Oct 18, 2015

The Saga of the Lincoln Diesel...

A Lincoln Continental of the same body style as my diesel
The 1995 Mead Christmas letter included the following: "The highlight of the year was our trip in July.  After many years of studying Hemmings Motor News Bob found a long sought-after car-- a 1984 Lincoln Continental with a BMW diesel engine.  Of course, it wasn’t in a nearby state; it was in Minnesota (but spent its winters in Arizona).  We figured that Minnesota wasn’t too far out of our way as we had planned to attend the Lincoln Zephyr Owners Club meeting in Dearborn, Michigan, to help celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Lincoln Motor Car.  So off we went with stops in Chicago to see Margo’s cousins, on to pick up the car and a quick visit with the Weatherlys in St. Paul, and (driving two cars with portable CB’s), across Wisconsin to Michigan."

The car that motivated that trip is an interesting subchapter in American automotive history.  It starts at BMW in the early 1980's.  They had developed the 528 series which had been quite successful.  Management decided they needed to add a diesel option to the 500 series lineup.  BMW's normal practice at the time was to design their engines but often to "farm out" production to other firms who had the capacity and were willing to meet BMW's rigorous production standards.  One such firm that produced lots of BMW engines is Steyr-Daimler-Puch.  Because of a lack of design capacity at the time, BMW made a deal in which Steyr-Daimler-Puch would both design and manufacture the new diesel engine.  By the terms of the agreement, they would also have the right to market the engine to other customers.  The result of this venture became the BMW 524td turbo diesel automobile.  It displaced only 2.4 liters as opposed to the gasoline counterpart's displacement of 2.8 liters because it required additional capacity in the cooling jackets and BMW had specified the outer envelope as being no larger than the gasoline engine.  The addition of the turbocharger was intended to boost the horsepower of the diesel.  It turned out to be a decent engine from what I have read, with the possible exception of a camshaft that suffered premature wear.

In the same time period, the good folks at the Lincoln Motor Division of Ford concluded that there was a substantial market for a diesel-powered luxury American vehicle, particularly in middle-eastern countries.  They were redesigning the Lincoln and Continental series, so why not make a diesel option available?  As they searched around the world for possible existing diesel options, they realized that the 524td engine would work because of the deal BMW had made with Steyr-Daimler-Puch!  Ultimately, this led to the 1983 option of a diesel-powered Mark VII or Lincoln Continental sedan.  They never really sold very well.   I have read that fewer than 400 units ever left the dealers' showrooms.  The marketing experts had it all wrong.

The Lincoln diesel, based on the BMW 524TD

I was aware that these cars existed and became fascinated with the idea of a large, comfortable American car that would get over thirty miles to the gallon.  I commute twenty five miles each way to work.  This option might provide a nice way to commute.  And so the search began.

After several months of searching in Hemmings Motor News and on eBay, I finally located a car that belonged to a gentleman in Minnesota but had spent all its winters in Arizona.  We negotiated a deal over the phone and that triggered the trip to Minnesota described in the Christmas letter.

The car was interesting.  It was very comfortable but grossly underpowered.  The Diesel engine had been mated to a German ZF automatic transmission, the same as used in the BMW 524td.  The 114 horsepower engine was trying to move a 3,700 pound car.  From 0 to 60 miles per hour took about 13 seconds and left a smoke screen.   It was a fine road cruiser but not much else.  I commuted in mine for about three years without incident.  Then, one day at work, a friend stuck his head in to my office and said, "I love your low rider."  It seems that the air suspension had collapsed!  My car sat very low over the wheels.

I drove the car home that day and researched the cost of rebuilding the air suspension.  The dealers didn't know much about the system, so I ended up buying the replacement bladders and replacing both front and rear units.  Still no luck.  The culprit was the pump and modulator valve assembly.  These were no longer available anywhere, so I left the car where it was parked, next to the house. (Today, there are conversion kits available to convert these cars to conventional springs.  Those kits didn't exist at the time.)

Fast forward a few years.  One day, Mary Ann asks, "What are we going to do with the blue car?"  A reasonable enough question regarding my driveway sculpture.  We decide to list it on eBay, and I am privately thinking that maybe we can get $100 for it and get it removed.  My ad is quite explicit with lots of pictures.  "This car is inoperable, has not been run in years, needs tires and a battery, has new air bladders but they can't be inflated, BRING A TRAILER, etc."  The bidding quickly goes past $100 - $200 - $300 and the car sells for $1,300!  The buyer calls and wants to come right away to pick it up and we make arrangements.  He and his wife drive from Oklahoma in a van and show up the next day.  Without a trailer.  He explains that he is an expert on these cars, owns three others, and that he'll have it running and out of there in no time.  He explains that he has a lot of parts with him.  I get my payment, but I'm not convinced that we haven't adopted a couple of Oklahomans.

That evening, I took Mary Ann out to dinner, and when we came home I saw something unbelievable.  The Lincoln was at its correct level, up off the axles, and it had moved!  That meant it had been running.  The van was gone, as the new owner and his wife had gone to dinner.  We heard them arrive back in the yard a little while later.  About 10:00 PM, I went out to see if they wanted to use our bathroom or if they needed anything.  They and the car were gone!  Poof!

For the next several days, I tried to call the buyer at his home in Oklahoma.  There was no response.  I pictured a wreck somewhere in the Ozarks with the car going over a cliff or exploding in flame.  Finally, about two weeks after his mysterious disappearance, the new owner called.  He couldn't be happier.  The car was running so well when they left that they decided to visit some in-laws in Arkansas and go fishing for a few days.  He said the car exceeded his expectations in every way.  And I and Mary Ann were ecstatic that the driveway sculpture had a fine new home. 

Oct 17, 2015

A Lesson in the Value of Silence...

Wilhelm Angele at the telescope of the Von Braun Astronomical Society
Photograph courtesy of The Huntsville Times." (Dooling)
On September 1st, 1996, an obituary notice in the New York Times was titled "Wilhelm Angele, 91, Engineer in Space Program."  The notice went on to describe, "Wilhelm Angele, a member of the team of scientists who began the American rocket program in the 1950's and whose last contribution will help test parts of Einstein's general theory of relativity in a project scheduled for the year 2002, died on Aug. 22 in a hospital in Richmond. Mr. Angele, who was 91, formerly lived in Huntsville, Ala., where he worked at the George C. Marshall Space Flight Center."

Mr. Angele and I became acquainted in 1978, shortly after Margo and I had married and moved to Huntsville.  It had to do with my long-standing interest in astronomy and telescopes.  Not long after we moved to the Rocket City, I became aware of the Von Braun Astronomical Society (VBAS), an energetic local organization of astronomy devotees.  They maintained (and still do) a very nice observatory with a high-quality 16-inch diameter reflecting telescope on top of Monte Sano Mountain which borders Huntsville.  There could be no doubt -- I needed to become a member and gain access to this telescope.

In 1955, when the VBAS was in its infancy, Mr. Angele served as the committee chairman for observatory construction.  That beautiful facility with its fine optics were Wilhelm Angele's babies!  When I joined the club and showed an interest in using those fine optics, I was told that I first had to complete a training program administered by Mr. A.  No one was permitted to touch the telescope until they had been trained, examined, and certified by the builder himself.  My recollection is that it involved four or five 1-hour evening sessions at the observatory.  I signed up for the training.

At the time this was taking place, I was a regular consumer of alcoholic beverages.  I would come home from work in the evening and have at least a couple of highballs before doing any of my evening activities.  So invariably, I would have had a couple of drinks before I drove up the Bankhead Parkway to attend my class with Mr. Angele.  Because I didn't want everyone in the confined space to know I'd been drinking, I'd usually stand off to myself and seldom speak.  I was the quiet guy over in the corner of the observatory.

There were only around 7 or 8 people in the group being trained, and we would ascend up a ladder through a hatch to enter the telescope space.  I recall that we alternated entering the upper space and remaining in the larger, lower space because we couldn't all fit in the observatory at one time.  Among the group were a couple of teenage boys, probably 15 or 16 years old, who were constantly talking and distracting those who were trying to hear the teacher.  Several times, Mr. Angele had chastised them to little avail.  On the last evening of our instruction, after the entire group had descended from the telecope chamber, Mr. Angele had had it with these two.  He said he had decided to grant users' cards to everyone in the class except for the two young men.  He chastised them for not listening and for interrupting him constantly.  And then he said, "Why can't you be more like Mr. Mead, always listening and only asking intelligent questions?"  (I had barely opened my mouth, let alone asked any intelligent questions.)

I got my telescope user's permit that night, but I learned an even more valuable lesson -- keeping your mouth shut may give people the impression that you know what's going on!  Who would have known?

By the way, having "the card" wasn't all that I thought it might be.  You had to reserve the use of the telescope and it was booked up several months in advance.  I reserved an evening in October and when the night arrived it was pouring rain.  I did the same for a March evening and it was completely overcast.  I never got to use the scope before we moved away from Huntsville.

Oct 2, 2015

A Boy Scout Reminder...

In February, 2010, I posted a blog entry entitled "Happy Birthday, Boy Scouts of America."  I described my experiences with Boy Scout Troop 72 in Schenectady, New York.  Recently, I ran across this newspaper article from the Schenectady Gazette, dated March 23, 1950:

Robert Demarest Wins X-Country Ski Race Held at, Indian Ladder

Robert Demarest rolled in first in a cross-country ski race in which members of Boy Scout Troop 72 participated at Indian Ladder Sunday.  John Tyminski copped second place while Wayne Spaulding placed third.  Members of the troop, sponsored by St. John the Evangelist Church, hiked to Indian Ladder under the leadership of Scoutmaster Ray Rokovich. Carl Schaefer, adviser to Post 72, and District Commissioner Robert Egan.

Boys on the hike were Walter and Arnold Kastarmayer. Robert and Richard Curtis, Robert and Thomas Demarest, Peter Schaefer, David Wagner, Jack Paulson, Edward Douglas, Stephen Spink, Thomas Vetter, William Mead, James Murray, James Dunn, James Earley, Daniel Ryan, James Doxsee, Spaulding and Tyminski.  Twenty-five members of the troop heard an illustrated talk on conservation recently by Ellis Edgar, local photographer, who showed films on the Adirondacks and other state-owned lands.

Jack McGowan, chairman of the troop committee, presided at the session. 

This took place almost a year before I joined the scouts.  My brother Bill was there but I was too young to join.  I surely couldn't have come up with all those names, but it does bring back some warm memories of many good times after I joined Troop 72.