03 June, 2013

I step over the footprints forever cast in concrete from The Garage's dedication half a century ago

One of my favorite moments of any summer is the first trip up to The Garage after a year away at school.

The old stone structure spent the past nine months enduring rain, bitter winds and driving snow.  My father once again became its primary caretaker, and as a result the interior gets a bit out of shape.  Tools are strewn about in different places from where I left them in August.  Several strange items find their way through the doors and end up tossed in a corner or in a potential work space (things like air conditioner covers, enormous blue tarps from purposes unknown and giant power tools purchased from Craigslist).

But when summer rolls around, I don my ratty garage clothes and practically sprint my way through the yard.  Swinging the off-kilter, green door open, I step over the footprints forever cast in concrete from The Garage's dedication half a century ago.  In a way, I'm home.

When I crossed the threshold for the first time this morning, though, I discovered the house was a mess.

I approached the day knowing full well that the first part of my work would involve cleaning and making the space usable, but the labor was necessary.  When I finished, I couldn't wait to dig in to all my projects that had been stewing in my mind for so many busy nights and days away at school.

I started the day tending to the Maxwell.  So much has happened in my planning process while I've been away.  A gentleman in California found me a genuine magneto (which is a huge step).  I now have the dimensions of the gas tank, for when I make it/have it made.  I have inquired about the springs and systems for the brakes, and I now know about the fuel lines.  I have a better handle on the color scheme for the car, and I have leads on material to use for the brake shoes (I'll be explaining all of this in the future as I reach these steps, so don't worry, I'm not leaving out details altogether).

In the short term, though, I needed to get the left side rear brakes apart.  I made good headway on this last summer, finding that the left side was coming apart a ton easier and quicker than the right side, but I still had issues separating the elements of the parking brakes.

Once I gathered most of my tools, the hand lights flickered on again and I settled in beside the old car, nestling myself against its cold, metal skin.  (I never did find Thor, though, which is a bit disconcerting, although it may have been off helping my mother lay some bricks several weeks ago.)

My first order of business was to clean the grime off the brakes so I could assess the state of the cotter pins I would be removing.  Armed with my safety goggles, I plugged in the ancient Montgomery Ward drill with the gnarly metal cleaning brush attachment and began scraping away the years.  By the time I finished, the sleek metal casing of the drill and most of my body were covered in brown and black dust that had been ripped from the car's metal.

In a pleasant surprise, I learned that the left side was, in fact, not more rusted than the right, it was merely covered in more gunk.  Suddenly I could see the subtle loop in the top of the crushed cotter pin on the parking brake.  I could see traces of blue paint left over from the Maxwell's glory days.  It was wonderful to see after such a short time working.

Using an old nail and a hammer with a wobbly head, I removed the cotter pin (the small hole in the right center of the picture) and squirted some WD-40 in the space it once occupied.  Using a series of chisels with increasingly wider tips, I began hammering between the brake support on the axle and the arm of the parking brake.  Slowly but surely this increased the space (after I filed a little off the end of the square post that makes up the actual braking mechanism), and in about ten minutes I had the pieces apart and ready to clean.

Pieces of the parking brake before...
For the first part of the cleaning process I put the newly-freed pieces to the wire brush, spinning the 40+ year-old motorized brush/grinder combo for maybe 20 minutes.  When I was done, the pieces were mostly rust-free but were pitted and rough.  I ground some surfaces of the parts before giving them all a bath in carb cleaner.  After letting them soak for a while, I started the smoothing process, which is still underway.

Pieces of the parking brake after cleaning (but before the smoothing)

In the meantime I put the right rear tire back on the car, although it seems to wobble a little more than when I took it off.  I suspect the locking pin may be a little off, or I may need to re-tighten the lug nut.  We'll see.  I'm not too worried about that for now; instead, I want to finish up the rear brakes and be done with them.  That way I can focus on the transmission and whatever else I want to get a start on this summer.

I have so many plans in my head, and I know what the next steps will be and in what order they need to be done---which is weird because I've never restored a brass car before.  I've just given it all so much thought that I know nearly every major piece of the car and what is required to make them functional and like new.  For now, though, I hope to finish the smoothing process on the left rear brakes and the axle tomorrow, but it's a time-consuming process, so we'll see.  In the meantime I've been cleaning and smoothing the fender supports on the front so that we can set the new fenders on the car to prevent their warping.

The supports weren't in bad shape, partially because my grandfather painted them long ago to protect them from rust.  In the days before he did this, though, they had gotten pitted and a little rough, but that's nothing I can't reverse.

I cleaned and started smoothing them this afternoon and evening, making great progress on the right side support in particular.  That's another piece I hope to have finished tomorrow, but the forecast of rain may delay the drying of the filler and primer.  It doesn't have to be perfect at this point; I just want to get the fenders sitting in a natural position.

I'll show some more pictures of the supports and things in the next post, but for now that's enough.  In all, it's been a wonderful day.

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