Archive for April, 2017

22 Apr 2017

Posted by under Dave's Thoughts,Mr. FixIt

Pedal Box

The progress on the Midget continues, but pretty slowly. April has been quite cold and lots of showers/rain/freezing drizzle/snow – sometimes all in the same hour. This has stretched out the MG repairs by almost three weeks now. Well it’s not just the weather – there was some time spent shopping for new tools. The pedal box, clutch and brake pedals weren’t in very good shape, paint was shot and there was some rust. Since the shapes are complex I figured that wire brush and sandpaper was not going to work out too well. Clearly I needed to sand blast. And I don’t own a sand blaster.

First things first. Although “sand blasting” is the term most people know and use, the current term is “media blast”. Sand is not used much because it has health risks; you can get silicosis from breathing the dust from the shattered grains of sand. It also is less effective than a bunch of alternatives that are available, everything from baking soda to copper slag. I settled on an inexpensive siphon system rather than a blast cabinet. The cabinet would have been nice, but I don’t know how much sand blasting I’ll be doing and I really don’t have room in the garage anyway. My air compressor is also borderline for the required air flow and pressure. Blasting takes a lot of air. Even so, the inexpensive option still cost about $120 for the gun and container, gloves, particulate filter mask, eye protection and a 25kg bag of glass bead media.

The glass bead blasting, does do a pretty good job – for about 90 seconds, til the compressor tank pressure runs down and you have to give it time to catch up. Every minute of blasting needs about two minutes of compressor time, maybe more. And, the mess! I did the first tests just outside the garage in the alley. The breeze, though light, was an issue and I soon realized that a better approach would be needed. As it turned out, the answer was to set up the drill press with a wire wheel or cup and clean as much as possible on the parts. Then, the bead blasting was only needed to get the really tight, difficult areas. That allowed me to get the three parts all done with minimal effort. I also ran the air hose round to the sheltered area beside the garage (and kept the garage door closed) where I did the blasting in a big cardboard box. The mess was, more or less, contained that way.

Today, I was hoping to paint the parts. I picked up some primer, satin black and clear coat then spent some time cleaning, degreasing and masking. Unfortunately, the afternoon kept getting colder and then it started raining – not ideal for painting which needs some warmer temperatures and not too humid. The weather forecast for the next few days doesn’t look good, so I think this project will take a while longer yet.

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15 Apr 2017

Posted by under Dave's Thoughts,Family

Sgt John Blair

My grandfather, John Blair (1891 – 1978), was a soldier in the Great War in the British Army. Between watching the ceremony at Vimy last week, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the battle won by the Canadian Corps, and a comment made by my Dad that Grandpa had fought at Vimy I got to wondering about that story.

The story is, as with so many veterans, sparse on details. John Blair’s experiences during the war were just not discussed – no doubt a chapter in his life full of difficult experiences best not dwelt upon. In fact, during John’s lifetime the only time he talked about his service was in an audio interview that he did with the oldest of his grandchildren in 1977, just nine months before he passed away.

That interview focused on John’s recollections of stories of his parents and grand-parents, his earliest memories and his experiences through school, the war and emigrating to a farm on the Alberta prairies after the war ended. John was raised in Liverpool and, after finishing his schooling, became a clerk for the Great Northern Railway, first in Liverpool and later in London, where he lived when the war began. John’s description of how he enlisted is very matter of fact:

… Then the war broke out in 1914. When the call came because of the invasion of Belgium by the Germans, tens of thousands of us young fellows flocked to the coast. From then on, from 1914 to 1918, having done my training in London in the Royal Army Medical Corps, I was overseas.

His decision to enlist was speedy – Britain declared war on 4 August and John enlisted on 2 September of 1914. At the time of the interview, John simply described his unit as “the Field Ambulance” and it was years before bits of documentation came to light in the family to start piecing together more details of his service in the 5th London Field Ambulance. There were a few months of training, first as a stretcher bearer then becoming one of the cooks for the unit (he is 3rd from the left in the picture), before shipping off to France in March of 1915. Once in France, he served a a cook for the unit September 1916 when he was promoted from Private to Sergeant. As an NCO he no longer cooked, but served in general duties and as a stretcher bearer.

From before the war, John had been courting Grace Hanley who lived in Liverpool – a courtship largely conducted by letters mailed back and forth over almost 8 years. Eventually, John married Grace Hanley in 1918 while on leave from his unit for ten days, returning to the front after a wedding and short honeymoon. In the audio interview, amid a series of questions about his correspondence by letter with Grace before and during the war, the conversation turns to some of John’s battlefield experiences as the reminiscence of the letter writing prompts a transition to memories of his service as a stretcher bearer.

76.Q. Did you write just as often during the War as you did before?

A. No. Obviously we were too busy and when we were up in the trenches you couldn’t. Sometimes up in the trenches it would be 24 hours before we could even go to sleep going up the line bringing out the stretcher patients.

Speaking about going up the line as a stretcher-bearer on one occasion we were in front of Cambrai. At about that time tanks were beginning to be introduced as a weapon of warfare. We were bringing a fellow out of the line and we had him up on our shoulders, instead of low down on what they called the traverse, or the handles. Over came a German plane and when he spotted us, he started to pepper us with his gun, with his machine gun. Fortunately, we were passing one of these abandoned tanks that had been knocked out. So we dived and put the stretcher in between the tracks of the tank, it was just wide enough and we ran the stretcher in between with the man on it and crawled in after it and waited until Jerry had gone back.

77.Q. Everybody came out of that OK?

A. Yes, we came out. On one occasion we were up at Ypres, in front of Hill 60. Here I see, looking back, the preserving hand of God upon me. I remember going up one time and, some of the boys were pretty civil-minded and real Christians, and I remember quoting a verse from the Psalms, “a thousand shall fall at thy right hand but it shall not come thy way”. I saw the evidence of that, on this particular occasion. When we were able in this instance to be able to run that wounded man on the stretcher in between the tracks of that abandoned tank.

British Salient round Ypres in 1916, Hill 60 and the rail line lower right

I remember, I’ll never forget, Christmas Eve of 1916. The mail used to come up with the rations. We were in a dugout under a railroad that ran from Ypres to Lille. It was a broad-gauge railroad, a single line. And we were just about going to have our tea and we had just opened our parcels from home. Just prior to that, foolishly, we had been walking, in daylight, outside the dressing station. A German plane had come over, unknown to us, and was taking observations and had spotted us outside this dugout . About just as it was getting dark and we’d made our tea and we were ready to have our tea and open our parcels. I went across the dugout; it was about 10 by 10, to get my cup out of my haversack to dip into the dixie to get my tea. At that precise moment when I moved two 6-inch shells came clean through that roof and from then on it was all oblivion. I was the only one that came out of there without a scratch ; one boy was underneath me and another was on top of me, with a concussion. One of the boys we never found until the next day, because he’d been blown clean up through the hole in the dugout.

78.Q. How many of you were there?

A. There was about eight of us in the dugout. I wasn’t injured physically, but I got shell-shock and for a little while I was taken out of the line and I was down to the ADMS Headquarters, that’s the Assistant Director, Medical Services and I did cooking for the staff down there.

79.Q. Was that early in the War?

A. 1916. After I’d recovered from shell shock I went back to the duty at the unit, with the London Field Ambulance . From then it was the same routine, it was stretcher-bearer up the line, up and down.

And that’s it – the only direct recollections recorded from John’s four-and-a-half years of wartime experience.

As for Vimy – we don’t have any direct stories or other information. But, John’s unit was attached to the 47th (2nd London) Division of the Territorial Force (one of 14 such infantry divisions in the “first line”). The 47th Division initially landed in Bethune, France and spent the war in northern France and Flanders (Belgium). In the first half of 1916 the division was in the area west of Vimy and took significant casualties (about 1500 of a total of 2500 British lost) in the German attack at Vimy Ridge on 21 May 1916. An abbreviated War Diary for the 5th London Field Ambulance is available online in the collection of the Wellcome Library as part of a unit history from 1935.

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09 Apr 2017

Posted by under Photos


9 – 12 April 1917
Battle of Vimy Ridge
Canadian Corps

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02 Apr 2017

Posted by under Dave's Thoughts,Mr. FixIt

No Fool

… like an April Fool!
However, unlike some people or companies, like WestJet, with their clever April Fool’s Day gags, I chose to celebrate the day differently. The first of April is the anniversary of the day that I purchased my MG Midget back in 1985. In the intervening 32 years, I’ve driven it a lot or a little depending on the demands of family life and the vagaries of 70’s era English engineering and manufacturing. After a pretty good year in 2015, last year was dismal as both life and British reliability took a major toll on sports car usage.

I took it out last year at the end of March and after a quick spin around the neighbourhood, discovered a small coolant leak in one of the heater hoses. Not too serious, and despite having been unemployed for six months at that point the repair could be squeezed into the budget. But I didn’t get after the repair right away and, a few weeks later I went to start the car again and the clutch pedal went straight to the floor – no pressure at all. No obvious signs of leaking – until I jacked the car up and the underside of the transmission around the slave cylinder is all wet, and it seems clear that the slave cylinder is having issues. Given that replacing the slave without attending to the master cylinder is a recipe for doing the job twice, the whole hydraulic system would probably need replacing. But not right away. Austerity measures were in full force by early summer of 2016 and the job market was still flat.

So, now that the car has been up on jack stands, patiently waiting for some attention for many months – the temperature in the garage finally was warm enough to lie on the concrete (using 2 luxurious layers of cardboard for comfort) and tackle the job. And, that’s just what I did yesterday. On the 32nd anniversary of purchasing the Midget, I pulled the slave cylinder out. And the ignition electrics. And the brake master cylinder. And the clutch and brake pedals. And the pedal box. And then, finally, the clutch master cylinder. And, during the 7 hour process, I soundly disparaged the intelligence, character and parentage of the English designers at British Leyland and MG.

For you see, there are 2 captive bolts on the pedal box that the clutch master cylinder (CMC) flange secures to with 2 nuts, one above and one underneath the CMC. But because the CMC reservoir is a tin can soldered to the body of the master, and the pedal box rail is right there, no tool in my possession can both get onto the diabolical lower nut and have enough room to turn. Searching the internet wasn’t all that helpful, this appears to be everyone’s experience. Some have success with bending, hammering and grinding an old wrench into shape; or they have magical thin walled sockets, adapters and double-jointed wrists. Most seem to suggest loosening the pedal box (held on by 2 screws + 3 bolts + 2 difficult bolts + 1 stupid bolt), to gain a little room underneath.

But, no. Not so fast there, young apprentice. The routing of my brake lines prevents me from lifting the pedal box enough. So now it is decision time. If I pull the lines off the brake master cylinder (BMC) then I’ll need to bleed the brakes. And I have, as a separate project (not this weekend!), the job of doing the brakes on all four corners, so that means the clutch and brake jobs would have to be completed before the first run of the season. But, no amount of wiggling will gain the room I need to get to the diabolical nut. So, off come the brake lines. And then, finally, I can get a wrench on the diabolical nut and off comes the clutch master.

Success Level: Pyrrhic.

By this point I’ve gone far enough that I am starting to realize how grotty the whole pedal box area is and decide that, since this is completely out of hand now, I might as well pull the pedal box and clean up that whole area. So off come the pedal springs, then the clutch pedal and finally the pedal box. So now, to fix the clutch hydraulics, I have to:

  1. clean up the pedal box (sandblast? powdercoat?)
  2. fix up the pedal pivot (new pivot bolt?)
  3. front brakes (rotors, calipers, pads and brake lines)
  4. rear brakes (cylinders, shoes, brake line)
  5. reinstall the master cylinders to the pedal box
  6. install the clutch slave cylinder
  7. reinstall the pedal box
  8. hook up the brake and clutch lines
  9. bleed the clutch and brakes
  10. fix other stuff that goes sideways in the meantime
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