Rise of the DemonKitty

A ridiculous series of challenges faced us. We had to get the DemonKitty’s body and engine to Wasteland Weekend to meet up with her frame and the genius mechanics who were going to attempt to combine the two and make her run in less than a weekend, in spite of voices saying, “Yeah, that’s impossible.” A caravan was assembled, to carry the Lost Toys tribe from Detroit to California for the event. Trundle is our Mercedes 300D, featured on WiW’s Field Guide. King Salamander is our Nissan Xterra, recently added to the fleet as a support and tow vehicle, and the Blockhead is an ‘84 Chevrolet C30 ramp truck, brought by Gene to do the heavy hauling. We also had the Shadow Box, a 10’ cargo trailer converted into living space for some of our crew, and a two-motorcycle trailer carrying a Harley belonging to one of our party, and a post-apoc, cladding-stripped Honda PC800 known as the PA PC. A patient and creative winching party got the Jaguar’s body up onto the truck (not an easy feat without wheels or suspension!) with the engine nestled in front. The Blockhead’s ramps are missing, so a late-night build session to craft some temporary ones from wood was had. When everything was packed, the caravan rolled out of town about six hours later than planned. We were too late to catch the Great 40 Migration, but followed in its footsteps nevertheless. Somewhere in Indiana, the motorcycles decided that it would be a good idea to break through the wood floor of the bike trailer. The wood was rotten to begin with and we hadn’t had time to do more than patch it. It wasn’t an unexpected failure. As luck would have it, while dumpster-diving for wood scraps at a nearby church,  Andy and Jeremy ran into the minister, who had just finished services and offered us a proper-sized slab of good plywood from their renovation. He cut it to fit for us as well! Once back on the road, things went smoothly…for almost the rest of the day. The Blockhead cut a tire, one of the inside rear duals. The tire stayed inflated, but the tread peeled completely off. As we looked for a place to stop for the evening (and called frantically about to find a tire) the rubber blew out the rest of the way. We camped at an Illinois KOA for the night and embarked first thing in the morning on a tire-seeking mission. Once rubber was located (it’s an older truck so the tire size is no longer common) we bought several, to stave off a repeat of the problem. From there we crossed into St. Louis and headed southwest. The 40 had already left Oklahoma City, but could we make it there? Or even beyond? Amarillo, as it turns out. It was a long haul; Trundle and the Blockhead don’t go particularly quickly. King Salamander was sent ahead to secure lodging, but Trundle didn’t get there until almost 4am, making an early start a dubious prospect. The Blockhead didn’t roll in until after dawn. During the night, Trundle had developed a fueling issue, too; some restriction in the flow of diesel that was making it hard for him to maintain speed. We guessed it might be a blocked fuel filter and stopped at a Mercedes shop in Amarillo, but after the mechanic wanted $180 to do a “diagnostic” and said he didn’t know where the fuel filter on a car this old even was (it’s right under the hood; when it was pointed out to him, he insisted that it was the oil filter) we decided to pass on that. Ordered filters from O’Reilly, to be delivered in Albuquerque, and headed on down the road to meet our parts. We got parts, all right. We also got heavy traffic, a thunderstorm, and a friggin’ hailstorm in Albuquerque. The caravan pushed through, and rather than repeating the previous night’s sleep deprivation, we decided to hotel in Flagstaff. Unfortunately, the Blockhead didn’t make it. A fuel stop resulted in a no-start, and a jumpstart revealed that the big guy had eaten his starter. At midnight on a Tuesday. Well, nuts. With exhausted (and cold!) drivers and passengers, the caravan stopped in Flag to make plans for parts and repairs in the morning, followed by a quick 400-mile jaunt the rest of the way to WW. The spirits of capriciousness were not done with us yet however. In the morning, after a fuel filter replacement, Trundle wouldn’t start. At all. And while we were working on that, the Blockhead’s starter went in fine…but the battery was also revealed to be lunched. There was a moment of intense despair; ultimately the Blockhead got a new battery and was sent on ahead to make miles and hopefully reach the event in time to deliver the DemonKitty to the build site. We fussed with Trundle for the rest of the day, and called him at around 4pm. He still wouldn’t start, so we rented a UHaul truck and car hauler to get him the rest of the way to Wasteland rather than leaving him behind. Did we all roll into Wasteland at three in the morning? Yes, we did. Small silver lining: The infamous WW registration lines were not in evidence at this hour. There was no time/energy/light to set up camp so we slept in the truck and rose bright and early to build ourselves a monster Jaguar. Thursday morning was a whirl of activity and a thrill to watch some of the best blackthumbs in the business do what they do best. DemonKitty had an all-star crew on hand: Spud, Jeff, Squirrel, Mario, Morgan, Seth, Laszlo, Cupcake, Macho, GreaseMonkey, Michael, Ben, Dani, Jeremy, Kelvin…not to mention our somewhat less-capable-in-this-company fingers. In about four hours, we had the engine mounted in the frame and the body perched on top, ready to be attached. Engineering challenges were met and surmounted with what was on hand: the exhaust headers wouldn’t fit properly, so they were flipped upside down and reversed. The steering box and brake booster from the donor truck were considerably larger than the Jaguar’s engine compartment allowed, so a lot of sheet metal was chopped away and a box was fabricated. The driveshaft was shortened and fitted on-site. The body itself needed some hammer engineering to make space for the side-saddle fuel tank’s sender. As darkness fell, though there were still complications. Once in the chassis, the fan blades contacted the frame. The steering box was at the wrong angle, and couldn’t be properly attached. And we still hadn’t figured out how to attach a shifter or attach the radiator–which, as it turned out, wouldn’t fit. Still, with so much progress it was hard not to feel excited. Friday was dedicated to letting the group enjoy the event, rather than spending the entire time on one thing, and we turned our attention to Trundle and to the PA PC, neither of which would start. As the day bled down and the Wasteland car cruise approached, Morgan came by and, with a heroic effort, got the old Mercedes running (and roaring!) again. Trundle fired up literally five minutes before the parade started. Triumphant Lost Toys piled onto the car for an epic drive. That epic lasted until just as the parade started. We lined up between a pair of roaring war rigs, and just as the parade started…Trundle died. No warning; we put him into gear and he stalled. And wouldn’t restart. Nothing. As we sat on the parade field, with the rest of WW 2018’s huge fleet of war rigs and battle wagons rolling away from us and curious spectators looking on, if we thought the previous day’s pit of despair was rock-bottom, we were wrong. In a fit of pique, we pushed and pulled Trundle across the photographers’ line after the parade ended, but it wasn’t quite the same as having an “official” WW photo taken. And it was cold comfort: here we were, at an epic gathering of blackthumbs, and none of our vehicles would run. A lot of time was spent sulking in our tent and ruminating on our life choices, and not in the good way. Saturday dawned, though, and things seemed a little better. When we returned to where Trundle had been abandoned, he fired right up, the persnickety little shit. Maybe he was afraid we’d sic Morgan on him again; big-truck diesel mechanics are not gentle. We were able to tour around Wasteland City in the doofy Mercedes, as intended. In the meantime, Jeremy teamed up with the Machine Army to rouse the PA PC also, and spent the afternoon riding it around. We actually remembered to enjoy the event for a while!Then it was back to the grind. The crew was hot, and problems were slapped down one after the other. Jeff absolutely nailed the distributor installation and timing, because he breathes Chevy engines. What else was in the way? Radiator won’t fit? Zip-tie a radiator from a Ford Ranger in place. Steering box issues were resolved. No throttle pedal? A convenient bit of metal was welded into place. No throttle cable? Some extra return springs and wire ties will do. A piece of the Thunderdome was attached to the fuel tank as a filler hose support. No place to connect a shifter cable? Run a long metal rod directly into the gearbox, and bend it up so it’s just barely reachable outside the driver’s door. Hell, weld a screwdriver handle on the end of it to make it easier to grab. The person who wired the starter button isn’t present to tell us which wire goes where? Fuck it–we hotwire the truck by jumping the starter. Every issue that popped up, Spud found a solution. We were racing daylight if we wanted to drive the beastie and fulfill our goal. And then, the moment of truth. Everything in its place, all hands clear and…the DemonKitty roared for the first time. The collective cheer was probably audible from outer space–and followed by a geyser of coolant from one end of the motor and oil from the other. She was shut down, and these were quickly patched–a coolant return line and a missing oil-level sender plug were the culprits. Upon restart, the Kitty growled and snarled, but didn’t spit. But she also wouldn’t move. Was the transmission shot? Not possible–we pulled it out of a running vehicle ourselves, we’d driven it. Was there fluid in it? OH [epic string of profanity deleted] ARE YOU KIDDING ME? With less than an hour until nightfall, a frantic quest for eight quarts of transmission fluid blossomed to life. There was no time to try and drive into town, so people ran from camp to camp, begging for a quart here and a quart there. After some hilarious scrounging, a fortuitous case of the stuff was discovered (thanks, Mech!) and the DemonKitty fired up once more, and moved under her own power. Another collective roar of triumph ensued. It was drowned out by the roar of a smallblock V8 with open headers. With time bleeding away, a collection of vacuum leaks was plugged to improve running, using whatever we could find, including vacuum hoses scavenged from the Jaguar’s defunct HVAC system. Thus running more smoothly, the build crew piled onto the thundering, clattering beast for a victory lap of Wasteland City. The DemonKitty surveyed her new world in a most unsubtle fashion, barking and growling and clearing a path through the streets. It is true that she was driven slowly past the camps of the people who said that the build was impossible, but hey, they were on the road we were on, that’s just coincidence. And that, dear reader, is the story of DemonKitty’s rebirth. Future updates will chronicle our efforts to housebreak her into road-legality, if possible. She runs, now we must refine her! She is on the way back to Detroit (after clawing the ramps to pieces on the first attempt to get her onto the car hauler) to her forever home. (The trip home is an epic for another day…)

Thanks for reading.  I would like to sincerely thank everyone who contributed blood, sweat, tears, time, parts and heart to this life-changing project.  The DemonKitty roars because of these people:  Spud Innit, Ares Innit, Jeff Raymond, Seth Howard, Kelvin Dodd, Lazlo Friedman, Dani Morin, Ben Greenbaum, Cameron “Squirrel!” Caro, Mario Sobalvarro, Jeremy Cronin, Morgan Milstead, Taylor “GreaseMonkey” Goodall, Michael Drobitsky, Thomas “Cupcake” McElroy.  Many of these folks have cars over at Will It Wasteland, and you can check them out there.