27 June, 2013

Progress that is wonderful to me, but inconsequential to an oblivious world

Some days in The Garage are definitely more fun than others, and while the past few days have been wonderful, there have been tinges of disappointment as well.  First, I'll start with the good.

As storms worked their way through the area and the humidity soared, I knew I couldn't do much with paint/primer and filler, so I thought I'd explore The Garage a little.  Moving the ladder around, I peeked above the plywood boards that make up the ceiling to see the loft---a mysterious frontier that has sat perfectly still for half a century.  The last person to move things around up there was my late grandfather, slowly accumulating items that he would buy from businesses that were closing their doors.

As a result, the bizarre mishmash of everything that occupies the loft in The Garage is wonderfully enigmatic.  Here's a fender, there's a grille, here's a box of bearings from the 1920s, there's a 1930s soapbox full of 1930s gauges.  On and on it goes, and it's all tossed so haphazardly in the dark, dusty space under the peak of the roof that I have to carry a light with me as I slide my way around on my stomach.

I spent several hours up there over two days, and I found a multitude of things that only I could appreciate (at least around here).  I plucked countless antiques from the dusty piles of randomness, cradling them in my arms like precious cargo each time I descended the ladder.  Meticulously I would brush them clean, admiring them both for the fact that they had sat untouched for decades and that they were last handled by my grandpa so many years ago.

In the end I was so thrilled with some of the treasures I uncovered, even if most people would dismiss them as a disjointed set of car parts and knickknacks.

By the time the weather improved I could finally work on the Maxwell and continue with my cleaning of the transmission.

In a way I had been blessed by the foibles of the old compressor, as all of the word I had received from the gentleman who had worked on these cars said not to sandblast the alloy case.  Thankfully my blasting had only knocked off the top layer of grease and not damaged the transmission, so I took down the tarps that hung from the car's sides and got a screwdriver and mineral spirits.  Scraping off the thickest dried grease, I then dabbed the metal with mineral spirits recycled from the transmission case.

The exhaust (L) and intake (R) gears, with the magneto's gear (C).
After letting it sit for a few moments, I used a wire brush to scrub, and that worked extremely well.  As of today, the entire crankcase is perfectly clean, and it looks incredible.  Yes, this was much more work than using the sandblaster, but my unspoken mantra of using as few power tools as possible during the restoration appreciated it.

With the case clear, I set out to remove the remainder of the linkages that would normally sit under the front floor (these included linkages for the brakes, clutch and gears).  It was here where the bane of my existence, those pesky rusted pins, began to mess with me again.

So painfully simple, these smooth pins are only held in with a cotter pin, yet over the last century they've become rusted and seized in their holes, refusing to budge even with the roughest persuasion I could apply.  Two of these pins in particular hung up my restoration for several hours in the past couple of days.

You can just barely see it here, but this is the cracked clamp.
Over the course of my efforts I used a screwdriver, a hammer, a bigger hammer, various chisels, vice grips, other bolts, two C-clamps (one of which I actually managed to crack in two) and a blowtorch.  Eventually I triumphed over both, but one of the arms coming off the clutch had bent slightly, so I used a massive four-foot-long prybar to bend it back today.

After all of this, I had every one of the linkages off and began work on cleaning and smoothing them.  I did the same for the gear selector plate (that pivots on the gearbox and moves the fork inside).  I scrubbed incessantly with the wire brush on the frame, occasionally uncovering some of the original blue paint that once adorned the entire underbody.

Over time I headed up to the engine to scrub there, and at the same time I started some disassembly (only of the most superficial parts).  I took the radiator fan off to clean and smooth it, and I must say, that turned out beautifully.  I only had to replace the ball bearings a few times after they all fell out, but by the end I had provisions in place to stop them from escaping again.

Excitingly, I'm nearly ready to reassemble all of those linkages, which means I can move entirely to the engine for the immediate future.  I realize some aspects of this may require quite a bit of work---possibly removing the entire engine from the car for a while, or at least taking off the heads to clean the cylinders---and in some cases this will take a couple of people to do, but I'm thrilled to get there.  I didn't know how long it would take me to sort everything out rearward, but I didn't figure I would get into the engine for quite some time.  I can only do so much, though.

The radiator fan before...
Scouring the exploded views from some 1910 books, I'm wondering where the oil tank on my car went (or even if it had one).  I'm wondering when the fuel lines disappeared (or the entire gas tank, for that matter), and I'm wondering how the shaft of the magneto interfaces with the sleeve on the top of the transmission case.  I don't know where the coil went (but I think it poked through the firewall), or if we can find a new one.  I don't have a wiring loom yet, nor do I have a couple of hoses.  I know the carburetor is not the correct one, which was common for cars back then, but I don't know how to make this one work with the car, either.  I could go on and on, but I won't.  The point is, while I can see the necessary steps to complete the restoration in my head, I'm not sure how I'll complete a couple of those steps along the way.

This is definitely disappointing, as every other time I think about the car, it feels like I'm getting more and more ahead of schedule in completing it.  What was once a distant, undated future completion date is drawing nearer and nearer with every 6+ hour shift I put in, but some thoughts make it drift helplessly farther into the future.

...and after!
Further adding to my uncertainty is the isolated state in which I work on this car.  Day after day I work alone in The Garage, accompanied occasionally by an Oldies radio station that fades in and out throughout the afternoon.  Some days I have the garage door open, sometimes I don't.  And it's here I toil for hours a day, making progress that is wonderful to me, but inconsequential to an oblivious world that only peers inside when I blog about my endeavors on here.  Even then I'm not so sure anyone reads what I write, but considering that I started this blog merely to be a record of my restoration projects, I guess I never intended it to be widely read.  But I digress.

This isolation makes it difficult to gauge my work.  I can't find other blogs out there that walk readers through a brass car restoration like mine, so I have no idea if my progress is average, slow or incomplete.  Many of the notes I send to owners and brass car specialists go unanswered, and the few that come back only address one of many questions I have over time.  It's frustrating, but not totally unexpected.

Some of that fortune changed the other day when I received two emails from two different gentlemen in Australia.  Neither have restored a Maxwell like mine, but both have worked on two-cylinder versions of my car, and both have gorgeous cars to which I hope mine can compare someday.  The first email, especially, caught me off-guard with one short line.

"Keep at it," he wrote, "you are doing well."

He didn't elaborate, nor did he sing my praises anymore than beyond that line, but I needed that.  I stopped reading for a moment and smiled.  Only a few people in my life have ever said that I'm doing a good job on the Maxwell, and while I'm not a narcissistic person who needs to hear encouragement, it felt very good to hear such words from someone who has been in my shoes.  To read that from someone who has resurrected a Maxwell of his own, it felt great.

So as I continue on my project, only I know the remaining steps of the restoration.  Each and every one is planned out in my head, and at any given time I have countless aspects of several steps swimming around my thoughts.  I know which parts should be easy and which ones will be challenging, and I know that there are many steps along the way that won't go as planned, too.  There will inevitably be moments when I'm thrown a wonderfully complex loop, and there will be moments when I do something foolish and set myself back a few steps, but that's part of the game.  That's what I find so enthralling with restoring this little car.

When people will ask me what I did this summer, I'll say, in part, that I worked in The Garage and made great progress on the Maxwell.  They'll smile and nod and find that interesting, but they'll have no idea of the moments when I sat inside the car's frame, my arms and neck intertwined with the rusted linkages as I scrub 100 years' worth of grime from the car's body.  They'll have no knowledge of the bloodied hands and the countless times when I've left The Garage covered from head to toe in dust, dirt and grime.  They won't know of my occasional frustration from fighting back the hands of time, and they won't know the sheer joy I share with the spirit of my grandfather whenever I make substantial progress.

But I will.  I remember all of it, and that's why I love doing this.  I'm not restoring a car for other people, nor am I struggling and hitting the car to impress others.  I'm doing this because I want to.  I'm being so meticulous for myself and for the spirit of the little car, whose sad life saw it spend most of its existence forgotten or neglected.  I want to make the car a show winner not for me, but because she deserves it.  And when she gets the honor and love she's been due for decades, I'll remember the blood and sweat, and I'll know every minute was worth it.

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