Operation: RESTORING BROWN: Vivisection of the Beast – the Summer of vantruck Begins;

Monday, June 24th, 2019 @ 3:48 | vantruck

With all of Vantruck’s major build phases being named cheekily after American military operations in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, (AMEEEEERICAAAAAAAAA), y’all knew this title was coming. ENDURING BROWN documented the struggle to get it back in running order after the Crash of Motorama 2017.  Later, RESOLUTE BROWN saw it become a staple of the Big Chuck’s Van Navy and move from “de-shittification” to “more-goodification” with addition of new fitments such as an overdrive, attending a few  (largely undocumented here) cAr ShOwS usually by just showing up and having everyone assume I belong, and even assuming the role of Company Truck™ in the critical pre-money months of yesteryear.

But, in all honesty, it was missing a lot. Cab rust issues were seriously affecting how I was viewing having it around – the roof became no longer rain-proof at the rusted weld seams (apparently a very Old Ford Truck Problem), making me wonder why I (at the time) had two non-waterproof vans. The paint was globally deteriorating to the point that every wash was turning my towels a light brown shade. And most shameful of all….. I never actually liked the brown-on-brown-on-BROWN paint job anyway. Sacrilege to my fans, I know.

And on top of that, the interior fittings were coming apart with increased use and mileage, reflecting their original cocaine-fueled construction pedigree. One fine day, I was minding my own business trying to get some tacos when the entire CB radio console fell onto my head in the middle of Route 16. I guess the last drywall screw holding the console to the 1/4″ plywood roof liner finally gave out. None of these are exaggerations. It only gets worse.

Yup, just like that, my decision was made. Big Chuck’s Auto Body Center was ready and waiting, and I was going to dive into the beast and cut it open, watching it bleed from every gash. And it’s gonna like it.

Perhaps the most insightful conclusion I’ve made in the past few months – really in the past year and a half after Season 3 of BattleBots …. which I only just now discovered I never actually did an event report for…. was just why a lot of people car as a hobby.

I do consider myself something like a creative person, and I thought that this creativity was generally bottomless and I’d generally be able to design and build things nonstop. It turns out this is more true if all of the things you build are on your terms – for me, that’s been robots, silly go-karts, scooters, and the like, up to and including the half dozen or so consulting jobs I had taken on in the area for friends’ startups and local companies.

When you pick and choose your battles, you tend to win them, creating the rush to fight more. It’s also why winning robot matches is a good thing! However, in the past (roughly) 2 years of the new company, it’s more been like all creativity, all the time, no matter if I think this is a good idea or not because it’s no longer my idea, only 35-45% mine depending on which paperwork we filed. That , like an artist who has to create boring but necessary marketing graphics all day, is what drains your WILL. TO. BE. 

When that happens, it’s difficult to open Autodesk Inventor again and work on Overhaul because I just spent 7 and a half hours trying to work on something else, and know that tomorrow is going to bring 9 hours of the same and 5 the next day with several meetings thrown in juuuust well spaced enough that I can think about something and get nothing actually completed. Then maybe I spent several hours more at home thinking, or late at night wrenching on the company products, metaphorically or literally, with nobody else around to bug me, which just makes me more tired and peeved at the #System.

Well, in that regime of operation, it’s nice to have a hobby where someone else already did all of that work and you have to exercise minimal thought. Just do. I’ve become more accepting recently of the “Guy who works on 1 motorcycle for 5 years”. Before, I always wondered how you can just sit there polishing one engine cover and not do anything else awesome to it. It’s because his day/entire career might be mind-numbingly repetitive or draining, not necessarily by choice, and all he wants to do is get the perfect polish on all of the chrome motorcycle parts I don’t know the word for before having to acknowledge the rest of the family he dubiously signed up for, that one night in his modified van. I hope I don’t keep this up – because at least unlike this hypothetical Gen-X career twilight strawman I’m talking about, I exercise a lot of control over the product and company direction….for better or worse.

(looks over at his modified vans)….. well shit

But I get it. I understand now. Some people car  because they enjoy the performance and tuning process (as I touched on in the bottom third of my accidental engine rebuild post, automobiles have basically every manufacturing process ever invented in them, often because of them) and exploring the often multivariate paths to their optimum solution. Or maybe they never find one and just go along for the ride. But other people car because it is an easy thing to pick up and put down in the limited time available between interpersonal obligations.

I have no interpersonal obligations to speak of, but I sure as damn have much less time to fiddle with finding the perfect hidden motor for my robots. So here I stand, with roughly the hours of 7-8PM to 11-midnight or thereabouts every night, and only about 50% of Saturdays – a.k.a the self-motivated postmodern Millennial with mutually induced career and success anxiety work schedule (what’s the Latin medical word for that?!). What can I get done in that kind of time? I never thought this would actually happen, but here I am with my first real “Project” “Car” so to speak, and another adventure into which I ran into headlong with just enough knowledge to get into trouble but likely not enough to get out of trouble. What will befall our incompletely Byronic Heroes in this episode!?

The events of the past few weeks will be the first in a few stages of this whole journey. It will include:

  • Stripping down the interior and discovering all of its dirty secrets, in preparation for
  • Recovering the rusted areas on the rolled/welded rain gutters and welding patches over them, then
  • Replacing or retromodding the interior fittings which I can’t (or won’t) save, and finally
  • Painting of the whole thing and addendum of dumb truck accessories

But first, let’s rewind a little to the closing days of Operation RESOLUTE BROWN.  Remember it was about making incremental improvements to make it less horrible? You know what’s horrible? Fuel filler necks that are held on by zip ties. Zip ties that break randomly with chassis-bed flexing and end up prolapsing the filler neck out the bottom of the fender.

I bought the interior fittings and (white, even!) doors from someone on Facebook last year, and never found the time to install them (remember self-motivated postmodern Millennial with mutually induced career and success anxiety – look, I ain’t saying it’s right or wrong, just giving the facts. We report, you decide.) until a few months ago. These things were…. let’s call them “Made to Print”. I get the impression the holes were just in-place drilled on the assembly line if it was vaguely aligned, because I could only get 3 of the 4 holes of the allegedly identical model-and-year filler neck fitting to line up – and one only after drilling out the embedded threaded insert nut completely and just using a loose nut on the back side.

Hey, whatever. It closes and doesn’t even look that bad!

The rear filler door and fitting were going to be a little more of a challenge, because…

To make the custom-length Centurion van-to-truck filler neck remotely reach the existing fuel door location, it had to bend and twist more than the hose could handle. This hose was already damaged when I got it, and rotating it upwards sure didn’t make it any better.  It would need to rotate even more to accommodate the fitting angle. I don’t know why Ford chose to put the fuel doors inside the dually fenders in those years.

With a lot of PB Blaster and some coercing with strap wrenches and prybars, I managed to “pre-compensate” for the twist needed to seat the filler neck such that the hose isn’t twist-kinked any more, just kinked. This should really be replaced for real some time – it hasn’t leaked, but I figure the reinforcement wires showing isn’t a good sign anyway.

The rear tank fitting aligned just as badly, again allowing me to use only three screws out of four.

And both fuel doors are now mounted. Instantly, looked at least a few percent better!  Man, the one-year anniversary of the Centurion RCR Episode (now approaching 400,000 views…. yikes) was coming up, and I really wish it could have been in a better state of De-Shittification back then.

If you’re detail oriented, you might have noticed a trivial change that magically appeared in the past few photos. Go ahead and look again at the past five photos!

Check these out. Around the time I signed on for Big Chuck’s Auto Body, I started more seriously shopping for truck accessories since I would have a less-frozen and less-seagull-dropping-covered place to install them. One of the issues that Vantruck has had, in my assessment, has been “Too Little Ass”.

What I mean is that the thing sits so high that it’s mostly tires looking at it from the back.  Just look at some of the drive-behind shots in the RCR episode.

The aftermarket step bumper I used to replaced the wrecked original is rather short in stature, and a conflict in its height versus having to access the existing van-frame trailer hitch for towing the company trailer meant I had to flip my mount and bring it up even higher. It just looked rather wrong, like not enough is going on, not truck shaped enough.

I plan to fix the bumper issue with a custom rear deep-drop step-and-tow style bumper (see: Stage 4 where I add horrible truck accessories that I haven’t gotten to), but in the mean time…

I am reminded of why I hate the idea of buying horrible truck accessories. Because they’re all overpriced and shitty for what they are. For the low ruble amount of $125 I got these rubber sheets that have the thinnest diamond-tread plate aluminum ever riveted to…. no, I HAD TO DO THE GOD DAMNED RIVETING. I could bend these sheets not just by hand, but between my fingers.

Dunno what I was expecting, really. If I still had 24/7 unfettered access to a “Milk my tuition back dollar by dollar” machine (also called an abrasive waterjet) I’d probably have made my own from 1/8″ or something. Nah, College Charles would have done 1/4″ for dramatic overkill.  But for now? Whatever, more money than time or sense.

Yeah, not to mention the braces were bare, uncoated steel. They’d melt away in one winter. So I did what I do best – paint them Miku Blue with leftover Overhaul paint.  Primer, base, and clear. These will last for a while yet!

Because it was actually still the middle of winter (what I call Winter begins in late September and runs until mid May), I had to give the paint some boost to dry and cure properly.

 

While snooping out the underside of the bed for where to drill the holes, I discovered a fun archeological fact about this bed I bought.

It had the exact model or a very similar model of mudflap.

The holes were already there. Both the underside and wheelwell one.  Well, now I understand what those holes were there for! I might start playing this game on purpose – try to “Guess the Accessory” based on the vestigial hole pattern!

The truck this bed was on definitely used to have a Gooseneck type hitch, because of the, you know, 4 inch diameter hole drilled right in the middle. On my long-term agenda is to re-add such a hitch, even if I have nothing worthwhile to tow, because truck cred.

The convenience was short-lived, as I quickly discovered that the rubber was cut assuming the F-series truck frame dimensions (33″ wide) which are a good 9″ narrower than the van frame (42″ wide). It just meant I had to move the thru-holes about an inch or so over for them to clear the leaf springs.

And…. not bad. The Ass Factor has substantially increased, and with it, the Truck-Shaped Coefficient. The higher your TSC, the more truck-like your truck is. Get it? Good, because I’m not going over this material again; you’ll have to work with your TA in recitation before the exam on Tuesday which will consist of one question only: What color is BROWN?

I finished all of the previous installation work before Motorama this year since I wanted to use that as an excuse to finally make the thing presentable. Externally-imposed but still artificial deadlines, you say!

We can now move on to the true beginning of Operation: RESTORING BROWN.  I spent a day or so after being beaned by the radio console to kind of outline the scope of the whole project and reaffirm my motivations. In short,

  • The radio console falling off will be the triggering event of pulling apart the interior
  • This has to happen because the rain gutter rust had, in my opinion, reached almost irreparable levels on the left side in three locations – the rear near the stitch seam, the center over the double windows, and over the driver side door
  • Repairing it will necessitate hotwork (welding, grinding) and I definitely don’t want to set the interior pieces on fire; I had to take the all off to investigate what will be nearby the weld site
  • While the interior is apart, perform upgrades and make changes; at least lay the foundation for changes I want to make so it can be closed back up
  • Repair or address all remaining rust sites on the cab in the interest of a full repaint; leave stuff in primer or some spraybombing
  • Shop around for a repaint quote or stop being scared and do it myself.

During this process, I had to minimize the amount of “immovable object” downtime so I had to plan my moves carefully – just taking everything apart with reckless abandon is how you end up with a Craigslist pile. I bought my vans as Craigslist piles, I should know this.

I decided a good brainless task to start on was going ahead and dismantling the interior, since at the time I was waiting on my welder and also needed to do research and think about how to attack the rain gutter rust. Learning more about the interior might also inform future changes.

First operation was to begin unscrewing all of the interior fittings, like the sun visors, trim pieces, and the cabin lights.

At this point I had no idea how anything was attached, so I carefully marked and retained all of the screws I removed. The answer: 1″ long self-drilling sheet metal screws. Just power zipped in there.

I sighed, and pressed forward.

I removed the passenger-side B-pillar upper trim to release another section of Centurion-special upholstery and….

 

Uh oh.

 

Literally duct tape has been found as a construction material. This wasn’t recent duct tape by my investigation – it was rigid and crispy, the kind of duct tape that only could have gone into it from day one.

I signed, and pressed forward. I see how this is going to go.

The stained wood roof….arches? are how the individual panels are retained. Under them are some more edge screws that hold the interior panels to the OEM steel roof beams, most of which are flat-head and were “driven through” the fabric so I couldn’t see them. I had to carefully examine the surface with a flashlight and catch reflections of the screws.

Alright, down comes the front portion of the interior roof liner, and…. I see duct tape from here. Oh no.

Oh no.

You know the canned movie/cartoon scene where the hero opens a door, chest, box, or some other cavity-laden plot McGuffin, makes a face, and then looks away back at his consortium of misfits and goes “It’s worse than I thought” or “Don’t look in here”, and closes it again?

That.

Right, also, do you see what I mean by 1/4″ plywood? It’s literally just stapled “Sagging Headliner” material on 1/4″ regular-ass 1980s plywood. Probably made from cocaine trees. I’m going to keep making “80s cocaine” jokes, despite having nothing to do with either subject matter.

 

Yep. Okay, moving on. I anchored everything back by 1 screw so it would stay in place; I wanted to see how bad the rest of it was.

To remove the rear panels, I had to first guess what order Centurion fit everything in. The answer is the worst possible order, a.k.a how I’d have done it too.

The driver’s side double-window panel went in last. You can tell since it overlapped the edges of all the other panels on that side. This meant to release the (what i now call) #2 and #3 roof panels, I had to remove it first. To do that, I had to release a significant portion of the driver’s side B pillar including the seat belt anchor bolt and both conversion van window frames.

These window frames were, let’s say, clearly not intended for the Ford van, as they had a different curvature than the outside of the body. This was hidden by the fact that the outer sheet metal to interior drivers’s side wall panel distance was about 3 inches filled with fiberglass batting. The curvature was then forced by elastic averaging beasting it with 17 1″ long self-drilling sheet metal screws each.

If any of this is able to go back in after I was done, I am starting a van restoration shop for real.

By the way, I went full long sleeve and respirator for this op – because the first time I popped the roof down, a cloud of orange decaying urethane foam dust and fiberglass particles rained down.

So how did your co-founder die? Miner’s lung. How did he get that? Working on his van. We don’t talk about it. What a conversation for your Series A funding round party.

 

Investigating some of the artifacts, such as the rear cabin light module, was a source of entertainment also. A lot of companies made RV accessories in the 1970s and 1980s, and most of these companies (Centurion included, in the end) are no longer around. Well, I found out why one of these lights always kept falling off: Because the HOT GLUE JOINT retaining it had given up.

You know what, maybe ya’ll fucking deserved to go out of business.

With the driver’s side wall panel pulled apart, and all of the roof panel screws released, it was time to unveil more of the Fiberglass Flabberglast. The silver foil tape isn’t OEM – I had to add it, very fittingly of course since it’s designed for insulation panels, because the two rear pieces kept trying to fall down on me.

I had known that Vantruck was insulated for a long time, but didn’t know how good of a job they tried to do until now. The side walls and rear endcap wall are very well filled, but the roof just had these cut rectangular chunks. Better than nothing I suppose, and it made me want to install the rest inside the gaps once I was finished in here.

Gee, thanks. Just pull naked wires against exposed steel edges. Yup, who cares about strain relief?  Who cares if your product is a fire hazard if the company will go under soon anyway!?

The condition of the roof underside wasn’t that concerning – not as bad as these photos make it look. It looks like rust caused by temperature cycling and condensation, and was entirely surface. Will it become an issue one day? Probably. Do I care enough right now to rip out all of the fiberglass and try to clean/remedy it? Nah, I had much larger, browner fish to fry first.

As a final step in this adventure, I decided to just rip the scab off and reveal the full Lovecraftian wirebomination that is the #1 roof panel.  I knew it was going to be bad, since all of the five “I am a large truck please thank you” DOT lights on the roof are wired in here, as well as two internal cabin lights and all of the CB radio and console buttons.

Up your nose, here we go…

 

Boy howdy did this get out of scope fast. I haven’t even touched any rust yet! In the coming days, I would switch mental gears and just grind and sand stuff while thinking of what I could possibly do to make this any worse.

 

 

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    One Response to “Operation: RESTORING BROWN: Vivisection of the Beast – the Summer of vantruck Begins;”

    1. Francis Theodore Catte Says:

      Welp, Big Bill Chuck’s 24 Hour Truck Repair And Restoration Services, LLC, here we come.

      And I’m honestly horrified, even given how absolutely terrible 80′s American cars were from factory, at how Centurion assembled that interior. Was it like a rancid jawbreaker? Just layers of bad ideas over even worse ideas? lmao