Monday, May 21, 2007

Oh Lord, won't you buy me...

a grease-eating 1972 Mercedes-Benz 220D!
How'd this happen? Am I crazy? Isn't one old weird diesel enough?!
Apparently not.
Most of you know that Libby and I have been slowly moving toward owning a car that can run on waste vegetable oil (abbreviated WVO). That's why we bought our '82 Audi almost a year ago. I've done a bunch of things with the Audi since then but have not yet converted it to run on grease. Right now I'm trying to save it from destroying itself via what's likely is a broken valve spring. (I think I've pretty well narrowed that down now... we'll see when I have a broken spring in hand.) So after going without a vehicle for the last month I decided to look on Craig's List for a second vehicle. Not that we'd be a "two car family," but that we'd not be without something to drive during my frequent tinkerings.
I searched for used diesel sedans under $3000 thinking that I'd find another old VW or something. Instead I come up with this Mercedes on the top of the list. It was the only diesel Mercedes I'd ever seen in our meager price range, and it already had the Greasecar WVO conversion kit installed on it (a $1000 value, labor aside).

Still, I was skeptical. In fact, I didn't even think much of it at first. Sure, I know that Mercedes is what most greasers shoot for. Sure, I've known someone who drove a '70's Mercedes diesel with over 500,000 on the clock. But aren't parts going to be impossible to find and more impossible to pay for? And anyway, who buys a car from the '70's that they actually intend to drive?

Libby was excited, though. So I decided to go take a look. It drove pretty well, had more power than the Audi, and had no noticeable difference running on grease compared to diesel. The only thing that felt a little odd were the brakes, which worked fine if you just applied a little more pressure that one's used to doing today. In truth, the brakes felt like they do on my '73 Beetle.

Next came the agony. I agonise sometimes about buying a pen. You can imagine how much worse this was. I did some research to soothe myself. I looked at to see just how expensive and rare these parts are. To my great surprise, they weren't bad at all! Just look at that long list of parts available.

As I happened to be thinking about the Mercedes vs. VW issue one morning, it occurred to me how much more well suited for grease the Mercedes is. It's all in the diesel injection pump. The VW Bosch pump (which I disassembled last fall and should have gotten a picture of all the tiny little intricate parts!) has nothing more that the fuel itself to lubricate it's precision machinery. This old Mercedes pump (which I remember seeing on an historical time line in a Bosch textbook) has its own dedicated oil supply and is in general much simpler and less dependent on the exact fluid qualities of what's going through it.

After these two considerations were taken care of, I bought it. I still feel a little crazy, but here's some pictures:
Above is the 15 gal. grease tank in the trunk. It's high-tech, but you can't tell because it's covered in insulation - a nice touch from the previous owner. The key to the grease system is keeping the vegetable oil hot.
These are the grease controls. On the left is a gage that gives you line pressure before the injector pump. That way you know everything's flowing OK. The other gage is fuel level in the grease tank. In the middle is the three way switch for Veggie, Diesel, or Purge. You start on diesel until the engine reaches operating temperature, switch to veggie for the duration of your ride, and purge the system with diesel before shutting off the engine.

My current main concern after buying the car is the fact that it consumes a certain amount of oil. I haven't driven it enough to know just how much. The previous owner said he added about every 6 weeks. One reason why this didn't deter me more is that my Audi owners manual states that some oil consumption is expected from the diesel. The Mercedes manual apparently says the same thing. Here's a discussion about it I found today.

Aside from the mechanical stuff, I like driving it. The interior is mint, and since you can't see any of the rust spots from the inside, it feels like luxury. Plus, it smells a little like my dad's 1956 Buick Special. Maybe that has to do with what the dash and seats are made of, I don't know, but it's a good association.
All I need now is a source for grease and a filtration system.

Little linen backpack

I don't know if this has happened since the kids were born-- I started and finished a project in the same sitting! Ok, only if you count breaks for nursing and moving the whole thing outside, and doing finishing details sitting on the ground while preventing my littlest from catapaulting himself off the neighbors' deck; but still-- this is a completed object in one single afternoon!

This is a simple little backpack. It is made from linen napkins I picked up at a garage sale while Paul was purchasing our new car. It is lined and has a pocket and and interior divider, and none of the seams are raw! This is the first lined bag I have made. I didn't have a pattern but saw a good tutorial a while ago on making lined bags and have been turning the concept over in my head to try and understand how it works, and look! It works!
It's semi-tragic flaw is that the casing for the drawstring ended up too tight for the straps. I think it will loosen up with use, however.

Monday, May 14, 2007

It's a Wendellberry Day!

Although I haven't found any time to paint or draw since the lovelings were born, my creative hungers have not slaked a bit. In fact, when pregnant with Ezra, I experienced one of the richest creative times in my life. I was consumed by a great thirst for beauty. It has continued since. Yes, I do miss serious drawing, painting, illustrating, printmaking, and ceramics, but my life has truly been no less rich for their scarcity in recent years. I have filled the barren spaces with cooking, fiber arts (aka, sewing) gardening, and other sources of creative life and beauty which also contribute to the running of our daily lives.
From a feminist standpoint, we must honor the work women have given themselves to over the ages. My own experience with little ones thus far, (in role that is quite traditional and old-fashioned for a woman and mother; I do do a lot of cooking and cleaning!) has shown me that this work is not mindless, it is not drudgery, and it is not easy! I am not saying anything about what any other woman or man's role should be. For myself I want to thank my mother and grandmothers, my mother-in-law, and all the beautiful women before me; thank you for your great hard and good work.
Part of a healthy domestic life, especially for the woman working from or in her home, is a thriving life of the mind. My literary life is thriving as I've entered motherhood. I read for ideas and resources in my work. I read for beauty. I read for sanity. I read for my daily bread.
How do I find the time? I read whenever I nurse. I have stashes of library books by each couch, in the bathroom, by the bed, in my garden basket--you get the idea.
In that light, I want to share a favorite author with you all. In honor of all our mothers, and in honor of my aunt who came to visit this morning and brought her wonderful friend who just happens to be a master gardener and looked over my garden, advising me; may I share this favorite poem.

By Wendell Berry

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won't compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees every
thousand years.
Listen to carrion--put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself; Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark a false trail, the way
you didn't go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is one of the writers who has been getting me through. He also writes essays, and fiction. The above poem is the first of his work I encountered, and I keep coming back to it. His writing is one of the reasons I am planting a garden, using the solar oven, making our own clothes. He didn't say to do those things, but I have encountered many things in his words that have sent me looking for more in other places. I have found biblical themes played out in concrete ways I had not been able to put together in some of his stories and essays. Other times, my own ideas I have seen reflected back from new angles.

Paul and I are currently reading: Fidelity, a collection of short stories.
and I recently enjoyed: Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community: Eight Essays. He talks about the great beauty of culture when we know our food and land. He is stridently American. Not conservative, nor liberal in the common senses, but for the Land, for health, for thought and beauty and hard work.
I do not agree with everything he writes, even with everything in the above poem. (or at least with every way each thing could be taken) I do very much admire and respect this author, farmer, and philosopher. He has sowed good seeds in my life.

For more on domesticity and feminism, try: To Hell with All That; Loving and Loathing our Inner Housewife by Caitlin Flanagan. The Saint Paul Public Library has it!

Friday, May 11, 2007

Wynken, Blynken, and Nod; quilt, and sleeping tips

Firstly, I have made some promises to people: I have not forgotten them! As soon as I can, I will post about babywearing, how-to with links. Then I'd like to do a series on baking bread. Coming soon. Really.

Wynken, Blynken, and Nod one night sailed off in a wooden shoe.
Sailed on a river of crystal light,
into a sea of dew.

"Where are you going and what do you wish?"
The old moon asked the three.
"We've come to fish for the herring fish that live in this beautiful sea.

Nets of silver and gold have we," said Wynken, Blynken, and Nod.

So begins a poem by Eugene Field, which my parents sang to me as a lullabye. Being sung to is a great way to fall asleep; I highly recommend it. Wanting to grant sweet bedtimes to this new little one, I hoped to find a picture book on which to base a quilt for him. After a long search, I found found a lovely copy of the tale, illustrated by David MacPhail. I didn't start work the quilt until we'd successfully ordered the book, but thereafter we found it was not in stock, and not available. If you see a copy of this book anywhere, please snatch it up for me! Cartwheel Books published it in 2004. I used MacPhail's illustrations as the basis for this quilt for our new little friend Adam, who was born just a few months ago and seems to be enjoying himself.
It's mostly cotton, with satin binding, and a few silk details. I love satin blanket edges. I remember them from the wool blankets my Gramma Loretta kept on the bed I slept in when sleeping over at her house. You rub that soft smooth edge between your fingers as you drift asleep. It helps, along with the singing.

You can see some of the stars, and a feather stitch that goes all around the border.I pieced the top with an actual sewing machine! (this is a big step for me; I've been exclusively hand-sewing for a while.) I worked the quilting and other embroidery by hand. Piecing is sewing together the different blocks that make up the background of the quilt. Quilting is stitching all the layers together. This night sky is quilted with stars.

These little guys are the fishermen who catch the stars. Their boat is a pocket and you can take them out of it, to hold or snuggle with. They each have different textures lining their ears; terrycloth, velour, corduroy. They are lightly stuffed to fit extra nicely in little hands. The sail is a separate tiny quilt. you can undo the buttons to take it off. Flying from the ship's mast is a silken flag. It reads: Adam.

Wynken and Blynken are two little eyes,
Nod is a sleepy head.

And the wooden shoe that sailed the skies
is a wee one's trundle bed.

So shut your eyes while Mama sings
of wonderful sights that be,
and you shall see the beautiful t
as you rock in the misty sea,
where the old shoe rocked the fishermen three;
and Blynken,

and Nod.

I hope you do, little Adam.

Audi Saga, Becoming Epic

Before I start, I'd like to give a disclaimer. Last time I did an automotive blog I got a few reports that it was boring. If you find mechanical problem solving a bore, don't feel like you have to read this! Believe it or not, some people find sewing and knitting boring too. Who knew?

About a month ago our beautiful '82 Audi diesel started making an unfortunate metallic tapping sound at medium rpms. Fearing valve contact with pistons (bad) I stooped driving it and started to work.

What's the first thing I did? I posted on my trusty VW diesel forum. The amount of expertise about something as obscure as VW diesel engines from the '80's is pretty impressive. I couldn't have replaced my injector pump (big job) without these guys. You can follow my current problem's thread here.

After making sure that nothing was simply rattling under the hood, I checked to make sure that the cam was timed correctly with the pistons. It should have been, since I did that myself last November, but I checked anyway. Next I checked the valve adjustment. Instead of a set screw, this engine uses little shim disks to adjust valve clearances. I needed special tools, which I found on ebay, to take out the old shims and put in the new.

None of this made any difference, so I turned my attention to the injectors. Some folks on the forum had suggested that they can make a pretty loud noise when they're bad. I was made aware of a supposedly amazing product called Diesel Purge that would temporarily relieve injector symptoms and let me know if it really was my injectors that needed help.

Like most things I've needed for this project, I couldn't find it locally and had to order it online. Since it takes the better part of a week to get this or that part or tool,it's been slow going.

What's special about Diesel Purge is the fact that it can be used either as a fuel additive or undiluted. Since I wanted the full effect, I chose the latter. So, armed with a mason jar from the pantry, I disconnected the fuel and return lines and fed them into the jar.

Another neat thing about this engine, it has no fuel pump. The injection pump (a form of mechanical fuel injection) sucks the fuel all the way from the tank. This means that I could disconnect the fuel line from the filter and not worry about spraying diesel all over the place.

I let my engine suck down almost the whole jar of Purge while varying the engine speed. Things generally did get smoother, but my noise didn't diminish or go away. I stopped before the jar was empty because I realized that I'd set it against some coolant hoses and thought that it wasn't a great idea to heat up a volatile chemical too much. Also, the Purge had changed color. It started out a colorless clear liquid and had become murky and green by the end. I don't know what that means exactly, but maybe someone on the forum will. I also don't know exactly what to try next. Hopefully I'll get some suggestions about that too!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

More crawling thoughts

I'm just amazed at Ezra crawling. It's like a miracle every time he does it. It takes so much effort! Did you see the video clip? Well, it's much more suspenseful in person-- he makes these frustrated, distressed little noises, and his concentration is so intense; it takes every ounce of his power and coordination!

It's funny, I don't remember the first time Gibbie crawled on all fours. He was a slider. He slid for months on his belly, and boy, was he fast! He would drool and slide over his drool track, mopping up after himself; somewhere between a slug and a swiffer. He gradually transitioned into this more traditional crawl.

Ezra's been moving for a while, spinning on his belly, sit-to-lay extensions, inching forward or back by extreme reaching, clambering up on or over things; but he didn't really slide like Gibbie at all. I thought sliding was the natural precursor to crawling, but they each have to blaze their own trail.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Ezra Crawls!

It's been a long time coming. Ezra is really crawling. Like so many "milestones," it's kind of a blurry line. My definition was intentional forward motion on all fours. For those of you who are interested, I captured one of the first crawls on video.