for not posting is my recent work on our 1997 F-150 Ford pick up, the oldest operating vehicle we own. We used it a normal amount in the early years, but now we drive it less than 3000 miles a year, usually for hauling gravel, refuse, plywood and other heavy loads, and for getting back and forth to work in snow storms.  We have owned the truck since new, taking delivery late in March 1996. It has just under 70,000 miles on it. We factory ordered it, equipping it with the optional 4-wheel anti-lock brakes, 4-wheel drive, limited slip low range rear end, and the five speed manual transmission. I usually change the oil annually, but this time I slipped down to 18 months. For years I have added coolant. It quickly was lost, returning to its new normal level in the coolant recovery tank. After I filled it, I caught whiffs of coolant, but could not find a leak. Recently the truck was so low on coolant, it over-heated and knocked, so I decided it was time to find the leak. I added a Schrader valve to a spare radiator cap, and added air until the coolant system reached 16 psi. I scouted all the likely sources of leaks, including the water pump weep hole, using a mirror, flashlight and appropriate bifocals. I found none.

This was cause for alarm because the only place for the water to be going was in the engine. A few minutes of web research illustrated that unexplained coolant loss was, indeed serious, costing many owners their engines. The 4.2 liter engines built in 1997 through 1999 were failing due to the piston coming up on water, bending crank shafts or connecting rods and ruining engines. One adviser mentioned ceasing operation immediately when water loss occurred and having your truck towed in for repairs. Ford, through their Technical Service Bulletins (TSBs), advised changing the lower intake manifold gaskets and the front cover gasket. They even had a recall for the front cover gasket, which fails on every truck, but it ended in 2001! I received a bunch of recall notices, but not that one. Here I was treating the leak as a common annoyance, adding water for three or four years. What a fool!

Then things got interesting. Of course, we stopped driving the truck in preparation for the repair, giving me time to buy the gaskets and other parts I needed. A few weeks later, the engine stopped rotating when I tried to start the truck to move it into the garage for the repair. The stall was temporary; rotation resumed, the engine started and the check engine light came on. Oh oh. A quick scan showed #3 cylinder had misfired. My immediate thought was I started it once too often and had ruined the engine. I cleared the fault and it didn’t return. The engine sounded fine, so I presumed I had caused no harm and decided to proceed with the repair.

I’ll tell you about the repair and the aftermath in my next posts if you’re interested!


July 7, 2010

Miscellaneous Comment, Money and Finance

Comments Off on On PVC Pipe

PVC pipe is great for irrigation and other uses. However, there are two material pitfalls to avoid that I learned the hard way. In small pipe sizes, as used in the home, Class 200 pipe is always thinner than Schedule 40. Schedule 40 is always worth the price premium. There is a convenient one part primer and solvent. It is terrible.

I was trying to repair an irrigation header. The fifteen year old Class 200 pipe deformed so badly before my cutters would penetrate that joints fastened with the one part primer and adhesive failed. I must replace the entire header.

In short, use Schedule 40 for piping, primer for priming, and the solvent welding compound for joinery.

June 26, 2010

Miscellaneous Comment

Comments Off on The Food Paradox

My wife prepared some celery for me earlier in the week and noted that I would not be the first to dine on the treat. Little insects had already taken a nibble in a few spots, causing the area immediately surrounding the damage to turn brown. Spots like these were common in celery many years ago. They have largely disappeared, giving way to pesticide treated celery that is near perfect in appearance. The  paradox struck me. Organic celery, with all its blemishes, may be better for you than the non-organic celery. We are psychologically equipped to pick the non-organic product based on what we see, not the more healthful product.

June 20, 2010

Miscellaneous Comment

Comments Off on A Great Quote

I watched the movie “Pirate Radio” a few nights ago. My favorite line was one by Bill Nighy’s character:

“Governments loathe people being free.”

June 19, 2010

Miscellaneous Comment

Comments Off on Home and Happiness

Does the space we live in contribute to our happiness? Two houses, inanimate as they are, seemed to have contributed significantly to the happiness and contentment my wife and me, yet they have little in common. We have often puzzled over why the properties affected us so strongly. Over the years I have drawn many conclusions about the particular attributes that influenced our perception. Most of my conclusions were probably wrong. I now believe the key factors are separation from the public roadway and a sense of quiet and privacy upon entering.

The two properties are our current residence in Southwest Washington and a small portion of a house we rented in Corvallis, Oregon over thirty years ago. There are many features that contributed to comfort at both properties, and very few significant problems with each. Included on the positive tally for the Corvallis property were  little things like a standing pilot on the old gas range that kept the coffee pot warm on a cold winter’s day and kept the cat toasty when the pot was not in his way;  a giant Sequoia tree in the back yard; and a shallow fireplace that drafted like a torch, radiating well enough to remove any chill from the abundant dampness and drizzle outside. Features of the present house include the little wood stove that removes the foothill chill so well, a dual fuel range in a kitchen that supports home cooking, canning, and great food; and an openable skylight to help cool things off after a hot summer’s day. Both properties are  small with a warm, cozy feeling, not ostentation and coldness. Neither has formal rooms or furnishings. Both are kick your feet up and make yourself at home kinds of places. Both properties are nicely shaded by trees from the summer sun, remaining cool on the hottest days despite not having air conditioning.

Having lived in so many houses over the years that did not feel quite right, I am extremely hesitant to leave here for fear of moving five or six more times before finding another property that is right for us. I do not have the time for that.

I share the view that guides so much of what architects do. Our buildings and spaces are important to our lives and how we feel about ourselves.

June 13, 2010

Miscellaneous Comment

Comments Off on A Little Bit About Plant Patents

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) has been granting plant patents since the 1930s. These were patents for hybrids created with cross pollination, very traditional methods. These patents were challenged in Diamond v. Chakrabarty, 447 U.S. 303 (1980). Mr. Chakrabarty was a General Electric employee who assigned his patent to his employer. In a nutshell, the Supreme Court affirmed the right of the PTO to grant patents for living things. Thus, the legal framework for patenting genetically modified organisms existed before we could bombard chromosomes with particular genes.

Although my research in this area is just beginning, it appears the next important case in strengthening patent holder rights was J.E.M. Ag Supply, Inc., dba Farm Advantage, Inc., et. al. v. Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc. , 534 U.S. 124 (2001). This case held that plants could be patented either under the Plant Variety Protection Act (PVPA) of 1970,  or with utility patents under 35 USC 101. The former allows farmers to keep seed for future plantings on their own land and allows scientists to propagate seed for research.  Section 101 does not have these exceptions to the rights of the patent holder. Obviously, the typical patent holder, such as Monsanto, prefers utility patents, giving them greater rights. Thus, farmers violate the patent holders license agreement if using Monsanto’s GMO seed  collected from the farmer’s prior crop.

June 13, 2010

Miscellaneous Comment

Comments Off on Congratulations to Rusty

Rumor has it that Rusty, author of honeybeesuite.com, graduated Friday, June 11, 2010 with a masters degree in environmental studies (MES). She is now an agronomist with a related masters degree. Congratulations!


June 13, 2010

Current Events, Miscellaneous Comment

Comments Off on Abby Sunderland

It was great to hear that Abby Sunderland was found safe and sound. Unfortunately, there were a few comments about the irresponsibility of her parents for allowing this circumnavigation by a 16 year old girl. I take issue with the criticism and express support for allowing the expedition upon which Abby embarked.

I can only speculate that Abby wanted to do this and has probably asked about this voyage for years. Her parents probably did not push her into this; she wanted to do it. Judging by the seas she faced, the decisions she made to engage the emergency radio beacons, and her survival despite several knock-downs, I have no doubt she was physically, intellectually, mentally, and experientially prepared.

Young people will use their energies. We are fortunate to have young folks who wish to use those energies in ways that are good, challenging and constructive. Abby could have as easily decided to use her intellect to avoid the cops after consuming illicit drugs or pursuing other  illegal pursuits. She did not. Yes, not all young folks have parents who can afford the expense of this trip. That is not the point. Abby was old enough to appreciate the risks and comprehend the relevant aspects of the adventure.

Another concern by some is the expenditure of government funds for the rescue. These are tax dollars well spent. They support adventure, and perhaps keep free governments from spending on worse things. Having a bunch of well trained rescuers at the ready for Abby was not a bad thing for Australia, nor is it for any nation.

When my wife and I bicycled from Corvallis, Oregon to Fair Haven, New Jersey years ago, a middle aged neighbor smiled and said his only regret was he could not join us.  Now I am the middle aged guy with a glint in my eye and pangs of remorse for the lost adventures of youth of which I am reminded by Abby’s journey.

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