The Six State CC Roadtrip Finale: Selling Out to Backyard Engineering and How You Can Become a Practitioner of This Fine Art

backyard lawnmower

Backyard Engineering is one of the oldest necessities in existence, coming about shortly after the creation of backyards.  It is a time honored endeavor that can hone your skills of resourcefulness and creativity.

The only downside of Backyard Engineering is encountering (and correcting) the less than stellar engineering of others.  Most of us have undoubtedly had to correct such blunders and boo-boos, with the accompaniment of slanderous cursing, which only helps to intensify one’s skills in Backyard Engineering.

Perhaps you have read Part 1 and Part 2 of this trilogy.  It was a recap of my exploits in driving a fifty-two year old Ford on a six state, eleven hundred mile journey.  It was quite the fun time, until…

galaxie in distress

The water pump crapped out.  Or did it?

Knowing the water pump had been an issue when having the car resurrected nearly two years ago (here), I didn’t relish this undertaking.  But this is Backyard Engineering, where one always blazes a new path; I shouldn’t have worried.


After my new, rebuilt pump arrived, and my schedule allowed, on Friday, May 29, I packed up my tools, fired up the loaner Chrysler, and headed east.

Backyard Engineering Quickie Lesson #1:  When you unpack parts to inspect them, fail to put all the pieces back.  Gaskets are a great candidate.  Give yourself a brain-teaser.

Water pumps for a 1963 Ford Galaxie are as plentiful as gasoline, but nobody keeps them in stock.  Given the trouble previously, I used a vendor in Florida who specializes in 1963 and 1964 Ford Galaxie’s.  He knew my car and knew exactly what it needed.  That knowledge does not come when purchasing a pump from AutoCarNapaZoneQuest.  The pump was pricey but it also bought me a wealth of knowledge to help avoid any Backyard Engineering on my part.

It was a long, hot day under the hood of the Galaxie.  The fan blade was unbearably close to the radiator and a pill to remove.  The pulley slipped right off and the bracket holding the generator and water pump took a little thought due to a hidden bolt.  Finally, the old pump came off and the shaft was surprisingly tight; we simply blamed it on the gasket on the rear of the pump.

Everything went back into place beautifully, until…


The pulley hit the engine block before contacting the shaft.  This realization was accompanied by a barrage of delightfully slanderous statements.  The shaft of the new pump was too short, which sounded disturbingly familiar.

Calling the vendor, I explain the situation and ask for his advice.  This is where the pitfalls of Backyard Engineering by Others comes into play.

My old pump was the incorrect pump!  Apparently Ford lengthened the shaft for water pumps on FE equipped Galaxies for 1965.  My old pump, and the accompanying pulley, were for a 1965 or newer car, which would explain the extreme proximity to the radiator.  From this I have also concluded the shop doing the work on the car two years ago was more concerned about replacing parts in kind rather than getting it right and why it took multiple water pumps to complete the job.


The fan blade on the car, having six blades and measuring 18.25″ from end to end, was revealed to be from a 1963 era 406 or 427.  It was Backyard Engineering run amok.


New pulley (left) and old pulley (right)

Not wanting to dink around with a hodge-podge of parts in the future, I scour online parts sources.  Of course, there is no part number for the pulley I need, but I was given dimensions by the vendor.  Finding one on e-bay, I order it.

Backyard Engineering Quickie Lesson #2:  When you get your aged looking part, be sure to sand and paint it.  Make sure the painting and sanding is performed outside just before you are called to eat and with rain being imminent.  This gives you the opportunity to leave fingerprints in the finish so you can truly leave your mark.


Throughout this ordeal, I was irritated about the car sitting outside.  This circumstance was nobody’s fault, but I’ve had the car parked inside nearly non-stop since 1986.  I was worried about mice rediscovering the car (they did) and whether it was completely watertight (it isn’t).  To make matters interesting, my in-law’s six acre property has a really unique feature – it doesn’t drain.  Never have I seen a place with the slope it has pool water so well, prompting my third concern about water being beneath the car (it was at various times).

Returning on June 20, things begin smoothly.  The pulley goes on effortlessly and lines right up.  The belt goes on fabulously.  Then the smoothness ceases – the fan blades have serious clearance issues; they rub the expansion tank.

After my father-in-law speculates on the relationship between the fan blade and its mother, we have an epiphany.  It was at this moment I proudly realized the practical and inherent advantages of Backyard Engineering.  Whether it was desperation, convenience, or simply inclination does not matter.  I succumbed to the temptation and I loved it.


There are tangible advantages to my brother-in-law having kept his Sizable Hoard of Ignored Treasures (S.H.I.T.) in his parent’s yard for well over two decades.  Can you see there is a Ford pickup parked in here?  While this 1963 F-100 is slowly decaying, another long ago practitioner of Backyard Engineering tossed its straight six and deposited a Ford 429 under the hood.  Making our way through the weeds, chiggers, and ticks with weed eater in hand, a dandy fan blade was found on the front of the engine.  Off it came.


While the overall length of this four-blade fan is the same as the six blade I had had, this one has a spacer so it doesn’t hit the expansion tank and is still a reasonable distance away from the radiator.  Despite the center not fully resting upon the shaft of the pump, that leads us to…

Backyard Engineering Quickie Lesson #3:  Many components are over designed, so you have room to play.  So what if the fan blades don’t fully rest on the shaft of the water pump?  That center hole is not a structural component whereas the four bolts surrounding it are.

expansion tank

After installing the fan, I refilled the radiator.  On FE engines of this vintage, one fills the radiator through the expansion tank.  As I add coolant, it runs out of the bottom of the tank as quickly as I can pour it in.  Not good.

These expansion tanks are reproduced at $200 a pop.  I’m a cheapskate and want my car back.  What to do?


Embrace chemistry.  There is a JB Weld, Permatex, or similar concoction that can fix damn near anything.

Looking into the expansion tank reveals a tiny pinhole where the neck meets the reservoir.  It also appears nobody bothered to scrape the decades old gasket sealant off the thermostat housing when the car was resurrected.

I began to wonder if my mechanical hiccup was the water pump, the pin hole, the improperly sealed thermostat, or a combination of all three.  At this point, it’s irrelevant.

Mixing up a wicked batch of this chemical utopia, I slather it all over the junction with the pinhole.  After my snake oil dries, we put it back together and fire up the engine, burping the cooling system.  I’m almost good to go, except one thing.

I mentioned the poor drainage of their property; did I mention they had just received well over 7″ of rain in the previous 48 hours, thanks to Tropical Storm Bill?  And did I mention this June was the wettest on record in the St. Louis area?  Plus, did I mention my in-laws received around 33″ of rain during the time the car was parked there?  Even better, each rain storm was followed by days of warm, sunny weather helping bolster the already high humidity around here.

escape path

It took some doing, but I got the Galaxie out of its mud pit.  A quick test drive, some fuel, and I headed back home.


At long last, the old girl has completed her trip to Mississippi and back.  During its unintended sabbatical it succumbed to a few Eugenian influences, but a good dose of soapy water will cure that.

Life is full of invitations for adventure; it’s all in how you respond to them.

galaxie after restart

Postscript:  Two days after arriving back home, I found the Galaxie to still have an incontinent cooling system.  There are no guarantees of success with Backyard Engineering, so a new expansion tank has been ordered.  Nor is there any proven Backyard Engineering method for removing mold from the trunk and carpeting…we all know there is only one way to reliably correct that.