Welcome to Russia, Will!

In his own words, Will describes the adventure of the dynamo…

“We started early from our basic motel room (very clean and very cheap £15 or so) between Novosibirsk and Kemerovo. We packed the car ate a breakfast of eggs and meat, and set off with the grinding noise from the Dynamo in full song. We had worked hard the previous evening to fix this problem outside the motel, and had no success. Truth be told, we made it worse. It didn’t help that we forgot to tighten the dynamo to the engine properly before setting off. One of the people helping us very kindly called their wife to translate for him. She said he thought there was a problem with a bearing in the dynamo. A problem common to Russian truckers which is usually ignored for many thousands of miles before anything is done about it. He said we would be fine to travel to the next city 100 km away and mentioned a very good service for generators in Kemerovo, he didn’t know the name but gave us the street. The noise remained about the same for our 100km journey to Kemerovo. We stopped at a Datsun dealership, explaining the relevant history of their company to Austin (the first Datsun being based on an imported Seven) and they tried to help but couldn’t. They did however point us in the direction of Auto Volt on the main drag on town. We arrived at 1300 at a grubby workshop with dour Russian faces all around. As soon as we showed them the car they all lit up. They were so happy to see it. We disassembled the Dynamo and distributor trying to make notes of what went where. Arkadiy, a big man, was working alongside his wife, also built like a brick outhouse. They were repairing old starter motors and Arkadiy almost immediately came over and said ‘I’m free’ in English. More and more people came over to see what we were up to and before we knew it we had 12 + people determined to get the car running.

It wasn’t long before Arkadiy had found the problem. The bronze bush containing the main shaft in the dynamo was worn beyond recognition. The workshop in Novosibirsk had stripped and disassembled it many times and had damaged the ends of the bush but the severe wear to the inside of the bush was due to the fact that it had no hole for lubricating the shaft. Clear as day the hole in the dynamo housing was corroded into the outside of the brass. No oil had ever made it to the shaft, potentially for decades, and at least the 3600km Chris has driven since London four weeks ago. This was a problem because it’s not particularly likely a scruffy Russian auto electric shop would have a spare. “No problem” says the 250lb+ Arkadiy.

I was taken for a ride in Arkadiy’s tank of a Landcruiser with wheels 5’tall while Chris did excellent work finding us some food. We picked up some bushes with the correct OD but the wrong ID. Luckily he got two! When we returned, Vladimir (68 years old and can still bench 150kg and squat 220kg…!) the workshop owner also, very kindly and without saying, bought us a meat pasty each, which accompanied Chris’s sweet pastries very nicely! We enjoyed it all sat in their scruffy office taking note of their surprisingly classy and PG naughty calendars! I was offered one for the workshop at Roach Manufacturing but we don’t have space in the car! We were served chai and doughnuts as well.

Everyone was so helpful, any attempt to get their hands dirty and they were there. I have never met such determined people anywhere. At 1930 I asked Arkadiy what time they closed the workshop. His response was instant and in his very very limited English: “until victory” at 2200 I asked again with a smile and he said the same.

No word of a lie, he’d have been up all night to fix our problem.

Unfortunately when the Dynamo was all together and tightened up, the spindle was locked tight. We disassembled it again and Arkadiy made shim washers on the lathe to space the shaft out and stop it from binding. Chris and Arkadiy put it together and disassembled it more than 10 times in an hour, each time shaving a small amount off the shims with a hand file. Slightly late (but much better late than never) I remembered the spare shim washers from the distributor gear spacing I’d brought out with me, sourced from Keith Roach and Barry Clarke, which turned out to be the correct internal diameter, but too big on the outside diameter so so ground down the outside with my PPE Russian goggles (none…). It was assembled one last time and it worked. Smooth and free as it should be. Luck. Thank goodness!

Meanwhile all of this happening various hilarious things happened, one of which was Victor’s son (21 years old and an special forces paratrooper and also built like a tank) was super interested in the car, he asked via google translate if he could have a ride in the car – what came up on the screen however was “would you like to ride me” which I obviously thought was a joke, and replied “you’re very good looking but you’re not my type.” With a dangerous question mark over his head I translated the error and we were all on the floor laughing! We had a good chat via our phones about Religion, politics, Brexit, Putin, and our very own Boris, and found we were alike in more ways than any of us could have imagined. It was very entertaining and an excellent insight to their world.

One of our helping parties arrived with a Russian stance car, beautifully finished in black with low profile tyres, and a hydraulic system which bounced the suspension on a remote! Amazing.

Chris and I were frog marched to the office for a coffee leaving Arkadiy to get on with it. We resisted but they said with confidence that it was his job and he was highly skilled and wanted to continue alone for a bit. I explained that we wanted to help but they insisted we took a break. We were given a coffee with sugar, a drink neither Chris nor I would choose normally, but it was just the job.

We finished putting the car together, I’d found top dead centre in advance (well practiced having been reminded of the procedure by Chris on the first day, and having done it several times since, using instruction from the Bristol Austin Seven Club) and so starting the car with all the parts installed was very quick indeed. Everyone was waiting with baited breath as the car burst into life on the first turn of the first pull. We set the timing, locked it off and everyone cheered!!! I think they were quite impressed. Chris has impressed the heck out of the guys in the workshop in Novosibirsk after they’d sat scratching their heads for half an hour!

The thank-yous and photos took another hour, with everyone wanting photos with us and sat in the car, we tried tidying but it wasn’t effective so Chris held an award ceremony (on video) in which he lined up everyone involved on any level, and presented them with a “celebrate the seven” badge. They all put them on the top right of their shirts and it was really lovely to see them all there, happy and proud with what little we could give them as a thank you. Chris took Vladimir to one side and did his best to offer payment for their services. Chris is a persuasive chap – he’s made I this far!! He had no luck. On threat of violence he was not allowed to pay a penny for the work. Arkadiy was summoned and also would not accept a bean. We also had everyone sign the car on the off side wing. I hope what they wrote isn’t rude!!

This has been a long day for everyone and we couldn’t have predicted or relied on any of it but have been so humbled by the spirit of the Russian people. They’ve bent over backwards to help us more times than I can count and I’ve only been here three days!

The story doesn’t end here.

We were shown to the office at 2330 where I thought we were potentially going to be offered the sofa and some pillows on the floor, and would have been grateful for that. We were led to Vladimir’s Landcruiser, where we were told we were going to be taken to a hotel. We arrived after a half hour journey outside a soviet residential block of flats. It’s rough as anything on the outside and the stairs are very worn and broken in places but we were shown to the seventh floor into his home where we met his wife Irena. I was immediately presented with a towel, shown to the shower and told to look in the mirror. I was absolutely filthy. The familiar black moustache from a 10 hour day at Roach Manufacturing was visible! I showered and then Chris followed. While we were cleaning up, Irena made us a scratch meal of fresh salad and a chicken stew which was absolutely delicious. Their home is a 2 bed flat, similar in size to a student flat in England. Chris and I had been made beds in their second room and it is very comfortable indeed. We all sat together and ate with conversation via google translate. Between us we shared a bottle of home made whiskey presented to us earlier by some of our helpers. It was surprisingly good. We then had bread and jam for pudding with another cup of chai.

Far from wealth, these people have made us more welcome than I could ever expect and would like to think that should two Russians in England have such trouble we would be equally accommodating. Between us Russians and English we have a skewed view of each other. We are both told that we don’t get on via our respective media’s but the truth is there is so much common ground even between me and Chris who has more life experience than most alive or dead, and the most humble working classes in a town no one in England has ever heard of. Quite extraordinary.

It’s now 0225. The alarm is set for 5:45 ready for a 500km day tomorrow to Krasnoyarsk for the Rugby club presentation with TV and press, and gifts brought in the Austin for the kids there. We can’t miss it! Fingers crossed for a smooth drive tomorrow. A long post after a long day but it had been worth every second. Thank you to everyone who has offered us any advice at all it has been more helpful than I can say, I’m afraid I haven’t been able to reply to everyone as it’s been non stop for 3 days now. Signing off with a snore from Chris (well deserved).

From Russia with love!

Chris and Will

Chris demonstrating specialist Austin 7 technique for tightening the hub

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