Auto-Biography: Why I Haven’t Been Posting Much New At CC/The Resurrection Of The Chinook

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The simple answer is I’ve been a wee bit busy. Sixty days straight of hard work without a day off, until last weekend. Six re-rentals that all required lots of cleaning and repairs, and one full renovation. And that right after I finally finished my new house and got it rented. And now? On to the the next project: resurrecting my poor old Dodge Chinook camper, which has sat forlorn in the back lot for three years without moving.

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I’ve been neglecting my other work and projects for years now. When I used to write at TTAC, I just took summers off, which worked well enough, although I still got less done. But when I started CC in 2011, it became my personal ball and chain. The first three years I wrote several posts every day; it was a full time job. I started this new house in the fall of 2012; it took three and a half years to finish up. It would sit for many months at a time while I was in denial. I’d do one thing for a week or so, then slip back into the same old (CC) habits.

Finally in February of this year I decided I just had to get it finished. Even then, it took until the end of June, and tenants moved in July 1. I promise a full write up on my new curbside classic as soon as….

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And then no less than six of my other rentals all needed to be turned around in a 36 day period, which included a full interior renovation of this house on its 100th birthday, including new mini-split heat pump/AC; new windows, new floor, and full repaint. It was full tilt boogie, and only doable thanks to my wonderful helper Nick who is always in great spirits, perhaps in part because he only likes to work about 5 hours per day. Better that than nothing.

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Speaking of, here’s a little vignette of the kind of things that happen, right in the middle of the very busiest time, trying to get folks into another two units. A day after the new tenants moved into this house (the 100 year old one), they texted me to tell me that the washer wouldn’t stay turned on. The power button would light up, then off again, without starting to wash. Odd; as we had used it to wash curtains while we were renovating it.

Nick offered to take a look. He pulled the washer forward a bit, and saw that the power cord, way on the bottom in the back, was not fully plugged in. He bent way over the washer, reached down and plugged it in. And on the way back up, his head hit the hot water valve, which is connected to a CPVC plastic pipe with a 90 degree elbow. The house was re-plumbed with that stuff when I moved it there in 1997, because our jurisdiction hadn’t yet approved PEX plastic piping, a much better material than CPVC which tends to get brittle with age, especially the hot water.

Anyway, the valve broke off, and a geyser of hot water erupted, dousing Nick. I had just told the tenant two days earlier where the main shut off was out by the water meter in the street, and he ran out to turn it off.

Good thing the weather was hot and dry, but the new paint on the wood floor in the utility room started peeling off. I went home, got some CPVC fittings and glue, and glued on a new elbow and valve. I was a bit anxious, because there was still some water in the pipe, since I hadn’t drained the water heater. But I’ve done this kind of repair before…

I told the tenant I’d be back in about an hour or so, to turn on the water and make sure it was ok. I came back a bit over an hour later, and as I walk up to the back porch, I hear the distinctive sound of water jetting. Argh!!!

I run to the utility room window and see the jet of hot water geysering, and pound on the back door yelling. Their son opens the door and I bolt to the water heater to turn it off. “Where’s your dad?!?  Why did he turn the water on?!?”   “He’s in the bathroom…”

Eventually Dad appears and sees what the commotion is all about. “Hmm…how come you turned the water on before I came back?”  “Oh; I thought the glue was dry, and it held when I started the washer…”

This is actually a nice guy, and he felt bad. And the truth is, quite possibly it would have popped if I had turned it on later; maybe after I left. Water and glue don’t mix well…but I’ll never know.

By this time it was getting late, so there were no showers there that night. The next day I came back, drained the water heater, and did the job properly.  End of story, right? Wrong.

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The next day I get a text from them saying the kitchen sink has no hot water. Sure enough; and I knew what the problem was. The hydraulic shock of the hot water going on and off so intensely had broken off mineral deposits from the tank or elsewhere, and had now found their way into the faucet valve. That particular faucet never had good pressure, and it was a hand-me-down from our own kitchen when we remodeled. It was 20 years old and obsolete. So I went and bought a new faucet and installed it. End of story, right? Wrong.

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The next day I get a text saying that the hot water in the shower had slowed to a trickle…

This resulted in Moen shower valve brain surgery, since the valve and its mixer and its shut-off valves are all permanently fixed to the wall behind the shower and are accessible only through the little round hole behind that shower valve handle.

I took the main valve out and blew it clean, but didn’t see anything, and it didn’t fix it. Next step: the pressure-sensitive mixing valve right over the main valve. Nothing in there. Must be in the shut-off valves. Turn off the main water at the street, and the water heater, go home and get my socket set, and unscrew the inside of the hot shut off valve, and pull it out. Nothing there either!!

There must be something stuck in the inlet to the shut off valve, which is a constriction. I went and got some copper wire, bent it, and with needle-nose pliers, started probing and pushing into that little recess. This is all happening inside the wall, behind where that round chrome cover has been removed. As I said, brain surgery. If this doesn’t work, things will get very serious here…

Sure enough! A piece of beige material, sort of like a little chip, appears, along with one or two more pieces that the copper wire managed to break up. The pipes feeding the valve are old galvanized pipes, and they “grow” these deposits, and rust too. The hydraulic shock broke it loose too.

I’m feeling very chuffed! I put the valve guts back into my socket, and stick the socket back in the wall cavity towards the open valve body. And then…kerplunk! The valve insert falls out of my socket and down four feet into the black hole of the wall cavity. Argh!!! I’m so dumb; I should have supported the valve as I inserted it. One forgets that dropping anything in there is lost forever.

So I have to run to my plumbing supply store to buy this little valve insert, for a mere $37, and it doesn’t even quite look like the one I lost. I’m sweating bullets the whole way back. But it does fit, and I carefully insert it and thread it in. And this particular saga is over at last. The better part of three lost days later.

Enough; that’s the way it is when you own a dozen old houses. And you wonder why I don’t buy and fix up old cars? And why our own house is never finished.

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And it explains why the Chinook has been moldering in the back lot for three years. The last time we used it was September 2013, when we took it to Camp Sherman, on the Metolius River in the Cascades. We hiked Black Butte one day, and this shot was taken up there near the parking lot, which is quite a ways up a rough forest road.

After the hike, on a rather warm day, I drove down the steep gravel road in first and 2nd gear to save the brakes. Further down, on the black top on Green Ridge, I had to stop for an intersection. And then it happened: the left front caliper locked up/wouldn’t release.

This had happened once before, several years earlier, on a hot day heading for the coast on a back road. Both times, we had to sit and wait well over an hour for the brake to cool before we could go on, with great trepidation of it happening again.

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I took this picture right after that trip, and I was going to write a post: “Farewell To The Chinook?” I was just starting to feel less confident about it, despite the fact that it has taken us almost 40,000 miles all over the West and several trips down to Baja, without ever needing a tow, except one time when the ballast resistor went out at the coast nearby and I wasn’t yet clued into the cult of Mopar ballast resistors (“don’t leave home without one”). And these 40k miles is is on a total investment of about $2000.  I bought it for $1200 way back in 2003. The other $800 went for a new muffler and exhaust pipe, a water pump, an alternator, battery, and a bunch of odds and ends. Maybe I’ve forgotten one or two other small things. The tires were almost new when I bought it, and are still good. And I’ve never even pulled the brakes, although I have babied them. It’s all been pretty much highway/back roads miles. It’s not a city car.

After Nick power washed one of the houses last week, I couldn’t take it anymore; the Chinook was crusted over in three years of pollen, slime, dirt, mold and moss. So I took the washer to it, and that made it look so good, I just had to try and start it, which it’s never failed to do in all these years (except that time with the bad ballast resistor). But not this time. The distinctive Chrysler starter sound resulted in not even a murmur from the heart of the beast. This time it was no fuel, not spark. As in a bad fuel pump.

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A replacement cost all of $17.95. “Are you sure that’s all it is?” I asked the counterman. It probably won’t last as long as the original Carter pump, but if it lasts a third as long, that’ll be good enough. The 360 V8 started right up with a healthy bellow from its big single 2.5″ pipe and low-restriction truck muffler, which replaced the skinny little pipe and car muffler early on, after knocking it loose in Baja on an incredibly rough road. Baling wire to the rescue!

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I had to do a few other things, in addition to cleaning the inside. Both the roof vents were shot ($14.95 each), and the toilet water line had popped off. Then I got some oil and a filter and treated the engine to a long-overdue change. And a chassis lube. I pulled out my phone while crawling under the chassis, as I didn’t want to break it, and made a mental note to get it…

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After that, I told Stephanie I was going to Costco to fill it up and also get the propane tank filled. The 360 was purring so nicely, so I decided to head down I-5 to Creswell, and get propane there. Even the cruise control was working, sort of (it hates cool/moist weather, like my hips, but comes back to life in the warm, dry summer).  Memories of so many happy trips came rushing back as I bopped down the freeway. This shot was from our last big trip, to Glacier, in 2012. That trip had some moments (with the Chinook), and it took a bit of improvising to keep it running. Which is why I’ve been talking about getting a new rig ever since.

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On the way back home from Creswell, I started feeling a bit of a vibration in the steering. Odd… As I turned off at 30th Avenue, the vibration increased dramatically as I used the brakes, and then the left front brake wouldn’t release, at least not fully. But I could still drive, with it pulling strongly to the left. It got worse as I headed up 3oth Avenue; the 360 was laboring hard, and I could smell the brake now. I didn’t think it would make it home, so I pulled off a very dead little exit and pulled under the bridge of the main road, in the shade, as it was in the 90s. I reached into my pocket to pull out my phone to call Stephanie, as I had been gone well past our usual lunch time.

But there was no phone in my pocket! I never picked it up when I set it aside to lube the undersides. Damn! How could I go off on a test drive of a rickety old rig without my phone! And I was far from anywhere, or anything, stuck under the shadow of the main road with a frozen caliper. It could take over an hour or maybe two or three, in this heat.

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What to do now? I had to switch mental gears and revert back to a pre-cell phone era. Folks used to deal with stuff like this back then…  It took a minute or two and then I remembered that I had filled the water tank. Aha! I grabbed a cereal bowl from the dishes cabinet, filled it from the sink, and walked out and around to the left front wheel, and tossed it strategically at the back of the brake and caliper. It instantly hissed off in a little cloud of steam.

I made some ten trips or more, before the hissing and steaming stopped. I put it in neutral, and gave a little tug; it was free. I hopped in and headed over the hill, and did everything humanly possible to avoid using the brakes for as long as possible. I had three lights between me and home. I lucked out and made it through the first two on the green, but the third one caught me. And sure enough, it stuck again, part way on. But this time I just chugged on home, with an ever-stinkier brake  and the steering wheel pulling hard to port. I pulled in the driveway, grabbed the hose, and made some more steam. And sheepishly explained to Stephanie what had happened and why I wasn’t returning her somewhat anxious calls.

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So that was yesterday, and this morning I got out my breaker bar and biggest socket and had a bit of a time cracking the big lug nuts free, for the first time since I had to put in new front bearings in San Diego, on our first trip ever, heading to Baja. It took a cheater pipe on two of them. Then I jacked ‘er up and took off the wheels and then the big hubs, which have extensions for those dished wheels.

I was really curious to see what shape the pads were in, as I never really checked them when I bought it way back then. They were like 80% new! I couldn’t believe it. Yes, I use the old A727 Torqueflite to engine brake, and babied them, but I was shocked. And the discs were as smooth as a mirror. So I did what has to be a first: I bought two new (rebuilt; $37.95 each) calipers, and no pads! I’m not going to throw out perfectly good pads! But the rubber brake lines were both badly cracked, so I splurged on them ($17.95 each). And of course the nut on the flare wouldn’t come loose, even with the right type of wrench. Someone before had rounded off the brass nuts. Dang. Everything else was going so well! I was really enjoying taking the brakes apart, which were much easier than I had somehow expected. Now what? Grab my biggest slip joint pliers, and have at it. Bingo! It worked; and it needed to be done on both sides.

So does it all work? Ask me tomorrow (Tuesday). I had another rental to rent (for Oct. 1), and put in the ad this morning. I instantly got calls and folks eager to see it right away. So my day was was very chopped up, but the cottage is rented already, and the Chinook’s brakes are all ready to be bled in the morning. Stephanie knows the routine. “Push; hold; release. Push; hold; release…”

At six I quit, as a summer day is never complete without a hike and swim in the evening. And now it’s way past bedtime, and I’ve prattled on way too long.

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Anyway, I’ll eventually get a new(er) rig, but for this late summer and fall, the Chinook will ride again, presumably. Stay tuned.