It began life as a spot.

See spot run.

Spot became a miniature poodle.

Then it became a full sized poodle.

And then the poodle was sort of Great Dane sized and most of the radiator emptied onto the carport floor. As a dogged sort of fellow I tracked it down to a failure of the water-pump seal (seals are referred to as ‘water-dogs’ in some languages.)water-dogs

Now I am to automobile mechanical repair what most of us are to writing: not actually naturally gifted. But all our money is going toward a home so… well… in need, there is the internet, courage, and determination. Oh and a huge amount of unfounded optimism and delusion. Much of this is mirrored by my writing efforts. If there’s one thing I have learned it’s there is no such thing as easy for me, in this trade. Oddly that was the case with the water-pump on the Mazda ute. It appears the designers had a vicious hate for DIY mechanics, as the water-pump is behind the timing belt and can only be liberated via extreme faith, vast effort, and negotiating many traps for the unwary, and lots of tedious but methodical repetitive stuff – a bolt that requires a ring spanner and will only do one 1/8 th of a turn.

Very like being a writer, where, jokes aside, obstacles were placed in the way of writers by publishers, and retailers… to weed out the weak, as it were. Just as some bolts are imperial sizes and others metric and there are a precise sequence of actions to be followed well, the same is true of writing submissions…

But you can do all of this. You can succeed even in finding the lost spring equivalent in your writing.

What you can’t do – and what brought me to write this in the first place is assume you’ll get right, first time. I read a horrified comment on a writer’s forum – someone lamenting how some stupid author (er, probably me) had revised his work seven times before publication.

I took the water-pump out. Replaced it. Put it all together again and the seal leaked. So applying what I’d learned I did it again. And then it only leaked a drop every 12 seconds. So I did it again, with added silastic. It stopped leaking altogether. I took it for a test drive, and it survived and did not leak. I thought I’d won. But when I tried to start it again… it popped the seal out. I figure it’s not quite the right seal for this model, so my friend Pete has provided me with an entire seal colony, and tomorrow I will do it again. I’m not holding my breath for success.

And this, folks is the reality of writing. You may get lucky the first try, but mostly it’s ty and try and try again, learn, adapt… and sometimes give up on a project.

I’m 20 + published books in to this. I have a few in my trunk too. And I still revise, repeat. And I still make mistakes and books need more work. Every book sees multiple edits. Usually round 7 – but sometimes more. I know I still miss things. Maybe you are indeed the rare person who not only thinks their work needs no revision, but whose work actually doesn’t. But that’s an exception. Mostly – if you can’t do this – well your story probably will leak, and readers will definitely leak away.

If you can’t bear revising, editing, start-from-scratch because it needs it… or believe it goes away after a few books (it doesn’t, you just get better at it, learn that if you put artery forceps on that spring type of ‘cheat’) then seriously I suggest you try a different career. I dunno what. Probably not motor-mechanics though.


Filed under Uncategorized

45 responses to “Dogged

  1. Water pump seals are multi layered and what really fails is not the rubber portion, but the ceramic portion. If you’ve not replaced the whole seal pack, the water will force past the ceramic and leak out the rubber seal, no mater how new. If you’ve not got a whole new pump housing, only a bearing and seal set is likely to fix it, and will require a bit of judicious heat, and a hydraulic press or possibly an arbor press. Then being very careful not to damage that ceramic seal pack. (I had a car I could not get a pump for so I rebuilt it on my own … later learned a fork lift place likely would have had one. Forks use obsolete motors often it seems)
    Many of the modern engines now use the timing belt to drive the water pump (even my motorcycle does this. Honda), and the factories and most mechanics recommend one change the pump when the timing belt is being changed, just to be safe and some the obverse as well (“While you’re that deep in there . . . ” for me, it depends on the miles/kilometers).

    Good Luck working on your foine beasty

    • New pump, new seal. The seal that keeps failing is o-ring on an overflow pipe. The gaskets and seal on the new water pump are all doing fine – just this o-ring.

      • Ah, yes. They do seem to use oddly sized o-rings at the factory. Hope you find one that works. Not many tricks for that that a: work and b: are not permanent . . . either way

        • TRX

          Not to mention custom bolts. Ford used to use a lot of bolts with non-standard head sizes. GM had to one-up them by making a bunch of Buicks full of studs that were 3/8-16 on one end and 8mm on the other, and metric nuts with inch hexes.

          In any just universe there is a special hell set aside for the idiots who do stuff like that…

          • My aviation powerplant instructor told me that Pratt and Whitney stopped allowing mechanics on tours of the factory to meet designers after a mechanic inquired if he might meet the guy who designed the accessory section for the PT-6. Said introduction was performed and the mechanic slugged the guy for putting something that needed to be changed relatively often waaay back there, under that, accessible only with a magic wrench during every fourth full moon.

            • TRX

              There should be a video of something like that shown to every engineering class…

              When I was very young and right out of school I did the drawings for some large industrial equipment. I went by “best practices” as I was taught.

              I hope nobody who ever worked on any of that stuff ever finds me…

              • I have long thought mechanical engineering should be a five year program whose “pre-freshman” year involved working in a garage or similar setting.

            • HerbN

              I love that guy. I always wanted to know why we needed every wrench in a set to work on Worthington four banger HP air compressors.

              I get there are charts for fastener diameter, head size, threading, ect for different requirements but you not have to hit design margin accurately every time. Just pick 2-3 head/nut sizes and let a lot of stuff be over designed. The increased cost won’t be much and mechanics won’t want to slug you.

              • likely the cost will be less, buying more of fewer numbers . . .

              • TRX

                You could always tell the difference between something designed by an American engineer vs. a similar article designed by a British engineer.

                The American part would be held on with a single coarse thread bolt. The British part would be held on with three fine-thread studs, flat washers, castellated nuts, and split cotters.

          • Non standard heads from Ford? None of the ones I worked on were that way, and they tended to go with equivalent size metric stuff too (9/16-14mm, 7/16-11mm, etc) but I did work on a GM J body that had 3/8 heads(no metric will fit that) and 15mm nuts(no standard will fit that) with 10mm(no standard there either) tossed in near where the 3/8 stuff was (thereby making the stripping of a head even more likely).

            • TRX

              ’40s and ’50s Fords had all sorts of weird-Harold bolts. By the ’60s they’d gone to more standard stuff, but my ’65 Mustang was full of bolts with odd-32nd bolt heads; fortunately my Dad had wrenches and sockets to fit them, having owned older Fords since before I was born.

              • Oh, Well, at least they weren’yt Whitworth (/64ths!)
                Now that you mention it though, I recall a bit about that, but there were other things with /32nds way back before everyone decided SAE was just better sense.

  2. In my experience as a shade tree mechanic water pumps tend to leak when the bolts around the rim aren’t evenly tightened. Depending on the source you’re using for instructions, they may or may not recommend using a torque wrench. I advise using one (if you can fit it in the engine compartment, of course) and also tightening the bolts like you would lugnuts on a wheel–not one after the other in a circle, but alternating sides. For what it’s worth.

    For me, revision is ongoing during writing. I can’t divide my work into neat drafts because I am writing one section and rewriting another simultaneously. When I run into a problem in chapter ten that requires me to change something in chapter three, I’ll go back and do the rewrite on the earlier chapter before finishing the later one. Other people don’t do it that way, they finish a first draft all the way through and then rewrite the whole thing.

    I dunno, I only know what works for me. I am about 30,000 words into my current WIP and have probably gone through six revisions of the first few chapters.

    • TRX

      What are you counting as a “revision?”

      And why are you doing it?

      • Okay, for example I wrote a scene in which my main character traveled into the dream world and I described the transition as being like a walk through a garden. However, in writing a later scene I realized that analogy didn’t work for the cosmology that the world requires. So I went back and rewrote the transition scene to fit what the later scene needed before I continued with the later scene. Does that make sense?

        • TRX

          Yes. I’d probably consider it just a fix-up, though.

          I write software, which I do by the ancient and despised method of “top-down programming”, which is more or less the same as what is called “outlining” when I write nonfiction. In either case, I know what the finished product looks like, I have a well-defined structure to follow, and I know when I’m finished.

          I think my approach to fiction would be closer to making a rough guess at what the end product would look like, digging through my directory of scenes, story fragments, and vignettes, laying out whatever looks like it might work, and spackling over the cracks. I just don’t see myself writing a story linearly from beginning to end for some reason…

          • Robin Munn

            “Top-down programming” is despised not because it never works — it does work for certain types of projects, as you know. But the projects it doesn’t work well for are the ones where the users can’t tell you up front what they want: they only know what they want when they see it, and then they can tell you “That wasn’t it”. Which is why the process of “agile programming” developed, where you add just ONE little feature at a time, and see how the user reacts to it: if that wasn’t what they wanted, you have less code to rip out and replace.

            Which, in turn, sounds a lot like the “pantsing” approach to fiction writing — you don’t have a clear goal in mind from the outset, but with every scene you write your goal gets clarified, and you either leave that scene in as-is, tweak it a bit, or rip it out and replace it with a different scene that better fits the story’s new destination. (And just like with programming, the scene (or code) you rip out might be useful in a different project, so you may stash it away somewhere against future need).

            • TRX

              That was “RAD” a quarter of a century ago. Before that, it was probably something else.

              Properly done, top-down works the same way, except you make your changes or additions within a defined structure instead of throwing code at the wall and seeing what sticks.

              I was fortunate to have a very experienced programmer warn me about users early on; they seldom know what they want, but they DEFINITELY know what they don’t want… and that’s why a formal specification is so important. Because if you don’t have some day to draw a line and say “it is finished now; further changes will cost you more money” you’ll never be finished.

    • That’s what I do too. In fact, if I know there’s a major problem, I can’t finish the book till I fix it. (Glares with hatred at current mess.)

  3. My mechanic skills are such that when the dog saw me with the tool box, she’d sit there, ears drooped, with an “Oh, no,” expression. Sometimes she was right.

    I used to be able to change water pumps, back in the days before everything was serpentine belts. Then Detroit started little things like removing a support to change a belt, or a fender to replace a headlight bulb (Managed to get two fingers on one and changed that out with minimal swearing – the other side required more removals and a trip to the shop). A couple of uncles were mechanics, and even in their day they swore (quite colorfully), that automotive engineers should be forced to maintain what they designed. It’s worse now.

    Now I’m sitting here reading about a ceramic portion in a water pump, and if my ears were as long as the dog’s, they’d be handing down, too. Ceramic in water pumps? When did that happen? Suddenly feel old.

    • TRX

      John W. Campbell said “There is a correct tool for every job. And the correct tool for repairing a TV is a TV repairman.”

      [from back when TVs needed frequent repair, and repairmen made house calls…]

      Of course, they probably didn’t take two days and bill you $900 plus parts…

      • Our furnace company has a good policy: their repairs cost, time-wise, what the parts cost. So any job has a set price before you begin, no matter how new your tech is. (We have a maintenance contract with them, so we only have to pay the half for parts.) This is good for when your furnace does some damn-fool thing that nobody’s ever seen before, and they have to poke around a bit until they find out why turning on the fan opens the gas line. (The tech had to take a video of that one, because nobody had seen that happen before. Sort of like the time our A/C condenser line got plugged and it turned out it was slugs in the line. We get the weirdest problems…)

      • I try to do my own repairs due to the labor cost. So far I’m a better appliance repairman than auto mechanic.

    • Tried to answer this at work, and it never worked WPDE! Anyhoot the flat faced seals in a water pump have been ceramic for a rather long time. Now, some are a hard silicone, but even those look like the old ceramic seals.

      Ford had/has and engineer who saved them a ton of headache on the OHC modular V8. The original design had the starter hiding under the intake manifold, and no real easy way to get it off (Cadillac did that, get a engine from a junkyard, and likely they cut the cables off instead of unbolting them from the car, causing a lot of work for the installer) so a starter change was going to run into close to $1000. To avoid pitchforks, tar, feathers, and torches, and instead of redesigning the manifold to make it an easier job (Lexus does this) they redesigned the starter motor to mount down under in the usual position (But with far less space), and as a benefit to owners the starter tended to last a bit longer.

  4. John in Philly

    Your thoughts on making mistakes, revising, editing, and starting from scratch apply to life in general as well as water pump repairs and writing.
    And the design engineers that provided not quite enough room to easily change the valve cover gaskets in a brand that rhymes with kangaroo deserve a special place in hell. (a simple job that took more than a full day)

    • Ford car. *Yamaha* engine. Yes, made that way intentionally, from the factory. Number 3 spark plug and wire.

      To disassemble on most vehicles of that year, including my truck at the time, opening the hood just about took the longest. The rest was twist, pull, deep well socket, replace. For *this* not-to-be-sufficiently-cussed car, you had to remove the *whole* manifold to get to it. And have a replacement seal for said manifold, because removing it ruined it every stinking time.

      The water pump for said beastie was also tied up in serpentine… after having removed the battery box, air box, and pretty much everything on that side of the motor to get to it, because the engine was almost too big for the bay in that car. After replacing said water pump with a new seal, greased o-rings (so they’ll stick and not pop a kink when you tighten on ’em), and *carefully* tightening bit by bit, and a lot of prayer, you *might* get one not to leak. Maybe.

      All bets are off if the secondary shutter valves are opened before the pump wears in. Which should be in about an oil change of easy driving, so I’m lead to believe…

      • TRX

        I rebuilt an SHO V6 once. I have a picture of it sitting on an engine stand next to a 460 V8. The SHO was visibly larger, though not as long.

        “Aluminum is light, we must use more of it to compensate.”

  5. TRX

    > What you can’t do – and what brought me to write this in the first place is assume you’ll get right, first time.

    Then there’s the other problem: once you’re big enough, revision and editing don’t seem to matter to publishers.

    There are a number of A-list authors I’ve read, who have been successful for four decades or more, who have reached the point where whatever comes out of their word processor apparently goes straight to the printer, because Vastly Successful Author obviously knows what he’s doing, even when his story is an incomprehensible mess and parts look like it came from Tagalog to English via Google Translate.

    Maybe you develop a schtick that ensures steady sales over the long term… but that’s no reason to get lazy.

  6. Joe Doakes

    Where I grew up, one drop every twelve seconds was acceptable. Put a drip pan under it tonight, pour it back in tomorrow.

    Of course, those were the days when you could take apart an entire car with a 9/16 – 1/2 combination open-end Craftsman wrench from Sears, which was a good thing, because that and a BFH were the only tools I owned.

  7. Neil Frandsen

    “I am not-a-mechanic” was my claim, whilst working in the outdoors, surveying for Seismic Companies…
    The Sears 3-shelf toolbox, weighing about 85 pounds, puzzled some folk, until I assured them that I had bought every tool that I had used, to fix summat on a Ford 3/4 ton 4×4, or on a Nodwell (-35; -60; -75; -110; or Yukon). The reason was simple = if the Crew Mechanic was flown out in an helicopter, and did not have some exotic, but essential tool, _I_ had it, in my Red Toolbox, _with_ me! No returnings for tools, when I had a mechanic paying singular attention to mine engined-steed…
    That toolbox was an olde friend, saved us lots of problems. It even had a dedicated shelf-partition for keeping useful nuts, bolts, O-rings, and especial magic goos, for sealing nuts to bolts, or sealing gaskets to flat surfaces…

    • TRX

      Many years ago I bought a welder, much to the astonishment of some friends who knew I didn’t know how to run it. But I knew a lot of people who *could* weld, and didn’t own one; I could get them to weld anything I needed in exchange for being able to use it themselves.

      It didn’t take long to pick it up after I realized it was a manual skill, like using chopsticks. All the complicated stuff in the books was well and good, but mostly didn’t apply until you developed the dexterity part.

      • I learned basic welding fairly quickly and I’m not that coordinated. TIG took a bit longer. I hit the wall welding cluster joints on aircraft tubing. About the time I got the fourth tube set and tacked in place, the heat loosened the bead on the adjacent tube. I finally got so frustrated that the instructor let me go play with the cutting torch for a while before I did something rude.

  8. Roger Zelazny wrote “Doorways In The Sand” in one draft, in three weeks. It came out exactly as he expected.

    That was the ONLY book he ever did that required no editing and that he got right on the first draft.

    And I don’t care WHO you are, Zelazny was a better writer than you. And he couldn’t do it (except once), so neither can you.

  9. I stopped working on any car that was post 1969… I just pay the man. Redo’s, rewrites, revisions whatever you want to call them ARE the measure of how important we feel what are doing is at the time. That the 12 drips and hour wasn’t acceptable is as true a measure as your rewrites to get the book ‘exactly’ right. Pride in one’s work and satisfaction that you’ve done the job as well as you possibly can (and didn’t leave too much blood on the work). My grandfather was the factory mechanic at Studebaker many years ago and his sole job was to ‘work’ on any new designs that came out of the design studio before they went into production to make sure the mechanics in the field could actually repair the car. He told me he was hated by the designers for the number of models that went back for redesign after he got hold of them.

  10. Once upon there was a car company that used normal bolts for two of the tires, and bolts that loosened clockwise for two of the tires. They were very good bolts, so you could force them really hard to the counterclockwise and they would not shear. They also would not loosen. I know my skill limits, which do not include tools, and happily pay mechanics as needed. However, I also live in a large city.

  11. Confutus

    The first car I owned had an oil leak and a tendency to overheat. After replacing the oil pan, twice, overheating the engine and warping the aluminum cylinder head, and breaking one of the cylinder head bolts because I didn’t get the torque right, replacing the timing chain and installing it twice before I got it right, and still not fixing the problems. I decided that auto mechanic wasn’t high on my list of career options.

    After going through a similar merry go-round of errors some year later with a later vehicle from the same manufacturer, with each half-donkeyed attempt causing more and deeper problems, and taking two weeks to do a job which would have taken a competent mechanic two hours, I swore off DIY auto repair for good.

  12. tomas

    Seven being too many… I’m happy that the current paper I’m trying to get published looks like it’ll only need to go to the sixteenth numbered version to do so.

  13. Usually I can translate your advice into “useful to illustrators” ( We tell stories with pix!) but not this time. Hmmm.