When I started this blog, I had no idea how mechanical it would turn out to be! But when you own several old and tired pieces of machinery, as I always have, then mechanicking is something you have to do a lot of sometimes. However, this winter has been way crazier than usual in that regard.

After the tour with the Eco-Gals was over, I went back over to Astoria the next day and towed the broken-down Subaru home. I spent days looking for an engine, and found a few equally tired ones in junkyards, but many of them had almost as many miles on them as my dead one did. Then I stumbled across a clean, allegedly rebuilt 1994 Subaru EJ22 on Craigslist, for $800. It was complete and sparking clean. All I would need to do is swap my new clutch and flywheel onto it and drop it in. So I drove down to Portland and bought it, before someone else did.

After I picked up the engine, I ran around town and did some other errands and ended up stopping for pizza at Bella Faccia on Alberta Street. While munching on my pizza, I was absentmindedly looking at the living section of the newspaper and scanned my horoscope. “Not a good day for making major purchases, what you might buy today won’t turn out to be as good as you thought,” or something to that effect. Not exactly what I needed to hear right then, so I just folded up the paper, pushed it away and pretended I never saw it. Jeez!

The new engine is super clean and has obviously been rebuilt, with everything on it, alternator, wiring harness, and all the fuel injection parts. I started working on it on Friday after spending hours moving other mechanical projects out of the way so I could use the engine hoist. I finally got started on the engine swap at about 3 PM.

engine out

I was feeling pretty competent and I had thought of taking pictures as I went along at various stages and timing myself. It took an hour and 15 minutes to have the engine dangling in the air, and I was on the path towards a running car that evening. That is, until I noticed that the plugs that plug the engine into the car were totally different on the new engine. Damn that horoscope! That shiny new wiring harness was no good at all to me, so I spent the next two hours changing it out with the old one. Right about dark, I had the new engine in and bolted up, but not yet running.

one of these things is not like the other...

The next day I was able to get everything hooked up right and running, but had to change back to my old alternator after a quick trip to the gas station left me with a dying battery. That cursed horoscope again! Fortunately, that was about a ten minute job at the most.

I have to say, even with all the troubles I’ve had with this particular very high mileage Subaru, I am impressed with the design and layout of this series of Legacy. The ergonomics are great; everything is exactly where I want it to be. The engine is a very compact and simple design and pretty easy to remove and reinstall. There is no distributor either, the ignition is computer fired from a four way coil on top of the engine. When I was first learning how to work on cars, I was amazed at the Rube Goldberg-ness of the distributor on gasoline engines. It is a remarkable and convoluted device, and as much as I admired the ingenuity that went into inventing it, it is a complicated mechanical part that wears out over time and creates trouble. Even when it doesn’t wear out, it still needs regular adjustments and parts replacements. So I am liking this engine and its lack of a mechanical distributor. Maybe I’m just getting old…

The EJ22 engine, up to 1995 anyway, is a non-interference engine. This means that if you were to break your timing belt, the car would stop running, of course, but the pistons and valves would not collide with each other, and you would only need to change the timing belt for a new one to be on your way again, unlike many modern engines, whose tolerances are so tight that there is no room for things to miss each other in the event of a broken timing belt. Also, without considering the air conditioning belt, the EJ22 engine has only one accessory drive belt, running the alternator and power steering pump. The water pump is actually driven off of the timing belt, so as long as the timing belt is intact, your water pump is turning. Also a good design feature.

subaru running again!

A short postscript: Today, in the middle of the day and with no obvious cause, or warning, that dang transmission that I just put in a couple of weeks ago starting making a new and troublesome noise. Will it ever end? I guess that’s what I get for $90. Fortunately, this still has a warranty on it. If I can’t figure it out right away, I will exchange it next week for another. Crikey!

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

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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