Year 5: Prologue – getting there

Getting the cider equipment to its home in Maine was a bit more of a project than I had hoped.  When we left Lebanon and moved back to the city, we gave our trusty 98 4x Tacoma to my parents, figuring that we only needed one car and they can always use another 4-season vehicle around.  With it we handed over our (seemingly equally reliable) home depot 5×8′ flat bed trailer, as we had no place to keep it in Cambridge.  We had heard that there was a recall on those trucks for frame rust-through, but since the truck spent most of its life in Missouri and Arizona we figured it would be fine, and we never got around to taking it in to have Toyota look at it.  When my dad went to put it on the road, he did take it for inspection, and lo and behold Toyota confiscated the truck, gave him a spiffy white Matrix as a loaner, and settled for a relatively princely sum.  But we were one truck down in the critical pre-cider period.  This was not difficult to solve; my folks have two pickups and simply lent us one of theirs, along with our trailer.  So far so good.

trailer out of commissionwheel bearing rebuild

So with help of a borrowed hand truck and a few good hands, we maneuvered the new cider press (estimated weight 300-350lb) out of our yard and onto the trailer, and I stashed it in a garage parking space in Davis Square belonging to GreenMountain Engineering.   This was approximately the Saturday before cider weekend.  We made a side trip to Philly to see JD, Anne, and med school friends Gerry and Emily, who have recently purchased an old house with a system of derelict barns and sheds worthy of a serial killer.  I went over to hitch up the trailer for the trip to Maine mid-day on Thursday, and in the process of re-arranging the load (including grinder, tandem bike, single bike, press grates, hydraulic reservoir, and a queen-sized mattress that I was transporting for Joshua and Kelsey), Matt Dorson noticed that something was wrong with the starboard-side wheel on the trailer – the axle and the wheel were no longer co-axial.  The bearings had blown out, and a plan was quickly hatched – While Matt and I took apart the wheel, Jon Chambers scoured the surrounding area for auto parts stores with wheel bearings.  One place had them, and I ran over to pick them up, also grease caps, a tub of grease, and a set of punches to extract the outer races.  Once back at GreenMountain, we discovered the next problem – the clearance hole through the hub casting was not big enough, and a punch brought to bear in order to drive the race out of the casting hit only the radiused inner edge of the race, glancing off with no chance of extracting the race.  We considered several options, the best being to grind pockets in the hub behind the race sufficient to house the business end of the punch, but as nothing larger than a dremel tool was available for the job, we crossed our fingers and made an executive estimation that the old races, while somewhat scarred from the mistreatment were good enough to last another 150 miles.  This decision would turn out to be vindicated, as the reader will discover, and we did the best we could on the races with scotch-brite and solvent, cleaned out the hubs, repacked with grease, and reassembled.  As it turned out, the grease caps I bought were too small to press-fit into the bore on the end of the hubs.  As time was getting on, we hurriedly fabricated a makeshift grease cap out of heavy-duty aluminum tape, loaded up, and got on with the program.  We considered whether the port-side bearing probably ought to be rebuilt at the same time, but as the store had but one bearing kit in stock and the afternoon was getting on, we prayed a quick prayer to the gods of statistics, freighted the back of the pickup with a few hundred pounds of apples, and got on the road.  This decision would sadly not end up so well.  In a hurry but not yet having had lunch, I grabbed a Honeycrisp apple and a Macintosh from off the load and munched them as I left the 128 belt behind.

I kept the speed slow and checked the bearings at the Maine border, and was pleased to find that the hastily rebuilt starboard side was cool as a cucumber.  More ominously, the port side bearing was noticeably warm to the touch, though not so hot as to cause immediate alarm, I hoped.  Reducing speed still more, I crossed my fingers again, munched a Roxbury Russet, and proceeded north.  I stopped in Scarborough to pick something up at Cabelas, and discovered that while the repaired hub was still in good shape, the port-side hub was nigh-on cooked – the grease cap had come off since Kittery, and what there was left of the grease had a fried look to it.  I chomped a Cox’s Orange Pippin and got back on the road, sticking to route 1, and proceeded north at a snail’s pace, with my left eye on the trailer wheel in the mirror, and my right eye peeled for an auto parts store.  To my horror I watched as one by one the rollers of the left wheel bearing popped out onto route 1 – plink! plink! plink! and the wheel started to wobble, even at 5mph.

Knowing I would never make it to Five Islands that way, and not wanting to trash the spindle on the trailer axle, I pulled over in the parking lot of a hot tub dealership.  I was in a sticky spot, still 60 miles from home with darkness rapidly approaching.  I inquired in the hot tub store about auto parts stores within walking distance, and to my delight there was indeed a VIP, just a quarter mile up the road.  In the gathering gloom I jogged up the road to the auto parts store, found that they indeed had wheel bearings (four sizes, I had to eyeball between the two 1 inch ID types, fortunately choosing correctly) and the biggest crescent wrench they had, jogged back to the pool place, jacked up the trailer again, and pulled off the wheel – the crescent wrench was just barely big enough for the castle nut in the widest-open position.  To my dismay, the inboard bearing inner race had fused to the spindle, and would not come off even when pounded with one of my new crummy punches.  I thought I was stuck for sure, but then I remembered the big 3-jaw puller in my cider equipment repair kit – it was just barely deep enough to grab the race and bear on the end of the spindle, and just barely strong enough to overcome the bond between the race and the spindle.  I worked it off half a turn at a time, and discovered to my delight that the bulk of the damage was somehow to the race rather than to the spindle – the new bearing slid on fine.  It was no surprise to find that the outer races were similarly trapped in the hub, and were somewhat more scarred up than the ones on the first bearing, probably due to the increased weight in the trailer during burnup, but having no recourse (and with the first bearing as witness to the viability of the approach), I resolved to proceed as before.  I realized I was going to need some cleaning supplies, and so jogged up the road to VIP (fortunately open till 7P), bought some WD40, emery cloth, and paper towels, and returned to the operating theater.  It was nearly dark by this point, but I could almost smell victory as I dressed the races with scotchbrite, washed out the assembly with WD40, repacked, and assembled.  Once back together I limped the rig the quarter mile up the road to VIP, bought a can of brake cleaner and a roll of duct tape, cleaned off the hub, and fashioned a second makeshift grease cap.  At this point it was pitch dark.  Damning torpedoes and all other ordnance, I got back on 295 and rolled north, Rhode Island Greening in hand.

I stopped for gas at Cumby’s in Brunswick and checked the bearings again; the right still cool and the left just barely warm, and with a growing sense of destiny proceeded across the Kennebec and finally landed safe in Five Islands, fully 8 hours after my initial departure from Cambridge.  Alexis, Joshua, and Kelsey had preceeded me there, and with Emily had prepared a fine dinner of enchiladas and blueberry crisp, leftovers of which were a fine change of pace from the half-peck of apples in my gut.  I don’t know whether I’ve ever encountered a more intense sequence of good and bad luck interspersed, and I went to sleep Thursday night not knowing whether I was charmed or damned.

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