July 6, 2020

Not-so-silent Running of a Rover

• By John F. Chisholm •

Friday I started my 1959 Land Rover. Finally. It ran well. I’ve owned the truck 18 years. A friend of mine owned it before that. 1974 was the last time I heard it run. In fact, that would be very close to the last time it ran before last Friday. Sure, I’m mathematically challenged but it looks to me as though that truck was silent for 40 years.

It made me think about what led it back and what that path could teach me.

True, there was a lot wrong with the truck. The worst of it was the steel frame. It had rusted completely away in a number of places. In addition, the firewall, floorboards and body supports ― also steel ― were far less than pristine.

There were other issues, too. When new, the wiring had been insulated with braided, waxed cloth. But moisture, time and road salt were unkind. Very. By the time I purchased the vehicle, much of the wiring wasn’t insulated ― if it existed at all. You bet, that was a problem.

In addition, the radiator leaked. It was plugged with dog food, too. Seriously. I have no idea how that got in there.

Mud wasps had nested in the carburetor. The gas tank was holed and the brake lines were rusted through. The clutch didn’t work. The expansion spline on the forward drive shaft was stripped. The exhaust manifold was cracked. It was quite a list.

I could go on.

I think that if I’d disassembled it all at once, the way any sensible person would’ve, the project would have overwhelmed me. Worse, I would have lost sight ― literally ― of what the truck was supposed look like when it was completed. In that case, it never would’ve gone back together at all.

Instead I worked on it one little piece at a time: The generator this month, the starter next, the emergency brake after that followed by the front suspension. (All four leaf springs had pitted and broken leaves.)

I made certain that I reassembled the truck following each repair. In one sense, that was foolish. Time and again, it meant that I had to disassemble what had just been reassembled to reach the next step. But I know that I lost fewer pieces that way. Much more importantly, it allowed me to keep my eyes on the prize, the completed truck and what it was supposed to look like when finished.

In fact, I very nearly lost sight of it when the frame was welded, reinforced and repaired. A lot had to come off to reach some sections. It was an issue when the fenders came off, too. But I had to access the master cylinders for both the brakes and the clutch.

The tie rod ends were replaced a year ago. The alignment was corrected at the same time. I repaired the taillights this past winter. The dimmer switch was a nightmare but it works now. And so on down the list. Gradually, ever so slowly, piece by piece, system by system, the truck came back together ― and stayed that way. It happened so slowly that I didn’t notice.

Then last Friday I finally repaired the last system, fuel delivery, replacing the pump and installing new lines. On a whim, I pushed the starter button and there it was, running.

I can’t say who was more surprised, the truck or me. I hastened to open the garage doors and ventilate the building. Then I stood back and marveled at the sight and sounds of a working Land Rover.

Looking back, the truck was a mortgage with monthly installments of labor. It was a payment book, never due all at once. But in the end, it did go back together, the last payment made, the final check remitted.

Of course I’m pleased, delighted actually, but it leaves me wondering. Isn’t it curious how the sum total of minutia over time so far exceeds the biggest accomplishment of any single day?