27 August 2013

So, one of my goals this year was to acquire a plow truck to help cope with the management of my somewhat formidable driveway. It doesn’t look it, but the grade approaches 30 degrees in places and it can be very difficult for non all-wheel-drive or 4wd vehicles to ascend during the winter. Snowblowing it by hand is tedious at best and takes the better part of 3 hours to do it right. When we get a heavier snow, it can take even longer.

To that end, for Father’s day this year, to stop me complaining, my wife announced she would buy me a pickup truck that we could convert into a plow truck, hopefully for this winter. The chosen subject of this experiment was a 1984 Chevrolet S10:

This pinnacle of 1980s GM engineering has the following aftermarket upgrades:

  • A wooden flatbed, replacing the rusted out metal bed
  • A road sign replacing the driver’s side floorboards
  • Ex-kitchen linoleum to replace the carpet
  • Push pins to retain the sagging headliner

It also comes, from the factory, with the much maligned 2.8L v6 60 degree engine with one of the most complicated 2-barrel carburators ever produced, the Rochester Varajet 2SE. Thankfully, some kind previous owner had replaced the factory computer-controlled (oh god) E2SE with the older mechanical 2SE and the guy I bought it from provided a rebuild kit (which it badly needed).

After rebuilding the carb, a tale I may perchance relate at a later date, the starter solenoid promptly burned out. Following that, the plugs/cap/rotor decided they were too crudded up to push enough spark to keep the engine turning over. After all those problems had been addressed and the truck was finally running decently, it was time to find a plow.

Last week, a friend pointed me at a fairly cryptic craigslist posting for a $200 snow plow. As it was nearby and within my budget of ‘as little as possible’, I went to go look:

As it looked to have most of the pieces, and showed signs of recent use (the guy said he’d used it last winter), I decided to grab it. One trailer adventure with two friends later, I was the proud owner of what the label claims was a “Fisher Speedcast Snowplow Model F”, with a brass plate indicating it was sold by a Mr. “Sam Dell” of the “Highway Motors Corporation”, Syracuse, NY. Mr Sam Dell apparently ran a Willys Jeep dealership during the 40s and 50s, and from there does my plow hail. Googling for the plow’s model gave me precicely two hits, indicating that yes, it mounted on a jeep, and that it was built in the late 40s or early 50s.

Given that the plow came off a “1994 Chevy Silverado 1500”, and that the mounting plates show signs of several rounds of modifications, I’m guessing this plow has been around the block a few times.

Armed with all this irrelevant trivia, I set about figuring out how to, yet again, adapt the mounting hardware to a use it was never intended for.

To begin, I found that I needed to expose the frame rails on the front of the S10. Several angle ground off bolts later, I had removed everything from the front of the truck aside from the radiator support and the radiator itself (I’m too lazy to drain the coolant, so I’m trying to do the whole project without opening the coolant system):

One neat thing I discovered was that the passenger side body mount had rusted out and that that corner of the truck was held down with a bungee cord wrapped around the bumper. Classy.

After some more bolt cutting and some breaker bar action on the one remaining body mount, I had exposed the frame rails:

Then I tried to work out how the plow mounting brackets went. At first I couldn’t figure it out, but then I realized that both brackets were supposed to overlap on the frame, so the lift arm and the plow pivot effectively bolted over top of each other to the frame:

I had removed the crossmember from the larger pieces and unbolted the lift arm from the L shaped bits, which helped me figure this out. I then tried to dry-fit them on the inside of the frame rails (which is how the previous mounting had been done, judging by the crossmember:

Various problems were immediately apparent:

  • The frame rails were too close together
  • The steering box was in the way on the driver’s side frame rail
  • A mysterious bulge was in the way on the passenger’s side

However, I did notice one thing, that the outside of both frame rails was straight and free of any mysterious protruberences. Free, of course, except for the body mounts:

Above, you can see the frame rail bending inwards behind the radiator, but that the outside is straight. Also observe the pitiful condition of the body mounting bracket.

So, I decided to mount the plow to the outside of the frame rails and relocate the body mounts to the inside. I then promptly showed the body mounts the ugly side of the angle grinder:

And then I dry-fitted the plow mounting brackets again:

However, a new snag emerged. The frame rails curve upwards behind the radiator:

This means I’ll probably have to notch the mounting plate so I can bend it to fit the frame rail and then fill in the gap with some extra 1/4” plate. But the mount should be infinitely stronger this way.

That’s it for this installment, tune in next time for more spark-throwing, shade-tree mechanicing.