24 June, 2014

Sitting patiently in the rafters for 50 years

It's days like today that reaffirm my love of The Garage.  Sometimes, unexpectedly, that old stone structure springs something on me that I couldn't have seen coming, even if it fell from the rafters.  Despite the never-ending battle against dust, the constant necessity for cleaning and the bevy of rusty implements that always threaten to drain me of my blood, sometimes The Garage just blows me away.

The magneto gear.  Note the cutouts.
I have been extremely busy working up there lately, namely on the Maxwell, but partially on cleaning and organizing.  I put the mag on the car in a dry run only to learn that I was missing a crucial piece that marries the magneto shaft to the magneto gear (which is inside the crankcase).

This is a very unique part, and I'm absolutely positive that we have nothing like it.  Held in with a D-shaped pin, the little metal sleeve fits around the magneto shaft and is held onto it by the mysterious nut and split washer that I've mentioned before.  The little sleeve has two wings on the end closest to the mag, and these fit into notches on the center sleeve of the larger magneto gear.  Between these wings and the D-shaped pin, this is what allows the spinning of the car's engine to spin the magneto and thus distribute the spark.

The magneto shaft with the nut and split washer.
A World War II vet in California graciously sent one of his to me from his Maxwell Model G, but thankfully it's the same size.  So with that, I turned it over to my father.  He took it to some men who can use their machines not only to replicate this part but to train others in the machine's operation.  It's a win-win!

In the last couple of weeks those men have scanned the piece into a CAD program, measuring it to the third decimal point before using another calibrated machine to corroborate their numbers.  They were actually impressed at how this small, well-machined piece could have been made 100 years ago, so they're going to try a couple of different methods to recreate it---I'll let you know what they find if they are successful.

In the meantime, I learned that the Maxwell spark plug wires (which should be 7mm wires, but can be nine if need be) were brown, not oak like I originally thought.  Using some old shoestrings, I figured out how much of the wire is needed to reach the four plugs as well as the coil.  Assuming I want some extra, here's what I found:


  • The first two spark plugs require 36 inches of wire to reach them.
  • The back two plugs need 28 inches of wire apiece.
  • The coil wire, of which there is only one, can be 20" in length.
  • This adds up to 148 inches in total.

Figuring out the distance to the coil was tricky, though, since I didn't know where the coil attached to the car.  Consulting another member of the Maxwell Registry, I found that the part I figured to be the coil holder was, in fact, the coil holder, and it attaches using two bolts to the front hole on the left firewall support bracket.  The top hole goes on top of the bracket's front hole, and the bottom part of the bracket sits on the bottom lip of the frame rail.  This way, the coil is hidden under and angled floor board and is not that far away from the magneto.

This is what the left rear frame looked like.
I'm also waiting on the measurements from this same gentleman on the Maxwell's oil tank.  Holding just two quarts of oil, the tank is relatively small and shouldn't be hard to make, but my lack of a sight gauge is a bit difficult.  If nothing else, I'm thinking of taking cardboard and mocking up a tank to see how it fits in the engine bay, and I can adjust the measurements from there.  The original tank was sweat soldered together, which is something I presently don't know how to do, but we can work on that later.  If I have to weld it, I'll weld it, but I'd prefer not to (given that there isn't a weld on any other part of the car).

I should qualify that last statement, I suppose.  There are now welds on one part of the car, and I'm fairly proud of it.

The plate is now gone, so I can make a new one.
The left rear corner of the frame, to the keen-eyed who may remember, was incredibly rusty and full of holes, and one of those mysterious plates that may have been used to square the frame was nearly gone.  After considering my options, I figured that I could not only fill the holes but also replace the plate with some leftover sheet metal from the body I made last summer.

I measured the remnants of the old plate before knocking it out, finding it was a triangle that was six inches long on one side and seven on the other.  The longer of the two rested against the rearmost crosspiece, but not smoothly.  There had been some repairs done sometime in the past to this area, so I had to make cut-outs in the new piece with a Dremel tool after tracing around the obstructions.  This was mostly trial and error, but eventually I got a suitable union between the two, so I clamped it in place and began the welding process.  Using relatively small rods with a medium-to-low setting on the welder, I was able to fill in all the holes and, by doing so, affix the new plate to the frame rails.

The new plate with cutouts.
I used this opportunity to fill other deeper holes in the back half of the frame, and after grinding it down and laying some smoothing filler over it, the entire back half of the frame looked brand new!  Even though it will be covered by the lower body, I felt this was an important thing to do not just for aesthetics but also for the strength of the metal.  Hopefully my work will stand the test of time, but that remains to be seen.

With the holes filled, for the first time in over a year I put the back half of the lower body back on the car.  Along with the fenders, which were already in place, I put the new front halves of the lower body onto the car and stepped back to admire the gestalt.  For the first time in a long time, the Maxwell was truly looking like a car again.

Here's after the first (messy) round of welding.
So while I wait for the integral components to getting it running (the wires, the oil tank measurements, etc.), I thought I would tidy up some more of the bodywork---namely the running boards.  By focusing on these key pieces of the car, I would finally have an idea about exactly where the fenders sit in relation to the frame.  A correctly-installed running board would allow me to correctly line up the fenders and finally get them hooked to the car (instead of just sitting/hanging on the tires and fender supports).

From my research and from other Maxwell owners, the running boards were either ash or oak, 3/4" thick.  Using the fenders and the arm that holds the board, I determined it should be nine inches wide.  After fiddling with the fenders and getting them lined up (which was tricky without hooking them on), I estimated that the running board should be around 48 inches long, though this was meant to be an overestimate.

So all I had to do was call up the local lumber yard and order the wood, right?  If only.

Done for now!
They first quoted me a very cheap price for pine, which was in the ballpark of $7.00.  I told them that I need ash or oak.

"We don't carry ash," they said.

"What about oak?"

"How long do you need it?"

"I need two pieces around 48 inches in length."

"We don't have that size.  You can either get two feet longer or two feet shorter than that."

"How much is the longer one?"

"That will be $80.00."

Ouch.  Needless to say, I quickly said no to that.  That was a ridiculous amount for something that is a relatively common building material.  So I called the local Menard's for the same order, which they quoted at $62 of oak (they didn't have ash, either).  That was still a bit high for me, so we looked online and found a website that had poplar (which was commonly used for the floorboards, not the running boards) for $30.  This was going to be our plan, and we would probably order it later in the day.

So in the meantime I went back to work in The Garage cleaning a seldom-seen corner that houses a cabinet full of parts from a closing store my grandfather acquired back in the '50s.

My father soon got home from work, and I told him of my troubles at ordering the wood for the boards, and I asked if he could help me line up the fenders to double check my measurements.  As we stood there between the Maxwell and the old Farmall tractor, we began looking above us for some reason, perhaps out of boredom or curiosity.

Incredibly, directly above our heads was a beautiful, dusty, dark board stretched across the tops of several rafters.  Buried beneath a pile of plywood, chrome mouldings from old cars and my father's childhood toboggan, this long, broad board stared back at us.  Extremely out of place with the other pieces of wood around it, neither my father or I had ever noticed this nearly perfect piece of hardwood, looking down like the Cheshire Cat smiling from a tree branch high above our heads.

I climbed up onto the wheel of the tractor and slowly maneuvered the board from under the pile, careful not to upset a late '50s Oldsmobile grille that rested quietly on the object of interest.

When I climbed down, this amazingly out-of-place piece of lumber stood upright, propped against the tractor for us to inspect its dusty surface.  It looked like it was oak, and this was confirmed after I cleaned off all the dust and bird droppings from its wooden skin.  It was 3/4" thick, one foot wide and six feet tall.  It was exactly what I needed for a strong running board, and we were left dumbfounded by its presence.

I took it outside where my father and I cut it down to size.  One end had a split right in the center of the board, so I cut this end off when I sought to make the board 48 inches in length.  Improbably, what I just cut off was actually a very suitable piece of wood for the angled floor board that covered the magneto and the coil.  Even more amazing, after I measured how much of that floor board I would have to remove, I found that the split would be completely cut off with less than half an inch to spare.  It was like this random piece of oak was made for the Maxwell, sitting patiently in the rafters for 50 years while it gathered dust and waited for the day I would call upon it to become part of the old car.

Perhaps my grandfather saw the same potential in this wood that I did, which is why it was placed in the back of the garage nearest to the Maxwell.  Perhaps he put it up there with no purpose in mind, but the voice in our heads that told my father and I to look up today knew that we would get the message now.

I cut the running board to its correct width, and in doing so I was left with a narrow sliver of oak that can also be used as a regular floor board when that time comes.  Amazingly, only a few inches of this piece of oak will not be used, and I'm still blown away whenever I think about it.

Before I left The Garage today, I walked with my newly-hewn lumber and placed it on the car.  For the first time since 1910, the little Maxwell got a new running board, and damn did it look good!  I positioned the fenders to rest on top of the board, and in doing so I saw them slide a bit closer to their correct location---something I will measure and mark and photograph before I begin the attaching process.  Then I will take those measurements and apply them to the other side, whenever I get around to finding another piece of suitable wood.

I stood back to admire our work, and I thanked whatever or whoever put that board up there.  I folded up some rags and took off my gloves, setting them gently on the red paint of the Farmall before turning to leave.  As I did, I shot one more glance skyward, partly out of curiosity, partly out of amazement.

Hanging four feet from the board we just discovered was another one just like it.

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