This post is all about cranks. No, I know you can think of several different ways to take that word, but try to resist. I'm not talking about male parts, nor about illicit substances. This is about an aspect of personality and about parts related to the crank shaft on my engine.
Many years ago I replaced my standard engine alternator with a high output unit. The old had failed and I guess I just thought, "If I have to replace it anyway, why not? More power! That's a good thing, right?" Basically yes, but as an engineer I should have known that I wouldn't be getting anything for free. The message has been driven home over the years by many worn out alternator belts that had to be replaced at what, more often than not, came with supremely inconvenient timing.
The thing is, more amperage out of the alternator requires more engine power to the alternator. More power to the alternator puts more load on the alternator belt and more torque on the alternator belt pulley which demands more friction from the belt. The original configuration with only one belt wouldn't take that much friction, so I have worn out a lot of alternator belts over the years. My solution has just been to tighten the belt as much as I could. It's probably only luck and inadvertent over-design that's kept me from burning out alternator and water pump bearings as well.
Last spring's haul-out gave me a couple of extra weeks in the yard, part of which was spent with engine repair. The best local source of knowledge for my old Perkins 4-154 diesel engine is found inside the head of one Larry Stewart aka Stewart Marine Engine and Machine Works. Larry had been recommended by Roland, the project manager for my work at Seaview Boat Yard, although that recommendation had been dosed with a large helping of salt. Roland had obvious respect for Larry's knowledge, but he refused to work with him himself except in the direst of circumstances. Forewarned is fore-armed, so I went to Stewart Marine in a cautious frame of mind.
Stepping inside the front door, you are immediately smeared in essence of diesel. Herds of greasy iron parts stampede over the counters while old receipts and parts tags dodge about to avoid being trampled, though largely failing in the attempt. Along the walls are shelves full of pulleys, pumps, exhaust manifolds and who-knows-what that corral several more head of shelves displaying a scrawny inventory of miscellaneous parts for sale, ...filter elements, strainers, odds and ends. Bits of wall that aren't festooned with gaskets and engine belts display the type of poster art that engineers and mechanics can't express any other way than with the awkward humor of clumsy bullet points, poems and cartoons. You are like as not to hear some sort of banging or grinding from behind the heavy double doors that separate the "store" from the shop in back.
I've been in the back a couple of times and even downstairs. If the helter-skelter of the store was notable, the back forty and the lower pasture were worse, made downright intimidating with pallets of parts and even whole engines and transmissions running rampant between walls and among pillars that were sooty with years of exhaust and general neglect.
Larry's wife, Kathy, maintains a relatively tidy corner near the front door. She has never failed to greet me pleasantly, though it's hard for me to recall anything other than a sardonic smile on her face. Not even considering Larry's knowledge, Kathy's makes the shop a considerable gold mine of information on engine parts and availability alone. As a diesel-tinged version of Edith Bunker, I imagine her devolving from a pretty youth that has been wrung into a resilient older woman by Larry's sour impression of Archie, though she's less naive and has a more obvious strength than her fictional counterpart. If Larry is the knowledge behind Stewart Marine, Kathy is the index of that knowledge. She keeps the books, does the billing, orders the parts, manages their collection of service manuals, ...in short, does everything that keeps the business in business. I'd wager that the strain of fighting to maintain a civil balance between Larry's caustic personality with their long-suffering clientele has added more than a few of the lines on Kathy's 70-plus year old face.
I've dealt with more than a few old codgers in my time, suffering through the bullshit by interpreting their sour wit and opinionated egotism as if watching a version of Grumpy Old Men. With Larry, I would have to say that that quaintly funny movie had been re-edited by Francis Ford Coppola in the style of Apocalypse Now. I can just hear Larry standing behind his shop counter muttering to himself, "I love the smell of diesel in the morning."
So, every opinion and morsel of knowledge I ever heard from Larry came out in a growl. I certainly would never claim even a small percentage of Larry's experience with diesel engines, but I'm not an idiot. Even so, if I expressed an idea or opinion of my own, he would typically dismiss it with a grunt or toss it completely out the window. Still, he had apparently earned a great deal of respect in his guise of diesel expert, so I was able to stifle my reactions to his abuse to hang upon his next words, waiting for solutions to my engine problems.
Last spring's engine work came to a generally positive, if expensive conclusion. Kathy got me a new exhaust manifold and engine oil cooler and I got them installed with a minimum of difficulty, the worst of which involved just the usual skinned knuckles, scratched forearms, and greasy cuticles. I was only able to broach the alternator belt issue with Larry at that time. He had an idea or two for a solution, but they were vague and involved large sums of money and time, so I decided I would have to suffer through another belt or two and get on with my summer cruising.
This winter I went back to Stewart Marine to restart the conversation, only to find that Larry had had some sort of health issue, having been hospitalized for surgery on something-or-other. I will refrain from theorizing a malady appropriate to his personality, but whatever it was kept him out of commission for a couple of months. Along with Larry's diesel engine guru-in-training, Bryce, Kathy managed to keep things going and, though I enjoyed the brief upbeat feel to the place, I decided to hold off on belt system modifications until the return of the master. I stopped in every few weeks, but by the end of April I decided I'd waited as long as I could. I went ahead and separated the relevant parts from the front of my engine and toted them in to the shop to use as props for a conversation with Bryce. Lo and behold, I learned that Larry had rolled the stone back from his crypt and would be in shortly, so I cooled my heels and enjoyed friendly conversation with Kathy.
Well, I can only say that it wasn't Larry's bile duct that was removed, since that side of his personality was still well in evidence. I'd arrayed my various pumps and pulleys atop the counter for him to use to educate me in the mysterious ways of v-belts, but Larry hardly noticed them. Wonder of wonders, instead I actually heard him considering a new-fangled approach to the problem. Of course, he started his suggestion with a dismissive comment that he'd always rejected serpentine belt technology before, but he had a kit being delivered the next day that he invited me to look at.
Ever hopeful, I left to take care of the other business of the day. Larry's miraculous divergence from the tried-and-true encouraged me to check in on other possibilities, so I stopped for a visit with my old friend, Jens Hjorth, who'd helped with quite a few other projects on Mabrouka. That conversation led me to drop by an auto parts store to check for tensioner pulleys that might serve to reroute my v-belt for more wrap around, and thus more friction on the alternator pulley. That led in turn to a Google investigation of serpentine belt adaptor kits. Wow. Such things were actually available, but apparently not for my particular engine.
Back at Stewart Marine the next day, I found Kathy mulling over some unopened packages parked outside her little paper-bound territory, ...the serpentine belt adaptor kit that she'd ordered for one of their customers. We opened it up and saw what I'd basically learned about on-line. Basically, the kit just provided new pulleys for a wider, multi-grooved serpentine belt typical to what you see on modern day automobiles.
It went down hill very quickly when Larry came in from an errand. Kathy let on that we'd just finished looking through the new kit and I mentioned what I'd learned about them from the internet. Oh man, was THAT the wrong thing to admit, especially that the one kit manufacturer didn't make a kit for the 4-154.
Larry responded with, "That means it won't be happening HERE, doesn't it?"
"What do you mean," I asked.
"Well, now that you've talked to all my suppliers...," he said, implying that I'd crapped in his mess kit and he could never salvage a serpentine belt solution now. His tone was one of complete contempt.
"Do you want me to leave," I said in retort, not only to his present attitude, but to the one he'd displayed since my first association with him and his business.
"Yeah," he said, and I walked out the front door with a glance over my shoulder at Kathy's raised eyebrows, vowing never to set foot in the shop again no matter what.
This whole scenario depressed me. Not only do I hate to cut off a possible avenue to solving my engine problem, I hate to end a relationship on such a negative note. At the same time, however, I hate to validate Larry's negative personality by giving weight to his expertise over the way he treats people. In particular, I pity what Kathy has been going through for the many years of their marriage and can only hope that she derives some satisfaction if not actual pleasure from it. Bryce will, if he has any sense, absorb as much technical knowledge as he can without being tainted by Larry's sour disposition.
Sharing my depression later with my daughter, Lisa, she suggested I write a Yelp review on Stewart Marine Engine and Machine Works. I checked in on that this morning (look here
) and found he'd already had one, ONLY one review and it was a glowing five star report. Giving credit where it's due, I can certainly imagine that. If dealing strictly with inanimate objects such as tracking down a broken wiring connection on a diesel generator, Larry's ability to fix an engine would seem well nigh to miraculous. My own experience was quite different, so I do want to share it. Yelp, though, doesn't seem like the place. I just can't imagine many people using that avenue to seek out the obscure practitioners of the diesel arts. The result is this blog entry. It also gives me a more open forum for venting my angst among friends. Thanks for indulging me.
The saga does continue. After cooling down a bit, I stopped by a shop I happened across yesterday afternoon, ...MER Equipment
right down Nickerson from my marina. They don't deal in Perkins engines, but are equipped to design, machine, and install a serpentine belt system. I'll let you know what I hear from them next week. It will involve a couple of weeks cruising delay and, I fear, another boat buck or so (the smallest denomination of which is on the order of $1000), but it should be worth it if I can put this problem to bed once and for all. Please stand by.