Monday, January 04, 2016

Don't Be Afraid To Fail

... is the corollary to a lesson I made sure to teach our children, which was:
You can recover from almost anything.
A long time ago, I bought a fixer-upper of a house. It needed work everywhere - the yard, the walls, the plumbing, the heating, everywhere. I was totally unskilled as well - I barely knew which end of the hammer to hold. Over the three years I spent restoring that place, I discovered that much success in life comes from simply trying and failing. I also discovered that every home improvement job requires at least three trips to Home Depot because you screw up the first two times.

Really, that last quip is the key. When I tore out the drywall in the living room because the previous owner had installed 2x6s onto the wall as a built-in bookshelf (2x6s!) and ripping those monsters out destroyed the wall, it took me at least three tries to learn how to hang drywall. After that, I knew how to do it. More importantly, I knew how to divorce emotion from the job. Those first two tries were investments in learning and like my spiral notebooks from 7th grade, could be thrown out without a second thought.

Which brings us to my project car, a 1973 MGB, aka The Time Eater or Chronovore. The poor thing has been languishing in my garage with the wiring system half done for years while children finished high school, finished college, got jobs and moved out. That phase of my life is coming to a close, allowing me to get back to some of my passions, like old cars.

To bring you up to speed, the wiring in the Chronovore had rotted out and needed replacement. Instead of buying a wiring harness, I decided to build my own, strand by strand. I've got the rear end done and have been working, after a fashion, on the cockpit. The cockpit has been a real bear, but is now 90% complete.

This weekend, I'm going to tear it all out and start again. It turns out that doing the cockpit wire by wire is a mistake. You can't get the wires the right length, so you cut them all long to give yourself play so you can install the switches and instruments. The end result is a rats nest of wires behind the dash instead of an elegant, wrapped trunk with leads coming out at the appropriate spots.

Here's where I went wrong. I had spent too much time thinking of the car as an MGB. No one in their right mind completely rewires an MGB, so all of the online advice in the British car forums was circuit-specific. "I keep blowing a certain fuse, how can I figure out where the short is?" and that sort of thing. Hating the mess I had made with the cockpit wiring, I've been wondering how to make a decent cable harness for a long time. Finally, this weekend, I had a brain-wave* and asked myself the right question.
Who else builds automotive wiring harnesses from scratch?
Hot rod enthusiasts, that's who! Once I fed "hot rod wiring harness" or something like that into Google, I found all kinds of resources. Here's my favorite, how to make a MIL-SPEC wiring harness for a hobby car.

The solution was pretty straightforward. You make a 1-1 scale map of the cockpit on cardboard or a big white board and build your harness, complete with connectors, on that. You wrap it and then install it. Voila! All done!

I've done a first draft of the cockpit on a piece of cardboard too small for the whole job and it's already taught me a lot. For example, many of the wire runs are local within the cockpit and can be pre-assembled and then removed from the drawing or perhaps never drawn in the first place. Reduced to just the lines that go into the engine compartment, the drawing becomes manageable.

I've got new enthusiasm for a job that I had begun to question. I can see how it's all going to work out. Even if my first cockpit harness is a failure, it doesn't matter because I can throw it out and begin again. Jobs like this go faster the more often you do it.

The real key, however, was being willing to admit failure without guilt and move on.

My 1973 MGB on the road! Err, in a manner of speaking.

* - Brain-wave is a favorite phrase from The Silver Chair by C. S. Lewis.

1 comment:

Mostly Nothing said...

There are places that make generic hot rod wire harnesses. Pretty simple things.

As I tweeted, britishwiring makes a really nice custom harness with added relays etc for all 'Bs.

Lastly, you can also buy the blue casing tape of the original wiring harness.

Oh, I guess it wasn't lastly... Prospero Garage, I believe is his handle, sells year specific, colored and laminated, 11x17 wiring diagrams on eBay. Wonderful things.

From what I've read on mailing lists, it sounds like starting with a pre are harness is a huge job in itself. I can't imagine making my own.