Saturday, August 30, 2008

It's a Start

Here's the first piece for the 900. New rear fender - only took a couple of hours. I'm starting to see the finished bike in my minds eye and it doesn't look too bad. We'll have to see how the execution progresses, however. Surly says I should go with the Moriwaki/Wayne Gardner look. I'm leaning more to the Racecrafters/Pierre DesRoches - Reg Pridmore look. The end product will probably be some hybrid thing, anyway. I'm not looking to build a replica. I saw the Racecrafters bike run back in the day. I made several trips to Road America for the early days of the Superbikes. Plus, being the romantic guy that I am, I took the wife to Daytona for our wedding anniversary in '81. Man, those bikes were fun to watch. Lots of innovation then, too. Udo Gietl with the BMWs, Cook Nielson with the California Hot Rod Ducati, Dr. John's Moto Guzzi and the coolest V Twin of all time, the Britten. Probably the best display of riding I ever saw was Wes Cooley on a Suzuki. He had to start at the back of the pack at Road America due to an engine change and he rode his ass off heading for the front. Unfortunately, he had a real bad crash a few years later and was never able to compete at the highest level after that. I got a chance to talk to him once after he stopped racing. Seemed like one helluva nice guy.

Next step for the 900 is to mount the seat and tank so I can fab the ducktail and the taillight mount. That shouldn't take too long but I tend to say that about everything.

Enjoy your Labor Day.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


In a post the other day I mentioned an adult tricycle. Well, Worksman Cycles has them and they've been in business right here in the good ole US of A since 1898. They've got several different models, starting for under $400.00 and going up, depending on what your needs are. They've got the Good Humor ice cream man version with the insulated box in front, the heavy duty industrial basket front and rear kind, plus some nice looking jobs for touring around the trailer park on the way to the shuffle board match. For the money, I'm thinking it would be a lot easier to just buy one rather than try building one but there's not much of a challenge in that.

In addition to an adult trike, we need to build the Super Mileage Challenge machine at the school this year. We're already in the planning stage. The rules allow either three or four wheels but not sidecar type of construction. You can't build a motorized bicycle and hang an outrigger wheel on it. The last two years we ran one wheel in the front and two in the rear. We had about the only car constructed that way. Seems like a good idea. Small frontal area= less drag. Long missile shape like Bonneville guys run should be pretty efficient. Rules changes this year limit wheelbase to 72 inches and the track width has to be a minimum of 36 inches. This was always a fun project but it was hard to keep the momentum going because we never had a designated time slot for working on the project. It usually had to be worked in and around as part of my Vocational Welding class. This year things are different and we should have two hours every week set aside exclusively for this.

In addition to the adult trike and Super Mileage Challenge machine, let's not forget the sidecar for the 900. So it could be the year of the Volkswagen and the year of the three wheeled vehicle. It will probably end up being the year of the half finished project, like it normally is, but let us hope for the best.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Kwacker

The pictures show the old 900 as drug from the back of the barn. It's got the 70's roadracer + novice sheet metal fabricator look going on. It also had a Darth Vader looking headlight nacelle with a tach, ignition switch and a couple of idiot lights for neutral and low oil pressure. The motor, front end and the back end originally were from my drag racer. These were some nice parts. Grimeca brakes, Cerianni forks, Kosman rear wheel - high buck stuff. It also had a side car attached to it. The paint job never got finished. It was supposed to be a two tone with a darker red metallic to spiff it up. They were Lincoln Continental colors and looked pretty sharp on the car. A little effete on the bike without the darker color, however. Due to a couple of setbacks, it got to be time to go on the big trip I was planning, paint job or not. So the two tone paint never happened.

The side car worked pretty well. I mounted an air shock for suspension, that way you could adjust it for load which kept the bike from leaning too much when you had a passenger on board. My son and I took a trip to eastern Kentucky with the thing and it was a lot of fun. It was a great trip until we ran into a big rainstorm on the way home. I didn't think about installing a drain plug in the bottom of the hack and my kid had about three inches of water sloshing around his feet by the time the rain quit. We ran out of gas just north of Indy because the storm had knocked the power out to all the gas stations. I carried an extra gallon along and coasted to a stop under an overpass, and poured it in. We made it home without further incident, after which I promptly put all the parts back on the dragbike and peddled it off. I got an offer I couldn't refuse.

I started collecting parts to put it back together but never got it finished. The front forks are off a 1000 Suzuki, the wheels are Kawasaki 1000. The 900 engine came from a big go-cart some knucklehead had put together. It was down right scary. I took the 900 out and put a 250 back in. I'm not even sure where that ended up. The swing arm is a 2" over rectangular tube job I made. I think I've even got some struts for it if I decide to go drag racing again. This time I think I'll put a stock seat and tank on it since I've got them already. A big 7" chrome headlight, new ducktail, rear fender, tail light, and some turn signals should be about everything I need to put it right. I can do most of this one at the house. Keep me out of the recliner this fall and winter. If I put a hack frame on it, the outrigger wheel would let me ride it in the snow. That could be a gas. I've got some old slides I took way back when of bikes racing on the ice. The sidecars were nothin' but sliding machines. Just thinking about them gets the juices flowing. I'm thinking this could definitely happen.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Cargo Bike

I received a sale flyer from webcyclery the other day and it had the Big Dummy frame by Surly. The bicycle can carry up to 400 pounds, rider + cargo. It has a long wheelbase and is designed to use XtraCycle accessories. It's made for 26" tires, has clearance for fenders and you can put up to four bottle cages on it. The frame and fork lists for $1050.00 in the flyer. For a finished bike with some groovy accessories, you'd probably be looking at twice that figure but you could ride this baby to the local store or across country and carry everything you need including the kitchen sink. For two to three grand you've got it all. Get yourself a front wheel with the dynamo hub and a good headlight to go with it, triple crankset on the front, a good sprung leather saddle and buddy, you wouldn't care how high the gas prices went. Even though I've got a bicycle for every day of the week, I really like the looks of this one. Long distance touring or running errands, doesn't matter. Gravel roads or pavement, doesn't matter. Daylight or dark, doesn't matter.

While writing this up, the wife says I should find some plans to make a three wheel bike. That sounds interesting from a project stand point but I was going to try and keep the project list kinda' short this year. Finish a few projects that have been languishing in the nether reaches of the barn along with a couple I've been tripping over for a few years. But I've never made a three wheeler before. Maybe a little research is in order.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Year of the Volkswagen?

With the start of the new school year, I typically try and set a few goals. I'm thinking this should be the year of the VW. I've got a '74 Super Beetle in the shop that belongs to me and a dune buggy project that belongs to Cuzzin Ricky. The Super's been in here for quite awhile now with not a whole lot of progress to show for it. The dune buggy came in at the very end of the last school year and Rick and I have been working on it as our schedules will allow. I replaced the floorpans as soon as it came in and Rick has been buying parts and stripping the chassis during my open shop nights through out the summer.

We're about ready to set the body on the pan, bolt the seat mounts in place and start bending tubing for the roll cage. The buggy is a 4 seater that takes a full length pan instead of being sectioned like most of them are. This is going to present a little bit of a problem with the fabrication of the roll cage. I need to make a hoop over the jump seat in the back but I'm limited as to where to mount it securely, have it functional and make it look nice. I'm going to have to do some homework on this one.

With a little bit of luck, both of these projects could be drivers by the end of the school year. I'd like to have mine at least move under it's own power and Rick's buggy could be done. Of course, I can't make any promises for his end of the project. In addition to these two, I need to finish the midget project, the chopper bicycle, oversee the building of a new high mileage contender, and just to make it a challenge, the 900 Kaw. That should keep me away from the television and give me plenty to write about here on the blog. Let the games begin!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Beating the Dead Horse

At the risk of repeating myself over and over again, the August Welding Journal has several articles about the need for welders. The opinion piece by Wes Morgan of Thermadyne Industries is a dandy. He talks about the need for welding personnel and what industry is doing to change the situation through partnerships, advertising and supporting schools that are teaching welding and engineering.

Other articles talk about workforce development programs combating the welder shortage, bringing manufacturing jobs back to Chicago and how an engineer motivated Texas schools to offer career courses in welding. All three of the articles offer innovative solutions to the welder shortage and all of them are focusing on education as the answer, either as a way to expose people to the welding and manufacturing field or to actually train people to enter the workforce with job ready skills. I especially like the approach in Chicago.

Austin Polytech will be linked generally to careers in modern manufacturing and principally to the metalworking sector. The school's administrative team will promote career paths in skilled production and technical positions, as well as management and ownership of companies. Austin Polytechnical prepares students for college as well as preparing those students who will be seeking employment immediately after graduation. The curriculum is anchored in a preengineering program called Project Lead the Way, with a focus on machining. Project Lead the Way has an outstanding reputation for assisting minority students in getting placed in engineering schools. Each student will graduate with at least two National Institute of Metalworking Skills credentials and perhaps as many as eight, qualifying them for immediate employment in skilled positions out of high school.

If you want to go to college, they've got you covered. If you want or need to go to work, they've got you covered. No one graduates without being prepared. It's such a simple concept you would think all schools would be doing that. Today marks the beginning of the new school year for me, so I'll try to at least do my part.

Friday, August 15, 2008


I just finished reading a book by Robert Frank called Richistan: A Journey Through the American Wealth Boom and the Lives of the New Rich. It's a pretty entertaining look at how the other half lives. The title Richistan comes from the fact that all of the new wealth and the accompanying lifestyle is like these people are living in a whole different country. In fact with their combined incomes they are wealthier than most countries. "By 2004, the richest 1 percent of Americans were earning $1.35 trillion a year - greater than the total national incomes of France, Italy or Canada."

The book tells the story of several of the new money crowd including Tim Blixseth. He's worth something like $1.2 billion but literally started with nothing. So where did his inspiration come from?

Tim got his first lesson in success from his high school shop teacher.

The guys name was Wally Eichler. Everyone called him Rough Cut Wally, because he was one of those real tough, no-nonsense guys. On the first day of class, Rough Cut Wally said to us, 'I don't give a damn if you learn a single thing in this class. But just remember that you can do anything you want in this country if you want to. You can succeed or fail, but it's up to you. You're entirely responsible.'

Blixseth took the advice to heart and made a perfectly crafted tin box that he still keeps in his dressing room to remind him of Wally.

Maybe it pays to listen to the old shop teacher when he's handing out advice.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Strongfortism? Who Needs It!

I've been busy tearing the barn down and I've had aches and pains from my neck and shoulders all the way down to the soles of my feet. If a guy wanted a full body workout, forget the Strongfortism, just tear down a barn by yourself. I wouldn't have had any trouble lining up help but after the near miss when I started working on this thing, I'm a little gun shy. There's plenty of nails to step on and I've already stepped through a couple of holes while peeling off the shingles and some hide on the shins. I'd feel really bad being responsible for breaking someone's ankle.

The Presidential Challenge (mentioned in an earlier post) basically credits you a point for every calorie burned. I'm in third place in my little group having slipped from first earlier this year. Last time I checked I was about 25,000 points behind the leader. She's an active young lady who rides her bike, kayaks and does all manner of physical things. I haven't been doing much running or cycling because I've been busting my hump trying to get things done around the shack. However, in the past I've ridden a century on the bike, pulled my little trailer over mountain ranges and run a marathon. I know I'm burning as many calories per day on this barn job as I would running a marathon but as luck would have it, there just isn't any category for serious barn demolition. So I'm toning up, losing a couple of pounds and getting rid of the barn. All in all, I guess you could call that progress.

When school starts I'm going to get back on some type of workout schedule. I think I'm going to run a 5K September 27th and a 10K on Thanksgiving Day. We should have the gym opened up after Labor Day, so at least one day a week I'll be there. The rest of the time I can work on my projects. Maybe posting on their progress will insure that there actually is some.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Barn Demolition

Steady by jerks, there's progress being made. I got quite a little bit done in only two days. The dumpster's filling up with shingles and the weather has been remarkably mild for this time of year. Still sweating like a pig but no way around that unless I opt for big time mechanical help. That would also require a few more dumpsters or dump trucks. After getting the price for the first one, I'll just keep plugging away. I should have all the shingles loaded up in a couple of more days.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Barn Demolition

Started tearing the barn down on Thursday. The big dumpster showed up about 1:30 and I was ready for a break about 2:30. Nothing like starting a big project in the heat of the day. Went back out in the evening and hit it again until the skeeters started to chew on me. I've got the dumpster for a week, so as long as I get all the shingles skinned off, I'll be OK. I've got some people interested in some of the siding, so I'll save most of the good stuff and they can pick through it. I start school next week, so I'll spend the last few days of vacation doing what I should have done a year ago.

The Honda's on hold. I started it up again and I think it's more than a carb adjustment. I'm thinking it's an exhaust valve. That's really going to be a pain. I might try to talk a buddy of mine into helping with this one. I've done a ton of welding for the guy. Always the tricky kind of stuff, too. Maybe just sweet talk him into working it over and calling me when it's done. He's a damn fine mechanic and if I'm not going to be able to ride for awhile, just let him take his own sweet time. I'll do a compression check before I jump off the bridge.

I'm thinking of dragging the old 900 Kaw out and starting on that one. I know it needs a valve job but I've got a good set of 1000 cylinders and pistons, plus I think I've got a gasket set already. It was set up for a sidecar and I'd like to make another one. Like I need another project. I'll mull over the options while I'm taking my barn demo breaks.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Minnesota Trip - Part Three

The big statue is Iron Man, located across the street from Iron World. We got the opportunity to do some research for our required projects here. We also road the trolley car around the perimeter of the grounds. Nice little tour in a restored trolley car that was originally from Australia.

The Iron Range Resource people put out a little quarterly paper, The Range View, that had an interesting article in the Spring issue about the upcoming need for skilled people in the area. There are a couple of big developments on the way for the Iron Range and there aren't going to be enough people to handle all of the construction and staffing requirements of the next few years. One of the most interesting things mentioned, at least to me, was the reintroduction of industrial technology classes in 17 area high schools. Of course, Shop Teacher Bob is wondering what they've been teaching if they haven't had shop classes.

Hibbing High School at one time offered a 14 year educational opportunity. You could get an associates degree after completing your high school requirements. It looks like the pendulum is swinging back that way again. Education often times seems to take the path of advertising. They want to sell people on the idea of a created want, rather than give you what you really need. There were quite a few teachers on the trip who taught AP History. I'm all in favor of teaching history, but I wonder what the job market is for historians compared to some of the skilled trades. Perhaps the education system should be a little more grounded in the basics at the high school level and let the two and four year colleges teach the advanced history, geography and biology. I'm sure many Advanced Placement teachers would say the same about teaching some of the vocational programs. The idea of spending another optional year or two in high school to get an associates degree is probably something we could all agree on, however.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Minnesota Trip - Part Two

The photos show Hibbing High School Auditorium, the garage at Bob Dylan's boyhood home, Hull Rust Mine, cable hoist at the Soudan Mine, and the view out the lighthouse window at Two Harbors.

The first part of our trip took us from St. Paul, Minnesota to Ely with stops at Duluth and Two Harbors. Lake Superior is in fact, superior. It's the largest freshwater lake and is over 1000 feet deep in places. We later visited Hibbing and went to the high school and the boyhood home of Bob Dylan. We ate lunch at Zimmy's, a Dylan themed restaurant. Nothing to do with iron ore but when in Rome...

Hibbing High School is an incredible building. It was built with funds from the taxes the iron mines had to pay on the amount of deposits in the ground. The school still has shop classes and the Blue Jackets play hockey. They definitely get a thumbs up from me. One of our guides for this part of the tour teaches at the high school, so we got a good look at the inside of the school, plus a short walking tour of the town. Good stuff.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Carry Me Back From Ol' Virginny

The workshop was most enjoyable and educational but it's always good to get back home. The train isn't the fastest way to get around but it's a nice relaxed method. I had a five hour layover in Chicago on the way up, so I took a nice walk around the city. Only about two hours on the return trip, but time enough for a big, fat Chicago style hot dog and a soda.

Our home base was in Virginia, Minnesota, hence the title of the post. Virginia is an old Iron Range town that has about twenty bars and a couple of full service liquor stores along a six block stretch of the main drag. I doubt there will be that many next spring. Gas prices and the Minnesota smoking ban are all having an effect. Who's going to want to go outside and have a smoke when it's 30 degrees below zero this winter? Plus, beer and alcohol aren't cheap up there either.

We visited the Soudan Mine and went down about a half mile deep. The cage was raised and lowered by an Allis Chalmers hoist made in 1924. It's run by a guy sitting in a chair who watches a big dial with the different levels marked on it. When the cage is at the proper level, he pulls on a big lever and it operates the brakes. It's really nothing sophisticated but works really well. We also visited the Hull Rust and the Minn Tac mines. These are big open pit taconite mines. In fact, the Hull Rust is the world's largest. The equipment here is enormous. Big electric shovels load 240 ton trucks that hall the iron ore bearing rock to the crusher. It's then refined into taconite pellets and sent to the steel mills.

In addition to visiting the physical facilities, we learned about the people of the range and the history of their struggles with the climate, the mine owners and the politics of the region. I had no idea the Finns were so closely aligned with the socialist and communist movements. I heard from one of the speakers that they came to this area to escape being drafted in the Russian Army. I didn't realize until later in the week this meant serving for 25 years. As hard as life must have been for these people, it still would have been better than that 25 year hitch in Russia.

Our last morning, we heard from a former taconite mine worker and union organizer. He was pretty darn interesting. He said he was involved in a debate to determine if the iron mines were important to the national security of this country. The general consensus of the federal government was we could always by iron ore on the open market from our trading partners, Russia and China or someone else. I think most anyone would concede having our own supply of the major ingredient in making steel would be in our best interest. We also heard from a couple of politicians from the area and two people from Iron Range Resources. Everyone was very interesting and very much focused on what's ahead for the Iron Range.

I met some really nice people, both from the area, and from through out the United States. Our hosts treated us all very well and made sure the workshop was a success. Thanks to all of you.