Monday, May 31, 2010

Way Up Firm and High

I have to credit my uncle Jim for this week’s title as it was the first thing he said when he saw the car back on its wheels this weekend.

Early Saturday it was another Bob Seger song that came to mind. About 3 years back I almost had a "Famous Final Scene" as I was cutting over on a gravel road to a major secondary highway. It was a foggy and icy morning. It wasn’t until it was too late when I saw the stop sign for the approaching T-intersection. I hit the brakes in a panic and that action turned my little Jetta into a flying saucer. I spun around like a curling rock sent to clear the house. I went right through the secondary highway and planted my car backwards in the ditch on the other side. As I was spinning, knowing a large truck could be barrelling through, the line that went through my head was “Think in terms of bridges burned”. I survived, as did my car, but I had to wait an hour before someone volunteer to pull me free.

It was that thought that went through my mind as I watched a Mazda 6 go careening off the road right in front of me Saturday morning. We had a freak snow storm this weekend that made Highway 2 a slushy mess for a period.

I pulled over to make sure everyone was alright. Both guys were a bit dazed but fine. I offered to pull them out as I had a sling and a four-wheel drive pick-up.

Unfortunately one my side jobs this weekend was to drop my truck off at the tire shop because I was in desperate need of new front tires – I mean desperate. I was due at the shop as soon as I hit Red Deer. My mother was even waiting to pick me up so I could work on the TR while my truck was in the shop.

That proved to be an important detail because grassy ditches with a foot of slush tend to be fairly slick. It wasn’t long until my grip-less Dodge was also hopelessly stuck. I mean buried.

After 20 minutes of attempting to free myself I called AMA. The Mazda 6 made arrangements also. They said it would be an hour wait. I sat quietly for 45 minutes until I got bored and tried again to free my truck. I started rocking it back and forth. Drive – Brake – reverse – wheels all the way to the left – drive – wheels all the way to the right –reverse. I did this for 15 minutes and started to make some head way.

I finally freed myself from the hole I had dug but I couldn’t climb the ditch with my bad tires. The ditch was v-shaped and there was a lower ridge near a barbwire fence running parallel to the highway. The ridge was just wide enough for my truck. I was able to get up on there. Once onI drove as fast as I could (under control) then veered through the bottom the V to get as much momentum to get up the other side.

I was able to get half way up the other side but was facing the wrong way to traffic. I attempted to turn around and lost a little of what I had gained in the process but I was able to get around.

I took a very conservative angle up the ditch towards the highway. I was able to climb almost to the shoulder. I found then that if I attempted to breach the shoulder I was dead in my tracks -too slick. I had to drive half a kilometer to an overpass and it was only on the concrete apron of the overpass that allowed me to get back on the road.

Notice the trail on the shoulder behind the truck

I finally made it to the tire shop but two hours behind. In the process of trudging around the ditch I missed stepped on my prosthetic and bruised my residual limb. Now that the adrenalin was gone I had a pretty serious limp and pain.

After popping out of bed at 5:30 it wasn’t until 11am that I was working on the car.

I made up for my lost time by getting right down to it. I received a big box of parts from Len on Thursday. Those parts included the driver’s side brake rotor. The rotor was missing link to finish off the driver’s side front suspension. After installing the hub with the rotor I rebuilt the calliper. I don’t know how you remove the pistons but I use air and, like before, there were a couple of scary pops. I’m glad I’m done with callipers for a long time.

When I had the front suspension finished I had to put the tire on to see how it looked – it looked great.

Here’s the part I might take some heat on: my next task was to install the new u-joints I received from Len this week on the rear drive axles. Yes, I am keeping the original rear axles – for now. I priced out on getting Goode’s hubs to Canada and it would be around 1000 dollars all in and done.. SO.. for now, the original axles are going back on the car. It will be a down the road project.

I sacrificed one of my six new u-joints to the learning gods. I’ll have to order another for the installation of the driveshaft. By the end of installing four I became a bit of an expert.

With that done I could install the passenger’s side axle, drum and wheel. With that I had three wheels on the car. Much like a catholic marriage it was a tripod (inside joke).

Before I could get the driver’s-side rear wheel on had to reinstall the trailing arm and the new shock absorber setup. Reassembling the trailing arm and mounting it took the rest of the evening. I finished around 12:30 AM. Installing the axle, drum and wheel would have to wait until Sunday morning.

Between my stump pain and 10 hour day on Saturday I didn’t get out of bed until 9:30. It was 10 AM before I got to work. By 11:30 AM I had the last wheel on the car and the car, after 7 months of being off its wheels the TR6 was back on the ground. And it was solid as a rock.

After I had the car on the ground I just laid behind the car for a while and pushed and pulled it back and forth like a big Tonka truck. Pushing down on the top of the trunk and front fender proved this car was solid. The camber in the real wheels was gone and the car was, like Jim said and Bob said, ‘way up firm and high.”

After the car was back on ground I pushed it out into the shop and cleaned the TR6 room. It needed it too. I had tools everywhere and I needed to mop the floor as I was tired of rolling around on a dirt covered floor. When I pushed the car back in I turned it around so I had more room to work on the side I still have to hang the fenders on.

I retired Sunday around 4:30 to give my stump a rest. I retired with a clean shop and, most importantly, a car sitting up on four wheels.

I have training for my new job this week but not until later on in the week so I spent half Monday finishing up some small things: turning the brake master cylinder right side up and connecting it to the pedal. Also, Installing the new clutch master cylinder and connecting it to the clutch pedal.

After that I had to hit the dump with a load of everything I cleaned up on Sunday afternoon.

All and all a pretty successful weekend – when I got home I saw the baffle seal for the driver’s side front fender arrived. Next weekend I should be able to stuff the rear diff with all new mounts in and reinstall the driver’s side front and rear fenders. We are very close to going to Kelowna.

Stay tuned…

Monday, May 24, 2010

The All Star Band

Surprisingly enough it wasn’t Lennon or McCartney that left the biggest impression on me but it was Ringo with the line “You got to pay your dues if you want to sing the blues and you know it don’t come easy.” On that note the career situation hasn’t resolved itself as cleanly as I had hoped. We are still going through the process. So far I’ve sat in with everyone short of the janitor and everyone I’ve met thinks I’m great and a good fit but they have yet to pull the trigger on when.

I don’t know when he started it but for a few years, in the first couple of months of a new year, my dad would give the new year a one word theme. My uncle Don can recite each year and each theme but the couple I remember were “The year of Choices” or “The year of Prosperity”. Those themes went a long way to inspire the year’s events - sometimes. In that vein, this year, a word has started to materialize in my brain. The word I have decided to apply to this year is “Faith”. It may not be my business to do so but in the absence of my father I have decided to christen 2010 the year of Faith.

Unfortunately my parts from Len didn’t arrive in time for the weekend. Len gets a pass on that because he has been as reliable as rain thus far; not to mention nimbly-bimbly when it comes to payment methods and part changes on the fly. I don’t think it was Drake’s as much was it was his suppliers who dropped the ball.

It wasn’t the end of the world that the parts didn’t get here as I still had things I needed to finish before most of those parts could be installed. To help get those things done I had the assistance of my lovely fiancĂ©.

To capitalize on Krista’s help I focused on all the things that I hate doing and made Krista do them. For the most part she scrubbed and grinded. Those were two tasks I was happy to give up mostly because I was a bit hung over from dinner out the night before (reluctant theme).

The center of Krista’s attention was the driver’s side rear wheel well. I focused on breaking down the rear brake drum plate, cleaning up the parts and repainting the plate. That and I painted the independent suspension hangers.

After that I moved onto cleaning up the passenger’s side floor so we could paint that with Por-15.

By dinnertime Krista had the rear quarter wheel well ready to paint. The passenger’s side floor was ready also. We coated everything and we were done for the weekend. This is what I wanted to get done this weekend as now, with this done, next weekend is all assembly. Assembly is my favourite part.

That evening Krista and I watched “Crazy Heart” and barbequed some hotdogs. Krista retired early, such is her way, I stayed up and with an empty house (my mother went with my brother to the cabin for the weekend) I decide to look through some DVD’s my uncle Don had burnt. They were converted video of my Dad’s 50th birthday and a deep sea fishing trip my dad and uncle went on around the same time.

It was neat to see the video of dad’s 50th in 1998 because we had given him a ’48 Chevrolet 2-door for his birthday. It was significant because it was the car he had at sixteen, from the same year of his birth. My uncles, Jim and Jer, of fame had found it in a field where it had been planted for 30 some years. I was 19 years-old and had helped a mechanic friend fit an engine from a ’50 into it.

On the video was the moment we surprised my dad with the car. Being that we did minimal to get the car on the road it looked like it had been driven out of a swamp. It was a really cool night. On the video is my dad’s surprise and a lot of milling around the car.

The video eventually cuts to a moment where dad must had just taken the car for a drive and both I and he are walking away from this car. It’s fleeting but there we are stride for stride – slightly bent because all Sutherland move this way. It was cool to see that video.

The other video, the video of the fishing trip, I had never seen before. I wasn’t on the trip. It was my dad, my uncle Don, my dad’s friend Frank (a Texan) and some people I didn’t know. A lot of it is very funny and typical. A lot of it was also really uninteresting. What was significant was that the time and date stamp would pop up now and then. A first I ignored it but the more I watched it, it started occurring to me that the date was September 15, 1999 and the time was between 5pm and 6pm for most of the video.

That time was exactly 9 years to the moment he passed away. It irked me more than anything else. That time and date had passed 58 times in life without significance but this one had been caught on video.

I started the task of looking through these videos for footage to use on this site. Something significant caught on video to relate in a moment who he was and why it’s important to, to me, to do this. But as I went through this footage it became very personal. I could look at him, especially on the fishing video, and know what he was thinking, know when he was uncomfortable and he was excited or annoyed.

I’m not sure it was healthy behaviour to look through these videos but it’s the first time I’ve done so and I’m not sure I’m going to do it again for a while.

On Sunday we celebrated Brother Neal’s 29th birthday at the family cabin. For only the second time since dad’s passing we were all there. For the first time Neal and Michelle’s new daughter – Kessie was there also. I’m not sure I’ve mention this before but that’s where dad resides – at the ranch. His ashes are under a 100 year-old blue spruce and are marked by a small cairn that my mother piles more rocks on every time she visits.

Brother Lachlan and his girlfriend Ashley got engaged this last week. Things keep moving forward.

Stay tuned….

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Fenders and Guitars

Tonight I’m writing this from the basement because the house is intolerably warm. We are in the middle of a spring heat wave here in Calgary.

Last week found me in Langdon, Alberta to meet a guy with a car hauler to pick up Kerbi and Derek’s 1991 Toyota Corolla Wagon. As you may or may not remember, they donated their Corolla to the TR6 cause. After a month and a bit on Kijiji (Canadian version of Craig’s List) and actually selling it on EBay only to have the buyer renag because he didn’t own a globe – I finally offloaded this crate.

Apparently the miled-out wagon is getting a second lease on life in India. The fellow who bought the car for 375 Canadian dollars curbs these cars overseas. He sure knows his clientele as everyone who called me on this car was of East Indian descent.

Two hundred dollars from that sale went directly into Tony Kind’s hot little hand. Tony is that cat who did the body work on the rear passengers-side fender. Tony had it all done and I finally picked it up Saturday morning. I was impressed with the fender but since fitting it I have some concerns.

Having only Saturday and Sunday to work on the car I had to work quickly. My first task was to paint Por-15 on the inside of the fender. While that dried I painted the inside wheel well on the front driver’s-side and removed the rear driver’s side independent suspension setup.

Later Saturday night the fender was dry enough to attempt an install. I looked all week to try and find rubber which originally sealed the fender to the car. I failed miserably – which I found strange because 14 years ago I found this stuff at Acklands. I was mounting a fixed side window in my Volare Road Runner back then. The people at Acklands told me since then they split the sheets with Bumper-To-Bumper there are a lot of things they don’t have anymore. Bumper-To-Bumper said they had no idea what the hell I was talking about. I ended up buying silicone gasket maker at Canadian Tire. It should actually work better.

Fitting the fender took forever and I am still not satisfied. I guess it would be naive to think it would go back together as nice as it looked originally. On top of that I’m a little concerned that in an area that Tony fixed a rust hole by welding in a patch it doesn’t seem to have the same arc as it once did. There seems to be a difference between the door and where it meets the fender now. I’m holding out hope that it might be one the anomalies that come up when these cars are raised on jack stands.

****Note much of the black you are seeing is not silicone but POR-15 as I coated it on both the fender and the car body along the seam****

I picked up some more Por-15 last week along with a bottle of Marine Clean (find somewhere else to be after you spray this shit). I spent Sunday ignoring the fender and instead I cleaned and painted the driver’s side floor pan. I also did some painting on the driver’s side frame rail.

On Monday I order 600 dollars worth of parts from Drake’s. This is my Third and, hopefully, second last order. Len is working to have those here before the long-weekend coming up.

Included in this parts order is everything I need to re-mount the rearend, driver’s side front rotor, brake hydraulics, and includes all six u-joints needed for the drivetrain.

Also last week, I corresponded with Mike of Mike’s British Car Repair about my engine and his timeline. I’m a little concerned that he’s behind but I have no idea of how he does things so… I know I, myself, am behind by a least three weekends. That situation concerns me.

Another area of concern is the fact that Tony has now said there is no way he is available to take on the body work to prep this car for paint. Tony has indicated he could paint it if someone else prepped it.

It looks as if I am going to have to go the mountain. Now I have to track down one of the world’s best body men but I have my reservations. I’ll have more on this mission in the weeks to come.

This blog is going in late tonight because at the last minute I scored cheap tickets for Krista and me to attend the David Gray concert here in Calgary. It was a great show and we ended up with great seats looking straight down at the stage from stage left. The tickets said obstructed view but it didn’t seem to be the case.

When I got my first IPod in 2005 I setup two playlists before I did anything else. They both became a bit legendary over the years. Over three IPods and now an IPhone they still exist. One list is called ``Bruce Approved” and the other is called “Belly Rubbing”.

The first list was music both my dad and I shared interested in and became popular with dad and his pals. The other, the Belly Rubbing one, was... well let’s just say it became popular with a smaller, less hairy crowd. David Gray was featured prominently on that list. I’m a big, big fan.

Stay tuned…

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Long and Winding Road

I was hoping this would be further along by today but like anything good it’s not happening overnight.

It looks as if my career fortunes have changed. I had an interview last week with a partner from a small oil and gas software development firm. For the second time in my life I was taken from a boardroom to a Starbucks for a cup of coffee during an interview. It was a good sign as the last time that happened I landed a great job. I don’t drink coffee but I love to walk and talk. My brain always functions best with kinetic energy. I’m like a shark that way; so this was a great forum for me.

Periodically over an hour of listening intently I struck like a sniper at aspects of this opportunity that I had a lot of knowledge about. I stumbled a few times over nervousness and my discomfort over tooting my own horn but I was very confident in the subject manner.

There was a point in the meeting, near the end, where, James, my interviewer, let me off the hook. He said, so laid back that I almost missed it, “I want to hire you and the only thing I’m trying to figure out now is where to start you.” I have been waiting a year to hear those words.

On September 15th, 2008 my dad died at 59 years and 10 and half months old. On the same day the US market crashed. Exactly a month later and only two weeks back at work from my dad’s funeral and my bother Neal’s wedding (a week apart) I lost a half a million dollar contract that I had been chasing for a year. The client ceased moving forward because of the uncertainty market.

The month after losing the contract the company I am running is merged with a sister company against my protests. To add insult to injury my staff is redistributed to other projects and I am given a manager to work under. I maintain title and role but I have been looped out.

In December, at the point where my only goal is to get out of 2008 without anything else bad happening, I ignore all the warning signs and, at the very least, do nothing to prevent a HR nightmare from happening under my nose. At this point I failed as a leader, a protector and a friend. That was the straw.

I spent the last days of December 2008 hiding out at the family cabin. As I split wood in minus 40 degree temps I came to a decision – I needed to resign. I didn`t know much but I knew my career needed a new trajectory.

In February I inform my direct manager that I am resigning effective April 1st, 2009. I am then reassigned to spend my remaining time there training two new managers with everything I know.

I leave my job one week into April 2009.

At this point it is firm in my mind that I am going to restore the TR6. I spend the summer liquidating my dad`s unloved project cars and taking truck load after truck load to the dump. My mandate is to get my dad`s shop to a level that I can realistically take on a restoration project, make the acreage manageable for my mom to operate on her own and to effectively lick my wounds and consider my next move.

In late summer I bite down on a complete parts car in Kansas City. Hungry for an adventure and convinced I need a good engine for dad`s car I go and get it. In the process I run into expensive vehicle repairs on my dad`s truck and to add insult to injury I am dinged at the Canadian border with a major fine.

The costs directly related to this trip expedites my need to return to work. My plan was to apply for positions full time in the fall but this is no longer a viable option. I bully my way into a friend`s landscaping business as a stop gap measure while I apply for jobs.

At one point, late in the year, I`m shovelling walks at 5 AM in the morning. The only things keeping my brain active is the TR6, the blog and ``How Stuff Works?” podcasts. With the poor job prospects and inconsistent hours in my landscaping career my ego is at an all-time low by the end of November.

As a final warning sign that I’m in a dead end career my friend and employer decides to unceremoniously end my employment as the last thing he does before leaving on a six week holiday. I’m informed through a third-party. And this is a week after he has me agree to stay on until March. This thoughtless action ends a five year friendship, causes me to have to re-assign a groomsman role and – less importantly – no job.

Staring down a December without any income and no prospects I sell all the firewood we harvested when I worked for my “friend”. I then abscond with the money – I am still on the lamb – don’t tell the federalies.

I start seriously searching for employment. My search had waned in the last couple months of my landscaping career. December turns out to be the worst month to try to seek employment.

In a particular low moment I take a gig cutting firewood on new year’s eve day 2009. It was one of the coldest days of December. I arrived at an acreage south of Calgary to find a kid in baggy pants splitting lumber. I meet a tall gangly guy who puts me to work chainsawing dried logs. It’s back breaking work and a few times I come very close to personal injury as I tire under the load.

It’s a surreal experience as the guy I’m working for lives in a bombed out mansion. The place is eerie – he’s eerie. He spends most of the day trying to get his saw started.

Eventually another kid shows up in a skidoo suit and a Bluetooth earpiece. At this point my leader promotes me to be working foreman over these two rejects. Around 6pm we retire and are offered beers around the fire. I put two away in as many seconds. A bottle of whiskey is passed around.

It was clear to me at this point I was on a bad path - the whiskey and chainsaw path.

It’s half an hour home to Krista and my beard is still frozen solid when I arrive. After reporting what happened Krista makes me promise not to go back.

This brings us up to my four month long full time job search.

“I want to hire you and the only thing I’m trying to figure out now is where to start you.” When I heard these words I almost fell on the floor. James is ex-Apple and ex-Adobe so he has my full attention. It doesn't hurt that his offices are in the heart of downtown - where everything happens in Calgary. After this year and a half the fact that someone with this opportunity would say this to me is quite unbelievable – welcome but unbelievable. I was limp.

James and I agreed on a role that I would be a great fit in after quick SQL bootcamp. We have a handshake in place and agree to meet on the path forward later this week. This is a great opportunity and I’m glad I was ready for it when it came along… very ready.

This has been a long and hard year and I couldn’t have done it without Krista, our families and our friends. Everyone believed even when I didn’t.

Stay tuned…