Friday, September 19, 2014

Tractor wiring finale

To finish up my Cub Cadet wiring adventure, it turns out that when the previous owner ran a line to the batt terminal of the regulator all he actually had to do was to move the grey wire from the hot side of the starter to one side of the ammeter. I actually spliced the grey wire to a little of the previous owner's very long wire since the grey wire had quite a large ring terminal on it. Viola it works, that easy. One downside is that it doesn't measure when cranking since that comes off the switched side of the starter switch but everything else is measured including the

With the ammeter sorted I took a look at the bracket which at one point must have been chromed but is now just rust. I let it soak for a few hours in a bath of evapo-rust, then cleaned it, dried it and hit it with some primer and yellow paint.

I let it dry overnight and then sprayed the backside. When that was mostly dry I baked it in my toaster oven but had the heat too high and bubbled the paint. That subsided into an interesting crackle look which goes with the mostly rotten paint on the rest of the tractor.

Here with the engine off, headlights on we've got discharge.

With the engine running it charges:

When I turn on the headlights the charge rate dips for a second before it goes back to the same spot. I was pleased to see that the starter/generator charges even at very low engine speed. My other Cub Cadet seems to want more engine speed before it charges, I guess I should order a starter/generator rebuild kit for that one as well.

After all that fun I took a few minutes to add slime to the left front tire which was low and put some grease in all the zerks.

Most importantly I was able to start the tractor cold without starting fluid for the first time in about a year. I was so happy with it I went out and bought a padded seat cover. The machine had one when I first bought it but it got torn off last spring so I'd spent a year sitting with a dirty old towel on the metal seat. I'm ready to plow snow in luxury.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

More tractor wiring fun

Turns out my first instinct about the key switch on the Cub Cadet 70 was exactly right, I pulled it out and found that the switch was grounding to its body.

Taking a look at the thing I noticed that the end cap where the electrical connections go was loose and tilted when they key turned. If I pushed the cap in everything was fine until I worked the key back and forth a couple times and the cap popped out again. Finally I pushed it in and peened the rim of the lock body over with a chisel, primitive but it worked.

Now the key supplies power to the coil the way it should.

While I was there I pulled the wire from the ammeter to the regulator, as I said yesterday this wire really wasn't doing anything. The last step (I hope) will be to move the grey wire from the hot side of the switch out to the ammeter. This should allow the ammeter to detect charge state while running. With luck I'll be able to use the ring terminal thats already on the grey wire without modification, as long as it will fit through the hole to the ammeter which is mounted on the right side of the steering pedestal.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014


After yesterday's success I put the battery charger on the Cub Cadet overnight, today I went out to see if it would start better than in the past considering all the electricity was getting to the starter/generator. I hit the starter and it cranked over much quicker than before but after maybe half a second of cranking I was "rewarded" with smoke and burning plastic smell.

My tractor has an ammeter which has never worked. As part of the cleaning I did yesterday I cleaned the terminal where the ammeter is connected to the starter switch. It turns out that the other side of the ammeter was connected to the L terminal on the voltage regulator. This is WRONG, it should be connected to the BAT terminal on the regulator. Fortunately the wiring on the Cub is pretty heavy so all I got was a couple melty insulation spots which I fixed with tape.

I went on to make up the last heavy wire which goes from the switch to the starter/generator so now the whole path to the starter/generator is 8ga which is very heavy for a garden tractor and I'm confident that it'll never be a problem.

Unfortunately now when I turn the key switch on the voltage regulator clicks and the ignition coil loses voltage. Interestingly if I turn the switch just part way it doesn't happen and the tractor will start and run. I *think* this means that when the ammeter was wired incorrectly it forced the key switch to take full current which I *think* is allowing the switch to short out when turned all the way. I need to pull the switch and see if its something I can fix or if I need a new switch. Fortunately 2 position switches aren't terribly expensive.

The ammeter STILL doesn't work because although it doesn't cause a short anymore its still not wired right. Right now its wired from the hot side of the starter switch to the BAT terminal on the regulator but the starting switch still has a line from the hot side to the BAT terminal. To work correctly an ammeter has to be inline between the hot side of the starting switch and the BAT terminal where mine is currently parallel. The wiring on my tractor would work okay for a voltmeter except it'd drain the battery since it can't be turned off. A volt meter should really be to the switched side of the ignition switch. So to fix this I need to disconnect the original wire from the starter switch to the BAT terminal which would just leave my ammeter.

At some point I really need to re-wire the whole tractor. Another problem I worked on was that the wire from the ignition switch to the coil was cracked badly. This wire wraps around the back side of the engine and is bad on my Cub Cadet 72 as well. I used a weatherproof butt connector and a length of green wire which should have been black. If I feel real bad about it I'll blacken it with a paint pen. Of course later on I found a spot thats cracked beyond where I'd fixed. I've also got the old link to the starter/generator just hanging out. I debated cutting that wire off but left it. I'll be on the lookout for some cheap wire loom to build my new harness around at which point I'll buy the correct color wires and redo things right.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Tractor repair time

Yesterday I spent some time cleaning out the garage to fit the Honda CB900f back in. It'd been out "for sale" for over a year and sadly the shop it was at is closing down so I had to take it back. I've let the garage get very messy this summer and it really needed cleaning. That meant I had to move my 1964 Cub Cadet 70. I use the Cub Cadet mostly for plowing snow. Its got a mowing deck but it isn't as maneuverable as I'd like for our small lawn, the Snapper is a better mower really. Last winter the Cub Cadet had gotten challenging to start, often requiring a shot of ether to get going. I've got another Cub Cadet, a model 72 at camp that doesn't get used much and that ones had a fairly recent engine rebuild so my plan had been to swap them when I go north for deer hunting season in November.

Last night I got thinking that maybe the bad starting was just slow cranking. I cleaned the battery terminals and cables and the connection at the starter/generator. None of that made any difference. I measured the voltage drop at the starter/generator and found it around 4 volts! Not good, no wonder it cranked slow. I had some 8ga wire Fred had given me for the '78 240D which I'd never used and a couple crimp on ring terminals so I made up a new cable from the battery to the starter, this one was the winner, the old one was small and had a splice in it to an even smaller wire.

On the left the old wire with the splice, on the right a comparison of the new wire and the old, see how much bigger that new wire is.

I also made up a new lead from the battery to ground. Honestly I'm not sure how the old ground worked at all, it'd been attached to a painted surface. Again my new wire is much larger than the old. I also put heat shrink tubing over the new terminals. The existing terminals on the cable already had heat shrink.

With my new cables installed voltage drop at the starter/generator is now less than 1v which is entirely acceptable. I'm still going to replace the wire from the switch to the starter/generator. I would have already but I ran out of ring terminals and it was too late to go to the store. This is probably excessive but when it is done I'll know that the cables are all good and that I'm getting every bit of starting voltage I possibly can.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Rental cars

I was all set to tell you all about the rental car I had last week in LA, I had a picture and everything and then I suddenly realized I didn't ever tell you about the rental car I had in June and frankly that one was a much bigger deal so lets drift back in time shall we?

Before today I guess I'd never really thought of this blog as a kind of online diary but in a way thats what it is. Somewhere deep down I hope that people are kind of interested in what I do and the way I write.

So anyway back in June I got sent to LA which isn't that unusual, what is unusual is that I finally realized that because my company rents so many cars I get to be Executive Class with National Car rental. National's system is really cool, you roll into the rental place and just pick out a car, your status determines which area you get to pick from and Executive Class gets you about the coolest cars they have. Thats a good thing, when I was out in February I was faced with a sea of white and grey Camrys. Now don't get me wrong the Camry is a good car but exciting it isn't. That time I ended up with a lime green Kia Soul which believe it or not is actually a really good car, I quite enjoyed it.

There I was, presented again with a line of boring Camrys and this time no lime green Kia to save me. I asked the attendant if they had a Fiat, I've always wanted to try a Fiat. He told me they didn't but that because I was Executive Class I could pick from the Executive Class section which included a BUNCH of Dodge Challengers. I'm not normally one for muscle cars but the Challenger is a nice looking car so I snagged a white one. They only had white and black and if you've ever been to southern California in the summer you know you want the white one.

Driving up the 5 highway to Burbank the Challenger was a disappointment. Don't get me wrong it had power and its comfortable but the windows are small and the big C pillar means the rear visibility sucks so its a tough car to drive in heavy traffic. Being that the highway ride wasn't real fun I knew I needed to find someplace to take the car that would be fun so Sunday I headed north east where I knew there were hills and hopefully fun roads. A friend had suggested the Angeles Crest highway through the Angeles National Forest which is where I headed.

The signs are great, right out of Jellystone Park. For a driver this place is AMAZING, the roads are twisty and you spend a good hour climbing up away from LA. I stopped at one of the first turnouts for pictures:

I was all excited about the view here but frankly this is at only maybe 2000 feet above sea level, the high point is Dawson Saddle at 7,903 feet which is by far the highest I've ever been in a car.

This is the view out on the other side of Dawson saddle looking out toward what I think is Lake Los Angeles in the distance, certainly I don't see any other dry lakes on the map.

Looking back up the road:
Dawson saddle is actually out of sight on the right. These big canyons are amazing and just ring with the roar of motorcycles.
The Challenger was very fun on these twisty roads, it wasn't really hampered by being a 6 cylinder engine since that little mill puts out lots of power, the problem was that it was geared very high and as such didn't have much in the bottom end, I bet my Jetta is quicker off the line but once you wind it up to 4500 rpm it starts to really take off. I kept the shifter in 2 and entered turns at maybe 35mph so I could scream out of them at 50 or 55mph.

Challenger gets a well deserved rest after Dawson Saddle.
The suspension and steering on the Challenger are very good, light but precise with just a hint of understeer when pushed. I didn't go too hard since it had hard rental car tires and I was worried about losing traction and sliding off a cliff.

If there was anything I was disappointed about it was the sound. The Chrysler engineers have done a very good job making the car very quiet and from inside the engine note is almost totally muffled. With the windows down (you'd better have the windows down on this ride!) when I was near a cliff wall I could get just a bit of exhaust noise reflected back on me. I'd guess the people behind me or on the other side of the canyon were getting my sound which made me a little sad.

The worst part of the trip is the return, I was to tired to turn around and run the 60+ miles back through the forest. Its draining working so hard in every turn with your adrenaline pumping. When I do it again I'll take a co-driver so we can trade off and drive it in both directions. 
There are some good views of the high desert scenery. California is in a serious drought and the farmers are starting to give up in some of the driest places. I saw trees that were dead and real honest to goodness tumbleweeds.

You should never take pictures while driving but I couldn't pass up these rocks sticking out of the ground like the cars at the Cadillac Ranch.

Driving back is mostly super slab highway but I did spot a sign for "Route 66 Historic Segment" which of course I had to check out.

Theres nothing really that special about the physical aspect of RT66, its just road but driving down this little stretch out of the big hills I could imagine folks headed west during the dust bowl looking for a better life in the promised land of California where as Woody Guthrie explained they would find they didn't have the "do-re-mi" and they'd better go back to beautiful Texas. A freight train was lumbering in the other direction blowing its lonesome whistle as it climbed the grade. I was glad I was headed back to my hotel in Burbank and my modern lifestyle. To celebrate I had dinner at Hooters with a nice cold beer and hot chicken wings then went to bed early to dream of the Challenger's roar.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Ram tough

Got a chance to drive a Dodge 1500 "eco diesel" yesterday at our local Dodge dealership.
This is definitely not a 24 valve Cummins. Much more Mercedes like engine which isn't a big surprise as its European.
We also drove a 5.7l Hemi V8 which gave a nice comparison. For just driving around they make similar power. The gas engine actually makes MORE noise, they've obviously worked very hard to make the diesel very quiet. Looking at the engine its small, it looks like the V6 in my Ranger.

Power-wise for acceleration they're similar which makes sense when you look at the numbers, I suspect if you're moving a lot of weight on a regular basis the diesel would do it for much less fuel. The gasser is supposed to average 15mpg, the diesel is rated for 22. For comparison my '03 Ranger only 15... The diesel is supposed to do 27mpg on the highway. I usually beat EPA expectations so I bet 30 won't be that hard to get.

The truck is nice, has a dial for gear selection although our gasser model was stripped down and had a conventional column shifter. Dodge only does 4 door extended cabs, not an access cab like the Ford we had tried but the two trucks we drove had shorter rear doors. One feature I really liked on the Dodge was the mirrors flip up for towing. Both that we tried had satellite radio which I hate paying extra for since I probably won't pay the subscription.

If I were going to buy one for me, considering my truck needs I'd buy the gasser. If I had a business or a farm where towing or hauling loads was normal but we didn't need a 2500 I'd buy the diesel.

Where does that leave us on buying a truck? We're leaning toward The Ford 150 although at this point I think its a money thing. I've been playing with Autotrader to open our search window to dealers farther away. I do need to pay a visit to our local Ford dealer but their website suggests they don't have anything in the range I want to pay.