can the sleeve which goes over the front of the crank, and which the timing cover seals to, be pounded on to the crank with the crank installed? or should I try to press it on somehow? I am afraid of messing up the thrust bearing.
yes, it's a 390. I think the sleeve almost has to be installed with the crank in the block (the timing cover seal won't slip over the larger diameter of the sleeve). I just want to know if I can pound away, or if I should "press" it on somehow. that sleeve sure isn't going to slip on easy!
The sleeve should slide into place easily. If you have recently had the front cover off the engine that might be the problem, the front cover bolts need to be tightened with the sleeve installed to align the front seal. If you don't do this a severe oil leak results.
Otherwise you might have rust on the inside of the spacer, wrong size key in the crankshaft, rust or paint on the crankshaft or some sort of damage to one of the parts. Like I said before, the sleeve slides on easily, no force should be used or needed.