25 June, 2012

The time I spent just hitting this car with Thor cannot be overstated

Well today was certainly busy, but I wouldn't have it any other way.

I spent six hours in The Garage today working on the Maxwell brakes (and other projects on the side), and I couldn't be happier at the results.  So much has happened up there since my last post about the little Maxwell that I don't know where to start.

Last post I had just gone through the incredibly difficult process of getting the axle re-aligned and hooked back to the leaf springs.  I was aided by new U-bolts that were fabricated for free by some colleagues, and they ended up looking fantastic.  After the axle was hooked back on, now it was time to move onto the brakes, starting with the right rear (or the right, since there are no brakes on the front axle).

The first order of business was to remove the adjusting nut at the top front of the brakes.  The Maxwell had an ingenious system that takes all of two minutes to understand:  Rods connect the front brake lever to each of the rear brakes.  Where the rod comes in, there is a pivot point.  When you brake the car, it pulls the top of the brakes forward, squeezing the pads against the drum of the wheel (which, unlike modern drum brakes is inside of the pads).  Springs along a horizontal rod get compressed as that top moves forward, so when you're ready to let off, the brakes spring back to normal.  That's all there is to it, really.
The above is a picture from the rear center of the car looking outward.  You can see the pivot point in the center of the picture and the springs at the top.  The two pads are of some undetermined construction, so I'll have to do some checking to figure out what to use as pads.  Either way they're held on with brass rivets, so that shouldn't be a problem.

As you can also see above, I'd been dousing the moving parts of the brakes with penetrating oil every chance I got.  When I first began tinkering with the car long ago, nothing moved on the brakes.  By the time that picture was taken, I could pivot the arm and thus apply the brakes slightly, but there still was not much movement.

The first order of business would be to get the tire off---something I've never done on this car before.  I had attempted it long ago but soon gave up to go work on other things, as the wheel puller we have was not quite the right size to aid in the removal of this particular wood spoke wheel.

When taking the wheels off the Maxwell, first one has to remove the main lug nut and then a washer that comes off of the spindle.  From here, theoretically, with some force the wheel can be removed.  Not so easy in this case.

I bashed on the tire relentlessly for quite some time before attempting other methods (prying, wiggling, lubricating, etc.) until my father arrived home from work.  He bashed it a few times before recommending that we try hitting it a slightly different way.  The last time he had removed a wheel this old was when he was a young child and his father (the first Woodsie) restored a ~1903 Franklin.  Eventually we were successful, although the locking pin inside the wheel gave much sooner than I anticipated, thus injuring my leg as it leapt joyfully from the car.  This came after my father set a giant, super heavy mallet on the tire, only to have the tire rotate and send the enormous mallet crashing into my knee.

With the tire off I had an unabated view of the brakes like I'd never had before.  The scene did not look promising, though.  So much rust and so few moving parts meant that I would risk breaking a few old pieces if I struggled too much with them during removal.  With that in mind I gathered WD40 and a newly-discovered old can of PB Blaster, alternating use between the two on whatever part I needed freed.

I also tried my hand at mixing my own penetrating oil based on some wives tales I'd heard on the internet.  After gaining access to a new bottle of acetone, I found a 1980s bottle of automatic transmission fluid (ATF) and a 1960s Vlasic pickle jar in which to mix the two together.  Pouring my home brew over the parts, I soon found that the combinations of my three oils were actually loosening some of the rusted pieces.
I removed the brake adjuster (as seen above) and found that there were little swatches of the original blue paint still on it from 1910.  At the same time I also learned that this always-black piece (which I assumed in the past to be Bakelite) was actually brass!  I can't imagine how gorgeous it must look clean, but the aforementioned swatches tell me that it was once painted, so I may have to cover it in the end.
I used my grandfather's tap and die set to clean the threads on the adjusting nut and on the brakes as well (I love that set, by the way.  It always makes me so proud and honored to use it).  Then I scrubbed a little on the brakes themselves (seen below).  I soon realized that in order to make them work again I would need to take them entirely apart; as a result, my task just seemed a whole lot bigger.  I would begin by using the super large rubber mallet---which I now affectionately call Thor---to hit the brakes in every direction I could just to free them up.
After a while I could get the shoes to move inward and outward slightly, but not much.  Without the impediment of the wheel I could, for once, take a full swing when hitting the car.  I'm sure Thor loved this as much as I did.  Eventually I also spent some time hitting the pivot point (parallel onto the leftmost part of the spring in the above picture).  After a while this too could actually pivot and move for the first time in my life.  I soon realized that the little pin that held the threaded piece onto the arm would be a beast to remove, as would the one below it where the arm attaches to the rear brake pad.  Both would have to come out, though, if I hoped to get the thing working again.

The time I spent just hitting this car with Thor cannot be overstated.  I would work up sweat after sweat, spending five or ten minutes at a time repeatedly hitting different parts of this car and seeing them move millimeters at a time.  I would sometimes switch to the regular metal hammer before going back to Thor, but in the end I had always made a little progress.  If I combined my hitting episodes, though, I imagine I spent a few hours of my life hitting that car.  In the end, though, the arm would pivot easily and the springs would actually spring the arm back into place!  In essence, the brakes were extremely close to working!

I knew this was not good enough, though, and that the car needed to be done correctly, so I persisted.  I whacked the brake pads far enough apart that I could get the forward spring off the adjusting threads, then eventually I wiggled the pads enough to get the whole adjustment thread piece out of the center guide on the axle.  This meant I was free at the top of the brakes and had just one nut at the bottom to remove before the whole brake mechanism could come off the car.

In the meantime I tried hundreds of different ways to get those pins out.  I pried, I hit them, I grabbed them with vise-grips, I jammed different sized screwdrivers under their heads, I used a propane torch to heat the metal before hitting them and prying them and grabbing them some more.  On and on I went to no avail.  This was turning into the hardest part of the restoration so far.
The elements of my home brew of penetrating oil.
Part of the ongoing trouble was the fact that early on I planned on making my own pin-remover with a socket and a clamp, but the only clamp that we had was (1) old, as expected, (2) didn't have a rotating head on the threaded end, and (3) was not in the least bit square and straight.  As a result, when I tried to screw the clamp inward, it pushed itself off of the pin or off of the socket.  When I tried it the other way the old metal on the clamp would give way and the socket would gouge into it.

After some time I decided to move onto that bottom nut that would free the brake mechanism.  Oddly, this was incredibly easy to remove, which was a byproduct of soaking the whole thing in penetrating oil repeatedly.  And with that, I became the first person in 100 years to be holding the Maxwell's brakes in my hands, which was a pretty amazing feeling.

But this blog post is far too long as is.  There's so much more to talk about, but that will have to be in the next post.  In the meantime feel free to get (mostly) realtime briefs on Twitter at @WoodsiesGarage.  Thanks, all!

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