Sunday, May 31, 2009

Welcome to the Hood

I managed to get the hood on the little midget. It's the busy time of year now. Finishing up projects, nine weeks grades, final exams, cutting the grass every time it stops raining, boxing - you name it - it's all going on. But the midget is pert near finished.

We've been working on rebuilding the high mileage car as well. We've got the frame all tacked together and will be trying to get the steering roughed in next week before school's out. I'm not sure what's going to happen with this project. I'm still looking for someone to help take it over but nothing much has materialized yet. My department head, who we affectionately refer to as the CAD God, has offered his assistance in making up the required drawings for the proposal. He's a guy you can count on for quality work. That would eliminate one of the big headaches. The kid working on the car right now says he's planning on coming in over the summer and helping. If we can get the car built early enough, I could stay with it another year. I'm just not going to be worrying about it next spring. If it's done, we go. If it's not, I'll give the stuff away to another school who wants to get into the contest or jerk the motor out of it and toss the rest of it in the lake. It would make a nice fish attractor.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Thanks Pete

Steady rest prior to removal from the fixture

Close up of weld.

The little dents are from peening.
Peening + high nickel content electrode + low heat input = good weld

I had the very good fortune to start working for my uncle Pete right after graduating from high school. It was just a little shop when I started working for him and he did just about any job that came along - lawnmower decks, trailer hitches, material handling equipment, repair work on the big ships that came into Chicago - you name it, Pete could weld it. "A Quality Shop Of Master Craftsmen" it used to say in the Yellow Pages and Pete made it quite clear that if I was going to work for him, I'd have to be a craftsman.

I worked for him that summer and a couple more times off and on and each time I went back, I had a better appreciation of what he was capable of. At first I thought every one did it Pete's way because that was the only way I knew. After gathering some valuable experience in a variety of other shops, I realized how good Pete was. Jobs that others would shy away from were the type of thing that was second nature to Pete. Fortunately I had the good sense to recognize this and started paying closer attention to what went on there.

The photos are the steady rest for my old South Bend lathe. It was made for a 14" lathe and mine is a 13". I've been meaning to find another one but after needing it for a job the other day, I said "screw it, I'll just cut it down". So I did. I started with a little bit of thinking, a little bit of measuring, a little fixturing, a little welding and just like that I've got a steady rest that I can actually use.

If old Pete hadn't have taken me under his wing forty years ago, I never would have been able to weld cast iron or anything else for that matter. And I never would have thought of tackling a job that has to be lined up as accurately as the steady rest needs to be. Pete's been gone for quite a while now and some place along the line the torch, no pun intended, was passed to me. One of these days, hopefully, it'll pass on to someone else.

Thanks Pete.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day

Cuzzin' Ricky and I celebrated Memorial Day by taking the grandkids on a steam train ride.

The Nickel Plate 765 of the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society running on the Hoosier Valley Railroad Museum tracks from North Judson to LaCrosse. It was about a two hour trip and it included a photo run by for the passengers. They'll be running again in June for the Mint Festival.

You just can't beat live steam!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

High Mileage Video

In addition to the actual high mileage contest part of the IMSTEA Super Mileage Challenge, last year they introduced a video contest as well. There were three entries last year and they were all quite good. They were the type of things you would see on TV as a public service announcement. Ours is a little different. It's a short clip that showed the crew building and testing the car. It's a shame we didn't get any footage of the wreck. Check it out - it's pretty entertaining.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Train Station

When you're a big train buff and you have railroad tracks running 100 feet from the house and you no longer have a porch to hang your swing from and your a welding teacher, what do you do with your swing? You build a train station swing support, naturally. The design is similar to the platforms that would have been found next to the stations back when railroad architecture was something really impressive. After I designed it, two students did most of the work.

The idea going in was to have something nice for myself and to enter the finished product in the Lincoln Electric Welding Contest. The work involved was a little complicated. The circles on the ends are flat stock that is rolled the hard way. The arms coming out to the edge of the roof line are two pieces of angle bent into a nice curve and welded back to back. Not the easiest thing to do - especially if you want nice smooth curves and eight pieces all alike. The top has a 4x4 running full length with screw eyes to hang the swing from.

The project came out exceptionally well and the two boys won the top prize for the Midwest division in the contest. I don't spend a lot of time sitting in the swing but it's a nice place to sit when your taking a break. I need to invent some type of force field to put around it to keep the skeeters away in the evening. Then I'd really have something.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Barn Door

Continuing with the theme of government jobs, here's a photo of the service door going into my shop. The door's made out of 2x6's and set into a steel frame. The window is an angle iron frame with a little jazzed up ironwork. The door faces south, so it's hard to keep a finish on it but I give it a coat of varnish every year or so. The inside stays nice because it's out of the sunlight. This project I had to work on after school for the most part. I also had to get a little help from the former woodworking teacher, Mr. McDowell. Having very little woodworking experience at that time, I thought it prudent to seek out professional help. The inscription is a quote from Elbert Hubbard. After deciding to go with Hubbard's inscription and his design of the lettering, I forged a carving tool and went to work.

Hubbard was a serious player in the Arts and Crafts movement 100 years ago. His Roycroft Shops manufactured items out of wood, copper and iron. They also published The Philistine magazine and books, many of which featured fine leather bindings and hand illumination. Many of the books were of original Hubbard material and others were reprints of classical works by the great orators and philosophers. In Hubbard's New American Bible I came across Robert Ingersoll for the first time. There's another real interesting individual, by the way. I also picked up a copy of Hubbard's The Message to Garcia a few years back. It's a short inspirational book that also happens to be the fifth most widely published book of all time.

I got a chance to visit the Roycroft Shops in East Aurora, New York about a year ago. There are three or four buildings and a statue of the Fra himself that you can check out. If you're a fan of the Arts and Craft movement, as I am, you should definitely stop there if you're at all close. You can also tour the home of Millard Fillmore while you're there.

So I'm kind of proud of my door but Hubbard built a whole community and Fillmore, by the way, built his own house in East Aurora. I'm such a piker.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Fresh Dirt

I rode the bicycle to work yesterday. It was a beautiful spring day - a little breezy - but a good day to be outside. On the way home, just about every farm field I passed was either being tilled up, sprayed, planted or had just recently been so. When I came to an intersection, a semi pulling a flatbed loaded with tanks of farm spray passed me and right behind the big truck was a pickup with a kid who looked to be about thirteen in the saddle. I couldn't help but smile when I saw him.

Since I'm not in the farm game, I forgot how much farm kids are involved in the business at an early age. My brothers and I were all driving something around as soon as we were able to reach the pedals. Hell, we were sitting on the old man's lap and steering the old pickup when we were only five or six. No seat belts, no air bags, no collapsible steering columns, nothing. Simpler times, that's for sure. There are still lots of risks on the farm and way too many young kids are injured every year but I still remember all the fun we had as kids growing up in the country.

When I got home, Mr. and Mrs. Farmer were tag teaming my property, her chisel plowing and him planting twelve rows at a time. They got it finished last evening and it's raining this morning. It was nice heading down the lane and seeing the freshly tilled black dirt and the big John Deere sitting next to the barn. Things have really changed over the last 40 or 50 years, but the thirteen year old kid helping with the planting is still the same.

Monday, May 11, 2009


I taught a construction class a few years back and had the boys construct this outhouse for the wife. It's actually a potting shed for all of her gardening tools. Before we moved in there was a trailer parked out back for the mother in law or some such thing. There was even a sidewalk going to the spot. Since it looked kind of funny to have a sidewalk just stop dead in the yard, I figured it would be a great place to park a little shed. Also, it's probably in about the same spot the real outhouse was years back so it looks right at home.

One of the real perks of being a shop teacher is having a big, warm place to work and a crew to help with the building. Of course if you don't like the outcome, you really can't blame anyone but yourself. The students always like building these kind of projects, however. It's fun work and I usually try to throw in some little custom touches to spiff things up a little, like the carpenter gothic barge boards on the outhouse. Making cool stuff while you're on the clock, is hard to beat. Especially when you don't even have to try and hide it. Some days I almost feel guilty when I go home.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Trailers For Sale Or Rent

Roger Miller, I'm not. King of the Road, I'm not. But a Big Time Fabricator or BTF, I am. Because of this, it's trailer time once again. The red trailer is a dump trailer I made a couple of years ago from plans from Northern Tool and Equipment. It's a 5x10 and I'm real happy with how it came out. The only thing is, I didn't have the hydraulics when I was putting the finishing touches on it. I bought the cylinder and pump right after taking it home but never got around to finishing it up. Sounds like familiar refrain, doesn't it? Anyway, I picked up the control valve and some fittings the other day, took it to school and got the cylinder mounted up and then pulled it back home because I've got another trailer for the boys to work on. This one appears to have started life as some type of camper but is really rough. The boys were already working on it before I remembered to get a picture of it. It will be a challenge to make something out of it at all, but especially to get it done before school's out. In the meantime, I'll try to get the pump and valve for mine bolted up at home and then pull it back in to school to get the hoses on after the other one goes out the door. I'm looking for the old trailer twofer. Then it's back to work on completing the midget and the motorcycle.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Blossom Dearie

Not the recently departed jazz singer Blossom Dearie, but the apple trees that are blossoming now. It was an absolutely wonderful weekend here and of course I managed to screw up my back about a week ago, which didn't sit well with me. Or stand well. Or bend over well. But things are finally blooming and even cutting the grass is a pleasure, other than the stabbing pains in the lower back when I hit a bump, that is.

The photo on the top is a Haralson apple and the photo on the bottom is a crabapple. I need to figure out what to do with all the little crabapples that make a mess in the fall but the spring blossoms sure are pretty. The peach trees are just starting to blossom while the redbuds and the lilacs are in full bloom. My magnolias are done already but were lovely while they lasted. So now that spring is in air a man's thoughts turn to, you guessed it, making things.

I'm trying to put the finishing touches on about a half dozen of the projects I've started. I've got to be one of the greatest starters of all time. If only I was even a mediocre finisher. I know my wife would certainly like that. But progress is being made and as soon as I get off of injured reserve, the show will go on.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

IMSTEA Super Mileage Challenge

Even though we crashed our high mileage car in practice, the team went to Indy on Monday, just the same. Other than the wind, it was a perfect day to be at the racetrack. For some of the students it was the their first chance to see a high mileage car in action. There were roughly forty schools represented with mileage numbers for those who made the three required runs, between 1293 miles per gallon and 101 mpg. Besides the wide range of mileage numbers, the range of solutions presented was just about as wide. Some of the cars were very well thought out and others looked like they were thrown together with whatever they had laying around. In addition to the cars powered by the 3-1/2 horse Briggs and Stratten engines, this year they had a few entries in the new experimental class. These included a couple of electric powered cars as well as diesel and hydrogen fueled cars. So there was a lot for my students to see and take in and we grilled some hamburgers, which is always a good thing. Plus, a day at the racetrack always trumps a day at school.

The next step is to decide what I'm going to do with this deal. I was planning on turning the project over to someone else but I'm not sure I can find someone else willing to do all that is required. I'm not real happy about bailing out on the team but if you've been reading this blog for any length of time, you know I'm spread pretty thin. I would like to see the kind of mileage we could get if we actually took a more serious approach. The rules require you to build a new car or make significant changes every two years. We usually start from scratch every two years, so we're always starting over. This gives the students who are involved lots of good experience but doesn't improve the mileage like it should. If you get a good baseline car built and continually make the detail improvements, you should be able to keep your mileage numbers creeping upward. This seems to be the approach of all the teams with high mileage numbers.

We've got a month of school left and a couple of guys want to work on the car, so I think we'll go that route. We'll try to get as much done as possible and then put the finishing touches on it as soon as school starts next year. It should be a lot easier to find someone else to take over the show if they have a finished car for their first year as faculty advisor.