Monday, June 29, 2009

Lakeport VW show

You can go a lot of north in California before reaching not-California. And you have a lot of east-west room to do it. I-5 is a theoretical median that dissects the state tip to tail, until you reach LA, and then it's all coastal-ish.

But back to north. Head outside of San Francisco, and just a little east, and you start driving through wine-country. Napa, Sonoma, Alexander valley - all places of vines and vintages. Once you get out of wine country, you start to reach very dry and very hot areas of California.

People find all sorts of ways to stay cool up there, one of the most common ways is to live near a lake. There are a few lakes to chose from - Berryessa, Clearlake, and farther north there is Whiskeytown and Shasta.

The town of Lakeport sits right on Clearlake, and is home to about 5000 people. It has a cute main street with old pioneer style buildings, most of the old banks have been converted to antique shops or restaurants.

The Norcal Aircooled VW club hosts a show and campout there every year. I've never hung out with these guys, but hey, it's a VW show, and more importantly, a good excuse for a motorcycle ride. So Joe and I suit up last Saturday morning, get caffinated, and head the 100 or so miles to Lakeport to check out the scene.

We take 101 north for a full sprint, and once we reach the little town of Hopland, we turn right on 175 for one of the windiest roads in California. The views, when you have time to look at them are classically wine country.

It's 15 miles of twists and turns, signs that require trucks over 38 feet to turn around, manzanita, dry grass, and a feint hint of sage coming through the helmet. You don't notice too much on a motorcycle as you are paying attention to the road, but you do notice smells. This is the smell of my childhood in Redding, and I can't help but think of my grandparents and their old Studebaker Hawk. But back to Lakeport.

The NAG group has blocked off a one block area for the show. It's small, but not without a few gems. For instance, this pillow:

There's this splittie with the cool front bar, and the center headlight.

A hacked but nice bugtruck

This jeep-bug-kit-thing:

The ever-present peace bug:

This flawless convertible:

John La Torre was there, fresh back from Maupin, and representing as usual.

Here's a bumpersticker that pretty much says what I keep tryingto say, but the other driver can't hear me.

And finally, one of these things is not like the other:

The rest of the pictures are on my flickr site.

Joe and I do a quick walk through the town, and head out in mid afternoon. It's 101 degrees, and the hot air is seriously affecting our mood. An air-conditioned subway, and an afternoon starbucks keep us sane.

We get back to the bay area around 5:00pm, and the bay air drops the temperature by 15 degrees. One of the reasons I live here is the temperature is agreeable. My theory is that I can always put more clothes on, but I can't get more naked. cold is tolerable, heat is repressive.

I'll be camping with the wife next weekend - seriously looking forward to spending time with here along the coast. Happy driving. If anyone cares to join us, we'll be at Ocean Cove north of Jenner on Thursday and Friday.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Steering wheel thing

My parents bought me a new steering wheel for the bus for my 40th Birthday. My old one was so cracked and chipped that it couldn't be aligned without braking, and the risk was that it might snap in several pieces while on the road. Not good.

Well, the thing about a black plastic steering wheel in the California valley in the summer is that it gets hot. As in too hot to touch. Which makes it difficult to fulfill it's primary function of, ya know, steering.

Wheelskins makes some really nice leather wraps and are conveniently located in Emeryville. So I give them a quick visit and the kind owner measures my steering wheel and custom cuts out a piece:

And while I'm camping (and fixing the fuel pump) my wheel goes from this

to this:

to this:

My drive home was nice and calm with no burning hands. Thanks Rebecca for you mad sewing skills.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Lantern thing

Camping with friends requires a certain amount of acceptance that everyone has their quirks. Melissa for example, runs a clean campsite. Always. Dishes go here, cooking goes here, plates here, organized perfectly. (I think that's a good thing)

Joe has a thing about coleman lanterns. He hates them - too bright. Some of his fliers actually say "no Colemans". What he really means is that he doesn't want lanterns with nylon mantels which burn brighter than open flame lanterns.

So Joe uses kerosene lanterns, which both smell like kerosene and require more work. But they give a nice glow and have some sort of soft quality to them.

So, in compliance with his policy, some of us have found kerosene lanterns, and others have been given lanterns. (Note: if you want free lanterns, help a guy who collects them clean his garage. He will find old ones and give them to you like so:)

The brand of choice is vintage Dietz since they have that neat "lift the globe with a level and light it underneath" quality to them. I found an old railroad lantern that is supposed to work for 100 hours with the fuel in the tank. Bonus: It's red.

As for those PVC hanging things, those were the lowest tech lowest cost highest functionalty hangers we could find on the samba. 1/2inch PVC tee, threaded 1/2 pvc pipe, hand cut the notch, hang the lantern on the rain gutter, problem solved.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Trainspotting, Bus Breaking, Now Laughing

This could be a long story. I'd like to embellish it with colorful details about various people involved - the police officers, Joe, John, Melissa, Regis, Chris, the tow truck driver, the Quincy auto parts stores - but I suspect that the mere mention of the above listed people will tell you what happened.

So... for posterity...

Joe and I set out around 3:30 pm on Friday to Trainspotting - Melissa's camp event in Twain, California, on the feather river. We left later than we wanted, but found some nice roads to take it slow on, and enjoy the zen peace of the California central valley.

The sun set behind us as we headed up the sierras. It's a pretty drive, and a slow climb to about 2000 feet. The Feather River determines it's own path through the mountains, and we are powerless to stop it, so we build bridges and tunnels that help us admire the force of nature that is running water.

Now the sun is gone, and the stars come out, and the bus headlights are illuminating the road as only a VW bus can - poorly. There is enough of a waning moon (technically a gibbous moon) to light the road, as we descend slowly and the stars do their happy dance in the sky.

Speaking of happy dances, have you ever thought deeply about the engine on your car? Robert Pirsig did in a really good philosophy book years ago. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance talks about Quality and Truth, technology in a dehumanized world, romantic and classical approaches to life, and finding beauty in good mechanical work. There is a happy dance between all the moving parts under the hood, and though we can romantically imagine a purring cat, the classicist will thing of it as series of engineered parts working as physical laws would allow. This may be correct, but it lacks a human quality that we so desire. Pirsig suggests that we can marry the two viewpoints, and that we probably need to in order to keep the technological world from destroying the central part of ourselves that is human.

So the happy dance in my engine compartment is off a few steps. Well, more accurately, it went from a waltz to floor nap just like that, a mere 10 miles from the camp site. Sputter, sputter more, dead. Is it strange that part of me grinned a little? I think I relish a challenge. So I pop open the engine compartment, shine the light, and see nothing immediate.

Note: at this stage, I return to previous experience and go for the obvious - points, condenser, rotor. No diagnosis, just assumption. In a word - Fail.

Joe and John show up, with the CHP and a series of very bright lights allow me to change to a new distributor. Turn the key, listen to the crank, and the engine just crosses its arm and shakes its head at me. About two hours later, I look at the stars and the time, and decide that tonight is not the night to fix it. The kind gentlemen of the CHP call a tow truck, and ten miles later I get dropped off in the camp site, and head over to the late night hold outs who were curious if I was going to make it. Two vodkas with cranberry juice later and I'm two sheets to the wind and two eyes on the pillow.

It's Saturday morning, and I'm greeted with french toast, sausage, and hot water for coffee. (Coffee story later.) I also get list of smiling faces, warm hugs, and the collective experience of several like-minded people who know their cars just as well.

It's fixing time, so back to the back of the bus.

Step one: I know I messed up the timing and the points on the distributor, so I take it out to set everything on it perfectly. We've tested the coil and the choke, so we've ruled out anything else. It goes back in, I crank, and still get nothing. Staring a car requires fuel and flame. We've determined that flame is not the problem. John mentions that he doesn't smell fuel. He mentioned it earlier, I ignored him. I'm stupid like that. In a pinch, always listed to John. Anyone who carries around a tent this big obviously needs it to contain his years of life experience. (This is his smaller tent. Yeah, he's that cool.)

Step two: Remove the fuel line from the carb, direct it to a cup crank the motor and see if fuel comes out of the line. It doesn't. Fuel pump. Dead. sigh. But don't let me miss the opportunity for dramatic swearing and occasional fist clenching while shouting FUEL PUMP! So for the rest of the day, I occasionally shout Fuel pump! in the same manner of William Shatner shouting KHAAAN!

Step three: Acquire fuel pump. Apparently it's easy. Chris calls his friends who do a search for me. Regis suggests that I take Melissa an here loaner syncro to Quincy and check the local flaps (Friendly Local Auto Parts Store). Napa has one. The right one. Right there. Right on!

Step four: Install. and by install, I mean 2 bolts, reconnect gas lines, and turn over engine. And that's it. Seriously. I set the timing and we're done. Eazy Peazy

Step five: Victory lap. Grin. Beer. It was a good day.

Some lessons learned. Always bring a timing light. Always listen to John. Never assume your first diagnosis is correct. Especially if it's mine. Be kind to your local CHP, they may be your only method of getting a tow truck when there is no cell phone reception. The bible of John Muir may be the start of your VW fixing adventure, but the writings of Bentley will be your finish. It helps to look at the breakdown as a challenge. Find joy in manual labor. It helps when you are fixing things.

Later that night, Regis gives me a sheet of paper to write a thought down, burn it in the camp fire, and thanks the road gods for good fortune He's right, it was lucky. The fuel pump brakes, as anything with moving parts does eventually. The laws of entropy trump the desire to go camping everytime.

But.... dude, you broke down... how are you lucky? (and thanks for asking)
The Fail: a part that may have gone under worse conditions
The Win(s): 10 miles from camp - easy to go there.
-Perfect weather
-Very nice tow truck driver who secured my bus well
-Perfect camp site
-Available parts, not too expensive
-Lots of expertise helping
-All the tools I needed
-Perfect weather for it
-Good humor the whole time
-Food made for me
-Wasn't a serious problem i.e. didn't need to drop the engine
I could go on, but you get the idea. Part of the deal of diving an old car is you must accept mechanical failure, and do everything to avoid it. When it happens, there is only one correct response. Smile, fix it, and keep moving.

More pictures here.

Thanks everyone for the kind ribbing, the moral support, the help, and the reason to laugh.

Friday, June 5, 2009

West Coast Metric

Anyone who restores a bus has a small handful of companies that they rattle off when looking for parts:
West Coast Metric
Mid America Motorworks
Wolfsburg West
Bus Depot
Just Kampers
Go Westy

While attending a conference, I had a chance to stop by one of the long-term companies down in Torrance, CA - West Coast Metric. I needed parts, they were there, so I just stopped by and picked them up.

First, I'm welcomed by the service manager, he posts on the samba with the name (deleted for privacy), but trust me, if you use the samba, you know him.

He takes me back to the museum and lets my eyes pop out of my head, and my jaw drops to the floor. Don't drool on your keyboard.
Rare. One of a Kind. Flawless.

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