How I spent my 42nd Birthday. 10/5/05

Yesterday’s entry ended: “I imagined a nice short day at work, followed by some analog therapy of fixing my car, and a nice drive home with the top down.”

If this were a movie those words would have an ominous sound track playing behind them. Since it is just a blog, you’ll have to imagine it. (I won’t ever put some midi track in my HTML… If I do you have permission to come shoot me in the head.)

Instead my meeting schedule got completely rearranged, and after the digital.forest traditional birthday cake in the kitchen, instead of running over to NAPA to do my alternator swap, I ended up on the second longest conference call of my life. My title says “VP, Technical Operations” but in reality I was playing Contract Lawyer… slogging through the legal language of a vendor agreement several hundred pages thick. (Don’t wait for the midi track, just shoot me now!)

I finally escaped from the office at 5:15 PM, looking at a 60+ mile, Seattle rush-hour commute, with lowering skies, in a leaky 40 year old car with a suspect electrical system. Great.

And of course, it was my birthday! The wife & kids are waiting at home to celebrate.

The car starts right up (still has that new battery smell) and I zip down the hill to NAPA. They have my alternator, but there is a glitch. I had expected a two-piece fan/pulley section and instead it has a separate fan and pulley. Of course the Jag has this oddball grooved belt, and after I did my alternator mod last year some knowledgeable guys told me I could build a “groove” with washers (semi-brilliant!) No problem, I figured I could just swap my modified fan & pulley from the old alternator and be fine. (time for you to cue that ominous sound track again.)

Insert Problem #1. The bolt on the end of the alternator shaft is metric, and an oddball metric size at that: 22mm. That is slightly smaller than the 7/8th inch socket I have in my portable toolbox in the Jag’s boot. No problem I’ll buy one from NAPA!

Insert Problem #2. The largest socket NAPA has is a 19mm. I bring it to the parts guy and tell him that. He fishes around for a socket to fit it. The best he can find is 7/8ths. However he has a power torque wrench and I just have hand tools. I figure I’ll let him remove the pulleys. (I learned all about transfer of liability in my earlier conference call!) He manages to get the pulleys off and we swap them.

While popping the pulley from the old alternator I discovered what had caused it to fail. As I picked it up off the ground a diode that had fallen out was lying on the pavement(!) It had obviously came off internally and having it sitting vertically had caused it to fall out. Go figure.

Insert Problem #3. The new alternator has a slightly different housing than the old one. The shaft is surrounded by a raised sort of bridge, and it leaves no room for the bolt at the end once my fat grooved pulley is slid over it. I had this problem before when I modified the first Hitachi I put on this car. I fixed that by cutting the bushing down a bit and using JB-Weld (the choice of mechanical kludges everywhere!) to stick the fan to the bushing to center it. The bushing from the old alternator was twice as thick as it should have been.

Insert The Solution That Saved My Birthday!

The NAPA guy didn’t have any cutting tools, (and probably didn’t want to risk any further transfer of liability), so he sent me, and the bushing next door to a truck repair place. I jogged over to System Seven and found a mechanic. I explained the situation briefly and he volunteered to cut the bushing in half. He did warn me that it may not be perfect, and I assured him that I wasn’t seeking perfection, just something good enough to get me home. He put the bushing in a vice and expertly sliced it in two, right where I had showed him to cut. KZOK happened to be playing on their shop stereo. I mentioned that the car he was helping me fix was just photographed for KZOK’s calendar, so I’d have to get him a copy when it was published later in the year. I introduced myself and he told me his name was Todd. I plan on calling Steve Slayton tonight and making sure he plays something on KZOK dedicated to Todd and the guys at the System Seven Repair for saving my ass, my birthday, and my Jaguar. Something rockingly awesome from the early 60’s, just like the E-type… Dick Dale’s “Miserlou” would be good.

The bushing in hand, I sprint back over to the NAPA (where my car was sitting, bonnet & boot up, my tools & valuables everywhere, and a half-eaten office birthday cake sitting in the passenger seat!) and pop the fan back on. It fits PERFECT! The fan has maybe 1.5mm of clearance from the housing thanks to Todd’ precision cutting, and the pulley has more than adequate clearance to put on the bolt. I put the whole thing together and bring it out to the car. I’ve removed and re-installed alternators on this car so many times I swear i could do it in my sleep… like a well-drilled soldier cleaning his rifle. The new Hitachi goes on and I tighten the belt. Remove all the tools, re-connect the battery, hop in and hit the starter button. The moment of truth…

The noise of a Jaguar XK engine is a truly wonderful sound. The deep rumble of the long-stroke big-bore six, the clatter of high notes from the dual overhead cam cylinder head, mixed with the wind of triple carbs and the whine of the timing chain and V-belt. It is often called “Sir William’s Sixth Symphony” in reference to Sir William Lyons, founder, heart and soul of Jaguar Cars Ltd. It burbles with pleasing menace at idle and emits a spine tingling roar when driven in anger. Sir William’s Sixth greeted my ears, but it was the sight of the Lucas Ammeter… yes The Prince Of Darkness himself! That Lucas Ammeter on the dash indicating a hard swing to the left. No words in the English language can describe the immense pleasure I felt seeing that needle swing towards the “C”, indicating that the Prince Of Darkness was showing current from the alternator to the battery. “Joy” doesn’t do it. “Relief” doesn’t either. Even “heights of climactic delight and waves of multi-orgasmic pleasure” don’t do the feeling justice.

Let’s just put it this way: I was feeling good!

I took the box and paperwork back into the NAPA to get my core charge credited and probably did not even touch the ground while making that 20 yard stroll. As the NAPA guy was doing the credit card work I went into their washroom and made an attempt to clean my very dirty hands and arms of car grease. Even clean cars get you dirty while working on them… go figure. As I finished up the paperwork I saw Todd outside having a look at the car and he waved to me. Finished, I went out and started packing up the car. I told Todd more about the history of it, and thanked him profusely again for allowing me to make it home on my birthday. He was happy to have helped out and graciously accepted my thanks. I fired up the car and headed home. It got dark shortly after, but I felt confident running with my lights, and watched with immense satisfaction that Lucas gauge showing a positive flow of electricity once again.

I hate driving this car at night, but I didn’t have a choice. At least it was late enough now that the freeway was merely crowded, instead of stop & go. At least it never rained, and it wasn’t too cold to run top-down.

I finally arrived at home around 8pm, and was immediately tossed into the Jetta and driven to our local Mexican restaurant for a traditional Carne Asada and Marguerita dinner. Christopher drove so I downed two stiff ‘Ritas and got to wear the birthday Sombrero. (I’ll post the pic as soon as I scan the polaroid.)

All’s well that ends well.

Sorry I didn’t take any pictures. I usually stock my blog with plenty, but I was just so focussed on getting the car FIXED that it never even occurred to me to stop and document anything by camera. That should be an indication of how stressed I was…

One thought on “How I spent my 42nd Birthday. 10/5/05”

  1. some birthday Chuck – you’ll remember it! spent my 42nd trying to learn to ski for first time – the (as you’d expect) pain will long stick in my mind … JL

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