A Relentless Truck

There were two major reasons we needed to make the trek back to my home town.

  1. I had a TON of tools and other ancillary belongings that were packed into a 40’ long shipping container. It was setup as a workshop, it saw little use, and after moving to Colorado it saw no use…everything needed to be moved out to Colorado with me or it needed to find a new home.

  2. We now had a new truck that was an enormous redneck collaboration of de-styled, high school teenage boy auto repair, yet paragon melding of ingenious automotive engineering. The point here is: we now had something that could and should be a nice useful truck, but was not yet…in fact, far from it—as we would soon find out. Luckily, our resources in my home town were indispensable for a project of this magnitude.

We started by making a plethora of craigslist ads in which I was able to sell a long list of tools that were just not practical to hold onto which would entail moving them more than half way across the United States. Amidst selling all of this stuff we started to dig into what was to become an enormous, seemingly endless can of worms called a 1992 GMC Cummins 4BT conversion truck.

This is the inside of the shipping container before we started selling stuff and cleaning it out.  When through everything left was packed into a small 6x10 enclosed trailer to go to Colorado.

This is the inside of the shipping container before we started selling stuff and cleaning it out. When through, everything left was packed into a small 6×10 enclosed trailer to go to Colorado.

Our work began with mounting and balancing 4 new tires and at the same time, installing 5000 lb. airbag shocks to the back of the truck. We also upgraded the trailer wire harness to a plug and play type. We installed a rear view mirror since the original was missing, and replaced the broken driver side mirror. Right before we began our work, in an attempt to regain our hearing and sanity when we drive, we had the truck at an old family friends shop to remove the 5” megaphone side pipe exhaust and install a muffler with the proper tail pipe. The results were positive in the right direction but in all honesty, it was hard to tell the difference.

Then Adrienne and I got started by pulling the transmission out of the truck, although that makes it sound like it was a cake walk, which it was not. First hang up was the torsion bars that were practically forged to the adjusting keys and front control arms leading to a broken 5 lb mini sledge hammer, sore hands, and an early end to what would become our late night work routine.

Transmission finally out!

Transmission finally out!

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The next day we got the torsion bars loose with the help of a great friend Chuck Eder at Combustion Engineering and kept the project moving forward. The goal here was to replace the leaking rear main seal and repair the leaking oil pan as well. Upon closer inspection, the clutch needed to be replaced, the oil pan had 3 large hole in it that had been poorly attempted to be repaired in the past, and the clutch slave cylinder was only held on by 1 bolt due to a poor retrofit.

Machining the transmission adapter plate with a drill press because we had already sold the milling machine.

Machining the transmission adapter plate with a drill press because we had already sold the milling machine.

After a long night of chipping away at the epoxy and silicon used to try to seal the poorly brazed and poorly welded holes in the oil pan, we finally got it clean and made a good attempt at brazing all of the holes shut ourselves. One of which proved to be more difficult to braze than expected and we left till the next day when we could apply more heat with a rose but attachment for the torch. Finally, success! We got the rear main seal in, the oil pan bolted up, we pressure tested the entire engine for leaks, and waited for the new clutch. In the process we took the transmission bell housing adapter and machined out a space to allow for a second bolt to be added in order to hold the clutch slave cylinder as per its original design. When we got the new clutch and surfaced flywheel back from the shop, we put that on and bolted everything back together.

All the holes in the oil pan repaired properly.

All the holes in the oil pan repaired properly.

Oil pan and rear main seal installed.

Oil pan and rear main seal installed.

While waiting for the clutch we took the starter motor apart just to assess its condition, cleaned it up a bit and put it back together. Then we installed a new thermostat that is supposed to improve warm up time and solve an age old problem that Cummins had with temperature cycling. When we finally got the truck back together and started it up we noticed a pretty bad oil leak and we were so delirious and sleep deprived we decided to leave it and come back the following day. The following day we noticed that a new gasket we installed on the turbo oil drain pipe was not lined up properly and oil was leaking past the flange. It was a quick fix for a change and we finally got to drive the truck. The most notable change was how quiet the truck was with the air shocks on the back keeping everything from rattling as it was before.

The new clutch and surfaced flywheel ready for installation.

The new clutch and surfaced flywheel ready for installation.

Clutch installed and ready to put the transmission back in place.

Clutch installed and ready to put the transmission back in place.

Then one night on our way home from working over at the farm where the shipping container full of tools was, our headlights went out and our dash went black. I pulled over and had my sister escort us back to the farm and I realized that the aftermarket gauges were wired into the fuse panel via a bare wire that was just shoved into the fuse panel with a fuse. It shorted out, blew the fuse, and burned up the wire. I fixed the headlights and left the aftermarket gauges disconnected till we could wire them up properly.

After all this nonstop work, we decided to meet up with my friends Christine and John from High School. On our way to their house the truck ran out of diesel fuel at a gas station that didn’t have diesel fuel. Now we knew the accuracy of our fuel gauge and threshold for low fuel. We had them come pick us up and take us back to their house. After a good night of catching up we called AAA and had the truck towed to a gas station with diesel fuel. The truck was much easier to start than any of the old Mercedes diesels I’ve ever run dry of fuel, that was a major relief.

Now that we had the differed maintenance done on the truck we decided to start the waste veggie oil (WVO) conversion process. We had spent so much time taking up space in my dear friend Chucks shop that we had to find a new place to do the remainder of our work. It then dawned on me that the farm had a nice heated garage that was not being used for anything. After a few text messages, I had the OK to use the space and we hit the ground running. We spent the next 2 days straight working furiously into delirium to get the system installed. We made custom brackets, broke tools, utilized new design ideas, and had to get outrageously creative troubleshooting frustrating problems. In the end we got 85% of the system installed, last of which was the wiring.

Installing the WVO system over at the farm.

Installing the WVO system over at the farm.

Fuel tank, fuel pump, and fuel strainer installed.

Fuel tank, fuel pump, and fuel strainer installed.

Doing some final installation work.

Doing some final installation work.

We started the truck and tried to drive it before we realized that lots of fuel was now leaking out of the mechanical fuel pump. It was now 5 Am and we were hungry and delirious from working through the night, we borrowed my sisters car and went to the diner for breakfast while we waited for the Cummins parts warehouse to open. Luckily they had 1 pump left on their shelf, we went and picked it up, stopped back at the farm to put it on and, success!

We went home and took a long nap and later that night we wired everything up. Our wiring work stretched into the following morning and when we were done we began filtering 55 gallons of WVO to get us up to Maine and back. As soon a we got the truck on the road, we drove back to my parents place and packed our bags. We left for Maine that night, figuring that a 1000 mile round trip would be a good test for our new system. Our trip to Maine was a success although we didn’t get to spend much time before returning to PA.

Done with the instal, Adrienne filters some WVO to get us to Maine and back.

Done with the instal, Adrienne filters some WVO to get us to Maine and back.

When we got back to PA, we continued the process of cleaning out and packing up all the stuff in the shipping container. During this process, one night on our way back to my parents house from the farm the truck lacked power and eventually died on the side of the highway. We waited for AAA to tow us to the farm and the following day took a look at it to try to figure out what was going on. I was frustrated, thinking that the new mechanical fuel pump had failed. Upon closer inspection I realized that there was a restriction in the fuel line caused by a piece of debris clogging the orifice of one of our fuel selector valves. I blasted compressed air through the valve and the truck ran just as new.

Amidst the chaos of selling things, I finally had a guy lined up to buy the shipping container that seemed promising. We had met and talked about the details and I had mentioned to him that I had to move an old Studebaker Wagonaire out of the way and find a new parking space for it before I could arrange to have him pick up the container. He then mentioned that he had a heavy duty equipment trailer that would be perfect for my car and that I should come see it and maybe we could make a trade. A few days later we had arranged to go up to his property, about 2 hours North West of Philadelphia.

That morning we started the truck up and didn’t make it out of the driveway before the truck stalled and wouldn’t start back up. Adrienne and I both were ready to set the truck on fire at this point and give up, frustrated beyond belief at all of the trials and tribulations we had gone through. I collected my self and after some deductive reasoning, had a funny feeling that this was caused by the same issue we encountered at the farm a few days prior and was glad that we hadn’t gotten anywhere far from the house before the truck died. I located the proper inline fuel filter, picked it up and installed it, cleaned the fuel lines out again and we we were finally on our way to North Western PA.

On our way to visit this guy and check out his trailer, we delivered a small wood stove to a buyer on the side of the highway. Due to all of our hangups, we got to the property where the trailer was pretty late in the evening. Since he knew we were coming and to look at the trailer, I though he was going to have it ready for us. I then spent the next 2 and a half hours pulling the trailer out of his frozen yard and across a field to his shop where we could inspect it. This entailed using our truck to pull it, which got stuck after breaking our front axle and rendering our 4 wheel drive inoperable. We then resorted to pulling my truck with the trailer attached to it with a large telescoping boom fork lift that had a failed fuel pump. This feat required a driver to drive the forklift while someone ran along side the forklift and pumped a hand pump every 15 seconds to keep the engine running.

We got the trailer out and realized it needed tires, brakes, and wiring and that we couldn’t take it with us that day so we made a deal to trade the shipping container for the trailer + $300 cash due to the issues with the trailer. When we eventually came back up to pick up the trailer, we installed 2 new tires that we bought through a craigslist deal along the way, and wired up the lights after flipping the entire trailer onto its side with the forklift and welding new steel conduit to the bottom of the trailer to chase the wires through. On our way home the lights started to dim and we realized that the alternator in the truck was failing. We unplugged the trailer lights that we just repaired in order to save our battery and we hung a blinking headlamp from the back of the trailer for safety before continuing down the road. We made it home with our headlights barely lit, no radio, and no heat. We spent the next few days driving the truck only during the day after charging the battery at night while we waited for a new 50% larger alternator to show up in the mail.

Studebaker finally on the trailer and ready to move.

Studebaker finally on the trailer and ready to move.

Once we finally got the shipping container on a trailer and on it’s way to it’s new home, it started to feel like we might actually eventually make it back to Colorado. We packed the enclosed trailer and moved all the rest of the loose items to new homes, parked the trailer with the Studebaker on it over at my friend Guy’s house. We departed from Langhorne, PA with a 2,950 lb GVWR trailer that weighed in at around 5,500 lbs and a truck that started at 6,200 lbs and now weighed in at around 8,000 lbs. Pulling it with an engine that was designed to pull a maximum GVW of 11,000 lbs, we were around 12,500-13,000 lbs. It was a slow and scary at times drive. Stopping was mediocre at best making you grit your teeth and have a white knuckle grip on the the steering wheel going down long mountain passes and around sharp curves and acceleration took patients. We eventually made it back to Colorado in 1 piece and were glad to be home.

Adrienne filtering WVO in on a dismal day getting us ready to leave for Colorado.

Adrienne filtering WVO in on a dismal day getting us ready to leave for Colorado.

We gave the shelter to a friend of Chucks as a thank you for his help.  Here they are taking it down and hauling it off.

We gave the shelter to a friend of Chucks as a thank you for his help. Here they are taking it down and hauling it off.

An empty container ready for pickup and delivery to its new home.

An empty container ready for pickup and delivery to its new home.

Loading the container for its journey to its new home.

Loading the container for its journey to its new home.

On the road in middle America well over 12,000 lbs gross combined weight.

On the road in middle America well over 12,000 lbs gross combined weight.