Sunday, January 6, 2013

The pipes, the pipes are calling

When I was a boy my cousin Sid became a neighborhood hero when he took a cold steel chisel and knocked a triangular hole in the muffler of his grandfather's Cadillac, which Sid borrowed to drive around town and go on dates.  You could hear him coming a block away, preceded by the throaty growl of that big engine as he came down Cornwallis Drive.  It was a disappointment to all of the younger set  on our block when his grandad took the car downtown to get a new muffler, but I never forgot how that car sounded to a 12-year-old kid who couldn't read enough about hot rods, dragsters and '49 Fords with flathead V-8s.

So it was one day last fall when I realized that the little Diesel engine on our banged-up 4x4 hauler sounded a lot like that Caddy, circa 1958 or so. Just firing it up made booming echoes that bounced off the hills and ridges that rose above our garden, and I wondered if a hole had magically appeared in the muffler to help announce our arrival to the bears, deer, turkeys, coyotes and other critters that traipse around in our rural neighborhood.

I liked the sound of it all -- but worried a little about the Diesel fumes that seemed to envelop the bench seat region.   Got nothing against Diesel odors, understand. We had a 37-foot sailboat with a three-cylinder Yanmar engine that always started and always got us where we were going when the wind died, but there was little drip into the bilge somewhere, and everything had that oily aroma of Diesel fuel. Even our saltines tasted of Diesel. Got so I didn't like 'em if they didn't taste a little fumey.

Just before Christmas I cleaned out the dumpbed of the hauler and raised it on its hydraulic cylinder so I could take a closer look. There was no tailpipe hole.  The tailpipe had separated entirely from the exhaust flange on the side of the engine, so the exhaust was not getting even close to the muffler -- but I was coming up right under the bench seat. I briefly considered buying a wire-feed welder outfit recommended by Popular Mechanics, but I needed to get it fixed fast.  I unbolted the rusty flange and the muffler from its mounting bracket and took them to a local auto shop the other day to be re-welded.  I thought I had marked the flange and pipe correctly, but somehow the welder got it wrong by 3/8 of an inch. There was no way to get the flange over the four bolts unless the whole flange-pipe-muffler-tailpipe rig was to stick up at an odd angle, preventing the dumpbed from closing flat.

I found an online outfit that made couplers that could join two pieces of 1.5" exhaust pipe. When it arrived I sawed the pipe in half a couple inches from the flange, banged on one end of the coupler, bolted the flange back on the engine manifold, then banged the sawn-off muffler pipe into the other end of the coupler and torqued it all down with two hefty muffler clamps so the pipes couldn't slip out of the coupler.

Never was a kid more disappointed than when I started up the engine. It purred relatively quietly, all trace of that menacing guttural roar channeled back into the mysteries of the muffler box.  Well, it's fixed now, and I can hear myself think, and I can get my ice-damaged trees cleaned up and limbs hauled off to the burn pile without having to risk total hearing loss. 

But it just isn't the same.   I was thinking of getting out one of my old cold-steel chisels and a ball-peen hammer and cutting just a bit of a hole in the muffler to make it sound a little better. Nothing over the top, mind you, just enough to let folks know I'm on my way.


  1. I gotta say.....I chuckled from the first paragraph to the last! Oh, how I love your blog! Thanks Jack.....happy trails of diesel to you!

  2. Enjoyed this. My son paid good money when 16 years old to make his SUV sound like a shrimp boat coming to dock when he arrived on our relatively quiet neighborhood street.