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Jeff's First Repair

A FINSUP Repair Folly: Stop the Rover, I want to get out!
Starring Empire Rover Owners Society members Jeff Berg, Bill Caloccia and Eric Riston
Text by Jeff Berg Images and captions by Bill Caloccia

I get a big kick out posts to the LRO mailing list that run though a long list of repair and maintenance that the author completed on a Saturday afternoon. But then I've always enjoyed creative fiction. I also like the people who tell me that I should do this or that to FINSUP because "it's not difficult and it won't take much time." After reading this story these people won't be so quick to preach to me. They'll understand my lack of luck and mechanical skill and know why I snicker every time they suggest something is "a piece of cake." They have not endured the hell of the five-day brake job [more like a month of Sundays -wpc].

Brake Inspection
October 1997
If five days seems like a lot of time spent working on brakes then you should understand that this wasn't five contiguous days. The project actually stretched on for several months, beginning last November [Although Jeff recalls it as November, the digest entries date from October 11th & 14th just after the '98 Middy Rallye. -wpc] when I returned home from the Mid-Atlantic Land Rover Rally. Having buried FINSUP in deep mud all weekend, I decided that removing the brake drums for an inspection and cleaning was in order so I headed over to my parents' home, 45 minute drive from my own. The journey is necessary because my own home is rented, with landlady living on premises, and I'm not able to undertake major repair or cleanup projects there. Needless to say, this adds time and complexity to these little projects.

I decided to clean the undercarriage before the disassembling brakes so I went to work with the pressure washer. The water jet forced pounds of goo from crevices under the Rover. I was feeling great about getting FINSUP shipshape after a hard weekend of rallying.

Soon the blacktop was covered with a slimy mixture of red clay, mud and sand. Mom came out of the house to tell me that she expected every speck of this mess to be gone before I left that evening. She's real particular about the condition of her driveway and garage floor"another obstacle to actually getting anything done. Even so, things were going just fine until I began to hose down the fuel tank. That's when I learned that the side step had been driven up into the corroded bottom of the tank and that the only thing keeping the gasoline in place was the thick layer of mud, clay and sand.

That is to say it had been keeping the gas in place until I removed said mixture with a high-pressure stream of water. Houston, we have a problem. This was the lead-in my two-day fuel tank replacement project, another FINSUP Repair Folly, that I outlined in all its glory on the LRO list. [That account is also scheduled to be published in an upcoming Rovers North newsletter. -wpc]

With the new stainless steel fuel tank in place, I set about to accomplish my original goal of cleaning and adjusting the brakes. I pulled the lug wrench from the tool box and set out to remove the first wheel. Except I couldn't budge the lug nuts. I doused the nuts (on all four wheels) with Power Blaster and gave it another go. I tried another wheel and had no luck there either. Damn tire shop! I should have checked this months ago...could have been a serious problem "in the bush." As is my way when faced with life's little difficulties, I picked up the phone and called Eric "Zippy Tow" Zipkin. "No Eric, I don't need a tow, I just need to swing by and use your impact wrench." He agreed to let me stop by.

The impact wrench made short work of removing the lug nuts, and one of the wheel studs that was cross-threaded. I liberally coated each of the remaining studs with never-sieze and tightened the nuts manually. Then I jacked up the car, pulled the right front wheel, and had a go at removing the brake drum. Two screws came right out but one was jammed solid. Another PB dousing didn't help so we heated with a torch. No good. Soon we had a "slotless screw" that still firmly holding the brake drum in place. I called a halt to the project until I had replacement drum screws on hand. After all, the brakes were working, this was just preventative maintenance.

Al Richer suggested I use stainless steel screws instead of the genuine part. If I wanted to be fancy I could even get them with a hex-socket. This sounded good because I wouldn't have to go out and by the correct size giant screwdriver for the genuine bits. (Until this time I'd been able to remove this screws with a somewhat smaller blade.) He assured me that "anyone who sells to machinists" would have such hardware. Three weeks later I located a hardware store where I wasn't laughed at outright. They didn't have the screws in stock but they could be ordered from Standard Fasteners (StaFast). I placed an order but opted not to pay for express shipping as they promised that they were placing an order soon anyhow.

Finally: The Brake Inspection
January 1998 (Month four)
Several weeks went by before the screws arrived. Meanwhile I had the holidays to deal with, and I got real busy. The screws finally arrived but I wasn't to make time for the brake project. It was Al Richer, who was visiting one day, who finally pointed out what I had been so carefully ignoring, "that metal grinding sound when the brakes are pressed is not a good thing." Al headed for home and I went to my parents' house to deal with the brakes.

Once I pulled the left rear drum I knew I was in trouble. There was a "mini-drum" molded out of mud, clay and brake dust still surrounding the shoes. The leading shoe was down to bare metal in spots, and there were ridges on the drum surface that one would have to engage 4wd-lo to drive over. I immediately went into the house and ordered a new set of drums. (My drums had been turned by a previous owner and were a bit oversized anyhow so I decided not to fool around with them.)

Back in the garage, I cleaned the mud off and installed the new shoes. I remounted the old drum (with no intention of driving any further than out of the garage.) At this time it became apparent that the heads of the screws were of a larger diameter than the holes milled in the drums and so they sat a little proud. It didn't look like a problem to me, but I decided to ask Al Richer about it later.

I moved on to the other rear wheel and installed shoes there. Then it was on to the front where, once again, I fought with the seized drum screw. No amount of heat and/or force was going to break it free. As I had to wait for new drums to arrive anyhow, I decided to put off changing the front shoes and ordered a screw extractor set to facilitate removing the jammed fastener. Fortunately, I had my Acura to drive while FINSUP was laid up.

The drums arrived, but the extractor set was delayed. Then I was invited to a friend's ski house for the weekend. The following "Super Bowl Sunday" weekend I was in Florida attending a conference. The Maine Winter Romp was fast approaching but for one reason or another I couldn't get around to the project.

The Brake Job
February 1998 (Month 5)
Suddenly it was the Tuesday prior to the week preceding the Romp. I'm not "in the City" on Tuesdays or Thursdays, meaning that the days aren't contractually committed, and that if they aren't "sold" I can use them to work on personal projects--an "advantage" of self-employment. Until the phone rang I was planning to spend the day sick in bed. A persistent cold had me down for the count, and I needed time to recover. But the call was from Eric "AB" Riston, and he lit a fire under my ass about the Romp. I needed to get FINSUP back on the road.

So I dragged myself to my parents house where, with little difficulty, I got the front shoes, and all four drums, installed. Best of all the new drums had a larger opening for the drum screw heads so the new screws sat flush. (And as the new drums only required one screw each, instead of the three needed by the old drums, I had purchased enough for six cars--not two as I'd originally thought.) I adjusted the shoes, jumped in the cab and pressed the brake pedal--straight to the floor... Clearly, the system required bleeding.

It was getting late and I had a class that evening, but I called Eric Zipkin and arranged to borrow his "Vaccula bleeder." On Thursday I was back at the folks' house--only to be foiled by a seized, and rounded over, bleed screw on the first wheel I had at. [We are also convinced that Jeff would have made more progress had he actually removed the tyre before trying to bleed the brakes. -wpc] Now I knew that the gods were against me. I still had the coming weekend, but what if the problem was more serious than air in the lines? If I didn't have brakes by that Sunday, my attendance at the Romp was in question. (Remember, the Rover had been off the road for four weeks at this point so I felt I needed some shakedown time before jumping in the vehicle and driving up to Maine.) I'd already promised John "Uncle Muddy" Cranfield that I'd be there, and going back on my word would cause me to be publicly berated and ridiculed--more than usual.

I called Riston and reported the situation. He needed a Macintosh set up for internet access anyhow, so we arranged a trade. He'd come down to Connecticut with a complete brake system and we'd use the parts we needed. (Yes, I'd pay for the parts--it's the delivery and technical help I traded for.) Later that day I filled Bill Caloccia in on my difficulties. "Sounds like a job for the ERRORS Team--I'll come down too." I asked Bill what he meant by that. "It is my latest idea for Empire. The EmpiRe ROver Repair Swat Team--available for dispatch to assist any Empire member in dire need. You qualify."

Self-determination necessary. Particpation in the ERRORS Team and being an Empire member in good standing are prerequisites. ERRORS Team reserves the right to refuse service for any number of reasons, especially attitude. Taxes, title, parts costs and delivery extra. More fine print in the microdot at the end of this disclaimer.

Hmmm, an opportunity to have my incompetence humiliation broadcast far-and-wide. How could I refuse.

Saturday was booked for me and besides, Eric had to work at AB and Bill had his own Rover to tend to. Sunday morning, way-too-early for Bill, the ERRORS Team left Upstate and 2.5 hours later they were at my parents' doorstep. I'd sent my parents away on a golf-n-gambling junket to the Bahamas so we could work uninhibited. Bill supervised the jacking--and placement of the jack stands--and soon I had the first wheel off.

Riston took one look at the Wheel cylinder and announced "This is shot--Take it off." Bill provided me with key tools that I lacked: a Flare Nut Wrench and (later) a Brake Bleeding Wrench. Soon I had the offending bit in hand. At this point progress came grinding to a halt when we discovered that my existing drums mounted using bolts while the replacements Eric had brought had studs and needed nuts. Of course, "a complete brake system" didn't include these nuts, so we had to source them locally--in Connecticut on a Sunday. Worse, my team of experts came to the conclusion that the studs were British Standard Fine (BSF) thread. After numerous phone calls to parts places I gave up and called Zippy. He didn't have any BSF hardware, but he did have some new wheel cylinders and a complete set of taps so he suggested we come over and figure something out.

Forty minutes later we piled out of Riston's Range Rover. Zippy came out of the garage and told us the good news, "those threads aren't BSF, at least on the cylinders I have, and I have stainless nuts to fit them." As it turned out, the threads on my new cylinders weren't BSF either, and we could have bought the hardware locally in Ridgefield and saved time.

As long as we'd made the drive we took time to admire Zippy's latest project, an 80" Series I that he's putting into shape for the summer rally season. The vehicle is all original and very solid considering it's age but there's still enough to keep Eric busy when he's not pursuing his other interests. Zippy suggested we grab a bite to eat, which we did, and then took us to the local sand pits for a mini-offroad adventure. We finally got back to Ridgefield at 2:00 and began work in earnest.

Bill went inside to work on getting the computer set up while Eric and I tackled the brakes. The first wheel went together quickly after that so we bled the cylinder and moved on to the other front wheel. Bill returned to inform us that we couldn't even install the necessary software until Riston's (overdue) memory upgrade arrived--so another "simple" project went into extra innings.

The second wheel gave us some difficulty because the threads on the hydraulic fitting leading into the cylinder were damaged. Fortunately, Eric had brought a hose that would fit--and Bill C. had a spare too, so we quickly got around that problem by replacing the damaged bit. With the front end complete we did an adjustment and took a quick test spin. Things were much improved, but still not great.

Eric was tired of watching my (painfully slow) wrenching and, as it was getting colder, darker, and later by the minute, he took over this task. What a difference, that boy really flies. Bill says it's determination. Even with Eric's superior skills I had created new problems that we had to overcome. When I'd mounted the new single-screw drums I'd managed to so in such a way as to align the threaded hole for pushing the drum off of the brake assembly with the threaded hole for one of the now unused brake drum screws. So we had to "persuade" the drum a bit. Finally we had access to the cylinder that I thought would be in the worst condition as it had been packed in mud, clay and brake dust. Eric quickly swapped in the new part and we moved on to the final wheel--where we discovered the actual winner of the most blown cylinder award. Eric made short work of that corner too, and we remounted the tires, bled all four corners again, adjusted the shoes and went for a test drive. Better, but the shoes definitely needed to settle in for a day or two--and I figured I'd bleed the system again at that time.

Once we cleaned up the garage I took the men out to dinner. Along the way I discovered that my hi-beams weren't working--though we'd been using them minutes before to illuminate the garage for cleanup. Another item for the to-do list! At dinner we went over some EROS business and then it was time for the lads to hit the road--the had long journeys ahead of them.

Five minutes before I reached my own driveway the instruments, but not the instrument lights, and radio went dead. "Uh-oh, here we go. The great god Lucas is paying a visit." Fortunately, when I got home I "fixed" the instruments by playing with my (admittedly dodgy) fuse block. It's already scheduled for replacement this spring.

The following Tuesday I headed back to Ridgefield with my brakes getting worse by the second. After another bleed and adjustment I finally had a nice firm pedal--a wonderful feeling. And I "fixed" the hi-beams too--by vacuuming the muck from around the switch and slipping the connections back to get multimeter probes on the contacts for testing. What's the billing code for "repaired during troubleshooting process?" So I cleaned the contacts with PB and applied some silicon grease before reconnecting the switch. Two "ToDos" checked off the list...that was easy. Heck after that I after that I had time to vacuum the interior...wire the new CB...and meet Bill Adams (who was visiting nearby Darien) for dinner--maybe all those LRO List stories aren't creative fiction after all.

Last modified April 30, 2005. Copyright Dixon Kenner, 1995-202020
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