Author Archives: btm

8600GVW disc rotor replacement

I was having some pulsating when braking on my 1997 GMC K2500 Suburban (6.5L turbo diesel, 3/4 ton, 4×4). I hadn’t seen the brakes on this truck yet, so I put it up on four jackstands and pulled the wheels. The drums, rotors, shoes and pads all looked good. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the brake pads on the rear matched an extra set that I had ended up with that were too large for my other Suburban, a 1993 K2500 Chevrolet (5.7L gasoline, 3/4 ton, 4×4). To investigate further, I decided to pull the rotors.

As I would later learn, not only is this really hard on the 8 lug 8600GVW GM trucks, but I had already learned this lesson from the other Suburban, but had forgotten.

Rotor removal:

  1. Loosen lugs
  2. Loosen axle nut
  3. Jack vehicle and secure with stands
  4. Remove lugs and axle nut
  5. Remove four 15mm bolts that hold the hub to steering knuckle *** READ BELOW ***
  6. Pull hub off axle
  7. Remove ABS sensor from hub, or disconnect from frame rail, if attached
  8. Knock out lug studs from plate, being very careful not to damage the threads
  9. Separate plate, disc rotor and hub
  10. Installation is reverse of removal

Be extremely careful remove the four 15mm bolts. These are special bolts and cost five to seven dollars at a dealership each. They are torqued very high. I would strongly recommend dousing them in PB Blaster at least 24 hours in advance. Removal will require a long cheater bar. Use only high quality six point sockets. Take the time to either turn the steering wheel for each pair of bolts, or remove the tie rod ends.

I had three that would not budge. Heat did not help. A mild impact wrench did not help. Soon enough the bolt heads started to round off. “Bolt extractors” were laughably useless. In the end, I used special left-handed cobalt drill bits to drill the heads off the bolts. I started small and worked up to the size of the bolt just beyond the head, which is a little larger than at the threads. Thus I was careful to check my depth. I used progressively larger drill bits until I was able to remove the remains of the heads using an extractor.

Once the hubs was separated and I was able to remove it from the vehicle, I applied additional penetrating lubricant overnight. The next day I was able to break two of the bolts using a vise on the hub and a vise grip on the bolt. The remaining bolt wouldn’t budge. I went to my metal shop and tig welded a piece of angle iron to bolt remnants, headed the bolt and tried to use the leverage, but only ended up bending the angle iron. Then I cut the bolt off and drilled it out, but still could not get the bolt threads outs. I kept adding heat until I started to damage the hub. Lacking the correct size tap, and having damaged the hub, I replaced this hub altogether.

I happened to have a spare ABS sensor for this truck, due to getting the wrong one when working on the aforementioned previous truck. This was good, because when I had remove the sensor from this hub, the plastic around the pickup coil broke off. Ultimately, I suspect this sensor was all I had to replace to resolve my symptoms. However, due to the design I had to remove the rotors to get to it, so I put on new rotors and pads while I was able to.


I found a wheelbarrow with a broken handle and a flat tire in the alley alongside someones garbage the other day and I grabbed it. Home Depot sells a pretty hefty wooden replacement handle for fourteen dollars, which I installed today.

The new handle was a bit bigger than the old one. I found that one side of the new handle was the same height as the old one, so I installed the new one sideways. First I measure the length of the remaining good handle and then I cut the new one to match. Then I remove the old handle, held it against the new one, and used a speed square to mark the mounting holes. After drilling them out I attached the new handle. I found it’s greater width made the horizontal bar at the front end of the handles a little tight, but still was satisfactory. I had to replace a few bolts along the way as some old ones were a bit rusted and bent, as well as the new handles size changing a couple dimensions.

I removed the tube from the tire, pumped it up a bit and felt around for the leak. It was a small cut, about an eight of an inch. This was easily patched with a bicycle tube patch. After the wheel was reassembled and pumped up, it worked out great.

Fifteen dollars is a bit of savings over the fifty it would have cost for a new one, but it was nice to take an hour and repair something that was going to be thrown out. This wheelbarrow will be put to good use at one of the Alleycat Acres sites.

XT225 turn signals and Happy Trails SU rack

A few years back I outfitted my 2006 Yamaha XT225 with a set of panniers from Happy Trails for camping. I really liked the solid industrial look that was also clean. I excluded any plastic panniers out of the gate because I’m pretty hard on gear and they’d surely get destroyed. Not a lot of companies made racks for the XT225 at the time, and I’m not sure if that’s changed. I’ve been looking recently for a set for my 2010 BMW F800GS, and I still prefer the Happy Trails look. Many other panniers are riveted together or have plastic pieces screwed on. I prefer a decent but solidly welded box to replacing a plastic trim piece any day. Speaking of dents, the XT went through a head on collision with an SUV years ago and while I had to replace the front end, the boxes came out unscathed.

The biggest failing of the the kit, which also includes the “SU Rack” for mounting, is the bracket for the rear turn signals. The rack used a number of factory mounting locations, which meant removing the passenger handles, but also required moving the turn signals further back. It came with an aluminum bracket that attached under the license plate. At some point all the off-road riding I did caused the bends in the bracket to break. Now shortened, I moved the bracket down under the rear reflector, bent it again and drilled new holes. This worked okay, except that the tail that holds the reflector is not very rigid and even tie-strapping the bracket to the support arm of the SU rack just below it didn’t help a whole lot.

I recently finally got around to a more permanent solution. I took a piece of scrap 1″ angle iron and cut it into two 1.5″ pieces. I drilled a couple holes for mounting the turn signals than welded these pieces to the rear support arm of the SU rack. Then I threw on some paint to protect the steel and mounted everything up. This is a very solid construction. My only concern would be that with the turn signals only a half an inch from the support arm, they could bounce a lot and cause damage to the bulb or the bulb socket, which I recently had to add a weld to repair one of as well.

I probably could have mounted them further out, and given the opportunity to do again I would consider putting something on the 45 degree turns of the rear support arm. I like this placement for keeping the turn signals in tight though, this keeps the width of the motorcycle down when the panniers are off it.

NP243C Transfer Case Swap

I recently acquired a 1997 GMC K2500 Suburban with a 6.5L turbo diesel to replace my 1993 Chevy K2500 Suburban with a 5.7L that is worn beyond its miles and years. The GMC needed a little work and I’ve been picking through it. Occasionally around fifty mph with an idle throttle there was a whirring with a very light grinding sound. The previous owner had some ideas but indicated it had been happening for a while and he wasn’t worried about it. However, when applying torque in reverse the transfer case would disengage and grind. I suspected the symptoms were connected.

The Chevy has an NP241C and the GMC a NP243C transfer case. That’s New Process, also known as New Venture. The main difference is that the NP243 is electronic shift. Notably it isn’t autotrac or all-wheel drive, it is simply a push button activated transfer case with 2HI, 4HI and 4LOW. This system signals an electronic motor mounted to the transfer case to shift the transfer case, rather than a shift lever with mechanical linkage. It is really a terrible upgrade, in trade for a little aesthetics we lost the ability to put the transfer case in neutral and got more technology that is going to wear out and break on us.

When I got the Chevy, the transfer case would occasionally shift into neutral when the transmission was in reverse and a minimal amount of torque was applied. I pulled the transfer case and rebuilt it, finding a number of worn out parts. The NP241 and NP243 aren’t that different, so I connected the symptoms and started planning a transfer case rebuild for the GMC. However, the problem with reverse kept getting worse and a couple weeks ago I lost 2HI and 4HI. I managed to limp the truck into the yard in 4LO.

When I rebuilt the transfer case for the Chevy I did the work in my friends warehouse and had access to a lot of equipment. While the warehouse lacked a ramp, we got the truck inside by lifting it up onto the loading dock with two forklifts. Unfortunately I don’t have those resources here in Seattle. I have a pretty well equipped shop in the one car garage of my rental. I probably could have done the work in the entrance to a warehouse where I share metal shop space with some others, but if there had been any problems it would have been complicated to move to truck out of the way until I resolved them.

Jacked upThe GMC has running boards which makes it a little tight to get under it so I started off by putting the truck up on four jack stands. Since I’m working out of the backyard I put a sheet of plywood on the ground under the truck for the creeper to speed up getting out of the truck every few minutes for a different tool. A floor jack under the transmission pan with a board to distribute the weight is essential. I snugged this up pretty early in the process. I also have an ATV/motorcycle jack I used to raise and lower the transfer cases. This sat to the side most of the way through the process though.

Skid PlateMy truck had a skid plate for the transfer case that took a T50 torx wrench and another wrench for the nut to remove. The NP243 has a couple more electrical connectors than the NP241. Pull these first and put them safely out of the way to the side of the transmission, but not above or below, so they aren’t harmed while jacking the transmission. Both the NP241 and NP243 have a couple speed sensors up top, but the shifter motor for the NP243 has a couple of its own. Next I drained the fluid from the transfer case and pulled both drive shafts. The front drive shaft can be unbolted at the yoke on the transfer case. Slip YokeThe rear has to be unbolted from the yoke at the differential as the connection to the transfer case is a slip yoke. You definitely want to drain the transfer case first, otherwise you’ll get a mess when you pull the rear drive shaft. This is a problem for off-roading because it prevents you from unbolting the rear drive shaft if something goes wrong with the rear axle and driving only the front axle with the transfer case in 4WD. Fortunately this isn’t an incredibly common circumstance.

With the transmission supported I was ready to unbolt the transfer case. Unfortunately the six bolts are difficult to get at. You need a stubby 15mm wrench or you’ll be there all day. I removed the two bolts holding the transmission to the rubber mount then carefully jacked up the transmission, raising the entire drivetrain. Then I unbolted the transmission mount and removed it. This gave me a little more working space and access to the bottom bolt. Transmission mountThen I removed the crossbar that serves as the transmission support and slid it out of the way. I removed the bottom bolt, lowered the transmission again, put the lift under the transfer case to take up some slack and slowly removed the remaining bolts. This may not be necessary as the transfer case hangs well on the input shaft. I slid the transfer case back off the transmission and lowered it out with some wrangling and a friend operating the jack.

Shift motorI had to swap the sensors and the shift motor over from the old transfer case to the rebuilt one. I had left the truck in 4LO so I had to use some channel locks to change the gear of the rebuilt transfer case to match the shift motor. The rebuild didn’t have a boot on the rear output shaft, which was a little disappointing. Installation was, as they say, reverse of removal. I almost forgot to scrape the old gasket off the transmission and should have done it while the transfer case was still on the ground. I put a half a quart or so of Lucas oil stabilizer in with the ATF to prevent misting. My heart goes out to Lucas for their squirt tip fitting the ATF oil bottles as well.

It took me a minute to remember that despite all the technology I still had to put the transmission in neutral to get the transfer case out of 4LO. Otherwise everything went well, despite it being cold and lightly snowing out in the process. It is nice to have all the gears back and reverse working right. Additionally, the whirring sound is gone, confirming that it was the transfer case slipping and grinding. Out of habit I am still a little easy on reverse, but it’s great having trust in the transfer case again.

Hex Mountain and Sasse Ridge

Cle Elum LakeI had President’s Day off and it has been quite a while since I’d spent some time away from the city so I decided to go camping in the mountains for the long weekend. I looked through the snowshoe routes in my Mountaineers guide and decided to hike up and camp near Hex Mountain, then spend the next day on Sasse Ridge.

The guides say to start at Fire Road 116, which I believe is now Newport Creek Road. There is a turn off on the west side of Salmon La Sac Road where you can legally park. This area has been heavily developed though, and there are no signs directing you to the Hex Mountain trail head. Further, it’s on private property which is gated and signed no trespassing. A trip report indicates that this has been the situation for five years, with nothing built in the development in the interim. If I were to do it again, I would head up Corral Creek Road to Fire Road 118 looking for Trail 1340 to Hex Mountain instead. I saw a parking lot on the east side of Salmon La Sac requiring a forest pass on my way out, but I’m not sure what trail head access was there.

RidgeThere wasn’t enough snow to wear the snowshoes; it was neither deep nor consistent. With everything strapped to my nearly sixty pound pack, I locked the truck and headed up. I avoided the yellow gate at the head of the road with no trespassing signs, which turned out to be the right way when my road ended. I got out my GPS and headed through the woods toward the old FR 116 which was on my topo map. I’m sure a good number of the people who come out here to snowshoe Hex Mountain never get there as there were plenty of tracks wandering around the development in what turned out to be the wrong direction. I came across a couple more small roads, but I continued through the woods based on my maps. As I came up the other side of creek I heard some folks following me. When I got to FR 116 I sat and rested while the couple and there dog caught up and chatted for a bit. They thanked me for being prepared and said they had been wandering down dead end roads until they found my trail. Five years prior they had hiked this route to the peak of Hex but couldn’t remember the route through the development. I let them know the trail head was a few hundred feet up the road and they headed off.

Atop Hex MountainAt the time, the Hex Mountain trail head was marked with a sign and a rock in the middle of the road. I discovered coming down that you can stay on the road and it will switch back to join the trail again later on, which is a much less steep option than jumping on the trail here. The sign has a tree growing up the middle of it, but you can spot the trail if you’re expecting it. The climb was quite the slog with my pack. It’s been a long time since I made such a hike as well. Eventually I reached the ridge and turned toward the peak of Hex Mountain. By this time I had started using my trekking poles, but it wasn’t until I hit the peak itself that I could have used the snowshoes. I should have left my pack here on the ridge, but I hadn’t decided where I was going to camp yet and focused on summiting. Being out of energy, combined with the powder and the steepness of the peak made this quite difficult but I eventually made it. I dropped my pack and took a long breather. Eventually I put it back on one more time, accidentally losing a drink I was saving for camp and watching it slowly slide away down the steep peak covered in snow.

I found a small clearing just off the Sasse Ridge trail and set up camp there. Camp. It took a bit to get the tent all set up and everything unpacked. I was a little over-prepared and had expected a bit more snow. I checked a number of weather and avalanche forecasts before I left but hadn’t considered there was so little snow and didn’t look up the snow pack depth. I still had plenty of water but melted some and filtered it to boil for dehydrated dinner. I shouldn’t have bothered because the extra water mostly froze overnight. I had woke up pretty early that morning from excitement so I hadn’t gotten much sleep. Consequently I went to sleep shortly after sunset and slept about twelve hours through the night. Clearly needed, it sometimes takes being in the middle of nowhere out of touch for me to achieve this.

No Motorcycles The next day I got out of the tent and made breakfast a while after sunrise. I had forgotten how terrible plain oatmeal was and washed it down with instant coffee. My pack is secondhand off a friend and the day pack is still missing a buckle, so I emptied it out, packed the essential emergency gear, and headed off across Sasse Ridge. There was a few inches of powder on top of the frozen snow, which often prevented the snowshoes from gripping but there was enough that I kept them on all day. I got a kick out of the signs prohibiting motorcycles which were as frequent as any other trail indicator, which were rare and useless. I couldn’t imagine myself up here on my dirt bike, but I’m sure the landscape is completely different in the summer. I did see a trip report that mentioned hunters on dirt bikes out around Jolly Mountain, so I suppose it’s a problem. Cle Elum Lake from Sasse Ridge For the majority of the trail you simply stick to the ridge. It climbs and drops a lot, producing some great views. However, the ridge gets quite narrow at times. With the snow, working around the peaks is quite difficult and I rarely considered it. At times the wind had blown the snow off the peaks and they were quite rocky. I wasn’t crazy about any of this. Eventually I found one I wouldn’t touch. I didn’t have the equipment or trailing to make it across this safely. Sasse Mountain wasn’t too far away, but I needed to turn around soon if I was going to make it back to camp before sunset.

Steep Ridge The trip back was easier because I no longer had to break trail so the snowshoes gripped much better now. I made a couple wayfinding corrects through a bit of a valley here and there, but stuck to my original route. When I returned to camp I made dinner, and did the usual chores. While I fell asleep quickly, I wasn’t as tired as the night before and woke up for a while. Listening to the wind at night is quite different than sitting on a peak staring out over the mountains during the daylight. Eventually I fell back asleep until daybreak. After better oatmeal and coffee in the morning, I packed up and headed back down, determined to keep to the trail better on the way out to get a good GPS track of it. The winds had picked up and the clouds marked an incoming front. Packed UpI had clear skies all weekend and was glad to be making it out before the weather arrived. Most of the way down the mountain I ran into a group of three hikers coming up. We chatted for a minute, I got pegged as a Canadian and we laughed about Maine being pretty Canadian. I have French Canadians on both sides of my family so it’s actually not that far off.

It was a great trip, but I wouldn’t do the same route again. As I mentioned, the development at the base of the Hex Mountain trail is confusing and uninviting. The peaks on Sasse Ridge were uncomfortable under the conditions. Besides, there is an amazing amount of backcountry in the Wenatchee National Forest, and all across Western Washington to be explored. I haven’t been camping enough since I moved to Seattle, hopefully much more will follow.

Fire Extinguishers

As a teenager growing up in Maine, I often drove a Suburban with a large trailer while working for a friend of mine. If the Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW) of a truck, trailer and load exceed 8,000 pounds it is considered a commercial vehicle in Maine. I’ll skip over some of the nuances, but this requires a different vehicle registration, a different annual vehicle inspection (a particularly large process in Maine), the possibility of driver log books, annual medical checkups., and more. Federal law also requires commercial vehicles to be equipped with a fire extinguisher.

Since moving to Washington, I rarely haul the weight that I used to. However, I maintain my Commercial Drivers License (CDL) and certain safety equipment in my trucks, particularly a fire extinguisher. A few years ago I was driving on Interstate 5 quite a bit north of Seattle and passed a car with an engine fire. I stopped along with another passerby and we both did what we could with our small disposable fire extinguishers but it didn’t help significantly. After that, I made sure to have a five pound rechargeable extinguisher in my truck.

A couple years ago I provided logistical support to some friends running a weekend event at a former missile silo in the desert in central Washington. One evening while returning from town towing a large water trailer, my friend riding with me and I noticed a flashing light. When I pulled over I discovered that the underside of my truck was on fire. I quickly grabbed the fire extinguisher and put out the fire. In the afternoon I had drug a large scrap steel frame behind my truck for quite a while in part of the desert to create a couple roads through the designated camping areas. I discovered that pieces of the brush had compacted in the truck’s frame and the exhaust had set it on fire. I happened to have a thousand gallons of water and a gasoline powered pump behind the truck at the time, but the extinguisher was much more efficient than starting up the pump motor and unraveling the hose would have been.

I had that extinguisher recharged, but I upgraded again to a an eighteen pound extinguisher for my truck. I didn’t really expect to need it, but prefer to be prepared and I already had a couple experiences to prove the value. This evening while driving on Interstate 5 in south Seattle, my passenger saw a car that was on fire and a police car trying to pull it over. I was past the vehicle already but quickly changed lanes to get in the same lane as the car on fire. I grabbed my fire extinguisher and ran to assist the police officer. Apparently the driver didn’t realize her car was on fire and the officer got her to stop the car’s engine and exit the vehicle. The fire seemed to go out when the engine was stopped so I stood back while he got the driver situated. In a few minutes the fire truck was arriving and another officer thanked me and invited me to leave. I didn’t have to use the extinguisher, but once again I’m glad I always carry one.


I already have a journal, and a technical blog. The tone of both of those has become very defined. I’ve struggled over the past few years over where to document the building of a tall bike or replacing the head gaskets on a small block Chevy engine. Some time last year I even went so far as to set up two blogs, one for bicycle related writing and another for urban farm posts. I never made any posts, as I got caught up in getting the header images working. I’m not sure why, because they stopped working after a wordpress upgrade for the other blogs anyhow. This past weekend I spent three days in the mountains snowshoeing about and keeping the cold at bay. I learned a lot, and I pondered where to write about that. Clearly neither the existing nor the proposed options were a good fit, so I decided to roll everything else together. Besides, posts should be much more frequent this way.