Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Solenoid Blues

Slow Moving vehicle
Slow-moving vehicle

Uncle Mark asks:  “Whatever happened with the solenoid?”

(For non-gearheads: The solenoid is an essential part of the system that starts the engine.)

When you last saw our intrepid captain, the engine was NOT starting, and he was combing the local auto parts stores for a replacement solenoid.

No solenoid to be had. After much clanging and banging in the engine room--but with the engine still dead in the water—the Captain told the crew “cast off!” and we departed Campbellford under electric power, only to run out of juice four miles upstream.  
With Dragonfly moored on a lock wall for the night, the Captain descended into the engine room. No results that evening. More muttering and clanging next morning. And, holy cow, the engine roared to life. 

What did the trick?  Gearheads will soon find ALL the details in Bill’s blog, but long story short (and with apologies if I got any of this wrong):

1.   He cleaned the contacts in the starter solenoid assembly (it’s the same general idea as cleaning the contacts on your car battery).
2.   He also installed an automotive relay between the engine’s ignition switch and the starter solenoid. (This bypassed a 20-year-old bundle of wires that were likely corroded).

When frustrating things happen (like the engine not starting) we constantly have to remind ourselves the express goal of this trip was to learn about technology.  Obviously when your engine is on the fritz and there’s no handy marina around and you HAVE to fix it yourself or else, you learn your way around an engine. (I see a great future for Cap as a marine mechanic if the professor gig gets old.)

Bill says he has especially learned, “The things you do while you are trying to solve a problem can, in themselves, create NEW problems.”

For example: At one point, he took the starter solenoid off completely.  Well, there’s a pin that goes from the starter solenoid into the starter. It activates a gear.  An important gear.  When Bill put the solenoid back on, he discovered that little  pin could fit into some empty spaces in more than one way—and he couldn’t remember which way was the RIGHT way. (He didn’t notice exactly how the pin was seated when he took the solenoid off.)

Bill tried putting the pin back in six different ways and eventually reinstalled it correctly.  The engine roared to life . . .  and then the gauges showed the engine was overheating. (This is really bad.)  There’s always something!

Hey, a new problem to solve! —and once again, a problem created in the process of fixing things. 

Turns out the engine was NOT overheating.  Nope. In the process of his repair job Bill had cleaned the connectors in the wiring harness. (Trust me, if you don’t know what a wiring harness is, you don’t want to sit through the explanation).  During the cleaning process, a little bit of grit ended up in the wrong place and that screwed up the gauge.

Now that the engine is functioning, Bill is researching ways to keep water weed off the propeller shaft.  

Meanwhile Emily R. is accepting your bets:  "Guess the total number of times Bill goes swimming on this trip."

P.S. This morning our boat goes for a ride in the World’s Tallest Hydraulic Lift Lock (essentially, an elevator for boats) in Peterborough, Ontario.  Stay tuned.


  1. Thanks for the history lesson of the Peterborough Lift Lock. Very interesting. My wish for you both is no more engine trouble.
    Unless Bill finds a solution to the water weed problem, he'll be swimming a lot more.

  2. Probably a good thing he didn't whap it with a hammer!

    Once you're out of the locks and on Lake Huron, how are you going to get to Lake Michigan? A northern or southern route or a brave crossing of the Lake? Will you be coming down the east or west shore of Lake Mich (watch out for the Zebra mussels!).

  3. Zebra mussels, they are here already on the Trent Severn! We see them clinging to the walls of the locks. When they are out of water, they like to squirt you!

    As for Bill and swimming, my colleague Emily R is taking bets on how often he goes in the drink this trip.