Operation IDIocracy: THE BIRTHENING

It turns out when removing the engine from a Ford Econoline, you can’t just yank it straight up. You have to execute a series of arcane Old Hong Kong Airport maneuvers, nearly hitting everything around it, to pull it out of the front. Ford Econoline: A series of unfortunate compromises made of Ford truck parts.

People have come up with some creative workarounds to use a regular cherrypicker style engine crane. Generally, the chain that hangs from the crane boom can’t be used since it needs too much vertical clearance. It’s usually recommended to sling the chain over the boom itself instead to gain those precious few vertical inches.

Also, it would seem like this type of buffoonery crosses oceans, as people also have made special low-profile lifting hooks for European vans!

What makes it even more awkward is that with the usual Harbor Freight 2-ton class crane, you have to do the initial lift at full extension because otherwise it doesn’t reach far enough to get to the center of mass of the engine. And, to make it still worse than that, I had bright ideas of lifting the engine and transmission out as one unit down the road. I still have the #OSHACrane boom from lifting Vantruck’s bed, so I decided to go ahead and cut it up to make a lifting appendage.

Here’s my mockup so far. I was going to just weld this chunk of C-channel on top of the boom and be done with it. However, since I have the fabrication ability and facility, I decided to trade some complexity for newbie maneuvering space – I’d never done this pull, so I’d rather have the extra 2.5 inches if at all possible.

The plan is to sink the C-channel into the 2.5″ square, 1/4″ wall steel tube that made up the #OSHACrane. I wasn’t concerned about the weight of the whole engine causing issues here, since it’s a lot of steel remaining. I made the cutout using an angle grinder and cutting disc, then blazed it on with Limewelder running on its deserved 240 volts, which actually made very quick and smooth work of the 1/4″ steel.

Using a length of Vantruck’s everyday-carry 5/16″ tow chain, I wrapped it around all of the OEM lifting loops as well as a 4th lift point that I invented out of a 1/4″ thick barstock. That mounts to where the OEM fuel filter fitting was. I wasn’t confident that the three point right-triangle lift points would result in any sort of stability. It can be seen here that the crane boom pretty much rests on the intake manifold.

(Incidentally, Ford has a part number T75T-6000-A for hoisting up the 460 by its carburetor bolt holes… which seems a little wrong, but it was what I was recommended for yanking the engine from Vantruck.)

We begin the initial lift – a few pumps of the handle, and the engine has popped off its mounting slots.

At this point, I dive under to brace the transmission with a jackstand and remove the bell-housing and adapter plate bolts. I’d already removed the torque converter bolts holding it to the flywheel a few days before.

I then pumped the crane just enough to see that it was relieving the weight of the engine and transmission some. One good pull later, and the engine is free of the transmission after popping the dowel pin mate.

I realized the lift location I chose was slightly too aft – the engine rocked forward as I was pulling it up. The center of mass is more towards the front of the air intake, not the dead center.

To remedy this, I added an “attitude control” ratchet strap so I could adjust the tilt of the engine as I went.

So here’s what goes on with an engine pull:

  1. Lift upwards from mounts until the mounting studs clear the engine cradle crossmember
  2. Pull forwards until the lower engine oil pan hits the cradle
  3. Lift upwards to barely clear the oil drain plug over the cradle and no more – if you have rear heater lines that run across the underside of the engine cave roof, the hookup fittings might get in the way if you lift further. Snekvan has these (Vantruck and Spool Bus do not), so I had to actually swivel the crane a little on the ground to avoid them
  4. Pull forward all the way until the harmonic balancer or upper oil pan face starts hitting the lower sheet metal sill of the body.
  5. Lift upwards to clear the upper oil pan over the sill, and you may also need to tilt the engine to avoid the heater lines (Nick’s site is a great explainer for this)
  6. Pull forwards until the lower oil pan reaches the sill
  7. Lift upwards to clear the oil drain plug and lower oil pan
  8. Finally, pull forwards to exit out!

Yeah, that’s a lot of maneuvering. Luckily, I greased the crane wheels beforehand so it was possible to do by my not too engorged self.

And just moments before 2022 hit, the 7.3 IDI was birthed successfully.

The van went up like 3 inches and got all pigeon-toed doing this. That’s a lot of weight coming off the front suspension there!

There was now a new problem.

The Harbor Freight crane and 1-ton engine stand do not mate to let you perform the handoff. This seems like an OVERSIGHT.

Alright, so now what? I had to come up with a way to attach the stand to the whole thing first, then slowly back it off while supporting the engine so I can remove the crane.

Step 1: Unlock the legs of the stand, and sling them upwards over the crane. This lets you attach the engine using the bolts and standoffs.

I picked this configuration of the little standoff arms. Notice that the faceplate is actually upside down – the other orientation could not produce a solution.

Next, I introduced the floor jack in the middle in order to prop the engine up by a third point while I removed the crane. After slackening and removing the chain, I carefully moved the crane away before clicking the leg pins back into the stand.

I back the floorjack off, and we’re finally free!

This engine is absolutely filthy in every sense of the word. It’s probably got 50,000 miles of oil leaks on it or something. In the days prior, I swope a parts washing basin off Craigslist in anticipation of having to degrease The Everything. I filled it up with a terrifying concoction of Simple Green and Purple Power degreaser, gave most of the parts I removed from the van a couple of swipes with a wire brush to… uhh, break the crust, and let them bake for days.

What”s not shown easily here is the immersion heating element I wired into the thing, so it’s actually keeping this teratogenic menagerie just under boiling temperature. FOR DAYS. I periodically topped the water off.

After days and days of this, everything looked great! Well, except the solution, which had turned into this steaming brown sludge. We speaketh not of what happened to it.

I realized I’d already started losing track of what parts went where or did what, so I began what I called the “Kaizen Wall”, labeling parts in the rough order they were removed and with names I hope I’ll rememeber in a few months.

From this point, Operation IDIocracy will focus on the rebuild of this engine and gradually turn into pulling Vantruck apart the same!

The First of the Year! Operation IDIocracy: Time for the Teardown



On a rather warm and dry post-Christmas afternoon, the Snekvan experiment to came to an end. I pulled it into the “open for van shenanigans” half of the carport, chocked the wheels, and began the deconstruction.

Vans vs. Harbor Freight: Coming to Netflix this fall

There was a LOT of work to do before I could actually use those stands, cranes, and lifts. All of the accessory drives and wiring had to be removed first. While this is all rote and procedural, I anticipated a lot of little side quests originating from rusted or stuck fasteners, dried out hoses, and so forth.

One of the annoying time-consuming things? Fluids draining. A van is really just several leaking fluids arranged in a clever fashion. Recall that at the start, I replaced the “coolant” in snekvan with a degreaser solution to start counteracting the years of buildup from the leaking oil cooler.

That problem had now come home to roost.

This is what I ended up with when I pulled the radiator drain plug: Gallons and gallons of


…one of many brown substances to come.

It presented a unique disposal situation. There was no way I was going to let this just run down the driveway. But, at the same time, this part of the county has an older combined sewer system (notorious in the news for releasing poop into the river when it rains heavily), so… driveway or not, it’ll end up the same place.

I at least gave it the decency of a toilet burial, which entailed transfer pumping it into gallon jugs and pouring it out.

The next brown substance was the transmission fluid and engine oil. Engine oil was easy enough, but the transmission fluid had to be transfer pumped out through the dipstick, as Ford did not (in their infinite wisdom) put a drain plug on the E4OD fluid pan. I actually kept the transmission fluid since I had topped it off a good amount, and on the whole it still retained a bright red color.

The first parts to come off are the last that got installed – the turbos and pipes. I put all of these bits in a tote – while I’m going to remake the pipes less haphazardly, they’ll be good as references or to have around.

Now I’m ready to start dismantling the accessories and subsystems. The grille and headlights come off to expose the A/C condenser in front of the radiator, which needs to be removed. The A/C was long dead/never hooked up anyway.

I spent a while figuring out how these stupid garter spring connectors worked and how to actually use these disconnect tools. It turns out the circular sockets the springs fit in can get plugged up by dirt pretty easily, so they can’t expand enough to actually let the fitting go. Also, the Harbor Freight disconnect tools seemed to have too aggressive of an edge. I gently belt sanded a chamfer onto the edge to make it pop in easier. Then I had a fun time figuring out which end to pull on – it was completely the opposite polarity as I thought it would be.

There were three of these connections – one on the passenger side of the condenser leading under the battery tray, this one by the driver’s side, and one more that’s further back set against the firewall. I suppose I didn’t need to remove that one, but did anyway to clear working space.

The bottom of the radiator has an integrated transmission cooler, so the hoses coming from the transmission had to be decoupled as well.

After that, the radiator support is removed and then the ENORMOUS radiator pops out from the top. I had to stand over the thing and hoist it out – it was beyond the weight of what I could pick up standing next to it!

I took the opportunity to thoroughly hose the engine down with degreaser of varying grades. This entire engine was a seemingly never maintained oil leak, and there was grunge coating every surface.

I rented a fan clutch wrench tool to release this threaded fan hub. The big wrench fits over the four bolts holding the water pump pulley on, then another small wrench is used to loosen the fan hub itself.

Well, that’s how it’s supposed to work, I think, but I couldn’t get any leverage with the confined space to use the small wrench.

I found that the small wrench clipped over the power steering pump, so I simply cranked the fan hub off using the big wrench instead.

By 1991, the third-generation van chassis was such a legacy platform already that just about everything sprouted off it with a bracket, and those brackets were held on by several different fastener sizes.

Having worked on the others, I’ve noticed that a lot of the core chassis and engine hardware is x/16″ sizes (7/16″-14 and 9/16″-12 in particular), which are very rare today. These were mixed in with ones I expected more (3/8″, 1/2″) and even worse, by 1991, a bunch of random metric screws too. The vacuum pump? Metric. Transmission? Metric. Everything else? I dunno, try the sockets until they fit.

Well that’d be why Snekvan couldn’t retain anything in its power steering system! The return hose was not just dry rotted, but straight up turning to dust.

I’m well on the way to removing all of the Brackets™ now. Look, I maintain that the IDI is easier to service in the Econoline than the 460 in Vantruck. I suppose both are just as easy to service if you Remove Everything beforehand.

This was also when I began scoping out the wiring changes I had to make.

Wiring Reconciliation is going to be an entire sub-project in its own right. I have it somewhat easy – the IDI doesn’t really need “Wiring™” to work. But there will still be a lot of wires crossing in order to hook up the OEM gauges and sensors, plus an entirely new glow plug circuit that has to be accommodated.

On top of that, my choice of the E4OD transmission means I actually need to find a home for what would be the engine control module (ECM). That’s that huge connector up there. In a 1991 fuel-injected gasoline engine truck or van, it would also run all of the injectors and emissions sytems. For the diesel engine, it’s basically just a transmission computer.

It’s important to note that the cavity it sits in does not exist in the 1986 chassis of Vantruck, so I’ll need to invent a climate-sheltered location for it.

To add to the wiring tragedy yet to come, the IDI has a slew of temperature-controlled whirlygigs. As a result, it has no less than three individual little senders or temperature switches. One is actually hooked up to the coolant temperature gauge on the dashboard. One is a switch that controls power to the cold idle solenoid and timing advance solenoid. And the third toggles an “Engine Temp” light on the instrument panel independently of the coolant temperature gauge!

I found a photo on The Internet of what these little sensors do. This photo is for me, when I inevitably forget and wonder why the coolant temperature gauge is blinking and the cold idle only works when hot.

One of the final steps is removing the injection pump. This is a bit of a tricky operation in the van because you have to work in Hammerspace. It’s obviously much easier with everything on the top side removed! In fact, they make a specific bent wrench for getting to the tricky nut on the passenger side in-situ. I was luckily able to reach it from the front here (normally blocked by The Everything). Beyond that, all of the injection fittings backed off with ease.

You end up with this weird spider looking creature.

I decided to do the No-No Thing and also remove the injection pump gear and housing. This is specified against in the Official Strategy Guide, even for removing the engine, because it means you lose the timing of the engine. This timing gear mates with the camshaft gear far enough down that you can’t see the gear mate, or guarantee that a dead drop will actually land the timing marked teeth together.

Since I’m taking the entire engine apart for a rebuild, I didn’t care so much. I really had no idea how you were supposed to remove the engine with the housing attached because it sticks up so high that it seemed impossible to actually lift the engine enough, given the craning distance you have is on the order of a few inches.

Some of the last parts to come out are metal hardlines such as the OEM under-engine fuel line, transmission cooler lines, and the dipsticks.

And here we are, with the engine fully stripped down and all of the mounting bolts on the bottom backed out. At this point the only thing holding it in is gravity…