Armstrong Ratcheting Wrenches and Customer Service

As part of my goal to put together a complete, high-quality tool kit for my Tundra, I purchased a set of SK 3/8-inch sockets (SK 3/8″ tool set). As handy as sockets can be, combination wrenches are often more practical and it’s easy to have a need for both when away from home. I considered reallocating a big set of Craftsman wrenches from my shop, not finding any made-in-USA wrenches I could afford, when a friend on the Expedition Portal Forum shared a link to a set of surplus combination wrenches from Uncle Sam’s Retail Outlet.

I rarely buy anything surplus, a couple small shovels are the only items in recent memory, but these were new, made-in-USA Armstrong brand ratcheting combination wrenches, both SAE and metric. The surplus USMC Tray (NSN # 5180-01-553-6556) also included a few screwdrivers and a rack of 1/2-inch drive SAE deep sockets, but it was the the reversible combination wrenches I wanted. The kit was only $135, although with tax and shipping from the east to the west, the price jumped $176. When compared to the retail prices for the wrenches alone, $176 was still a very good value.

Armstrong Tools & Ratcheting Wrenches. NSN# 5108-01-553-6556

A week passed, the tools arrived, and I opened the box to inspect them. They were scattered, but everything appeared to be in the box. Looking closer it was appearant there was something missing. The 15 mm combination wrench was there, but was missing all of the guts that make it a box-end wrench. A round hole was not going to turn 15 mm fasteners.

Armstrong 54-815 missing something.

Uncle Sam’s is a surplus retailer, the kit I purchased is not a normal Armstrong kit sold to the general public, and Uncle Sam’s was now “sold out”, so I went straight to Armstrong/Apex Tool Group for warranty service.

I called the customer service number on Armstrong’s site, and explained what I had purchased and from where. The lady’s initial instructions were to return the set to the retailer and have it replaced. I explained how that was not an option, the product was new, but was a special military set from a surplus vendor. We went back-and-forth a few times, the conversation was polite and professional, but it wasn’t looking good…

The customer service representative asked me for a part number on the kit, I gave her something off the Uncle Sam’s invoice that didn’t help, later giving her the NSN number (National/NATO Stock Number) on the box which she could cross reference. I restated that I didn’t need a complete replacement kit, just the 15 mm wrench was missing its ratcheting parts. Then she asked for the part number off the wrench. Easy.

“One of these things is not like the other.”

Of course she had that part number in her computer system and said she was going to ask her supervisor’s permission to send out a single 15 mm wrench, she didn’t think it would be a problem. I thanked her!

Although I had to argue a little to get the lady off her regular routine of “return to the retailer”, she was eventually quite helpful. I was very polite (“yes ma’am”) the whole time, but for Armstrong to send me a knew wrench without the old one first was huge. Thanks Armstrong Tools.

Copyright © 2012 James Langan

$4 Per Gallon, $75 Pump Shut Off, and Range

Last weekend we had the pleasure of attending the 2012 Overland Expo near Flagstaff, Arizona, and spent four nights camping in our new-to-us Four Wheel Camper. To maximize our time at the event and accommodate our work schedules we were forced to drive the full 730 miles to the Overland Expo in just one day. To reduce our time on the road for what was admittedly a very long day of road travelin’, I didn’t pilot the Tundra at my typical, slow-ish highway speed of 65 miles-per-hour.

Road construction en route didn't help our progress.
We had a nice view of Walker Lake while we waited for 1/2 hour.

When time is short my fuel economy focus is set aside, and I drive and pass as fast as safely possible. With a 70-75 mph posted speed limit most of the way, keeping a very brisk pace was not difficult. The Tundra’s 5.7L V8 is ready to make copious horsepower when I drop-the-hammer, and I’m not hesitant to use high revolutions-per-minute.

Driving in this manner guarantees that more fuel will be used and frequent fuel stops will be required. With a few exceptions, many new trucks don’t have the kind of long-distance range most would like when towing or hauling long distances. For on-highway hauling or backcountry exploring, most trucks with anything less than 30 gallons of fuel capacity (minimum) have a noticeably limited range. More efficient diesels with large factory fuel tanks are often better, but still lacking when serious work is being performed.

Our brisk pace.

Gas Pump Rant

Stops for fuel (and often a head call) typically take 20 minutes, add-up quickly, and when combined with lunch and/or dinner breaks really contribute to length of the travel day. Added to this in this age of $4+ fuel is the frustration that many filling stations still have pumps that shut off at $75. I love pay-at-the-pump, it’s very convenient and shortens the length of fuel stops. However, a few times on this trip our gas tank was not quite full once the $75 threshold was hit after less than 20 gallons. Because I don’t want to leave a fuel stop with anything less than a full tank, and calculate the fuel economy of each fill-up, I was forced to slide my credit card a second time for what was often very little fuel to top-off. Ridiculous.

Several months ago many gas stations increased their maximum single purchase to $100, a better number for sure, but still not much extra at our current fuel prices. If I ever add a larger tank, at least the second (or third) card wipe will add adding many gallons, not just a few.

Fuel Economy and Range

With the relatively poor fuel economy of light-trucks loaded and traveling fast, particularly gasoline-powered, there is a notable trade-off when exchanging fuel economy for speed.

In the case of this fast-moving 5.7L Tundra, if we had been able to reduce our speed and achieve 13 mpg instead of the 11 mpg we often saw, we would have added 40 miles to each 20 gallon fill-up, a substantial increase in range in exchange for time.

Whether we are running slowly and light or fast and heavy, I wish new trucks came with more fuel capacity, much more. While I’m not opposed to carrying cans of fuel, when traveling mostly on-highway it simply makes sense to stop more often and buy gas for the OE tank at a filling station. Thirty+ gallons of fuel capacity please, more would be better, or substantially increase the fuel efficiency. Either way increased driving range would be the result and is surely needed for those who use trucks as trucks.

Copyright © 2012 James Langan

7.3L Power Stroke, firing on all cylinders.

The short video below shows and tells the story. Was there any doubt? Yes, the engine was a little slow to fire, but it had been weeks since the motor ran, long enough for prime to be lost., rollin’ forward.

Copyright © 2012 James Langan

Odyssey PC1750 Jump Start

When the two Group 65 Odyssey PC1750 batteries in the old F350 would not ignite the 7.3L Power Stroke, my solution was to get a third Odyssey battery. Not a new, replacement battery, but the Mall Crawlin’ Distance Runner from the garage, which has an identical Odyssey 1750 under the hood. I also retrieved a set of booster cables.

The 4.7L V8 4Runner isn’t a daily driver, but it’s driven occasionally and I knew the engine and battery were ready to roar. With the big gauge jumpers connected, it was time to climb into the Ford’s cab, activate the glow-plug toggle and see what would happen…

Copyright © 2012 James Langan

Odyssey Batteries neglect test.

Continuing with my current, electrical bent, recently I was again reminded to take care of my batteries. In this case, my dead batteries were the result of a different sin; lack of use.

My poor old 1996 F350 needs love and TLC, and has been infrequently started or driven for the past few years. Until now, the dual Odyssey PC1750 batteries have been very tolerant of the lack of charging and occasional starting. While the batteries were too low to fire the big T444E (7.3L) Power Stroke engine, they still turned the motor ever so slowly, until almost grinding to a stop, but there was none of the typical solenoid clicking that one often hears from low batteries.

Copyright © 2012 James Langan

BMW GS Battery Oops

I never leave the key in the ignition switch of my cars or trucks when they’re not running, but I always leave the key in my motorcycle in my garage. Never had a problem…until recently. One of the obvious problems with leaving a key in the ignition is that it’s possible to inadvertently leave the key ON. After doing some work on my moto and driving it around the driveway a bit that’s what I did: Key ON, driver OFF—for two days!

With the key ON, this was not a good sign.

When I returned to the old BWM 1150GS and realized the key was ON but nobody was home, I had the deadest vehicle battery I’ve had in a very long time. There was not a flicker of electricity to be found or even hoped for in the displays or idiot lights. Starting batteries don’t like to be deep-cycled, and dead and empty for two days is a deeeep cycle. Would the relatively young (2 years) BMW gel battery accept a charge and rave on along the back roads this summer?

My electrical guru friend Paul said to put the battery on a long, slow charge, and hope for the best; “should be fine”. After plugging-in my AccuMate charger—the one that should have been plugged-in when I parked the bike—the dash lights showed a dim glow like an oil lamp on a cold night. I had hope.

AccuMate did the job.

After twenty hours charging, the AccuMate was green. Now the question was, would the battery start the bike repeatedly and keep the ABS lights from blinking, or will it be a one-hit wonder? I pressed the starter and the engine fired easily. Good. After letting the oil pressure build, I turned off the motor, and restarted the horizontally-opposed twin. Five times. Every time the motor sprang to life quickly and idled well without the characteristic staggered wig-wag of the ABS light indicating a low voltage fault. Lucky me…now where is that ignition key going to be stored?

Copyright © 2012 James Langan

Bighorn, little drive

17" TRD Rock Warrior wheel w/o the blig ring.

Mounting the Bighorns on the Tundra and hitting the highway confirmed what the balance machine told us: The Bighorns and 17-inch forged aluminum RW wheels are a good combination and well balanced.

Backing out of my shop I was immediately reminded of how flexible the Bighorns are, at 35 psi the ride was very compliant, almost soft.

Typical 2-ply sidewalls.

Up to 70 mph on the freeway the only thing I could feel was a slight rumble on the rear axle caused by the prior uneven wear. After a few thousand miles on a properly aligned and conservatively driven truck the poor wear patterns should disappear.

Maxxis Bighorns ON, F-C II OFF.


Perceptions and opinions about tire noise vary, and the truck can make a big difference too, though except when new I’ve found Bighorns to be a little on the loud side. This set didn’t disappoint, and the irregular wear added to the rumble.

Noise aside, the Tundra seemed happy with the Bighorns mounted and they’re a nice addition to the fleet for my upcoming multi-tire fuel economy test.

Copyright © 2012 James Langan