Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Stories of the Merry Bee: In the Beginning

Stories of the Merry Bee: In the Beginning
By Rob Watson

The Merry Bee was a hot rod. She was black and yellow. I built it myself, well, mostly. It had parts from 23 different automobiles and all four major auto manufacturers. (this was back when there were four major auto manufacturers and the only import was a Volkswagen Beetle.) The name came from a really pretty girl with which I had a short, unsuccessful relationship. Her name was Mary B... (and who ever reads this first will be the first person, other than myself, to know the real origin of the name)

As I got ready to head for college, I wanted a car. The Ford place had a nine year old 1957 Chevy. They wanted $100 for it. I had a hundred dollars, but, alas, not my parents permission to buy it.

During my Freshman year, a good friend and classmate had twin brothers as roommates that had built a hot rod. They had sold it before going off to college. They had a set of books that had detailed information on each of the systems that made up a hot rod and gave them all to me. I was on my way. I even got my parents permission to build the thing. (It was always clear that the permission was granted with the firm belief that the car would never be finished.)

During the summer after that freshman year, another friend and former classmate came home on leave from the Navy. He happily joined the search for something out of which to make a hot rod. For a week we queried people, followed rumors, and chased ghosts, driving all over the north central part of the state, looking for a suitable body and frame. On the last day before my friend was to return to the care of Uncle Sam, we drove out of his neighborhood by a different route. There, sitting in a yard, a block from his house, was the perfect candidate... a 1931 Ford coupe body and frame.  The owner was willing to part with this treasure for the paltry sum of $20. At a junkyard in the big city we found a 1949 ford front axle, wheels, and drum assemblies, along with a complete oldsmobile rear end. (All recommended by the set of books.) Within days I had ordered the correct size front wheels and drag slicks for the back. We had also acquired an old oldsmobile engine for $5. It met with an unfortunate accident in being transported. (The statute of limitations has probably expired and my parents have expired as well so, I may relate that story in my section about evading the law.) The replacement engine and transmission came from the 1957 Chevy that was now languishing in a local junk yard.

As long as it is true confession time, I should disspel a myth I have fostered myself. When asked, and sometimes when not asked, I told listeners I started building my hot rod by buying four tires and working my way up. A total fabrication as you now know.

College raised its ugly head again and I was off to continue my education. On weekends I would come home and haul the frame to a welder to have  it reinforced. With the engine and transmission in hand, the welder was also able to fabricate the needed mounts. Ditto for the front and rear axle assemblies and the steering mechanism.  To this point all skill and knowledge came from experienced people or books. From here on out the tasks became my own to accomplish.

With the frame and mounts all done I began to take all the assemblies apart. I needed tools. I could have borrowed Dad's but I bought my own top of the line sets... which, almost 50 years later, I still have and use. (To date, I have never paid another person to repair any automobile that I have owned... well, except for paint and body work. I am no good at those things.)  In taking each thing apart, I figured out how it worked and how to repair it and put it back together again. Oops, there is one exception to the above extravagant claim. I hired two real mechanics from the Chevy place to put my engine back together again.

The first real adventure came the day these two mechanics finished assembling the motor. They chose to assemble the motor in the frame. The frame had the front end assembly (springs, axle, steering, and wheels) in place on the front and the rear end assembly (springs, axle, and wheels) in place in the rear. This had been towed to their house to be worked on in their garage. I also trucked all the engine parts.

Patients has seldom been one of my attributes, and in this case, it had not infected my two mechanics. When the engine was complete everyone wanted to see if it ran. Most newly and properly assembled engines are hard to turn over. (start) I had Daddys truck and a chain. The plan was to tow the frame/engine to get it started. The mechanics laid a board across the frame for a seat. One sat on the board and steered, He also had a string tied to the curburetor to control the throttle. The other sat on the transmission with a crowbar, operating the clutch and shifting gears. The valve covers had been left off to adjust the valves, once the engine was running.

I tied on the chain, hopped in the truck and started dragging the thing down their residential street. Within a few hundred feet the engine started. The mechanics adjusted the valves and set the timing. The engine purred like a happy kitten... only louder as there were no mufflers attached. With everything running it seemed a shame not to go for a ride. I untied the chain, hopped on the board and off we went, oil spraying out the missing valve covers and all.

We drove out of the subdivision and down a country road for a mile or so, then back again, judging the engine to be running low on oil. I only remembered later that I had not changed out of my Sunday clothes, which were now covered with oil spots (the oil never came out).

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