Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Mystery Revealed

I am sorely tempted to save this title for a post concerning theology, but it fits very well here also. The mystery that I am going to address is a damage that most will not have ever encountered, but if you have run in to it before, this will be helpful. I have been working on Harleys professionally for over 25 years, and only come across it a few times. The cause of the damage remained a mystery until quite a few years after first encountering it.

The mystery of which I speak is the unexplained "melted" piston pin boss. The initial symptom will suggest a wrist pin keeper that has come out. The cylinder will be destroyed from the wrist pin coming out and gouging the cylinder wall. Once disassembled though, things look a little less straight forward.

Instead of the wrist pin bore in the piston being intact for the most part, with perhaps some damage to the keeper groove, the spot where the keeper groove would have been looks for all the world like it was melted. This may be on only one end of the wrist pin bore, but more likely will be on both.

There will be no sign of heat discoloration, but it will appear as if the ends of the wrist pin bore in the pistons has melted away. This "melting" does not extend to the top of the piston, which rules out the melting originating in the combustion chamber. The first time I saw it, the word "erosion" immediately came to mind. At the time (mid 1980's), I was employed in a Harley Davidson dealership and had the luxury of calling the factory for technical help. Since the piston was from a recently "out of warranty" evolution, it was important to find an answer to what the cause was.

The tech rep at the factory who I talked with did not sound surprised by my description of the problem, but he dodged my question as to what had caused it. His solution was to replace both the piston and cylinder. Since the rep authorized extending the customer's warranty coverage to pay for this repair, both the customer and the dealership were satisfied. I, on the other hand, felt quite unsatisfied with this "solution" since I really didn't know if the origin of the problem had been addressed.

As a side note, the "non answer" from the Harley tech rep, reminds me much of the way the factory writes their service manuals. They will often state that "such and such" procedure MUST be done in "such and such" fashion. I for one find it much easier to remember the correct way to do something if I understand why it needs to be in a certain fashion. Most often the factory service manuals will give dire warnings about performing a task in a certain manner with no reasoning offered to support their "command". Sometimes the reasoning behind their procedure is sound, other times it is of no consequence and only added because they assume all Harley technicians are idiots!

Sorry for that rant, now back to the mystery. It was not until quite a few years later that I ran into this mystery again. The second time, the victim was a Shovelhead, and it was on a generic aftermarket piston. By this time I was working for one of the larger "unauthorized" Harley shops in this area, and so did not have access to the factory tech reps. This time I called a couple of the industry sources for pistons to see if anyone could tell me what this weird looking destruction was caused by. No one seemed to know, although Ron Dicky from Axtell came the closest when he said that it wasn't anything inherent in the piston that had caused the problem.

Since the original engine that had this problem at the Harley dealership had not failed again, I felt a little better this time about merely replacing the cylinder and piston, but the cause still remained unknown.

Again a few years passed, but then, mostly by chance, I found my answer! I was getting ready to final assemble a top end on a Shovelhead motor, when I happened to look through the end of a brand new, and just washed wrist pin. There to my surprise was a "gob" of metal filings. Have you ever seen how the metal filing that come off of a bench grinder can sometimes stick together because they were so hot when they landed that they kind of "fused" together? That is what was on the inside of this wrist pin! Just washing the pin in the parts washer and then rinsing with water had not budged the filings. I had to give the mass a tap with a screwdriver to knock them loose. There may have been about a 1/2 teaspoon in all, and once loose from the inside of the wrist pin the "gob" easily broke apart! Now it all made sense! The filings had obviously found their way into the wrist pin bore during the manufacturing process, only to come loose once the engine was running. Just add oil to the filings to help them slosh around and it is no wonder that the results looked so much like soil erosion!

Since that time I have heard of one more case of this same type of damage. I had a local "shade tree Harley mechanic" call me a few years back describing an identical problem on a bike he was working on for someone, and asking if I might know what caused it. I offered the story of what I had seen, and my conclusion, which he promptly rejected. (But then, of the half dozen times he has called me over the years with questions, he has always rejected my input, which really makes me wonder why he ever bothers to ask. When I have a problem I don't have a solution for, I don't call someone whose opinions I don't respect. There, done with that one last rant!)

I will let you be the judge as to whether or not you think I have solved the mystery of the melting piston pin boss or not, but as for me, I try to visually inspect the bore on every wrist pin that I install!

Monday, February 19, 2007

First, the Bad News

It has occurred to me that this blog is more than a month old now, and I have yet to post a message of "the gospel". This post will not be a gospel message either, because I am a firm believer that before you hear the good news (and "gospel" means "good news"), you need to hear the bad news. One will not have much appreciation for having a life preserver tossed their way until he realizes that he is drowning. A person will not have much use for a pardon until he realizes he is under a death sentence.

And so it is with the gospel of Jesus Christ. How can a person possibly understand the glorious good news, if he is not even aware that there is any bad news? That is why this post will not speak of the gospel, but instead will attempt to address the reasons for the need of the gospel.

Sin! Just a simple little three letter word, and yet it is the destruction of so much of mankind! Yet so little of mankind has a realization of sin, at least to the depth the bible teaches. A man's conscience may point out sin to him, but the conscience is so easily silenced, that it cannot be depended on to be a consistent witness. Indeed, all it takes to quiet the conscience is consistent repetition of sin! No, the only real guide to help us realize our sin is the law of God as layed out in the bible. 1 John 3:4 says: "Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law. "

If we know that sin is the transgression of the law, then would it not be prudent to know what the law says? In one of its most basic forms, God's law can be found in the ten commandments. By that I mean that there are many more commandments to be found in the bible, but certainly there are enough contained in the ten commandments to condemn every man to hell! In America today about the only attention the 10 commandments receive are in regards to whether or not monuments containing them are allowed on government property. It is likely that relatively few people can name more than a couple of the commandments, and probably even fewer can tell you where to find them in the bible! And yet they are undoubtedly among the most important of God's revelation to us.

Paul said in Romans 7:7 "What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet." You see, if sin is what sends a man to hell, and the law is what shows our sin to us, then it is imperative to know what the law says!

The first place we find the 10 commandments listed in the bible is in Exodus 20: 1-17
"And God spake all these words, saying, I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
(1) Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
(2) Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; And showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.
(3) Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.
(4) Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.
(5) Honor thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.
(6) Thou shalt not kill.
(7) Thou shalt not commit adultery.
(8) Thou shalt not steal.
(9) Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
(10) Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbor's."

Even a quick reading of these should open one's eyes to at least one area of sin in their life. A closer reading will likely expose others. I can remember thinking when I was young Christian (not young in physical years, but young in time as a Christian), that I had broken every commandment except one, in that I had at least never killed anyone. Of course I soon found that according to 1 John 3:15 "Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him."

I freely admit that I have been guilty of breaking all of the commandments, but how are you doing? Do you think that you are "a pretty good person"?

How about commandment number 5? Have you always honored your father and mother? Always been obedient to them, even when you thought they were wrong? Have you never done anything that would bring dishonor to their name?

I have already related what I learned about hating your brother being like murder in God's eyes, and how it brings the same condemnation. Have you never had even a moment of hatred for your brother? (and if you are trying to justify yourself by questioning whether they are your brother or not, well that would make a whole post in itself)

What about number 7....adultery? Few in this country could claim to be innocent of this in any respect, but Jesus said in Matthew 5:28 "But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart." If you are a man can you really make the claim that you have not broken this commandment, the way Jesus defined it?

Have you ever stolen anything? Even something small? Have you ever had a job working for someone else? If so did you ever give less than a good effort for your pay. Did you ever "goof off" during business hours? If so, it is just as if you took money out of your employers pocket.

I have only highlighted a few of the commandments that deal with man's actions toward his fellow man. The first four commandments, which deal with man's actions towards God, are even more difficult to keep, and likely deserve a greater condemnation. Do you claim to be innocent of all of these commandments? If so, I would remind you of Revelation 21:8 which says: "But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death."

Are you starting to see yourself as a sinner yet? "But I only broke that commandment once" you say. Or, "that was a long time ago." Do you think God has a statute of limitations? "But I told God that I was sorry!" How well would that work in a human court? Man's justice is flawed, like everything we attempt. God's justice is perfect! Perfect justice calls for a penalty for breaking of the law.

At some point sin needs to become personal, just between you an a Holy God. For several years I was involved in going door to door handing out the books of John and Romans, and attempting to witness to people. Invariably, if the conversation got that far, the person would acknowledge that they were sinners. But it always struck me that it was is a rather flippant admission. I feel that many, if not most would have become offended if we had discussed specific sins. There seems to be a tendency to feel that there is safety in numbers where sin is concerned. It is not so scary to see ourselves standing in a crowd of millions of other sinners before God.

It is something quite different to see yourself standing alone in front of a Holy God, with all of your sins exposed. Just you and the God that you have sinned against! Yet I believe that this is how we need to see our sinfulness. We need to see sin for what a serious matter it is. We cannot just write sin off as human nature. We need to see it for what it really is. A personal crime against the God of all creation. I think Paul said it best in his letter to the Romans. In chapter 7 verses 12-13 he says: "Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good. Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful."

If you have come to understand the exceeding sinfulness of sin, then you know that you deserve whatever punishment God sees fit. If so, then you know the bad news. Perhaps you are ready to hear the good news.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

When Shovelheads Ruled the World, Part 4

When we returned from the drag race in Colorado, as before, we pulled Bobby's Shovel motor from my chassis and re-installed it in his Lowrider. Being younger then, it just would not do to miss more than a couple days of riding! After a few more weeks of riding though, it was back into the race bike for the stroker motor.

Bobby could not get away from work on the Saturday of the race in St Louis, a small snag that wound up changing the course of drag racing history! OK, maybe that is a little too melodramatic, maybe a bit overstated, but still, it is technically true. Though I had no desire to race the dragbike, Bobby convinced me that it was imperative that I run the bike on Saturday to sort out the change in gearing we had made via the installation of the belt drive primary from his Low Rider. He would fly down after work on Saturday to take over the piloting duties for Sunday eliminations.

So my wife Jane and I loaded the bike up on that little open trailer, hitched it up to our beat up Chevette (which I had recently put a trailer hitch on), and headed south early on Friday morning. The trip to St. Louis was uneventful, meaning that after 20 years, I do not recall a thing about it.

Saturday morning dawned bright and clear, which forced me to face the real reason that "I had no desire to race". It had nothing to do with being afraid of the bike, after all, I had no qualms about testing it on the backroads at home. Obviously it was not due to a lack of interest in speed. If that had been the case I never would have built myself that first stroker motor. No, this was a little more deep seated than that, but no easier to admit. I was afraid of making a fool of myself in front of a crowd! Yep. That same fear that makes people afraid to get up in front of an audience and make a speech. The same fear that would keep a kid from raising his hand to answer a question that the teacher asked, even if that kid was quite sure he knew the answer. I have heard that this "phobia" is the most common in the world. I can well believe it, because I certainly suffered from it!

There we were at the track bright and early, and the track was opened up for time trials. I carefully and ever so s l o w l y went over every nut and bolt on the bike. I double checked everything I could think of the double check. The butterflies in my stomach were as big as crows. I considered making up a story about there being a problem with the bike that I couldn't fix until that night. Bobby would probably buy that, but what about Jane? Could I pull the wool over her eyes with her right there at the track with me? The last thing I could do was admit to her that "the big tough biker" had any fear of anything! In the end, that was what probably drove me into my leather jacket and with trembling hands (and I do mean trembling!) to strap my helmet on.

As if it wasn't bad enough that I was afraid of making a fool of myself in front of all those people, now I had to also worry that they could see me trembling! There was no waiting line to speak of in the staging lanes, so I started the bike in our pit area, and somehow managed to make my way to the starting line. Luckily I had paid enough attention watching others that I knew how to stage the bike, but of course that was not enough to completely ease my mind that I would actually do it correctly.

I staged the bike without any problem, but now a quick decision was needed. Drag strips were supposed to have really good traction compared to the street. We didn't have wheelie bars (after all it was a street class bike!), but I had extended my frame 3 inches in the rear via welding parts of my old swingarm to the rigid frame, so I was not too concerned about that. A bigger worry was that I would stall the motor due to not enough RPM. Now that would be embarrassing! How much RPM did Bobby use? No clue! No tachometer! Now what?!?

Erring on the side of more RPM (a tendency I have to this day), I cranked it up and when the green light came on I dropped the clutch. The results were predictable, but still fairly spectacular. The bike's rear tire spun big time, sending the bike almost completely sideways with the rear of the bike going to the left. Without letting off the throttle, I corrected, which brought the back end of the bike back the other direction, way past center going to the right, but not quite as far as it had gone to the left. This process repeated itself a few more times, each time the swing lessening somewhat as the speed of the bike started to catch up with the speed of the tire.

I suppose that this might have scared me to death if it wasn't something I had done hundreds of times on the street! Suddenly all of my fear was changed to adrenaline! The rest of the trip down the strip was a pure thrill! It was over far too quickly. I came back down the return road and instead of heading back to the pits I signalled Jane that I was gong back into the staging lanes. I knew I had to get back on the track before the adrenaline rush changed back to fear!

I don't recall how many passes down the drag strip that I made that day, but it was enough that I felt pretty comfortable in front of "the crowd". Comfortable enough in fact that somewhere along the line, I glanced over to the bleachers only to find not more than a dozen people bothering to watch time trials for the street class bikes. So "the crowd" that I had been so worried about making a fool of myself in front of, turned out to be mostly a figment of my imagination.

That evening, Bobby flew into town, ready for his turn on the bike. The next morning, showers threatened to make his trip a waste of time, but soon lightened up and showed promise that the races might still go on. Once the skies dried up, there was still the problem of a wet track. Back then there was no fancy equipment to quickly dry the track. However, where there is a will, there is a way. The track management asked for volunteers to drive their cars up and down the race track to speed the drying process. Soon there were a dozen or more cars quickly making laps up and down the track.

Maybe a little behind schedule, but better late than never, we came to eliminations. As usual, Bobby ran away from the competition. As I recall his times were around 11.70 with MPH about 112. That was not enough for a record in the quarter mile though. Someone from Texas held that record at somewhere in the 11.20 to 11.40 range (I really can't remember for sure).

After winning our class, we received a rude awakening in the first round of the run off between class winners. What worked in our favor in the past (i.e. having our dial-in set to a national record that Bobby owned), was our downfall this time. Since we were running slower than the 1/4 mile record in our class, we would have a dial-in that we could not possibly run. When we got into the staging lanes, most of the racers were trying to hang back and not line up against a racer on the Shovelhead at the head of the line. I brashly sent Bobby up to the head of the line to race him, thinking he would be an easy mark since his bike was an 80 incher in the class below ours (Hot Street FL I think). Little did I know that this racer had set a new national record in his class earlier in the day. That meant that he was running with a dial-in slower than he was running, and we were running on one that was faster. Since there was no break-out, Bobby didn't have a chance.

Despite another first round loss in the run off between classes, we couldn't help but be happy with another Street Racer FL class win and trophy! But now we knew there was somebody out there who was faster (at least in the 1/4 mile). As we loaded up and headed home, Bobby and I were both faced with dilemmas. His was; how do we get the bike to go faster? Mine was; how do I get my engine finished so that I could race it myself next season? I'll get to Bobby's answer in my next post on this subject.