Gongoozling from afar

It was a hotter and drier summer than usual in the Sonoran desert. Life’s priorities didn’t allow us our usual retreat into the mountains or out to the lakes as we usually do. I did, however, discover some wonderful vlogs detailing life aboard a narrow-boat cruising the many miles of canals in the UK. Produced by some middle-aged gents fed up with the rat-race of corporate life, I can personally relate to their stories.

Constructed mostly during the 1700’s and 1800’s, canals and rivers were the Interstate Highways of Briton and fueled their industrial revolution. Some are large enough to accommodate smaller ocean going freighters but many in the mid-lands are only ~7′ wide. Built without the aid of modern machinery they’re no wider or deeper than absolutely needed. What our predecessors made using manual labour is indeed incredible by any standard.

Over the years some of the canal infrastructure was abandoned, built over or filled in as it gave way to faster modes of transportation such as rail and roads. Yet much of it was left intact and there’s been a great push to restore it for historical and recreational purposes. It’s inspiring to see so much interest and effort in maintaining the old network.

There’s many types of boats navigating the inland waterways. Wide beams, Dutch barges, cruisers and narrow-boats just to name a few. I like them all but it’s the narrow-boats that can access the entire system. From a distance it might just look like a houseboat, and while they do serve the same general purpose there’s a several important distinctions. For the details of that I’ll leave it to the experts, so on to the vlogs!

Cruising The Cut by David Johns, a very well produced ongoing vlog by a former TV news reporter that opt’d for a slower pace. He goes into great detail about living aboard a narrow-boat full-time. If you’ve never been to the UK, it’s a nice glimpse into the towns and villages that you might not see on regular TV. We could also file this under most interesting alternative lifestyles. Here’s one of my favorite episodes:

I would love to kayak that!

Travels by Narrowboat by Kevin aka Country House Gent has videos on YouTube and Vimeo. Earlier in the summer of 2019 I discovered his video series on Amazon, and he’s the one responsible for getting me hooked on this sort of thing. I especially like the adventures onto the rivers, like this one:

Yep. I want to kayak this too.

Foxes Afloat A very entertaining duo that sold their home and built a custom canal narrowboat to specs that I’d probably choose myself.

and kayak this one too …

  • Kenn

How often should transmission fluid be changed?

In the past, auto manufacturers typically specified transmission service at around 25-30k miles. More recently they’re  specifying 50k-100k or more. Some even say the fluid is good for the lifetime of the car. Which makes me wonder how long they expect their cars to last, but I digress. Some don’t specify a mileage and instead rely on a maintenance minder system.

Having recently had an early transmission failure on vehicle with 71k miles (serviced at 55k as per the M.M.) I decided to investigate. After much research and speaking with well established transmission shop owners, I can safely conclude that the newer longer trans service intervals are bullshit. Probably some marketing crap to impress us with how far their cars can go between service.

Although modern transmissions are much more sophisticated than those of yesteryear, some basic principles remain the same. There are still gears and often a torque converter and these parts need lubrication, cooling and clean fluid of the right viscosity to operate. Just as always.

Transmission fluid may be better than it was, but the machine still gets hot and fluid still breaks down. When is does, it loses viscosity so you’ll have similar issues as leaving oil in an engine too long. Trans fluid is also hygroscopic, meaning it absorbs water further degrading the fluid and possibly leading to corrosion.

Transmission service intervals of 25k to 30k are still a good idea no matter what the manufacturer states. This is especially true if you drive in a climate that is very hot and/or humid. Do it more often if you tow or race. Most cars have a trans fluid drain plug making fluid changes as easy as changing your engine’s oil. At <$20/gallon for fluid vs $2k-$7k for a transmission it’s an easy choice.

For most cars there’s several types of transmission services to consider:

Standard Drain and Fill – If you can change your own oil you can probably do your own trans fluid too. (check your manuals!) Unlike an oil change, a D&F only changes out some of the fluid as much of it is still in the torque converter. If you’re doing it every 25k-30k this is enough to replenish. If you’ve gone a bit far since the last service you can do a few D&F’s over the course of a few miles.

Most shops don’t charge much for this service, but some take a short-cut and just pump the old fluid out the dipstick tube. It’s better than nothing but any debris that might be in the pan or on the drain plug magnet is not getting removed. In time, the drain plug will self-weld to the pan, making future service impossible! So be sure to ask how they do it.

Machine Flush – Typically this is done with a machine that is connected in-line with a trans cooler line. With the vehicle running, the transmissions pump empties the old fluid into the machine while fresh fluid is automatically added. This will cost more, but if the trans has been somewhat neglected this is a sure way to get it all. For cars without a drain plug this is a less messy than dropping the pan and much more thorough than just pumping the old stuff out. But not all cars have external coolers, so this may not be an option or you might have to go to a shop with model specific equipment.

Chemical Flush – I’m not sure I believe in these. If you’ve been doing D&F’s all along you won’t need this service. If you’re a bit past due then do several D&F’s or a machine flush. But if the trans is old and very neglected a chemical flush may actually aggravate old seals and make it fail sooner.

Filter change – Some transmissions have internal filters that should be changed. It usually involves removing the bottom pan and gets a bit messy without the right equipment. Many cars do not need this service and don’t even have a drain pan. Debris is collected by a magnet inside the drain plug where it’s removed during a basic D&F.

The appearance of the fluid on the dipstick isn’t a reliable indicator of it’s condition. The only foolproof way to check is with a D&F and inspect the fluid for color, viscosity and debris. It’s red when new and turns dark red as it’s used. If it’s brownish but still detectable as red, you are due for a change. If it’s black you’re overdue. A small amount of very fine particles on the magnet or in the pan is normal wear. Chunks or slivers that resemble bits of cat litter or larger are not what you want to see, especially in larger quantities.

Milky streaks in the fluid indicate water and that fluid could be changed more often. You might see this on vehicles not frequently driven and especially ones doing short runs in cool damp climates. They never get hot enough to evaporate the moisture and the fluid absorbs it anyway. So regardless of mileage, 3 years max in a dry desert climate. Less in humid climates.


Transmission Drain Plug Magnet debris

A lot of fuzz for only 16k miles. There was more in the pan.


The fluid in this vehicle appeared red and smelled normal on the dipstick. But once drained it was very dark and had a lot of fine particles stuck to the magnet. Some particles are normal, but this vehicle had it’s transmission serviced only 16k miles ago. It was diagnosed as a complete failure by the dealer at only 71k. The excess particles and fouled fluid was possibly due to a materials defect in the transmission. I’ll have more on this saga later.


Dirty transmission fluid.

Definitely. Used. Up.

If you want to do a mid-change fluid condition check, use a Mighty-Vac or similar tool to extract a small amount if fluid from the dipstick tube. You can better gauge the fluids condition but it might not show if debris is present. If you want to take it a step further, there are labs that do fluid analysis and can tell you how much dissolved metals are present, amongst other things.


The Almighty MityVac!

Great for checking trans fluid (and flushing brakes, power steering, etc)


Also consider investing in a code scanner and periodically check for pending codes (and not just ones related to transmission solenoids!). I’ve used (and like) the Innova brand. The Nexpeak NX501 looks promising, maybe more on those later. The following cat scan was performed free of charge by the resident rodent control unit.


Iz Safe?


Happy Motoring!


Retrofitting a Stereo with LED lighting:

Many older stereos, radios and electronic devices were equipped with small incandescent bulbs to illuminate scales, dials and pointers. In time, these tend to burn out. Some use commonly available bulbs and are easy to replace. Others use unusual bulbs or are soldered in and difficult to access. In some cases the bulbs tend to run hot. One solution is to up the voltage of the replacement bulbs. A 12 volt bulb available at a local auto parts store will still provide enough illumination in an 8 volt circuit, running cooler and lasting longer.


We can also solve all the above issues and customize the appearance by replacing the bulbs with LED’s of a desired color. For dials that are lit from the side, this works very well as LED’s a light directional. For dials that are rear-illuminated a method of diffusing the light may be needed. The lens of an LED may be lightly sanded to help diffuse the light or you may need to use several LED’s or other creative means.


Note the blue dial and red pointer.

Note the blue dial and red pointer.


This HK has one blue LED on the left side of the scale and a red one on the pointer. Like most stereos, the dial lamps are run off a separate tap from the power supply transformer and are often not rectified. So it’s usually 6 to 12 volts AC. Be sure to confirm this with your voltmeter. That’s too high for one LED’s so we’ll want a resistor in series to limited the voltage and current.

The formula for calculating the value of the resistor is R = (V – Vf) / If

R = resistor
V = supply voltage
Vf = voltage drop across LED
If = current through LED

Running one red LED from 12 volts requires a 680 ohms resistor.

Running one red LED from 12 volts requires a 680 ohms resistor.


So if we have a 12 volt supply and a red LED needing 2 volts and 15 milliamps of current running through it then the resistor would be 680 ohms 1/2 watt. Using some jumper wires, be sure to test the circuit that voltage across the LED is within spec. Better yet, just use one of the online LED calculators listed below.

Different colors of LED have specifications for voltage and current. Hopefully that information is on the packaging when you bought the LED’s, and if not LED’s of the same color tend to have the same characteristics. Generally Red and Green ones like 2 volts while Blue and White ones like 3-3.5 volts.

LED’s can be run from AC provided the voltage and current is correct. It can be done with a single LED, when possible run a pair of LED’s in anti-parallel with one another. This will eliminate any chance of flickering and the LED’s will protect each other when the current reverses.

LED's in anti-parallel using one resister.

LED’s in anti-parallel using one resister.

LED's in anti-parallel using two resistors.

LED’s in anti-parallel using two resistors.


Now that you have the electronics part figured out you’ll need to mount the LED’s. As the leads are exposed you’ll want to take precaution that they won’t short together or to ground. Individually heat shrink tube each lead. A hot glue gun is one way to physically mount the LED’s yet will still break away if you want to change them later. Here are four excellent sources of information regarding LED’s:






Happy wiring!


— Kenn Ranous

Vintage Audio Equipment: Sherwood S-7100A Stereo Receiver

Circa 1970, made in Japan. I purchased this unit from the original owner. It needed the usual treatment, dust out the insides, replace dial lamps, clean the potentiometers jacks and switches. I also cleaned the wood cabinet with a fine scotch pad and brushed in some linseed oil. It sounds good too.



I’m still on the fence if I want to sell this one.



— Kenn Ranous

Vintage Moog ‘The Source’ Analog Synthesizer Model 341a



  • Kenn Ranous



ebay sellers beware!

Effective August 1st 2019 ebay has activated a new automated returns system. Buyers can initiate a return for any reason they choose and ebay automatically prints them a return shipping label at the sellers expense. Once returned, the seller has 2 days to refund the buyer or ebay will happily perform that task for you.

Fortunately the seller gets their ebay & paypal fees back, but you’re out shipping both ways. And you’re really relying on the buyers honesty to return the item in one piece. So far I’ve been lucky in that regard.

new ebay return policy = one-click scamming!

Shady buyers (and sellers) are nothing new on fleabay, but the new policy makes it too easy. No communication with seller is required. I’m not the only seller who’s seen a ridiculous increase in frivolous returns.

I think the risk is now too great for anything of real value or weight. With shipping costs going up and many states charging sales tax, perhaps there will be a revival in good old fashioned in-person inspect & cash deals. Like hamfests or local classifieds.



PS: Note to anyone that thinks it’s Ok to just return stuff because you changed your mind, know that many sellers on ebay are people just like yourselves trying to supplement their income.


Doves Nest