Generator Rebuild

Hurricane Michael hit our area hard and took out power for almost 5 days. Luckily the small generator we already had was enough to keep the fridge running and some lights on, but not much else. The small generator is 120V only, so it also was not able to power the 240V well pump; 4 nights without running water was not fun. It’s not likely we’ll have another outage that’s this long for a while, but we have had a number of shorter outages that seem to indicate that this will be an ongoing problem – a bigger generator would be nice.

With that in mind we started looking at options; there are a number of ‘off the shelf’ options out there for whole-house standby power, but most of them are very pricey both to install and to run (propane particularly) and we couldn’t justify the cost for something that gets used so infrequently. What did seem to make some sense though was rolling the dice a surplus military generator; the prices are very low (when the condition is unknown), they’re way over-built, and are made to be repaired easily.

I bid on and won an online surplus auction for a diesel generator and picked it up outside our friendly neighborhood military base. It was a fairly easy move at ~1200lb; at pickup I just dragged it onto the trailer with a winch and to offload I tilted the trailer and winched it back down with iron pipes underneath as rollers.

To get it running I first put in new batteries (2x 12v car batteries) and troubleshot some miscellaneous electrical issues (broken connections, dirty switch contacts, etc.). From there it would crank but not run; bleeding the air out out the fuel lines fixed this and it started OK. Once running there was an erratic low frequency rattle that I traced to a bad rotor bearing on the generator head. With this bearing replaced it then ran smooth/quiet. The last issue was twitchy voltage regulation that I traced back to a dirty potentiometer; with this cleaned it held a stable 240V @ 60hz under a variety of loads. Along the way it also got an oil/filter change and a coolant flush/fill.

Altogether this was a very quick project, just a few hours to get everything sorted out. Up next will be setting aside some space for it (probably combined with a new area for trashcans and firewood) and getting it wired in with a manual transfer switch. It’s a “10KW” generator but that rating is on the very conservative side; in reality it’s closer to a 15KW or more consumer unit whose ratings are on the optimistic side. This should be enough to run the lights, TV, well, microwave, and at least one zone of HVAC.

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Converti-bug Top Replacement

Last night and today we replaced the top on the Beetle. It was in ‘OK’ shape but was showing its age and the back window had begun separating/leaking, requiring roof replacement. Complexity level for this ranks right up there with an engine rebuild or debugging bad assembly code. The biggest challenge is that all the miscellaneous springs, ropes, and bungees involved don’t have the usual ‘this clearly bolts there’ pattern – instead it’s a spider web of cords that have to be routed just right, and their appearance changes greatly depending on how far up/down the roof is. With the help of lots of reference images though it all went back together correctly. Fortunately for modern tops like this there’s enough repeatably between cars that the tops come pre-cut with all the right seams/edges pre-made; there’s no trimming or other ‘upholstery’ type work that would be required on an older car.

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VW Bus Adjustable Front Beam

During the original bus rebuild I had ‘flipped’ the front spindles to lower it some. Stock height on buses was alarmingly high, lowering allowed for better handling and gave the possibility of the bus fitting in the garage with a roof rack. The spindle flip, however, lowers by a fixed 4-5″; just low enough that the front wheels would rub the wheel wells during bumps or heavy braking/cornering. Cornering was particularly exciting since the outside wheel would rub, slowing down that wheel with the tendency to make the turn tighter – or “positive feedback” for those of us that are into control systems (not a good thing).

To remedy this, a way was needed to raise the front back up an inch or two. Old VW’s use a very unique front suspension design with two sets of torsion leaf springs inside of a beam with two tubes. The leaf spring packs are held fixed in the center of each tube and are capped at both ends with the four trailing arms. Minor raising and lowering can be accomplished by changing the angle the springs are held at the fixed center point. The center spring holder is held by divots crimped into the tube which engage with holes in the spring holder; these divots were drilled out which freed the holder. Toothed sections were then welded to the tubes; when the center is bolted in place a nut is tightened against a toothed plate that engages the teeth, holding the torsion spring pack at the new angle.

Lots of things had to be disconnected and then reconnected to get the beam in/out. This made it a greasy, awkward, and tedious job but overall it went well. The only hiccup was that after the beam was re-installed the shift linkage interfered with the adjuster bolts, though I had read this could happen. To solve this problem I welded a chunk of plate steel to the bottom of the linkage to hold the geometry and then ground out a strategic section of the linkage tube. The plate is as strong or stronger than the tube, and it’s in just the right spot to clear everything above/below it. After everything was back together the bus is level and no longer rubs the front wheels!

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