Thursday, February 26, 2009

Big Job

We're working on a big job in the shop right now. The boys and I are stretching the frame on a semi tractor. We're putting eight feet in the middle of the frame and adding four foot to the tail end. The new frame rails were made up by a local fab shop and we're doing the rest. I made a jig to build the new crossmembers and we have those about half done. We're welding splice plates to the side of the new frame rails and are planning to have all the crossmembers bolted in place prior to cutting the truck apart. If all goes according to plan, all we'll have to do is cut the truck frame, roll the tandems back and drop the new frame assembly in place. It should be fairly easy to square it up that way and there won't be a lot of welding to do. I've got some reference marks punched into the frame that we'll be able to use to square it up.

The boys are getting pretty excited as we get close to cutting the truck in half. I don't normally take on jobs this big but I have a good group and I've done this type of work in the past. It's giving the boys a lot of valuable experience and breaking the monotony of them welding practice plates every day. I've got two guys that are certified that will be doing any of the welding that I don't do. I'll weld the frame splices myself. Not getting much else done but it should be finished in about two weeks.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Saturday Night Fights

We had a show at the gym Saturday night. It was an in house show to raise a little money for our travel expenses for the upcoming Golden Gloves tourney and to give the fighters a little experience in front of a crowd. Plus, what's the use of putting all that time in at the gym if you don't get a chance to fight? We had ten bouts and in spite of the weather, a full house. The show was covered by Bolo Punch Boxing. They have an internet broadcast every Thursday at 8:00 pm Central Time so you should hear about the show there. Mr. Guzman also served as the ring announcer and did a real fine job. He also helped us out with our signs and he's painting a mural for us on the gym wall. Local boxing legend Jack Callahan refereed the bouts and he too did a real fine job. Jack also helped us out with the training when Jimmy had foot surgery and couldn't get around. We taped the fights, so as soon as things get transferred to a computer, I should be able to get a short video clip here of some of the action. You might even be able to see Shop Teacher Bob in action!

The bouts were all real good. Two fighters came in from the outside and they apparently hadn't gotten the memo that it was an exhibition. Our man Vince took a few lumps but rose to the occasion and gave it his all. The other outsider took on our man Ernie and Ernie showed him a few things. For a couple of super heavyweights, there was a lot of action. Lots of combinations being thrown and Ernie was real tight on his defense. When he got inside he threw some real nice body shots and hooks. Ernie should do real well this year at the Gloves.

All in all, I'd have to say our first event was a tremendous success. As Jimmy says: "Fun for the whole family".

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Bradford Washburn

I'm reading Escape From Lucania: An Epic Story of Survival by David Roberts. I picked it up from the library and because it's a paperback, there's no dust jacket. Without a dust jacket, there's no author's photo or short synopsis to tell you what the book's about. The back cover has a photo of two guys standing atop a mountain with big grins on their faces. From the photo, one would surmise that the story of survival would probably have taken place after the photo and from a map located a couple of pages into the book one would also surmise the story takes place in Alaska or the Yukon Territory. Not a lot to go on when choosing a book but I like adventure stories and this one was less than two hundred pages, so why not?

So the story unfolds about two young guys, Henry Bradford Washburn, Jr., and Robert Hicks Bates, who are mountain climbers who met at Harvard. However, as soon as I saw the name Bradford Washburn, I immediately thought of a photograph I saw a few years back at an exhibition in Elkhart, Indiana. It was a large photograph of the Alps and it was absolutely stunning. When I got home I looked him up online and saw a few more images. Even though the photos were all phenomenal, that was about it as far as I pursued it. Now I find out while reading the book, that he and Vittorio Sella are the two finest mountain photographers of all time. Sella even hauled glass plates up the mountains and Washburn did a lot of scouting of his climbs by flying over the area and photographing it with a large format Fairfield camera.

Now the question becomes, how the hell come I don't know a lot more about Washburn and Sella? I'm interested in photography and have a pretty good selection of photo books. I'm interested in adventures and mountain climbing and know about Mallory and Hillary - I even read a book about a guy who rode his bicycle to Mt. Everest and then climbed it without oxygen. The Washburn and Bates story the book relates takes place in 1937, so it's not like I missed it on the nightly news. But if I don't know anything about them, how are the young people of today going to know about them? Should they know about them? Where do kids these days get their inspiration?

When I first started at my present job, a guy came in and put on a presentation about a round the world boat trip. I think that's about the one and only time in thirty some years of teaching that the student body was exposed to any kind of real adventurer/explorer type of individual. I've sat through all kinds of inspirational, informational and vocational presentations. Many of them quite good, actually. But never as a student did I have a guy come in and tell me about his exploits as a mountain climber. I did have a student teacher who was a spelunker. I still remember his slide show and the point he made that it was out there if I wanted to give it a try. But where were all the mountain climbers, rodeo clowns, race car drivers, and human cannonballs on career day? Joey Chitwood never showed up recruiting for the Thrill Show. We don't even have a career day at my school anymore and God help us if the students look to our milquetoast administrators for inspiration.

I'm not so sure I want to fight this battle or even if it's worth fighting. Maybe it's not the school's job to try and inspire them in this way. There are only so many hours in the day and our school does have a lot of different course offerings for the students to choose from. It just seems like the place would be more interesting and rewarding if the students were exposed to more career options - like a luthier, boatbuilder, potter or blacksmith - and more inspiration. It just seems a shame that most of what passes for career guidance boils down to being told to either take a shop class or go to college.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Sloyd and Friends

Over there on the right where the "about me" thing is, Shop Teacher Bob says he's teaching the latest that Sloyd has to offer. That's kind of an inside joke for old shop teachers like myself who still maintain that the world would be better off if everyone got some tools in their hands and learned some real skills when attending school. The Sloyd System or Educational Sloyd has been around since about 1870 and is a teaching method that incorporates using the hands to make products (mostly associated with woodworking but also included metalworking) and was the forerunner to manual training, practical arts and other similar educational movements. It's still possible to buy a Sloyd knife - I have one naturally enough - but the educational pendulum has swung about as far away from that movement as it can. Let's face it, it's kind of hard to have a system of education that requires woodcarving when they won't allow knives in school. There is hope, however.

As always, the faithful cling to the hope that good sense will return and the truth will once again be known. At The Wisdom of the Hands blog, a woodworker and teacher is singing the praises of "hands on" learning that would make old Mr. Sloyd's day. Of course, there never was a Mr. Sloyd and I absolutely despise the old chestnut "hands on" learning. The hands never operate on their own. They are not independent contractors. They do what they are told. Granted, if you watch a real craftsman at work you might get that impression but they are receiving inputs and giving feed back the whole time they are creating useful and beautiful things. Absolutely no different than the musician. A violin virtuoso, or a brain surgeon for that matter, doesn't get to that level with hands that operate without the brain calling the shots.

Mr. Doug Stowe, the author of the aforementioned blog, is a teacher at the Clear Spring School in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. Clear Spring School is an independent school that clearly focuses on many of the best of the time tested ideas in education. The school has the students building a boat, going camping, taking trips and basically giving them a very well balanced education. It is what education should be as opposed to pounding a bunch of crap down the little darlin's throats in order to pass a state mandated test and then sending out into the world a batch of kids every year who don't know whether their ass is punched or bored.

If you are at all interested in quality education, a little research into the Sloyd System with maybe a little bit of Dewey or Pestalozzi thrown in just for grins might make you wonder where it all went wrong. I went to Purdue Calumet the other day and they were promoting experiential learning on a big billboard - that's basically "hands on" learning dolled up with a little lipstick and a skirt. So maybe the pendulum has started back towards the realistic and practical zone. At the very least, I would definitely urge you to check out The Wisdom of the Hands blog. Mr Stowe sings the praises of a proper education in a very clear and beautiful voice.

Friday, February 13, 2009

40 Days to Santa Fe

I just finished reading 40 Days to Santa Fe by Leonard Smith. It's the story of the adventures of young Johnny Foote as he makes his way west with a wagon train in the years prior to the Civil War. The book is a little cheesy but it's a well spun yarn with good character development and scenery descriptions. My wife and I followed the Santa Fe trail a few years back which was the reason I picked up the book in the first place. A Google search turned up a few more books written by Mr. Smith which I wouldn't mind reading if I ever came across them on the cheap. I don't normally read much fiction now but when I was younger I read most of Hemingway's stuff and Robert Ruark's The Old Man and the Boy and The Old Man's Boy Grows Older, both of which I've reread in the last couple of years. Like a lot of young boys growing up in the fifties, the adventurous life of a cowboy or hunting and fishing in the mountains had great appeal to me.

In 40 Days to Santa Fe, Mr Smith describes Johnny's feelings when he awakens and sees the mountains for the first time. As a flatlander, I remember seeing the Rockies for the first time and thinking much the same thing. Johnny is being mentored by a mountain man, Beaver Bolles, and Bolles had a couple of interesting things to say along the trail:

You got a lot to larn; and the time to start an eddication is afore you need it.

Lots of folks think the Trail is hard now, but think what it was to the fust fellers that worked it out. And we don't even know their names. I got a notion that every road we travel, and every step up we humans make, has come about through the sufferin' of somebody we don't know nothin' about.

And I reckon the real job fer all of us is to make the goin' a little easier fer the next feller.

Most folks live offen the work done by fellers they won't even shake hands with.

Something to think about even though those words were first published 71 years ago. While I'm never going to be a mountain man or a cowboy, the little boy in me still has a hankerin' for that lifestyle. Hopefully, I always will.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Midget Update

I got a little work done on the midget the other day. I'm hooking up the steering and I made a support bracket for the inside of the nose sheet metal. I've got a couple of big jobs in the school shop right now, so everything else will be slow going. The weather was unseasonably warm on Saturday though, so I made it out into the shop and machined up a little bushing for the steering on the midget and made a piece for the steering on the high mileage vehicle. I also made a couple of pieces for my bike building jig.

I used to rake a lot of frames for drag racers and I made several complete frames for motorcycles so I made myself a building jig. I'm thinking about building another bicycle for myself so I decided to make some pieces to convert the jig from one kind of a bike building to another. I got a good deal on a Bridgeport milling machine for the school shop this year plus I've got a couple of guys that need some practical experience, so I figured now would be a good time to put one of them to work getting the jig tooled up. When the kid gets done with the bicycle fixtures, I'll put him on making some pieces for a 250 Ducati frame. I had most everything I needed at one time but I think I scrapped them out by mistake. It's not like me to throw anything out, let alone something that I had plans to use sometime down the road. I've got a buddy who'll let me borrow a stock frame, so it's not a tragedy or anything, just some lathe work making spacers. The rest of it the kid can make up.

So as always, it's steady by jerks here at project central. The scatter gun approach eventually pays dividends. Stay tuned for the next exciting installment of who knows which project!

Sunday, February 8, 2009


I found it somewhat ironic that the blog of the day yesterday at old was promoting a site ( that was championing the cause of newspapers. It's a sad fact but the biggest reason newspapers are in trouble is the fact that people can get the news nearly as fast as it happens by logging on to a computer of some sort. Laptops and phones can bring you constant updates instead of waiting 12 to 24 hours like newspaper coverage. Television news hasn't really been a threat because they broadcast on the same type of schedule. Granted CNN and others have news around the clock but news junkies are going to watch that and get a paper.

As far as I'm concerned, you still can't beat the daily newspaper. Like a lot of kids, I used to have a paper route - learned some valuable lessons about business and people. It gave me a little spending money and a little responsibility. You delivered the paper seven days a week and collected for it every two weeks. Some people would give you a tip and others would bellyache about something. Some didn't like you pestering them for the money and others were always glad to see you.

I take three papers now. I read the Chicago Tribune everyday and my wife peruses two local papers. She passes along anything she finds she feels might be of interest to me. I do the daily crossword and read the funnies. I always read the editorial page and the business section. Whenever I travel I always try to pick up a local paper. I spend a lot more time now in front of a computer than I ever would have imagined a couple of years ago, but I can't imagine the computer taking the place of my newspaper or books. You can shove the sports section in your hip pocket and take it along for coffee break or finish off a busy day with the paper in bed. Nothing better than coffee and the Sunday morning paper in bed, either. Well, I can think of one thing but I usually settle for the paper. Handiest flyswatter as well.

It's just a bloody shame they're in trouble. It says a lot about us as a society.

Saturday, February 7, 2009


It's just a shame that Buell motor isn't a three cylinder. They could have braided those pipes instead of just twisting them around one another. Judging by the color, I would guess these are made from stainless "U" bends and then TIG welded together. Lots of work fitting all those individual pieces together and welding them up. One of the main goals with headers is normally to have the tubes the same length, with the length being determined by the rpm range of the engine and a couple of other factors. As crazy as these look, they might actually work pretty well. They're going to be pretty obnoxious as far as the decibel level goes, but as they used to say: noise = horsepower.

I found the picture at The New Cafe Racer Society, by the way. It's all about one, two or three wheelers. Lots of good stuff and it's updated daily from what I've seen.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009


The weather has turned to crap once again. Northwest Indiana is getting lots of snow and wind so once again I have a two hour delay. Not really a bad thing from my point of view - start at ten and go home at 3:30. The shortened class periods really limit what you can get done in a welding class, however. Besides the delays, I now have six or seven days to make up this school year. A couple of days were canceled for the -15 temperatures, so big sissy that I am, I decided not to go out in my shop at home and work, which means I'm not getting anything done on my projects. I have been getting caught up on my reading and some general sprucing up around the shack. I'm putting some shelves up in the basement and cleaning off the HO train board. I'm thinking the grandson and I should be able to have a little fun with the train.

I used to have a pretty nice layout in the basement of the first house I owned. I painted up the walls and put a couple of lights over the train board and it was fun for both my son and I. Mostly for me - he was pretty young at the time. We moved and the train never got put back up other than a couple of times around the Christmas tree. When I moved in here I was teaching a construction class at the time, so we constructed a train board. I put a little loop of track together but that was about it. Mostly it became a flat surface that collected junk but a few more really cold days and I'll be laying track. I've pretty much decided on the layout and I think I've probably got most everything I need for the track. I know I've got more rolling stock than I'll ever have room or need for but when you're talking hobbies, even too much is rarely enough, right?

Monday, February 2, 2009

Gas Welding

Cuzzin Rick's Baja Bug is going on a short hiatus but I got the main section of the roll cage welded up. I gas welded the thing rather than using TIG or MIG. It's a buggy from the 70's and a lot of the hot rod and aircraft guys were still gas welding things back then, so I thought: "What the heck, why not?" MIG welders were around back then but TIG was still pretty much reserved for aluminum and magnesium. Gas welding and brazing was still being used in body shops then but the metal started getting too thin to weld without a lot of warpage. It's really amazing, however, what a good craftsman can do with it.

If a guy has a set of tanks and a combination torch, he can fix damn near anything. Cast iron can be either brazed or gas welded. Likewise carbon steel - anything from a bicycle to a battleship. It's possible to gas weld aluminum as well but it's pretty tricky. The hot rod guys still use gas welding when they're chopping tops. You can hammer weld the tack welds to get them to stretch and they won't break plus you have excellent control on the weld build up. When you're MIG welding, as long as you're pulling the trigger you're adding filler metal. When you're gas welding you only add as much reinforcement as needed. A lot less grinding that way. TIG welding gives you pretty much the same thing but without the annealing effect that you get from gas welding that can be a real blessing on occasion. Plus, a good TIG setup that you can weld both steel and aluminum with is going to set you back a couple of grand and you still need a set of tanks and a cutting torch.

I still try to do a little gas welding every year so my guys are exposed to it and have a chance to learn it if they so desire. I don't know of anyone who still teaches it outside of aircraft restoration. It's not a fast process but it's plenty strong when done properly. The welds look real pretty, especially on tube fillets like the roll cage or on properly prepared edge welds on sheet metal. You can join two pieces of sheet at right angles to each other without filler metal if you put a little thought into it first. The welds come out absolutely gorgeous. There's not a man alive that can make MIG welds look that good. So get the goggles, a couple of firebricks and start practicing.