With Wings As Eagles: Craig P. Steffen's Blog

made a tool

2009 June 29 00:21

I didn't accomplish anything with the Old Beetle today, but I built a tool. I recently speculated about the structure of the pick-up at the bottom of the tank (my car is a "Super-Beetle", which makes everything in the front end of the car a bit different).

Now that I have the gas tank out, I'm going to rinse it, clean it, etch it, and then seal the inside of tank to try to plug any pinhole leaks and make it less suceptible to rust. In between filling it with various solutions, it needs to sit and drain. The only real outlet that the tank has that it will drain properly from is the drain plug at the bottom of the sump, that I talked about in the earlier post. But the tank is funny-shaped on the bottom, so it won't sit on the ground in such a way that it will drain properly.

So...I built a stand to hold the tank to drain, out of chunks of 2x4 and 2x6:

The point is that the sump, the lowest part of the tank, is at the bottom when the tank is on the stand, and that I can get to the plug hole to plug it or unplug it as needed:

Here's the sump again, showing the hidden outlet tube:

The tube at the right is where fuel exits the tank. The point of the take-up tube is just inside the drain plug hole, normally covered by the wire mesh screen.

Looking into the drain plug hole, here's the end of the pickup tube:

Here's the tank plug and the filter screen (including inset showing the texture of the screen):

At this point, I'm closed to doing the cleaning and etching process. I want to do that all at once to minimize rust I'll be creating.

another mouth to feed

2009 June 29 00:13

So, we've taken the plunge. Our new car that's mostly my car to replace the fairly but not extremely longevitous Ford Escort is a 2008 Volkswagen New Beetle.

As I go through the new car and discover things, I expect to talk about it here. For now it's the nifty new car that I get to drive. We bought it in Minnesota and drove it back; part of the reason I didn't blog more about the process was I wanted the buying of the car on a vacation to be a surprise to people that we visited. And it was; it was very fun.

Now that the cat's out of the bag, the status is: car shopping done; now just paperwork to get new license plate. This car is likely what I'll drive to Oshkosh in.

the only winning move is not to play

2009 June 14 09:53

I'm bad with money. I don't see the value of money for itself; I am only tuned to what it can buy. I'm very bad about saving. However, it hasn't been too bad of a problem since I've been a working professional; my tastes haven't really become that much more expensive, somewhat less so. My salary now comfortably supports what I want to spend.

However, I still have the residual "I can afford it, I want it, so why shouldn't I buy it?" problem. It's a problem of course, because short-term saving is important (getting the house re-sided, ahem), and long-term saving is useful as well for that financial rainy day. Retirement saving is automated, so that helps.

These last two weeks, I've found myself shopping for a primary car for myself for the first time since 1996 when the 1979 Honda Accord that my parents gave me as a college graduation present gave up the ghost and I needed something to drive around for graduate school. Late in the summer or early fall of 1996 (I don't remember which) I purchased a 1986 Ford Escort EXP. It was great to drive on the highway and it got 37 miles to the gallon, even fully loaded and driving over the mountains in West Virginia (I drove back and forth between Bloomington, Indiana and Newport News, Virginia, several times during graduate school). An awesome car. I bought it for, I believe $600, and I drove it from 1996 through 2002 when it died in Illinois on the morning that I interviewed for my current job.

I bought the Beetle (in 2006) as a project car, with the thought that it would sometimes be my primary car, but I never inteded to drive it in the winter. We bought the Taurus in 1996 as a commuting car for my wife and a nice car for trips, so that in addition to the project car, we'd each have something dependable to drive.

So now we're shopping, for another car that will mostly be my car to drive to work engagements. And so I'm sort of experiencing the money-burning-a-hole-in-my-pocket syndrome of "well, I can buy a nice spiffy car that I really want and think will be cool", and I was all set to buy an almost-new VW New Beetle. I love driving the one we're renting, and I love the look...but it only gets 28 or so miles to the gallon. If it got 35, I would absolutely buy one. Heck, even if it got 32, I'd be tempted. But after driving a new VolksWagen diesel-fueled Jetta yesterday, which is really nice and fun to drive, has huge luggage space and gets 45+ mpg on the highway, I just can't bring myself to buy a gas-fueled New Beetle that only gets 28. I just can't do it. (The cost isn't the issue for me. It's the strategic implications of importing as much oil as we do. The attitude of "oh, but gas is cheap" attitude has gotten us embroiled in the strategic situation we're in now...which is not the subject of this blog post.)

So I feel like I want to get a car for 1) the convenience of it and 2) because this is the first time in a long time shopping for a car for basically just me, and the first time when I really have the money to do it. And yesterday, talking to a care sales guy (who we liked), and looking at and talking about a really cool, super-efficient new car increased that "I want it" feeling.

However, as much as I liked the guy, he gets commission for selling people new cars. That's his job, and he's presumably very skilled a it. The thing I need to remember is that there's no urgency to buy a car. It'd be nice to have a car to drive around town, but really, what I need to do for that is get the old Beetle put back together and commissioned. As far as major road trips, I have trip coming up in July that will culimate in going to the Oshkosh airshow, but I can rent a car for that. And the same is true of any work trips coming up. I don't really for sure need a car until at least October.

So...my mantra (both to myself and my wife) needs to be: all these options (cars to buy) are opportunities, not burdens. There is no reason to rush to buy a car right now. It is far cheaper for our monthly income to rent when I need a car and not buy a car until late fall. Buying a car is cool, but once you've signed the papers, you're locked in. Before you do, all possibilities are open. We hold the cards.

An interesting game. The only winning move is not to play. The best way to shop for a car is when you can afford it, but you DON'T need one.

My current thinking: If they were making diesel New Beetles, I'd buy one in a heartbeat. They were last made in 2006. I've spotted a few on-line that I want to check out. If I don't buy one of those, then we'll re-evaluate and go from there.

We hold the cards...

gee, tanks

2009 June 08 22:48

I worked on the (old) Beetle after work today. Whoo!

The fuel tank in my car has been a problem since I bought it. There's a slight gas smell, that gets stronger just after you've turned left. The guy I bought it from said it just needed a new gas cap. That turned out not to be the problem. I've done lots of stuff, but really, the gas tank needs to be taken out of the car and sealed to protect it and hopefully plug any pinhole leaks that have developed.

Underneath the right front side of the car, right behind the right front wheel, the outlet from the tank goes to a filter and then to the tube that runs down the center of the car and delivers it to the left rear.

Yesterday I removed the filter and drained the gas out of the tank.

In an attempt to contain the spot of the pinhole leak, I sprayed expanding foam all over where the input pipe joins to the main tank body. Still had smells. Here's that area as it looked in March, with most of the foam still there.

In addition to freeing the tank itself from its connections, I needed to remove some extra electronics. Here's the relay that I installed to make the buzzer work--and as I've circled, I soldered the silly thing to the car. That wasn't bright.

The filler spout with most of the foam cleaned out.

Here's the tank out of the car.

Tanks supposedly have a finger strainer at the outlet of the tank to try to prevent chunky things getting into the fuel system. Here's the outlet area of the tank. The outlet (where the output hose was connected) is circled in red. The other circle shows a plug of some sort with a Hex (Allen wrench) drive in the center.

The reason this is puzzling was because I thought the inlet for a tank is supposed to look like this, where green is the filter screen and red is the nut that holds it together.

Well, I think I figured it out. I wasn't able to get a photo, since the filler hole is too small, but I could see with my eyes and a flashlight the way the outlet is set up in the Superbeetle tank (strainer, slipped over the end of the feed pipe is green, the plug is red:

I think that the plug is just inside where the finger strainer is, so you can remove the plug at replace the strainer if need be. I will need to remove it to seal the tank.

Here's the tank taped up and waiting for further work.

long live...the new beetle?

2009 June 07 23:42

I'm rapidly converging on buying a Volkswagen New Beetle as the replacement car for the Escort. Here was our parking area as I was working on the old Beetle this afternoon:

My project car on the right, of course, and the New Beetle that we're renting to test-drive on the left.

It doesn't look bad, sitting by the house, I have to say:

Oh, and it has a great feature. An auxilliary input to the stereo:

So you can plug the Sirius receiver straight into the radio, select "aux", and play without having to worry about the dumb FM transmitter. Cool!

Oh, and far as the old Beetle goes, I'm waiting for a set of pushrods to continue with the engine. But I also need to remove and seal the gas tank, so to day I drained the old gasoline out of the tank so that I can remove it safely.

the rubber finally meets the road

2009 June 07 23:22

I finally really went flying last weekend. That is, instead of going out to practice a skill or maintain a currency, I actually got in the airplane and flew someplace I flew up to Missouri on Saturday to visit relatives and back on Monday.

In my first stop, Bowling Green, Kentucky, I was on the ramp with some pretty good company:

(The red arrow points out the airplane that I was flying.)

Here's my route:

Red is the first leg. I went to Bowling Green to refuel and check the weather. Since storms were moving through, I got routed a bit to the south on the green route, and I ended up stopping at Poplar Bluff to get more fuel, as I was going into a pretty stiff headwind. The purple is the final let, where I go east to skirt around military operations areas.

The way back was lower key:

I was planning to fly to Paducah, Kentucky (the red circle), but the winds there were yucky so I flew on to Hopkinsville instead. The rest was a quick jaunt back to home base.

It was very very cool. I learned lots, and I became more confident in my ability to deal with stuff. Lots of contingency planning and route changes. Although this particular trip was not great in terms of travel time, it was a proof of concept that I can really do this reasonably.

the Escort is dead, long live...

2009 June 04 08:54

I went flying on vacation this last weekend, which was a great trip and spectacular and I will talk about the flying part Really Soon Now.

I drove to the airport to begin the trip, and in the process of driving back, the engine in the Escort died (this was Monday night, June 1). I had the car towed (to Knoxville), and stayed in a nearby hotel, so that if the car was fixed I could just drive it home.

Well...a moment of silence please, because it won't be fixed. It has joined the choir eternal, it has ceased to be, it is an ex-Escort. When they got it into the shop on Tuesday, it cranked, but made really nasty noises. Tuesday afternoon they reported that they didn't get any compression on cylinders 3 or 4, which means that something's broken down inside the engine that spans at least two cylinders.

When my wife and I lived in Illinois, the escort was our one car, since the black Escort EXP that I owned all through grad school had died the day I went for job interviews in Illinois, and Champaign/Urbana is well enough covered by the bus lines that we only needed one car. And we only had a one-car garage so that worked out well.

Right before moving, since we'd just sold a house, we were increasing in income and I found the deal of a lifetime, I bought the Beetle. That was fine; in the new location I would be able to drive the beetle and she would drive the Escort. Manual for me, automatic for her, both driving cars that we picked out to a certain extent.

Not too long after moving here, we bought a Ford Taurus to be the wife-primary-driver and drive-on-trips car, in which capacity it serves very well. So one car for each of us and the Escort as the spare, and the car I drove on work trips (don't have to worry about rain, or salt, and normal mechanics can work on it if it fails).

Well, in 2007, I realized the Beetle was eating one of its valves, so ever since then I've only driven it on short test runs, and I've been driving the Escort basically exclusively.

My vague recollection was that when my wife got the Escort, it had 70-odd thousand miles on it. My first maintenance entry (when I took it to Indiana because my Escort had failed) was at 83921 on the odometer on April 18, 2002. It was our joint car from then until August or September, 2006, when we bought the Taurus, which was about 153000 miles (since at that point it was the third, spare car, the maintenance entries are sparse). The last entry, a few weeks ago in early May it had 189897 miles on it.

So we drove it as a joint car for 4 years and 70,000 or so miles, and then I drove it as my primary car for another 3+ years and another 30,000 miles, and now it's died. It's notable that it's the last of my and my wife's surviving grad-school-era cars, now we only have cars that we've purchased since then as professionals.

I was always sort of lukewarm on the Escort. I prefer a manual transmission, my wife strongly prefers an automatic, and since the car had originally been hers, it was an auto. It was certainly a reliable car, the only really really annoying thing that had to be fixed was the alternator. I drove it to the Oshkosh airshow three times, and another time to Oshkosh for a sheet metal class. I sometimes resented having it as the car that I didn't choose, but I always could count on its reliability.

So...the end of a personal era. Possibilities for what to do now are all in flux, which is always fun and interesting but take up time and concentration. We're at a fork in the road, as it were.


I think it's indicative of my relationship with the Escort that despite the fact that it has been my primary car for on the order of 70,000 miles, I had to go back in the photo archive to dig up any photos of it at all, whereas I have literally thousands of pictures of the Beetle, which I've only driven 4000 miles. Here's the best ones I could find with a half hour search. These photos were taken as I was setting up camp at Oshkosh in 2007

The smudge at the top of the first photo is the helicopter that makes constant circuits over Oshkosh during the airshow. Here's a snippet of that photo at full resolution to show you.

The photos were not taken to show the Escort, but to show where it was. Likewise, the car itself was not valuable for being itself, but where it took me.

Erwin Megard would be proud

2009 June 04 08:27

I went on a big flying trip this last weekend to visit the parents-in-law. I will talk about the flying sometime soon.

While there on Sunday, we were down by the creek, and my MiL was playing with a really spiffy rod and reel setup that she got as a recent retirement present. I like poking at things to try to figure out how the controls work, so between the two of us we pretty much sorted out how all the bits worked and how they were different than her older rod setups.

In the process of trying this out, and casting, I ended up spending a little time fishing on the creek.

I was doing it initially to play with the reel mechanism, but it was sort of fun, so I went back up to the cabin, bought a one-day fishing license, and ended up actually fishing for a bit. Didn't catch anything, but it really wasn't a good time of day and I wasn't concentrating very hard, because there were lots of people that I wanted to talk to you that I only get to see a couple of times a year.

That was my first time holding a fishing rod with intent to get a fish for more than 20 and almost 30 years. When I was little, less than 10, I went fishing a couple of times with parents and grandparents, and also a few times with family friends.

I don't think I'll get into it much, since the last thing I need is another expensive and time-consuming hobby, but perhaps something to do from time to time when I'm on vacation.