Sunday, August 23, 2015

Last weekend of summer

It was Aimee's fortieth birthday yesterday, and as befits a family of three on a birthday in summer, we went looking for fun. I had heard of nearby Fort Knox's "Pirate Day" from our local TV station, so we went to check it out.

Roo is of course too young to know what a pirate is, but she does like people and crowds, so we thought she'd enjoy it. We were right. Here she is hamming it up for the camera as usual.

Aimee of course took dozens of pictures, but these are mine, taken with my phone.

The so-called pirates, also major hams, staged a mock attack on a Royal Navy vessel, in reality a yawl-rigged sailboat down in the Penobscot River. The pirates were so poor at their gun drill that the boat had to sail back and forth under the guns many times, essentially attracting fire in order to get enough bangs to please the crowd. I imagine that in any real battle these pirates would have been overwhelmed fairly quickly. The guns were loud, though.

Eventually they gave up on cannon fire and turned to hand-to-hand combat. This was even lamer. But no-one seemed to care. This is supposedly a Royal Navy officer being set upon by a pirate. Americans always choose the British to be the villains in any such period piece, in much the same way as the Brits always choose the Germans.

The pigs are heading off today to the butchers. They had almost eaten through their last load of grain -- we allot a thousand pounds per pig, then call it good -- but the next two weekends are busy, so I was glad to be able to get them in today. I'd like to get the barn cleaned out before the various fall visitors show up.

Thursday was peach-canning day, and it went particularly well, with over fifty jars canned, a Womerlippi Farm record. We made a movie this time, improving and expanding on our how-to-guide from last year. It isn't finished -- that will have to wait for next year -- but here it is.

Finally, we had a minor emergency Friday, when our well pump refused to stop pumping for about five hours. It took a good deal of mental work to run through the trouble-shooting chart, but we eventually were able to isolate all of the usual possibilities -- bad foot valve, blocked ejector, tired motor, worn-out impeller, and so on. The problem turned out to be low water level in the well. It hasn't seemed particularly dry this year, but it must have been. Anyway, lowering the cut-out pressure setting on the pressure switch from 60 to 50 PSI did the job, allowing the pump to work a little less hard, and there's been no trouble since.

Tuesday will be my first day of attendance at work, Wednesday will be Aimee's. Off course, we've been puttering away at syllabi and course prep, but that we can do at home and even while watching Roo. Having to actually show up is different and marks the real start of our fall season. That and butchering pigs.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Shifting gears

Here's our darling delightful daughter one morning when she just couldn't wake up. Usually she's awake when I go into her room, but this one day last week she just kept sleeping and sleeping until we had to wake her, about when we felt very sorry too. Kids are pretty cute when they're sleepy.

This coming week is the last full week of summer before the fall term begins. Our in-service training days are the week after, and classes start on the 31st, which also happens to be Roo's first birthday. I don't suppose she will mind very much. She doesn't really know what a birthday is yet. Considering I'm coming up on my fifty-fourth, I'm not sure she should begin counting them anytime soon. Ignorance is bliss.

It will be good to get back to work, though. Mentally rested after a summer of more mundane but physical activity, I'm ready to teach again. Accordingly, however, I'm declaring partial victory on the VW project and shifting gears mentally. It doesn't usually work out that well to go straight from a demanding, long-term technical project back to work without a rest and a period of mental regrouping. Plus, the weather is slated to be sticky hot until at least the end of the week. I already fried my head, and cooked off a quart can of expensive primer paint, trying to make progress in the summer heat.

The paint thing was interesting. I had been late getting out to my job and the morning heat had begun to build. Trying to make progress, but frustrated by my own tardiness, I worked fast to strip the remaining paint and corrosion off the rusty roof with the wire cup wheel on the angle grinder, a nasty dusty job made worse by the dark hot metal surface. Although I was feeling rushed, never a good feeling in any technical situation, I did a good job, and proceeded then to spray POR-15 primer, which essentially cooked off and turned to dust before it could properly adhere to the roof! What a waste of expensive paint.

In the afternoon, after things had cooled off some, I went back and removed the offending POR-15 with the dual action sander and applied instead a quart of white Rustoleum primer, which, although it dripped and ran and will require extra sanding as a result, at least it didn't turn to dust. Here's the finished effect:

The body of the vehicle is now straight and rust-free.

There remained the two front fenders to do, and they hadn't been delivered yet, but they arrived Thursday and I knocked them out Friday.

Here's the driver's side. You can see the weld-through primer can in the background. That stuff sure makes your job easier. Fitting the fenders required to doors to be rehung to get the lines straight and to make sure the doors would shut.

Here's the passenger side.

The two panels that make up the passenger side fender assembly are made by different firms and don't match. They still require a section of right-angled tin to be welded across their tops to complete the fender shape. I can't bend a decent right-angle in my shop because I don't have a bending machine, so I went to our local Amish roofers for a section of their right-angled metal trim, which they'll make up for me and which I can trim down with the air shears. The young guy that sells this product was a little confused by my request, though, because I told him the paint color didn't matter. Usually people are more worried about color selection when they buy roof trim.

So that's the VW chassis and body properly repaired and mostly primed if not painted. There remains the finish paint to do, the engine to rebuild, and the rolling gear and brakes to service, but this is a good time to quit for now. We'll get back to the paint job when the weather has cooled off a little in the fall.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

There and back again

 Photo: Roo with "Grandpap."

For some months now, Aimee has been planning a trip to Pennsylvania to see her parents. They live in Virginia, but moved there years ago from the "coal patch" towns of western PA. We generally only see them once a year, at Christmas, but since Roo was born, the traveling has increased greatly, so the grandparents can see their grandchild more frequently.

Accordingly, we flew to Pittsburgh and spent a couple of days there doing tourist things -- the restaurants and museums, then motored up to the Mount Pleasant area in a rental Ford Focus. Aimee had found a nice AirBnB, in, of all things, a former "company house" in the coal patch village of Calumet. Since she grew up in just such a house, this might have been nostalgia on her part.

The grandparents were very happy to see her, and we were just as happy to hand some of the childcare over for a short while. Grandma is in green on the right. Roo has a little cousin six months younger, called Leelynn, also pictured above. This was the first time the two had laid eyes on each other. 

On the Friday evening we had a big family picnic at a state park, where there was this big slide. Both Aimee and I took Roo down. She liked it a lot.

Calumet, I discovered, is close to Norvelt, a town I'd heard of through reading New Deal history for my work in economics. FDR sponsored several such experimental government-funded towns as part of the New Deal. The inhabitants were employed building their own houses, then later a clothes factory was built. Each home had enough acreage to run a homestead about the size of our own, gardens, chickens and pigs. I read up on the experiment, an interesting side-note in economic history, while we were there, and we took a driving tour around the town.

As we had a very young child with us, we didn't want to have to drive back to the airport and fly out in the same day, so we booked in at an airport hotel for the last night. I had done a little research and discovered there was an aircraft museum and restoration center a half-hour north, so we visited, mostly to see this little beauty, a 1958 Mk. 3a Jet Provost, formerly based at RAF Church Fenton as part of the system of Flying Training Schools that I used to belong to.

I worked on these aircraft for five and a half years, through most of my RAF career, doing everything from flight-line work, through scheduled servicing, to engine bay rebuilds. Even after thirty years I can still remember the procedures for pulling the engines or stripping the compressors.

I was pretty happy to see the plane, but even happier to discover that the museum needed some help in figuring out what to do with it. I was able to put them in touch with the UK-based Jet Provost Appreciation Society, where they'll be able to get parts, manuals, and advice.

All's well that ends well, or would have been, if I hadn't caught a nasty summer cold. About two days into the trip I came down with a sore throat that became a disgusting and painful chesty crud, then bronchitis, requiring antibiotics. The doc thinks I probably got it from the airplane ride. Hopefully it clears up soon, because it's very annoying not to be able to breathe properly.

If you have cold or flu symptoms, they make you wear masks now at our doctors office. This, of course, just makes you feel sicker, but if it prevents anyone else getting sick like I did, then it's fine with me.


Sunday, July 19, 2015

Stitch 'er up

The Great Bus Restoration continues. Here are some more shufties. This first is of the new B-post area under construction. New outrigger, jack point, new door rail and sills, and new metal to join them all.

The new B-post "top hat" section in place.

The door is fifty inches from bottom of bottom roller to top of top roller. We need to make sure the new door rail is ready to use, so we're looking for fifty inches.

Cleaning up the door threshold, ready for some new metal reinforcement.

Patch for the B-post edge to the right front wheel well: sized up...

... and plug-welded in.

And a patch to cover the top hat.

I'm ordering primer, seam sealer, and paint. I don't expect to hang around with this project. Full steam ahead!

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Just rotate

We've been bodging along on summer repairs and projects like an old bodger should.

The old Troy-Bilt tiller that does our mid-season garden work is a good example. It broke down because the drive pulley bolt sheared. Left with a broken tiller up at the garden and a workshop full of tools needed to repair said tiller, I needed some help with lifting and carrying the tiller to the shop. Turns out the Kubota tractor loader can accommodate a tiller -- but only just. Not wanting to damage either piece of equipment or ourselves, we went very slowly indeed.

You can see the sheared bolt in the end of the driveshaft. That bolt fragment needed to be removed, a classic fitter's problem.

I opted to put the whole engine on the drill press. That gave me a nice, straight, clean hole in which to insert an Easy-Out type bolt extractor.

You can use vice grips or an adjustable spanner to grab the squared-off end of an Easy-Out and turn it, but the handle for a set of taps gets you a more even pressure.

And the result. A clean extraction. After a trip to the hardware store for new fine-thread bolt, I put the whole thing back together again, and it made it back to the garden under its own power, where we promptly weeded a row or two.

The other project is, off course, our old VW van, currently under reconstruction. Here's what VW is pleased to call the "B-post", a structural component that holds up the roof, after I removed all the rotten metal.

And here it is after I welded new metal in. I have about fifteen or twenty repair panels either ordered or already arrived to repair this van, but there will still need to be lots of these kinds of patches, made out of stock mild steel sheet metal. With this thin 22-guage sheet metal, I use the MIG welder, which I'm only just learning to use. I'm starting with out-of-the-way places like this so I can build up my skill.

Here's another example of a repair. This is the main frame member on the driver's side. On the left you can see a new patch, on the right is rotten metal awaiting removal. I had to repair this part is sections because to do it all at once would have bent the VW's shape.

Here's the rear of the same part, showing a completed patch.

I use the Lincoln Electric "tombstone" type stick welder for this heavier kind of work. This "new" metal, actually recycled from an old oil tank, is 12 gauge, just under 1/8th of an inch thick. The old chassis is 2 mm, just under 1/10th of an inch, so the new is thicker and stronger than the old, and is worked in with the stick welder all around the rear torsion bar. You can't weld to rust, it's true. But with a stick welder you can cut rust out of the way, or fuse it into "new" metal.

It isn't artistic, but it's strong, and will give a new lease of life to this van, which is otherwise only good for the scrapheap.

This is what I look like after a day of this kind of work. Old cars are filthy with road dust and rust. The job will get cleaner as it goes along. Eventually this vehicle will be so clean and bright, with new paint everywhere, you'd have a hard time getting dirty at all while working on it.

Meanwhile, back at the farm end of the Womerlippi operation, the pigs got some beer. This was some of the nasty stuff that breweries make for people that really don't like the taste of beer, so they put in fruit to cut the taste. In this case it was blueberries. I hate fruity beer, so if someone brings me some, I have to pass it on to someone else, or get rid of it some other way.

The pigs seemed to like it fine, despite the fruit. There's no accounting for taste.

Finally, Aimee's new chickies, now around  ten weeks old, were exploring and invaded my workshop! Ernie was desperate to be given the job of herding them out, but that seemed like a recipe for disaster, so I made him go on the porch instead, and they left quietly of their own accord.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Cutting out the rot

There's an interesting moment at the beginning of any restoration project, whether it be a building like this old house, or a piece of mechanical equipment like a car, when all of the rotten material is removed, and you can "see what you've got." In the case of my old VW van, there was a lot of rot, and so there wasn't much left when I got done with the passenger side. I still have to give the driver's side the same treatment, but that will happen later, when I can turn the vehicle around on the lift.

The first order of business was making a "rolling chasis" so the turn-around could actually be effected. My assumption that the engine had seized, causing the problems with rolling described in the previous post, turned out to be incorrect. What had actually happened was that a brake drum had seized. Seized so badly, in fact, that it had to be cut off.

I've had a lot of brake drums seized on me, but never to this extent. Cutting it off was a novel procedure, but effective.

You can see the left hand brake shoe has lost it's lining. This had jimmied up the drum, causing the seizure.

The engine turned freely once I got it out of the vehicle, a big surprise. It's been so long since I parked this vehicle, a whole decade, that I'd forgotten what was happening that caused me to park it. But the only engine problem was a dropped valve seal. This could have caused a lot of noise, but it likely wouldn't have stopped the negine from turning over and even starting.

The dropped seal had damaged the piston, but not badly. The block with crankshaft, camshaft, and all the associated bearings, which I remember rebuilding myself back in 1998 or 1999, was still fine. Back in my days of student and graduate student poverty, I probably would have slapped a junkyard head on this rig, and lived with this dinged-up piston. But these days I have more resources, so we'll get a new set of pistons and cylinders and do a "top-end" job, a partial engine rebuild. The block, a salvage head given me by a friend a decade ago, and the fan housing are now at the machine shop, getting ready for this rebuild.

Then it was time to cut out rotten body metal. We started at the front and worked to the back.

I used a paint pen to scribe lines to get straight edges for the butt and lapp welds that will hold on the new steel.

By the time all the rusty metal was removed, there wasn't a whole lot left of the passenger side, and I was pretty tired. But everything that's left is more or less sound, and I can see how to repair it all.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Resurrecting the bus


I had spent quite a few weeks getting myself and Aimee mentally prepared for this particular project -- finally doing something with our old VW bus. Neither of us was particularly looking forward to having another junker lying around, but Something Had to be Done.

This vehicle was a gift from a college friend and helped me get through my college years. I first drover her twenty-two years ago. I've had her ever since. For the first thirteen or fourteen years, she was my main vehicle, and saw daily use. I drove her through my B.A., M.S. and Ph.D degrees. As I began my teaching career, with more responsibilities but not much more money, she was eventually relegated to summer-only use, and I began using other vehicles in Maine's cold, snowy winters. I drove a long series of second-hand Saabs, all towards the end of their working lives. They were an improvement on the bus, mostly because they had heat and could handle the snow. (The bus originally came with a gas heater, but it never worked, and eventually I removed it.) 

I drove across the country east to west and north to south in this vehicle. I visited Canada in it, used it to tow sailboats and carry canoes, camped and toured and studied in it. I built a house and a barn carrying materials in this bus. My old dogs Liza Jane and Cocoa loved it, and so did I.

But, after Aimee and I got married in 2004, the poor old bus languished, and was eventually abandoned over at the Bale House, mostly due to lack of money and time, where it began to rot into the ground.

But all such things change. I now have a pretty well equipped workshop and automotive lift, and, despite having a baby, I have more time, at least in summers, mostly because I'm not building any large buildings for the foreseeable future. It was time to do something with the van, before it rusted so badly that nothing at all could be done with it except cut it up for scrap.

The first job would be to get it over to my workshop. On Wednesday afternoon, I trundled over to the Bale House with the Rover and an air tank, pumped up the tires and tugged the vehicle out of it's nest of weeds, just to make sure it could roll. The next day I went back with a tow dolly.

Using the tow dolly turned out to be more difficult than I thought, mostly because my earlier experiment had failed to show that the passenger side back wheel was locked up, probably because the engine is seized. There was too much mud and wet ground at the Bale House to know this. The wheel just slipped, out of sight at the back, and for all intents and purposes acted normally. It was only once the vehicle was down on the road that the resistance was obvious. After dragging her for about half a mile, I came to a suitable turn-out, and, with some extra labor, switched from rolling on the back to the front wheels.

There was also the matter of having to change a wheel without a proper jack, but we won't go into those details. Suffice it to say that by the end of the day I was pretty pooped out.

Yesterday Aimee decided to take Roo to town to shop and to the doctors for a routine check-up, so my services were not required. Instead, I was able to spend the time getting the vehicle positioned on the lift, not easy with a locked-up wheel, and then removing the camper furniture, carpet, and engine.

There was a lot of dirt and junk, as well as various nests of insects and mice.

Here's the engine in the process of being removed, a job made a lot easier with a lift. The engine needs to be rebuilt, but pulling it early in the process would make a "rolling chassis", which would be a lot easier.

Here's the engine on the ground. These VW engines are relatively light and easy to handle, as engines go. Next job is to grind out the rot and see just exactly what's left.

All this heavy work took a toll after Thursday's major efforts. Today is an official federal holiday, but also, now, by declaration, an official Husband Holiday.