Friday, July 19, 2013

My Summer Vacation 2013

A Man and His Car This year, as we have for the past 12 years, Carol and I loaded up the dune buggy with all our camping gear and made the drive to Big Bear Lake for the annual Manx Club Big Bear Bash. This year was a record-setting rally for the club with 166 buggies in attendance. There were five groups of cars that went off-road and one group that stayed on the street. The weather was perfect and there was only one car that I know of that had to be towed back from our off-road adventures. As I said, this was our 13th year in a row at the Big Bear rally and up until this year we'd only had one minor mechanical problem. And that one minor problem was when our muffler fell off at the beginning of a Saturday run several years ago. That was no big deal, since all I did was stop, run back and grab the hot muffler, throw it into the car and we were back on the road again. This year was different. This year, our Saturday run was flawless. We had a great day of bumping around the back roads, driving along through the dust and through the forests and up into some really spectacular views. On Sunday when we set out we were in the middle of the pack of 40 some cars for a quick run up into the mountains and then back to camp. Just as we left the highway and were headed to the dirt, my car just stopped running. I coasted through the turn and off into a convenient wide shoulder along the road. As we sat there, most of the cars behind us in the pack went on by us and up the road towards the mountains. Due to the abruptness of the failure, I guessed that some part of the engine electrical system had failed. There was no way to tell exactly what had broken, fallen off, or whatever without looking, so I climbed out of the seat and walked around to the back of the car to see if I could figure it out. I opened the little hatch that gives me access to the engine and looked inside -- there was nothing obviously missing or loose on the engine. Maybe something had failed due to dust or corrosion. I re-seated all the wires that run the engine and tried to start the car. Nothing. Okay, no loose wires, dashboard lights are all working, it's got to be something inside the distributor. I popped the distributor cap and there it was. The ignition points had broken somehow. Repairs By now, a couple of the cars behind us had stopped to see if they could help. I had started to unscrew the hold-down screw for the points with the multi-tool I always carry on my belt when someone put a real screwdriver into my hand. I looked up and said, "Thanks," and continued working. When I got the point set out of the distributor the problem was easy to see. The tiny, fiber cam-follower has broken off -- first time that ever happened to me. I had a spare set of points in the tool kit I carry in the car, so I dug them out. When I tried to fit them into place, I discovered that, though the spare point set would fit and function, the wire that connected them to the condenser was attached going the wrong direction and wouldn't reach the connection in this distributor. No problem. I cut the wire on the broken set off right at where it was attached to the point set. Then I cut the wire on the spare set at right at the connector. I used my teeth to strip some insulation off each of the wires, twisted the two ends together and wrapped the connection with tape. Now I had a working set of replacement points. It was just a matter of re-installing them into the distributor. Points Easier said than done. Working on a VW distributor is best done with it out of the car and on your work bench. It's easy that way. Working on it in the car is a entirely different level of difficulty. After trying a number of different methods of getting the point set and it's tiny screw into the distributor lined up in such a way that they could be attached correctly, I finally managed to get it done (you have to stand on one foot and tilt your head, hold your mouth a certain way and you can do it). I set the point gap visually, tightened down the screw and walked around to the front of the car. When I turned the key, the engine started right up and idled nicely. I closed up the hatch, re-positioned the spare tire and strapped it down. I climbed back into the car and we were off to catch up to the rest of the group and continue our morning adventure. On the Trail I later apologized to the group for making them wait. What I didn't say was that I thought I did a pretty good job of getting my car back on the road quickly. Doesn't matter. The folks who stopped to help knew how well the repairs went. More importantly, the car got fixed so I could load my camping gear back on it and go home without the expensive aid of a tow truck. In my view, it was another perfect year, our thirteenth consecutive Big Bear Bash. What is life but a series of problems and their solutions? Without an obstacle now and then, life would be rather boring, wouldn't it?