Wastelands of Suburbia

A place where the cast-off ephemera of the last four generations comes to rest, and is discussed fondly....Like junk, or the injection-molded minutiae of history? Welcome home...Junkyards, yard sales, roadside oddities, thrift stores and more-your memories are deep inside the box, so keep shaking.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

PROBLEM: "Check Wallet" light illuminated-how to fix?

Awwwwwyeahhhh.....keepin' it real on the engineering tip, y'all.....

Well, My new fan/clutch is here-all dull plastic and metal. I was hoping, for my $325, it would light up, or play "Una Paloma Blanca"...no such luck, but it IS made by Sachs, and it IS made in Germany, which is the least I could ask it to be-no claptrap orphan from the Pacific Rim would be allowed in MY Blessed Teutonic Bitch. Automotive Eugenics are alive and well on 555 Oak Street. I know my posts are Greta heavy and you are saying "hey, jackass, what about all the cool other things you like to blog about?" Bear with me-it's been a weird trip the last few weeks, and I promise more on cool Craigslist finds, my Big Pile of Stuff, and the rest. For now, Greta IS a piece of 80s memorabilia, so lighten up.

If you happen to be a Mercedes owner, I cannot recommend MercedesShopForum parts store highly enough-easy to navigate, competitive pricing and fast ship-I only ordered two days ago and it's already here, with good communication the whole way-thanks guys.

Monday, February 26, 2007


I guess it had to happen-after a, shall we say "spirited" drive in Greta this past Thursday, her radiator fan assembly grenaded, sending shards of fan blade flying, severing a line off my radiator. Mind you, it has taken me this much time to figure it out-between the crappy weather, my inability to just crawl under the car like I used to, and the closely-installed components of the Mercedes cooling system, getting to the source was a problem. The leak may still be more than a line, to be honest the fan has to come out to be sure. Of course, there was a wee bit more bad news:

Those of you with properly adjusted monitors will notice a greenish cast to the coolant snowcone I made in my driveway. While this would, at first look, appear to be properly mixed, 50/50 consistency antifreeze/water blend, know this-Mercedes radiators are aluminum-therefore, they need coolant that is designed specifically for use with aluminum components. ANY green coolant is not an approved blend, and potentially disastrous for the cooling system. Mercedes factory coolant is a pale pink, and I would guess it's made from the blood of Black Forest Stags, like Jaegermeister...in actuality it is merely the "color code" for aluminum-friendly coolants-fortunately, a commercial alternative is available, as the factory stuff is $22 a gallon at your local friendly Mercedes dealer's parts counter, where the self-superior sneer was invented. Zerex, a popular consumer brand most of you have no doubt heard of (now owned by Valvoline Oil), offers its G-05 blend to help prevent aluminum corrosion. At eleven bucks it's half the cost of the identical stuff at the dealer-hell, it could even come out of the same tap at Zerex for all I know. For a guy unused to such things, it stings a little knowing the system was running on the wrong stuff for who knows how long. On the plus side, now I know, and can rectify the problem before any more damage is done.

Price on the fan assembly is about $325-not cheap, but actually not as bad as I thought considering the cost of some parts for my baby. I'll order this week and get a hand from my pal and neighbor Brian with the lifting and crawling-he's good that way.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

What Old White Men do on the weekend, when they aren't rich and don't rule the world...

This morning my father dragged me out of bed at an ungodly hour to witness an ice harvest-why? Because he's retired, that's why, and because I was oddly interested in seeing it as well.

So what is an ice harvest? Well, back before our refrigerators had their own LCD monitors and Tivo, refrigeration was a bit more primitive. Cooling of perishables was done by using an icebox, basically the predecessor of both the modern fridge AND picnic cooler. Blocks of ice were placed in the icebox to keep things cool until it melted. Like the milkman, the Iceman made deliveries door to door, originally in a horse-drawn wagon. Before electricity, this was it.

(Our friend Danny and The Old Man. The pained look on Danny's face are from his tears freezing to it. In a previous life these two clowns worked together-now, retired, the reunite for a heated (or cooled) bout of ice harvesting. Danny's been at it more than a day, however, evidenced by his Wool clothing-which stays warm even if you fall in the water.)

The harvest goes like so-when the ice is "ready", it is about 21 inches thick-that allows you to make a cube, or "cake" about 21 inches square, allowing you to place, as I recall, 481 cakes in the icehouse. The icehouse, basically a simple large shed, is insulated with sawdust in the walls, and the ice is covered with a thick hay, specially grown for the purpose-it's got a big hole running down the center of each strand, like a huge piece of Holofil insulation. This traps the air, and allows for greater insulating capability.

The ice is scored with a huge gas-powered circular saw on runners like a sled-it is a vicious-looking beast of a machine dating back to the 1920s. The ice is then hand-sawn the rest of the way through and floated up through a channel cut in the ice to the icehouse. there it is pulled up a metal and wooden track to the top of the shack, and dropped inside via a downward-aimed track, stacked, and covered.

(The ice goes in up the track, pulled by an antique Ford 8N tractor, and a series of counterweights and pulleys. Prior to that would have been horses or mules. Just after I snapped this photo, the ice let go and sent everyone scrambling. This is why people in the Early 20th Century died at 30 sometimes.)

(Speaking of potential early death, here's the ice saw. Somewhere between the blade edge and the frigid water below lies an unwritten Stephen King story. Note tapered hopper on top-ice or water is dropped in to cool the saw's four cylinders-the engine is by The Buda Company, The saw itself by Gifford-Wood, early 20th century vintage.)

(The saw's handiwork-when old white guys talk about scoring on Saturday, it has nothing to do with women I found out)

This event actually ends up in a large turnout-like many events, however, it seems the politicians and tourists show up after the real work is done. After the photo-ops and glad-handing, there is still work to be done, and these guys get right back to it.

(The Old Man, dispelling rumors of the onset of Retirement Wuss Syndrome-he smoked a couple tourists in the process-note his embarassing lead on the putz in the yellow Columbia coat and slip-ons.)

(I think this little girl's name was Lexi-she exhibited more balls than your average, off-the-shelf brass monkey, running the sharp, heavy iron cake hook up and down the steps of the ice house all on her own. I heard some mumblings about her being "too young", but nobody was stepping up to help her, and she wasn't asking. Of course it was all under her Dad's close supervision, who was one of the regulars, and pictured at right.)

(Some tools of the icehouse trade, at breaktime)

(I had a long chat with the gentleman who owns and restored this 2-horsepower, dual-use saw. It can saw logs, or, with the use of a special jig, saw ice. One of the best things about events like this is old guys who know more than you ever will about this stuff, but don't hesitate one second to tell you everything if you ask. Sometimes, they'll tell you if you don't ask, too...)

Monday, February 12, 2007


After a short drive and some talking with Scott, A Columbia Film School student director, Greta nailed the part for his upcoming film! She didn't even have to pull her hood up. We talked a bit about movies, exchanged cards, and set early March as a time for shooting. She got so excited she squirted a little diesel on the ground....ok, she does that all the time....but it was

She will be playing the part of a professional hitman's vehicle, and will have a fair amount of screen time, as well as her name in the credits! I will probably have mine in as well, as "Mercedes Wrangler"-I hope...All in all a great day for us both, and we celebrated by topping 100 MPH on route 33 on the way home-she's steady as a rock at any speed, the old girl. More later on the big production.

Friday, February 09, 2007

How DIY Car Repair Relates to The Cuban Missile Crisis

Well, now that's much better-after some cleaning, new tires, State Inspection, and a front end Alignment, 'ol Greta is really starting to shape up nicely. I took the opportunity of a warm February day to snap a few pics for two reasons 1) I wanted to chart my progress as I went along in this resto-mod; and 2) Greta may have a part in a film! I found a film student on Craigslist who needed a Luxury Import of her vintage for his senior thesis project. As we speak I am waiting to hear from him with the final word. The cleanup has really been a boost to both our egos-as I had mentioned before, she is far from perfect but everyone can benefit from a bath.

This past week I also took the opportunity to replace her Hazard switch-her previous one had become all squiddley and soft for some reason, and did not seem to, well, switch anymore. I decided to pull her dash apart and see what gives behind the panel.

First step was to remove the wood panel. As I love to frequently mention, on a Mercedes this is REAL WOOD. it is a thin layer of Zebrano (Zebrawood) veneer over an aluminum panel. Mercedes uses some ultra thick varnish or epoxy-type finish to make it appear to be a mile thick, but is actually a mere fraction of an inch over the top of the aluminum. Unfortunately, this finish, over time, cracks and can often take the veneer along with it. While the panel over my hazard switch is ok, it is a bit dingy with some ground in finger dirt and oil from years of changing the Climate Control.

(Looks like they glue the veneer on and stain it-note brown "chips" of stain, flaking off from behind the aluminum bezel)

Upon pulling out the switch (very easy as it is simply straight pins that connect to the panel), I decided to try looking inside it to see what may have happened. I came from a generation of kids, growing up in the 80s, with computers and a gradually increasing flow of cheap import electronics in every home. We were just unafraid, I guess, to touch a button just to see what would happen. My theory was that my parents, having grown up at the beginning of the Cold War, associated buttons with annihilation more than we did, and were therefore doomed to have their lives "flashing at 12:00" forever, so to speak...Meanwhile, growing up with movies like "Wargames" and "Tron", we learned early that hacking in any form was cool, and that true ownership was knowing a device's construction and operation. It is this spirit that has me still pulling things apart at age 37 despite being able to afford to have someone else fix things for me.

So, I carefully pried the switch rocker off the rest of it and got this:

I'd love to have a poster of the phrase "well THERE's your problem"-written in every language, for my garage-I think it would sell millions if someone would just take a few hours to translate the phrase and Photoshop one up....it has to truly be a universal saying among mechanics when the obvious is seen. If you are staring in confusion, there should only be ONE red plastic piece-the smaller one has cracked and come off the little spring in the center of the big red piece. So, with some patience (which I am always on the lookout for, as I am lacking), about 50 cents worth of Super Glue or it's dollar store equivalent, and maybe a small vise clamp, I could probably have saved myself a little money-but seeing as how I got a replacement for about $7 used off Ebay, I'm not complaining. Plus I can most likely fix this, rub off the little hazard icon off and label it as an ejection switch. What would that icon be? most likely a primitive profile of a car, with a seat just above the roofline-would there be little lines showing motion? would there be an outline of a human in said seat? I wonder.