After we took the old engine out and tucked it away in the depths of my garage, we put the “new” engine in the driveway. We had to take some of the parts from the old engine and put them on the “new” one so it would connect properly into Betsy. We took off the thermostat housing, the water pump, and the bracket for the generator, cleaned them and put them on the new engine.
After that was done the next steps were to put on the flywheel and the new clutch assembly. We figured out that the flywheel from the “new” engine was 9.5 inches while the clutch kit that I got was for a 10 inch flywheel which is what was on the old engine. However, I only found this out after trying to put the new clutch kit on to the 9.5 inch flywheel, after taking it to get resurfaced.
After finally getting the right flywheel resurfaced, and watching several hours of YouTube videos, I figured out how to get the clutch assembly on there. I put blue Loctite on all the bolts, used the star pattern to tighten, centered the clutch with the alignment tool, and as I was torquing the last possible bolt to the proper amount, the half-a-century bolt broke on me.
I had to take the whole clutch assembly off again to get that stupid bolt out of there. For the record, that bolt broke the Harbor Freight extraction kit bought to get it out. I promptly returned it, obviously. After drilling into it with everything we had and getting it our, we saw that we had hit the threads. I thought I had to find a machine shop that would fix it for me, but it turns out all they had to do was throw a Helicoil in there and call it a day.
However easy this may seem, that, it was not. After going through so many ups and downs with one project you begin to lose it. You lose your excitement, you lose your confidence, you lose your resolve to make anything happen at all. The smallest thing makes you want to throw in the towel and quit. This is the moment when you make a decision. This is the moment that really defines what you are made of. And however much you can imagine yourself in that situation, you definitely don’t know how you will act when you get there yourself. You can pretend that you’re the toughest mother effer out there, but until you’re faced with a constant stream of obstacles that beat you down to a pulp, you just don’t know.
To get through it all, I had to learn to see every failure as a positive. There is something about this project that I just can’t give up on. No matter if logically it all seems like everything is pointing towards me quitting, I just can’t stop. And so far, even in the worst of times, Betsy has only brought the best people into my life. That’s a lesson I will take to my grave.
After being not driving for a couple days I was ready to hit the road pretty hard. But first I needed to pick up my new oil pressure light switch from NAPA.
I got up bright and early that morning and me and Bets headed over to get her all patched up. Got the part, whipped out my trust vise grips, lefty-loosy, righty-tighty, and she was as good as new! I didn’t even make a mess, a dirty old rag comes in very handy in parking lot repairs!
I decided to treat myself to a celebratory breakfast at Miz Zip’s Cafe to fuel up for the day’s drive ahead of me.
And I was off to the races! Actually, next was Winona which was completely forgettable, ironically. I think I got gas there? Maybe?
I drove right past Twin Arrows and stopped at Two Guns. Now that’s how you name a town. There was some really cool stuff to explore around here. I parked Betsy and walked around for a bit to try and find the Apache Death Cave (which is my new band name, by the way) but I felt a bit uncomfortable leaving Betsy all alone at the end of an abandoned road.
We couldn’t drive any further because there was a bunch of nails in the road, and I wasn’t about to risk that. It looked like there were a bunch of dirt trails (with no nails on them) among the ruins so I’m already making plans in my mind to come back with a sweet 4×4 ride to crawl around and find some ghosts!
After Two Guns was the famed Meteor Crater. What can I saw it was a big ol’ hole in the ground! It was cool to see if you’ve never seen it before, but I probably won’t be stopping by again. It costs $18 to see the crater, but that includes a pretty good museum and a short movie, as well as an informational guided tour/hike around the rim (which I skipped).
Now, after the crater came the thing that I was most excited for the entire day. I was about to be… brace yourselves… standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona. I know, I know. I flipped out.
Also turned out that me and Glenn Frey had matching boots. That was cool.
I must have hung out there for more than an hour just watching people come and go just to take pictures with this ridiculous land mark. It filled my heart with joy.
Oh and Betsy made a new Ford friend with that famous flatbed!
Turns out, that corner isn’t the only cool thing in Winslow. I also stopped by the La Posada Hotel, which was a Harvey House originally built in 1928. If you’re ever in the area, definitely stop by this historic establishment. Not only is it incredibly interesting architecturally (it was designed by Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter, such a badass babe she needs four names), it also serves as a gallery for the art of Tina Mion, who’s stunning work made me misty over and over again.
After Winslow, I quickly stopped by the Jackrabbit Trading Post which was actually a really great place, with a whole lot of original Route 66 feel to it! I ended up getting a Route 66 Cream Soda to help get me to Holbrook where we would be spending the night!
If you watched my Instagram story from that night, I think you knew I had a great time in there. Although it was fun and totally iconic Route 66 kitsch, I don’t know wether I’d recommend staying in one of these things. Although everyone was very nice and the stay was pleasant, the imagery of the wigwams is used here a bit problematically. The Native Americans in this part of the country didn’t use these teepees, and I really doubt any Native Americans were consulted in their design (yes, I know it was the 1950s, but it’s 2017 now and we can hold ourselves to a better standard). The fabulous Globetrotter Motel is just across the street, and is probably a lot less culturally cringe-y and comes with high recommendations from many people I’ve talked to on Route 66!
The thing is that Route 66 is kind of this mishmash of history, culture, and people from all different times, backgrounds, cultures, histories, ideals, thoughts, theories, you name it. Each one of those things belongs and deserves it’s place on the mother road. They can all co-exist together and when you experience them on this string of a road you travel, like a each bead on a hand crafted necklace, on you really can start to get a glimpse of the vastness of what America, as a society, is. I wish everyone gets a chance in their lifetimes to experience as many facets of this road as possible. Without all those facets co-existing together we wouldn’t have the beautiful country we do today, for better or for worse. You have to accept every part of it to enjoy the whole thing fully. Every. Single. Part.
From Seligman lay ahead of me probably the toughest part of the drive climbing to approximately 7000 ft in elevation Flagstaff. The stretch alone form Ash Fork to Williams climbs more than 1600 ft, and we already know that Betsy is not a fan of hills. Yep, it sure was a good day to piss off a bunch of truckers on the I-40!
Somehow we made it to Williams! The gateway to The Grand Canyon! At this point my confidence was quite shaken. A feeling of gentle terror had set in when big rigs were passing me at 65 mph, while Betsy struggled at 30 mph in 2nd gear up the big climb. When I glided into town, I was seeking a sense of relief that never came. Betsy started sputtering a bit from a stop when I pressed on the throttle in first gear. I came to the conclusion that it was probably the carburetor running too rich since we were at a much higher altitude now. I must of stopped and parked her 3 different times in town to fiddle with the idle speed and the fuel mixture each time thinking I had fixed the issue. I did meet an wonderful woman who said she used to have a late 60s Ford and it was the most reliable vehicle she had ever had. Talking to her maybe gave me some minuscule amount of oomph back, or maybe I’m just as stubborn as the dumbest mule ever born, but I decided to fill up the tank at the last gas station in town and make the most thrilling drive I will probably ever make in my short futile existence.
I made it to The Grand Canyon.
I parked Bets, got out, took this picture, and proceeded to break down cry like a newborn baby on the side of the road.
The engine that got me there was sitting in my drive way just a few short months ago. When you set small goals for yourself, like baby steps, it really helps you focus and get to the finish line, where ever it maybe. But when you’re in it, you’re so focused and so worried about the little stuff you sometimes forget about what you’re all doing it for. I was so stressed and worried about Betsy the whole way up I pretty much forgot that I was going to the friggin’ Grand Canyon. I was focusing so hard on not stalling on some big hill and not rolling backward and not hitting a bunch of cars and not dying. But when I got parked and saw the picture I had taken of Betsy, I lost it. It was surreal. I was snapped back into reality, in to the present moment of where I was. It was like a beautiful slap in the face.
“Be present!” Betsy shouted at me. And I was.
After having some tea and a snack to try and calm my nerves and excitement about my accomplishments for the day as well as trying to take it all in, I headed towards Flagstaff.
A dear friend had serendipitously put my in touch with her friend, Tom, who has an incredible place just north of Flagstaff. It backs up onto National Forest Service land, which was the best of both worlds, like having wifi and running hot water but also with incredible views like this one:
In Flagstaff, I tracked down that oil pressure switch I need which wouldn’t come in until the next day, so I was stuck in this idilic landscape for a few days! What a bummer! Tom was an incredible host, we became instant friends. For my last night there we even had a bit of a guacamole and Black Russian party to send me off the right way!
Pro tip: if you ever get stuck anywhere, make sure you’re stuck with good people! Or just bring booze and avocados!
Sometimes you don’t know how or why something will affect you until you experience it. This has happened to me several times on this trip already.
Last Thursday I crossed into Arizona from California and in the middle of the bridge I saw the mile 0 mark and every emotion I’ve ever had and then some hit me all at once. I pulled off at the first exit and took this picture.
I didn’t expect for that to hit me as hard as it did, but there’s something about crossing into a new state in a vehicle that you didn’t know was ever going to run that really hits you. As big rigs were whizzing by I tried really hard to get a grip but then I realized that this might be the first time Betsy was ever in Arizona.
I’ve had this dream for so long, and I’ve pictured it, and planned it, and visualized it for the majority of this year. But I’m doing it now, I really am doing it. And it’s going even better and more magical than I could have ever planned for. It’s almost hard to believe it’s real because of how phenomenal it has already been.
From the California/Arizona border I took a stunning sunset drive on the Oatman Highway, which was an incredibly exhilarating experience. As soon as I was out of those mountains, I wanted to turn around and do it all over again. However, I had plans to spend the night in Kingman with my friend Shawna’s family, who just happened to live there. They welcomed me like I was one of their own children. They fed me dinner, gave me a bed to sleep in, and a bathroom to get clean in. It was an incredible way to spend my first night in a new state. Shawna’s mother, Isabell, not only made me an incredible breakfast in the morning, but also loaded me up with a whole bunch of road snacks to keep me going, many of which I’m still eating almost a week later!
In Kingman, I stopped by a dollar store and stocked up on some essentials (toothpaste and trash bags) and an AutoZone (which was the biggest AutoZone I had ever seen) to get some Lucas Oil Stabilizer, which came highly recommended by Dan from Blackbird Ranch. After the essentials were checked off, I headed back down towards the mother road to check out the Route 66 Museum and also a short side trip to a older part of Route 66 from the 1920s and 30s.
I pushed through Hackberry (where I had a lovely lunch of tuna, crackers, a cheese stick and Route 66 Black Cherry Soda), Valentine, and Crozier. I was sailing pretty smoothly until my oil pressure light suddenly turned on.
And here I was at the side of the road with my first real break down of the trip! I was so excited! I was finally a real adventurer, vagabond, Instagram person! I had been looking forward to this moment and it was glorious. I was miles away from the interstate, I was in the middle of Route 66, and the sun was setting in the most beautiful pink and purple colors. It was beyond perfect.
It wasn’t long before a local hero, David, spotted me in his super clean looking mustard yellow Chevy C10. He offered to help, and at the time I thought Bets had just lost some oil because she’s old and leaky and the oil level was pretty low when I checked it. I added some of the Lucas Oil Stabilizer (Dan, really knew what he was talking about, unsurprisingly), tightened up the oil pan bolts, and drove her down a couple miles but the light stayed on. That is when I really started to get worried. I called my truck dad, Evan, he wisely told me to check the wires for the oil pressure switch, maybe it was just an electrical issue. And that’s when I saw that Betsy was spewing oil from the switch itself real bad. Like Monty-Python-tis-but-a-flesh-wound bad.
Again, local hero David came to my rescue to check up on me, even thought I was already a couple miles down the road. He told me that he knows a guy and he happens to be only a few miles away in Truxton.
We roll up just as it gets dark and this guy is closing up shop. He takes one look a me and Betsy and he knows exactly what to do. He hands we a wrench with a socket and tells me to take that oil pressure switch out. Betsy pukes a bit of oil to mark her spot. He hands me another switch that would plug the hole so oil doesn’t leak out but it’s not going to be helpful if I have an actual oil pressure problem. He tells me to just drive it and when I get to Flagstaff to find the right part. And that was that.
The entire time I never felt scared. Just when I would start to get minutely worried, a wonderful human would pop up and have a solution to whatever I was dealing with. If I were to try and plan a Betsy breakdown on the road, I couldn’t have planned a better one. Getting on the ground, with oil dripping, while the sun is setting is something everyone should experience at least once in their lives. The entire time I felt like I was exactly where I was supposed to be at every moment. That’s what I believe they call Route 66 magic.
Once Betsy was plugged up nice and good I drove through to Seligman where my friend Ian had magically arranged a great overnight parking situation for me behind the Delgadillos’ legendary Route 66 souvenir and barber shop. Angel Delgadillo is pretty much the reason people still know Route 66 even exists, so getting to stay behind it was an incredible and memorable treat. By the time I got to Seligman, I was wiped out. I made myself some ramen, scarfed it down, and passed out to the sounds of trains going by.
And that there was my first full day on the road completely on my own. There was no part of it that could be been better or more perfect and wonderful.
After what will now be known as the infamous Oil Pan Tragedy of 2017, I knew I needed some serious help. Much, much, much more serious.
My mom coincidentally found out that one of her co-workers, Evan, had a 1956 Ford truck. She was clearly very worried about me. She wouldn’t trust that I could fix all the problems on this truck myself safely, rightly so. She somehow got this poor soul to come over and check Betsy for any possible trouble spots while I was hiding in the desert crying about my transmission woes. I’m sure she bribed him with her gluten free cooking. From that moment on Evan knew he would be spending long weekends working on Betsy and he surly regretted ever saying yes to coming over that one fatefull day.
Luckily for me, Evan turned out to be the best truck dad ever. When we realized the engine Betsy came with was completely dead, he got on the ol’ Craiglist machine and started searching for any options that could be viable for Betsy. He scoured high and low, like some sort of internet bloodhound, and he found a straight 6 223 engine out of a 1959 Ford Galaxie that someone was selling in the San Fernando Valley for $300. Evan, being the hero that he is, pushed me to go for it. At the time I was considering dropping $1500 for an engine rebuild on the old engine. Somehow Evan knew that parting with $1500 wouldn’t happen so easily for me. He decided to offer me a deal, one I could not pass up. We went halfsies on the $300 ($150 from him, $150 from me) and if we dropped this engine into Betsy and it didn’t run, he would take the hit and have a new fun project on his hands. If it ran, I’d pony up the $150 and have a running engine in Betsy for a grand total of $300.
We met at my house early on a Saturday morning and set off in a rental Jeep Compass (Graciously provided by my step-dad), to the Valley. Once we got close to the promised land of I6 223 engines, I realized I had to stop by my bank to get the mullah. I missed the turn and we ended up behind a non descript office building. As if by magic, a bunch of old plywood that was carpeted on one side appeared behind the alley. It was meant to be. We quickly stuffed it in the back of that lame Compass and peeled out, pretending we had just robbed a bank.
We drove up to our destination and there was a lot of good signs. These dudes had that sweet little Galaxie sitting right out front of their huge garage. The pulled out the engine and it looked clean! It had a new oil pump, new Pertronix coil and distributor! Evan noticed that right away and knew we had scored a pretty great deal. Somehow we got it into that stubby Jeep Compass and headed back to Long Beach.
And they day was only just beginning!
Evan’s magical powers of summoning things just as when we need them were not done yet. We managed to get in touch with his buddy who had an engine lift which we needed to get the “new” engine out of the Compass, and the old engine out of Betsy. So we set off on another mini road trip to Huntington Beach in my mom’s RAV4 (or RAD4, more like) to procure that instrument of grace and precision.
We got back and we wrenched and wrenched. And then we wrenched some more. It got dark, and we continued to wrench. We finally got the engine out and called the day a win.
Well I’ve technically been on the road a week now.
Let’s see how it breaks down so far.
Miles travelled: 539
Top speed: 70 mph
Lowest speed: 6 mph
Highest elevation: 4,613 ft at Sheep Hole Pass
Times burst out crying uncontrollably out of happiness: 5
States traveled: 2
Sunsets seen that were too beautiful to capture: 5
Mornings I’ve woken up to watch the sunrise: 4
Times I’ve felt alone: 0
Setting out from Long Beach last Friday morning I made it to San Bernardino all by myself. (My mom and I previously traveled the Santa Monica to San Bernardino Route 66 stretch, if you happened to catch that in my Instagram stories back in July, I think.) Instant Instagram friend Ian, seasoned Route 66 traveller who happens to run the End of the Trail Route 66 Store on the Santa Monica Pier, caravanned with me from Devore all the way to Amboy. Truly couldn’t have done it without him, Betsy was struggling pretty bad up the Cajon Pass there. We had an incredible long lunch at Emma Jean’s Holland Burger in Victorville, saw the Bottle Tree Ranch, Barstow Train Station, and Amboy Crater by the glow of a full moon.
I had to say a proper goodbye to my desert family before I left California, which of course meant staying there longer than I originally planned. I helped plaster a Wonder Dome in Wonder Valley, with red clay we dug out from the ground ourselves. Lindsey, the brains and spirit behind the Wonder Domes, taught me to make fry bread which we ate for three days straight.
I stayed at Super X Ranch, my once a month desert pilgrimage and home base for the past year, for probably the last time in 2017. My dear friend and name twin, Alice, helped me sweat out the bad stuff by doing Bikram Yoga for three days in a row with me. She also figured out a way to help keep my camper locked up and safe when I’m sleeping or have it parked. I stocked up on non-perishable food items for the trip with Alice’s help as well. I have a solid menu of beans, ramen, tomato soup, instant mashed potatoes, almonds, tuna and crackers, and Miller High Life, the champagne of beers to last me for the whole trip, I bet!
Just a couple miles up the road at Blackbird Ranch, Dan, artist and gear head extraordinaire, helped turn Betsy into a bonafide mountain climber. To people that know what they are doing, everything is always a simple fix. Remember this the next time you get stuck on a project. Seek help from people that know WAY more than you. Never stop asking questions. Easier said than done however.
Yesterday I crossed into Arizona and it all really hit me how real it all was all the sudden. The countless hours of crying and banging my head on the wall out of frustration because I didn’t know if Betsy was ever even going to run again all paid off at that moment. I know I still have over 2,000 miles ahead of me but everything from now on is going to feel like a down hill ride.
Between rebuilding the transmission we decided to do some basic maintenance, like any responsible owner of a crust bucket. Put in new spark plugs, replace the fuel filter, check the fluids, do an oil change, and replace gaskets.
Or so I thought.
Cool, let’s start by taking down the oil pan to change that gasket and do an oil change as well! Exciting when you can hit two birds with one stone. So we take down the damn oil pan and this is what is what we find:
Turns out that big old clanking sound wasn’t the transmission at all. It was the connecting rod from the 2nd cylinder that fell apart and was just banging around in the bottom of that oil pan like that. So, that’s great.
What probably happened was the bearing on that rod was installed wrong, or there was a piece of dirt that got caught between it and it spun out and the engine ate it up. The bearing was non existent at the point we found it. The spun bearing probably cause those two bolts to vibrate off and that’s how that connecting rod fell apart.
So at this point I’m half way through my transmission rebuild and I realize that now I may need an engine rebuild as well.
Luckily I had made some friends in some low places…
After I opened up my transmission I decided to follow the shop manual step by step to continue to take the whole thing apart.
I needed to get the roll pin out to drive the countershaft out of the case so it would be easier to take off all the gears one by one. At least this is what the book told me to do. For a month or so I tried to drive out that damn roll pin, but it only got more jammed between the idler shaft and wouldn’t come out. This means I couldn’t get the countershaft out either. At this point, I was almost defeated by this little cast iron box of gears.
After taking a break and running away to the desert for a week I came back feeling refreshed and ready to outsmart this project. With my tiny hands and with a lot of finagling I was able to tilt the output shaft and gears in such a way that let me wiggle them off and out of the case.
Now with the out put shaft and input shaft out of the case I needed to find someone with a press so I could press off the old bearing and press on the new ones. A press would also be helpful to get that damn countershaft out as well so I could properly clean out all the metal pieces from the broken bearing from the bottom of the case. I had some major help from a few dudes who used the shop at their place of employment to get all of that done for me. This was incredibly helpful and a bit terrifying but all that mattered was that it was done!
Once I cleaned everything in some industrial strength degreaser it was time to rebuild. With the much needed help and encouragement from my friend Martin, we put it all back together in about 6 hours and took some pretty great boomerangs of it all. We replaced all the synchro rings, snap rings, and spacers that came in my rebuild kit. We didn’t need to replace any gears, except for the speedometer gear, since they all looked pretty good. I finished up the project the following weekend after managing to borrow a torque wrench to get everything properly tight and sealed up.
Now the only thing left to do is to put her back on to an engine that actually runs…
Betsy ran pretty good for the first three weeks of our brand new relationship. I learned to drive manual with her and we were really spending quality time bonding together every single day. I drove her to a few places around town, and I felt it was time to take her on a bit of a longer trip on the freeway.
As I was driving her around the block to get ready there was a terrible grinding, banging sound and as I got her back to my house there was loud pop as my heart stopped beating.
I was no expert, but something was definitely terribly, terribly wrong.
As I tried to figure out what went wrong, there were many theories. It was the engine, a pushrod maybe? Something wrong with one of the cylinders? The transmission? The pilot bearing in the clutch?
As I opened up different parts of the engine and looked at them like I knew what I was doing, I decided with the guidance of some pretty knowledgable opinions that it seemed like we needed to look at the transmission up close and personal. So we took that baby outta there.
We noticed that the front input bearing was cracked and the ball bearings inside had chewed up the cage that was holding them apart. Which meant that there were shards of this metal cage just chillin’ in my tranny which, for the newbies out there, is not so great.
This is how my first ever car project ended up being a transmission rebuild.
When I first started looking for a truck I didn’t know what I was going to find. I looked at everything from tiny 90s Toyotas to beaten up Broncos to big old F250s with V8 engines. In the end though I came to the realization that if I’m going to make such a large purchase which I plan on investing so much time into, it better be something I really really love.
I ended up buying the oldest truck I could find. A 1963 Ford F100 with a sweet little straight 6 223 engine.
I found her on Craigslist in Rancho Cucamonga, California (which is amusingly located on Route 66). Her previous owners had put in a lot of work on her before she came to me but she still needed more before she was going to head out for the trip of both our lifetimes.
Her quirks are many, for a start, her bed is actually from a different year all together. The Ford trucks from 1963 all received the bed from previous years because of some sort of fault with the design of their unibody trucks and surplus of truck beds from previous years, as I found out after some research. Sometimes the emergency flashers come on, however there’s no switch for her to even have emergency flashers. When her lights are on, the right turn signal just stays on and doesn’t flash like it should, but works fine when the lights are off. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Within the 4 months of owning her I’ve learned so much. I’ve learned a lot about her, but I’ve also learned a lot about myself as well. To own something this old, that comes from a different time, really puts your grit, character, and determination to the test. I cannot be afraid of the challenges she will surly put in front of me, but overcoming them will feel more incredible than anything I’ve ever experienced before. It’s a cliche, but it really is about working to fix something that’s broken to love for many many years, instead of throwing it out and getting a new to play with every year.
To quote the song which gave Betsy her name, “She may be rusted iron, but to me she’s solid gold.”