Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Brother Johnny

A personal indulgence:

I've got three brothers. They're kind of scattered about the country so I don't see any of them too often. Even though that's the case, I think about them. Often. We were very fortunate growing up. Traditional family - Mom stayed home and kept us pretty much on the straight and narrow. Pop went to work every day, at least until he got pissed off and drug up, then had to find a new job. We all made it out of the 60's and 70's in spite of the times, riding motorcycles and engaging in a little hooliganism. We all made something out of ourselves. We've got craftsmen and educators in the group. Myself, I'd say I fall into both camps. We range in age from 49 to 63 and we've all been suffering the usual aches and pains of growing old but still plugging along pretty well, until now.

Two weeks ago my brother, who is a couple of years younger than I, was diagnosed with cancer. He's a nurse now but was a carpenter before that. Obviously if you're involved in the medical field you know a little something about cancer and his is pretty serious. He underwent surgery Monday and they took a chunk of his colon out. I burned a sick day to see him before he was operated on and he was taking it all in stride like it was no big deal. Surgery went well and I scooted on home after getting the surgeon's report. He starts chemo in a couple of weeks.

I'm posting this not to look for sympathy. I'm posting this first of all, because I greatly admire and respect his attitude and strength with how he's dealing with this. He blogs on a regular basis and he started another one to deal with the medical journey he's now on. Secondly, maybe some cyberspace mojo sent his way will somehow help, and for me, writing about it is somehow therapeutic.

Spring is just around the corner. Heed the siren call of your garden and grow strong as do your plantings, Johnny. Take the BigBluePlasticMotorcycle and ride the roads both familiar and new.  They'll be some bad days ahead but you will prevail. Get well my brother. We're all pulling for you.

Sunday, February 26, 2012


Kenny Roberts at Daytona

I got a chance to see Roberts at Daytona quite a few years ago. The Missus and I celebrated our 10th anniversary by going to Florida and watching the races - quite the romantic, aren't I? On Saturday, the day before the 200, Roberts came out in the last practice session and I got a chance to see him come out of one corner and stand the bike up, shift a couple of times, set it back down just in time for the horseshoe, round the corner and then while still at about a 45 degree angle, stand it up again and ride off back to the garage. Pretty impressive. The bikes that race at the 200 have gone through some changes over the years. No more two-stroke TZ's. The focus shifted from pure racing machines to stock based bikes. Understandable, but not that much different than the bikes that were racing in the Superbike class. 

Most of the fiddling by sanctioning bodies seems to produce identical machines in order to control costs or speeds and to keep one marque from dominating the racing. Occasionally it borders on just plain silliness. Today is the 500 at Daytona, NASCAR's big day. They've been tinkering with things for the last fifteen years or so to the point I no longer watch them race. The last time I was going to watch a race was about ten years ago. I sat down to watch the 500 and after about 45 minutes of BS, which included a Bon Jovi song and the people in the audience participating in a commercial for a razor, I decided the racing had become secondary to the marketing and took the Missus to see the World's Fastest Indian at the cinema. Haven't seen them turn a wheel since. I did read in the paper the other day that next year the cars will once again be identifiable by brand. The Ford's will look like a Ford and the Chevy's will look like a Chevy instead of identical looking jelly beans covered with stickers. 

I understand trying to grow your brand but you should never forget where you came from. The good old boys from down south might not have been politically correct but they produced some great racing. According to Wikipedia, the Daytona 500 was carried live for the first time in 1979. That was the year Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison got together on the last lap with the resulting fight in the pits later. While I'm not advocating fist fighting among the drivers, swapping paint and close racing is what a race fan comes looking for, not pomp and circumstance. I remember watching that race and I watched just about every 500 after that until my boycott started. Maybe I'll give it another try next year when they have cars that look like what you and I drive. It is after all stock car racing. 

Friday, February 24, 2012

Tech Shop

I ran across the Tech Shop, actually I think there are four of them, while looking for some info on metal spinning. Looks like the kind of place I should be employed. Big building loaded with tools and equipment that members have access to. You pay a monthly fee and then get to use the facility and get training as necessary. My kind of gig. Three of them in California and one in Motor City. Looks like they do some cool stuff.

I didn't get a whole lot done at school this week, mostly because I wasn't there. Not a bad thing, really. Got a lot done around the shack, plus I got a few rolls of film developed that I took last September at the Bare Knuckle Boxing Hall of Fame. I took a couple of nighttime shots of the barn and a couple of other places around town and the negatives look pretty good. I'm hoping to get a few prints made this weekend as long as I've got the fixin's for some fresh chemistry. I really like doing the nightime shots. It's a challenge to get the exposure right and the negatives are sometimes a little tough to print but if it works, they look great.
Bracket for CNC controller and headlight ring
Assembled and waiting for new computer
Even though it was a short week, I got the new CNC assembled. There's a water table for it to sit on coming soon but while I'm waiting on that I can get it together and start learning how to program it. I made a little bracket to hang the controller on the wall and we're working on a stand for the plasma power source to get it up off the floor when using it. 

I spot welded the little tabs back on the headlight ring in the photo. It's for a Mustang II - not one of Ford's better ideas. Trading on the success of the real Mustang with a little compact car and then wonder why nobody bought them. One of the teachers here has a Mustang that's a couple of years old. Not only does it look good, it sounds great. It's got some different pipes on it and you can always tell when he pulls into the lot. Real Mustang.

Short week but a busy one. Have a good weekend.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Torchmate is Here!

New Lincoln Tomahawk plasma cutter with machine torch

Just like it says on the crate
I had the day off yesterday and was just getting ready to run up town to the hardware store when the phone rang. It was the salesman delivering the new plasma cutter. He didn't realize we had the day off but I was more than happy to run over there and get the new machine I've been waiting for ever since I started working here close to twenty years. I've got to fax in some paper work and then the new water table will be coming as well.

A former student showed up about the time the salesman was leaving with a little job he wanted to weld so I figured I'd prime the trolley beam as long as I was there. That is until I couldn't find the regulator. I have one I just plug in for painting that I keep in a filing cabinet in the back room. Looks like maybe someone took off with it. They got away with a 1/2" drill motor sometime this year as well. I keep the cabinet locked since I found the drill motor gone but I didn't realize anything else was missing. Not sure how it came up missing but since I'm in the Woodshop last hour of the day and I've come back into the Weld Shoppe several times and the outside door has been standing wide open, it wouldn't be too tough to make off with something. Both the drill and the regulator were items I brought with me from the other school (non-inventory items, not stolen, I should add), so I've had them a long time. I've already gotten a new drill but it's not a big HD one like I had. So I went from being elated to pissed in just a matter of a couple of seconds. In all my years of teaching I've only had a couple of things come up missing, partly through diligence, and partly through the students realizing that if they steal things the shop will be without and then Shop Teacher Bob will not only be angry but they won't be able to bring their stuff in.

It's always something.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Busy, Busy, Busy

We made a lid for a kid's speaker box in the Woodshop on Friday. He brought in the plastic top and the particle board and we cut the middle out and inlet the plastic for him. We had made up a gizmo to fit the bottom of the router for a previous job so it wasn't too difficult.
I made up this shadow box for a few knucklebuster wrenches I picked up at a sale a few years back. The purpose was twofold. One, I wanted to make a frame to see how that was going to go for the boys next job and, two, I wanted to do something with the wrenches. Nothing fancy but it'll look good hanging in the new barn.
I cleaned up and painted the trolley for the beam. It's been sitting around for awhile and was looking a little shabby. Looks pretty good now with a fresh coat of Dollar Store paint.

The boys got most of the miter saw stand/table finished up last Friday so I finished it up and installed it yesterday. I still need a couple of legs on the front for some additional support but no biggy there, just cut a couple of 2x4s and screw them on. I got some more work on the garage door opener done as well. I need to add some bracing to the top of the door according to the door instructions, so I got those made up for both doors. I need to get some hardware and then I can hang the opener. I'll finish up every thing else so it'll be ready to go as soon as I get some power out there. Still need to run some conduit so I can plug it in and a little more for some lights over the saw but the electric is getting close.

I'm off again today, so I'll keep plugging away at things and try to get a some more progress made. Can't beat a four day weekend for getting the projects knocked out.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

'67 Sprint

Photo From Here
Saw this cool Guzzi single at Rocket Garage - just gotta love it. However,

if you hit the Ebay link, it'll take you to a like new 1967 Harley Sprint like I used to own (before some SOB stole it - not like I'm bitter or anything. I should be over it in another twenty or thirty years). The thing looks just about perfect. The muffler has been changed and there's an inline fuel filter I can see but other than that it's like new. A little bit of work and you could be the proud owner of a really nice little Harley.
                                                                        This is the one.

Asking price is $4850.00 - more than I want to pay, plus when I called the Missus in to take a look at it (I had it when we started dating)  she gave me the you can't turn back the clock speech. But if any of you ever run across one of these with the serial number 67H-17889, let me know. I might just buy that one.

I hadn't really planned on heading down memory lane again but the Sprint came up while I was doing a little research on Ebay. I got a little book quite a few years back on the Sprints from a buddy of mine. I believe it was written by Syd Lawton, who was a U.K. importer and tuner of the Aermacchis. I retyped the thing and added a few more pages gleaned from the stuff I came across when building my race bike. I had a bunch of them printed up and sold a few but I've still got a bunch left so was thinking of putting them on Ebay and seeing what happened. I've got several other reprints from magazine articles I could throw in with the book as well. I might end up being Shop Teacher Bob, bookseller.

Enough of life in '67. I need to get busy. I'm installing the garage door openers in the barn and we've got company coming.


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Memory Lane

Photo From Here
Saw this Corvair photo whilst wasting time on the computer. This one is a cool custom bodied thing from Italy as opposed to the Plain Jane version from the U.S. We went through at least three of these things in our family. My older brother had one that I managed to dent up during a little off road excursion when the back end unloaded on me. The engine in the rear thing just didn't react quite like I expected it to when I came zipping around the corner. Like a pogo stick, actually. Professional auto writer Tom McCahill had the same thing happen to him during a road test of a Corvair. Apparently, it can happen to the best of them, as well as some doofus kid taking his younger brother to guitar lessons. Maybe Ralph Nader was right.

One of the Corvairs we ended up with had belonged to my aunt. She drove it back and forth to work a short distance every day and the thing never warmed up enough to fully lubricate the rockers for the valve train. It quit on her and even though he didn't know what was wrong with it, Dad figured I could fix it, so he bought it from her. A buddy of mine and I retrieved it by dragging it home some twenty miles on the end of a chain, including about fifteen of them on US 41. You could never get away with that today. We were actually pretty good at towing things. We had a set of hand signals worked out so the slack rarely came out of the chain. The driver of the lead car would hold up a clenched fist before hitting his brakes so the guy in the dead vehicle would apply his brakes first and do most of the stopping. Likewise, prior to shifting into second or third, the lead man would throw either two or three fingers into the air and the guy on the end of the chain would tap the brakes a little to keep things tightened up while the shift was made. As much crap as we towed around, we should have just invested in a tow truck.
Photo From Here
I saw this the other day and it reminded me of my old Chevy. The photo below is a '62 Chevy Impala Super Sport. Mine was a little darker red but that's the car. It had a 327 and a 4 speed with the white ball knob on the shifter when I bought it. The shifter and knob was a common part with the Corvair, I think. When going through the gears it was like stirring soup. A Hurst shifter and tee handle replaced the stocker and then things were right with the world.

I probably spent as much time under the thing as I did in the saddle. I changed motors, the clutch and rear-end a couple of times, rebuilt the tranny, and of course just generally tinkered with the thing all the time. I had a big 11" clutch in the thing and the bellcrank broke one night on the way home from work/school, can't remember anymore. I borrowed a vehicle from the parents and went out. When I came home I had just hit the sack when I heard a noise out front. Someone had broken into it and probably would have taken it if the clutch pedal was working. That would have made the second time it was stolen. Probably the same guys who stole my little Sprint. It's good to have nice neighbors. I shoulda' kept this one. It would be worth a few bucks now. Plus a lot of good memories with this baby.

As long as I'm making the trip down memory lane, might as well go the whole enchilada and go with the first car I ever owned:
1948 Chevy Fleetmaster. Mine didn't look as good as the one in the photo but it was the only car I've ever gotten up on two wheels. Not quite like the Joie Chitwood Thrill Show but I used to run her in deep in a ninety degree corner by where I lived and I could get a little chirp off the back tire when she came back down. When I got the car the motor was junk, so I swapped in a 1953 235 CID, replacing the original 216. The car had a vacuum assist shifter, which when new was designed to suck the tranny into to gear when up shifting. Theoretically, little effort was required to change gears but the reality was that if it was cold outside you better have it in the gear you were planning on using next time you drove the car because the condensation in the vacuum can would freeze it up solid and you couldn't shift the damn thing at all until it warmed up. The car had knee action shocks instead of "airplane" shocks, as they were called back then. J.C. Whitney/Warshawsky had kits to fix both the shocks and the shifter but I never got around to fixing either of them. 

The car did have a couple of cool features. It had a heater motor under the front set that would blow heat into the back. That was pretty nice. It also had a post in the middle of the back bumper that was spring loaded so you could push the car without damaging anything. The timing mark was a little steel ball pressed into the flywheel. Since the distributor was on the side of the block it made timing the thing pretty easy. It also had torque tube drive. The drive shaft and U-joints were enclosed inside a big tube that ran from the tranny to the differential. You never had to worry about greasing the U-joints because they ran in an oil bath. It ran 16" tires on 6 lug wheels, if I remember correctly. It was a little narrow to put six people in it but you could wear a fedora without worrying about it getting crushed with all the headroom it had.

By the way, Joie Chitwood held the record for driving on two wheels. Over five miles! I saw the Thrill Show at the county fair when I was a kid. Thought it was the coolest thing ever. Saw Frank Sinatra Jr. there as well - preferred Joie Chitwood by a yard.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Valentines Day

Last year at this time I was getting ready to head to Italy. This year I'll just throw a photo of my favorite Italian up here.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Stool Samples

I graded the foot stools yesterday. I ended up with one real nice one and the remainder somewhere between OK and ass. Not all of the students made the stools, which in retrospect was probably a good thing. More trees would have given their lives in vain. One of the classes was substantially better than the other. It's always amazed me how a class can take on a personality. Sometimes that's real good, sometimes not. One of the guys told me his wasn't too bad for the first time he ever made anything. While that wasn't exactly true, it does say something about how they spend their free time. 

The project did accomplish my goals, however. Having never taught woodshop before, I didn't know what to expect from them. I thought the stools would be a fairly simple project for them but I underestimated their abilities and their enthusiasm. Several of them just didn't care about making them, a couple guys worked on other things because they were intimidated by the blueprint. That was fine by me, we're always working on a variety of projects and people are always coming in looking to get something done. It's good to have a couple of guys who can take those projects as they arrive. 

The stools offered the students the opportunity to use just about all the tools in the shop. They used the planer, jointer, table saw, miter saw, router, scroll saw, biscuit cutter, and drill press - plus they had to glue, clamp, and screw the things together. The project had the potential to turn out pretty nice. If I had one all put together before they started, that might have helped. I think several of the guys wish they would have put more effort into the project. They realized, also, it could have been pretty nice. All in all, a good learning experience for both them and me.

I'm going to get them started on lathe turning pretty soon. There's only four lathes in the shop, so I'll have to work out some type of schedule that can keep everyone busy and doesn't require too much supervision when I'm helping the guys on the lathe.

Not sure what I'm going to do this weekend. Looks like it's going to be a little more like winter again. I need to get busy on the boat again and I need to get the trolley beam and column painted. I could use about a four to six hour stint at the school without any students around to get those and other things taken care of. I think I'll just wait and see how the weather plays out and then see where I go from there. 

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Lathe Tools

I spent some time after school Tuesday night and a couple of prep hours sharpening up the tools for the wood lathes. I've been waiting until I got my new grinding set-up. I ordered a new grinder back in August and was back ordered. First it was September, then October, until they finally said that it was a no-go in January. The one I finally ended up with is a 8" Chinese thing that really looks cheap but it worked long enough to sharpen all the tools. The real secret to success, however, is the OneWay grinding jig and the Vari-Grind attachment. I used this set-up when I took the spindle turning class last summer. I made a little angle gauge from a piece of scrap aluminum so I could set all the angles correctly, roughed the tools in on the big grinder in the Weld Shop, sharpened them all, then shined them up with a Scotch Brite pad and buffed the gouges to remove the wire edge from the grinder, and finally, put a light coating of oil on them. Time consuming, but they look much nicer now and they're real sharp. So now that I've gotten over my fear of letting the boys run the other power tools, I'm going to have to introduce them to the wood lathe.

It looks like I might have a chance to finally get the CNC plasma cutting outfit I've been hoping to get for the last 18 years. I talked to the welding supply salesman yesterday and he's putting a quote together for me. Torchmate makes a little 2x2 machine that would be perfect for the school. The boys would get a chance to run a CNC machine, make some really cool stuff and, if all goes well, I can get a laptop computer with the deal. That would mean I would have a  computer that actually works on a regular basis. I got a couple of DVD's from Lincoln Electric at the meeting on Monday, sat down to check them out during lunch on Tuesday and the computer decided to lock up first thing. I farted around for about twenty minutes before I finally gave up and walked down the hall and the guy opened them up and had them running in about two minutes (I would have given up much earlier but I was sitting there eating my lunch anyway). I'm seriously considering smashing the thing with a sledge hammer. If they allowed firearms on school property I could take it out back and put it out of it's misery in real style.

Looks like we might be making some sculpture in the near future. I talked to one of the art teachers and his students are working on some designs. We'll pair up an artist with a weldor and see what we can do. Sounds like fun to me. We've got several things on the burner besides the art work. Looks like it's going to be a pretty busy semester.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Voc Ed/CTE

Whether you call it Vocational Education or Career/Technical Education, it's simply education designed to prepare students to get and hold a decent job. My personal definition of a decent job is one that is rewarding, both financially and in the warm and fuzzy way. You make a living wage doing something you like and that you are able to take pride in. Pretty simple actually. In years past and currently with all of the educational reforms, those who have the power and authority to make policy keep listening to the wrong people. Doug Stowe at the Wisdom of the Hands put this link up the other day. It's a newspaper article describing the shortage of skilled workers and the effect it's having on manufacturing. It's a very well written article and makes a compelling case for the policy makers and the educational leadership to pull their collective heads out and start doing the right thing by today's young people. You should read it.

I attended my meeting today about the new Career Pathways as well as other issues dealing with teaching CTE. It wasn't really much help when it came to shedding light on what the future will bring with the new pathways approach but I had a real nice time sitting on the Group W bench playing with the pencils.

The more I hear, the more I'm convinced that everyone is going down the wrong path. I also know that I'm not going to be able to change it. But I did see this someplace on the Internet: Stressed is Desserts spelled backwards. From now on, instead of worrying about what the knucklehead politicians and educational leadership are doing to screw up little Johnny's education, I'll just have a cookie. I might end up being 400 lbs. by the time I retire but I can't let it eat me alive. I'll eat the cookie instead.

The weather was pretty nice around here Sat. afternoon and terrific Sunday. I made a grand total of $19.00 at the scrap yard Saturday from my sheet tin and got my feet all muddy in the process. I got some conduit run in the barn afterwards. The bottom is pretty much ready to pull wires. I worked on the top on Sunday until I ran out of supplies, then did some cleaning around the joint. I knocked off a little early due to the Super Bowl. As nice as it was, that was probably a mistake, today was pretty much a turd. I've got nothing urgent pending on the project front for the week, so with my shotgun approach to planning I'll just see where I end up after I pull the trigger.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Made a little progress in the Woodshop this week. I've got a couple of the boys working on the miter saw table for the new barn. They should have it whipped next week. They're going to have to make a base for it as well. We'll make the base out of 2x6's and I'll hang it on the wall and put some legs under it. 

The boys working on the tool box got the dovetail fixture pretty well mastered. They made a mistake on one side and put the board in the fixture facing in instead of out, which meant the taper on the dovetail was going the wrong way. They cut the sides down a little and tried it again. The box is a little narrower than the plans call for now, but there's always a learning curve to overcome. 
One of the welders had a boo-boo on the grille of the old Caddy he drives around so he made himself a new one from expanded metal. He was talking at first some type of tube grill but I don't keep anything like that in stock. He came across the expanded metal and he was off and running. He needs to make a couple of filler pieces for the sides yet. If he had thought the whole thing through a little better before starting, he could have extended the grill out a little more. The grille he made actually is the same size as the original. The car came with a plastic filler piece around it so he's no different than the designers at Cadillac I guess.

We had a speaker come in this week from the School of Automotive Machinists. It's the first time they've made a presentation here. I'd never heard of the school before but I guess if you're an NHRA or NASCAR team, you have. They offer three classes is all - engine block, cylinder heads and CNC machining. They stress that they're a school of engine builders, not mechanics but they campaign some drag cars that are built and maintained by the students. I felt a little sorry for the presenter. It's a pretty tough sell when many of the guys and girls in the room don't even know what a camshaft is. Hard to get them excited about CNC porting of cylinder heads or producing your own heads from a big block of aluminum if you don't have a clue about an internal combustion engine. However, I'd like to check out the school but it's in Houston. Can't see me heading there in the foreseeable future. I eat that kind of stuff up.

Spent a good part of the week in the Weld Shoppe on maintenance chores. We took all the covers off the welding machines and blew all the dust out of them. I do that every couple of years - probably the last time I'll have to deal with them. The boys got the trolley beam and column all finished. I need to get it painted and then I can bring it home and get it installed in the barn. Speaking of which, I got all the cut-offs from the siding loaded up last night after work, plus I had some other metal at school I'm taking to the scrap yard this morning. I've still got some more cleaning to do but as long as the weather stays decent, it won't take too much longer before I've got things tidied up. It's nice that the days are getting longer. Lot easier to get things done when you've got some daylight to work with.

Enjoy the weekend.

Thursday, February 2, 2012


There was a nice piece in the Wall Street Journal yesterday written by David Deming. The set-up is the BRAINIAC electric brain construction kit his brother received for Christmas in 1960 and what the challenging kit taught the two of them. They also read books and watched a little television but TV during that time "tended to be instructional, not vulgar or degrading".

Now comes the good part:

A modern personal computer has educational potential, too. But unlike the Brainiac, it is used today almost entirely for entertainment. Video games have no educational value whatsoever. they are degrading, addictive and stultifying. The promise of the high technology developed by previous generations has largely been squandered.
Placing a book in the hands of a child is infinitely more beneficial than giving them any type of electronic device. Reading is an active intellectual promise that expands children's intelligence, builds their vocabulary, and increases their command of language and thought. A modern computer is not an educational asset unless its use is closely monitored, restricted and supervised.
And education begins at home. There is little that teachers can do with children who have not been challenged at home but instead have been indulged and entertained with an array of electronic devices.

I was going to just link the article but I never bothered setting up my free digital account with the paper, so that took care of that. I did notice the irony of the article being published on National Digital Learning Day and the fact that I couldn't read it in a digital format but the good old newsprint version worked like it always has for a couple of hundred years.

Changing the subject slightly, several of us met this morning for a meeting about the new Career Pathways program we'll be initiating next school year. It was actually kind of a meeting before the meeting. We got a little info from one of the guidance counselors and we should hear more next week when we meet with the director of the Co-Op we belong to. It looks like the majority of the pathways will involve two or three hour class times instead of one hour. Not sure how that's going to work out, either here or through out the state. Might be tough to keep kids on the pathway if they fail math or English as so often happens. No one seems to know what the licensing requirements for the teachers will be, either. It won't be easy to locate that many people with a vocational license and are they going to run off those who don't have one?

Lots and lots of craziness out there right now. Hope it all works out.