Ted Kalvitis - Far Muse

“At Indian Lake you’ll be able to make the way the Indians do.”

From the popular AM radio song “Indian Lake” by the Cowsills, written by Tony Romeo, MGM Records, 1968.


I test the limits of political correctness here in order to tell the story of putting together the latest Antique Power Tech article. It’s about lapping valves. 

So what is the Native American connection? That has to do with how the valve-lapping tool — basically a stick with a suction cup on the end — is used to vigorously rotate the valve in its seat or, as the article says; “make like an Indian starting a campfire in a Lone Ranger episode.” 

Actually, in this late 1940s- early ‘5Os television series Indian characters are seen using a sort of tiny bow with its string wrapped around the stick to be rotated in order to give it a faster spin. Rotating it between the palms of the hands must be more of a low-budget thing. In the Indian campfire scenes rotating the stick causes friction and, consequently, heat and eventual flame at the dry grass and tinder-covered slab of wood that the stick is in contact with.

You can use the bow method to lap valves if you want to, but you likely get the connection. The photo shoots involved in these articles are usually a romp in the park. The Old Hippie and I bring a copy of the photo captions and meet up with photographer, Ellie Kenny, and usually a friend or 2 who she brings along. 

So far, we’ve set up locally at Shanholtz Orchard, Terry Mayhew’s riverside farm and campground, (Terry, I lost your contact info — if Vintage Truck forgot to send you a copy, give me a call), the Brian and Jennifer Kidwell residence, Ellie’s place, Northern Eagle Distributors, our own residence, North River Mills, Randy’s Garage and, quite frequently, Adams Equipment.

Virginia venues include; Norman Sites’ farm, Opequon (Frog Eye); Ryland “Pete” Carper’s residence, Sunnyside (Winchester); Avonlea Farm, White Post; Longwood Farm, Millwood; Beavers Farm, Middleburg; and Winchester Equipment.

These shoots usually involve a picnic lunch, some exploring and picking and purchase of fruit and other produce. They conclude with a deep sigh of relief that the job — usually on hyper-deadline — is finally done. Ellie then e-mails the photos to the magazine.

As mentioned, I tend to put these photo shoots off until the last instant. I had planned to use the North River Mills shop as our photo venue. There’s a mostly intact Farmall Cub work-in-progress there with the cylinder head off that could be used as a prop for the demonstration. 

However, unless you can invert this engine on an engine stand, big fingers and tiny valve keepers just don’t mix. I resolved to use a 10hp Kohler K-Model engine from an old Cub Cadet. The engine is in our wood shed under about a half-cord of finely split wood. I was going to dig it out of there — someday.

By Friday, July 8, I had yet to move a single stick from the shed when Antique Power Managing Editor Brad Bowling texted me asking for the photos the following Monday. Panic ensued; I decided that I would have to use the Farmall come what may.

Using a copy of the photo captions, I boxed up the tools to be photographed in the article and headed for “the Mills.” While eating lunch there, I looked around at the miscellaneous parts that I had piled against the walls and under the workbench over the years. How had I forgotten the 1955 Caterpillar D-4 overhead valve cylinder head under the work bench or the flathead pony motor for the same tractor — with the cylinder heads already off — over there in the far corner? 

For that matter, how had I forgotten the 1957 Chevrolet cylinder head standing upright against the wall? Since this is a tractor magazine, I decided to use the Cat parts rather than the Chevy. In moving them onto the workbench, I was reminded why I no longer work on excavating equipment — the Cat head and pony motor together probably outweigh me.

As I tried to remove a couple of valve spring keepers, it soon became apparent that my spring compressor, which had worked fine on numerous other tractor and truck engines, was simply not adequate to compress the valve springs of the big Cat.

After much experimentation (delicate euphemism) I finally used a ¾-drive socket on an extension and a large hammer to momentarily compress the springs and “jump” the keepers off.

How I’ll get it all back together is anyone’s guess but I would rather sell this professionally reconditioned cylinder head and make that someone else’s problem.

In order to keep the Indian thing going, I originally intended to include myself in the photo working the valve-lapping tool with a big feather in the band of my straw hat. Now, feathers are everywhere and I should have no problem finding one for the shot — right? The shoot was set up for Sunday afternoon.

Surprisingly, none of the vendors at the Hanging Rock flea market had one — not even Clay. At Sunday Meeting, I asked around.

Our little congregation is rife with wild turkey hunters who all have the customary turkey feather above the visor of their pickup trucks. However, none of them were driving their pickups that day.

I became obsessed with using the punchline “feather optional” in the caption but was unable to locate this essential prop.

On the way to North River Mills, I noticed that a blue jay had met his fate along the country road. I was about to stop and pluck a tail feather when I looked up to see Ellie bearing down on us in the rearview. I decided not to take the time.

Though the preparation was fraught with difficulty, the picture-taking part of the project went swiftly and easily and included some very pleasant front-porch time at North River Mills. One great author says that some projects just roll along on their own while, with others, we have to fight for every inch. This comes as no news to writers. However, he maintains that, as for the finished product, the reader can’t tell the difference. I hope he’s right. 

First published July 20, 2016 o

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