Jim’s Blog: Tending the Fire

Winter is coming soon, and while most collector cars are getting put away, others are getting put to work. For my 1972 Chevy truck, when the leaves start falling, it’s firewood time.

 

Executive Editor Chester Allen’s lovely wife Heather owns a fruit orchard in Sundale, Washington. For a couple of years now, Chester has been telling ACC staffers about a massive pile of nice, dry Granny Smith applewood on the ground there. All we needed to do was go get it.

 

Sundale is 130 miles from ACC’s headquarters, but that didn’t matter to my wife Kristina, who is from Hawaii and therefore perpetually cold here in Oregon, or to ACC Senior Associate Editor Chad Tyson, who wanted fuel for his new wood stove. Both pushed me for the trip, and since I was already imagining my truck’s knobby tires on dirt, bed loaded, its lever-action transfer case saving the day like a piece of Chevrolet Orange heavy equipment, they didn’t have to work very hard.

 

Now, I normally don’t go on long treks in this pickup, and its recent motor issues really made me stop and think. When I rebuilt the 350, I did it on the cheap, ignoring the bottom end, knowing that it would eventually give up. Having that happen a few miles from home? No problem. Having that happen two hours from home with a full load of firewood in the bed and an unhappy wife staring me down from across the bench seat? The stakes were all of a sudden a lot higher. It didn’t help that I thought I heard a rod clattering the day before we left.

 

But the drive out and back was completely uneventful. I pushed the truck pretty hard, and its 350 didn’t even use any oil.

 

Still, that nagging doubt over the engine’s health was enough to push me into car-guy action, so I started watching Craigslist for 350 blocks. I figured that a used engine that I could rebuild was the way to go — both in terms of fun and in terms of cost. I like working on this stuff, and the 350 that’s in the truck is already a replacement, so I wouldn’t be losing any originality by swapping it out. And this way, I could build whatever I want.

 

This past weekend, I picked up a 4-bolt main 350 engine, complete with a good rotating assembly, stock bore, and a set of 1.94 heads. “Crate motor out of a wrecked pickup,” the ad said. “Ran fine, low miles.” At $200, how could I resist? It was even apart enough for me to see all the cylinders.

 

So, over the next few months, as my wife sits warm by her applewood-fueled fire, I’ll be happily tearing into this new engine, pulling the crank, rods, and pistons all apart and prepping it for a rebuild — this time, a complete rebuild. I figure I’ve got most of the year to get it done and swapped, or at least until that pile of wood runs out.