Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Big Easy

Canal Street Trolley

Me when I retire

Robert E Lee

Cuzzin Ricky and I did a quick spin to the city of New Orleans on the train of the same name. We left Wednesday & got home about three this afternoon. I did the unpacking and catching up thing and then took a much needed nap. I'll post more details soon.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Photography for Dummies

Or rather, photography with a dummy.

I tried out some different lighting arrangements the other day. I shot some black and white film at the same time so I can compare the results after developing the film. The dummy's face is shiny so that creates a glare that I think will be more of an issue with the digital than with the film. I didn't try to correct the color balance with the digital but will probably shoot another series later on and try to do so. The new camera has a lot of features and I want to be familiar enough with them that I can call them up on demand when the situation calls for one of them. I'm so used to having a minimalist approach to photography, this is all something quite foreign.

When I was at Starved Rock the other day, I was thinking I could get some really nice black and white shots on a sunny day before everything leafs out this spring or right after a new snowfall. Traipsing around for a few hours with my 4x5 or twin lens would be a nice way to spend a morning outside. It's amazing the things you can see to photograph just walking in the woods and if you work with a larger format, it forces you to slow down, which in turn lends itself to better photographs, at least technically.

I'm going to try and get a few really good photographs this year. I want to use the 4x5 a little more and I want to try some black and white street photography. These are kind of at the opposite ends of the photo spectrum but I would like to be able to take good photos that only a view camera is capable of and I'd like to be able to just shoot from the hip and have decent results as well. I like the darkroom work but if I'm going to spend all of that time printing I really need some better negatives to work from.

I also added a link for the boxing gym. I don't foresee a lot of activity there but at least once every couple of weeks. We've got an in-house show coming up in February and we're starting to pick up the pace for the Golden Gloves, which starts the middle of March.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Starved Rock

I tagged along on a field trip yesterday with the school's Environmental Club to Starved Rock State Park in Illinois. I put in a ten hour day - five of which were spent riding in a school bus - helping to chaperon a baker's dozen high schoolers. The park itself is a rugged sort of place located along the Illinois River just south of Utica. The park was hosting their bald eagle weekend and I was surprised at the number of people who came out for the event. I was even more surprised to run into someone I knew from the boxing club. He and his family were stopping at the park and then heading west to Iowa to see more eagles. I never really thought about bald eagles as a tourism industry or as having "groupies". I did manage to see a couple of eagles. One was perched in a tree on Plum Island located in the middle of the river. If you look closely in the bottom photo you can see the white of his head. I'm afraid the new digital camera's not the thing for long range photography on misty days. It looks like one of those UFO photos. Fortunately, an eagle groupie had a spotting scope set up and was kind enough to let people look through it. They truly are majestic birds. I saw one flying while standing outback one fall afternoon a couple of years ago. I was shocked, first of all to see it, and secondly, how big and graceful it was.

The park has some nice hiking trails that go up and down through some pretty rough terrain. The steepest spots have stairs but you need to be in pretty good shape for a day of hiking at Starved Rock. There were quite a few old guys out yesterday. Obviously they were regulars because they had ice cleats on their boots and walking sticks. The trails weren't real busy compared to the crowd inside but it was really slick with ice in a lot of places and pretty sloppy in others. As the day wore on and the temperature climbed, the trails became a little easier to walk as the ice turned to slush. I hiked around for about two hours and had a gay old time, as they used to say.

The I & M Canal is real close to the park. I'm thinking a guy who likes camping and cycling could have a nice long weekend over that way. Camp at the park and then hop on the Canal trail and put in some miles. You can go pretty much all the way into Chicago on the trail if you were so inclined. It would be a nice way to get in shape for my bike trip I'm planning this summer.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Amphibious Sidecar

Maybe I should add one of these to the Rickati or the 900 project. I want a sidecar and I want a boat. Who says you can't have both?

From via Ride the Machine (formerly the New Cafe (Racer) Society).

The amphibious vehicles site also has an amphibious Corvair pick up truck. "Now there's something you don't see everyday, Chauncy."

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Busy Night

I had a pretty good crowd at open shop the other night. I got the other stud out of the Buell cylinder head. There wasn't much to weld to and anything I could get to stick hit the edge of the hole when I tried to back the stud out. I finally got a couple of threads sticking out so I could weld a nut on it. Came right out then. I also welded up an aluminum tee out of thin wall tubing for a kid working on an RC car. Don't even know what he was making but I got my part done. i was able to tack the battery box and the coil mount on the Rickati. Next step is to decide what's going on with the back wheel and swingarm. If I use the Rickman wheel, I need to get some new bearings ordered in. The steel rim has a flat spot on it and a little surface rust. I might just see if I can find a rear wheel off another dirt bike - something that has an aluminum rim and would be easier to find sprockets for. I can get the seat and fender figured out if I decide to shop around for a different wheel. I just don't want to lose my momentum on this project.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Fool's Paradise

I picked up a book at the library's used book sale the other night by John Gierach titled Fool's Paradise. I'd never heard of John Gierach before but I guess he's an accomplished outdoor writer with about fifteen other books to his credit. From the titles, they all seem to be mainly concerned with the subject of fly fishing.

I have a fly rod myself that I received from my brother one year for Christmas. We don't normally exchange big Christmas gifts, so this was really something special on his part. I was really looking forward to trying it out the following Spring but being the fearless dumbass I'm more than capable of being, I took a header out of the top of my garage and broke my arm as well as other things. As soon as I was up and around, however, I was trying to cast the thing in the side yard with a plaster cast that ran from my finger tips to my shoulder on my left arm. Not really the best way to start an operation that requires some dexterity and cooperation between the left and right hands.

I have since learned to do a little better and I only screw up about one in six casts as opposed to about six to one in the other direction when I first started. Of course this is only for casting where there is nothing behind me on the back cast and I'll never be able to do some of the fancy roll casts and other techniques that I've read about. I have caught a few bluegills and a bass or two and it makes a really good cane pole - a type of fishing usually associated with kids but is seriously underrated. Mine's a heavy bass type rod so you can use it like a flippin' rig, fish with a bobber or toss it out like it was intended to fish top water. Even though I rarely have time to fish, I still love to read good fishing stories in general and flyfishing out West stories in particular. Which brings me back to the book.

The author and I are about the same age and therefore share the common ground of growing up in the fifties and sixties and watching the world go to hell in a handbasket ever since. When young, I dreamed about living the life of hunting and fishing but didn't have the courage to break the bonds of my Midwestern upbringing and so I went to work. Kind of a damn shame, that. But the author and I are certainly kindred spirits on a couple of subjects, such as cell phones and reading.

I'm still waiting for Americans to realize that being in constant communication is not an advantage, but a short leash. Cell phones have changed us from a nation of self-reliant pioneer types into a bunch of men standing alone in the supermarkets saying "Okay, I'm in the tampon aisle, but I don't see it."

Those early books made me a lifelong reader, but they also set me up for being a mediocre student because what I came to think of as real books were so much more fun than the dull tomes we were force-fed by the teachers. I don't know about now, but back then public education seemed designed to make children hate books as things that led through hours of drudgery to mind-numbing tests followed by lectures about failure. As punishment, a teacher might require extra reading. What kind of message was that supposed to send?
And of course, if you've spent any time at all around children or young adults you'll be familiar with the "I'm bored" when there's a thirty second lull in the activity or they aren't the center of attention. A good fisherman knows there are certainly going to be lulls, many of them long. "As for those dead afternoons, I've come to think that getting bored only means you've failed to master the fine art of doing nothing when there's nothing to be done: a skill you can learn from any house cat."

Fool's Paradise is about flyfishing and one man's take on where it fits into the big scheme of things. Nothing profound here, but good reading from a man who has found his place and understands how the world operates. For a fifty cent investment, it was money well spent and a great way to spend a cold foggy Sunday morning.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Log Splitter, Cylinder Head & Rickati

One of the tech teachers I work with is building a log splitter that goes on the front of his Bobcat. He put one together but the thing didn't stay together for very long. The hydraulics on the Bobcat were more than what he designed the splitter to hold. These things happen. In fact, that's why they have engineers and all that kind of stuff. Anyway, I'm helping him put this thing back together with a little more beef. He's using scrap material that he's collected, so that limits some of the options, but as Uncle Pete used to say: "It ain't much to look at but it's hell for strong". I spent a few hours on the welding and I set a couple of the boys up learning to run the track torch. It was nice being able to fab some parts and do some serious stick welding for a change. I worked up a little sweat and got my face dirty - just enough to enjoy it and remember why I didn't make a career of it.

The cylinder head is from a Buell that belongs to one of my students. The studs holding the exhaust pipe broke off and he gave it to some hamfisted chucklehead who attempted to drill the one out by strategically drilling the hole 1/4" off center. Not even close. And not a little hole, either. Makes you wonder what the hell he was thinking. You can see he drilled a small pilot hole first and then opened it up. If he would have quit with the pilot hole, he could have saved every one involved a lot of grief.

If you look close you can see the other stud. It was broken as well but had about 5/8"of thread sticking out. I had the kid weld a nut on the thing and then with a little penetrating oil and heat, I backed it right out. It's going to be a little tricky with the other one but just like the Mounties, I always get my man.

The other photos show the battery box and the coil mount for the Rickati. I'm planning on holding the battery in with a couple of rubber "O" rings so I need to weld some clips on the box yet. When I get that done, I'll tack it in place on the bike. Not much progress on the bike the last few days, what with working on everyone else's projects, but it's still going forward. The photos were taken using the food setting on the new camera. Obviously there is wide range of color choice if you compare the three photos. The bottom photo is the midrange or neutral color and the other two are the extremes. The shadow in the corner of the box was actually left there on purpose. The lighting was identical for all three shots and it's interesting that with the yellow tint there is almost a glare coming off from the more brightly lit area. Shadow detail is good, like what you might want for some portrait work. A little shadow is necessary to give depth but a lot can make the wrinkle lines look really pronounced. Still lots to learn with the new camera.

After working on the Motobi, I'm thinking maybe bright red for the Rickati frame. A little premature for paint selection maybe, but I'm starting to see the finished project in the mind's eye and I'm liking what I see.

Friday, January 15, 2010


I did a little welding on the tool box of a Motobi the other night - first one of those I've ever worked on. My buddy Bob is the local Italian lightweight motorcycle guru and he's checking this thing over for a guy who's going to Italy for some type of race and found where the corner of the mounting tab had broken off. The fix was easy enough and Bob sent me the pictures of the bike. It's a pretty little thing, don't you think?

The link has a nice history of the marque if you're interested in Italian motorcycles. And if you're not, shame on you.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Summer Plans

It looks like it's another bike trip this summer. The C&O Canal Bicycle Trail and the Great Allegheny Passage for a total of about 350 miles - Pittsburgh, Pa to Washington DC. This will be my fifth bike tour with my bicycling associate, Kevin. He became my associate after talking to a couple of people on a previous ride. After I referred to him as my partner, I realized from the looks on their faces, that partner has taken on a different meaning than what I was used to. Our previous trips took us across Missouri on the Katy Trail, Nebraska on the BRAN Ride, The Natchez Trace, and a trip from Portland, Oregon to Missoula, Montana following the Lewis and Clark Trail.

I've posted a picture of my bike and trailer combo before and I'll be using the same rig this year. I'll probably invest in a new back wheel, however. I spun the freewheel off the threads while doing the Natchez Trace and fortunately was befriended by a fellow cyclist in Mississippi who fixed me up. He gave up part of his Father's Day by taking a wheel off of one of his old bikes and swapping it out with me while his wife gave Kevin and I lemonade and cookies. That's Southern hospitality for you. It went bad while we were touring the battlefield in Vicksburg up and down some hills. I could still ride but I had only one gear that I could use without it throwing the chain. I made it home with the "new wheel"OK and it's still working but I'm thinking the old bike could use a real new wheel. The only problem with that is that most of the new bikes use cassettes rather than freewheels and the gearing on the bike now is perfect. I don't know if I can find a similar gear cluster for a cassette. Additionally, most of the new wheels are 700s rather than the 27 inch I have on the bike now. 27" tires are still available but the choices are limited especially when out on the road. So that means if I change the rear wheel I should probably change to a newer cassette style rear wheel and a new front wheel as well. That also means I might have to get longer reach brakes and spread the rear apart for the wider width required for a cassette hub. The freewheel hubs are notorious for bending the little 8mm axles, though. I'll definitely have to look into that before the trip. It seems that it's never simple but a couple of hundred bucks invested in a new wheel set would set me up with a touring rig that will last me for the rest of my days.

Since the weather and the roads have been so bad, I haven't been riding but I aired up the tire on the trainer the other day so I can start getting back into cycling shape. It doesn't take many long, cold winter nights before I start thinking Spring and getting back out on the road.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Snow Day

As predicted, I once again have the day off due to inclement weather. After shoveling and plowing yesterday, I went down the basement and finished the miniature photo studio. I put a couple of braces under the old piece of paneling I'm using for a tabletop and fastened the backdrop to that. I then put a coat of paint on the whole works.

My first photo with the new set-up is the humping bears. The lighting was with a couple of small halogen bulbs mounted in aluminum reflectors. They give off a very warm light it appears. The backdrop is painted a medium blue with less than complete coverage of the wood paneling underneath so you get a little bit of the brown coming through. The yellow of the lights combined with the blue of the backdrop turned everything brown with a touch of purple, maybe. Since I'm partially colorblind, things look a little different to me than you, perhaps. The bears themselves are not that golden. They have a pretty good patina on them but once again the warm temperature of the lights brings out the gold color of the bronze. (If you click on the picture, it gets bigger. I handheld the camera but it's still pretty sharp.)

The photo was taken using the macro setting on the new camera. I tried out the food setting as well. It changes the color balance of the photo, so the bears could be more red or blue, if that's what you want. I have regular photoflood lamps that give a different color balance. I'm going to take a couple of more shots with the digital and take identical shots with black & white film and then compare them. Try a couple of different light sources as well as different backgrounds. Should be a good way to spend a couple of cold, snowy winter nights.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Go Ask Allis

We had a snow day today. So far about six inches has fallen. Nice civilized snowfall, I might add. Light and fluffy, easy to shovel and, unfortunately, sure to cause drifting when the wind picks up. I'm thinking I'll probably have tomorrow off as well.

If you look at the photo taken from the saddle of the tractor, that's what my lane looks like. It's about a quarter of a mile exactly from where the photo was shot to the back of the barn that you can see slightly left of center in the photo. When I first moved in here, my snow removal equipment consisted of a shovel. The first big snow, I spent the whole day shoveling. I got a snowblower after that. It's a fairly good sized thing with several gears forward and a reverse. It's got an electric starter that you plug into house current - no battery required. It works well for what it is and I still use it to cut paths out to the barn and the chicken house but it's not the thing for a driveway that's 1/4 mile long.

The tractor is a 1952 Allis Chalmers WD. When I bought it, someone had converted it to 12 volts, and it had new rear tires. The wiring had some issues - still does but to a lesser extent - but I got it outfitted with some new lights. The students and I made a three point hitch adapter and a scraper blade for the back. The blade swivels and locks in a half dozen positions, including turning all the way around so I can push with it. It works really well for clearing the snow and leveling the holes that manage to form every spring.

If I have the day off tomorrow, I'm going to try and get a little work done in the shop. If I get out there and turn the heat on before the inevitable shoveling and plowing, it shouldn't be too bad. It's supposed to get up to around 20 degrees. Not toasty but if the shop's 40 I can live with that. I need to spend some time cleaning as well as machining some things. I like the days off but I hate having to make them up. Maybe I'll get lucky and have a two hour delay.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Lookin' Like A Sickle

The Rickati is progressing right smartly. I got the shock mounts and gussets tacked on today. Pulled the frame off the jig and bolted the front end on so I good figure out what I need for the steering stop and put the motor in. That didn't go quite as smoothly as I hoped. I had to cut a little off the side plates to clear the side covers but nothing an oxy-acetylene torch and a grinder couldn't fix. I need to dig through my boxes of parts and see what I've got for handle bars and levers. I'm going to have to get some shocks for sure. I need to order in a "U" bend of tubing so I can make an exhaust pipe. J. C. Whitney sells exhaust tubing that has a 180 degree bend and 36" straight sections. One piece like that is enough to make a nice high pipe. I have an exhaust nut I made a few years back already. I'll make a small muffler for the end of it out of aluminum. I've made quite a few pipes for these little things over the years. Paint the pipe black and it looks real nice with the aluminum muffler. Maybe a stainless heat shield by where my leg will go. The main thing now is to keep pushing forward.

The other photo is the cart the boys made for the new plasma cutter. It's a little rough but it was their first attempt at fabricating anything. It works like it was designed to though and the new plasma is a dandy. You just can't beat a plasma cutter for that 1/8" and 3/16" sheet.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Rickati Update

I started the new year off on the right foot by going over to school and tacking the side plates for the swingarm on to the Rickati frame. I milled a couple of slots in them 1/8" deep to both lighten them and to make them look a little cooler. I was hoping to get the tubing that connects the plates to the seat rail fabbed and tacked on as well but I got a late start and I didn't want to miss the Winter Classic. It was a good hockey game and Boston came through for the win in overtime. The next step will be the tubing and then I need to make a battery box, coil mount, steering stop, and figure out how to hook up the rear brake. As always, plenty to do but it's a good start to the new year.