Friday, April 19, 2013


For those of you old enough to remember, Johnny Horton famously sang, "when its springtime in Alaska, its 40 below."  I could not help but hum a few bars of that song  as I took a break on the deck in my back yard here in beautiful downtown Minnesota on April 18th.

I was not there long before I was joined by an old friend.  From the frown on his face you can see that he too was a little taken aback by the snowfall so late in the year.  The fact that he had already switched over to a straw hat, clearly shows that like so many others, he had assumed spring was here.  As with most friends, it was good to have him stop by for a chat, but we hope that he doesn't wear out his welcome.

Clearly, more proof of Global Warming!

Friday, April 12, 2013

Another Age Old Problem & Another Cheap Tool To Fix It

Spring is in the air.  The birds are chirping, the breeze is finally warm, and you can hardly wait to get your Harley out for its maiden voyage of the season after its long winter rest.  You went and bought a new battery in anticipation of this day, since you once again left it go all winter without any preventive maintenance.  But what's the price of a new battery when you will soon be back in the saddle, enjoying the wind in your face?

You kick the engine through once ....twice, ....(what is that gurgling noise?).  On the sixth kick, Old Reliable catches, and with some quick finessing of the throttle, comes fully awake.  But, now what?  Suddenly you realize that your garage floor is rapidly being covered by a pool of oil.  You quickly shut the engine down.  Dead silence, except that the gurgling noise which nearly caught your attention before is still emanating from the bowels of your beloved steed.

A seeping oil pump check ball has struck again.

It is pretty much inevitable that if you own Harleys for long enough, you will become accustomed to this scenario, though you may never get to the point of actually remembering to plan for it in advance via a pan to catch the oil. 

What has happened, of course, is that the spring and check ball in your oil pump has failed in its duty to keep oil from gravity feeding from the tank, through the pump, and into the lower end of the engine while the bike was at rest.  With the return side of the pump unable to scavenge the excess oil quickly enough, it takes the path of least resistance and exits through the breather. The longer the bike is at rest, the more likely this will happen.  I would go so far as to say that for it to happen over the course of a whole winter may not even be a sign of anything amiss to the point of worrying about, anything except how to clean up the mess that is. 

On the other hand, if you get a similar result after giving your ride a two week vacation, then it may be time to address the situation.  The Motor Company used to tell us that the fix was to remove the check ball and spring and then take the bike for a good ride so that the oil flow could "flush" out anything that may have gotten between the ball and its seat.  That's fine as far as it goes, but if this is a re-occurring condition, you may have to do more.  A new ball and spring may be in order, especially if they are original equipment - I don't put a lot of faith in springs in their old age.  But, assuming you have tried these simple fixes with no success, now what?

As you might expect, any shop dealing with rebuilds on older Harley motors has to address this issue.  The older the engines you rebuild, the more often it will be an issue.  For years and years, I have lapped the check ball seats in oil pumps as a matter of course during a rebuild.  What I did was take a new check ball and braze it onto the end of a screwdriver, dip the ball in lapping compound and lap away.  One problem though.  The heat from brazing took the hardness out of the check ball, causing it to "wear" away from the lapping rather quickly, especially on cast iron pumps.  Frankly, it has been one of those little annoyances that has bothered me for years (like each time I need to replace the ball). 

Bug, a fellow long time HD mechanic mentioned to me that he uses JB Weld to attach the ball to a screwdriver and it works fine.  And here I though JB Weld was only good for gluing broken crankshafts back together (do they still use testimonials like that in their advertising?).  But just as I was prepping my cheap screwdriver to glue, rather than braze, a check ball to it, I had a thought.  As any good mechanic with hoarding tendencies, I have a whole bunch of stock Evo pushrods gathering dust on a shelf in my shop.  The ball end on them is 3/8" just like the check ball.  Hmmm....

So, out came the torch one more time, but this time only to heat the shaft of the screwdriver enough so that it would pull out of the handle.  Then a quick trip to the lathe to bore the hole in the handle to the proper diameter, and for good measure to put a little taper on the recently cut-in-two pushrod, and oh boy howdy ....another cheap special tool.  Best of all, not only does it make for quick replacement even if the ball does wear rapidly (which I don't think it will), but finally a good use for some of those worthless parts that were cluttering up my shelves!