Tales from real life
|When the warmth of April began to dry out the March mud, I put my '53 Studebaker pickup’s battery on the charger overnight. A dribble of gasoline primed the carburetor and it started with surprisingly little trouble. I put the air cleaner back in place, closed the hood, and went for a drive in the sunshine.
About three miles along, I noticed that the temperature gauge was zooming past ‘H’. I decided to pull off the road by an irrigation canal to check the radiator. A couple of wisps of steam were all I could see under the cap. Fortunately, there was a five-gallon bucket in the back that I sometimes used to carry table scraps to the pigs.
It seemed simple enough to me, so I rinsed out the bucket in the canal and brought a couple of gallons of water back to fill the hissing radiator. It turned out that two gallons wasn’t enough, so I made a second trip and came back with a nearly full bucket. I poured another three or four gallons into the radiator before I noticed the stream of water running out from under the truck. Duh! It was running out just as fast as I was pouring it in. The engine had cooled off by the time I figured this out, so I said ‘what the heck’ and drove home.
It turned out that the anti-freeze hadn’t been up to the challenge of a cold Montana winter. One of the freeze plugs had popped out of the engine casting. It saved the casting from cracking, but left behind a silver-dollar size hole where the coolant could run out. As luck would have it, the missing plug was at the rear of the engine block, facing the firewall. A lesser mechanic might have concluded that the engine would have to come out to get access, but not my dad. He bought what’s known as a Welch plug and we carried on.
A Welch plug is made of soft metal and shaped like a dome. It sits snugly in a hole with the dome facing outward. A few taps with a hammer will collapse the dome, expand the edges of the plug, and create a secure seal in the casting hole. I could reach up between the engine and the firewall to insert the plug, but there wasn’t any space to swing a hammer. Dad solved the problem with his power drill. He drilled a hole through the firewall that was almost perfectly in line with the Welch plug. A long bolt served to transfer the hammer blows to the Welch plug, and my Studebaker pickup was soon back on the road. A short, round-head bolt filled the hole in the firewall. It almost looked factory stock.