1968 Chevy Truck, Electricity, Spaghetti, and Soccer

Today I spent a lot of hours on the old pickup truck. Here’s what it looked like before I started.

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It actually looked the same once I was done, but it’s now turned around, pointing to the right. I don’t remember when I took this picture, but the truck just never changes.

Today, my efforts were focused on just getting the starter to function correctly. Before I got into it too far, I decided to just remove the starter and take it back to NAPA for a test. You see, it functions OK for about 2 seconds, then the Bendix just quits and the starter keeps spinning. If the Bendix gives up, everyone in the entire world knows that means the little gear on the end of it isn’t going to turn the big gear on the engine. All those people also know that if the engine doesn’t rotate, it’s not going to start. As I said, however, the little gear engages the big gear for about 2 seconds before it quits, allowing the starter to spin wildly out of control, consuming massive amounts of energy, until you release the key. So, the Bendix was suspect.

The guy at NAPA, Dave, I think his name was, happily took the starter to the tester, strapped it down with a bungee cord and applied power to it. The Bendix kicked out like it’s supposed to and it remained out the entire time power was supplied, so it was deemed to be working just fine. No amount of whining on my part could convince Dave that his test was a no-load effort. So, I took the starter back to the truck and took a critical look at the wires and noticed that they probably weren’t in the best shape ever. They do, however, conduct electricity and they aren’t shorted to ground. “Shorted,” for those who may not be familiar with this term, means the wires are short enough that the electricity can’t reach the ground. That’s true.

It was a perplexing situation, for sure. I turn the key, the engine would turn for a couple of seconds, then the Bendix would disengage. Not knowing what else to do, I decided to just eliminate as many connections as I could between the starter, the battery. That meant bypassing the ignition, the little switch that makes sure it’s in Park, and the one behind the fuse box that goes through the firewall. It’s a purple wire, and purple wires don’t go through a fuse so it isn’t really connected to the fuse box so it can go directly out through the wall into the engine compartment.

Whether or not you want to know, here’s how I did all of that.

First, I went into the newest of the old RVs we have, and retrieved a push button switch that I previously had installed in it because the ignition switch quit functioning for the part that sent power to the starter. But, the button kept fall off, and getting in the way, so I removed it and now all I have to do to start it is turn the key on and hold two wires together until it fires up. Probably not the best solution, but it works quite well.

Taking the switch to the pickup, I first found a likely hole on the left side of the dash into which the switch would fit. I found the perfect place, but before securing it, I had to make sure it worked like I wanted.

It just occurred to me that I should give everyone a little refresher course on basic electricity, even though everyone in the entire world already knows this stuff, and I probably should have done it sooner. Better late than never, and doing it will help me get it straight in my head.

First Rule – there are two types of electrical current – AC and DC. Both of them require copious amounts of electrons which are the little critters that make you jiggle all over when you happen to touch a bare wire that’s connected to a power source. They literally ‘fly’ through your body and the jiggling you experience is caused by all the cells in your body dodging left and right, trying to get out of their way. Got it? It’s not a good thing to do, touching a bare wire. Exciting, yes, but still not a good thing to do.

AC is Alternating Current – that means the electricity is created by exciting a bunch of electrons with a generator that causes the current to go up and down, up and down, like a yo-yo, until all the electrons in the wires develop a bi-polar disorder and they don’t know which way they’re going. To them, it’s back and forth, back and forth in the wires, going through stoves, air conditioners, washers, dryers, refrigerators, light bulbs, and, once in a while, a warm body.  Behind pretty much every wall in your house there are wires jam-packed with excited electrons that are just waiting for the chance to go somewhere else. The preferred destination of every one of them is ALWAYS the shortest path to ground. Yes, to ground. Like the dirt you dig in when planting flowers that will die unless you water them. Or a garden you plant that the deer just love. That ground. That’s because the ultimate desire of every electron in this ‘circuit’ is to return to its source, as in the other side of the motor that excited them so much. To do this they must use the earth because the power companies chose this manner in order to save money on wire. By stuffing a huge wire into the ground and connecting it to one side of their generator, and just providing one wire from the generator to a house, the house must also be connected to ground, to complete the circuit, allowing the electrons a way to get home, they save an absolute ton of money. Sounds kind of lame, I know, but it works.

DC is Direct Current – that means the electricity flows only in one direction so all the electrons have a sense of purpose, all moving together from the positive side of their source, back to the negative side. You are familiar with this type of power in the form of batteries. The kind the run your cell phone, portable radios, iPods, flash lights, and your vehicles. The complexity of today’s vehicles is mind-boggling compared to what I was dealing with today, but the concept is still the same. The battery sends power, if it’s charged, to the parts that are connected to ground. In the case of a vehicle, however, ‘ground’ is any metal surface on it, especially the engine. In the case of my truck, the negative side of the battery is bolted directly to the engine block. The positive side is bolted directly to the starter. Now reading this, you may think that the starter should be spinning all the time, but it doesn’t. That’s because those who build vehicles use trickery on the electrons to make them stand around for long periods of time before ‘closing’ a circuit, by means of a switch or, perhaps, a key. A key! You turn it clockwise, and things happen. Lights dance around on your dash-board and the  ‘system’, your vehicle’s computer, goes through the same kind of start-up routine your home computer does, but different. If you watch the lights and gauges, they all do the same routine when you turn the key “ON”. Then the system waits. The electrons have been given a glimpse of the excitement to come, and are all crowing up to various switches, waiting to explode down their assigned wires when a circuit is ‘closed’ with the flip of a switch. When you turn the key a little bit further, you engage the starter. Although the starter is connected directly to the positive side of the battery (at least in my truck it’s a direct connect because in 1968 things were simple) the starter doesn’t spin, and the Bendix doesn’t engage, because it’s waiting for you to turn that key a little bit further, allowing electrons to rush to the Bendix which closes contacts that allow all the electrons in the BIG wire on the starter to engage the Bendix and spin the starter motor. When you hear the motor start, you release the key and it magically goes back to the “ON” position.

Now, where was I? Oh, yes! I was eliminating the various connectors between the battery and the small wire to the starter, the one that closes the contacts that allow power to be consumed by the starter motor. What I did was connect one wire from the fuse box, that only has voltage when the key is ON, to one side of my push button switch. I know, I probably told you it went behind the fuse box earlier, and it does, and it’s purple, but the power is connected to it via the ignition switch, not the fuse box. Since I removed the ignition switch from the equation, I needed a new power source, but one that was only available when the key is turned ON. I used a big red wire which is probably illegal in someway, but I did it anyway. I didn’t have a purple one.

From the other side of the push button switch I ran one wire, with no connectors, through the firewall, directly to the little wire connector on the starter. Now all that was between the starter and success was one little switch.

Before doing that, however, I hooked it all up to the starter, which I jammed under the right front tire, to make sure the push button did the trick. Everything sounded like it worked OK, but I couldn’t really see it because once wires were connected to the push button, I bolted it into the nifty hole I found on the left side of the dash. I layed down on the seat and pushed the button with my left foot, but I still couldn’t see the starter, I could only hear it. It sounded just like it did when Dave checked it at NAPA, so I figured everything was good to go. Here’s how I did it …

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Reinstalling the starter is a whole other story so I’ll just skip that part and get right to the meat of this story and tell you that absolutely nothing changed. All that work, and the Bendix still released after only a couple of seconds.

I was all pumped up for a successful ending, and nothing had changed. I even stopped in the middle of all that to eat a spaghetti lunch, that Diane fixed for me, with half a loaf of baguette bread, my favorite. I was READY.

I knew, however, that repeated attempts to start the engine in this manner would ultimately work. The engine does start, but it takes a while.

Tomorrow I think I’ll drive the truck down to NAPA and invite Dave out to start it for me and see what he thinks.

To end the day Diane and I went to the High School to watch the JV soccer team, the one Lydia is on, play against Aloha High School. Aloha won 2-0. Both teams had lots of kicks at the net, but only Aloha’s went in. It’s still a very confusing game, to me, with the referees blowing their whistles in a seemly random manner and making odd gestures with their arms and hands to identify the infraction as if everyone in the crowd knows exactly what’s on his mind. I guess I’m going to have to study this a little more closely. Maybe get some pictures from the internet that shows me what those gestures actually mean.

Now it’s 2222, swear to God, and time for me to go to bed. I’ve got a big day ahead of me tomorrow because I have to make sure the newest old RV starts, then take it down to get gas so we can go to the beach on Thursday.

If it doesn’t start I may have to run some more wires, or get a lawyer.

Oh. This is all the ‘stuff’ I had left over when I was done with NOT accomplishing a single useful thing today …

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