After having tried since October, I finally got the stem to come out. It had been wobbling side to side by a few degrees even though I could not physically tighten it any further. I had always thought that the whole thing was rusted together and wouldn't come apart anyway, which was sort of the case. When I finally got the stem bolt to loosen, I did not expect the entire thing to be broken.
The steering system was being held together by less than a centimeter of the quill while the rest of it was just rattling around inside. Judging by the bend in the handlebar and the crooked brake hoods, this was caused some kind of trauma with the previous owner. It was super hard to get the broken bit out since the lock nut for the headset was stuck pretty tightly but I eventually got it apart.
Since the Ross's steerer has the classic American 21.15 mm inner diameter rather than the normal 22.2, I had to find an old stem off ebay. The cheapest one I could find ended up being from a '79 Schwinn Varsity Deluxe. It's heavy but I can be sure that it'll never break. I stuck the new stem in for a few days and rode it around, thinking I was done; however, I realized that my fork started bouncing back and forth quite a bit more than I was used to. The headset was tight, yet on choppy sidewalks, I could see the ends of the fork going back and forth even more than those of my Raleighs. The fork had already been bent and there were stress cracks in the paint but that wasn't my concern; I took the fork out and tried to find cracks in the actual metal. I couldn't find any so I posed a question on Bikeforums asking if this much movement was normal or if it was about to break. After many people gave their advice, I came to the conclusion that I should just replace the fork since there's no sense in having to worry about your fork at 30 mph. I was planning to replace it in a few years anyway and a little earlier never hurt anybody.
The fork I purchased was a Sunlite 27" Econofork. I was actually offered a Ross fork by a nice fellow on Bikeforums but the steerer was too short. I was pretty bummed. It was purple with chrome ends and that got me thinking. I actually liked the idea of a different-colored fork. I figured that if the fork was going to not match, I might as well make it NOT match. I masked it and sprayed it with some left over Ford Candy Apple Red Duplicolor. Doesn't look half bad with this color, does it? I just now remembered that maroon and gold were the team colors of my middle school.
I removed the old bearing cups from the headset and hammered in the new ones with ease. I discovered that the old headset would have actually fit the new fork, but I bought the new headset as a precaution. I installed it anyway since I'd already gone through the trouble of taking it apart. The only problem I ran into was getting the bottom bearing race pressed onto the fork so I had to send it to the shop on Saturday - it was actually just completed today due to a long list of bikes that were waiting in line.
On a related note, I found the numerous washers of the original headset to be rather ingenious. There are keyed and toothed washers to prevent accidental turning of the bearing race and lock nut. I used one of the keyed washers with the new headset, which did not have one.
Another upgrade was new brake calipers. The old ones had too long of a reach, forcing me to angle the brake pads upwards to let a corner touch the wheel. I bought these cheap forged alloy ones with a correct reach so I can finally use the brakes to their full potential. I had to cut notches in the fenders some more to get these to work. Visible in the photo to the right is the new rack stay, which actually is meant for a Wald 215. It's a super beefy hunk of metal which is a huge improvement from my previous forked, junk one. Also, the quick release I've been using for the seat post could never be tight enough. I clamped it down so tight that the handle bent and the seat still made its way down. I ended up using the seat clamp bolt from the '79 Raleigh Superbe for the time being.
I also got rid of the rigged-up plastic mountain bike brake lever and re-installed the left brake lever that came with the bike. Both levers are different and I'm not sure which one is original but it doesn't matter. I finally got the lever apart, took the old part of the broken cable out, and put it back on the bike. I kind of like how the previous owner got rid of the clamps and just ran a long bolt straight through the handlebar, although due to the fall that may have cracked the stem, the bolt was severely bent so I had to get a new one and file the head down on to sides to fit inside the lever.
I removed the long cage derailleur and installed a Sunlite short cage one. It was super cheap yet received decent reviews. My friend who's also running one on his '76 Schwinn Varsity also reported no problems. I can finally use the largest rear cog without stretching the derailleur straight and shifting is a lot more precise - with the long cage, any small tweak of the shifter could result in a jump of 2-3 gears. This derailleur is actually meant for a 5-speed freewheel and I'm running a 7 so I can only reach 6 of the gears with the limit screws pulled all the way out. I figured that the granny gear would be more important in Ann Arbor so I chose to lock out the smallest cog. I am running into what I think are issues with chain tension, though. When I'm riding with the smaller front chainring and smaller rear ones, the chain skips just as it did back when I was still using the tired, original derailleur. I have shortened the chain as much as I can while still allowing access to the largest cogs but it still hasn't completely gotten rid of the issue. Hmm ...
As you can see in the "timed selfie" above, I had trouble keeping the tail light from turning down because the teeth in the plastic clamp thing were wearing down so again, I drilled a hole in the back of the housing and screwed it to the back of the rack. This time, I used part of the old rack stay that I got rid of earlier, bent it into shape, and attached it with the reflector to a hole in the rack. I like this setup.
Also, headlights. I bought the one with the red button back in December or something and I bought another of the same model from the same seller just recently and they're different. According to other reviewers, they have switched back and forth in the past. Personally, I prefer my first one. It's brighter, easier to attach and detach, and has a wider band on the side to allow for visibility. I bought a second light to increase the length of my patch of light (one far and one close) but the difference in brightness is proving to be a real problem. The new light barely even makes a difference and they're both running on fresh batteries. Do LED's have a break-in period or something?
Well, after getting the bike back and performing the last finishing touches, I test-rode it to work and back in the rain. I'm pleased with how it goes and stops and this bike is the most rattle-free of all three of my bikes so it actually feels pretty smooth as a result. I just can't help but think I might have to put the long cage derailleur back on because the skipping is really bothersome and it forces me to use both front chainrings during a regular commute. I did replace the crappy chain with a new KMC one though (super smooth!) and kept all of the extra links so I might be able to still use the granny gear with the long derailleur. We'll see.