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Spare Parts: Rust never sleeps

By Ernie Copper

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Every now and then I catch a glimpse of the sentiment so often expressed on shows like American Pickers and What’s in the Barn. It goes something along the lines of, “We’re just the custodians of this machine, preserving it for the next generation.” It was in that spirit that my son and I tackled the installation of dual exhaust on my V-8-powered pickup truck five years ago, before he left for college. I wanted him to enjoy the rumble of a V-8 before they’re gone for good. It was truly an end-of-summer, evening garage project filled with anticipation and father-son moments. The only thing that would have made it better would have been if I’d spent the few extra bucks to get the stainless system instead of the cheaper “aluminized” system I’d opted for. Then I wouldn’t have been rolling around now, alone, on a not-so-summer afternoon with Sawzalls, mini sledges and jack stands strewn under the truck on the garage floor as I replaced the failing aluminized system with a proper stainless one, while my son was busy living his life 300 miles away.

Being a pack rat of sorts, I’d thoughtfully put the truck’s OEM exhaust system in the attic of the garage after we’d taken it off. And by the garage attic, I mean pine floorboards nailed to the garage ceiling joists and accessed by a weathered gray wooden ladder that hinges on a piece of pipe at the top. Saving the original system proved fortuitous because as it turns out, I need a piece from it to make the new stainless system work; a piece that I could not properly access hunched over in the confines of the garage attic. So, I moved everything out from under the truck and pulled it out into the driveway so I could pull the ladder down. Maneuvering a complete exhaust system for a pickup with an 8′ bed in the confines of a garage attic, particularly one packed with everything from dining room chairs to inflatable eight-man rafts, is not easy. For perspective, the muffler on said system is roughly the size of a 40-gallon hot water tank. It’s the equivalent of trying to turn the Queen Mary around in a wading pool, but I got it out without incident.

Back under the truck, as the winter’s crud from the truck’s underside found its way into every corner of my eyes, it dawned on me: this is why I like to work on motorcycles better. I’ve changed exhaust on my Harley no fewer than three times; each time it was because I wanted to, not because the old system had failed, and the differences between those experiences and this are many.

If exhausts systems were fine arts, truck exhaust would be like sculpting with a hammer and chisel while motorcycle exhausts would be more like fine jewelry. Even without a bike lift, exhaust installation on a bike doesn’t require the ground-fight skills of an MMA champion to successfully accomplish. Whereas performing a truck exhaust installation alone involves a lot of rolling, twisting, pushing and struggling in general. It was helpful that the truck is 4WD and offers adequate clearance for the maneuvers required. But still, I could have benefited from successful completion of a P90-X course prior to tackling the job alone. It became one of those tasks that got completed by ignorant determination—a family trait.

Motorcycle exhaust installation has, in my experience, been a much more genteel process that involved a lot of scooting around on a four-wheeled garage stool to check things out as the assembly progressed. Add a piece, wipe off the chrome, scoot back and admire it a bit before repeating the process and adding the heat shields. The only issue of any legitimate concern on a bike exhaust installation has been if the exhaust studs might snap off in the head. Otherwise, the experience is pretty stress-free and you don’t feel like you got beat up the next day.

What I’ve learned is that it ain’t always easy being the custodian for future generations, and that it’s probably more of a byproduct of our oil-soaked actions than the true motivation. The sound of an American V-anything is made to enjoy and will not likely last on a day-to-day basis for another generation. You feel it in throughout your entire body, right down to your soul and I like it.

If I’d have known when we were putting on the truck system five years ago that I’d have to replace it, I’d have still done it so my kids would have the memory, so I guess I am a custodian of sorts, but next time, I’ll spend the extra to go first class. Aluminizing has a lot in common with galvanizing. It’ll eventually rust; it’s just a matter of when.

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