Backyard mechanic

My elderly Aunt Virginia died recently. Her husband was a diesel mechanic. When I was 14 we visited them up in Seattle and I was surprised to find that none of my cousins were in the house. My Aunt sent me out to the garage and there they all were,  helping their dad replace the pistons in an engine. I was so impressed at the amount of practical knowledge and skill in that family. They were heroes to my young eyes.

Working on cars seems to have become less popular among the younger generation. Neither of my kids does it. Well, that’s not quite true…my son does his oil, and has replaced an alternator. It’s weird because they grew up watching me do brakes, starters, alternators, radiators, spark plugs, shocks and carburetors. I could frequently be found laboring in the driveway in the rain, keeping an old car running. It’s oddly satisfying and can save a ton of  money. Though there is nothing wrong with paying other people to do the work…you just need to have a good job, which they both have.

Car number one

During the recent snow, Sue parked our newest car a little too close to a snow bank in town. When she drove away, the snow pulled on the plastic bumper and broke two plastic connector tabs that held the bumper shield to the splash guard inside the fender. Cosmetically the damage was a one eighth inch misalignment of the bumper to the steel body panel above it.

She took it to a body shop and they quoted her $1000  because they’d have to replace the entire front bumper. He told her to ignore it, that it wasn’t worth the trouble and wouldn’t cause any problems. That didn’t go over well with me. It looked like the bumper could flap in the wind, and possibly cause more tabs to break. At 70 miles an hour there is a lot of  pressure down there. I never want to be the guy on the side of the road with a broken down car.

Yesterday I pulled 7 screws out of that area to open it up. I could see the windshield washer reservoir, and the true steel bumper but it looked like there was room to get a drill. The tabs that held the two body parts together were broken so I cut some right angle replacement pieces from aluminum and steel. I custom bent them to fit the curving angles of the body parts, then carefully drilled holes to match existing plastic connectors, and drilled two small holes in the fender.

I was working out on the street in my driveway with the car jacked up in the air and I’d pulled the front wheel for better access.  Probably my tools were safe as I went back and forth to my out building where I had a vice, but I wasn’t sure. I still don’t know this neighborhood that well. I’ve had friends get stuff stolen from right in front of their house in this town.  My solution was to keep my tools in the car, and lock the doors. Only problem was that I’d had to disconnect the battery to avoid triggering the air bag as I drilled the bumper.

I had a confusing moment where I was pressing the door lock button in the car and all I heard was silence. It was kind of a “duh” moment. Our other cars are all manual door locks and roll up windows. Chalk it up to the joys of being a backyard mechanic. Our old house was safely concealed down a long driveway surrounded by trees, way out in the country. We like living in the city, and this is an awesome neighborhood…but I do miss the country sometimes.

Anyway, the end result is the car is as good as new. No dents anywhere, and the bumper is tight. The only evidence is two small stainless steel screws on the otherwise flawless white bumper. My friends tease me about how I’m always MacGyvering everything. They’ve even invented a term for it: “You Uncle Marked that thing!”

Car number two

As soon as my 1991 Corolla got back from the mechanic (oil leak repairs)  I drove it for a few days and it died. Sue helped me compression start it (we towed it 100 feet) and then I drove back to my mechanic where he said the battery was on the edge but it might also be the starter. I replaced the battery and drove it for a couple more days and then it died, again.

My son came over and we push started it. It’s a light car and we only had to push it 50 feet. You gotta’ love a manual transmission because it fired right up when I popped it into second. Then I drove it into the driveway, jacked it up with my 3 ton jack, braced it on jack stands and began looking for the starter.  For an early nineties car it has a lot of clutter under the hood. Finally I found the starter buried under the fresh air manifold. It looked impossible to pull. Thank goodness for the community of amateur mechanics who put videos on youtube. They explicitly explain where the bolts are located and I had it out in a couple hours.

Buying the correct starter

If you are new to replacing starters, never trust an auto parts store when they say they have the correct starter in stock! Always pull the starter and take it to the auto parts store. Open the box and compare the new starter with the old one, on all sides.  As starters go it wasn’t the hardest I’ve done. My truck was significantly harder. The trick on this one was for me to hold the new starter from the top. Sue pointed out that she could see it wasn’t aligned when I tried to do it from the bottom. Yupp, I was lying in the mud, under the jacked up car…again. It was easy when I held the starter from the top while she inserted the first bolt. You can see just enough of the important bits by looking through the intake manifold pipes.

As I was reassembling the  air cleaner I noticed the air intake hose had busted open. Darn thing only lasted 30 years. I called around to some pick and pull junk yards but they either didn’t have it, charged too much, or never answered the phone. My mechanic ordered one for me using the VIN number. Bottom line, having a mechanic do this would have been over $500. It cost me $82 for the starter and $100 for the hose.

In other news I tried to replace the rubber on my ping pong paddle. I used permanent contact cement and got a un-fixable bubble. I could have sanded the rubber off…but rubbers are $45 so I decided to buy a new paddle. Big 5 carries junk and there are no table tennis stores in Seattle. Closest store is 2 hours away in Portland but a phone call had a new paddle winging it’s way to me in a couple days. Sue and I played last night and it works awesome. It’s slightly heavier than my old one, but far stickier and seems to have a short learning curve.

And I’m painting the violin again. I’m doing a foreshortened version this time around, bigger than life size. It’s very frustrating. I’m going to do something more forgiving for my next painting. Violins are as hard to paint as the  human figure.

Painting a violin

Kristi loaned me her violin after our last jam session. When she plays that violin it brings magic into the room. Don’t know how such a small instrument can add so much beauty.

On the painting side, it’s a nightmare to draw. There are countless complex curves that have to be rendered perfectly. And the wood…did I ever mention how hard it is to paint wood? Not to mention the strings, this was the first time I’ve tried to paint ultra thin lines.

I also neglected to think about composition and started with the violin floating on white. All of my stumbling trial and error approach to painting is shown in these photos.

I’m 4 hours into another angle. This time I’m drawing it bigger than life size. And I’m looking down the length of it. The tuning knobs are bigger and the neck is foreshortened. This makes it really, really hard…so hard I had to grid out the canvas, and look at the violin thru my little dental floss grid viewer….pictures to follow.

For hour after hour I stood there trying, and failing, to draw it accurately. If something is life size, I can measure much more easily. I look, measure and draw it to size. But when it’s bigger, there is some mental transposing that goes on after I look. I can’t just draw what I see. I have to draw it larger.

I know this doesn’t make sense. I draw stuff smaller than life all the time. That seems to be easier. Perhaps it’s that when you are drawing something so close you can touch it, it’s natural to want to make it life size?

Alex and his son dropped by for a little ping pong today and I showed them the painting of the family violin. They were impressed.

 

Faucett and a portrait

I’ve been doing a lot of pen and ink. I try to do at least a sketch every day and often a longer drawing like these two.

It’s been two weeks since I had my finger worked on. It’s been stiff since Thanksgiving, but just in the last week I took the big bandage off. I was playing lots of ping pong, but because my bandage was in the way I couldn’t really see the progress I’ve been making.

Today I had just a small bandaid on and suddenly I was playing the best ping pong I’ve ever played. If a serve or returned ball had the least bit of float I was able to slow down time and see the ball floating almost in slow motion. I’d do a short pause to get my hand positioned on the paddle just right, then smack it over the net so hard it was rarely returned. Many of the serves coming toward me turned into lightning quick slams. It’s a great technique because it (depending on the player) intimidates the server and leads to even more floaters.

I was getting spanked on the some  of the serves, and I was making my normal errors. We’ve got some great players down there. But generally I was truly surprised at how well I was playing.

Paradise opened up

Sue, Lisa and I skied Paradise last Sunday. Snow was breakable crust on our first run taking Sue back to the car. Then Lisa and I skinned back up to base of Pan and dropped over the side to the east where it was more breakable crust. When we traversed over to the hill above the road bridge we found boilerplate where there is normally nice powder. We skied down the ice on our edges. It was easy turning on the ice, but hairy because a fall would have been almost out of control. We do both have Whippets, so we might have been able to arrest.

At the bottom of the hill we saw good tracks coming down Mazama and wondered if there might be good snow over there…since we hadn’t found any yet. We skinned up and got lucky. There was a nice 2 inches of powder over the ice and we had a great run down to the bridge along the snow  covered creek.

Lisa’s friend was up there working and gave us a tour of one of the buildings. I’ve been rebuilding a custom theme in wordpress, trying to re-learn the stuff I used to teach back when we still had a web program and taught theme building.

And I finished my parrot drawing. I need to find something else to draw. I’ve been thinking about doing a huge 20 x 30″ canvas of Joshua Tree. I have those 3 sketches and it might be fun to do a wild and crazy palette knife painting of Cyclops Rock. I’m in the mood to sling some color around. All this pen and ink is fine…but I miss me some color.

Our Corolla had been parked for a couple months after hemorrhaging oil and showing a low oil light. I youtubed the process and decided it was too hard. My mechanic got in there and found that the front gaskets on the crankshaft and cam shaft were original and hard as wood. One had blown up. While he was in there he replaced the water pump,  timing belt, a couple other belts, plus the coolant and an oil change.

I told him to just tow it the dump if it looked risky. But even after sitting two months it started right up. Made a few weird knocking noises…but I think that was normal. It drove down there sounding like it’s old self. That engine has a sweet little rhythm. He seemed to think so too…and I am $980 poorer. Still, you can’t buy a car that reliable for that much…and I like having a spare car. We have no new cars anymore. Rav4 has 110k, Tacoma has 240k, so this Corolla is my backup car. It’s nice to have a spare.

gym – ping pong and a parrot

Since returning from Jtree I’ve got back into the swing of things with ping pong and the climbing gym. My first few games were pretty rough, a lot of bad balls. But now I’ve got a versatile serve, and a decent number of my slams work. I was climbing so badly when I first returned that I’d have to hang 4 times on the way up a 10 minus. After a month of hitting it twice a week my power is returning and I led two of the steep tens cleanly.

I drove out to Orting to shoot some reference photos of a friends African Gray parrot. He is a former student and a super nice guy. I always admired his intelligence and life experience. He’s 82 now and still sharp as a tack…and he has this super cool parrot. I’ve got the drawing almost finished, and as usual there are some huge errors. Pen is super frustrating that way. Errors happen, and you have to leave them. Anyway this is about two hours in. I’ll post the finished one soon.

George the parrot

George the parrot

The family dog

Clint got a dog 7 years ago when he bought his house. He brought Wyatt over this week and I set up my bright video light to shoot some reference photos. With the bright light I was able to shoot them at F-8. My 24-105L lens has image stabilization, which meant I was shooting at 1/125 of a second with ISO set at 1600.

For decades I swore I would never draw from photos…but recently I’ve made an exception for animals. No matter how much you pay them they won’t sit still. The statue and the shoe were done from life. Last is a capture from Paradise, where the snow has been falling during the gubmint shutdown.

Floose the crag dog

I finished my drawing of the dog that shared our campspot down in Jtree. This mellow dog got a lot attention from the people sitting around the fire. At one point there was a van of 4 twenty something climber girls sitting around the fire. The darn dog spent the evening walking from one person to the next, soaking up all the attention he could get. His owner Lilly had put a furry leopard hat on his head to keep him warm – it was in the twenties. We were all laughing as the dog simply put up with the hat, and kept coming around for hugs.

My buddy Chad later joked that he wished he could have borrowed the hat from the dog. His plan was to walk around on his hands and knees wearing the leopard hat, see if he could get some similar attention from the ladies. That was one lucky dog.

Being a parent is

This showed up on my facebook feed as something I’d like to share from the past. Two years ago our kids skinned up to 10,000 feet on Mt. Rainier where there is a climbers high camp called Muir. In good weather it is a fairly casual day of backcountry skiing…assuming you are in top notch shape.

But Mt. Rainier has a bad habit of making it’s own weather, which means you can be traveling to or from Muir and bad things can happen. For example clouds can roll in from nowhere and you are suddenly in a white out with zero visibility. Or the winds can come up and turn the snow to ice…at which point you will wish desperately for crampons and an ice ax. There are also large cravasses if you ski too far to left or right…so map and compass navigation skills can be a life saver. In a worse case scenario you may have to dig a snow cave and spend a night waiting out a sudden storm…though one can usually see those coming on the weather forecast. If that happens, you’d better have a thick puffy coat in your pack.

When I posted this photo I had been working, but Sue sent me a text saying they were overdue by a couple hours. Ideally you get back from Muir before dusk. But she said Clint’s blue car was still sitting their in the parking lot. You can see it on the right. That got me worried and I started auto refreshing the web cam. As you can tell from the comments, we raised a couple kids who like adventures. I guess this is payback from when we used to make my mom nervous when Sue and I were climbing mountains…in the winter…miles and miles from the car.

Lisa and I tried to get to Muir a couple months ago but turned back when we hit a white out at 8500 feet. I hope to do it this year…assuming our politicians ever re-open the government.

Our kids go to Muir

Our kids go to Muir together

Holidays 2018

I’ve not written in a month. On December 12 I finished a my second dog drawing and mailed them both off to my brother. He knew I was into pen and ink and had taken the photographs of his dog and a friends dog with his new Nikon full frame DSLR.

~

I was fully expecting them to think they were bad because so much of my art simply gets shelved. But to my great surprise, he sent me a nice check for the two drawings. Pricing pet drawings is anybodies guess. A quick check on etsy has prices ranging from $28 to $350. Mine take me around 6 hours to draw. Assuming I was drawing well, what would an hourly wage be? The whole artist pricing structure is a mystery.

With school out and commissions in the mail I was a free man. I drove to Jtree in 30 hours. It took me 4 hours to get the 30 miles from Tacoma to Olympia thanks to a massive truck wreck that blocked all lanes of I-5. At 2 AM I slept in a rest area somewhere in southern Oregon, woke up at dawn and drove the rest of the way to Jtree, arriving at 1 AM. I didn’t know it that night, but there is now free BLM land camping down there. I learned about it from a friend who is a travel nurse. He lives in his van and parks it either there or in the hospital parking lot. The BLM camping has been there forever…I just never hunted it down.

Day 2

Hooked up with my friend Richard and Annie. We did a bunch of routes around Hidden Valley including Bousioneer and Hands Off. We loaned our top rope to Lilly and Matia who didn’t want to do the down climb off The Blob. Matia invited me to camp with them since they had an extra parking spot. Making friends at Jtree is the only way to get a camping spot. The campground is permanently full with climbers…but if you make a friend, you are golden.

Day 3

Richard and I met up with L. at Hemingway where we climbed White Lightning 5.7 and Overseer 5.9. It got cold so we diverted to some sunny walls in the afternoon.

Day 4

Richard advised me to take a rest day every 3 days to keep my fingertips healthy.  I painted the West face of Chimney Rock while Lilly drew the same scene in colored pencil.

Day 5

Richard set me up with Annie and we spent the day doing easy stuff like Mikes books and Double Dip. Annie is a lot of fun and works as a Nurse Practitioner.

Day 6

Richard, L. and Todd Gordon picked me up and drove us out to Outer Mongolia. It’s a one hour approach along the boy scout trail. Todd lives in Jtree and is a super nice guy. Later in the trip he invited everyone to his house for New Years. I chose to do the usual bonfire at Hiden Valley but regretted it. There were 3 drunks this year and it sort of sucked the fun out of it. I heard that Todd’s friend John Long was there. Several of my friends were there and got to meet the legendary Largo.

Day 7

I took my campmate Lily over to Echo where we did double dip. I talked her into doing her first lead ever over by the Solarium. She aced it.

Day 8

was another rest day. I painted chimney again, but from the north. The weather had been baking for a week straight by now.

Day 9

Chad arrived while Richard, Annie, L. and I were doing a moonrise picnic on Cyclops. Chad is a great partner and a very funny guy. I’m well known for making easy climbs look hard. Chad makes hard climbs look easy.

The days blur together

The routes blur together after Chad arrived. It got cold for the last two weeks. We still climbed but had to stay on the sunny sides. Here is a brief list:

Flake – me
Orphan – me
Dandelion – Chad
Bousonier – both
Papa Woolsey – both, Chad onsighted it in the dark
Double Cross and Sexy Grandma – both
Chalk up another one – Chad
Damper and Pinched Rib – me and Chad respectively
Stick to what – me
Popes crack & Touch and go – Chad
Heart and sole – Chad
Fisticuffs – me

Breakfast and the shutdown

Chad loaned me some bacon, man that stuff is good! There is something about camping in 15 degree weather that makes me hungry for old fashioned unhealthy fat. After the first week the government shutdown happened. The rangers opened the camping pay box and stopped charging for camping. They basically walked away from the park, leaving the doors wide open and all the park offices shuttered. There were still LEO’s patrolling and responding to rescues and car accidents…but it was a weird time in the park.

On 1-02-19 they shut down the campgrounds, turning the park into a day use area. It seemed dumb because our restrooms and dumpsters were in fine shape. Volunteers (Todd included) were bringing up TP. The only bad thing I saw was cars parked illegally and one tent set up on a trail by hung over New Years eve partiers. There were TV crews up there so I guess there was chaos in other areas of the park, but we didn’t see it.

Last rest day

I was unhappy with this painting of Cyclops. I couldn’t get it off life support and considered wiping it down to blank canvas. But before that happened I decided to throw in some blue. It may be breathing now. Several friends who saw it liked it.

I’m home now and unemployed until April when I may have an opportunity to teach again. Trouble is I need a job right now…bills to pay and all that. I’m going to start looking for work this week. My wife saw me typing all this stuff and asked me who reads it. I told her no one, except maybe me in 5 years when I’m looking back and wondering where the time went. It’s fun to have a record.

Strathmore toned paper

Normally when I buy a sketchbook it fills up with junk. I’ll have receipts from climbing trips and campgrounds taped to the pages alongside bad drawings of my hand, and maybe a smudged portrait of the pickup truck parked across the street. Oh, and plans for some new invention that becomes a one off. I litterally have a stack of sketchbooks going back to when I was 17. If I stacked them all up it would be two feet tall. And there might be 20 decent drawings altogether.

But ever since I got this new Strathmore Toned sketchbook I haven’t done a bad drawing. That’s 3 drawings on 3 pages, and none have bombed. Here are the last two. One is 6 hours of work, the other is 30 minutes. I’m using the Isograph pens plus the Sakura Gellyroll whites. I tried to put white ink in my 0.5 Isograph, but it didn’t flow well, so I ordered a 0.8…hoping the larger diameter can carry the white pigment better. I’ve also ordered the 0.1, which will do  hair lines. Because I use them everyday, I’m leaving the ink in overnight…maybe clean them on the weekend. I’m getting over a bad cold…hoping it won’t mess with some upcoming holiday plans.