Well, it’s been a busy week! I finally got the new transmission in the Subaru the other day, after another trip back to Portland for more parts. For the first 100 miles or so, it was really stiff and noisy and not shifting smoothly, and I was starting to wonder when my bad car luck would end, if ever. Then, I guess the oil got to all the little places inside that it needed to and things quieted down somewhat and the shifting got much better. So, other than a host of other small problems like any car with over a quarter million miles on it might be expected to have, I have a decent car for daily driving again. Whew!

Here’s the new clutch all installed just before the transmission goes back in. The old clutch fork was just about worn through from lack of grease, and the axles were all loose and wobbly. I replaced those too, and now, with a quieter transmission, I can hear the noisy wheel bearings. Heh heh…

clutch cover

* * * * * * * * * * * *

The other big project this last week or so was getting shiitake logs inoculated. I went out into a little corner of woods by my barn and cleared out a bunch of small diameter alder, and cut it into 42″ lengths. Shannon and the girls stacked it up neatly and I ordered the sawdust spawn from Northwest Mycological Consultants in Corvallis, OR. It came about a week ago, and after I helped my neighbor Levi with his logs, I spent a day with Alice working on my logs and we got through one bag of spawn and about three dozen logs. Yesterday, Levi came over and we knocked out the rest of the spawn in a couple of hours. I still have some logs left over, so I will probably order another bag of spawn, maybe maitake, or one of the many oyster mushroom strains that are available.

It feels good to have gotten those things done, and just in time, since my work season is about to start in earnest. The first Elderhostel kayak tour of the season started Sunday night.

alder logs

I searched all over the place for another engine for my diesel VW, but I found nothing that I could use. I will eventually rebuild this one, but in the short term, I need something to drive besides the big truck. So back to car shopping for me. I decided that I wanted a wagon, and after the snowy cold winter we had here, and all the trips I made to Astoria over snow covered K-M Mountain, I decided to get an all wheel drive wagon. I considered Toyota All-Tracs, but they aren’t easy to find, and neither are parts for them. Subaru, on the other hand, has been making 4WD and AWD cars for a long time and Subaru wagons are pretty easy to come by. Plus, out of the seventy-odd cars I’ve owned in my life (truly! I counted them!), I’ve never yet owned a Subaru, so it was time.

My meager budget, though, narrowed the field considerably. I found a few beater Subarus on Seattle Craigslist for $1000 or under, but only one person would return my emails, so I caught a ride up north with my brother and bought this beauty for $860.

my new car

It has 255 thousand miles on it, which is a lot, but not necessarily fatal for a Toyota or a Subaru. This one had commuted from Roslyn to Seattle 4 days a week for years, so the mileage was mostly highway. The interior and body are pretty straight, the engine runs great, but the transmission has a strange noise in second gear. Which is how I managed to buy it for only $860.

This car drives great and it fits me perfectly; everything is in just the right place, unlike some other cars I’ve owned. But that second gear problem needed some attention, so I changed out the fluid to see what was up in there. On the drainplug magnet was a bunch of metal filings along with a few larger pieces. So this thing has a bad bearing and bad bearings don’t usually fix themselves. Fortunately, this transmission was way easier to find than a replacement for the Jetta was. The U-Pull-It yard on SE Foster in Portland had a half dozen manual transmission Legacies, and they only want $90 exchange for a transmission. So on Thursday, I made a pilgrimage to the wrecking yard.

u-pull it yard

I should say a few things here about my relationship with wrecking yards. When I was in high school, I used to drive out to the wrecking yards on weekends on the pretext of needing a part for my ’61 Ford pickup, and then spend the day just wandering around looking at cool old cars. I learned a lot about engines and transmissions this way. Later on, I started working in wrecking yards when I was 20 years old, and by the time I was 25 it had become my main career. I worked both as a “dismantler” and a parts counter guy. I also liked to take pictures in wrecking yards, and I once came across a very old yard in the Portland area that was just stuffed full of old European cars. I took a lot of cool pictures in that one.

But today, I had to stay more focused on the task at hand, so I didn’t get a lot of cool pictures. I found a Legacy wagon like mine with a transmission that appeared to have been rebuilt at some point, and the fluid inside was sparkling clean, so I set to it and a couple of hours later had this transmission on the ground.

new transmission

I also rounded up a bunch of spare power window switches and whatnot, a couple of new door handles and latches to replace sticky ones, a pair of door panels to replace the tattered ones in the back seat, a new speedometer head and a few parts for my brother’s Camry wagon. While removing a rear hatch handle, I found the remains of this automatic transmission in the back seat. A side note to Subaru owners: all the manual transmission Legacies in the yard were wrecked, but the automatic Subarus were not. Hmmm….

transmission parts

Last week I went to northern California to visit some friends and to install a small solar electric system for a friend of a friend. I used to live down there, in Humboldt County, about an hour south of Eureka on the coast. It was the first real road trip in the recently repaired diesel Jetta that is featured elsewhere on this blog.

I like going down there at this time of year. Everything is so green and flowers are starting to pop up everywhere. And the coastline is beautiful.

ocean and rocks

On the way into California, along highway 199, the road drops into the Smith River drainage and follows it down towards Crescent City on the coast. I have a favorite stop that I make almost every time, a little turnout where you can walk down and sit by the river.

smith river canyon, california

I took this picture underwater with the little waterproof Pentax. The color of the water is just about perfect for steelhead fishing.

under the surface

South of Crescent City, there are numerous places where you can see elk herds. I actually pulled off this time and took a couple of pictures of the elk and their warning sign. Do not approach on foot! Yeah, no kidding…

do not approach on foot!

While waiting to meet the person who needed the solar panels installed, I took a little drive through one of the many redwood groves, and got out and hiked around a bit. This forest type is very different than what I am used to in Washington. The dominant softwood of course is Coast Redwood, and the main hardwood is Tanbark Oak, not a true oak in the Quercus genus, but it produces acorns like an oak tree. Its latin name is Lithocarpus Densiflorus. It is the only Lithocarpus outside of Asia. I used to work at a small sawmill that was focused on making lumber and especially flooring from tanoak, which is considered by the mainstream softwood industry to be a “trash tree”. We made a lot of really beautiful boards from this “trash tree”. Other hardwoods include oregon white oak, black oak, canyon live oak, bay laurel, and madrone. One of the few things I miss about living in California is the smell of woodstove smoke from all these spicy hardwoods. Lovely!

tanoak and redwood forest

Saturday night, I was all done and headed back to Portland. The car had been running flawlessly the whole trip, and I had done my 1000 mile head gasket retorque the day before. I was zipping along south of Albany, OR when it suddenly started running ragged and quit. I got over to the shoulder and tried to get it going again, but to no avail. It took a $400 tow truck ride to get to Portland, where the car is sitting right now at a friend’s house. I will head over there tomorrow to pick it up. Once again, I curse my failure to have purchased AAA towing insurance!

Initially I was hoping it was just a plugged fuel filter, but it seems to be more serious than that; I wasn’t able to get it going again even after a new filter. I’ll tear into it again when I get it home.

Ah, the joy of owning and working on old cars!

tow truck

Yesterday was a long day!

I started out the day in Astoria, at Shannon’s house, having been there the night before to see Opal’s first band concert at school. She is learning the snare drum right now.

My plans involved going to see my friend Don Beale, in Manning, OR. Our task was to make a few Greenlandic harpoons, for practicing and competing at the annual SSTIKS event. Then I was going to go on to Portland that evening for the OOPS kayaking club meeting where I was asked to come and promote the kayaking business at their annual enticement event.

What I didn’t realize though, is how snowy the coast range actually was.

rear view mirror

My 20 year old VW Jetta was not really the ideal vehicle for this kind of driving, with its old, balding tires and lack of all wheel drive. But I just kept poking along, rarely getting out of second gear, and I made it all the way through the snow without incident. It must have been twenty miles or so of snow covered roads! What a well placed sign this one was. Slippery indeed!

slippery road - no kidding!

But when I turned off the highway, I suddenly was in deeper, softer snow, on a steep winding road. The car started slipping and then, there I was, stuck in the middle of the road. A couple of more tries, and suddenly my transmission was finished. No warning, no reason to believe that there had been anything wrong. It just stopped transmitting power to the wheels, and started instead making an unpleasant grinding noise. I think the ring and pinion actually broke. My $700 car, after 271,000 miles, came to a halt. Bummer!

What wasn’t a bummer though, is that I was actually only about 100 feet from Don’s house, and the driveway I was stuck in front of was his in-laws’ house. He came down and helped me roll the car into their driveway, where it is sitting right now. We went ahead and spent a couple of hours carving harpoon shafts and visiting and then headed into the city to the kayak club meeting. Did I mention that he was also going to the same meeting? What luck!

Don took me out to lunch at Sushi Town, my first experience with one of those conveyor belt style sushi joints. There is a little conveyor belt with different sushi and desserts and so forth that goes all around the restaurant, and when something you like comes by, you pick it off the track. The plates are color coded for pricing, and when you are done, the lady comes by and counts up your colored plates and gives you the bill. It was fun to watch the sushi going around and around. I wish I had thought to take some pictures!

Anyway, we made it to the meeting on time, and afterwards, Don was kind enough to drive me up to Longview, and Shannon was kind enough to come over from Astoria and drive me back home. Tomorrow I head back to Don’s house with the truck and flatbed trailer to haul the poor car home. Whew!

What a day!