Monday, July 28, 2008

Iron Ore

The National Endowment for the Humanities sponsors summer workshops for teachers using your tax dollars. Shop Teacher Bob is taking advantage of this fact and is living on the dole this week. I'm attending one of the Landmarks of American History & Culture workshops sponsored by the NEH and the Minnesota Humanities Center. The itinerary goes something like this:

Leave St. Paul on a bus and hit all the high spots of iron ore history on the Mesabi Range. We're talking hematite and taconite here and the history there of. Ely, Hibbing, Duluth, Virginia and lots of stops in between including the Greyhound Museum. When you've seen so much iron ore history you want to puke, back to St. Paul.

This will be the third workshop I've attended and these things are great. Previously, I was in Dearborn, Michigan and Lowell, Mass. Both workshops dealt with aspects of the Industrial Revolution as does this one. Both places put on quite the show. Excellent speakers, exceptional staff and lots of history where it actually took place. I'm expecting the same this week. If you teach, you should definitely look into these.

If I can, I'll post some pictures later in the week. Have to wait and see what the computer situation looks like.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Common Schools: The Hope For Our Country

While working the fair last week, I took a couple of minutes and walked through the rest of the buildings the historical society had open. The old school had a certificate on the wall dated 1909, if memory serves, and on it was the inscription: "Common Schools: The Hope For Our Country". Having taken plenty of educational courses in college, I had heard of Common Schools, but it hasn't been recently. So, I searched Common Schools on Google and I had more info than I could ever possibly want. But like most internet searches, one thing lead to another.

In a nutshell, Common Schools were schools that everyone would be able to attend. Not expensive schools that only the wealthy could attend but schools for the common man and by extension, a common curriculum. I'm sure 100 years ago they were hoping for more than what we've ended up with. We've certainly succeeded in creating common schools. In fact, they're just too common. You don't normally hear them being described as exemplary or excellent but rather, it's common to lament the state of our schools, especially in big cities.

While looking up Common Schools I ran across the Ludwig Von Mises Institute, a think tank in Alabama. Apparently Ludwig was a heavy hitter in the Austrian School of Economics. The following comes from their site:


The Institute is named to honor the life and work of Ludwig von Mises (1881-1973). In six decades of teaching and writing, he reconstructed economic theory and method on a sound basis of individual human action and showed that government intervention is always destructive, whether through welfare, inflation, taxation, regulation, or war. His vision of the free and prosperous commonwealth is carried forward in all the work of the Ludwig von Mises Institute.

From the Institute site the conclusion of an article on Common Schools by Barry Simpson:
Public education reduces opposition to wealth transfers by teaching students that redistribution, public works, and democracy are the American way. War and crisis increases the size of government. Public education tells us we need government all the time. Public education introduces the mantras of democracy to the young. Democracy keeps the two major parties in power, keeps their spoils flowing in, and tells us that intervention is okay because the majority voted for it.

The conclusion is that public schools and compulsory attendance laws benefit educators, administrators, and politicians more than citizens or their children. But one could draw deeper conclusions. Through the Mises Institute and other free market organizations, one can find books on the evils of all kinds of intervention and democracy, and how once instituted these evils begin to destroy us as individuals, then our families, and even society itself.

Public education is the glue that holds all of these ideas together. It is how these ideas are spread to society at large. Thus, one might argue that public education is the greatest evil of all, and that it must be struck down in one mighty blow before we begin to find ourselves as persons, families, and a people again.

I'll readily admit to not knowing much about the Austrian School but I'm pretty much in agreement that government intervention is always destructive. As a shop teacher, I might disagree that public education is the greatest evil of all but I'm willing to concede things could definitely be better. In fact, that was the whole premise behind this post. Things need to be better and "shop" classes can help do that. Anyway, lots of interesting and thought provoking information at the Institute website. Might be good for a rainy day.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Flight of the Phoenix

The Honda officially runs. I took it for a drive down the lane last night. The carbs still need a little adjusting and I need to get a couple of grommets for the side covers but other than that, it's a runner. Looks pretty good even with that chopper wheel it's sporting. Now that I've got the tools out, maybe I should start on another one.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Hard Part of Teaching

I ran into a couple of former students in my travels this week, plus I learned of the loss of one. One guy is working at a body shop, married and apparently doing real well for himself. Another one is a cart wrangler at Wal-Mart. He's a nice young man but his prospects are limited, so to speak. The third one passed away, from what I was told, of a drug overdose. He too was a nice young man, with a great sense of humor and way too young to die. That's kind of the long and short of it. Some go on to great things, some don't and some barely get out of the gate. That's also the part you never think about when you're deciding if you want to become a teacher.

My professional philosophy is first of all, try to teach them the trade. Next, teach them the skills to get and keep a job and then try to have as much fun with it as they'll allow you. The way I look at it, I'm not a success if they're not a success. Now, some of the little darlings are really tough to love but the majority appreciate what you do for them. Those of us in a shop environment have an advantage, in that we get to know most of our students on a more personal level. As long as the work's getting done, we can shoot the breeze a little. Talk a little shop, hunting, fishing or whatever is important to them. We can sneak in the occasional donut breakfast or even a barbeque in the vocational class. As any good manager will tell you, you need to know your people to get them to perform at their highest level but it's more than that. I really enjoy the chatter from guys that are planning to set the world on fire. Unfortunately, this can be a real heart-breaker.

Over the many years I've been doing this, I've been to their weddings. I've visited them in the hospital, their homes and jail. I've worked side by side with them and I've been to their funerals. Some of them you never forget, some of them you wish you could. Some come back to visit. Way too many of them just pass into oblivion, never to be seen or heard from again. You always hope you did the right thing by them or at least you didn't do too much damage. I learned the first year of teaching that you can't save them all but I damn sure wish someone could have saved that 19 year old kid.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Gym Update

Worked on the gym a little bit today. The ring is ready to go now. Just about everything inside is done except for a couple of small details. I need to make a gate for the driveway to control the traffic flow. The other two guys put up a fence, poured a sidewalk and did some landscaping. We're looking to open right after Labor Day.

Worked a little on the Honda after I got back from the gym. I need to get some new fuel and vent lines. I thought I had a battery but the terminals are on the wrong side. Looks like a positive cable just a little longer would do it. I hate to start changing to non standard parts but I would like to have it go. I might just put the jumper cables on it and light it off. Make sure everything else works before I spring for a battery. I put the ducktail on it today. The paint is really going to look nice. Also, I bought a new jacket the other day so I'm pretty well committed now. New jacket, helmet, plates and insurance. I've got everything except a functioning motorcycle.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Making Stuff

Finished out the week of smithing at the fair yesterday. It was a real slow day, actually a real slow year. Not near the traffic past the shop as in previous years. The weather wasn't unbearably hot but I noticed when I came in early today to take a walk around and check things out, not much of anything was open other than the animal barns and 4-H exhibits. Maybe evening hours are the way to go. With only a few visitors, that pretty well took the pressure off of us to do much, however. Made for a nice relaxing afternoon with a minimum of sweating.

We did get some stuff pounded out during the week. I finished my set of tongs and Craig got his blanks ready for drilling and riveting. We made a dinner bell and hanger for a customer and of course, we made a couple of "S" hooks. Knocked out a couple of dragon heads and a couple of other doo-dads as well. Pretty elementary stuff but Craig had a chance to spend a lot of time at the forge that way. He's a really good helper and a great young man. He's heading off to Purdue pretty soon to study engineering. I wish him all the best.

So I've got a year to think about what to change and what to work on next year. I'm thinking, bring my treadle hammer in and go through the tongs and get those organized. Maybe work on a bigger piece and auction it off like we did last year. There was some interest in hosting a beginning blacksmithing class, also. And last, but certainly not least, try to get people to stop asking if we shoe horses. That's a stereotype that should have run it's course a long time ago.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Tractor Parade

Craig and I worked the evening shift at the blacksmith shop last night. The shop is right next to the tractor building and usually you get a few more people stopping by than in the daytime. It seemed to work out for us. The tractor parade and corn shelling brought quite a few people our way. Saw some family and friends plus your average fairgoers.

I included a photo of the big Oliver because it's got a polished supercharger on it. I included a picture of the Minneapolis Moline because it's pretty rare with the LP power and I included a picture of the Cockshutt because the name sounds like some weird venereal disease. The photo of the garden tractor pulling the train - well that's all about kids having fun at the county fair.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Tong Wars

Monday was a slow day at the fair. We only had a few visitors all day but we were lucky enough to have the Queen and Miss Congeniality stop by. It's not every day you get a visit from royalty. We also picked up a small commission job.

The tongs are coming along right smartly. I've got a small pair just about finished and Craig is coming right along on a pair for him. The small ones aren't too tough to make but the big pair requires a lot of hammering. A power hammer would be a real blessing here. I wasn't real happy with the first jaw I made but the second one came out right. Sometime this week I'll make up another one and then try my luck forge welding the handles on.

Monday, July 14, 2008


I'm working the local county fair Blacksmith Shop again this year. Four hours per day for a fun filled week of sweating and breathing in coal smoke. This is the third year that my helper Craig and I have done this. We hammer and tinker on whatever we feel like making and chat with the people who stop by. The ringing of the hammer on the anvil always draws in old men and young boys. We're planning on making a couple pairs of tongs for Craig, a quilt rack and a rack for hanging kitchen utensils. We usually get a couple of small commission jobs as well but we're extremely flexible. It's nice when you're left alone to do whatever strikes your fancy. Of course, when you're the only guys willing to take the job, they do tend to give you plenty of breathing room.

I'm only a rank amateur when it comes to smithing but every year I've gotten a little better. To use a blacksmithing term, if I didn't have so many irons in the fire, I would devote more time to this. I used to belong to ABANA and the IBA both but I drifted away from smithing and them with it. Both organizations put on conferences that showcase the talents of some of the finest smiths in the world, both traditional blacksmiths and art smiths. ABANA had an excellent magazine that came with your membership. If you're at all interested in the craft, I would encourage you to check them out. Just about every state has an organization or chapter that's within driving distance for monthly meetings. All of the people I've met were always willing to help a newcomer. And, there's actually money to made in doing this. It's not easy but it can be done. Thankfully, there are always people willing to pay for handmade items.

The first day went pretty well. After we got all the tools and stock moved in we got the forge going and went to work. Craig had a job to do right away, so he started on that and I started on a pair of heavy duty tongs. Lots of pounding, which is what the people come to see. Weather was perfect. A nice breeze to keep things cool and the smoke cleared out. The little thermometer in the back of the shop only got up to 88. Last year we hit 115 in that corner. I'll post a couple of photos of finished pieces as the week goes by.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Bicycle Trailer

In my Friday post, before the barn fell in, I mentioned the utility of a bike trailer. The pictures here are of mine. One is a shot at home and the other is on the road. I built the trailer and another one just like it for my cycling associate. It was patterned after a BOB trailer. My buddy and I were contemplating a self supported ride across Missouri on the Katy Trail and I told him if he could get me a sample, then I could build us a couple of trailers. Not only did he get the sample but in talking to the other cyclist, he also got some 3/4" Inconel tubing. So I made the trailers and we rode across Missouri 5 years ago.

The photo of the bike leaning up against the railing is the bike I took on the Katy Trail. I bought it on E-Bay for $75 bucks including shipping. The seller gave an honest appraisal of the bikes condition and I rode it for a couple of years. I just loaned it out to a guy I work with who was looking for a cheap road bike. So it's still going.

The other photo was taken at Crown Point, Oregon along the Columbia River. My bike is the one in the foreground with the yellow plastic bag. This is a different bike. This one I bought at the church rummage sale for $4.00. Yes, that's four dollars. It's a Raleigh 10 speed from the 70's, I'm guessing. I went through it and greased everything up, put on new tires and brake pads and was basically tickled pink with it. We were planning a big trip out west and I new I was going to need more gearing, so I decided I needed a triple on the front. (For those of you who don't speak bicycle, that means another small chainring on the crankset to give you a better gear selection for climbing hills.) Here's where the story gets interesting.

I bought another crankset and took the bike to a local shop to have it installed. The threads on the bike were a little rough so I figured they could chase the threads and put the thing together. They said no go - can't be done. I took it to another bike shop after sticking my original parts back in plus taking the other parts along and they said you can't put a triple on that bike. I wouldn't have even gone to the second shop except my mom had just passed away and I just wanted to get the thing squared away because of the big trip we had coming up. After being told it couldn't be done for the second time, I figured I was the only guy who could make it happen. I went home, machined a spacer, took the small ring off the other crankset and I was in business. It took about two - three hours and worked like a charm. We rode from Portland, Oregon to Missoula, Montana over three mountain ranges and I never had a bit of trouble with it.

The moral of the story here is: if you have some skills, tools and time you can do just about anything. The four dollar bike and the homemade trailer have been on two bike tours of over 500 miles each. The trailer carries everything needed to live on the road while touring plus I can use it to carry things back and forth to work. So turn off the TV and go make something.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Barn Razing

I had planned on having a couple of guys meet me this morning to help take the last of the junk out of the old barn so I could start tearing it down. I only had a couple of things but too much for me to move by myself. The one guy was sick yesterday and they were forecasting rain this morning, so I canceled it out. Thank the Good Lord that I did. The top two photos show the barn a couple of days ago. The bottom two show what happened this morning about the time we would have been working on it.

I went uptown to get a couple of screws for the Honda and it looked its normal raggedy self. When I came home I parked the truck and looked in the mirror and saw the one corner really racked out of shape. I got out of the truck and it had fallen in. We got some rain last night so I assume it was the extra weight that did it in. I had finished the new dog pen but she was still in the old barn when it came down. Fortunately, she was on the side that remained standing. I'll just have to dig the rest of the stuff out as I uncover it. Man, that could have been really ugly.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Rage Against the (Electronic) Machine

Ours is an age besotted with graphic entertainments. And in an increasingly infantilized society, whose moral philosophy is reducible to a celebration of “choice,” adults are decreasingly distinguishable from children in their absorption in entertainments and the kinds of entertainments they are absorbed in – video games, computer games, hand-held games, movies on their computers and so on. This is progress: more sophisticated delivery of stupidity.
-- George Will –

I lifted this from Bookpuddle. It pretty well sums up what I'm thinking most of the time. It's time for a major rethink here in the good old US of A. If the majority of your free time involves a television or a computer screen, a rethink is definitely in order. I saw an article in the paper the other day about prescribing statins for young people. High cholesterol in elementary school kids? Maybe if dad wasn't sitting on his rump playing computer games, junior would have someone to play catch with.

Here's a guy with a different spin on things: ANT. Alternative Needs Transportation. Here's a bicycle builder who's not just making go faster road bikes but making bikes for people to use everyday. His last post shows him delivering a bike with a bike. That's pretty cool. You can do a lot with with a bike and a trailer. A custom made bike typically runs in the $2,000 to $ 4,000 range. Yes, that's a lot of money but it will fit you and give you years of service. If you drive 15,000 miles per year, get 20 miles per gallon and gas is $4.00 per gallon that works out to $3,000. I saw some figures the other day that showed a new car is going to cost you about $8,500 per year for 15,000 miles. Maybe keep the old car and trade up to a handmade bicycle.

I've got to go now. I can't spend all of my time in front of a computer. Mr. Will wouldn't be pleased.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Necrophilia is a No -No

From today's Chicago Tribune:

Court: Sex with corpse is illegal

Wisconsin law bans sex with a corpse, the state Supreme Court ruled Wednesday in reinstating charges against three men accused of digging up the corpse of a woman so one of them could have sex with it.

The court said Wisconsin law makes sex acts with dead people illegal because they are unable to give consent.
Does this mean if the deceased left a note saying it's OK, then it would be legal? There are certain things that shouldn't need a court ruling. They're just wrong.

Honda update: I found the key so I got my plates and insurance this morning. Had to pay an extra ten bucks toward the spinal cord and brain injury fund. Thanks to all you irresponsible mopes who ride without a helmet and without health insurance. Remember the old adage - dress for the crash, not for the ride? Anyway, I should have it running any day now.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008


When you live in the country and someone mentions fencing, usually it involves staples, posts and wire. But this was the other kind of fencing with sabres and foils and epees. The young man in the lousy photo, Craig, is a recent graduate of the school and is also my blacksmithing partner. He's been doing this for about six months and looks to be pretty good, from what little I know about it. This took place at the Northwest Indiana Fencing Club sal (I think that's the word). The club has both male and female members ranging from the little guy in the picture up to people in their 50's. The coach told me Indiana State Teachers Association members get a free lesson. So all of my teaching buddies who read this, you might want to give it a try. It looks like a lot of fun and most of them were sweating pretty good by the time they were done. I'm thinking it beats the hell out of sweatin' to the oldies.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The top picture is a bike frame being built by one of my students. It's going to have a Suzuki 400 cc motor. The frame rails are made out of aircraft strut tubing. He graduated this year but is coming in on my open shop night to complete it. Some of his work on the sheet metal is a little rough but he's learned an awful lot. Besides, how many people can say they built their own motorcycle?

The tombstone has a name that anyone with any knowledge of motorcycle history will recognize. This one doesn't belong to the Floyd Clymer but it caught my eye when I was at the memorial service the other day. The motorcycling Clymer was originally from Indiana but he died in 1970.

Honda update: The forks are full of oil and the carbs are ready to go but I still can't find the key. I'm running out of places to look, as well. I don't want to put the sheet metal on it until I find out if I have to pull the ignition switch out to get a key made. I would like to here the thing run.

Monday, July 7, 2008

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

I helped my son yesterday with the pickup and assembly of a playset. When I said I would help, I was thinking swingset with some steel tubing, plastic caps on the end of the bolts and a couple hours of time invested. Boy was I ever wrong! The picture shows the end result of about 7 hours of labor by two guys that are pretty handy with tools. While one guy was working on a part the other was leap frogging to the next step so we could keep it moving. I'm glad I didn't bid that job. I would have lost my shirt. I will say that it's an extremely well thought out item. Everything went together well, the wood pieces were all pretty straight, and everything was sanded really nice. You could probably pull under the part where the swings are going to hang and use the crossbeam to jerk the motor out of your truck. It's going to be pretty nice once the stairs, roof, plumbing and electrical is all in. I'm surprised you don't need a building permit for these things.

As a bonus for the day, I ran into the Q-Blast guy. Q-Blast is a sports drink developed locally. I tried it a few years ago at a couple of the runs I do. It's different from most sports drinks in that it's not loaded with sugar and has a higher percentage of potassium. It's safe for diabetics and I can drink it guilt free knowing I'm not loading up on a bunch of extra sugar. It was available in a couple of stores around here for a while but then it dried up. Anyway, I think I've got the hook-up now to get some for myself and the gym. Those young guys all want to drink some kind of energy drink when what they really need is to drink water and replace their electrolytes. They get enough sugar and sodium from their diets. So there's the unsolicited testimonial for the day.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Hiring & Firing

An article in Friday's Chicago Tribune said the U.S. lost 62,000 jobs in June. The article also stated "the U.S. economy needs to grow by 100,000 new jobs monthly just to accommodate a growing workforce". I found that one to be a rather interesting statistic. After reading and listening to all the crap about immigration, I'm a little bit confused. If we didn't have a workforce growing at the rate of 100,000 per month, then we wouldn't need all those new jobs. Creating over a million new jobs per year seems to be an expectation that's a bit unrealistic. Seems like it should go the other direction. When you don't have enough people to fill the jobs, then go find some. I realize that's rather simplistic but then when I get to be king, I'm planning on keeping it pretty simple.

So if you're a barista at Starbucks, you might want to start looking for a new gig. How's about this from the Electric Consumer:

Journeyman lineman, Wyoming

Candidate must be able to routinely climb power line structures, including lattice steel towers and wood or steel poles, to heights of 225 feet and, occasionally, to more than 300 feet while the lines are energized. Personnel in this classification must have completed a lineman apprenticeship program or obtained a journeyman line rating. Ability to work as part of a team with good interpersonal skills is required.

I can see where you might have a little trouble finding people willing to climb 300 feet in the air and work on wires that have 40,000 volts running through them. That wouldn't be my first choice. But if that's what you want to do, then checkout . Let me know how that works out for you.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Independence Day

As a guy who's pretty independent, I can appreciate today. It's just a shame that we have to keep fighting for it. But you know what they say: "The price of freedom is eternal vigilance".

The Chicago Tribune had some really cool pictures in yesterdays paper in lieu of the regular opinion page. You need to see these. Click Here. I would have included one except I haven't figured out how in the hell to do that yet. In fact, I still haven't figured out why the posted page doesn't look like the preview page. But I digress. The photos are shots of servicemen all posed to form patriotic symbols such as the Statue of Liberty. They were taken around the time of the WWI. They are just incredible.

Have a safe and pleasant holiday.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Honda Project

Since I'm not buying a Whizzer, I am trying to get the Honda running. I've had this thing for quite a while. I got it in trade for doing some work on another bike for a guy I used to work with. When he got it, it was decked out in pearl white paint, lots of chrome, extended tubes and a sissy bar. Unfortunately, he stored it in a metal shed with a dirt floor so the paint cracked and the chrome peeled off the engine parts. This left some nasty pits in the aluminum that were way too deep to buff out and rechrome.

Surly hooked me up with a stock front end and I started working on the aluminum bits. Some of the chrome would flake off in big chunks in the sandblaster, which would plug up the hose, of course. Some of it wouldn't come off at all. After sanding and buffing the parts to the point they were as good as they were going to get, I sprayed them with PJ-1 case paint and put them back on. I bought a new braided line for the front brake and new pads. The piston and seal in the caliper were shot. The seal was a stock part but the piston was no longer available. I machined one up out of stainless and I got everything working the other day.

I put in a new oil and air filter. If you look close you can see the cover that holds the air filter in place. I was missing the original, so I made my own. I cut two pieces of plywood to the outline of the airbox opening and sandwiched a piece of aluminum (about 1/4" bigger all around than the wood) between them and then hammered the edge over. Drilled a couple of holes and next thing you know, you've got a spiffy little cover.

About the only things left to do are putting in some fork oil and rebuilding the carbs. The forks have a big hex socket in the caps and I don't have a metric allen wrench that big. If I can't find something in my toolbox that will work, I'll mill one up. I've got the carb kits, so it's just a matter of cleaning off the work bench and getting after it. I haven't been able to find the key, however and I'm running out of places to look. That could set me back.

The sheet metal has all been repainted and looks really nice. I was going to take the whole bike apart and paint the frame but I think it will look OK after I clean it up. I can always take it apart this winter. I've got a ton of other things I'm working on this summer as well. The scattergun approach is my normal modus operandi. Hit a lick here, hit a lick there. Eventually everything that I deem important or necessary gets done. I'll post some pictures when I get the sheet metal on the bike.

P.S. I got my new helmet today. Puttin' my stimulus check to work.

Airgas - Lincoln Electric - Ironworkers

From the July issue of the Welding Journal :

Airgas, Inc., Radnor, Pa., has set a goal to hire 100 veterans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan over the next 12 months. The company will also offer its Welding 101 course to any veteran interested in exploring a welding career.

Additionally, the company has pledged $300,000 to Operation Homefront, a charity that supports America's soldiers by providing emergency assistance and moral support to the families troops leave behind when they are deployed and to wounded service members when they return home. The donation will be paid in increments of $100,000 per year over the next three years, with 70% going toward Operation Homefront's projects to assist wounded soldiers.

You just gotta love that. Also an ad looking for welders at Oshkosh Corporation. So if you want a job welding up army trucks, there you go. Actually they have quite a few jobs listed besides welding and at several different locations. It's a good time to be a welder and it looks like it's only going to get better.

I received a package from Lincoln Electric the other day that contained a couple of DVDs on welding safety, a blueprinting reading book, and a coupon good for one week of welding classes at the Lincoln Welding School in Cleveland. The school offers a variety of welding classes including one for welding instructors and a couple on motorsports welding. I'd like to take one of the motorsports classes. My summer is pretty well booked up but the coupon is good for a year.

Also included was information from the Ironworkers. They have partnered up with Lincoln and are looking to get involved with welding programs. They are offering training materials and assistance to schools as a way to promote themselves and recruit some apprentices. An associate or maybe even a bachelor degree can be part of the training program now. Not a bad deal at all. Journeyman's card and college degree with very little out of pocket expense. So if you're not afraid of hard work or heights, here's another career option. Like I said, it's a good time to be a welder.