And Now For Something Completely Different

This time last year I was spending most of my days sitting in a small office in the Gambia, thankful on the days we had electricity so that we could benefit from air conditioning in the otherwise stifling heat. This December has been rather different.

On Wednesday I began the task of dismantling my old Land Rover prior to a rebuild. I have been thinking about it for over a year – after all the old girl is 23 years old and showing signs of age. She spent the first fifteen years of her life on a farm, not being particularly hard worked, but neither was she particularly well maintained, and since I acquired her in 2006 I must plead guilty to continuing this treatment.

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Washed ready for the workshop

The Defender is like a big Meccano set with everything bolted onto a steel chassis, and this is one of the weak points as unless it is well protected the chassis is gradually eaten away by rust and mine is no exception. It has had repairs over the years to enable it to pass the annual Ministry of Transport roadworthiness test, but I knew it was getting very thin in places and had finally decided to fit a new one. Fortunately there are now a number of independent manufacturers who will supply Land Rover parts, and I ordered a new galvanised chassis from Richards Ltd. It wasn’t the cheapest on the market, but I was assured by my adviser/project leader that the extra cost is justified because their product is better finished than some of the other suppliers.

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New galvanised chassis after initial painting

I should admit at this point that although I have acquired some useful mechanical skills and knowledge over the years working with plant and agricultural machinery I would not have had the confidence (or the metal working skills) to tackle this project unaided so I enlisted the help of Dunstan Greenbank who runs a small garage business (DPG Defenders) nearby specialising in Land Rovers, and who after 26 years repairing and maintaining them for the British Army knows every nook and cranny on the vehicle. When we first looked at the project back in September he took the vehicle in for a couple of days and compiled a schedule of repairs/parts needed and suppliers/costs. Needless to say my initial vague thoughts of spending a couple of thousand pounds soon disappeared as we looked at the details and having taken the plunge I decided that it was pointless only half doing the job, so we will end up doing a complete nuts and bolts strip down (apart from the engine and gearbox which are still good), shot blast all parts as necessary to remove rust and then following a repaint, rebuild them to the original factory specification, but with a few improvements. I have decided to make the vehicle a little more comfortable so will be fitting rather more sound insulation than on the original with carpets and rubber matting throughout, a heated windscreen (Land Rover heaters are notoriously bad and so very poor at demisting/defrosting on cold mornings). I will also add central locking with a Thatcham security alarm – after all, the project will probably end up costing as much as the original owner paid for the vehicle when he bought it new in 1991! (Hopefully my investment will be worth it in the longer term too as Land Rover are ending production of the Defender in December 2015, to replace it with what looks to be a leisure vehicle rather than a true workhorse. I don’t know whether it will be as capable as its predecessor but no doubt it will be more expensive both to buy and maintain than the model it replaces!)

So I have acquired a new job over Christmas and into early January, and spent three days this week on the workshop floor removing the body and freeing the nuts on the suspension and running gear prior to their removal from the chassis. Some of the fixings were well and truly seized and had to be drilled out or cut off with the angle grinder, but so far we haven’t had any major problems, it’s just a case for patience and perseverance!

Bulkhead and wings removed

Bulkhead and wings removed

It wasn’t until we had removed the body however that I realised just how bad the old chassis was – it certainly wouldn’t have passed the next MoT test and was beyond repair.

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Front chassis and cross member. Oh dear!

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Couldn’t see how bad this cross member was until we had removed the tub

While I have been doing that, and after we got the body off Dunstan has been painting the new chassis (5 coats of satin black and a good covering of Waxoyl sprayed into all the apertures to cover the interior surface. The factory galvanising of the metal should give it good protection, but it seems sensible to give it some more).

Dunstan spraying Waxoyl into the chassis

Dunstan spraying Waxoyl into the chassis

He has also stripped everything from the bulkhead ready for shot blasting. The bulkhead which holds the windscreen, and to which many more components are bolted, is the first part we need to fit onto the new chassis, but is prone to corrosion so he will have to do some metal working – cutting out and replacing sections as required. Fortunately now he has seen it stripped down, he says he has seen far worse and doesn’t seem too worried about the extent of the repairs.

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The bulkhead nearly stripped down

This will have to be cut out and replaced

This will have to be cut out and replaced

First though it will have to be shot blasted in order to remove any rust and bring it down to bare metal. This is a job which has to be out sourced and we have already sent quite a number of parts to be cleaned, so they can now be collected and primed ready for painting and at the same time the bulkhead will be dropped off. Hopefully this can be returned, repaired and put into the paint shop before the holidays so that we are not held up the week after Christmas.

The battery box was badly corroded and has been replaced

The battery box was badly corroded and has been replaced so is now ready to paint

The tub has also needed some repair

The tub has also needed some repair

Perhaps the most tedious job is removing glue from body panels where foam or sound proofing has been fixed. I had thought the tar/glue remover would make the job easy, but although it dissolves the glue, it leaves a kind of soft stringy mess which takes time and several applications to remove completely. It won’t stick to your thumb and roll up nicely like taking the label from a bottle, but only partly clears leaving a gooey smear just where you thought you had cleaned. The panels have to be completely degreased and I don’t envy Rob the painter as he then has them all to rub down to create a key surface prior to spraying. I never have liked painting – all that rubbing down and countless coats, but at least when painting a room at home there are not so many awkward corners and funny shaped bits as on a motor vehicle.

I am now having a weekend off and not sorry to do so. A few days on a cold concrete floor has made my joints ache, especially the knees, and it is good to sit in central heated comfort with a glass of whisky as I finish writing my Christmas cards.

A Happy Christmas to you all!

Back again

I’ve just returned from the Gambia. Yet again.

This time I’ve just been for a week – not long enough really, but I had enough time to meet up with those of my volunteer friends who are still there, and enjoy a couple of days on the unspoilt beaches south of the capital, down towards the border with Senegal.

My visit was made at short notice following a chance conversation with someone from my home area who has been working with another educational charity at Madina Salaam in the Gambia and who was home for a few weeks over Christmas, prior to returning in January. We were comparing notes and he asked what I was doing, to which I responded that I was now looking to volunteer again, but added that “of course it won’t be Gambia as VSO are in the process of closing down operations there after nearly fifty years”. My friend replied that perhaps I might be interested in a small Norwegian charity who run an educational project not far from where I was working last year, as he knew they were looking for some assistance, so ten days later, following conversations with their CEO, I flew out on a tourist jet to visit the project, see what they were doing, and let them see me.

The project is based at Nema Kunku, on the outskirts of the Kombos and the aim is “to inspire and educate children and young adults about the processes that allow a seed to be planted, and how this seed can be turned into a money making business using alternative technologies and sustainable methods”. The site is run on solar power and equipped with solar ovens and bio gas generators and the youngsters are taught about deforestation, and the need for sustainability.

Onion seedlings at MyFarm

Onion seedlings at MyFarm

Vegetable beds at MyFarm

Vegetable beds at MyFarm

Labelling lip balm and body lotion at MyFarm

Labelling lip balm and body lotion at MyFarm

At present a small staff heading by Kelly, a very energetic lady from the Netherlands who has lived in the Gambia for sixteen years, run a small farm growing a variety of horticultural crops with some livestock (pigs, ducks, rabbits) and also bees. MyFarm is open every day for drop in visitors and runs regular training courses on site, but has also recently acquired an old fire engine which has been repainted green and is now to tour the country advertising the project with a team of mobile trainers who are presently being recruited to run training sessions in the villages. In addition there is a small library equipped with a number of tablet computers on which the younger children can learn through play, and a new classroom with laptop computers on which older children can be taught the basics of IT. One of the most frequent practical classes is a soap making course where trainees are shown how to make soap, lip balm and body lotion from raw ingredients and then taken out with their products to the market in Banjul to acquire selling skills.

I had a very interesting two days there but decided on my return that this was perhaps not the right project for me at this time although I have said I may be available to go back next Spring if I can help by undertaking a short term project of two or three months. If however any readers would like to know more about these opportunities, click here for further details and contacts at MyFarm.

Having dried my aching joints out in the 30° heat of Gambia, I flew back into Manchester on Wednesday evening to find the temperature was just above zero, with heavy rain and strong winds on the motorway as I drove back to Yorkshire.

Perhaps I should have stayed in Nema Kunku after all!