Introduction: Haywire Mechanic

About: Tim Anderson is the author of the "Heirloom Technology" column in Make Magazine. He is co-founder of, manufacturers of "3D Printer" output devices. His detailed drawings of traditional Pacific I…

A tale of fixing the right vehicle with the wrong stuff and keeping on going.
My relatives used to bale hay with stuff called "haywire" and used it to fix their equipment.
When something had a lot of haywire holding it together, it was said to have "gone haywire".

The much beloved "Ugly Truckling" a.k.a. "truckosaurus" gave us much joy. It's a 4wheel drive '83 Datsun Kingcab.
It took crowds of people and vast quantities of toys to the beach for kitesurfing and to frozen lakes for ice-kite-craziness.
It never needed any repairs until this trip south in 2003, when everything started breaking and falling off it at once.
Here it is in its element.

Step 1: Time Flies and Important Stuff Comes Off in My Hand

In North Carolina you can drive on the beach. There's a lot of beach and not a lot of people.
The beach is coarse shell sand mostly, which means it's steep where the water hits it and soft where it's dry.
Even with 4wd you need to let a lot of air out of your tires and low range is a big help for the extra power.
I shifted into the granny gears and the lever came off in my hand along with a broken chunk of the shaft it was clamped to. I dropped it behind the seat with the other stuff that had been coming off in my hand. I was a little afraid that if I tried to shift it out of low, it wouldn't go back in again, so we left it that way. We didn't need to go fast, so we forgot about it.
The day before both doors had lost their hinges and fell off when you opened them, hanging by shreds and a couple of wires. That was pretty funny every time it happened, which was all the time.

In this photo Eric Wilhelm works on his ninja moves.
Could it be that kung-fu heroes once used kites to do those amazing jumps of theirs?

Step 2: All Right Son, Let's Get That Bullet Out

After a lot of kite-surfing, kite-suffering and other hilarity it was time for my pals to head back north and me to keep going south.
I got my nerve up, found a shady parking spot and did the necessary surgery. I couldn't get to the shifter shaft, so I used a cold chisel and a lot of hammering to cut a flap out of the floor and pry it open. There was a bit of shaft left so I filed flats on it and clamped a vicegrip on it. That worked just fine as a shifter and off I went. The road was a bit louder than before, but the floor was rusted out anyway so it didn't make much difference. I was wearing jackhammer headphones with speakers wedged inside, listening to history books on tape about war being hell. I'd checked out five gallons of tapes from the library for the trip and would mail them back when I was done. Someone at the library likes military history, so that's what I had. Here's what the successful repair looked like. That will be $300 an hour, please.

Step 3: Good Thing I'm Driving Toward the Sun

Later that day in Georgia, I stopped for gas and the motor wouldn't crank afterward. Battery voltage was low. I looked under the hood and the alternator belt was broken. So I hooked a solar panel to the battery and let it charge for a bit. I'd tied a chunk of rope to the top of the window frame so it wouldn't fall off and chop off my toes every time, so the door was hanging from that. I put my shoulder against the door frame and pushed the truck into motion. Then jumped in, threw it into 2nd gear, and it fired right up. Don't ever get a car with an automatic transmission. It was a cool day and I didn't need the radiator fan on the highway. I was driving south so the sun was at a good angle on the solar panel propped up on the dashboard. I was sitting on a pile of stuff so I could peek over the top to drive. The panel is a beauty made by Evergreen Solar. If you'd bought stock in them a year ago you'd be bragging now. Buy it now so you can brag next year. Read the reports by Michael Rogol to see why solar is a good investment.
The jar on the windshield in the 2nd picture is making sun tea. I've also got a little darkroom agriculture going in the cool area behind the driver's seat, growing mung and lentil sprouts in jars like a yachtie. Once a day I'd rinse and drain them.

Step 4: A Bad Noise

A few miles down the road there was a bad noise under the hood. I pulled over and peeked under the front.
There was my alternator hanging by wires between the front wheels. It had fallen off the engine and found its noisy way past a bunch of moving parts.
By some miracle nothing had been harmed and no wires seemed to be shorted out. I tied it up to the torsion bar
with a chunk of innertube and kept going, running the spark off the battery and solar panel.

Step 5: That Only Works During the Day

That was fine during the day, but at night there's no solar power, and I needed to run my headlights. I turned off the highway in Jacksonville and went looking for a place to hide. Before I was ready the motor coughed and died. I took it out of gear and coasted down a little hill. I rolled to a stop in a spot that was as good as any. I decided to sleep well that night, so I crawled under some plywood in the back and laid out flat.
In the morning a lot of birds were singing.
I crawled out of the back and saw that I was in front of the most perfect junkyard you ever saw.
I looked under the front to see my day's work, and there on a piece of cardboard was a sausage-and-egg sandwich and a cup of coffee. There was no one around, so I figured it was for me, and enjoyed my feast.
When the coffee hit me it seemed like a good time for a bath, so I took a fresh shirt and a gallon jug into the woods and washed off yesterday. That felt good so I shaved and brushed my teeth too.

Step 6: We'll Just Sew Your Ear to Your Butt for Now

The thing about great surgeons is they don't mind taking a hammer to your head, prying all the bones out, and rearranging them so they hold the soft stuff up in a better way. Or sewing your ear to your butt, like they did to that Chunnel worker who liked it so much he ran away and wasn't seen again.

I was feeling like a great surgeon. It was a perfect temperature, there were no bugs, the birds were singing, and caffeine molecules were telling me what had to be done. The alternator needed to move to a new location a couple of feet from where it used to be.
I cut the wires going to the alternator and spliced in an assortment of wires that had been in the back of the truck for no reason the whole time I'd had it. I bundled it up with tape and it looked tidy.
Then I lashed a couple of aluminum rods to the alternator with bicycle innertubes, lashed the far ends to a frame member, and tied the alternator up under the engine where the pulley lined up with the engine's main pulley. I took a piece of string, wrapped it around both pulleys, and cut it so it just reached once. That was the length of belt I needed.

Step 7: Meet the O'Steens

Just as I was cleaning up my mess, the proprietors of the junkyard got home.
"We heard you snoring in there, and from the look of your rig we figured you could use some breakfast", said Janice O'Steen. Nice people. When I explained what I was up to, they were all in favor of the plan. He said they used to use a nylon stocking as a replacement fan belt when they needed one. Just tied the ends together and it would work long enough. I obviously love that kind of thing, and asked him a lot of questions about fishing, etc. I need to find my notes. One of his stories was about a friend of his who got obsessed with a treasure a local hermit was supposed to have buried. The man went all over probing the ground in hammocks (patches of higher ground) and digging for the gold.
A friend of theirs stopped by and offered me a ride to a parts store. I bought two belts on either side of the size I thought I needed. When we got back the longer belt fit perfectly, and I was all set.

Step 8: Thing of the Road

And off I went. I had plenty of electricity to run my headlights now, but the new belt arrangement didn't turn the radiator fan. So now night driving was easier than day driving. At night there was less traffic which meant less stopping, and it was cooler. In stop and go traffic I had to pull over when my valves got loud to let the motor cool off. Good enough to get to the next place. So I went back to building a boat from the stuff piled on the truck at each stop. To find out how that turned out, look at