Monday, April 27, 2009

Book Banning

I went into the school library or media center, as it's called these days, to reserve a TV and DVD player and I asked the media specialist, formerly the librarian, how it's going. He then proceeds to tell me how plans are being made to get all of the books printed prior to 1985 out of the library. Apparently, the new law enacted to protect us from the lead the Chinese have been sending us in toys and jewelry, has a provision to protect children from the lead contained in printing ink. So, childrens books cannot be loaned out from the libraries and they can't be resold by places like Goodwill or other book stores, if printed before 1985.

As a guy who reads the newspaper, I was aware of the effects of the law on the motorcycle and ATV industry. You can no longer by a mini bike because of the lead in the valve stems on the tires but I had no idea that this absurdity extended to childrens books. Who the hell thought this craziness up? And equally important, why the hell wasn't this front page news? What's going to happen to Chuggy and the Blue Caboose or the Little Red Hen? I realize small children should not be exposed to lead at any level but how much could they possibly ingest from eating library books or valve stems? Those of us who grew up with lead based paints and leaded gasoline don't have to worry about our grandkids getting hit with that, fortunately, but if the Consumer Product Safety Commission would have been on the job and kept the tainted Chinese crap where it belonged, we wouldn't have to have this idiotic over reaction. Man, you couple this up with the National Animal Identification System and this country really has gone loco. Maybe even
"mad as a hatter".

Nice little article on the subject at the Washington Post.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Big Crash

Thursday we put the finishing touches on the high mileage car and I breathed a big sigh of relief. The car looked really good and we had already spun it around the back parking lot a few times and it looked like all systems go. This morning we decided to take it out to the track to give the driver a chance to work on his driving technique and all went well for about three laps. He gassed it up a little and it looked like it went in to what on a motorcycle would be a tank slapper. I don't know what you would call it on a rear stear vehicle, a tail wagger? Anyway, he lost control, went into the grass, came back onto the track and barrel rolled the thing. All at about 20 miles per hour. Fortunately the young man driving wasn't hurt beyond a few minor bumps and scrapes. The car, however, suffered some serious injuries. The pulley arrangement that the
steering cables attach to broke off, both mirrors broke and the front axle bent.

Even if I were to do a last minute thrash to machine up a new axle, I'm not going to put a kid back in the saddle unless I know for sure what caused the crash. Unless I can find someone to take this job over, this is it for our high mileage team. It's a real shame that the team doesn't get to run the car after all the hard work that went into it but that's how it is in the old racing game.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

High Mileage, Hopefully

Putting the finishing touches on the little car. We need to finish the Mono-Kote and a few other little things but are basically ready. The car is actually looking pretty good now. The canopy never materialized nor did the covering on the back of the car but that's how it goes some days. I am feeling much more confident now that the car has been run around the parking lot a couple of times. I don't know how the mileage is going to be but the driver seems to be pretty comfortable with the car. It won't be a world beater but as long as it holds together for our required three runs, I'll be happy. We've never been skunked and I don't want this to be the first time.

I'm hoping for good weather on Monday. Late April weather in Indiana can be just about anything from a snow storm to a heat wave. Last year it was rainy all day. Didn't make for the most pleasant experience and didn't help our mileage any, either. Regardless, just like fishing, a bad day at the racetrack is still better than a good day working!

Saturday, April 18, 2009


The Golden Gloves tourney wrapped up on Thursday and man, there were some good fights. Hud Mellencamp was the winner of the first fight. It was three rounds of non-stop action followed by our fight which was a barn burner as well. Our guy won a 5-0 decision against a real good opponent. Both fighters were in real good shape and slugged it out right down to the last bell. The rest of the fights we stuck around to see were good also. If you're were there Thursday, you sure got your money's worth. We took 12 fighters to the tourney and ended up with six state champs. We are absolutely thrilled and hope we can keep it up in the future. We did set the bar pretty high for our first year, though.

The high mileage car made a few trips around the parking lot on Friday. Everything seems to be working as planned. We should get the mirrors and the windshield on it Monday. About the only thing left after that is the Mono-Kote and the numbers. I might even be able to take next Saturday off, unlike the previous two years when I put in 10 hour days to get things finished.

Shop Teacher Bob ran a 10 miler Saturday morning. I hadn't really been training for this but a guy I work with entered the race and then had to pull out due to injury. I had forgotten how hilly the course was when I decided to take his place. I took my time and practiced my race walking part of the way. I finished about 45 minutes behind the winner and about 45 minutes ahead of a 25 year old National Guard soldier. Of course, he was wearing his fatigues, combat boots and had a 50 pound rucksack on his back. I had a chance to talk to him for a couple of minutes before the race. Seemed like an extremely nice young man - said he had done two tours in Afghanistan already. God bless him and all the others putting their lives on the line for us. It's real easy to take for granted all the blessings we have, even during these tough economic times.

After the high mileage competition next Monday, I can hopefully get back to some of my projects. Of course, it's also the start of mowing and gardening season. I also need to make some headway on the house projects currently under way. I'd also like to start putting in some miles on the bicycle. There's a century ride in southern Indiana I'd like to ride in June. It takes a bit of training to shape up for a 100 mile ride. They also have 25, 50 and 75 mile rides that day. The promoters say the 75 and 100 milers have some "challenging hills". Having ridden a century ride down there a few years ago, I can attest to the challenging hills. We'll see what the schedule and the weather allow.

Thursday, April 16, 2009


Having taught school for 33 years, I've attended my share of workshops and meetings. In fact, today the students get out early and I've got a meeting. Unlike most of the half day school improvement meetings we have, this one will be with my department. I work with a great bunch of people and if left to our own resources, I'm relatively certain we could educate the troops, turning out some great projects and having them all adding, subtracting and doing long division along the way. And probably before sundown at that. Since this is not, nor ever will be the case, I attend, on a somewhat sporadic basis, workshops and meetings that promise the new best thing that usually is either a new spin on an old idea or some lame ass idea that is doomed from the start.

While checking out the Starlet Showcase yesterday, the author rails against workshops in general and the one he is currently attending in particular. Usually his blog consists of black and white photos - Hollywood stars from movie stills or studio shots, posters, etc. I really enjoyed his rant, however, and thought I'd share it with you.

This week, to my endless displeasure, I am stuck in a workshop,
which is not quite work and not really a shop. We break up into
little groups and do things called "exercises" or "projects."
Some people are there to somehow enhance their résumés. Some,
like me, just want it to be Friday already. And some are there
to actually learn something. Those are the scariest ones. They
are so full of enthusiasm and wonder, you just want to strangle
the sh!t out of them.
Some people enjoy "group projects." Me, I absolutely hate them.
Lock me up all alone in a room with an ashtray, a computer, a
coffee pot, and maybe a good revolver, and I can probably solve
just about any problem you throw my way. That's simply how I
operate. I don't want to participate in discussions. I don't
need to brainstorm. I don't want any feedback. I don't feel
the need to create an atmosphere of openness by which we can
develop protocols for addressing issues affecting our collective
objectives while quantifying our goal-setting standards and
incrementally disintervening in the stake-holders' perceived
Makes ya wanna puke, don't it?
I think maybe the answers to most things is:
1.) Just do it.
2.) Get her done.
3.) Phuck 'em if they can't take a joke.
It seems like there are a gazillion people who spend their whole
lives talking about how things should get done without actually
getting anything done. It might be called The Perpetually Useless
Jag-off Style of Management
. People hold round table discussions
about it. People write books about it. Some people are basically
Anyway, I did not sign up for this workshop. I did not volunteer.
I do not say much. I do not have much to add. I am not really
materially participating. I just want the week to end.

Couldn't have said it better, myself.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


We've got about ten days left to finish up our little car. The engine runs and the steering works as designed - wasn't too sure how the rear steer thing was going to work - and we're getting ready to put the Mono-Kote on the body. We should be able to spin it around the parking lot a few times prior to leaving which will be a good thing. It will be nice for the driver to have a little bit of saddle time before having to drive the car in competition.

The Indiana Math Science Technology Education Alliance has been running this competition for quite a while. We've been competing since 2002. It requires a lot of work on the part of basically two people, Jim Thompson and Greg Steele. Many others help with tech inspection and raceday operations, none of whom make a dime from their efforts. Likewise, O'Reilly Raceway Park donates the track for the day.

The contest also requires quite a bit of time and effort from the advisors, such as myself. The creativity of the students is amazing. Usually, at least 40 cars are in attendance from high schools all over the state of Indiana. There have also been some college teams occasionally who use the track for testing for a similar contest (Shell Eco Challenge, SAE Supermileage). The rules are kept to a minimum and are primarily for safety purposes. The cars typically cost between $500 - $1000 to construct and you can use the same car two years in a row. We've been able to raise the money thanks to some very generous local sponsors, especially REMC, our local electric co-op.

Our best performance was two years ago when we got almost 500 miles per gallon. The best teams are getting over 1000. For us to match those teams, I would have to really get involved and take a much different approach from what I'm doing now. I try to stay as far away as possible, letting the students do as much work as they're capable of. It's not my car to construct but I help with what I'm asked to do and offer some unsolicited advice if I see them going down a blind alley. The time spent on the car takes away from class time for a few of them, so they come to open shop or from study hall to work. Usually a couple of guys take the reins and become the leaders. Others work when asked, others pretty much stand around all day. Pretty much what you would expect from most groups unless you have a very thorough screening process to become a team member.

This is going to be my last year with this project. I just don't have the time to devote to it, especially now that I'm involved so heavily with the boxing gym. It's unfortunate, but all good things have to come to an end. Race day is the 27th at O'Reilly Raceway Park in Indianapolis and spectators are welcome. I'll keep you posted.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Golden - And I Do Mean Golden - Gloves

We had a tremendous night at the fights last night. We had five guys on the card and we ended up with four wins and three state champions. In addition, Coach Jimmy won the Sarge Johnson Coach of the Year Award. We've impressed a lot of people with what we've accomplished in such a short time but we had a good core group to start with. All three of the fighters in the picture fought in last years Gloves, so we weren't really starting from scratch. Never the less, all the fighters and the coaches have put a lot of time and effort into making the DeMotte Boxing Club a success. It's always nice when that effort pays off.

We have one more fighter left in the tourney. He fights for the 165 lb. championship next Thursday. We got a chance to watch his opponent fight last night and our guy should do well against him.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Big Truck

The big truck left last night. It took a little longer than anticipated but that's typical of both a high school shop and an owner that kept adding things to the list. We also had to wait a few days for the new driveshaft. Regardless, the job was completed in a very professional and safe manner. The students involved really learned a lot and their skills improved tremendously.

If you have the desire to learn welding, you get in the booth and practice and you'll eventually get pretty good at welding practice plates in the booth. When it's time to put those skills to use on a job like the big truck, then the story's a little different. The pieces no longer fit perfectly, you have to lay on your back or some other position, and you have to be able to know without the slightest shadow of a doubt, that the weld is going to hold. None of the "I know it looks a little rough, but it'll hold". No. It needs to look good and be good. This is not practice. It is a real job with real liabilities associated with it.

The two guys who were the primary force on the truck did a fine job and I'm quite proud of them. Like always, however, about the time they get pretty good, it's time for them to move on. Next year the cycle will repeat itself and by the end of the year I should again be turning out some people that are well on their way to becoming pretty good craftsmen. That's always the hope, anyway.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Planet Jr.

Saturday was an absolutely lovely spring day here in Indiana. Slight breeze with plenty of sunshine. The kind of day when gardeners start itching to get outside and play in the dirt. I've been real busy the last couple of years traveling during the summer months, so I've neglected the garden, but this year it's going to happen again. Gardens are big news this year with the economy in the tank and the safety of our food supply being seriously questioned. I know I won't be the only one tending to some vegetables, the Obama's have already got their patch dug at the White House.

I picked up a rototiller a few years ago that was pretty much on it's last legs. It worked well enough to chop up the sod but the noise and aggravation of getting it running every spring just wasn't worth it. I'm a big fan of internal combustion engines but when fishing or gardening are involved, I prefer peace and quiet. After the tiller threw the rod, I went back to the spade and found it much more enjoyable. As a maker of things, however, I decided a push cultivator would be a handy item. Enter the Planet Junior.

The Planet Junior was manufactured many years ago and is probably the best of the low wheel cultivator designs. It was made from cast iron and had a variety of attachments available for it. I saw one at an antique shop or someplace and took some quick measurements. I did a little research - Lehman's had a little booklet available for the one they were selling - and then went to work. They're really easy to make. I made the bottom plate that every thing bolts to out of 3/8" plate. I fabbed up the front wheel with some nice bronze bushings inside the hub and found the handles at the Steam & Power Show at Hesston. I made a bracket that mounts standard cultivator shoes like all the farmers around here use and I found a three tine cultivator someplace that I modified to bolt on as well. They did have both left and right hand shoes available so you could mound up the dirt on either side of the row and a setup to put two front wheels on so you could straddle the row when the plants were small. Total cost for mine was about twenty bucks. An Internet search will turn up lots of hits and there are similar cultivators being made but some of them are pricey.

Until I retire, I can pretty much handle all of my gardening requirements with a spade, a rake and a hoe. I've been planting fruit trees and berries for the last couple of years. When I retire I'm planning on expanding the garden so the Planet Junior knock-off should come in real handy then. If it becomes too much to handle by hand, I do have the David Bradley I picked up a few years back. That's another piece of equipment who's time has come again and a good subject for another post. Think spring and get your seed orders in.

Friday, April 3, 2009


The boxing club got its first two champions last night. We had four fighters entered in three fights and ended up with two champions. The highlight of the night for us was the fight that had two of our guys battling each other. Everyone pretty much had the outcome pegged before the fight started, including both fighters, but the underdog kept swinging. The kid has a lot of heart for being only eleven years old.

All fighters have to wear USA Boxing approved headgear, a mouthpiece, be clean shaven, and wear a cup or groin protector. We tell all the fighters about this and last night I asked one of the guys if he had his cup in and he replied in the affirmative. About twenty seconds into his fight, however, the thing falls out. The ref hands it to me and I have to shove it back into his underwear! The kid had a cup but not a regular athletic supporter. About twenty seconds later it falls out again and the ref says if it happens again he has to disqualify the poor kid. Because the kids pretty short there was enough length to his jersey for me to tuck the cup inside it and then get him fixed up so it stayed in the rest of the fight. Looked like the kind of thing that would end up on Funniest Home Videos.

We've got five guys next week. So far, everyone has fought real well, even in defeat. I'm real proud of all the guys, especially the youngsters. It's no easy task to make the sacrifices that boxing requires. Hopefully we'll have a couple more Indiana Golden Gloves champions when the tournament is over.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Norton Kneeler

I was shoveling off the top of the desk the other day - it's like an archeological dig with all the different layers - and I came across the rule book for the East Coast Timing Association that I had sent for a while back. On the cover is a photo of a go-faster sidecar rig and inside there are photos of a belly tank racer, a streamliner and all kinds of other really cool vehicles of two, three or four wheel design. So once again I'm thinking of what I should build. What's out there that was really ahead of it's time or really neat or what would just make a fun project? Historically, something on two wheels with a dustbin fairing like the V-8 Moto Guzzi (bottom photo) was the first thing that came to mind. I'm not going to have the time, inclination or talent to build a V-8 but I could build a fairing like that and put it on a low down frame with a leading link front end like a sidecar runs, that could do it for me.

The other bike that came to mind was the Norton Kneeler from back in the fifties. I could build something like that with one of my Sprint/Aermacchi frames and motors and have something really cool as well.

Just what I need to do - start thinking about another project with about twenty half finished ones already in the hopper. The shop at school is so full, you can't hardly walk through it. I can't see the top of the workbench in the shop at home and I'm still working on cleaning up the last remnants of the old barn. It's just a good thing I exercise and try to eat right. I'm going to have to live to be a hundred to get all of this crap accomplished. Now that I think of it, a belly tank racer could be lots of fun, though.