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.