When I first got the X-11 in January of 2009, both front brake rotors looked like this.
I completely re-did the rear brakes (new drums, new shoes, everything else cleaned up and lubed). About all I did up front was to drop new brake pads in and clean some of the rust off the calipers. I needed the car moving and new rotors could wait a little longer.
The replacement pads did a good job of scraping the rust off, but the rotors themselves were under spec and had grooves like little metal records. A good panic stop was very entertaining! I'd push on the brake pedal, then a little harder, then harder, watching that other guy's rear bumper getting closer. The X-11's nose would dive, but she'd stop with plenty of room between her nose and the other car's tail. Maybe she was testing my blood pressure for me.
More recently, though, I was hearing some occasional loud, low grinding noises like I was dragging granite blocks across cement.
For the record, no X-11 shipped with granite blocks.
Sounded really bad, and always after some moderate to severe braking. I started imagining the rotors getting worn down until they looked like these:
That is what happens when you don't get your brakes worked on like you're supposed to. Those shiny "fingers" are the insides of the rotor--and the outer half of it is missing, ground down by metal-on-metal contact with a worn-out brake pad. Inevitably, the joker driving a truck like this will tell you, "It just started making noise this morning." Heh.
I saw one back in my Pep Boys days (1996-98) where the entire rotor had been worn down to the point where it fell off the hub. On both front wheels. "It only started making noise this morning," the woman said. "The brakes were acting funny, so I drove it here."
Then she wanted us to put the tires back on and let her drive it home because she couldn't afford new rotors and pads just then. We offered to call a tow truck, because that was the only way the thing was leaving. All it'd take was her hitting a bus full of kids and nuns and Pep Boys would be signing ownership over to someone new.
She left the truck and got the work done a few days later. This was a big full-size Ford pickup. Plenty of liability damage, there.
I had those images in mind when I ordered new pads and rotors back in August. Took me another 4 months to get myself together health-wise. All the usual stuff: one knee or the other, one foot or the other, or my right elbow would seem to flare up just as I was thinking it'd be a good day to work on the car. Add the trouble I have getting up and down and almost-constant tiredness and it seems to take a confluence of cosmic powers to get my ass out there.
I've still got things that need reinstalling after all the electrical troubleshooting back in May; a dead, rusty muffler to replace; a blower motor with a bad wire; an oil change 10 months late; and a lot of other stuff. Got the parts, but they won't install themselves.
I can tick the brakes off that list. Only took me two days, this time, to get them done. I have to relearn the brake pedal, but it feels amazing. Stops like a cat.
The rotors didn't look too bad. Both of them were the original 32-year old pieces the car shipped with. Both were close to 3/16" thinner than their replacements (and very likely under the "REPLACE THOSE SUCKERS NOW!!" spec). That grinding I'd heard was probably from the pads I threw on in 2009, which now have grooves ground into them from the wear on the rotors.
Then (because I was feeling productive for the first time in months) I re-fixed the horn. That's two things off the list. Only 2-1/2 pages to go.
This was only my second funeral. I sat out several before these. I said my goodbyes in quiet. But it didn't seem right to sit out those of my stepfather and my mother.
There's not really much for me, as far as the services go, especially the religious aspects. It's not like I'm sitting and smirking like the fundies' stereotypical atheist, barely restraining myself from jumping up and interrupting the preaching with smug superiority. I save that for here. Tremble before me, for I am mighty and stuff.
Actually, I'm just bored, tired, and concentrating more on keeping myself from nodding off. The preachers at both services followed a general structure of quoting the banalities that We The Family came up with at a previous meeting, meager summaries of something so complex as 82 years of life. From there, a few Bible selections, a couple of poems. None of us spoke at either funeral.
In both cases, however, the preachers did all the talking for us, and related personal stories of their own that didn't really fit. In both cases, they summarized a parent's decades of life to a minute or so of quoted material before making the service about themselves, their own beliefs, their own agendas.
The preacher at my stepfather's funeral was a fire-and-brimstone fellow who regaled us with tales of reborn dead, beloved family members who will one day rise again when That Day comes, the one preachers predict but don't really believe in. My zombie stepfather, my grandmother, a pair of aunts, my grandfather--and, now, apparently, my mother will be made whole and all that. This service had it all--somber organ music piped in over speakers, a couple playing a duet of a Hank Williams song and a hymn, admonitions to get right with the proper version of god. There were easily 40 people. I didn't recognize many of them. Might have been from the pastor's church. I think my stepfather went there a few times.
A long service. It might have only been 40 minutes, but these things can stretch to eternity fairly quickly. I imagine my stepfather was snoring. I nodded off a couple of times, myself.
There were no conflicts with his side of the family. Crazy Hank! didn't do anything crazy, his screechy accusation-slinging sister kept her pie hole shut, and all the relations who usually ignored my mother and I at "family" gatherings (hahaha) ignored us.
Then came the pall-bearing. I can't remember who or how many aside from Hank! and I. The mortal remains were transferred into a hearse, then a mess of us followed it to the gravesite. There was another service here, a shortened version of the one we'd just been through a few hours before. No singing, no organ. Shorter is sweeter. Long drive home from there.
Today's service was much less involved. There were about a dozen of us, and that's really sad considering all the people who Mom worked with over the years. Sixty years as a paralegal, mostly in real estate; she worked on some legal matters for the Poarch Creek tribe in Atmore, Alabama and for the Perdido Bay Creek tribe in Pensacola. Only one of the lawyers and his daughter showed up. No one from either tribe has so much as peeped. And, of course, nothing from the stepfamily.
The usual summary by the preacher, a few paragraphs that didn't tell anyone about her, not really. No mention of her being a wizard with a sewing machine and serger.
Nothing about her cooking, how she made cream cheese pound cakes right up until she couldn't remember how anymore, or her amazing rice and gravy. What about the wooden spoon I wrapped in aluminum foil one Thanksgiving, as a prize. She was proud of that silly spoon and kept it on display next to the kitchen window.
What about her life in 1950s Castleberry, Alabama, where she faced racism for being Creek and Cherokee? She was made to use the back door of most houses where she did peoples' hair. People called her "little black girl." It was good to see her bringing her heritage out and wearing it proudly in the last 20 years. I wish the Perdido and Atmore tribes had shown up to give her a better ceremony.
This preacher seemed to be rushing it. We still had the piped-in organ (which sounded like we were trapped in a Whitney Houston song), but no duets, no zombie relatives, no fire and brimstone. No fire, really: this guy was a mechanic in a funeral assembly line, thirty minutes and on to the next. A little preaching, a few Bible quotes, a few bits of filler about himself...well, actually, two thirds of the thing seemed to be more about him. Before he dies, he really ought to record himself at several of these quickie funerals and just have the preacher preaching for him play it back, since he's already got the patter. It'd save some time. His might only take 20 minutes.
No pall-bearing, no following the casket up to Castleberry.
By height and by age: their mother and the three sisters.
This will be the first time they've all been together since 1991--and the first time poor John Garner has had all four of them in one place since 1965. Tremble!
We just got the call from the Hospice folks. She's gone.
There's no way I want to remember her the way she was the last few weeks, so here's a shot from the mid-90s, when she was active in the local Muscogee Creek community. Chief Bobby Johns Bearheart named her "Eyes That Shine."
She made the jacket herself, if I remember right. She used to do presentations at schools, college classrooms, anywhere she could tell her stories. She certainly earned her name. Her eyes never shone brighter and she was never happier than when she was interacting with students or visitors full of questions.
She had to put it on the back burner to care for my stepfather as he wasted away from Alzheimer's, only to suffer the same fate.
She was a steely-eyed badass, a force of nature, and a damn fine woman who had one hell of a good ride even with bumpy roads.
I still haven't figured out what caused the problem. Haven't been able to reproduce the problem since then. In the last month, as a matter of fact, it seems like I fixed the supposed engine/battery/starter problem by replacing an exhaust hanger.
It'd be pretty damn cool if that's what happened.
About 6 weeks ago the car's rearmost exhaust hanger failed. I was in traffic, heard a CLUNK and clanging, heard the catalytic converter grinding as I pulled into the driveway. When I looked under, the converter and the outlet pipe leading to the muffler were a few inches off the ground. The muffler itself was dangling at a 45 degree angle, the exhaust tip nearly touching dirt.
I dug through my camera box. That's not as random as it might sound.
Back in 2008, I bought a few sets of exhaust hanger straps, U-bolts, and a mess of 1/4"-20 screws for making lightweight camera rigs. One of the hangers and U-bolts made a good clamping mount for a bicycle handlebar. I'd been planning to use that on one of the "hike & bike" rides out to Fort Pickens.
All the hangers and parts were in a bag. Once I sorted through it all, I had three complete hangers ready to go. Free is better than shopping for all new stuff.
It took a few more days to get my legs convinced to let me go out (all the going up and down stairs in the cellar the day I picked the spare X-11 engine off the back of the Tracker messed up my left knee). Took half an hour to get one of the hangers modified to fit the car's factory hanger bracket.
Man, the muffler is a mess. When I first got the car nearly 5 years ago, the thing seemed solid. Some burn-throughs in places, probably from too-rich, too-hot exhaust. One scary detail: the right rear bumper guard, a piece of hard black rubber, is partly melted. It sits several inches above the exhaust tip. Looks like there was a hell of a flaming exhaust problem at one point. Yikes.
Anyway, the muffler's belly is torn open and it's spilling rusty muffler guts everywhere. Got a replacement on the way, nice and shiny and keeping its guts inside.
Back to that hanger. Some previous owner had rigged up a hose clamp to replace the rusted/broken original strap. The hose clamp finally gave up, snapped, and dropped another project in my lap. A freaking hose clamp.
Took another couple of days, but I went back out to replace the other two hangers, certain that they were all snapped, given how low the exhaust was hanging. Hell, I've been needing to replace them since I got the car. Knew it, kept putting it off. Even knew about that stupid hose clamp. Hitting a speed bump or something at the wrong angle would get me a loud, embarrassing grinding racket or even a momentarily much louder exhaust as the spring joint at the front end was pulled open. Fun, fun, fun!
Didn't have to worry. Middle hanger was fine, next one needed to be adjusted. And that brings us to the accidental making things better. For the past year or so, I've had some random problems with a crappy idle after driving long enough to get the car warmed up, going into a store, and trying to drive it after letting it sit hot for a few minutes. More recently, it was the starting issue, where the hot engine seemed to get harder to turn over (or the engine heat was overloading the starter).
Ever since I tightened up the exhaust, though, no trouble. Engine cranks and starts more easily cold or hot. No trouble restarting even after a long drive. The only thing that makes sense is that the drooping exhaust was causing a restriction that kept the engine from breathing properly.
Saved myself the cost and effort of replacing the starter, and the disappointment of realizing that the starter wasn't the problem. What the hell, an accidental fix still counts.
Early last year, my mother had a stroke that seemed to open the way for Alzheimer's to wreak its havoc upon her mind. She had been having memory problems and other symptoms of dementia, but until then it had been manageable.
She was trying to cut up one of the quilts her mother had made by hand, decades before. She was trying to eat crossword puzzles. She forgot to turn the stove off after trying to make coffee--in an empty pot.
She was convinced someone was trying to steal her car and would go outside several times a night to catch them.
She was convinced that my nephew was poisoning her.
She's never looked so old as she does now, at nearly 83. Dealing with her husband's Alzheimer's took a massive toll on her. She'd already lost her two sisters and her father to it. My stepfather lost his mother to it.
Mom gradually improved after last year's stroke, moving from the hospital to a nursing home that smelled of paint and disinfectant. Every visit was painful. Her memory was shot, so we were on a constant loop of "Where am I?" and "When can I go home?" and anything else that occurred to her.
Several weeks later, she was showing improvement and moved to an apartment-like retirement home. In October, her doctors decided that she was well enough to come back home. Or maybe it was an insurance thing.
Mom was still prone to paranoia about her car, still convinced my nephew was up to no good, but she was manageable right up until early September. I don't know if it was another stroke (if it was, it wasn't a big one). She was combative. When she was taken to the ER, the nurses had to sedate her and put big foam mitts on her hands to keep her from pulling IV's and other tubes out. She kept trying to eat the blood oxygen sensor on her finger. And once again, every conversation was a series of repetitions.
Doctors asked why she'd been allowed to go back home (good question) and had her moved to a home set up for Alzheimer's care.
Less than two weeks later, she fell trying to get out of bed and broke her left femur in several places (where the HELL were the staff people who were supposed to be watching her?). She had to wait more than 24 hours before a surgery slot opened. The doc put a rod in her thigh from hip to knee. Now Mom faced several weeks of rehab.
Now, though, all that is past. A week ago she was rushed to the ER with a massive infection. Her white blood count was something like 64,000 instead of 4,000 or whatever the norm is. At first, the ER docs were talking liver cancer or leukemia, but tests came back for clostridium difficile, courtesy of that effing nursing home. They put out a warning to call in the family. Her organs were shutting down and the infection was everywhere, including her brain.
We okayed surgery to try to stem the infection; her colon was removed. But Mom didn't want heroic measures. No machines, no tubes. Do Not Resuscitate. We agreed that this should be the one big attempt to save her.
The last time I saw her lucid--as lucid as she's been these last few weeks--we couldn't touch her. Every visitor had to wash up, put on a paper gown and gloves, and wash again on leaving. She didn't want us to leave her. The next morning--surgery day--she had been intubated and sedated. She never regained full consciousness afterward. She would react to people in her room, but never gave a sign of recognition. That was Friday.
The docs had Mom's feeding tube removed this morning. Now she's just on morphine and antibiotics and saline. There's been no improvement. Could be a few hours, maybe a day. For what it's worth, I'd rather it be this way, a reasonably peaceful ending, denying the Alzheimer's its long, drawn-out destruction.
My stepfather used to tease Mom about her mother and sisters. Those "Garner Girls" were always a handful, he'd say, but never spitefully. They're all buried together. The last of them will be with them soon.
It's been entertaining. The tail-dragging Tracker was skittish and threatened to bottom out on every bump.
The original plan was to get the engine out the morning after I got back from Atlanta. Medical stuff and too-cold March weather became medical stuff and too-wet April weather, then I went to San Francisco for a week. All the airport walking kicked my ass...and then it was too hot outside.
It was too hot outside yesterday morning, too, when I finally had enough and dragged myself out to finish the job.
The most difficult part: my new, unused engine hoist was still in pieces, still boxed up, and still in the cellar from the morning I bought it in mid-2011. No way I was going to be able to haul the thing myself, but I'm a pretty smart guy--and modest. Used the Tracker and a tow strap to pull it up.
It might have taken a half-hour without all the medical stuff. Took 2 hours to get this far, with frequent rest breaks. As soon as it was on the ground, I quit and sat in front of a fan for a few hours.
It only took 30 minutes to put the crane together and just a few to spot the Tracker into position.
Picked it up and drove the Tracker out from under it. Finally!
I'll need to get that blue beast on a stand and safe from the weather in the next day or so. From there I'll be able to start figuring out just what engine I've got.