My Girl: Gettin' After It!!

My Girl: Gettin' After It!!
My truck on her maiden voyage in Moab 2012

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Something in the works

We had a couple of family events over the weekend. There was basically no allotted time for building. But I was able to make it out to BMG metals Friday morning.

The rest of my day was incredibly awkward carrying two, 24-foot sections of 1x1.5 rectangular tubing through the city. There were some stares. There were some moments of intense concentration while parallel parking and placing the truck in the garage. But in a few days' time, it is my  hope that the effort will have been worth it.

 This is the spot in the garage that basically no one takes because you have to wedge in at this column and there are yellow steel bollards in the vicinity. Basically you have to drive down to the bottom, U-turn, and then throw it in reverse to get the angle right if you are going to back in. Veronica and I performed this at 24 feet long.

I didn't quite get why people were staring. I've carried things on the roof before. I think, generally though, I've maxed out at 20' sections, like when I brought home the tube steel for the rock sliders and bumper. But BMG charges a cut fee for when you order non-stock lengths. Although I think I only needed maybe 26 feet and was just going to order an even 40, I ended up with 48 feet, and a random section of C-channel that might come in handy.

Any guesses what I'm up to?

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Dual Battery: Part Deux

Over the past month or so, I got increasingly frustrated with the dual battery setup intermittently not providing enough power to the radios. It was weird. The winch would work. But sometimes the radios would power up and sometimes not. Sometimes the inverter would power up and sometimes it would give the low-voltage warning. It got to the point where I started carrying a Fluke Meter just to double-check the battery charge. So I knew a change had to come.

The problem was that it had all been done piecemeal. First the objective was to add the second battery. Then I thought about the inverter. Then I thought about specific loads to add to the second battery. The solar panel came next. Then additional loads and a distribution panel behind the rear bench. There were too many points of failure introduced into the system.

Since I was potentially going to need to undo it all anyway, I started thinking about actually mustering the huevos to fit both batteries under the hood. And so, this became the genesis.

There is one extra long run of #2 cable in here which I have since swapped out. Aside from picking up two additional 20" sections of battery switch cable, I attempted to reuse as much of the suitable wiring that had been retained from the initial iteration of this. It took 2-1/2 days of near steady work. The biggest dilemma I ran into was finding a suitable place for the automatic charging relay and the switch. The Xterra builds after which this was modeled had used different relays and opted to mount their devices above the fuse blocks/panels in the section under the bonnet closest to the passenger right before the firewall. I didn't want to mount anything there which would encumber access to those fuses in the event I needed to swap one out on a trail. It would be bad news if something was suddenly  happening that would result in burning up a fuse; however, it would be something worse if I couldn't readily access it to make a swap with a spare in the interest of keeping moving.

So I spent a lot of time, once I got underway, trying to find an alternate location in a way that would not preclude access to other serviceable areas of the engine bay. I'm not 100% happy with what I ended up doing, but I also didn't think I really  had a viable alternative that would have also allowed me to keep the wiring runs short/consolidated and not blocked fill ports and such. I took a lot of photos; so, I'll walk through what was happening and how I arrived at what, thus far, has proven to be a pretty successful outcome.

 I didn't mean to post this here, but I took a break in the work to drive my wife to her job so I could use her car if I needed parts in a pinch. I just got a kick out of how, this driver, who is also towing a camper, could not find any space in their main vehicle or in the camper to house their razor scooter. It had to be mounted out back, I guess :)

 So this was the sad state of things when I started. When I switched from the stock battery to the first Yellow Top Optima, the posts were too far in towards the midline of the battery compared to the stock battery. The stock harness would not rest on this battery as it had before as the heights were different as well. Well, I came up with this poorly conceived extension and just had that harness zip tied to the power-steering reservoir's tower. Then as I added loads, I used a post extension and another clamp to begin stacking on loads like a bad game of Jenga. It was not good. I was not proud.

When I did the body lift, the reservoir no longer had enough slack to be lifted up and out of its tower. It had to be left out. It also received the zip tie treatment. I was not proud.

 I hated this harness and thought it was a good opportunity to disassemble it.

 You'll need a 10mm socket at times.
 This is some sort of voltage regulator from what I'm told. I needed to remove it from this perch and get rid of the fold in the body panel to make a more flat landing surface for the batteries.
 Up close
 10mm socket undoes all of these bolts.

 Removed the power steering reservoir tower. Two bolts need to be completely undone. The third, because of that C- opening, can be left as is and it'll slide out of the grommet post.
 So I captured all of the PS fluid in a zip lock bag (gallon size) as I disconnected the reservoir. I sat the bag down. The bag was not fully sealed. Despite my efforts, still lost the fluid.

I had some kitty litter left over from disposing of latex paint. (Mix it with paint and allow to dry. Then it can be safely discarded with common trash). Anyway, it became my spill kit.
 Everything unbolted. And filthy. I was not proud of the filth.
 I cleaned up some since I was taking photos.

I was leery of using the angle grinder in such close quarters to cut some of these tabs. At first, I used some pliers and a big hammer to fatigue one tab bending it back and forth and beating it. That got old though. I went ahead and wet down a blanket and stuffed it in the compartment to catch any flying debris.

 Test fitting the batteries just to see if there was truly the space. There was. And not an inch to spare in any direction.
 I thought about mounting the reservoir here. I was worried about the sharp bends needed to make the connections to the hard pipe sections.
 I had the idea to make these battery trays and then have them welded together as like a tiered system. Let me just spoil the plot and say that the endeavor failed miserably. First problem was that my welding setup does not allow me to weld such thin gauge metal as that which I selected. If it does allow for such, then I clearly lack the ability to execute without burning it up. Tried a few approaches of making weld puddles with sacrificial washers to allow them to fuse the angle iron to the sheet metal. It worked, but it was pretty sh*tty to be honest.

The second dilemma was that there is JUST enough clearance for the batteries and their curved contours. The squared portions of these trays could simply  not be accommodated. So I lost a lot of precious time in the acquisition and failed assembly of these trays which are not even used. I'm a little bitter just thinking about it.
 Here was another time suck. I had no business disassembling this harness. I ended up reconnecting all of it. Later in the process, I realized that I could not hope to best this design for its compact handling of the individual fusing of the loads coming off of the harness. Even if I could, the cost of buying suitable replacement fuses (marine grade anyway) was also going to become prohibitively expensive. I came up with a means of mounting this harness securely which will be showcased later.

 Wasted time labeling all of these leads. Dumb.

 I got the idea to use these roof walking pads to build up a flat, shock absorbing base for the batteries.
 This rail became my saving grace. I no longer trusted mounting anything with appreciable weight solely to the firewall. The former liquid tite lead which heads aft to the truck box was mounted with a conduit brace to the fire wall. Off roading and moisture in the bay had allowed the retaining screw to work its way loose.
 I didn't want to rely on mounting the switch and ACR and any other components solely to the fire wall. I had this unistrut laying around. I looked at first traversing the backside of the engine compartment, but I didn't want to block access to the rear fuse box.

I looked at doing something over by the airbox, but I didn't want to block the oil fill port or the AC test ports in that area.

This seemed to be the least obtrusive point to span the compartment.
 I test fit the components here with things literally just laying on top of one another. I also thought of mounting the reservoir towards the end of the run. This at least allowed for a straight shot to both hose inlets/ports.
 When I went to close the hood, the point that interfered was the switch. I notched the unistrut to allow it to sit lower.

 I went through the trouble of drilling these extra holes to mount the mounting plate that was used in the first setup, only to find that the mounting bolt heads were very close to the terminal studs. I was worried about any arcing. Out of frustration, I hastily decided to weld the mounting plate to the unistrut. And in my haste, I welded the plate too close to the unnotched edge. The switch would no longer fit. "You are an idiot, William!"

Very hard on myself.

I was able to notch the edge and allow the switch to seat properly.

 A better view of a cut section of the roof pad. I also was able to use one existing body hole for one hold down, j-hook. The hole at the lower portion of the photo was drilled to accommodate the second hold down j-hook
 Painting the rack.
 I had one battery tray from the rear setup and I bought another for these purposes prior to the sheet metal debacle. I cut the upper one to just fit the dimensions of the primary battery and left the aux battery tray at the stock width but with the length modified as was done with the primary tray.I then attached them both to some metal strapping to unite them and reinforce the assembly.
 At this point, I felt ready to reattach the power steering reservoir.

I got new hoses, but they are not PS hoses by part number. I went to three auto supply stores and none of them sold PS hoses. Pep Boys had kits for power steering, but they also included the hard piping and were meant for direct conversions. They didn't sell hose by the foot. I got reinforced hosing at the stock inner dimensions and have hoped for the best. I ran them long and capped them with orange duct tape.
 I cut off the excess length of the tower, drilled two holes and attempted to bolt it to the rail. In the photo is as far as the reservoir would slide into the bracket. The problem was, that although the void is clear where the screw heads are in the mounted position, the ring around the reservoir could not pass by the obstruction imposed by the screw heads. I went to bed in frustration.
 Although no beer had been consumed up to this point, I thought it was suitable to start the next working day with it. I told friends that I was going outside to do this and would not be going back in until it was done. I was reminded to bring plenty of beer. I had abstained until this point. Now I needed a taste.

 I left the problem children bolted in, fired up the welder and welded this damned thing into place.

That became problematic as well later on. When everything was hooked up, there was a slight kink imposed on the larger of the two hoses. Now I didn't have a good way of sliding the bracket forward or backwards. The hose was bouncing off of the air intake plastic pathway and pushing back towards the reservoir. I was able to do some shifting and finagling of the assembly to clear the kink. This became another time suck. 

 Another time sucking detail had to do with the grounding of the electrical system. The stock grounding wire that connects to the engine was short and not very accommodating. It had a special terminal post bonded onto the wire midway and then the voltage regulator assembly needed to also have the wire lead run through its opening. I had entertained swapping out for another ground wire, but I didn't want to compromise the operation of this assembly. I ended up modifying a bracket from one of the winches into an "L" shape and mounting a portion of the stock tower assembly horizontally where the PS tower used to be anchored. There were threaded nut-serts here that I repurposed for this exercise.
 I then took the battery lead and grounded that at another threaded nutsert. I don't have a picture of it for some reason, but from that grounded spot on the body, I jumped a ground wire over to a terminal post that I affixed to the body adjacent to the coolant reservoir. That is where all of my accessory loads can be grounded as it comes with 4 terminal posts.

This is what the spaghetti looked like before everything was neatly run together, zip tied or shortened to go in their final places. 

It started Friday after work and largely was concluded by 930pm Sunday night. 

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Chaos Offroad Visit and a Few Format Changes

I may shift to a monthly format. If I'm not wheeling 1-2 times a month (and wrenching on the weekends in between) there isn't much to write about. I do notice more and more rigs in my area that are at least built for wheeling. No clue if they wheel or not. I might start featuring them here too.

Last Friday (not this weekend, but the weekend prior) I headed down to Chaos Offroad's Fab shop to pick up some equipment Cruzer had ordered for safekeeping. It was the visit that almost didn't happen after maybe a couple months of trying to coordinate schedules.

 So I left my house at around 6am hoping to get down by Winchester before 8am, get the goods, and high tail it back up to DC in time for the workday.
 My aspirations for a quick turnaround were as crushed as these cars behind the shop.
 The guys, as I later found out, had a late build night the evening prior, and folks were a bit slow to rouse the next morning.
 I occupied myself outside taking photos and reading things online.
 Then I started peering in through the glass and taking photos of the Jeeps under construction.

 There were quite a few.

 The first member of the fab team got there around 915am, but he didn't have a key. Nice guy originally from Connecticut. We chatted about builds until the next guy with a key got there around 930. At about 9:45, AK arrived. Despite my much-delayed departure, I thoroughly enjoyed the tour of the shop. I was familiar with how GWs laser cutter worked (which is like a $75K, room-sized piece of equipment), but I had never worked with or seen a plasma cutter in operation. AK provided a demonstration of their shops hand-operated plasma cutter. Not a cheap acquisition by any stretch, but nowhere near the $75,000 price tag of the GW laser cutter either. "You'll kiss your cut-off wheels and band-saws goodbye when you get one of these," he remarked. And he is right. That's pretty much all I have at my disposal for my more rudimentary builds. When we had finished the tour, we sat down at the conference table (it was patio furniture, but that's ok) and AK showed me some of his prior builds and collaborations with his former partner out west and what they've also been up to more recently.

The Friday visit was necessitated by my wife's plans to head to VA beach that weekend to visit some of her HS friends. All good folks with whom I have previously enjoyed spending time. I tried to find somewhere that I could put the truck on the beach, but it was short notice and not much in terms of options turned up. So I only really have typical beach pictures and photos of Maddy with a face full of sand. It was also confirmed that my dog absolutely  hates all manner of water or aqueous activities.

Do you wheel, bro?
 I have seen this Xterra outsid eof National Geographic's headquarters a few times. he's got an axe and a shovel mounted to his roof rack. Mud flaps have been removed. I've been meaning to work up some "Spotted" cards. I left a note on a Frontier once, but the guy never responded.

The other day, at work, I spotted an Off Road-edition Xterra in the garage. There are a few Xs that park there, but most of them seem like the typical DC-area SUV. You get groceries in them and are happy to have it when we get a dusting of snow. Nothing wrong with that. But I noticed his nerf bars and flaps had been removed. "Maybe he wheels". I only noticed it when I came down to retrieve some documents from the truck before lunch. So I went upstairs, grabbed a business card, and came back down to leave the card with a note scrawled on the back. I got an email from him today, to which I responded with info of some of the local clubs in the area. He used to wheel out west but has not been out upon returning back to the area. So maybe he'll take one of the clubs up on the invitation to join and we'll see him out on the trails.

 I work down near the waterfront in Georgetown (although my activities take me around the city, as always). On days where I do a lot of ripping and running, when I come back to the office, it is not worth it to park in the building garage as the rate jumps to $19 once you've exceeded a 2hr stay. At that point, I just find parking on the street. And that's when I ran into this gem. The first time I saw a Lexus at an offroad event was down in Tennessee for National Xterra Meet 3 (NXM3). Not only did it initially seem out of place (at a Nissan Xterra event), aside from Land Rovers, I didn't think anyone would even dare try to wheel a luxury car. But I was careful to hold my comments to myself. Me and Josh F. have been the recipients of snide remarks from Jeep guys for having our Nissans on the trail. The one guy yelled to Josh once at the Big Dogs event, "Does your mom know you're out here with her car?!" It was clever, but he was still a jerk.
 Anyway, someone made a similar comment about this dude's Lexus I guess earlier in the day, and the report was that the owner countered that his 'car' came stock with front and rear lockers and he was clearing 35s. He went on to say, purportedly, that the commenter had probably never seen a Lexus wheeled because he couldn't make it where the Lexus go. Touche sir. Touche.

You clearly love America (as do I), but do you wheel?
I wanted to get a few pics from the front, but the guys you could see in the earlier frames were incapable of figuring out the operation of a parking meter, and I was not interested in crossing the street to get the other favorable vantage point. So I kept it moving. But he had some custom bumper work going on in the front and the rear.

I haven't done much with my truck as of late. The biggest mod I've done yet is relocate the CB antenna (again) to this lower position. I mis-estimated the clearance needed to run a shorter CB and still be able to come in under 6'-2" height which is about the lowest garage that the truck will fit in. In the front of the truck, I have a 4' whip for my scanner radio installed. I was thinking I could run a 4' CB whip out back here, but this position is actually about a foot higher than the front mount. So I would be at about 7'-4" with the CB antenna I just ordered. They make 3' antennas, but I think that is an unacceptable reduction in power-handling, and transmission/reception range for a guy coming from a 102" steel whip. What I decided was that I would swap the coax feeds between the CB radio and my HAM radio which has a 3' antenna also mounted on the front bumper opposite the scanner. I can then run the CB antenna at the HAM radio antenna's former location and move the HAM antenna to this rear location. Then all of my antennas will clear any downtown DC garage that I fit in (without the need for getting out of the truck and bending the 102" whip over and securing it). 

Other than that, I'll be working to diagnose an electrical issue with my aux power system. Sometimes it works, sometimes it is only putting out minimal voltage. Kind of defeats the purpose of a backup. So I need to get on that. I was supposed to do that this weekend, but blogging, Titan Swap research (thinking about it more than I ever have previously), and such kept me distracted. So we'll see.

Until the next post...maybe a month from now. Maybe two weeks from now. 

I'll probably continue to collect photos of the modded trucks I see. If you know who they are we'll need to extend an invitation to go wheeling to see if they actually will come out and get their trucks dirty with us.