Musings of An Old Man

by Brian K. Moore

STINKY’S SISTER’S CAR

In 1936, the year that I graduated from high school, George Walker and I and Stanley Davis, known as “Stinky,” went to the desert in Stinky’s sister’s car. Stinky had borrowed his sister’s car for the week end, but I doubt very much if she knew that Stinky planned to take it to the desert.

This was one of our typical desert trips, where we took cooking equipment, food and blankets, and lots of tools, with the plan that we were going to the desert where we would build a fire, cook a simple dinner and sleep on the ground.

In the morning we would cook and eat breakfast and then go roam around the desert and perhaps have various adventures.

We got to the desert in the late afternoon. We were on a little dirt road and George was driving and he was going a little too fast. Suddenly, and too late to stop, he saw a ditch about one-foot deep and about five-feet wide going across the road right in front of us.

The front wheels dropped into the ditch and when they hit the far side of the ditch the car came to a stop. We all got out and started digging the dirt away to make, sort of, earth ramps for the wheels to roll up out of the ditch on.

With this done, George got in the car ready to drive out. Stinky and I each positioned ourselves by a front wheel so we could tell George when the front wheels were aiming straight ahead. I told him, “Turn them right,” but Stinky said, “No, turn them left,” but I said, “No! Turn them right.”

Stinky and I decided to consult with each other, so we got to where we could see both front wheels at the same time. They were both pointing out to the side. We had bent the tie rod. (The tie rod is an iron rod almost one inch in diameter that connects the steering control mechanism of one front wheel to the other. We said, “We’ll, just take it off and straighten it out.” We always carried lots of tools (good thing). When we got it off, we hooked it through the iron bumper to hold it while we bent it back straight.

We couldn’t straighten it this way. It was too strong. We would have torn up the bumper if we had persisted so I said, “Let’s camp here!”

We built our fire and fixed and ate our dinner, and then we laid the bent part of the tie rod in the hot coals and heaped on more wood and made more hot coals, and sat and talked and drank coffee. After about an hour we took the, now red hot at the bend, tie rod out of the coals and stuck it through the bumper and pushed on it a little. It went back straight like a piece of cheese.

We laid it in the sand to cool and went to bed. In the morning after breakfast we reinstalled it and continued on our way.

That concluded adventure number 1. Number 2 coming up!

We spent the morning roaming the, then, pristine desert. A while little after noon, we had some lunch and got ready to head for home. We topped Cajon Pass and started down the San Bernardino side. Again, George was driving and again going a little too fast. I had just commented, “This is the kind of a down grade where these older cars can knock out a rod.” (Stinky’s sister’s car was a 1931 Durant and a “rod” in this case is a “connecting rod” that connects the piston to the crankshaft).

No sooner had these words left my lips, than there was a loud and serious sounding clatter coming from the engine. I recognized the sound and hollered, “Turn off the engine and pull off the road.”

We sized up the situation and decided, it will ruin the engine if we run it like this. We have the tools and we have cooking vessels that we can drain the radiator water and crankcase oil in, so let’s do it.

We jumped on the job like a well organized team, which we really were.
We drained the water and oil, removed the cylinder head and oil pan, unscrewed the knocked out rod from the crankshaft and shoved the rod with piston attached out the top of the engine. Then we put it all back together and put the water and oil back in.

All this took about an hour! This may seem in incredibly short time to folks accustomed to modern automobiles, but these primitive early day cars were uncluttered by under the hood items like air conditioners, power steering pumps, air cleaners, power brake modules, heater hoses, smog pumps and all the other things that make present day cars so comfortable and convenient.

On some of these old cars it was even possible to raise the hood, step over the front fender into the space between the engine and the frame and stand on the ground! This abundance of open space made it easy to get at what you wanted to work on.

The valves on most of these old cars were located in the cylinder block, rather than in the cylinder head as they are in all modern engines, making the removal of the head a matter of simply pulling six spark plug wires, disconnecting one radiator hose, unscrewing 12 or 15 head bolts and lifting the head off. It was not necessary to be concerned with valve covers, rocker arms, push rods and even worse overhead camshafts with their attendant timing chains or belts and the various covers.

Removal of the oil pan on the bottom of the engine was even simpler. After the oil was drained, it was just a matter of removing 15 or 16 small bolts and pulling it off. So pulling a rod and piston was not an overwhelming task.

We cleaned ourselves up with gasoline as best we could, and resumed our trip. We had to limit our speed to about 25 miles an hour because the terrific vibration from the, now, out of balance engine, would tear things up if we went any faster.

The next day we bought a used connecting rod at a wrecking yard, took the engine apart again in my back yard and installed the replacement rod. Stinky took the car back to his sister and said: “Thanks Sis.”