Willys Jeep: Operation Porkchop

The Hoarde

75% of The Horde

You ever see those makeover shows where a team of highly capable people come and work on a project that turn out to be real before-and-after showstoppers? Shows like Overhaulin’, and such. This past weekend, I had my own version of the “A-Team” show up and put Porkchop into working order. And it was jaw-dropping – not to mention humbling – to be a part of it.

Background

When I started blogging about Badger and Porkchop, people started coming out of the woodwork to watch as I fumbled my way forwards (and backwards), learning as I was doing. It’s been an ambitious project, and there have been many times when I’ve found myself in over my head. From scary frame repairs to brakes that seemed would never come off, it looked like nothing was ever going to work right.

Still, I made progress, and just when I thought that I was getting to a point when things were going my way, I sent Porkchop off to a mechanic to double-check my work and do some finishing up on the brakework. That was December, 2014.

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.

Burned Wires

Wiring BBQ

It is really difficult to overstate the feeling of deflation. This was a terrible time, as my wife and I had just decided to move and we needed Porkchop working – at least enough to drive him onto the trailer.

Here We Come To Save the Day!

As I blogged about Porkchop’s latest setback, something must have resonated in some of my friends. Suddenly, before I knew it, my friends Andy and Dave started a call out for volunteers for Operation Porkchop, and this past weekend they, and two other friends – Jack and Rob – made their way as far as Texas and Nevada to come put Porkchop in running condition.

Andy and Jack

Andy and Jack and the mobile workshop

Andy packed up his car with enough tools and material to make Chip Foose envious. His Jeep was so full of equipment and gear that passengers had to climb in around it. Not surprisingly, his forethought paid off – we used a lot of his stuff this weekend.

The pedigree of The Horde (as I’ve come to call the group) was incredible. Andy, Jack and Rob all have racing backgrounds, and Dave has been working on cars/Jeeps since he could walk. I knew I was going to be in good hands, but I also know how stubborn Porkchop could be. It was going to be an interesting day.

Jack immediately went to work on the wiring, stripping off the old burned out harness in preparation for the new one.

Taillight wiring

If Tim Burton made a Jeep, it might look like this, finished.

Rob began working on preparing the engine components (particularly the solenoid, starter, battery, and alternator parts) for the rewiring.

Rob Solenoid

Rob and the Solenoid.

Since I couldn’t find a new solenoid for the Jeep, Rob was forced to use the old one. But since the engine bay had been painted and the other parts were looking like they were in better condition, he decided to clean up the parts a bit.

Here is the solenoid before Rob got to work on it:

Solenoid, before

Wait for it…

And after:

Solenoid, after

Ta daaaa!!

Honestly, I’m stunned at how much better it looks.

Dave started getting to work on cleaning and painting some of the engine parts – not the sexiest work, to say the least, but he tackled the jobs with enthusiasm and pride for his work.

Dave and the air cleaner

Scraping away at least 4 coats of paint

Because of the hard work he put in, and the attention to detail, I knew that Porkchop’s engine bay was going to look amazing.

Air cleaner paint

Maybe not sexy to you, but sexy to me!

Sure enough, all his hard work and attention to detail paid off.

Air cleaner installed

Air cleaner and carb horn installed. All that’s needed is the hose

Compared to what it looked like before, this is incredible.

Air cleaner and horn

No comparison

Dave did a truly outstanding job, wouldn’t you say?

More Pictures

The Horde worked on everything, and it’s almost impossible to say who worked on what – it looked like everyone had a hand in everything at some point.

Overhead view - before

Looking into the engine bay (before)

Overhead view

Looking into the engine bay (after)

old exhaust manifold

Exhaust manifold before

Exhaust manifold - after

Exhaust manifold, after

Headlights work

Headlights work!

Brake lights work

Brakelights work!

old radiator

Radiator before

new radiator

Radiator after

You’ll notice in this picture that the alternator looks new. That’s because, well, it is. It turns out the original was bad, but because it was a common part we were able to pick it up at a local auto store.

Starting the Engine

I’m a big fan of the automotive shows, particularly Wheeler Dealers and Overhaulin’, and even the most seasoned teams can have issues when trying to fire up the engine on the first try. So, I didn’t have a lot of hope for such luck with Porkchop.

Once they got the timing down, Porkchop started purring like a kitten:

It felt too good to be true.

Dave gets upset whenever I say that I was surprised that it would work. He had no doubt that Porkchop’s engine would run, and almost took it as a slight that there would be any doubt at all that they couldn’t get it to work.

I knew that Porkchop’s engine would work eventually. But as they were working on the Jeep I started to feel more and more anxiety rising. This wasn’t about The Horde’s abilities – it was about mine, and my luck.

Self-Doubt

There is a huge difference between theory and practice. I intellectualized this process as being somewhat akin to a jigsaw puzzle, where the pieces fit into a particular pattern that could be followed as simply as opening up the manual.

Sure enough, I have all the official repair manuals and operation manuals – both civilian and military – for Badger and Porkchop. In theory it should have been easy as finding a part, checking it’s quality, and replacing or fixing it according to the manual.

This process has been anything but. I knew – again, intellectually – that there were going to be setbacks and moments of frustration. I knew that there were going to be things that didn’t work out quite the way that they were “supposed” to. What I didn’t understand was just how far from reality I actually was.

I don’t think that I was prepared for exactly how many setbacks there were going to be, and how many mistakes I was going to make. This wasn’t just about the mistakes I made in terms of preparation (mentally and emotionally), but also in my reliance on other people (the original welders for Badger’s frame, for instance, or that Porkchop’s stay at the mechanic was going to take 14 months and still be useless).

When I found out that The Horde was going to descend upon Porkchop and get him working, I felt a surge of panic. What if these guys – who all knew what they were doing – got here and found out that I was a complete moron this whole time? What if I screwed up something so badly and didn’t know it, and they came all this way for nothing? These guys spent their own time and money to get here, and what if none of this worked and it was all my fault?

These guys love kidding around and get practically orgasmic over practical jokes, but if they saw that I was completely incompetent about this I don’t know if they would have actually said anything to that effect. I tried my absolute best to get all the parts and pieces ready for them to work on Porkchop when they arrived, but even then we still had to do 3 parts runs to the auto stores.

So when Dave bristled at the notion that I was surprised it worked, I don’t think he realized that it was really that I was equally as shocked that I hadn’t messed things up so bad that even guys with racing pedigree couldn’t fix it.

Even now, a few days later, I’m still shocked and completely in awe of their talents.

The Test Drive

Once the brakes were bled (it turned out the mechanic who had Porkchop had done a very poor job tightening the brake lines, and they were leaking like sieves), the electrical was sorted, and the engine tuned, I got the opportunity to take Porkchop for a test drive.

I decided to go down the street and back, just in case something went wrong and we’d be able to push it back to the house if it did.

Now, this video may not look like much. It’s 30 seconds long, and most of it is waiting for me to pull into my driveway.

But the work that went into those 30 seconds, what those 30 seconds represent, goes so far beyond what can be said.

It was exhilarating. It was thrilling. It was nerve-wracking, anxiety-ridden, and scary as hell.

It was marvelous.

It was late in the day on Sunday, and Andy and Rob had to leave, and Jack left soon afterwards. Dave stayed behind and continued to install some of the “bonus” items, such as instrument panel lights, horn, windshield washer wiring, etc. and when we finally got to the point where we could take Porkchop out on another test run it was getting dark.

Excited, I got my wife to come along, and Dave hopped into the back. This time, I drove in the opposite direction, which meant going up a slight inclined hill.

Porkchop was running fine, though he didn’t seem to like re-engaging the accelerator very much when shifting gears. The engine seemed to choke out a bit, but he ran.

“Guess what!” I shouted over the road noise. “This is now, officially, the furthest I’ve ever driven Porkchop!”

Dave and my wife let out a whoop.

And then Porkchop died.

Calling Mr. Murphy. Line One, Mr. Murphy. It’s the Law.

Porkchop wasn’t struggling to go up the hill, but he was definitely struggling to feed the engine with fuel. We had checked the tank before and he had nearly a full tank, but he was acting as if he was completely starved.

I managed to pull over to the side, and my wife ran back to get her car and bring jumper cables as continuing to try to start Porkchop had wound down the battery.

There we were, sitting on the side of the road (fortunately it was a residential street so there wasn’t a lot of traffic going by), and I felt the nauseatingly sick feeling that Porkchop was cursed or something. Dave was still there, thankfully, and he was able to back me away from the ledge, but there was that nagging feeling in the back of my head that kept saying, “I knew it!”

With the jump start, we got the engine running again for about 20-25 seconds, and then it would die. Dave and I tried watching the fuel in the pump and filters in the engine bay, but there was very little that was making sense. It was as if Porkchop didn’t know it actually had fuel.

Eventually we got enough power to turn Porkchop around, and got him running for about 25-30 seconds again. So, it wasn’t anything to do with the angle of the hill (though Porkchop was able to run fine on level ground while everyone was working on the timing, which was confusing). But, now that we were facing downhill, I was able to get Porkchop to roll freely down the street. A couple of pushes later and he was back in the driveway.

Dave and I took off the seats and started examining the fuel tank.

Fuel Tank (2)

What the.. why is that… green?

Dave figured that there was something blocking the intake of the fuel, and sure enough when we started pulling the tank apart we started to see what the problem was.

Fuel Tank Screen

Algae? In gasoline?

In the fuzzy closeup above, you can just make out a hole on the left-hand side of the screen that covers the intake tube. Dave said that the green stuff on the screen was algae, and in lieu of any other explanation I’m inclined to believe him. What was definitely obvious was that Dave was right – the algae had caked onto the screen so badly that Porkchop was starved for fuel, and the only way he was getting some was through the small holes.

As we had waited for a bit between turning the key, the fuel would enter in through the holes and give Porkchop a tiny reservoir for running, but then the small amount of fuel that had leaked in would run out, and Porkchop would die again.

Fuel Tank Screen (1)

Fuel is supposed to go in the tiny nozzle in the bottom

So, it looked like the screen was causing the immediate fuel starvation problem. Dave snipped off the screen (it looks like it had outlived its usefulness anyway), and we re-installed the intake pipe back into Porkchop.

The tank was reassembled, the seats were replaced, and we gave it another go. This time, taking the same route as before, I was able to make it all the way around the block (about a total of .5 mile). I had my wife stay home with her phone ready (just in case), and Dave sat next to me with some tools at the ready (again, just in case).

As Dave had predicted, it went smoothly (it should be noted that Dave was always in a good mood and was never discouraged by anything – he was awesome to have around when things looked like they were going south). The carburetor is showing its age, but I have a “new” rebuilt one that I can install in my own time, one that was tested and guaranteed to work. For now, though, Porkchop was running smooth enough that I can at least get him up onto the trailer for moving him.

When we got back, I honked the horn (thanks for wiring that up, Dave!) and my wife and Dave swapped places, and we went around the block again. This time I was more confident about the drive, getting used to the manual, un-assisted brakes, and the piss-poor turning radius.

But it was fun. Driving Porkchop around the block may not have looked like much, but it felt like the world was a little better for a time. My wife beamed at me, knowing just how much emotional heartache I’d been suffering through as a result of setback after setback.

The air was chilly, but I don’t think either of us felt it. Porkchop is an open-air Jeep with no roof, and I wouldn’t have wanted one. I only made it up to about 30 mph (maybe 35 for a split second), and only into third gear once. But I felt like I was flying.

Porkchop has a lot of things left to go before he can be considered “done,” and maybe never will be “done.”

The mechanic said that he had to re-seat the leaf springs, but now there is a terrible lilt (if you look at the brake lights test picture above, it’s not a trick of the camera angle – Porkchop definitely leans to the driver’s side). I’ve got to get a new fuel pickup line and sending unit so that the fuel gauge can work (that is, so that I’m using something a little more high-tech than a painters mixing stick).

The carburetor needs to be swapped out, and the fuel tank needs to be cleaned of all impurities (algae, perhaps?). The rear lights have been completely messed up – there are more holes than Swiss cheese for these things, and the brackets are held together by little more than a prayer.

I love it.

The Most Important Part

I did not ask for the help I received, but I sure needed it. As I watched them work on Porkchop and treat it better than as if it were their own, I realized that I was nowhere near as close to getting him up and running as I thought I might be. They say there is no substitute for experience, and that lesson was taught in spades this past weekend.

There were probably 100 man-hours put into the work in two days, and I don’t even know how long someone like me – with a fraction of a fraction of their experience – would have taken to do it.

I wanted very much to be able to say that “I did this,” to be able to look at Porkchop and Badger with pride, knowing that I had come from knowing nothing about cars to being able to rebuild them. Perhaps that was arrogance on my part, but if it was, then I accept the humility to know when it’s okay to welcome experience and help when it is offered.

This is more than that, though. I cannot stress enough the profound impact this has been – not just on the project but on me, personally. Andy and Rob drove in from Reno, Dave flew in from Texas, and Jack came down in the middle of his own move across the country to help me put Porkchop on the road. This was an investment on their part, and not a small one.

There simply aren’t words to describe how important and meaningful that is. I mean, I have a pretty large vocabulary, and if there are such words I don’t know of them.

I hope that there will come a day when I will be capable of expressing the depth of gratitude that I feel, but for now I hope that each of them know just how grateful and honored I am. This was one of the most amazing things anyone has ever done for me, and it will be impossible to forget this weekend and its significance.

thank-you

 

 

 

 

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1 Comment

  • Peter Locke March 22, 2016 at 20:40

    Wow, what a harrowing story! Just finished reading The Martian (for the second time). I find your Porkchop blog to be as entertaining.

    Reply

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