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The Squaw Magnet in Minnesota



Finally made it to not so sunny Minneapolis this afternoon. Sunday was supposed to be my get away day from Fargo but that plan got shot to hell quickly. As mentioned in another thread, the intermittant ignition cutout problem that I'd been experiencing most of the way across the country on this ride, finally decided to become a permanent problem. The end result was that the bike died as soon as I got on the interstate, about a half mile from my motel. This was actually fortuitous for a number of reasons. First, I had cell service which, quite often, I do not on my rides. Second, I was very close to a towing company. Third, I was close to a town with motorcycle shops. But most importantly, the problem occured while I was still ahead of schedule for this ride. Cancelling my canoe trip in the Boundary Waters freed up a big block of time. If the bike had to die, it was best that it die now while I still had time to fix the problem without falling behind schedule. Anyway, there I was on the interstate. The bike would not come close to starting and the interstate did not seem like the best place to start diagnosing the problem so I called for a tow. This was the second time I've used the IIRA towing service and things went off almost without a hitch. I say almost because, even after specifying that I was riding with a sidecar, the tower showed up, after an hour's wait, in a pickup truck towing a dinky little trailer. I will accept the lion's share of the blame for that as I did not make a big issue out of insisting that they send a flatbed. I'm used to using MTS, a motorcycle only towing service, that is well aware of my situation and it didn't occur to me that I would have to make a big issue of my sidecar with the IIRA towing service. As it was, I was happy just to see somebody show up, even though it took another hour for the tower to go back and get his flatbed. During this two hour wait, I counted approximately eight Harley riders go by without so much as a look in my direction. Who did stop? An elderly couple in a van that own a Goldwing. Gotta love it. When the tower showed up with the flatbed, I told him to take me to the motel closest to the Fargo Harley dealership. Being Sunday, the dealership was closed so I would have to work on the bike myself and wanted to be close to a source of parts should I need any. I was dropped off at a motel about two blocks from Fargo Harley where I proceeded to investigate the cause of my bike's problem. A cursory exmaination revealed nothing of interest. On general principle, I put all new connectors on the wires to the coil. I tried disconnecting the tach wire at the coil lest it be grounding out due to a short. I tried running a jumper wire from the battery directly to the coil, both with the normal power wire connected and with it disconnected. Nothing I tried made the slightest difference. So, I decided to take off the nosecone and remove the cam trigger. A visual inspection revealed a couple of sizeable cracks in the potting material. That can't be good. I had a spare cam trigger in the sidecar but it's one of the bad ones with the soft potting material. It works but I use it only for testing purposes. Even if those cracks were not the source of my problem, I decided that I would replace the cam trigger anyway. To do that, however, I would have to wait until Monday for the Harley dealership to open. So, bright and early the next morning, I walked over to Fargo Harley and asked for a cam trigger for a 95 softail. I was informed that they did not have one in stock but that they had one for an older model bagger. It looked like it should work so I decided to give it a shot. There was only one problem. The cam trigger came without a plug for the three wires, which is fine, but the pins on those wires were not compatible with the Thunderheart plug. The parts guy did a search and came up with what looked like the right pins and a mechanic in the service department removed the old pins and crimped the new ones on the wires. I put the wires in the plug but was dismayed to find that the new pins could be pulled out of the plug with a moderate application of force. Still, this was what I was given to work with so I went back to the bike and installed the new cam trigger making sure that the new pins did not pop out of the plug. I was now ready to test the new cam trigger except for one thing. I'd run down the battery with all my testing the previous day and the starter wouldn't spin. I went back to Harley dealership and asked them if they'd give me a jump if I pushed my bike onto their lot and was told that they would. Pushing the Squaw Magnet, even just two blocks, is not the easiest thing in the world but I eventually managed to get the bike onto their lot without passing out. The owner of the dealership hooked up a charger and told me to wait for a couple of hours to let it charge which was fine by me as the service deparment had a couch and I was exhausted from pushing the bike. Two hours and one nice nap later, I tried starting the bike. At first, it didn't want to but, eventually, it started. I let it idle for a few minutes and then tried goosing the throttle. The bike died. It easily started up again and, this time, I let it idle for maybe 15 minutes which it did without incident. This time, when I goosed the throttle, the bike didn't die so I decided to take it for a test ride. Right out of the gate, the bike stumbled. It recovered but, every time I pushed it a little, it would balk. The problem would require more diagnosing. At this point, I decided that I didn't want to start tearing the bike any further apart than I already had in the parking lot of my motel lest it should rain. I also knew that I had gotten as much out of the Harley dealership as I was going to get so I asked them to recommend a custom shop. I was told that Fargo Custom Choppers was about 4 miles down the road so that's where I headed. I got about 2 miles before the bike started bucking and spitting. I pushed the bike onto the sidewalk where I tried to coax it into taking me the final 2 miles but to no avail. The bike didn't die but it wouldn't take any throttle above idle. Time for another stroke of luck. While I'm sitting there getting nowhere fast, a diminutive woman walks up to me and asks me if I'd like a ride to the custom shop! Turns out it's the owner's wife who just happened to be passing by. Of course, I take her up on her offer and get in the car. I told her that that was where I was headed when the bike died and that I was just about to break out the cell phone and call them. She informs that that wouldn't have done any good as the shop is closed on Mondays and, even though there is somebody there, they do not answer the phone. I was already feeling lucky but damn. She dropped me off at the custom shop where I was introduced to her husband. He said we could put the bike in his trailer and bring it back to the shop but I was a little leary that his trailer would be wide enough. Still, it was worth a shot so we took the trailer down to the bike and started loading it up. Incredibly, it fit with about a half inch to spare but not before I jacked up the sidecar fender with my leanout adjuster. We took the bike back to the shop and the owner started working on it. At this point, the problem was very easy to reproduce so we were able to get immediate feedback from the things we tried. I told them that the cam trigger was new so the first thing they tried was a new coil. No luck. Then they inspected the work I'd done on the cam trigger and could not find a problem there either. Next, they wanted to try a new ignition module but did not have a new Thunderheart in stock. All they had were Crane's and I wasn't yet ready to give up on the Thunderheart so I decided to post a thread on this forum asking if anybody had a spare TH module that they could overnight to me. Believe it or not, I got 5 offers. God, I love this forum. Thanks to all of you that responded to my plea. The owner was now ready to go home for the night and offered me a ride to my motel which I accepted. On the way, I remembered that, because I was having ignition problems while getting ready for this ride, I had brought a spare TH module with me. It was in my parts box which, fortuitously, was at the motel. When we got there, I gave him the spare module and told him to install it in the morning. I took a cab down to the custom shop on Tuesday morning and, when I arrived, the owner, Herm, was already in the process of doing a temporary installation. He finished it in short order and we fired up the bike to test the new module. Again, no luck. The red light on the module would just not stay on solid. At this point, having replaced every ignition component on the bike, Herm was out of things to suggest other than that maybe this new module was also bad and that we should install the Crane. This felt like grasping at straws to me. Turns out that this would have actually solved my problem but, I get ahead of myself. I had a couple of things I wanted to try before I was out of ideas so I asked herm to jump the kill switch in case it was bad which he did and it wasn't. I was now down to investigating the plugs that connect to the EHC for recessed pins so Herm took off one of the gas tanks and we removed the EHC. A visual inspection yielded nothing obvious. Jiggling the plugs with the bike running also did nothing to pinpoint one of the plugs as containing a problem pin. Maybe the EHC itself is bad. Wish I had another one of those to test with. Well, guess what? In the corner of the shop was a 2001 Centennial Chief which we proceeded to cannibalize. Suprisingly, with the new EHC in place, the bike wouldn't even turn the starter. This EHC unlike my EHC, was indicating a short in the kill switch circuit. Very curious. Why would one EHC show a short when another does not? All I can think is that the 2001 EHC is a later version and contains different logic. Maybe Kevind can shed some light on this. I tried calling Thunderheart to see what they had to say but was told that both their tech support guys were away at a training class. We tried jumping the kill switch pins on the EHC to bypass the short, which worked, but the original problem still persisted so we went back to using my EHC. At this point, Herm, his assistant and myself were out of ideas so they went back to work on other bikes leaving me to ponder my plight. While I was staring at the bike, I got a phone call which I thought was TH tech support returning my call. Turns out it was Scottdog. We ran over what I'd done and he made a couple of suggestions. Based on these suggestions, it occured to me that, even though I had installed a new cam trigger and wire pins and a new ignition module, that the ignition module had been spliced into place and was still using the original plug. This plug was the only thing in the ignition circuit that had not been replaced at some point so it was definitely in order to take a look at it. Before I forget, thanks for calling Scottdog. Your suggestions helped lead me to the solution. Anyway, after cutting through all the zip ties holding the TH module plug to the frame, I was able to get enough slack in the wire to visually inspect the plug. Unfortunately, I could see nothing wrong with it so I connected it back to the cam trigger plug. This time, when I tried to start the bike, it wouldn't start. Putting the two plugs back together had backed out a couple of those loose pins in the cam trigger plug. Rather than pushing them back in, we decided to replace the cam trigger and ignition module plugs entirely. It was during this process that the cause of my bike's problem was finally discovered. In removing the pins from the TH module plug, we found that one of the pins, specifically the one on the power wire, was split. This split could not be seen by a visual inspection of the pin while in the plug as the split was widest at the rear of the pin and tapered down to the front of the pin where it disappeared. When the plug, which is located close to the rear cylinder, heated up, the split would expand until contact with the corresponding cam trigger pin was no longer adequate. This is what had caused my intermittant ignition cutout until the split got bad enough that the problem was no longer intermittant. This is also why installing the Crane ignition would have solved my problem as it would have eliminated the module plug entirely as the Crane fits completely within the nosecone. With the new plug in place, the bike was started and I was very relieved to see a solid red light on the TH module. The bike idled cleanly and responded well to goosing the throttle. Needless to say, I was greatly relieved. I offered to take Herm to dinner and he accepted. It would give me a chance to road test the bike. He followed in his truck and we took off. I was a little concerned as, under load, the bike stumbled in first gear between 3000 and 4000 rpm but it was different from the cutout, backfire problem. It felt more like the plug not firing. I figured it was due to partially fouled plugs from all the testing that we'd been doing so I wasn't too concerned. Other than that, the bike felt fine. After dinner with Herm, we said our goodbyes and I went back to the motel. A great big thank you to Herm and the guys at Fargo Custom Choppers for all the help they gave me. I really appreciate it.




Other than the occasional first gear miss, the bike ran well all the way to Minneapolis today. In fact, for whatever reason, I got about 15% better gas mileage than I've been getting on this trip. Go figure. I plan to spend one more day in Minneapolis which will finally put me back on track with my schedule and then head down the Mississippi to Alma, Wisconsin on Friday. Sure feels good to have the Squaw Magnet back in action. Talk to you later.


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