Mother Country Trail 2018, Day T-30: Sealing the Deal, Part 1

Snow fell on New Jersey again, but this time it didn’t seem to match the forecast in a good way, not a bad one. A few inches certainly accumulated, but it hasn’t matched the fury of a few weeks ago. So, with electricity powering the lights, heater and stereo in the garage, it was time to dive back into the case.

First I sealed the rear housing with The Right Stuff. I got it in a 5 oz. caulk gun package, which makes it a lot easier to dispense. Then the bolts were torqued and I attached the front housing.

Once I had the front housing attached, I continued through the order of operations in the manual. Now, the manual is designed for use in a dealer service bay setting, I assume with a full set of factory tools, parts, and components on hand. One of these components is a core plug that goes in the end of the differential lock shaft. I’m pretty OCD about this stuff, but even that is a bit beyond my level of detail. I smacked and torqued the front housing on only to see the error of doing things “in order.”

So, off the front housing came, and I rebuilt the diff lock selector fork to spec. At this point, the old Right Stuff, which now had to be cleaned off to re-attach the housing, hadn’t even dried yet, so I decided to wrap for the night and deal with it tomorrow when it would be easier to clean off.

This is how I felt after all this.

The good thing is, at this point, if I have no further issues, I think this can be sealed up tomorrow, and I can turn to the transmission fixes over the next few days. On the one hand, I’m stressing the timeline; on the other, I’m looking at the list, and this is the biggest chunk. There’s a lot of transmission work as part of this, which is new territory for me, but after that’s done and the bottom of the truck is buttoned up, what should be left is a lot less dirty and a lot less intense. At some point, I’ll also get into interior prep for the journey, which is the fun part! I have to start thinking up what to do there so my dad and I can fire up the Walker-Turner in a few weeks and fab up a sleeping/storage setup. At some point I want to fab up a really nice semi-permanent setup, but before I make that investment I think it’s a good idea to experiment with a few ideas and see what works in the field.

We’re just over four weeks, but everything is fine.

Soundtrack: Dire Straits, Brothers in Arms; Green Day, American Idiot

Mother Country Trail 2018, Day T-31: I Think I Can

With no curling this weekend, I really dove into the Disco. Today is a month even to go, and it’s starting to feel a bit real.  I’m leaving on the 20th, and it was the 20th today.

Thus the pace quickens. I’d like to do some kind of test run at least two weekends before. I’m considering two Rover events — one in Quebec, one in Virginia — and a few more likely ~600 mile weekend runs. I may tinker with the National Park Service unit map and see if I can plot out how to knock off a few new ones in a weekend trip, especially because doing things like that regularly in this truck is part of the goal of this project.

I decided the primary goal this weekend was to remove the old transfer case, transfer the necessary items to the new transfer case, and get the new transfer case fully assembled and sealed with the combined components. This was partially accomplished within the traditional bounds of “the weekend.” So, into the garage Duncan went again, for at least a week of driveline surgery.

First, it was time to drop the exhaust, and this is where I found out that my exhaust patch from a few weeks ago was, in fact, the snake oil I thought it was. I figured this had probably happened when I drove on the Interstate for the first time and it got very noticably louder, but a visual confirmed it.

And so disassembly began. First I dropped the swaybar to allow the Y-pipe to come out, then once the exhaust was down (easy as I’d already undone all the problem fasteners a few weeks ago), it was on to one of my least favourite jobs on a Rover, disconnecting propshafts. Thanks to the one tool that every Land Rover owner should have, it was way easier than it could be, but still took almost an hour to do both. Finally, they were both down, the necessary bolts retained, and it was onward.

Thanks to the modification I did last year to the centre console, replacing the rivets holding the covers for the transmission and transfer case shifters in place with rivnuts and screws, I made quick work of exposing the shift linkage. I was happy to see the lithium grease in the shifter pivot assembly somewhat holding up after a year, though I will renew it when I put this all back together, and pack in a bit more overflow!

Next was the centre removable crossmember under the transmission. This can be a notorious right royal PITA. It took me about 45 minutes to get the eight bolts off, and I had to cut one off with the die grinder, so I guess I should figure out what size that was and call up McMaster Carr. Then it was some smacks with the sledgehammer, spread the frame with the Big Red hydraulic ram, and it came off, to expose this horrifying sight underneath. Certainly the truck will already require some welding when I get home, but since this is covered with the crossmember, which bridges this hole and inherently stabilises it, I’m going to pretend it isn’t there until the Summer of Bodywork commences on arrival at home.

The final act of Saturday was pulling the handbrake drum off the back and removing the rear output flange; it’s quite frankly nicer than the one on the Q box, so I’ll probably reuse it (especially as it has nice zinc coated Grade 8 bolts that I put on!). At this point, I started to see just how grimy thousands of miles of gear oil spraying everywhere can be. On the plus side, this must have helped to mitigate some rust that otherwise might have been. After everything’s together (by which time the string of Nor’Easters hitting us “should” have stopped), I’ll powerwash it all heavily.

I tucked it in for Saturday, got to bed at midnight, and planned a continuation of activities for Sunday. The Fitzgerald family had tacos for dinner on St. Patrick’s Day, having realised after decades that we don’t really love corned beef and cabbage.

Sunday it was back to work, and time to disconnect the box. I undid the shifter linkage completely, removed the input gears, loosened all of the bolts securing the transfer box to the transmission, and detached the transfer case mount bracket from the chassis. At this point, I looked at all of this and decided that I am a man of little upper body strength, and perhaps it might be worth it to pony up for a transmission jack, instead of using what my friend Rob called “the sea otter procedure.” So, it was off to Harbor Freight, land of cheap tools that might kill you, but you’re only using them once so you’ll take the risk to save a few bucks. Forty-five minutes later, I returned from Harbor Freight (the former Saturn of Green Brook, with the service department hours still posted on the side door) with a lighter wallet and the relative guarantee I wouldn’t be tapping my ER deductible for caving my chest in.

I detached everything, and had my dad come and supervise from the top while I wiggled the case off the bolts. This went great until I hung up on the stud on the top right. In retrospect, I should have removed the rubber transfer case mount and its bracket from the case, as I ended up wedging it against the chassis. But it was getting late, I was wiped, and I had laid waste to my body today, so I washed up and left it for later.

Monday I went to the office, and had a bit of discomfort with some more repetitive copy-paste coding things, having wrecked my hand over the weekend. I got home late and couldn’t get too much on the truck, unfortunately.

But I was pretty excited, because my bulk pack of Powerspark Red distriutor rotors came from England. The current crop of Genuine Land Rover distributor rotors is, in a word, crap, so this company has stepped in with an aftermarket replacement. I personally don’t need them right now, but I’ll carry them with me across, as a few Mendonites are looking to tinker with ignition issues and have called dibs. They have had some good reviews with their earlier products for other British marques.

Tuesday, I decided that I needed to motivate myself more to get this done, so into the garage again. I decided that part of my alignment issue was that I was trying to drag the case out with the rubber mount and bracket dragging on the chassis. But…I was in a Catch-22, because the nuts for the mount had been on there for a while, and were attached to a very flexible bit of rubber, keeping me from being able to apply the necessary torque to liberate them.

The transmission jack was helpful, but the transfer box is mounted at an angle, so it didn’t totally fit on the flat jack plate. The service manual directed the dealership to fabricate an elaborate, angeled bracket to remove them, but I can’t weld yet, and I don’t think it’d mate to my jack, so my dad and I fabbed something up on his pre-WWII Walker-Turner table saw.

I took this outside, but it didn’t help. Finally, I felt the energy of despair and rage build me and I gave a Herculian shove as my dad stood above through the hatch prising the case from the transmission. And then, we were free of the input shaft, and I lowered the old case in glory!

With the driveshafts, transfer case, and exhaust gone, there’s so much space for activities!

Now to the next step: finishing the build of the new Q box. I now have the old box down and can pillage everyhing I need from it. I started tidying the mating surfaces with 400-grit wet/dry sandpaper and brake cleaner. Tomorrow, assuming the latest Nor’Easter doesn’t send us back into refuge across town at our friend’s house, I’ll start sealing it up.

 

Soundtrack:

Saturday, 17 March: Donna the Buffalo, Live from the American Ballroom; Skinny Lister, Forge & Flagon; N.W.A., Straight Outta Compton.

Sunday, 18 March: Culture Club, Colour by Numbers; Elton John, Too Low for Zero.

Tuesday, 20 March: Billy Joel, The Stranger

Mother Country Trail 2018, Day T-36: Out-Putting

The electricity now restored and civilization restored to the homestead, it was time to really crank up the action.

Unfortunately, Tuesday was lost to a pretty massive migraine. On Wednesday, I decided it might be a good idea to print out the LT230Q repair manual at the office, and look at it on paper, instead of on my phone. When I started really leafing through it, I realized there was a sort of order of operations I was only half following, so I decided to jump on the bandwagon, better late than never.

First up was disassembling the front output housing completely. I took the flange off using one of my favorite tricks — 30mm socket on an impact gun, nevermind the special flange grabbing tool mentioned in the manual — and pulled the various internals in the prescribed order of operations.

Next was measuring tolerances and cleaning things up. It probably wasn’t necessary to measure the width of the openings in the finger of the high-low mechanism, especially since the truck this came out of was apparently a street truck, but why not?

Next up was replacing the output seal. The old one probably didn’t need replacing, but I wanted to do it. I pulled the old with a seal puller, and greased up the new one.

As I was doing this, I realized I actually already had had one on hand. A few years ago I was going to redo the rear output seal because of what I thought was a leak, and I bought a pattern flange from Bearmach via LRDirect. I never used it, but I thought I’d take a peek at the seal and compare and contrast. I was very disappointed in it, and also in the flange (Bearmach has really upped their game in the past few years, and has become a huge North American community supporter, so they may well be better now), so I decided that the Bearmach flange had a perfect life as a flange seating tool, since I don’t have the $1,000 of official service tools to do this job exactly as per the manual!

It was now time for the most basic beginning of the reassembly process. I picked up Loctite 290 on Amazon, the factory spec item, unavailable at my local hardware store. It’s the “wicking grade” stuff, and green, and it’s way, way thinner than the usual red or blue stuff I use. Little things like this I think are worth the spend to do these jobs you don’t want to do again unnecessarily! I just used it on the set screw for the finger of the high-low housing, but even that little bit gave me a sense of accomplishment.

At some point, in the middle of a trippy Grateful Dead jam, I looked at my phone and realized it was 1:00 AM. Since I had work in the morning, I packed it in and headed to bed, which was a bit of a waste of productive time for this insomniac as I wasn’t asleep until 3:00 AM.

Thursday night, against my better health interests, it was back to the garage to disassemble the rear housing. I am not disassembling the center differential or touching anything that involves bearings, races, or preloads, as much as that’s possible. I do have an ambition to get an Ashcroft ATB center diff next year, so I figure I’ll do bearings when I rebuild the case again to install that.

I wrapped up about 11:30 PM, having gotten to the stage of test fitting the front output housing. At this point, the box has to get set aside, and I have to get the truck into the garage on Friday to begin the fortnight or so of major work underneath. I need to pull a few things off of the old transfer case, so it’s time to get dirty and upside down. I’m going to miss working on the bench…

This weekend is extremely ambitious. I have no curling plans — we have a women’s bonspiel at my club — so I have two full days to just work. The goal is to take 500-mile round shakedown run the weekend of 7-8 April, so I have to get cracking.

Soundtrack:

14 March: A combination of 1970s and 1980s hits, starting with Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” at full volume and ending with Lennon’s “Watching the Wheels”

15 March: City Kids Feel the Beat, on recommendation of Bruce Fowler

Mother Country Trail 2018, Day T-39: Unplugged

All was set. Wednesday afternoon, a large order from Atlantic British, facilitated by the inimitable Eric “Extension 231” Riston, was to arrive by FedEx. New exhaust, new transmission and transfer case parts, a new door latch — the final major spend of the pre-trip project.

At the same time, a Nor’Easter was to arrive, dumping some snow on us. My figuring was that we’d get some snow, but as the packages arrived around 1PM, I remained optimistic that it wouldn’t be too bad. There were no trees down, and really not that much snow compared to the forecast, so I took a photo, put it on Instagram, took the packages inside, and went back to working from home.

I noticed the snow coming sideways at some point, and realized that my dad was making a lot of noise for a long time with the snowblower outside. But I didn’t think too much of it — I was deep in a few major, time-sensitive projects. Then I looked outside, and…wow. There was going on two feet of thick, heavy snow that had fallen in just a few hours.

As the storm started tapering down, I thought that we might have gotten lucky and kept our power through the wind and falling trees. I felt lucky, grateful. Then, at 5:30 PM, just as I hit send on an email, the lights went out.

Now, after Hurricane Sandy, a lot of people installed whole-house natural gas generators, but we never got around to it. Fortunately, our family friend Cathy, who lives across town, did. And so, we encamped to her house and her fabulously decorated guest rooms as refugees for four days.

This, clearly, impeded progress on the trip prep repairs. And so, my transfer case sat there half rebuilt, my small parts from Rovers North for it sitting next to the collection of new Atlantic British acquisitions. And so I waited, as the days to go ticked to less than 40.

Tonight, with the power back, I took the opportunity to get back in the garage and get to work on the intermediate shaft. On the LT230Q, the shaft is sleeved by a collapsible spacer, which I bought a new one of from Rovers North. The staked nut on the end of the shaft was sort of tight, the only rusty fastener I’ve really encountered on this box, so it’s also getting replaced. I got some assistance from my dad to hold the box down with a clamp and his arm while I cranked with the breaker bar and 30mm socket, and slowly it came off. Then I removed the aligning plate and drifted the shaft out with a brass drift. We looped some baling wire around the intermediate gears to keep them from dropping (as per overhaul manual spec) and slid the shaft out, then removed the gears and bearings carefully.

First, I cleaned everything with a brass wire brush. Next, I replaced the O-rings in the kit I got from AB, coating them in a moly lube, and then cleaned things up for the rest of the night. Each of the bolt holes needs to be cleaned out of old Loctite, especially as some of them go through right into the main chamber of the case. Tomorrow, I have some cans of The Right Stuff coming for the sealing — after reading up, this seems the best solution for this situation. From there, I’ll begin the reassembly process tomorrow.

There’s a lot of time to compensate for — I lost three work nights and two very valuable weekend days. I’m getting a little nervous about the timescale, but just diving in tonight helped me out a lot there.

Soundtrack: Skinny Lister, “Down on Deptford Broadway.” I’m usually listening to something in the garage or on the road so I thought I’d add a touch and mention it in the blogs.

Mother Country Trail 2018, Day T-45: A Transfer of Goals

This weekend I started diving into the LT230Q box I picked up two weeks ago in Connecticut. This is one of the core repairs for the Discovery for the trip. Mine is leaky, groany, and unrefined.

Since I’d far rather not have my car resemble a retirement community Hooters tagline, I’ve started rebuilding the new box with new seals. I ordered a gasket kit from Eric “Extension 231” Riston at Atlantic British, as well as some Hylomar Blue. Then I read online and saw that these items are not suggested for the later LT230s, which were assembled with an RTV-like sealant. Because I spent money on gaskets and opened the package, I’m considering doing the gaskets on the covers that may need removal on the trail, and use Permatex Aviation Gasket Maker on the other surfaces (output housings and PTO covers).

Of course, the Internet being the Internet, every time I read things about sealants, I enter a deep phase of self-doubt. Then I ask friends, and they all give me different answers. I am locked into a mental battle of who I trust more. Finally, I decided to settle on the Aviation Gasket Maker. For now. Someone mentioned using silk thread to assist it in sealing. I never thought I’d maybe have to go to Fabricland to get Rover repair materiel.

I disassembled the box, which I think has been disassembled before. The bolts, while all correct in size, are of two different flange styles. No big deal really, except for my OCD. Everything looks good inside, and the quieter gears and cross-drilled input gears will be a boon for longevity and comfort.

It took most of Saturday to tear the box down, and most of Sunday to clean it up. But no matter, I was jamming out in the garage to a mix of Bowie, Paul Simon, and some of the K-Pop I’ve gotten curious about thanks to PyeongChang 2018. Working on the trucks is extremely therapeutic for me, so I don’t really mind taking the time. That said, I’m looking forward to the Disco being a solid daily driver, and getting that therapy out of the Range Rover this summer.

I’m trying to use as many of the seals and gaskets and O-rings in the kit as I can, in the camps of “not doing this again” and “getting my money’s worth.” I even replaced the O-rings in the CDL selector, and measured the fingers with calipers to confirm they were inside of factory spec. This is again really because I’m OCD, and I’m convinced that that .001″ is a life-and-death kind of thing.

Tomorrow, I get a new staked nut and collapsible spacer from Rovers North to redo the O-rings on the intermediate shaft, and I hope to get that done and move on to completing the project by the end of the work week. I have a birthday drinks night on Friday and curling on Saturday, and then the hope is that Sunday I pull the car into the work bay of the garage and start on the major underpinnings rebuild. (Sorry Mother, two more weeks in the driveway, but I’m “sure” I’ll be “done” taking your garage over after this for the “long term.”)

This is the crunch. I want March to be about sorting driveline, April about details and comfort. The driveline stuff has driven me insane since I got the truck, and it’s core to the whole concept of the trip. I’m fine driving 16-hour days, but it’s so much easier to do so without a little rumble freaking me out in the back of my head. I’d rather spend those hours listening to podcasts, talking to friends on the phone, and coming up with ideas for novels.

I’m starting to freak out a tiny bit about the timeline. Hitting 45 days is a bit of a milestone. I know that tomorrow at the office, I’ll send invoices that’ll get paid on time while I’m away. Little things that start to make you think…it’s closer than I thought. (Of course, taking two weeks off at a small business has led to some planning already going into place, thus the mindset.)

Coming soon are some large parts orders, a new pack of work T-shirts, and a lot of sealant of all flavours.

Mother Country Trail 2018, Day T-53: Rust Gets in Your Eyes

This truck is going to drive me to drink — and I don’t mean the cases of LaCroix that I’m killing working on it night after night to prep for the Mother Country Trail. (I hate the fact that this stuff is a hipster icon, but it’s actually not bad, and sugar and sodium free. Also, it’s easy to get at Costco, so I’m stuck with its affected neon cans and the six pack of grapefruit that comes in the Costco pack. I refuse to call it the stuck-up “pamplemousse” it says on the can, and I often pepper my sentences with French.)

The great enemy of the Disco is rust, the silent killer which has taken so many fantastic Discoverys and Range Rover Classics to their crunchy death in this area. Now, Duncan isn’t as bad as Spenny, my 1993 Range Rover Classic County LWB. Spenny’s in such bad shape that the bottom of the driver’s side A pillar has dropped out. I plan to fix Spenny. I bought a welder. I did not buy classes at the local trade school in advanced automotive welding. Yet. Spenny is my summer project.

They say Land Rover has been making owners into mechanics since 1948, but mine are going to get me ASE Certified.

The quest against rust begins at the rear axle. Like many parts of the Land Rover drivetrain, these are somewhat overbuilt. They’re floating axles, which means that if you break an axle shaft, the wheel will not fall off, which is a good thing. The casings are strong cast iron. The unique trailing arm and A-frame links make it very flexible.

On this robuste et bien construit platform, Land Rover capped the differential with a steel cap that is slightly thicker than a Solo cup. After 24 years in the Northeast, this has perforated a little. When it perforates, a constant stream of 80W90 gear oil slowly drips out of it, leaving a calling card wherever I go. I’ve left my mark across New Jersey, from the liquor store to the supermarket to the curling club. Finally, I just ran it dry, and learned that this mostly kills a differential in about 7,000 miles, which is honestly far more than I expected. A crappy diff made it all the way to southwest Virginia and Ohio for the Mid-Atlantic Rally in October, so just think of the possibilities with a good one!

Such lazy buggery; working in the cargospace.
Such lazy buggery; working in the cargospace.

Since the goal of this project is to minimize downtime, I got another axle casing from a Land Rover owner in New York who was breaking a 1995 Range Rover Classic, and carried them around in the back of the truck for two months instead of being proactive and working on them. Finally, I got sick of the rear drivetrain rumbling more than a 747 down the runway at Kennedy, and I stripped down, primed up, and painted up the new axle. Following this, I rebuilt the components, swapping over my brakes, hubs, (new) differential, brake pipes, (new) ABS sensors, and diff breathers. This took three weeks in between working in the city, my other life obligations, and being exasperated when I got home from work some nights.

About a week of scraping, grinding, priming and painting in the garage.
About a week of scraping, grinding, priming and painting in the garage.

 

This was when everything got super real and intense and panicky.
This was when everything got super real and intense and panicky.

Finally, the new rear axle was attached, torqued, and ready to go. I drove the truck up and down the street, was happy. I drove it to curling on the back roads, felt courageous, and drive it home on the Interstate.

Now this was all well and good; it was far less rumbly on the road, and I was no longer flooding the parking lot of the curling club with gear oil. Get that stuff on the ice and you’re not having a good day.

But…the silent killer, rust, had struck again, at the exhaust. I have some kind of wonky exhaust setup, a Borla center muffler in a sort of funky stockish setup otherwise. It keeps rusting out in different places, and at this point it’s more held together by Advance Auto repair sections than it is by its own integrity. Part of the plan is to get a new stainless Magnaflow cat-back exhaust and new catalytic converters and Y-pipe, but not until I get other things (see below) done.

So I got it all apart, went to Advance Auto, where I’m now “The Exhaust Connector and Gear Oil Guy” (I can’t leave without at least a quart, it’s a compulsion), and cobbled it together. For good measure, since the output stub on the muffler has split away partially from the body of the muffler, I slathered it in that most gloriously Cheap Bastard item, exhaust repair paste. This fix has to last maybe 100 miles around town, without my becoming too notable to the township police. The silence is now deafening, and kind of freaking me out after years of exhaust leaks.

Use of this requires low expectations.
Use of this requires low expectations.

The next steps? There’s going to be a lot of work to do underneath the truck. First off, my transfer box is also leaky, and thus rumbly. The rear diff may have been thirsty, but if was a college kid on spring break in Lauderdale, my transfer box is a barely-functional alcoholic.

Since the goal is to upgrade, I went to Connecticut and picked up a new one from Paul Grant, a noted Land Rover breaker. The 1994 Discovery came with the LT230T box, but I upgraded to the more refined LT230Q (Q is for Quiet) box that was featured from 1997-1999. It has more and differently cut gears, which takes some of the slop out of it and makes it quieter. Every little helps.

I got a new gasket and seal kit from Eric “Extension 231” Riston at Atlantic British, so my goal this week is to take apart the new transfer box and reseal it. I can’t say it won’t ever leak, because it’s a Land Rover, but by God I’ll try!

After that, there’s going to be probably two weeks or so in the garage accomplishing several tasks. In addition to swapping the transfer box, I need to replace the kickdown and throttle cables, which means taking part of the transmission apart. That requires a new filter, and new mounts, and new fluid. I’m also going to make new breathers for both the transfer box, and extend them with my extended diff breathers under the bonnet. I’ll install the aforementioned new exhaust, fabricate a new heat shield for the center muffler, and I want to heat shield the starter a bit better too.

I have 53 days to go. It’s a long time, and it’s no time. I’d like to have this major driveline work done by the end of March so that April can be focused on little bits and bobs for comfort and organization. I’m also hoping to get a trial run in, maybe up to Vermont or Upstate New York, so I’m not doing trial by fire on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. (Been there, done that. It sucked.)

The image of crossing the Sierras and seeing “Welcome to California” drives me through all this, as well as the goal of seeing good friends on the other end at the Mendo_Recce rally. This will be a huge personal accomplishment, fueled by lots of calorie- and sodium-free hipster water.

Mother Country Trail 2018, Day T-93: Origins

Driving across the country solo is something that’s been on my list most of my life. In middle school and high school I’d plot routes out in Microsoft Streets and Trips and flip through atlases and National Park Unigrid brochures, linking together the highlights of the nation. In 2006, my family loaded up our trusty Yukon XL and drove out on I-70 for a week in Colorado, a place our family has made many memories on fly-drive trips. As fantastic a trip as that was, though, there was still a quarter of the journey to the coast left.

For the past eleven years, I’ve been driving Land Rovers from the early 1990s, trucks which in my case never seem to work quite right. I’ve never had one that was reliable enough to do 7,000 miles in one shot. That has hopefully changed, however; after three years, I think that my 1994 Discovery is going to be ready, with a three-month final push.

There is always a goal, of course. Last April, I really enjoyed flying out to the Mendo_Recce rally in Northern California, meeting people I’ve talked to online every day for years. It’s cemented itself on my annual events list.

As I thought over that trip in the months after, I thought of how driving myself to Mendo 2018 from New Jersey be a perfect way to set a goal to get my truck fixed up, finally.

So, I’ve devised the journey for two weeks, starting in late April 2018, dubbed “The Mother Country Trail.”

My route will take me across the East and Great Plains to Colorado, where at Denver I’ll jump off the Interstates and hit the Blue Highways, winding across the Rockies and into Moab, Utah. There, I have a booking to drive the White Rim Road in Canyonlands National Park, considered one of the top off-road trails in the country for scenery. After three days on the trail, it’s across Nevada and the Sierras to Mendocino National Forest and the event. Afterwards, the plan is to head south down the spine of California to Death Valley or the Mojave Road, then perhaps some poking around in Arizona before heading home via I-40.

The name “Mother Country Trail” has two origins. The Trail part comes from the Emigrant Trails and Westward Expansion Trails that the route will trace part of; the California Trail, the Old Spanish Trail, the Mormon Trail, and the Oregon Trail. Parts of the journey will be directly in the footsteps of John Fremont, Kit Carson, and Jedeidah Smith.

“Mother Country” comes from my aviation hobby. In 1973, United Airlines began an ad campaign to promote their extensive coast-to-coast network. In 1972, they’d had a very successful ad campaign using Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land,” so successful that the Guthrie estate wanted twice the royalties for 1973. Looking for an alternative in the same vein, their ad agency commissioned a jingle called “Mother Country,” and had Bonnie Koloc, a folk singer from Chicago, sing it for the commercials.

The lyrics (see them in full here, along with more historic info on the campaign) begin with a verse that I think sums up the ethos of this trip pretty well, as well as the personal journey it represents:

Have you seen the other side
of where you live?
Don’t you know this great big land
has got so much to give? 
Mother Country’s got 
her arms open wide.
Don’t let your good land 
pass you by.

 

And this more chipper, “Teach the World to Sing” style version:

And further, this brand-enforcing one with some killer 747 footage at the end:

After many years of poking around the world in various ways, it’s now time to undertake a serious exploration of the homeland. I’ve seen the Other Side of Where I Live several times, and I’ve in fact gotten all the way there overland by Amtrak (a fantastic 2010 trip I may summarize on this site one day). There was, of course, that family trip to Colorado, still one of our most legendary adventures. But to be alone much of the way in a truck I rebuilt wholly by myself, that’s a new level of personal achievement.

I’ll detail some of the preparations here during the run up to departure in April, especially as some things might warrant some technical write-ups for the Land Rover crowd, and I plan to blog from the road.

2017: Year in Review

Here we are, 31 December 2017. This was a good year for me, one of the better ones I’ve had, to be honest. This morning, I sat at the counter at the Time to Eat Diner in Bridgewater, NJ, and reflected on the Top 10 adventures of the year over a Greek omelette. They reflect a year where I accomplished a lot of goals, both with travel and life.

1) Upper deck on a 747, United UA927 FRA-SFO. Riding in the bubble of the Queen of the Skies was a childhood dream of mine. Thanks to frequent flier miles, I was able to do it right before United retired their fleet, taking with it with my chance to cash in from my primary program for a guaranteed upstairs seat. By far the best 12 hours I’ve ever spent on a plane, so far.

2) The lighthouses of Ouesseant, France. One of the best days of my 18-year lighthousing career was exploring the famous wave-swept lights of Finistère by land and sea with Iasure and Loic, my AirBnB hosts. They went above and beyond to make the pilgrimage to one of the world’s lighthouse hotspots very, very special. I was starting to burn out on lighthouses a bit, and sitting at night watching the immense beam of the Creac’h flood my room in their guest house reinvigorated the passion.

3) Flying out to the Mendo_Recce Land Rover rally in Mendocino NF, California. Having been an active member of the Mendo email list for years now, it was such a blast to finally put so many faces to names and explore a new part of the country. I really, really hit it off with a few people especially and have enjoyed building up those friendships. I also got to spend a full weekend flying out and driving up with my friend Ben, who was a founding member of the list in 1994 when he lived in California, and who now lives a half hour away from me in New Jersey.

4) As an example of those new friendships, I had an awesome time ending the September #JumboJourney in Portland, exploring back roads of Oregon for three days with my Mendo friend Nathan in his Range Rover. It was so cool to explore a new part of the country with someone whose travel style I totally resonated with.

5) Part of that journey was finding the location of the Original Stash, the first-ever geocache placed in 2000. It’s a pilgrimage for all geocachers, and I’m glad to have that on my “permanent record.” This year was a year I came to peace with my new geocaching style, which is “find what I want and skip the crappy ones.” I let a lot of pressure off of how I play the game, stopped caring about the numbers, and played it the way I really want to — exploring new places. I only found about 40 this year, but all of them were worth it.

6) The eclipse from Cashiers, North Carolina. I flew down to spend a few days with my aunt at her house in the Blue Ridge Mountains. We missed viewing totality directly by fifteen seconds in a shift in the clouds just before it began, but we got part of the experience in the darkness and sensory changes, and got to spend a few days one-on-one, which we’ve never had the chance to do.

7) Visiting my friends Barb and Jarek in Florida for my birthday. Having one of the mainstays of my New Jersey Land Rover family move a thousand miles away has been really tough this year; we’ve kept in touch constantly via phone and Internet, but it’s not the same as spending many weekend days popping in at their house 20 minutes away. We had an awesome weekend with warm weather just when I was getting down on winter up here, and an awesome birthday celebration.

8) The Land Rover Mid-Atlantic Rally in Virginia. The Mid-Atlantic has been on my Rover Bucket List for years, and although it wasn’t the same as the MARs of legend in the 90s and early 2000s, it was still fun — especially as aforementioned new Floridians came to join some of our New Jersey contingent. Also fun was the drive home from Blacksburg, Virginia…by way of Marietta, Ohio and Somerset County, Pennsylvania. I saw the steamboat W.P. Snyder, took in some National Park Service units (including the immensely moving Flight 93 National Memorial), and traversed West Virginia in a driving rain. I took two days to get home on complete whim, with absolutely no plans and what became a totally illogical itinerary, The only reason I was able to do that with the Discovery is because of a LOT of hard work, blood, sweat and tears that I poured into it since buying it as a bit of a barn find three years ago. Crossing the Ohio River felt like a major accomplishment.

9) I did 5,600 miles in the Disco between September and now, going to Land Rover events across the East. In addition to the MAR, I did the All Metal Dash, the annual Guy Fawkes Rally, and the Robesonia Trials. I did a ton of driving around locally as well, all with a confidence I haven’t had from a car in years. It still needs work, especially as I plan to drive it to California for Mendo in April, but there’s been so much progress.

10) One of the best Rover trips of the year was actually the one I didn’t take a Rover on. After busting my ass to prepare for the Ottawa Valley Land Rovers Birthday Party in Ontario, buttoning the truck up after weeks of work the night before, I broke down with a fuel pump issue 88 miles into the trip to Canada. Determined to still spend the weekend with my friends, I unloaded the tow truck and headed down to the local Enterprise outlet to hire a Nissan Frontier for the weekend. I didn’t have a Land Rover at the event, but I got to be with my friends, and that was really the most important part.

Here’s to many adventures in 2018, and may they top these, and may it be a healthy and happy year for all!

Rover Tech: Discovery 1 GM Fuel Pump Swap

NB: This is an incomplete post from December 2016 on the subject of replacing the core of fuel pumps for 1980s-90s Land Rovers. I never finished it, but I’m publishing it in March 2018 for the benefit of a friend in need of the information. I’ll get to it eventually.

If there’s one thing I like doing with my truck, it’s making it more field servicable. The great thing about 90s-era Land Rovers is that they actually have a lot of parts crossover with other European, and even American, cars. One of the classic instances of this is swapping a fuel pump from a General Motors vehicle into a Discovery 1 or Range Rover Classic.

I did this on the side of the road in Upstate New York back in June 2016, but it seems like my half-assed trail fix backfired, as now in a deep and dark December, I find my truck again stranded, this time in my driveway.

Since there’s a lot of forum posts about how to fix this, but no really thorough explanation for those of us who are both visual and anal-retentive, I’ve written this heavily-illustrated article to help you, oh gentle reader, too get your Land Rover on the road.

This is a somewhat simple fix, all in. You can cobble it together, as I did, and do fine for a while. But in the heat of the moment on a warm summer’s day in a gas station forecourt, I missed several steps, and there’s some things I wish I’d done differently.

The details henceforth apply to a 1994 Discovery 1 with a North American-spec 3.9 litre Rover V8. They “should” cross over to V8 Range Rover Classics after 1989, and continue to cover all Discovery 1 models through the run-out year of 1999. However, I make no guarantees. Later Discovery 1 trucks had some variations in their fuel systems, most notably the addition of AEL (Advanced Evaporation Loss) systems in the 1997 model year, and the 4.0 litre GEMS engine may have some different requirements to the earlier 14CUX ignition system. As I’ve only ever owned 14CUX trucks, I’m not sure there. There’s a pretty good chance that these instructions largely or totally apply to these other applications, but I make no guarantees, and if you blow up your truck using these instructions, that’s on you.

Right, onward.

When I say "remove everything from the back," this is how not-fun that is to do on a roadtrip.
When I say “remove everything from the back,” this is how not-fun that is to do on a roadtrip.

The fuel pump is located in the fuel tank, and can be accessed through a hatch in the rear floor on all Discovery 1s and Range Rover Classics after 1989. To get to this hatch, remove everything from the back of the vehicle, pull up the rear carpeting, and you will find a flap cut into the rubber padding beneath in the rear cargo area floor. Flip it over and you’ll see a round hatch about twelve inches around. Undo the six screws and set it aside. Do not lose the screws like I did.

There’s three things to disconnect here, which are both electric and fuel. Remember, these things do not go well together. The electric multiplug comes off by pushing the tab in the side and sliding it off. There’s two fittings holding the feed and return lines that go from the pump to the engine. Depending on where you live, when/if this was last done, and your lot in life, these may be very, very seized. A liberal application of your favourite penetrating liquid (I’m a PB Blaster man myself) and high-quality profanity, combined with the patience of a saint, should undo these. Keep calm, if these break you’re kinda pretty much completely screwed.

Now that you’ve undone these three connections, the good thing to do would be to vacuum the indentation around the fuel pump port in the tank so that you don’t get all the dirt and crap in the tank. This is possible to varying degrees depending on situation, however, so if you’re really stuck just do the best you can. Then undo the giant ring around the fuel pump hole, and lift it away. The pump now sits before you, awaiting its careful removal from the hole in the tank, an exercise to be undertaken with the greatest of care to avoid damaging the float for the level sensor.

Unless you’re a better man or woman than I, you will spill fuel in your cargo area. Fortunately you’ve got the carpet all tucked away somewhere nice, and you can just try and sop up as much as you can.

The liberated pump.
—”Mr Fuel Pump, are you free?” —”I’m free!”

You have now liberated the fuel pump, and it’s time to really dig in. Go somewhere relatively clean with it and it’s time to disassemble.

The pump itself is contained in the lower, enclosed half of the assembly. To detach this, carefully prise the four clips holding it in, taking the utmost of care to not break them. Doing this second exercise in December, with an outdoor temperature of 15 Fahrenheit, I decided that it would be prudent to bring the assembly inside to warm up a bit to help prevent brittleness issues. (Remember, direct heat is not a way to assuage this, considering the circumstance.)

You should now see the metal cylindrical pump exposed, with two electrical wires attaching it to the top of the assembly and a plastic corrugated hose connecting the pump’s output to the outlet for the feed line at the top of the assembly. The original pump, at least on my truck, has a flanged barb on the end of the output outlet, which nicely nests into this hose.

When keeping in mind that Land Rover did not really intend for this assembly to be a user-serviceable part, this hose has a very symbiotic relationship with its original host pump, but it is both very difficult and somewhat impractical to reuse it. The two replacement pumps I’ve had so far (more on that below) did not have these dramatic barbs on the outlet, which impacts the ability of this hose to seal to the new pump. When I had my original trailside repair, I kind of picked it off with an etching chisel and needlenose pliers, and later reattached it by squeezing it shut with a zip tie. This was functional but not ideal, so let’s do it proper.

Right, now you’ve got the actual pump itself free, let’s take a look.

I’m looking at three pumps here: (1) the original Land Rover part, which may or may not have been there for twenty-two years; (2) the latest purchase, an ACDelco EP241; and (3) the interim device, a Delphi FE0114 that I purchased at a NAPA on site.

Here is where I figured some stuff out after the fact. Apparently the 14CUX (1994-5 D1, possibly RRC 1989ish-1995) and GEMS (1996-9) trucks could use different spec pumps. Going back to vintage resources, the venerable Discoweb parts number resource, likely last updated some time during the second Bush administration, supplies different part numbers that I’ve extrapolated as follows:

14CUX/3.9
AC Delco EP-241

GEMS/4.0
Airtex E3270
Delphi FE0114

What’s the difference?

(WHAT THE $@%# IS THE DIFFERENCE?)

After replacing the part, I’ve found that the EP-241 does, in fact, seem to run better than the FE0114. It is quieter, and the truck seems to have slightly better performance. This may be in my head.

 

The Trials and Tribulations of a Land Rover Owner, Part One

The first thing the new owner of an older Land Rover will learn is that breakdowns are always to be expected at the point where you have finally become totally confident about the state of your vehicle. You learn this lesson very, very quickly. After a few years, the underlying anxiety that accompanies any road trip becomes a part of your psyche, and you throw a bottle of Xanax or whatever in the center console and be done with it.

The second thing you learn is that most things in an old Land Rover are possible to bodge together again with some basic tools and knowledge, and possibly some RTV sealant. By “basic tools,” I mean the three large Husky tool bags I keep in the back of my Discovery, plus the crate of extra fluids, plus the spare parts artfully placed throughout the vehicle. (Upper coolant hose under the driver’s seat, spare serpentine belt next to the atlas behind the back seat, spare radiator cap in the glove box.)

And this is where my latest Trials and Tribulations — the first of this blog column — began.

A few weeks ago, I was heading to the Ottawa Valley Land Rovers‘ 33rd Annual Birthday Party rally, one of the biggest and oldest Land Rover events on the East Coast. With the goal of exploring some parts of the Ontarian side of the St. Lawrence Seaway, I rolled out of the house at 3 AM, streaming BBC Merseyside on TuneIn to track the returns of the Brexit referendum. By Scranton, David Cameron had resigned, the sun was rising, and everything on the Disco was feeling pretty tickety boo. I hit Syracuse at rush hour, headed up I-81, and just south of Watertown, decided to fill the truck up with some sweet ethanol-free 91 octane petrol that we’re not allowed to have in the good ol’ Garden State.

The ungrateful bastard rewarded this gift by not starting. Shit.

I flicked the key; the solenoid in the starter clicked once, the fuel pump’s familiar two-second startup buzz was absent. I thus realized two things: one, I should swap out the fuel pump I wanted to swap out anyway; and two, my friends were coming up to the same event from Connecticut via Albany, and I should probably get in touch with them to rendezvous if needed.

I was thus sat front of a gas pump at a moderately busy Sunoco station, taking the entirety of my camping gear out of the back of the truck and laying it out on the forecourt so I could access the fuel pump in the tank, and somehow the entire patronage of the station was entirely nonplussed, oblivious to the old green truck with the New Jersey plates expelling its contents out of its rear.

Someone finally noticed me, helped me push the truck onto the side of the station, and in a move that forever cements him on the good side of my Rover Karma Book, offered me a lift to the NAPA a mile away to score a new fuel pump.

These things would never happen Downstate.

I scored a Delphi fuel pump to serve the purposes of the famous Land Rover/General Motors pump swap, and nothing more. This will become important later and was quite bone-headed.

Back at the truck, I proceeded to remove the entirety of my fuel pump from the tank, feeling not that bad about spilling some of the fuel, because it’s a bloody gas station, and I’m quite proud of myself because I’m a New Jerseyite and I didn’t spill any this time at the pump like I always do because we don’t do this shit ourselves. On speakerphone with some friends, which I don’t think you’re supposed to do either but whatever, I got it done and in, and it still didn’t start.

I directed my friends to rendezvous, and regretted not buying that damn wire. I fiddled for about an hour, until my friends arrived in a glorious convoy. One of them went to purchase the wire so we could hot wire the fuel pump. The starter solenoid seemed to have also gone decidedly wonky, causing part of these issues, so we jumped the solenoid with my jump leads and headed northward to a fantastic event, where I alas played it safe and didn’t wheel the truck, because no way was I jumping that solenoid if I stalled in a river. We tinkered some over the weekend, but nothing we hypothesized seemed to actually work, except for our theory of “let’s drink for now and worry about it later.”

20160625_065757
The extent of Duncan’s Canadian fun.

And thus, with a hot wired fuel pump and a starter that works sometimes on its own and sometimes by crawling under with the jump leads and being careful to not scald yourself on the exhaust, I go into the third lesson of a Land Rover owner.

Lesson Three: because these things break down so frequently, and because they’re so bog easy to repair, once you have some kind of workaround to fix things you sometimes become incredibly complacent with things like your convoluted starting procedure that includes connecting something submerged in a 23-gallon tank of waiting explosion to a live battery of waiting fire, and consider using jump leads to start your car without involving another car totally fine and acceptable.

Complacency in action.
Complacency in action.

So I drove around town with said complacency, and felt so damn confident with my vehicle’s bodged together state that I decided, I shall take this vehicle off roading with my friends in Vermont two weekends after the Ottawa adventure, having put minimal effort into fixing anything.

This is the source of the Fitzgerald Corollary, which is that whenever I take my trucks on any trip with other Land Rovers, they get incredibly antisocial and decide to expound all their grief and woes of any degree into one gloriously large and dramatic breakdown. The lead-in hint was an expulsion of coolant from the expansion tank at a rest area in New York, as I ironically sat waiting for my friend Jarek’s Mercedes-Benz OM617-powered Disovery to cool down from a sustained 70mph highway run. And then to make it worse, I found myself on a hill climb into a crazy trail in Southern Vermont, with a truck that has now compounded all of its issues into a fit of stalling and cutting out whenever asked to perform between 700rpm and 1800rpm on an incline, requiring immense group effort and use of tow straps to coax it to the top of said complex hill climb, until such point as I jumped in at the top of the hill and drove it down the other side with the CD changer spinning and the truck performing near enough perfectly. The only issue was that the speedometer wasn’t working, due to the Vehicle Speed Sensor that has not worked since December, and the absence of which has caused minimal issue for 5,000 miles of driving since then. That may or may not have still been a cause of the trail issues; jury’s out.

Disco Woe on the Thruway.
Disco Woe on the Thruway.

To make matters more fun is another tenet, the one of “just because you think you engineered something better than everyone else ever has does does not mean it is.” In my case, I learnt that my method of dealing with a seized center differential lock lever was brilliant and convenient in the driveway, but beggared second-degree burns when implemented in the wild, which I have the scars to prove such on the back of my left hand and back of my right arm.

And so, I got to that point of caving to all of the lessons and tenets, and realized We Have Issues and headed home early to solve my woes, by way of my friend Eric Riston in Albany who sells parts for Atlantic British and will help you with your woes as much as he helped me with mine if you call him there on extension 231.

At a Land Rover Holy Land, Atlantic British in Clifton Park, NY.
At a Land Rover Holy Land, Atlantic British in Clifton Park, NY.

Because I have found that I do not need to drive this truck during the week, since I carpool to work and get home too late to actually have a life, I’ve parked it in the driveway the past two weeks and have done heavy tinkering on it at night. Although I’ve done tons of work on this truck lately, I did purchase it as a sort of step above a barn find in Vermont, having been off the road approximately five years. It’s structurally in quite good condition considering its age and location, but there’s lots of little stuff still to keep on top of to get it in the great shape it has potential to be in.

The results of said tinkering? To be figured out Friday night, when Duncan comes out again for yet another rally — fortunately, closer to home.