Big Block Chevy’s

A few days ago I embarked on a mission to get the old truck started. I’ve not tried since last summer, so it’s been sitting for a long time. I needed to get it started because I’ve been tossing stuff in the back all year long, planning to make a dump run, eventually. Since it was pretty full, I decided it was time to fire it up. It’s been a faithful beast for a long time, sitting for months at a time, but always starting. Since it’s a big block Chevy, it starts hard all the time. To get it started, I pump the gas about twenty times before engaging the starter and keep pumping until it finally ignites. Takes a while, sometimes, but it always starts.

Every time I go through that process I vow to start it more often so it will like me better, and start easier. Last year I put new plugs, wires, and points in it and even timed it, before letting it sit all that time. This year it fired briefly with the addition of starting fluid in the carburetor, but it wouldn’t fire at all after that. Almost ran the battery down. I hate when that happens. After checking at length, I determined it wasn’t getting a spark from the ignition. The coil checked fine, but all that hard work I did with the distributor last year seemed to be a failure.

So, I dug around in my shop and re-discovered an HEI distributor which I decided had earned the right to be installed in the old truck. I’ve never installed one of those before, and never really looked inside one of them, so popped the cap and found all kinds of rusty parts inside. Since HEI distributors don’t have points, and the shaft turned freely, I figured that was OK. I put the cap back on, took it outside and introduced it to the truck.

Removing the old points distributor was easy. I even marked it so I could get it back in the right position should the HEI not work. I left the old cap in place, with all plug wires attached, so I could transfer them correctly to the HEI cap.

First, I removed the coil and tossed it summarily on the ground. HEI’s have those built-in. Then I marked the old distributor shaft, noted the position of the rotor, and yanked the assembly out of the engine. I was committed. Maybe it’s more accurate that I should have been committed. Long ago.

I found a comfortable place under the hood and slowly eased the HEI distributor into the engine, lining up the rotor cap to the place I thought I remembered aligned with the points distributor. It’s a tricky process because the gear is helical which causes it to rotate the shaft as it engages the gear in the engine. So, I dallied with it for a while, putting it in, taking it out, until I thought it was in the right place. Then I bolted it down so it would move.

Then I pulled one of the plug wires from the old cap and attempted to attach it to the HEI cap. It was at that moment I learned that HEI caps will not accept the old points-type plug wires.

So, I took a break and watched Lydia play softball all weekend. Leaving the truck to sit just a little longer.

Today I decided it just had to start so I bit the bullet and got another set of plug wires, appropriate for the HEI cap. It was a simple process of installing the new wires because I had the old cap and wires for my guide. But I didn’t need them because the firing order of the cylinders is displayed prominently on the intake manifold, right in front of the carburetor. How handy is that? So, all I had to know was where the #1 plug was connected on the cap. Interestingly enough, whoever used the HEI distributor last had used a magic marker to indicate the entire firing order around the cap. Another “how handy is that?” moment. Nifty.

After I had all the wires snapped neatly into place, it was time to reconnect the battery and see what happened. I got behind the wheel, inserted the ignition key, pumped the gas about twenty time, said a little prayer, and engaged the starter.

To my immense surprise, it fired and turned over about three times before quitting. The fact that it fired at all was amazing to me so I considered that a victory. However, no amount of starting fluid would get it going long enough for the old mechanical, dried out, gas pump, to get gas out of the tank. I knew there was some in there, because I stuck a wire in the tank to see how full it was. Not much, but enough to get it running, I figured.

There’s a clear fuel filter that allows one to see if there’s gas being pumped and I discovered that, indeed, gas was coming through the line, but not enough to reach the carburetor. I would hurry from the cab to the engine compartment to check, and watch the gas siphon back down to the pump. So, I figured the diaphragm on the pump was compromised and an electric pump was needed.

Happily, I had one of those in the old ’73 Winnebago that I jury rigged to get it home. I was a simple matter of disconnecting the mechanical pump from the tank, and connecting the electric pump to the tank and the carburetor. I checked to make sure it worked by hooking the leads to the battery, and it ran fine, but it wouldn’t fill the fuel filter no matter how long I let it run. It was just sucking air.

So, I climbed back under the truck, disconnected the electric pump, and blew air through the line to make sure it was clear. It was, so I sucked on it, and got the satisfying resistance of liquid moving into the line. When nothing ran out of it, I sucked it again and immediately got a mouthful of gas. I spit out the hose and tried to get it aimed up to stop the flow, but not before it got all over my neck and face.

Gas doesn’t taste good, and it hurts when applied to bare skin. I wasn’t about to let that interfere with my progress. Instead of washing out my mouth, and wiping the gas off my face and neck, I went back to the engine compartment and reconnected the electric fuel pump. When I connected the leads to power, it quickly primed and filled the fuel filter, and it just kept running. It’s supposed to stop when it reaches a certain pressure, but that apparently never happened. So, while it was working, I got in the cab and went through the process of getting the engine going. Again I was surprised when it fired, and ran. Amazing. It ran nice and smooth, too. So, the only problem was the constantly running fuel pump. Thankfully, it came with a fuse so all I had to do was remove the fuse when I turned it off.

I went to the house and cleaned up a little in preparation for my trip to the dump, and to tell Diane I was leaving. I’m not allowed to leave without telling her where I’m going. It’s the right thing to do.

I discovered about a gallon of gas in one of my lawn mower cans and dumped that in the tank since I really wasn’t sure how much there was. Then, using back roads, just in case something happened, I made my way to dump. I got rid of all the carpet we ripped out of the house last Friday (I think), and everything I’ve been collecting for the last year, for $24. A bargain. I was a happy camper.

Once home, I got my lawnmower and loaded it in the back of the truck, using the ramps I’ve had since I got the mower, and took it down to Dan and Jennie’s because their lawn mower has issues, and I wasn’t in the proper frame of mind to figure it out. Besides, it gave me a chance to really use the truck. You know?

I mowed the yard so quickly, that I decided to do it again at a lower setting. It looks good. Then I loaded up the mower, put the fuse back in for the fuel pump, and fired it up.

And it promptly quit. I was shattered. I cranked and cranked and cranked, but it would fire at all. Taking another look at the fuel filter I discovered it wasn’t filling, telling me there was either something blocking the flow, or the tank was too empty. Then I called Diane, locked the truck, and waited for her to come get me because I wasn’t going to try to resurrect it any more today.

While waiting, I visited with Jeran who was eating his dinner, laying on the living room floor. It looked really good and he said it was sloppy Joe, but he only eats the sloppy part as he doesn’t like buns, the “Joe” part. Good to know.

Diane called back and asked me where the Subaru keys were so I gave her three or four options of where to look, but none of those panned out. This was a problem because I left my car in the driveway behind Diane’s Buick. Not a wise choice on my part, especially when I couldn’t remember what I did with the key.

I told Diane to not worry about it and that I would walk home. It’s only about a mile, but the last half is all up hill. I mosied along, taking it easy, thinking about which way to go, when the Subaru showed up to take me home. She found the key in the last place I thought of, the pants I was wearing when I went to get the new plug wires for the truck, and to work on Dan & Jen’s mower. I just didn’t remember where I left them.

She was a bit testy, but that was OK. I knew she’d get over it.

Tomorrow I will get a large can of gas and see about getting the truck started so I can get the mower home to do our yard before it rains again.

Wish me luck.

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