’78 International Harvester Scout II – Part 3 The Distributor “Up the block and back again”

In distributor, international harvester, project truck, scout on January 11, 2015 at 5:37 am

[Somehow I messed up.  I had finished this, posted it, and then somehow saved over it with part 4.  Luckily I was able to recover it and repost it, but that is why it is out of order.  Sorry bout that.]

I was half way through the next part of this blog (what will now be part 4) before I realized that I completely skipped over this bit. So I hit pause on the newly renamed Part 4 and started this almost overlooked Part 3.
When last we left my beloved Scout 2, it was languishing in the driveway at my Mom’s house while gathering dust. It hadn’t run since I swapped the Crane ignition out for a distributor and had sat completely untouched and unrunning for almost 2 years. My cat Jello was using it as a club house so at least no rodents had moved into it after the move. That is about the only positive for the last year or so for the truck.
When I removed the Crane and the distributor that worked with it I tried to be careful and mark alignments of everything and install the new distributor in the same alignment. I failed. A lot. It wasn’t even close. This meant that the timing was so far off the Scout would not start. I played with it a little bit at the time but didn’t have much success and had less and less time to work on the truck. When I did have time I was more likely to spend it at the bar than at the house so the Scout was an easy thing to ignore. Now that I was working on it again I tried moving the distributor a little bit throughout the range that it could turn and tried starting it after each adjustment.
.Scout 18
As you can see in the photo there is a vacuum advance thingy (yes that technical term) on the front of the distributor. You can only turn the distributor a few degrees between the water pump and the head cover. If you are farther out than that you are in trouble.
I did some research and learned that if I turned the engine so that the number 1 cylinder was in top dead center (TDC) and then put the distributor cap on with the spark plug wire for number one directly over the rotor I would be in luck. It would be close enough to start and then it could be fine tuned by turning the distributor one way or the other. There are a couple of ways to turn the engine. One is to just keep bumping the starter until the first cylinder is at TDC. The other is to put a ratchet on the bolt that is in the center of the harmonic balancer and turn that until you are at TDC. The problem with the second is that there is very little room to access that bolt with the pulleys and the radiator and a hood that hinges from the front. The problem with both options is knowing when you are at TDC. I read a tip that said to take the number one spark plug out and put a straw into the cylinder. When the straw sticks out the most then you are at TDC. I tried bumping the starter to turn the motor over a little at a time. It just launched the straw out and I was left making little marks over and over trying to find the perfect spot. I got bored. I reasoned that it didn’t matter which cylinder was at TDC as long as I knew which one it was, I could line up the correct plug wire and I would be in business. It sounds good and I think it is technically possible. But I still ended up making a bunch of little marks on a straw and trying to find the perfect spot. I got frustrated and bored with this as well.
A wise and more knowledgeable reader will know that there is a much easier way to know if you are at TDC. However at the time I didn’t. Just so the rest of you are in on the joke, there is a tab on the engine block with reference lines showing you a range from +20 degrees to -10 degrees of TDC. All you do is match up a line on the harmonic balancer with your reference line to know exactly where you are at. I didn’t know that and the engine was so dirty that you couldn’t see it. After learning about it at a later date (yesterday essentially) I cleaned it up so you can actually see it.
Scout 19
When the harmonic balancer spins around it has a etched line that you line up with these marks. I didn’t think to take a picture of it till just now and it is dark outside so you will just have to imagine it. I cleaned up the reference tab earlier today but you can see how dirty everything else is and hopefully understand my ignorance of its existence. I painted the line for 10 degrees of advance while working on fine tuning the timing so that it was even easier to see. I painted the line on the harmonic balancer white as well.
Alright so lets go back to a time when I knew none of that. I went old school trial and error. I just started moving the spark plug wires around the distributer cap one spot at a time and tried starting it at each position. While doing this I managed to blow a few rats nests out of the exhaust. I have a sneaking suspicion that my initial distributor position wasn’t as far off as I thought it was but due to the back pressure created by having rats nests in my exhaust pipes the Scout couldn’t start. The danger with this method is that on a few of these attempts the spark will be working directly against the engine and could potentially do damage to internals if you are not careful. You can feel the opposition as soon as it starts to turn. When you feel that you have to stop the attempt immediately. I Eventually I found a spot where it felt like the truck wanted to start. I think that it was actually the seventh attempt meaning that I was within one position of where I started. I was probably right on at some point before this method as one plug over would have been within the range I could turn the distributor. I played with small rotations of the distributor until the truck finally started, ran for 2 seconds and died. A few more attempts and small adjustments later the truck roared to life. It sounded like crap but it was running. Now that it was running I was able to turn the distributor until the Scout was running more less smoothly. I just did it by ear as I didn’t have a timing light and didn’t know how to use one regardless. That was a problem for another day. I climbed in the drivers seat and drove the Scout up the block and back again. I was in business. The satisfaction from this small victory was immense and instantly all of my motivation to work on the truck returned.


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