Willys Jeep: Porkchop on Fire?

Wait, is that smoke? It looks like smoke. Good grief, is Porkchop on fire!?

At garage 013

I have really, really missed Porkchop.

I brought him to a local garage (a trusted mechanic) to double-check my work on the brakes and to take a look at a clutch problem that I simply couldn’t do with consumer-grade tools.

After many months (Porkchop wasn’t the highest priority and kept getting shuffled to the back-burner) I finally got the call that he was ready to come back home. The clutch and brakes were good-to-go, and when the mechanic looks to start him up, Porkchop sings like a bird.

Words cannot express how deliriously happy I felt.

Excuse Me, Mr. Murphy – Seat For One?

Alas, it was not to last

Returning back to the house with Porkchop in tow, I was mortified to see smoke drifting back from the ‘cabin’ behind the deceptively calm exterior of Porkchop’s iconic grille.

What is that? Smoke? Dust? Oh, please let it be dust. What if it’s not dust? Fire? Is Porkchop on fire!?

Porkchop is very dusty. He’s been outside for ages, and when I pulled the truck over to inspect what had happened, I couldn’t see (or smell) anything. Obviously he wasn’t running, and the keys were out of the ignition, so I had no idea how anything could have started anyway.

From all appearances, it looked like it was simply a matter of a lot of loose dust getting blown off for a few seconds while driving down the highway.

Yeah, that’s it. It’s just dust. Whew!

Denial Ain’t Just A River

Pulling up to the house I disengaged Porkchop from the straps and got myself ready to drive him down the ramps off the trailer so that I could park him in the driveway. Safe and sound.

I hop into the driver’s seat, turn the key and…





Dream on, sucker.

I was flummoxed. I had no idea what had happened. After all, it worked like a champ at the garage. Hell, I videod it working!

I called up the mechanic and he had me run a couple of tests to see what kind of reaction we could get. I took a jumper cable and connected the solenoid terminal to the starter and was able to get the engine to kick, but aside from a continuous rrrr-rrrr-rrrr I couldn’t get it to rev to life completely.

As it was just me working, I couldn’t simultaneously handle the jumper leads and work the accelerator pedal, so was forced to concede temporary defeat. I re-strapped Porkchop to the trailer and simply parked the trailer – Jeep and all – in the driveway until I could get some help.

Unearthing a Clue

I’m about to begin a very long travel juggernaut and wanted to order materials now so that when I get back I will have everything ready to start making the repairs (it can take more than a week to get parts).

In talking with one of the suppliers, we agreed that I would take some pictures of the ignition so that he could be sure that he was going to be providing me with the right equipment. So, I went outside and took some pictures.


Looks normal

I hadn’t had a chance to disconnect it from the dash, so I started taking pictures in situ.

Looks okay from this side

Not a bad angle. Should probably get the other side too in case that helps.

Working my way around the Jeep it was very hard to get inside, so I started taking blind shots with the camera and hoped that I could get a decent shot out of the multitudes.

Burned Wires

Ah, excellent picture. Wait, what the hell is that!?

At first I was just looking for images that were in focus and that you could easily identify as belonging to the ignition switch. Then the true image of what I was looking at actually came into focus for me, personally.

All at once I realized that wires – even 60-year-old dirty ones – are not supposed to look like that. I began to comprehend that the drive back home was not a little mini dust storm, but something that could have been far, far more serious. It’s entirely possible (I’m guessing here) that Porckhop actually did have a flash electrical fire, but as it was traveling at 60mph down the highway at the time the rush of air extinguished it.

What a treat.

Now What?

Realistically, I’m much more sanguine about it now than I was at the time. I’ve sent in the paperwork to the State to take Porkchop off non-operational status, as I anticipate he’s very close to being able to be tested in very short distances soon. At the very least, this electrical short probably could have been much, much worse than it was.

There are three major things that need to be fixed first beforehand, though.

First, this starter needs to be fixed. I’ve already ordered a new ignition switch with a key, and I’ll be getting a continuity tester to check out the fault origination before I make any swaps just to make sure that it’s not something else.

Second, there is a major leak in the transfer case. I’ve bought a new seal overhaul kit, which shouldn’t require major surgery (crossing fingers).

Third, there is a radiator leak that needs to be fixed as well. However, as you can see from the photo below, Porkchop’s radiator could stand a complete overhaul as well:

Radiator 015

Good as new, right?

A new radiator costs about $560-600, depending on the source, so I’m going to see how much re-coring the existing one might be. I’m crossing fingers that it’s even possible, less expensive, and can be done relatively quickly.

By the time I return from my first couple of business trips I should have at least enough material to work on one of those three.

It’s always something…

 [Update 2016.02.12]

It’s actually worse than I thought. Evidently the entire master harness is shot.

Today I had a mobile mechanic come to the house to help me try to isolate where the fault lay. Originally the thought was that it might be a bad ignition switch, but as we started to look at the wiring from the solenoid we started to realize that the damage was catastrophic.

Solenoid Picture

What we have here is a fail-yer to connect-icate!

Looking back, I’m almost ashamed to think that I mistook the damage for age and dirt. Taking a closer look under the dash, it is obvious to anyone (even me, now) that there are far more problems.

Behind the Dash

Nope. Not dirt.

So what happened?

See, when you press on the brake pedal, a connection is made between the master cylinder and an electrical switch that connects to the brake lights. Essentially, it kind of looks like this:


Those two posts on the left hand side connect to two wires on the master wiring harness, which flows through the body of the Jeep. Basically, the wiring goes like this:

Battery -> Solenoid -> Amp Meter (in the dashboard) -> Brake switch (that silver thing above) -> Brake Lights

In other words, effectively when you touch the brakes, a circuit is made between the battery and the lights, and they go on.

So, the two wires that go into that brake switch are always connected to the battery and live.

Porkchop did not have a brake switch installed, and the two wires that would normally connect to the posts on the switch were left dangling and swinging freely. Evidently when I was bringing Porkchop home, one (or both) of the wires connected (grounded) with another piece of metal (the frame?), causing a short in the entire system.

Brake wire

BBQ’d Brake Wire, anyone?

The long and the short of it (get it? never mind) is that the entire harness is toast. Wires have fused together at certain points where the individual strands are indistinguishable from one another.

Look at the picture above, and you can see that the brake wire got so hot it not only burned through its own insulation, but also the black encasing insulation as well.

Clearing it all out

Time to start from scratch


I have to confess, this is hard for me. I waited a very, very long time for the mechanic’s shop to get to Porkchop. It was the absolute last priority for the shop and it took the Jeep out of my hands for months.

When Porkchop started up I was overjoyed. It finally felt as if things were worth it, that there was measurable progress. In my excitement I sent off the paperwork (and California DMV fees) to get him off the non-op status.

This… this is hard. In the grand scheme of things, the electrical wiring on a 1952 Jeep is about as straightforward as they come. The actual work is not the issue.

The issue is that this didn’t have to be a problem. I hesitate to sling blame around because in all likelihood it probably falls on me, again, somehow. But now there’s more than just a simple radiator leak to cope with. Now it’s more than just a transfer case leak. Now I have to do all of that and rewire the entire Jeep.

Tomorrow I leave for a couple weeks on business trips, and I don’t know yet if this is a good thing or not. I’d love to say, “Hey, you need a break from this, if only to get your morale up.” The thing of it is, there’s no “this” to get a break from. I’ve not had Porkchop back long enough to feel like I’ve been beating my head against the wall.

Nevertheless, that’s what has to happen. Getting upset and angry about Yet Another Setback is pointless, and I’ve started to get used to it.

But damn, this particular setback is hard to take.

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  • Peter V Locke February 11, 2016 at 15:42

    It’s always something…even if it’s new! I’m so glad there are people in my world who know how to do/fix things!

  • Willys Jeep: Engine Bay Paint (Pictorial) | J Metz's Blog March 17, 2016 at 15:50

    […] and dirty pictorial of the painting of Porkchop’s Engine Bay. With the issues surrounding the electrical, I figured I’d take the opportunity to repaint while the wires and several other pieces were […]

  • Willys Jeep: Operation Porkchop | J Metz's Blog March 22, 2016 at 19:13

    […] In February, 2016 – 14 months later – I got the call I had been waiting for. Porkchop was ready. I went to go pick him up, and was thrilled when he started up on the first try. I drove him onto the trailer, and started heading home. And on the drive home, Porkchop broke. […]

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    […] to the transmission. Not knowing any better, I believed him. (This is the same person, by the way, who left the electrical wires hanging that caused Porkchop to short out on the drive […]


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