Monday, March 08, 2004

Driving Pleasure
I got a Beetle yay! I got a Beetle yay! About 8 years ago, I bought a Bug. It was a 1974 green Super Beetle. I loved that car to death. I used to get up pretty early in the morning to drive my wife to a BP station a few miles away in 'the bug' and I always loved that early morning drive. In fact, I loved going anywhere in that car. It was like riding around in a little toy car. When the poor bug started losing engine pressure, and stalling out I parked it. I was extremely broke at the time. It was probably the poorest my wife and I have ever been. We were sinking in debt, working several jobs, and loving each other through an otherwise miserable part of our lives.

After a few years of sitting in a grassy gravel driveway, the car had rotted away. We were anticipating a tax refund, so I had the car taken to a VW repair shop. Their news was not good. The man told me that the engine was very far gone. He said "we got it running, but only at about 80 percent ... it needs rebuilt". Then he goes on to say that "we were going to put it on the lift, but it would fall apart if we did". He recommended I either hand over a few thousand dollars, or part with the car. I didn't have a few thousand dollars. So I said my goodbyes.

Eight years later, I am still looking to replace my little green friend of so many years ago. I go on eBay at least once a week and sneak in a search for Beetles, but nothing worthwhile ever comes up. The cars that are in decent shape that are remotely close to Ohio go for thousands. The cars that are rotted away to nothing go for about 600 dollars. I had about given up on a Beetle. But then Rob calls me. He says "you want a Beetle"?

Robs boss has a daughter. His daughter got married and moved to New Hampshire. Several years ago she had a blue 1968 Beetle. She had bought it from a little old woman who gave it up after the engine caught fire. This daughter had the engine rebuilt, a paint job, and whatever other repairs it needed putting the car into great condition. Eventually, the floor boards rotted out (Beetles do that), and letting it go caused the car to practically rot out on the drivers side (at the base of the car). She drove the car to her father in laws to be looked at, and he told her she should probably stop driving it. So she parked it in his garage. That was five years ago.

The past five years, this little beauty has been protected from the elements in the garage of a multi-million dollar home (seriously). How did I come to such luck? The best part is the asking price. $600 to $700. NICE. THIS was my project car. I don't expect that the engine will give me much trouble. Its been drained of oil for 5 years. So it will need a few quarts, some new gas, and a lot of petting and talking to. The frame of the car however, will need some work. But it will definitely be worth the expense. The rest of the car is beyond excellent condition. The paint job that the car is wearing was definitely the work of an expensive professional. This is what they would call an "off the frame restoration". The proof of such work is the paint in areas of the car that are otherwise unreachable, and out of view anyhow.

Now the bad news. Robs dad also wanted the car. He made the mistake of mentioning the car to his dad, who couldn't wait for a chance at this cool blue ride. Rob had passed on word that his dad too was interested. So when we were going out to look at the car, his dad came too. Robs dad had gotten directions to this mans home, so we all packed into two cars, and we followed Robs dad to the car. I had talked to Rob about his dad wanting the car. I asked "are we going to get stuck fighting over this car with your dad in a bidding war?". Rob tells me he talked to his dad about it, and that I had 'first dibs' on this vehicle, which made me happy.

When we rolled into this nice mans driveway, he had opened the garage door, and was moving some old bicycles out of the way so that we could walk all around the car. At first glance the car was just beautiful. Robs dad immediately hopped out, shook the mans hand and went on to be shown the vehicle. It wasn't very nice. We were actually the ones coming to buy the vehicle, and we had to catch up to the guy selling it. Rob was a little embarrassed and introduced us as "these are the people coming to look at it".

I was a little embarrassed that Robs father was now under the car with a flashlight checking out the rust. I understand that it's am important part of buying the vehicle, because if the car is rotten to the core, it may not be worth any investment. But giving a $600 car a complete inspection was ... just not making sense to me. Looking at the interior and the upper half of the car was enough to convince me the car was WELL worth the $600 that they wanted. After lifting the engine cap, I was sold. The engine was dusty from sitting so long, but was obviously well cared for. The distributor cap and cables looked new, the belt was in perfect condition, and even those little cardboard/tin foil hoses that channel heat back into the car were in excellent shape. Those are one of the first things to rot away on a daily driven Beetle. It was obvious that this girl loved her car and cared for it very well.

I turned to my wife and asked what do you think? She responded "what do you think?". She told me that this car was more for me, but she also let me know that she thought it was a good deal. I definitely did not want to pass it up. She added "maybe you should go talk to Robs dad, he seems to know what he's doing". Robs dad at this point was sitting in his truck smoking a cigarette, and looking over some parts lists he had printed off the Internet. He was doing numbers on the cost of parts to repair the decaying left side of the car, and the soon to be rotted right passenger floor board. "About $1,100", is what he came to.

I think at this point he knew we were interested in buying the car, so he began tacking on other charges, pitfalls, etc. We could tell he wanted the car. So we agreed that we would be back to buy the car, and find a way to tow it home. Shook the mans hand, and headed towards home. Rob calls me me from the road, and continues to feed me bad news about the car from his father at the wheel. He then says "my dad is offering you $100 to walk away from the deal". I declined.

And so, I had put Rob in a very uncomfortable position. His dad was wanting this car, and we were buying it. I'm sure that his dad had plans of putting a $1k into it, and getting $6k back out of it. The car is definitely a good investment. But I will not be selling it. My plans are to get it back into good running condition, and drive it around. I think a part of me felt guilty because Robs dad was a good man for this job. He has the tools, the time, and the inclination to put the car back into shape in his garage. But for what? To sell it?

I will no doubt be paying for any body work that is performed on the car, and it will be in my garage for quite some time until we have some extra money to perform such a repair. I hated to put Rob in the middle. But I had to come to a decision. Did I want that car? ABSOLUTELY! So I apologized to Rob for sticking him in that spot, Rob apologized for sticking us in the spot, and we proceeded to buy the car, and no doubt make enemies with his father for life.

Rob later said "my dad says he doesn't care that you bought it, he just doesn't want the car to go to waste". Which was clearly understandable. The girl selling this care had requested that whoever buy it, keep it. And continue to drive the car, not rip it to pieces and sell all the parts. I will certainly fulfill her wish.

So last night, we returned with $650 or borrowed money. The banks weren't open, U-Haul was closing, and didn't have a car tow, and all odds were against us. After about the third call to the man holding onto the car he says "my wife tells me that I am making this too complicated. Come buy the car ... you can pick it up from my garage next week!". And so we did. Returning the house, I paid the piper, and picked up a cleared and notarized auto title, two keys, and another quick look at what was now my car, in his garage.

Next weekend we go to pick up the car. Preferably on a flat bed trailer (so that we do not bend the frame of the weak spot in the car). I will CERTAINLY be cleaning up the dusty exterior and posting photos of my new pet car. You will drool. All of you. Even you bitches that think SUV's are neat.

Oh hell, I got time for another story. Here it is only 12:45PM and I don't have class for another 3 hours. Let me tell you why old Macs suck.

Robs boss had a Mac. We are talking about an "all-in-one" unit that pre-dates the PowerMac. In fact, it was still sporting a sticker from when he bought it one hundred years ago that read "ready for PowerPC upgrade". So he basically had a very old Mac, that wanted nothing to do with a standard PC (network or otherwise).

His boss had a collection of files on the Mac that he wants off. To get the files off of the Mac, he had been dialing up to the Internet and e-mailing the items to himself over a 9600 baud connection. It was painful and time consuming. He requested that Rob (who works for him) get all of these files off the Mac and onto a hard drive, CD-ROM, or anything else of that nature. What a task that turned out to be.

What I first noticed about the Mac is that it was running an ancient Operating System. MacOS version 7.5.3 which just happens to be the last MacOS that Apple decided to make "free" to anyone who wants to download it, or trade it on the Internet for those "classic Macs". The problem, was that after years of use, this operating system was trashed. There were missing files, corruption's, bad 'extensions', you name it. My first thoughts were to reload the OS ... which I couldn't do without hurting the files we needed off.

My first thoughts were to work with getting things to and from a floppy. I inserted a disk. Burp! Rob had neglected to mention that the floppy drive was in fact bad. It would be a week later that I got it back out with the ol' paper clip eject trick. So now what? The only way we could get the files off of the mac were through the dial-up connection. But emailing them was inefficient. So ... I downloaded Fetch. Fetch is a FTP client for Classic Mac's. The FTP utility works, but it only transfers one file at a time, and will not do entire folders at a time. To get Fetch onto a CD to load onto the computer even proved a task.

Since this Mac was not a PowerPC, it would only read Mac formatted discs (HFS). We would have to download something called to create a "HFS disc image" and then transfer the image (ISO) to my PC to be burned onto the disc. Each time we wanted to get anything onto the Mac, we would have to go through the image creation on one machine, and the burning on the other. It was time consuming, and fruitless. After two long nights of fiddling, I threw in the towel. I pointed out some network cards on eBay and directed Rob to go lay down $14 and get one.

After a week or so, we returned to the project and threw in the network card. If only I had known what we were up against now. This Mac was running MacTCP which is only halfway compatible with a normal Ethernet network. So I spent a good couple of nights trying to make that part of it work. Many things had been locked out by an administrator probably some 7 years ago. Reinstalling the network components did not help.

Nights, and nights had gone by and we hadn't gotten a single thing out of this drive. I decided it was time to change plans. Could we remove this drive, and hook it to a healthy mac? My son has a mac in his bedroom that has MacOS 9 on it, and it connects to my network just fine.

And so I removed the drive, it was SCSI, and I headed to my sons room with it. Upon taking my sons computer apart, I find that it was IDE. Woops. And so I returned to the basement with my SCSI-1 drive. What the hell was I going to do with this. I wondered what the chances were for mounting this drive under Darwin. Darwin is open-source OS-X, and that would be my best bet at a free operating system that reads HFS volumes. It turns out, the chances were good! Darwin would do it! But Darwin is a pain in the ass, and would never detect the SCSI card I would be using. What about FreeBSD? Darwin is based on it.

As luck would have it, some kind soul has taken the Darwin HFS mounting code, and made it work for FreeBSD. I have FreeBSD on my router! But .. not a new enough version. I tried to compile the code anyway and found myself swimming in errors. I would need a new FreeBSD version. I look at the clock, and it's 10 PM. Too late to rebuild a router? Never.

The trick was to have something newer than 5.0 (I had 4.9) and to rebuild the kernel including a "GEOM_APPLE" option. No sweat. It would just take time. At about 1:30 in the morning, the kernel was being built and installed, and I went to sleep watching the endless strings of 'gcc' scroll by.

The following morning I awoke, grabbed my laptop, and mounted the drive. Hallelujah! I had all the data ready to go.

The bad news was that the data was still in HFS format. I zipped it all up, and tried to unzip it on my PC only to find that there were oodles of incompatibles with the HFS/PC transfer. The answer to all my problems? NameCleaner. This little program takes filenames and strips them of any colons, quotation marks, and other illegal Windows filename characters (for which there were many).

And so in the end, I was able to stick the zipped up "Mac only" files on a disc, along with the PC readable format files that were cleaned up by my laptop. All in only a few weeks time. So the moral of the story? If your friend ever comes to you with a really old Mac and asks to have files taken off of it ... don't say "no sweat". Refer them to me, and I will talk them out of this entire project. I forgot to mention that when I mounted my other drives with my router, it was expecting them to be a HFS file system. Woops. Something tells me I may be rebuilding my router again real soon. Thank God the Mac thing is over. :-)

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