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.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Disaster-Part Deux.

(Brian pores over the manual printout to see how we screwed up.)

After waiting a few weeks for Brian to be free, we managed to get the radiator back in Greta. We installed the new Nissens to a T, and started her up-fine. We then shut her off and began to add coolant. On the second start, I heard a "Kerrang!" and immediately saw new coolant spewing all over the engine bay. Somehow the fan managed to touch the new radiator and damage it. How I managed to not break anything is a minor miracle.

(Our friend Jimmy D stopped by with the usual gifts of snacks and ridicule.)

It looks like my local radiator shop can repair the damage-they have some epoxy process for aluminum that is supposed to work wonders. As soon as I can get the radiator out, I'll drop it off for repair.

(We also put a new accessory belt in-like it matters.)

Sunday, April 15, 2007


People all have different markers for the first true sign of spring-for many here in the Northeast it's the first sight of a robin. For others it's baseball. Still others mark the opening of their favorite seasonal ice cream or hot dog stand.

For me, it's the opening of the Saylorsburg Flea Market. Usually Easter weekend, a few stragglers begin to set up, but it's really this weekend where it starts in earnest. So as usual, I fired up my truck and headed out-you need the truck, you see, in case you find the deal of a lifetime, that happens to be four-by-eight feet or smaller. Like the massive Pizza Hut sign I scored for 40 bucks(soon to grace my basement bar!) Or the industrial sewing machine. Or the vintage Manco go-cart with original metal-flake paint. It is here where some of the best of my childhood memories are stored, and for sale.

Best part about Saylorsburg is it is literally built on memories-it is the former site of the Blue Ridge Drive-In Theater. Many a high school night was spent pawing at some poor honor student as she fought my horny advances, while a not-so-good second run movie played on the huge outdoor screen. It is for that reason, I think, that the flea market holds a special, revered place in my heart, and probably no other market or swap meet could ever come close.

The first few weeks are not the best-it takes a good month of people going "oh shit, the flea market is open" to become both vendor and shopper/browser. An absolutely fantastic time to go is Memorial Day Weekend-the place is chock full of the usual vendors plus weekenders cleaning out their basements or just taking advantage of the holiday hysteria to make a few bucks. It will take you a good two hours on a day like that to cover everything, and most likely, you will have to hit everthing twice, as I do, to make sure you did not miss something.

Where else are you going to find antiques (I equate "antiques" mostly with furniture and day to day items prior to 1950, but that's me), vintage toys, produce, new and used tools of all kinds, candy, clothing, powersports items of all kinds, surplus, fireworks (lame ones, it's PA after all), pocketknives, nunchucks, cheap chinese imports that would make WalMart blush, along with some of the best fudge I've ever tasted? Nowhere. The flea market is like your grandmother's cool attic on a bigger, outdoor scale, and everyone's invited.

Generally I buy used tools here-a few vendors are very adept at cleaning out basements and attending estate sales. I can score great deals on name-brand tools (mostly Craftsman, the do-it-yourselfers standby of the last fifty years or more, but a smattering of Snap-On, Proto and the like). There is little damage the average home handyman can do to a hand tool in forty-some years, unless he was a complete primate or using it for something beyond it's design. Over the years I have also learned what constitutes good or bad power tools as well-as companies merge and brands are bought by others, you know the difference between a "Good Black and Decker" and a "Junk Black and Decker", and can buy accordingly.

Probably my best score at Saylorsburg was a "good" Kitchenaid mixer-from a time period when construction and materials choice was top-notch (though they are still pretty well made today). Works like a charm, just had to buy the bowls and attachments. My price? $25. I have to tell you, I got offers of up to $100 as I lugged that thing to the car-it's one of those "once in a lifetime" deals you hope for.

Since this week was light on vendors, I did not get much-just a set of four casters I need for the rolling cabinet I'm building for my coffee maker. I could not find these anywhere for less than four or five bucks apiece, and the cheaper ones were not worth having. I got some heavier, industrial-grade casters out of a large box a vendor had for a buck a piece! "These have been going fast" the guy said. I agreed, and told him why. He seemed happy to be able to sell them at a profit for way below retail. I for one was damned happy to buy.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Minor Surgery...

Ok, here's how I made my $215 radiator into a $320 radiator for about $12. As I mentioned in a previous post, the Nissens radiator does not have a metal reinforcement inside the necks where the upper and lower radiator hoses attach. I decided to blog this so that anyone needing to do something similar can learn from any mistakes I make. It is not necessary for you to own a 20 year-old Mercedes diesel to benefit from this-rather, it is to show you that a lot of the stuff mechanics and craftsmen are able to do is no real mystery. It is also to show how a little time, patience, and minor cash outlay can save a lot more money in the end.

After reading the recommendations on modifying the Nissens on ShopForum, I realized I could either purchase the kit the parts store sells, which is basically two pieces of copper tubing and some hi-temp waterproof adhesive, or I could buy the stuff myself, as a fair number of other members had done. Being in a bit of a hurry (Greta was now weeping THREE different fluids on my driveway), I shoved off for my local Orange Box Warehouse Home Improvement Center. Think what rhymes with "cheapo". There I found what I needed. Two pieces of copper tubing with the proper outside diameter of just over an inch. The pieces at my store were reducers, so they narrowed down to a smaller diameter to fit a smaller piece of pipe. Their real use is immaterial, as we are using them in a state altered from the original anyway. Should you ever need to do this, get your measurements off the inside of your neck-the OUTSIDE diameter of your copper piece should be the same or very close. A snug fit is ideal, but you can build your adhesive up. Check your junk pile before you go buy something! Repurposing rules.

(I thought about the copper oxidizing in the radiator, but truthfully I would not know where to begin looking for either aluminum or brass tubing to do the job, plus there had been no problems reported with anyone who had gone the ShopForum route and used copper. I figured if worst came to worst I would remove my hoses periodically and take a toothbrush to the copper to knock back the cupric oxide that formed. I doubt it will be a problem.)

Next came the proper adhesive. Again, I had done some prior research, looking through spec and MSDS data sheets to see what would work best. In the end, I could have just taken the advice of the forum members. JB-Weld is a fantastic substance that comes in two tubes, and is activated upon mixing the steel resin filler and the catalyst together in equal parts. The result is a steel-hard substance that can be filed, tapped, drilled and machined. If you could actually weld it, it would be perfect. It withstands a temperature up to 600 degrees (far higher than the 225 or so in my radiator), is waterproof, and also chemical resistant-I'm hoping the formulation of antifreeze will be one of those chemicals, but again, research has told me this won't be a problem. One package is more than enough to do the job, and will actually leave you with plenty for other repairs. Make sure you get the original JB-Weld (black and red tubes and packaging) and not the newer JB-Qwik(Blue and Orange tubes)-The Qwik is not suited for the higher temperatures. I have used JB Qwik on other applications, however, and found that under less-than-extreme conditions it is an ideal adhesive/filler.

(The coolest part about JB-Weld is the old-school packaging-look at that old clip-art!! and an oval blank for writing in the price at the top left! In an era of UPC scan codes, this is way cool!)

Once home, I took my reducers and placed the narrow ends over the end of an old broomstick before placing them in my shop vise. This way, the copper would only deform as much as the wood beneath, and the length of my stick would help grip in the vise, letting me saw without the piece falling out of the vise. It also did not matter if the smaller piece deformed, as it was only going to go on my copper pile for recycling anyway (copper prices are way up, BTW).

(Make sense now? The broomstick keeps the tubing from oval-ing and then grips the rearmost part of the vise jaws.)

After some careful cutting, I had the pieces I needed. I cleaned them up on my bench grinder, and finished them off on my drill press with a tapered abrasive bit-the main idea was to get rid of any burrs that may do damage to the hoses, and to remove any hanging copper that could find it's way into the cooling system. You don't have to go crazy, but do a good job smoothing them out. In the absence of a grinder or press, a Dremel tool or hand file will to the job just fine.(piece on the right is not perfect, but probably as acceptable as anything that has been on the last three Space Shuttles that blew up.)

Now comes the messy part. I took a small paper plate and laid out my beads of Resin and Hardener from the JB-Weld package. I keep a small stack of cocktail plates for just such an occasion, but a word of caution-styrofoam plates will usually soften or melt from the slight chemical calalyzation of the JB-Weld. There is a slight heating action that takes place as the product cures, and it has left me with a mess on exactly ONE occasion-when I used a styrofoam plate as my mixing palette.
(equal amounts are required to make the JB-Weld work properly)

I also prepared a few mixing sticks ahead of time-two craft popsicle sticks are sanded down on the grinder for a more fine tip:

A bit of brisk mixing and the JB-Weld is ready. It should look like this when done-well blended and no white or black streaks in the mix:

The next part was too tough to photograph and do at the same time-I smeared the JB-Weld on the outside of the tubing, putting most of it on the side going into the neck first, to allow it to spread upwards to cover the entire outside of each piece. Your pieces will slide in fairly loosely, really only hindered by the adhesive. Once they are in place, wipe off any excesses and stand the radiator on its side-gravity will pull the tubing further inwards if you leave the necks facing up. After ten minutes or so check the fittings to see if they have migrated inward-if so, pull them back out and clamp them in place. JB-Weld will fully cure in about 15 hours or so. If you have left any excess anywhere that has dried, no fear-remember the stuff can be sanded off with paper or a Dremel tool if necessary. Try to get any excess inside that could be prone to flaking off in the future, and thereby clogging your system.

(The whole works will look like this once you get it in there-carefully wipe off all the outside excess....)

(aaaaand...you're done. Anything on the inside is easier cleaned after drying of the adhesive [with your dremel, file or sandpaper]-make sure you face the necks downward/outward when removing any debris, to keep the crud out of the radiator, and ultimately, your cooling system.)

Next step will be installation of the transmission cooling lines from the old radiator. Stay tuned.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

New Arrivals...

Shown above is Greta's new radiator. Note how it sits in my living room, in front of my Danish Modern buffet. Why? Two reasons-first, auto parts in one's living room are one of the upsides of bachelorhood. Second is due to the origins of the unit.

I decided to go with Nissens, a Danish-made unit. After doing some extensive research online, I found out the Behr OEM units are no longer made in Germany, nor South Africa, but in China. I feel the Chinese imports of all types need about ten to fifteen years of manufacturing improvements and commerce to reach the quality of items made elsewhere. Also, when adding the previous reason and cost into the equation, the Nissens is, in my opinion, the better radiator at a better price. There is, however, one small design flaw that needs to be attended to. The Behr is constructed similarly, of aluminum and composite, however, you'll notice the composite is at each end, and the necks for the upper and lower radiator hoses are molded into it. Over time, as the composite ages it becomes brittle. A regular or breakdown change of a radiator hose can end with a cracked or crushed neck and no good way to fix it. For this reason, Behr units are equipped with an inner aluminum sleeve absent in the Nissens. This is, however, an easy fix. A simple trip to Home Depot or similar store for a few pieces of copper tubing and an appropriate adhesive (more on this in a later post) will make for an adequate fix recommended by the Mercedes ShopForum community. All told, it's still cheaper than a Chinese Behr by nearly $100.

Also in the box from Autohaus Arizona was a new accessory (serpentine) belt, and idler pulley. The diesel engine for some reason has an idler pulley with a propensity to droop down, pulling away from the belt for about an eighth of an inch. While it could most likely run forever in this configuration, at 170k it is probably wise for me to replace it. Since I had everything apart, and the pulley is a $20 or so part, i figured I'd swap out the works all at once. Experience has taught me that catastrophic mechanical failures of great expense start with the breaking of a tiny, inexpensive part that is easily replaced as part of regular maintenance.

How Sweet! New Seat!

OK, so my subject line is stolen and paraphrased from Freddy Krueger. But Freddy was a product of the 80s, and so is my Baby. I was lucky enough to find a mechanic in Aldan, PA (near Philadelphia) who had a 1992 400E he was parting out as the result of a mechanic's lien he had on the car. I spotted the front seats for sale on Ebay, and was lucky enough to get them for just FIFTY BUCKS! Upon picking the seat's up at the seller's shop, I promptly made a deal with the mechanic, Steve, to purchase more stuff off the vehicle. In the end I walked away with carpeting, door panels, steering wheel, headlamps and wipers, monowiper, wheels and tires, carpeting and upholstery for the trunk, rear seating, and trunk lid for $750. It was just one of those things-here was a car, not only with a matching interior in better condition, but a matching trunk lid, same color. I kind of had to jump when the chance came-these cars are getting more and more rare, and I may not get the chance to get some of these parts in the future.

The driver's seat is not perfect-it has a bit of regular wear on the bolster, and a small rip in the backrest. But, compared to Greta's original seats, these are practically showroom new. Put it this way-if seats were faces, these new ones would be Ellen Barkin-good looking but a little rough. The old ones would be Phyllis Diller-cracked, wrinkled, faded and plain worn out. The irony of this comparison and the idea of "sitting on faces" is not lost on me, by the way.

(This is the worst of it-a rip about two inches long-of course, being on perforated leather makes a near-invisible repair tough.)

(Here's the rest of it, sitting amongst the rest of the Big Pile of Stuff, which is gradually diminishing thanks to a less-painful back and more time off from work. At left rear of picture is the rear seats, followed by the trunk lid, standing out with license plate still attached. Then comes the interior carpets and trunk carpeting, to the right of all that are the wheels and tires, just slightly behind. You can also see the monowiper on the wall just above the wheels and tires. Red lawn mower is NOT Mercedes OEM)