Editor's note: From 1984 until his death in 1989 at age 70, Granville King served as Four Wheeler's Baja Correspondent. A former aerospace engineer and TV screenwriter, Granville retired in 1981 to a trailer located on a bluff south of San Felipe, from whence he filed the monthly dispatches that became known to FW readers as "From the Backcountry,'' a diaristic account of a life lived miles away from electricity or paved roads, his only companion a four-legged mascot (and sometime mentor) named Superdawg.
In addition to his "Backcountry'' series, Granville authored occasional tech articles for us; this one first appeared, in slightly different form, in the February '86 issue. While Granville scrupulously claimed to have tested all of the "field fixes'' included here and judged them workable, we'd advise taking at least one of them with a generous grain of salt . . or knock on wood beforehand.
A gnawing fear can work on the boonie-infested mind of a man in even the finest, newest rig. Can he git back? Regular readers'll no doubt be aware of the prep for gittin' back and the things to keep in your rig's hell box, and mebbe even how to analyze your plight. You're in deep trouble if you haven't memorized these things, since today we do the heavy stuff for flag and country.
Gasoline filter: You feel a pulsation in yore gitalong like you're runnin' out of gas, but that ain't it since you still got half a tank. By vigorous gas goosing you keep 'er alive for a time, but eventually you blunder to a stop and she dies with a gasp. What do you do first?
Isolate. Quick like a bunny you pull one spark plug and whir the mill. Great spark! So, as you knew, it's gotta be the fuel. You break the line on the carb side of the inline filter and whir the engine-very little gas and kinda splotchy. Okay, don't panic yet. You take out the filter and whir the mill again. Now you got lots of gas in heavy, husky spurts. You gotta plugged filter! But there is no filter in the rig's hell box. What must you do? Very simply, cut off an end of the filter pipe right at the filter. Now you got a bridge between the two hose ends. Slide 'em together, and off you go with a mental reminder to get two new filters-one for this Rube Goldberg crutch and one for the hell box.
Fuel pump: But suppose it is not the filter. You say you still get splurtish-to-weak gas, even with the filter out? Then you've bought a Big One; the fuel pump (assuming no loose connections) is not so good. How in jumpin' Jehosophat does a man git back with no fuel pump? Before starting the long walk out, scratch yore curly locks and think.
What does a bleedin' fuel pump do, anyway? Do you have to have one? No! It merely keeps the gas chamber of the carburetor full of gas, that's all. Yeah, it works at some three to seven psi, but only to make sure the float chamber stays full. Henry Ford ran the Model As on gravity feed, and if it was good enough for Henry, it's good enough for us! But how to get a gravity feed since the tank is way back there lurking low?
Simple, ol' bud. Bang or find a hole through your firewall, preferably on the carburetor inlet side. Run a hunka gas hose through there and connect it firmly to the carb where you took out the filter. Bring the other end under the dash and securely tape it there with the opening pointing up. How do we get gas into this kludge? Again, simple. Dump that plastic bottle of differential fluid with the beveled-end spout. Rinse out with gas. Refill with gas. Apply to the hose to fill the line and carb chamber. You're off! She'll start with the same touch since gas is precisely at the same place it'd be if the fuel pump were working. No difference.
Okay, so you only get about five miles per refill out of the container, but doesn't that beat the alternative all to pieces? If you don't have one now, lay down your loot for one of those beveled-end cans and a 4-foot hunka hose to wrap around it. Or, if you're really loaded, stow a spare fuel pump. Big caution: Though you're goin' outta there like a champ where a lesser man would've walked, you forgot something. You didn't plug that old gas line coming from the pump, and now you got an engine saturated with gas from time to time when she throws out a tad. So plug that line before you go!
Transmission: Probably the worst case of problem you can envision has to do with the tranny. They are totally black magic to most of us, and rightfully so. Yet you can crutch a tranny problem and do a git-back, though you may limp a little.
Column-shift tranny: This gem has its shift lever on the steering column and uses what is called a "side loading'' transmission. That is, the shift mechanism is located on the left side of the box and is operated by a long, shaky mechanism. On a bumpy road you may suddenly find you're locked in one gear, locked in Neutral, or really locked up in two gears at once. Ol' Superdawg 'n' I could now lay on you a ton of drawings, theory, and the whole shot about such systems, but we seriously doubt if it'd help you a smidge. So in real life, what you do in this case is simple and direct; you pick up a hammer.
Up the hood. Ram the wooden handle of the hammer in semi-gentle fashion against those levers coming from the steering column where they head back to the tranny. Don't get carried away; we're not trying to cold-weld this sucker! But with some intermittent messing with the shift handle and some more taps, you'll most often find that something drops in and you're back in business. Don't try to analyze or attempt to reason this all out! Just do and believe.
This is a poetically just git-back 'cause we get to beat up the guilty party with a hammer and make 'im work right, which is how we wish a lotta other automotive wrongs could be righted. But suppose our magic touch is insufficient, or the linkage is really awry? Then we gotta know what side-shift levers do and how they look. For a three-speed box, Second and Third are on the foremost lever; when it's straight down, neither gear is engaged. Reverse and First are on the rear lever, which is also in Neutral when it's straight down. Why do we wanta know this kinda stuff? Because for the ultimate git-back, we're gonna shift ratt here at the levers!
Who said life was easy? First, tap 'em both into Neutral, even if you must disconnect the buggered-up linkage. Now, when you tap the front lever forward you're in Second-not too bad a gear to start up in and run for the highway. When you get to a downhill place on the pavement that's not too muddy, slide under again and slip that thing into Third for a nonstop run to the barn. Do remember, if you mess with one lever, you must return it to Neutral before doing anything with the other lever! Otherwise you get two gears at once, and with a vigorous shot of gas and a sudden drop of the clutch, this could get you a handful of tranny gears shelled like corn. (More likely; since you're not moving you'd just kill the engine; but Dawg n' I must have our little drama as the saga unfolds.)
Honest, upright stick shift: The real fun is when your honest, upright stick shift-made for honest, upright gals and guys-does a bad thing, which leaves you sitting there aghast. In this case, you gotta top-loading tranny rather than those handy-dandy side levers, as on the column shift. With no levers to play with, you must do a thing you don't want to do; you gotta pull the floormat back, take up the inspection plate (depending on rig and model) and pull off the shifter tower. Put the ungainly stick and tower carefully to one side, and peer down inside.
Staring back is a messa gears loaded with guilt! No matter what happened-locked in one gear, stuck in two, or won't do diddly-we gotta neutralize this sucker so we can start at a known point. First, get all load off the driveline; that is, floor the clutch and let the wheels be held only by blocks or the hand brake. Get that mighty hammer and a big screwdriver 'cause we're gonna shift gears or know the reason why!
Note that sticking out of the tower are two forks (in most cases just two), which fit into the tranny at those shiny, rounded gidges called "sliding sleeves.'' Those're what do the gear shifting when you move the stick. With screwdriver and hammer, lightly tap the sleeves until they sit in the middle of the shiny synchronizers, those purty brassy things. How do we know when we're in Neutral? Pry lightly with screwdriver against the side and the body of gears. If they move (except for the very foremost gear) almost against the case, you're in Neutral. (Why doesn't that front one move too? It would if you floored the clutch, but it's the main front drive gear that's hooked into the clutch splines and countershaft. Leave it be! Got trouble enough already.)
Great! Now that we're in Neutral, we might also place the tower in Neutral and see if the gem works right. In most cases it will. But that is not the name of our git-back; we're gonna do it with or without that tower. And here's how without.
You must now reverse your thinking. When you moved the stick shift forward (four-speed box), you got First or Third gear. Moving it back, you got Second or Fourth, with Reverse dabbled over to one side and also back. This stick motion goes through a fulcrum at the tower. That means at this moment of truth, as you stare in with horror to find a gear, back is front and front is back. Is this all perfectly clear?
Poor tike! Essentially, it's this: You want Third for the run out. You can handle it with a little clutch slipping on the start; Second is probably too low. So on that foremost sleeve you tap the opposite way you would to shift for Third; that is, you drift it back into the synchronizer with screwdriver and hammer, for forward as you would with the stick in your hand.
And so it goes for the other gears; that other slider sleeve is First and Second. To one side at the front (not the rear!) you'll find Reverse, plus either a collar coming from it or an oddball arm that fits into the tower when it's installed. You'll not remember all this when the print grows cold about how to get each gear. But at least take this away with you: (1) how to neutralize the box; (2) how to shift-just the how to; (3) be sure the drivetrain is unloaded; and (4) always neutralize one slider before you fuss with the other.
One very large thing to keep in mind, however, is that the countershaft-way down under the main shaft you're looking at-whirls a monumental amount of oil when it's turned. Maybe you can idle with it turning, but any more speed than that gives you and the interior of your rig a fantastic oil bath.
How then to get home with the tower off? Lay upon the opening something like a 2x6 a foot long. Have Lulu-Belle hold it in place with her No. 12 brogans. Dump in another pint about halfway home; you'll lose it even with considerable care. Try not to worry. Find a nice downhill place and shift to Fourth for the nonstop barn run. Try not to worry.
Automatic transmission: The auto tranny is a fairly foolproof device, which means it's terribly appropriate for certain ones amongst us. But a couple of bad things can happen and leave you in what is tragically known as static driving mode. Take the first case: You dialed fire with your quadrant properly set to Park, but nothing happened. You agitate the shifter, you try 'er in Neutral. Still nada. No solenoid click, nothing! This could prove to be a very long day.
Neutral safety switches: What has happened with this "foolproof'' device? With no solenoid click it means your starting circuit has got a big open circuit in it someplace. Where is it most likely? Why, ol' bud, in the lockout safety switch(es). The folks who designed these trannys cleverly made it impossible to start your rig in Drive or one of the gears. The circuit is complete only when you're in Neutral or Park. This avoids a sudden roar through the liquor store window or up onto your very own back porch. However, the switch(es) can be out of adjustment or broken. You probably had some warning already where you had to joggle the quadrant and such to make 'er light off. Unless you got the shop manual with you or really know where these switches are located (and how to set 'em), you are into the git-back mode. And it's really simple.
Just use the old hot-wire trick learned in yore days as a Mafia wheelman. One of your basic tools should be a jump-start cord, which is simply a pair of wires with alligator clips on one end and a switch in the middle (the normally off type). Without further ado, hook onto your solenoid and the battery, turn on the ignition (not to Start, just to On), and hit your jump-start switch. It is not a poor plan to have Lulu-B sit with 'er No. 12s on the brake pedal at a time like this, and for you to stand aside. This is just in case your quadrant linkage has slipped (not the safety switches) and she's in gear. So off you go, no sweat or fret.
Quadrant adjustment: If, however, your quadrant linkage has slipped, you have a bit more fun. Symptoms: You get no fire in Park or Neutral, but she may start in Drive; does not lock up the wheels in Park-that kinda thing. Again, this could not have come as a total shock to you. For weeks you been putting Kentucky windage on the quadrant to secure it in gear, and twice already she didn't feel like she dropped into Park (a metal pin pops into the tranny when the Park position is clean). So finally someone's improvidence has bit ya in the butt. You had it coming, but here's how to fix it!
First you take out the radiator, loosen the engine mounts, take out the engine, and dismantle the transmission. Ha! Gotcha! You don't really have to do that. But stay loose because you never know what's gonna happen.
What you actually do is sling yore magnificent bod under the left side of the rig where you can stare at the auto tranny. Note where the shift linkage goes into the box. Be sure the wheels're blocked and the emergency brake (if any) is set because now we're gonna take 'er outta Park and other devilish things that could getcha crunched if this bucket rolls. See that adjustment clamp or hold-down nut? Loosen it so that the quadrant handle can be moved without the gidge into the grindbox moving. Okay, dial the arm that goes into the tranny full clockwise. Feel it detent into something? That's Park; the pin has dropped and your rear wheels now should be locked up tight.
Fine. Tighten up the linkage, and by feeling the detents rack 'er two detents in the counterclockwise direction. Scream at Lulu-does that put 'er into indicated Drive? It should. Now with bod out in the open, try to start the rig in anything but Park or Neutral, which it should do. Nice work; they're looking for a good wrench at the filling station.
Iron men and wooden pistons: To this point we've talked about some real backbusters, but now we move into the heartbreaker. Those others can be crutched, but what about the total End Of The World when you've just put a rod through your block? Would that get your undivided attention? Though this is a real hardball, you can, without a $250 tow job, a $25,000,000 helicopter, or a magic R&R of the engine, drive out and drive home. Don't believe it? Well, listen up because ol' Dumbdawg n' I have done it-twice.
The scenario: You scortch along about 15 mph, pulling hard in 4WD, when with a great klung! your engine stops, your wheels lock, and you crush a cold can against the steering wheel with your chest! What has happened?! Has the tranny dropped into two at once, have the brakes locked, or have we hit an invisible tree?
You fling the tranny into Neutral, leap out, and open the hood. The rig rolls slightly-it's not the brakes or the tranny. You jumper from the solenoid to the battery and she solenoids just fine, but she doesn't even begin to turn over. You fret and fume and idly stick the oil. Yegawds! Two quarts high, lotsa water bubbles, and still rising! You yank the radiator cap and listen. Yeah, no fluid showing, and somewhere coolant gurgles outta there like a fool. And, with a quick bend-down, you see that it's not on the ground! You got one thing-a rod through the cylinder wall. It is not good to have a rod through the cylinder wall.
Well, this is no five-minute deal, so you find a simply scrumptious place to camp. Odd how you find so many great camping places this way. You drain the pan and save it. When the water settles you'll use some of that oil on top 'cause you only got a 2-quart emergency supply. You pull the pan and now you can see which side it's on (V-8). So you yank off the rod cap, twiddle around the crank, and get the rod out. Meanwhile, Lulu-Belle has pulled the head and you bang out the piston over the ridge at the top. Yup, a nice duggish hole in the cylinder wall; lucky it didn't go on through the water jacket. You study this gem. There's no way you can drive out without plugging that hole. She'll run good enough on seven (or five or three) to get out-but that hole! With a torch you could braise some tin over it (the best way!), but you got no torch. Maybe yank the rings on that piston, slather it up with 3M, and slide it down over the hole? Too unlikely-engine vibration and heat'd probably shake it loose in the first 20 miles. You need something like an expansion plug, like a-yeah!-like a tree branch. In minutes you cut a hunk outta a near-sized branch and get it debarked.
Wow! Can this really work? You lay the short wood hunk up against the cylinder top and emboss it to the opening size with a heavy shot from your hammer. Then you trim it down to that line, try it, trim, try it again, and eventually drive it into a pretty snug fit, smooth on the side of the hole. With the pan still off, you pour in a tad more radiator water so the hole will be covered in the cylinder. You throw your bed under and eyeball the cylinder with your flashlight. Yup, she drips a bit at first, but as the wood swells she stops almost entirely. Back in business! How many times have you run with a plug disconnected after you used yore tire chuffer and forgot to slip the wire back on? A jillion! And with no big problem, except a slight down-in-the-mouth feeling that you soon correct by a quick up of the hood when no one is looking.
For sure, you carefully wrap and hose-clamp the rod throw holes that feed the bearing you took off. If you don't, oil pressure goes to zilch. Lulu-Belle, smart as a whip (who taught 'er everything she knows?), yanks the rocker arm and lifters in that cylinder so the valves won't uselessly flop around in there. You slap back on the head and pan, and the world is yours again! There's no more desperate feeling than to have your rig off the air Way Out There. But now you got your wheels again!
Ol' Blue now proceeds to take you outta that bad place with just about the same power as he brought you in; this tells you something about the sad state of that now-missing cylinder. And you drive that seven-cylinder special (five or three, if you got those kinda engines) not just home but for several months until Lulu-Belle delivers the son and heir she's been carrying around, and you get the sawbones paid. Call 'im Rodney or, in honor of the occasion, just Rod.
The thing about gittin' back is that it's part of our pride. It's a piece of the four wheeler mystique and romance. We can go anywhere; we can come back from anywhere! If you look at a tragic breakdown in that light, even though you're not the world's greatest wrench, you can do most anything. Because we're that different breed of cat, the kind that makes this country what it is.
And so our historic git-backers-you got some of yore own that're better no doubt-become sagas sung at ancient fires by Great Warriors as Holy Sanchems chant in the background, "Hubblemubble-dubblebubble,'' or words to that effect.