Friday, December 19, 2014

Something I'd forgotten

Looking back through my pictures I found this:

Thats the evaporator in our fridge, sure it looks like its been through a snowstorm and thats actually a problem. Self defrosting refrigerators aren't supposed to get like this, ours in fact should self defrost every day...

Ours freezes up fairly often and I've gotten pretty good at defrosting it, I use a turkey baster with warm water and then follow up with a heater:

The heater gets out residual moisture to hopefully help it not freeze up again as soon. Well sadly last summer it was freezing up every couple weeks. Fortunately the system is actually really simple. Theres a timer which tells a heating coil to warm up and a thermostat which tells the heater to turn off when the ice is all gone. In our case the timer had gone stupid. Its got a spot where you can insert a screw driver and advance it and I was lucky to find that after advancing it through a couple cycles it straightened up to fly right. Oh what a sweet sound it is when the freezer defrosts and I know I don't need to buy a new fridge...

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Pretty cool

I spent last week in Silver Spring, Maryland and while wandering around I spotted this:

Silver Spring is just outside Washington DC and shares in the district's "Capital Bike Share" but this was actually around the corner from the nearest bike share station. In fact it wasn't until I walked past it the next day in the opposite direction that I noticed:

Its hard to get a good look from the picture but look at the bottom of the pedestal and notice the tire pump. Hanging in the pedestal are a bunch of screw drivers and wrenches, just the sort of stuff you might use to fix your bike which can be conveniently hung from the top of the pedestal. Its a self service bicycle REPAIR station. Clearly this is an area serious about having bicycle riders. I wish I'd gotten a picture of the lady getting her bike out of a bike storage container.

Sadly the weather was terrible so I had no chance to pedal around. If you have the chance Silver Spring is really an area on the up and up. I'd been there four years ago and it was interesting to see how much nicer it is now.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Its that time of year

The day before Thanksgiving we got some snow:

About 8 inches of heavy wet stuff. Fortunately the day before (evening before even) I got snow tires for the Jetta.

On the left a summer tire, on the right the snow tire. Both are "Autogrip", the summer tires are 185 something 14 (for 14 inch rims) the right are 175 something 14. I know it looks like the left tire is wider but its the picture, in person the snow tires are noticeably wider.

The summer tires are mounted on VW "Rondo" (I've heard these called "Africa" also but the online thing I found says "Rondo") wheels. The one shown has VW center caps as does its mate on the other side. The other pair have Volvo center caps. I kind like that so I haven't bothered to look for a pair of VW centers. It occurs to me I should check if the MB centers on my 190D will fit...

The winter tires are on VW "Orlando" wheels. The center caps were missing when I got them and I can't take credit (or blame) for the paint job. Actually I kind of like the paint job and considering these are my winter wheels and the center caps are plastic and apparently fragile I'll stick with this look for now. I wasn't sure what I thought when I first got them but once I got them on the car I kind of like them.

With its winter tires the car handles MUCH better in the snow than it did before. Last year a little snow made it skate terribly, now its much more sure footed. I don't think it'll ever blast through snow like a 240D does but its not bad with the right tires.

Its been my experience that snow tires make all the difference in the world. I've got places in the snow with a snow tire equipped 240D that 4wd SUVs feared to tread and I would suggest that most people who claim "I need an SUV" really need to try snow tires. I've only ever had cheap snows, I imagine better tires would work out even better.


This is a boarding pass, in about 6 hours its going to let me go home. I COULD be going home right now, theres a flight home right now. I think I just watched it head to the runway. Theres an empty seat on it, a seat I could have been in but US Air hates me.

To be fair US Air is just greedy and stupid. They want $200 for a change fee, a $35 ticketing fee AND some unknown quantity of money if the fare for that flight was different than the exorbitant (Portland, Maine to Washington D.C. for more than my last trip from Boston to LA) price I paid for the later flight for me to change to the earlier flight. There are two things that really burn me, first the $35 ticketing fee. Thirty-five bucks to print a five cent ticket. Then they can't even tell me in advance how much the final price will be. Until I agree to spend $235 I can't find out if the final price will be $235 or $500 or who knows. I didn't think to ask but I bet if the earlier flight is cheaper I don't get any money back...

When I was done with a completely fruitless discussion the unhelpful gate agent ended with "This is capitalism at its best." which is wrong, this is capitalism at its greedy stupidest.

Fact A: It would have cost US Air nothing to put me on that flight.

Fact B: If I were on that flight I'd be a happy customer and would promote US Air which is a "goodwill" as it is I'm upset with US Air and will badmouth them at any opportunity which is an "Opportunity Cost".

It could be argued that US Air could resell that open seat, however I was at the ticketing agent at 2pm which left me just enough time to get through security and get on the plane. Someone at home could NOT have made that flight but they could make the later flight and could potentially have taken my seat. Which brings me to

Stupid fact C: I would have been willing to pay a reasonable change fee. I'd call it a "convenience fee" and would have paid even $100 but I will not pay "an amount to be determined later", thats what I call "a scam".

This is not my first irritating run in with US Air, in fact I think I've had maybe 2 trips with US Air over the last 11 years (my professional traveling career) that weren't marred by some stupidity:

Example 1: My first trip to Las Vegas during which it took 16 hours to get the Las Vegas. US Air claimed this was due to "weather delays" however NO OTHER AIRLINE was reporting weather delays in either Boston or Philadelphia, the other city I was traveling through.

Example 2: My first return from Las Vegas which took 24 hours due to "the pilot's seatbelt is broken." So poor maintenance... This was when I swore off traveling on US Air but sometimes its unavoidable.

Example 3: Overbooked flight in Charlotte, they asked for volunteers to move to the next flight without mentioning that all the flights for the next WEEK to Boston were overbooked. I fought hard and stayed on my flight. Somebody got royally screwed on that one.

Example 4: While I was on a flight from Boston to Philadelphia they canceled my next leg to Cincinnati. US Air offered to fly me in 24 hour hours late. I pointed out that I could DRIVE TO CINCINNATI and get there more than 12 hours sooner. They eventually got me to Cincinnati a mere 20 hours late.

Example 5: Failure to check-in. I'll admit on this one I arrived at the airport a little on the late side but I normally don't check a bag and can get through security pretty quick but their check-in system was broken and I literally couldn't get a boarding pass so I missed the flight. A US Air employee came through on this one and got me on a United flight direct when my original flight had a stop in the dreaded Philadelphia and I got home a mere 2 hours late.

Its worth noting here that US Air has some good people, it just seems that the corporate culture is one where the policy is to be followed at all costs and very little flexibility is allowed.

Example 6: Broken APU, this happened on my flight to Washington just last weekend. APU is "auxiliary power unit" its an extra engine that starts the plane. The lack of one made the flight 2 hours late and meant we had no heat on the flight a fact they didn't make us aware of until the end of the flight. Recognize that at 30,000 feet the outside temperature is around -50F so it was getting pretty chilly inside the plane by the time we arrived. Fortunately the flight was only an hour and a half long. Another case of poor maintenance on US Air's part...

Frankly I hope US Air goes bankrupt but I recognize that is being run by a bunch of idiot MBAs whos only idea about how to run a business revolves around "screw the customer, maximize shareholder value." which seems to be the thing for all businesses these days.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014


The '84 Mercedes-Benz 190D hasn't been running like it should for some time now, it starts hard and doesn't idle smoothly. I figured the injectors needed attention, they probably (almost certainly) haven't been out of the engine in 205,000 miles so it was time. I ordered new Bosio injector nozzles from ID Parts. I like ordering from ID Parts since they're here in MA so the shipping is quick and cheap. I wanted Bosio nozzles because they're made in Italy which means they're NOT made in China. Word on the street is that Bosch nozzles are made in China and the QC (quality control) is all over the map.

Mark Blevins cleaned my spare injectors (thoughtfully provided by Fred), installed the nozzles and calibrated everything. He did a great job, the price was right and turnaround was fast.

The install was pretty painless, it requires a 1 1/16" deep socket, a 14mm wrench, new heat shields, a pick to get the old heat shields out, and if your injector return lines are even questionable a meter of that. My return lines are viton I'd bought from McMaster-Carr, they were still pliable and no problem at all to reuse. I guess I should buy some more, thats good stuff.

The old, nasty injectors in place.

A replacement from Mark. His packaging is perfect, he even loops the tape back on itself to make it easy to remove.

An old grotty injector on the left with a nice clean one on the right. Notice the nice new heat shield also.

I noticed that the new nozzles had a little pin that sticks out where the old ones have that missing. Once the rebuilt injectors were installed the engine fired right up. I'd put my foot into it thinking the lines would be dry and the engine would start hard. That turned out to be wrong, it fired right up and idled nice. I can tell a big difference in power off the line and when accelerating.

The nozzles I got are slightly larger than stock which in theory should give a little more fuel and thus more power. The problem of course is that this is a naturally aspirated engine so it might also lead to a little smoke. I'm pleased to say there was no noticible smoke and while I think there might be more power that could be my imagination or the power I'm feeling my just be power restored that was lost due to the old injectors being worn.

Anyway the worn injectors now go on the shelf awaiting their turn for rebuilding...

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Back from deer camp, no Bambi

Veteran's day week is our yearly trip for deer hunting and as usual we didn't shoot any deer. I'm always reminded of the song "The Second Week of Deer Camp" where he says "We drink, play cards and we shoot the bull but we never do shoot no deer." Back in the early '80s there was a spruce budworm infestation that killed millions of trees in northern Maine. Those spruce trees are the primary winter feed for the deer and without them the deer have no food. The dead trees got cut down in massive clearcuts which the deer won't go in. This led to the rise of the moose population. My great uncle Reg used to say that when he was a kid nobody shot any moose but the big clearcuts are excellent moose territory. The clearcuts grow up in bushes which the moose eat so they'll hang out in them all the time.

Anyway 30 years on the spruce trees have come back and are of a size where they provide cover and feed for the deer so we're seeing more deer and one of these years we'll have to shoot one. I'm doing my part, on the farm I plant a big patch of "deer food". This year it was turnips, I'd read online that deer like turnips and kind of assumed they'd eat the tops of the plants. I was wrong, they use the tops to pull up the roots and eat those. Angie scoured the plot and managed to find one turnip a deer hadn't finished but none intact in the ground, apparently our turnips are popular. Next year I plan to do Austrian peas which are supposed to be deer candy and fix nitrogen into the soil making the following year's planting more productive. A 5# bag of peas should do 1000sq ft so I'll have to plant an even larger plot. This year we switched from working the ground with the Cub Cadet up to the Farmall Super M. I've got a 2 bottom plow I can pull behind the Super M which flips the ground no problem where the Cub Cadet struggles in our rocky tough soil.

So no turnip pics but heres one of a good camp breakfast:

Normally there'd be bacon too but this was the last morning and it was just Dad and I. We'd eaten all the bacon the night before, wrapping it around scallops. Oh the challenges of camp life :)

The front of the camp, showing the garage in the background and the shower house at the far right. The shower house needs a makeover, its just OSB on a 2x4 frame with a roof, it needs some kind of siding. I think today I made a decision on what to do with it. Hopefully come spring we'll upgrade its look.

The old woodpile Mk1 is loaded up, mostly with white birch but theres some spruce in there too. I think this will be its last winter, the bottom is pretty rotten.

The Mk2 woodpile is mostly full of birch, I'd meant to fill both of them more but the snow meant I couldn't do as much wood cutting as I'd planned on. In the spring I have a truckload of dry birch to retrieve and a bunch of spruce. I've also got plans for a Mk3 woodpile to replace the rotten Mk1. It's really more like a Mk2 mod 2 but theres enough revision there to call it third generation. It'll have a less steep roof pitch for better coverage, longer tin overhangs, the uprights will be all one piece where the Mk2 has the roof on separate pieces and it'll have 4x4s for a base which should make it more stable.
The propane tanks in the foreground annoy me. We've got a junk pile I want to move them to, I also want to try to get the valve out of one so I can cut the end off to make a bell. I'd want to pull the valve and leave it out for a good long time before I try cutting it though.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

A hero falls

I refer of course to Tom Magliozzi one of the kings of public radio. I never figured out if Tom was "Click" or "Clack" but I'll tell you I've spent a lot of time listening to "Car Talk". That said I feel like a real schmuck for never trying to meet him. I live a mere 70 miles out of their "Fair City" and I even know a guy who knew him it should have been that hard.

Anyway, rest in peace Tommy, may there be plenty of cappuccino and cigars and may you sit around all day with your feet up debating and solving the problems of us poor schlubs still here.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Something to buy

I didn't want to leave you hanging with something I didn't like, I do encounter a number of things in the world that I do like. In fact the other day I was posting comments on Amazon and I was impressed by the number of things I'd bought from them that I really do like.

Anyway on Friday I had one of my favorites:

Its boba tea, for the uninitiated boba are little balls of tapioca, these are about 1/4" in diameter although tapioca comes in all sorts of sizes. So what we've got here is "Tapioca milk tea with boba" which I had been advised to try after stating that I really liked "Thai milk tea with boba". This is at Boba Loca in Burbank.

I don't know what goes into tapioca milk tea but it has a kind of black tea flavor. A little research suggests thats probably exactly what it is. I like it but honestly I probably like Thai tea a little better as the Ceylon tea has more flavor. I'll have this occasionally just to mix things up, I've also had iced chai and iced coffee with boba and I like them both but keep coming back to Thai.

Why do I like it? Honestly its all about the boba, the little bubbles or "pearls" hiding at the bottom of the cup. This is a beverage you eat and the chewy texture really satisfies me. I like the big straw and hunting around for the last couple boba in the bottom of the cup.

Angie hates boba, she likes the tea but doesn't like anything solid in her beverage. For me liking something she hates almost makes it better and its probably good that I mostly only get it in California...

Friday, October 31, 2014

Something NOT to buy

One of the reasons I started blogging was to give myself a space to review things and mostly for that I've reviewed cars, here's something different:

I picked up this bag of Schultz Potting Soil Plus at Tractor Supply last spring. I wanted to use it to start plants in the house. The bag says "A rich mix of sphagnum peat moss, perlite, composted organic material and a wetting agent" which as near as I can tell means a little peat moss mixed with what could best be termed "mulch" but seems to be wood chips, and some little pellets of some magic chemical. What it seems to do mostly is nothing. About 1 in 30 seeds actually germinated, those that did were spindly and barely grew.
In about July I put some of the mix into a hole in my front yard, in September it looked like this:

Remember I said it looked like much? Thats what it looks like on the ground... Notice how weeds won't even grow on it. I've got 2 other spots in my yard I put this stuff on and those are dead zones too.

I found an Amazon review for the same stuff in a different bag: which mostly echos my experience.

I'm going to write a note to Schultz on their website but don't expect much.

I have a follower, and 10,000+ views!

Holy crap after 6 years somebody finally signed up as a follower! You might remember just over a year ago I was crying that nobody was reading this blog: at that point I was getting around 1,000 views a year. In the past year I've had around 4,000, thats a pretty significant increase especially when you consider I've made around half as many posts in 2014 when compared with 2014. I was putting out updates pretty regularly in September but have fallen apart in October. In fact I'm really glad I got to write this today so I can at least have written something in October. Lets look at my YouTube numbers too (Youtube channel Curtludwig) which I had mentioned in my post had 199 subscribers, today I have 415 Youtube subscribers which frankly amazes me since I've put out exactly zero videos in 2014. I've had great plans to put out videos in 2014 and in fact have shot around 4 hours of video most of which has not met my standards for production and will never get seen. Such is the sad state of being a video professional and trying to put out stuff in my spare time. Anyway I'm actually very pleased, the money I make from ad revenue on the blog is basically nothing, I write this stuff for the satisfaction of knowing that somebody is reading it. Okay enough of this, I do have a real post for you which I'll start working on as soon as I'm done with this one.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Tractor wiring finale

To finish up my Cub Cadet wiring adventure, it turns out that when the previous owner ran a line to the batt terminal of the regulator all he actually had to do was to move the grey wire from the hot side of the starter to one side of the ammeter. I actually spliced the grey wire to a little of the previous owner's very long wire since the grey wire had quite a large ring terminal on it. Viola it works, that easy. One downside is that it doesn't measure when cranking since that comes off the switched side of the starter switch but everything else is measured including the

With the ammeter sorted I took a look at the bracket which at one point must have been chromed but is now just rust. I let it soak for a few hours in a bath of evapo-rust, then cleaned it, dried it and hit it with some primer and yellow paint.

I let it dry overnight and then sprayed the backside. When that was mostly dry I baked it in my toaster oven but had the heat too high and bubbled the paint. That subsided into an interesting crackle look which goes with the mostly rotten paint on the rest of the tractor.

Here with the engine off, headlights on we've got discharge.

With the engine running it charges:

When I turn on the headlights the charge rate dips for a second before it goes back to the same spot. I was pleased to see that the starter/generator charges even at very low engine speed. My other Cub Cadet seems to want more engine speed before it charges, I guess I should order a starter/generator rebuild kit for that one as well.

After all that fun I took a few minutes to add slime to the left front tire which was low and put some grease in all the zerks.

Most importantly I was able to start the tractor cold without starting fluid for the first time in about a year. I was so happy with it I went out and bought a padded seat cover. The machine had one when I first bought it but it got torn off last spring so I'd spent a year sitting with a dirty old towel on the metal seat. I'm ready to plow snow in luxury.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

More tractor wiring fun

Turns out my first instinct about the key switch on the Cub Cadet 70 was exactly right, I pulled it out and found that the switch was grounding to its body.

Taking a look at the thing I noticed that the end cap where the electrical connections go was loose and tilted when they key turned. If I pushed the cap in everything was fine until I worked the key back and forth a couple times and the cap popped out again. Finally I pushed it in and peened the rim of the lock body over with a chisel, primitive but it worked.

Now the key supplies power to the coil the way it should.

While I was there I pulled the wire from the ammeter to the regulator, as I said yesterday this wire really wasn't doing anything. The last step (I hope) will be to move the grey wire from the hot side of the switch out to the ammeter. This should allow the ammeter to detect charge state while running. With luck I'll be able to use the ring terminal thats already on the grey wire without modification, as long as it will fit through the hole to the ammeter which is mounted on the right side of the steering pedestal.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014


After yesterday's success I put the battery charger on the Cub Cadet overnight, today I went out to see if it would start better than in the past considering all the electricity was getting to the starter/generator. I hit the starter and it cranked over much quicker than before but after maybe half a second of cranking I was "rewarded" with smoke and burning plastic smell.

My tractor has an ammeter which has never worked. As part of the cleaning I did yesterday I cleaned the terminal where the ammeter is connected to the starter switch. It turns out that the other side of the ammeter was connected to the L terminal on the voltage regulator. This is WRONG, it should be connected to the BAT terminal on the regulator. Fortunately the wiring on the Cub is pretty heavy so all I got was a couple melty insulation spots which I fixed with tape.

I went on to make up the last heavy wire which goes from the switch to the starter/generator so now the whole path to the starter/generator is 8ga which is very heavy for a garden tractor and I'm confident that it'll never be a problem.

Unfortunately now when I turn the key switch on the voltage regulator clicks and the ignition coil loses voltage. Interestingly if I turn the switch just part way it doesn't happen and the tractor will start and run. I *think* this means that when the ammeter was wired incorrectly it forced the key switch to take full current which I *think* is allowing the switch to short out when turned all the way. I need to pull the switch and see if its something I can fix or if I need a new switch. Fortunately 2 position switches aren't terribly expensive.

The ammeter STILL doesn't work because although it doesn't cause a short anymore its still not wired right. Right now its wired from the hot side of the starter switch to the BAT terminal on the regulator but the starting switch still has a line from the hot side to the BAT terminal. To work correctly an ammeter has to be inline between the hot side of the starting switch and the BAT terminal where mine is currently parallel. The wiring on my tractor would work okay for a voltmeter except it'd drain the battery since it can't be turned off. A volt meter should really be to the switched side of the ignition switch. So to fix this I need to disconnect the original wire from the starter switch to the BAT terminal which would just leave my ammeter.

At some point I really need to re-wire the whole tractor. Another problem I worked on was that the wire from the ignition switch to the coil was cracked badly. This wire wraps around the back side of the engine and is bad on my Cub Cadet 72 as well. I used a weatherproof butt connector and a length of green wire which should have been black. If I feel real bad about it I'll blacken it with a paint pen. Of course later on I found a spot thats cracked beyond where I'd fixed. I've also got the old link to the starter/generator just hanging out. I debated cutting that wire off but left it. I'll be on the lookout for some cheap wire loom to build my new harness around at which point I'll buy the correct color wires and redo things right.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Tractor repair time

Yesterday I spent some time cleaning out the garage to fit the Honda CB900f back in. It'd been out "for sale" for over a year and sadly the shop it was at is closing down so I had to take it back. I've let the garage get very messy this summer and it really needed cleaning. That meant I had to move my 1964 Cub Cadet 70. I use the Cub Cadet mostly for plowing snow. Its got a mowing deck but it isn't as maneuverable as I'd like for our small lawn, the Snapper is a better mower really. Last winter the Cub Cadet had gotten challenging to start, often requiring a shot of ether to get going. I've got another Cub Cadet, a model 72 at camp that doesn't get used much and that ones had a fairly recent engine rebuild so my plan had been to swap them when I go north for deer hunting season in November.

Last night I got thinking that maybe the bad starting was just slow cranking. I cleaned the battery terminals and cables and the connection at the starter/generator. None of that made any difference. I measured the voltage drop at the starter/generator and found it around 4 volts! Not good, no wonder it cranked slow. I had some 8ga wire Fred had given me for the '78 240D which I'd never used and a couple crimp on ring terminals so I made up a new cable from the battery to the starter, this one was the winner, the old one was small and had a splice in it to an even smaller wire.

On the left the old wire with the splice, on the right a comparison of the new wire and the old, see how much bigger that new wire is.

I also made up a new lead from the battery to ground. Honestly I'm not sure how the old ground worked at all, it'd been attached to a painted surface. Again my new wire is much larger than the old. I also put heat shrink tubing over the new terminals. The existing terminals on the cable already had heat shrink.

With my new cables installed voltage drop at the starter/generator is now less than 1v which is entirely acceptable. I'm still going to replace the wire from the switch to the starter/generator. I would have already but I ran out of ring terminals and it was too late to go to the store. This is probably excessive but when it is done I'll know that the cables are all good and that I'm getting every bit of starting voltage I possibly can.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Rental cars

I was all set to tell you all about the rental car I had last week in LA, I had a picture and everything and then I suddenly realized I didn't ever tell you about the rental car I had in June and frankly that one was a much bigger deal so lets drift back in time shall we?

Before today I guess I'd never really thought of this blog as a kind of online diary but in a way thats what it is. Somewhere deep down I hope that people are kind of interested in what I do and the way I write.

So anyway back in June I got sent to LA which isn't that unusual, what is unusual is that I finally realized that because my company rents so many cars I get to be Executive Class with National Car rental. National's system is really cool, you roll into the rental place and just pick out a car, your status determines which area you get to pick from and Executive Class gets you about the coolest cars they have. Thats a good thing, when I was out in February I was faced with a sea of white and grey Camrys. Now don't get me wrong the Camry is a good car but exciting it isn't. That time I ended up with a lime green Kia Soul which believe it or not is actually a really good car, I quite enjoyed it.

There I was, presented again with a line of boring Camrys and this time no lime green Kia to save me. I asked the attendant if they had a Fiat, I've always wanted to try a Fiat. He told me they didn't but that because I was Executive Class I could pick from the Executive Class section which included a BUNCH of Dodge Challengers. I'm not normally one for muscle cars but the Challenger is a nice looking car so I snagged a white one. They only had white and black and if you've ever been to southern California in the summer you know you want the white one.

Driving up the 5 highway to Burbank the Challenger was a disappointment. Don't get me wrong it had power and its comfortable but the windows are small and the big C pillar means the rear visibility sucks so its a tough car to drive in heavy traffic. Being that the highway ride wasn't real fun I knew I needed to find someplace to take the car that would be fun so Sunday I headed north east where I knew there were hills and hopefully fun roads. A friend had suggested the Angeles Crest highway through the Angeles National Forest which is where I headed.

The signs are great, right out of Jellystone Park. For a driver this place is AMAZING, the roads are twisty and you spend a good hour climbing up away from LA. I stopped at one of the first turnouts for pictures:

I was all excited about the view here but frankly this is at only maybe 2000 feet above sea level, the high point is Dawson Saddle at 7,903 feet which is by far the highest I've ever been in a car.

This is the view out on the other side of Dawson saddle looking out toward what I think is Lake Los Angeles in the distance, certainly I don't see any other dry lakes on the map.

Looking back up the road:
Dawson saddle is actually out of sight on the right. These big canyons are amazing and just ring with the roar of motorcycles.
The Challenger was very fun on these twisty roads, it wasn't really hampered by being a 6 cylinder engine since that little mill puts out lots of power, the problem was that it was geared very high and as such didn't have much in the bottom end, I bet my Jetta is quicker off the line but once you wind it up to 4500 rpm it starts to really take off. I kept the shifter in 2 and entered turns at maybe 35mph so I could scream out of them at 50 or 55mph.

Challenger gets a well deserved rest after Dawson Saddle.
The suspension and steering on the Challenger are very good, light but precise with just a hint of understeer when pushed. I didn't go too hard since it had hard rental car tires and I was worried about losing traction and sliding off a cliff.

If there was anything I was disappointed about it was the sound. The Chrysler engineers have done a very good job making the car very quiet and from inside the engine note is almost totally muffled. With the windows down (you'd better have the windows down on this ride!) when I was near a cliff wall I could get just a bit of exhaust noise reflected back on me. I'd guess the people behind me or on the other side of the canyon were getting my sound which made me a little sad.

The worst part of the trip is the return, I was to tired to turn around and run the 60+ miles back through the forest. Its draining working so hard in every turn with your adrenaline pumping. When I do it again I'll take a co-driver so we can trade off and drive it in both directions. 
There are some good views of the high desert scenery. California is in a serious drought and the farmers are starting to give up in some of the driest places. I saw trees that were dead and real honest to goodness tumbleweeds.

You should never take pictures while driving but I couldn't pass up these rocks sticking out of the ground like the cars at the Cadillac Ranch.

Driving back is mostly super slab highway but I did spot a sign for "Route 66 Historic Segment" which of course I had to check out.

Theres nothing really that special about the physical aspect of RT66, its just road but driving down this little stretch out of the big hills I could imagine folks headed west during the dust bowl looking for a better life in the promised land of California where as Woody Guthrie explained they would find they didn't have the "do-re-mi" and they'd better go back to beautiful Texas. A freight train was lumbering in the other direction blowing its lonesome whistle as it climbed the grade. I was glad I was headed back to my hotel in Burbank and my modern lifestyle. To celebrate I had dinner at Hooters with a nice cold beer and hot chicken wings then went to bed early to dream of the Challenger's roar.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Ram tough

Got a chance to drive a Dodge 1500 "eco diesel" yesterday at our local Dodge dealership.
This is definitely not a 24 valve Cummins. Much more Mercedes like engine which isn't a big surprise as its European.
We also drove a 5.7l Hemi V8 which gave a nice comparison. For just driving around they make similar power. The gas engine actually makes MORE noise, they've obviously worked very hard to make the diesel very quiet. Looking at the engine its small, it looks like the V6 in my Ranger.

Power-wise for acceleration they're similar which makes sense when you look at the numbers, I suspect if you're moving a lot of weight on a regular basis the diesel would do it for much less fuel. The gasser is supposed to average 15mpg, the diesel is rated for 22. For comparison my '03 Ranger only 15... The diesel is supposed to do 27mpg on the highway. I usually beat EPA expectations so I bet 30 won't be that hard to get.

The truck is nice, has a dial for gear selection although our gasser model was stripped down and had a conventional column shifter. Dodge only does 4 door extended cabs, not an access cab like the Ford we had tried but the two trucks we drove had shorter rear doors. One feature I really liked on the Dodge was the mirrors flip up for towing. Both that we tried had satellite radio which I hate paying extra for since I probably won't pay the subscription.

If I were going to buy one for me, considering my truck needs I'd buy the gasser. If I had a business or a farm where towing or hauling loads was normal but we didn't need a 2500 I'd buy the diesel.

Where does that leave us on buying a truck? We're leaning toward The Ford 150 although at this point I think its a money thing. I've been playing with Autotrader to open our search window to dealers farther away. I do need to pay a visit to our local Ford dealer but their website suggests they don't have anything in the range I want to pay.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

When it rains it pours!

When it rains it pours. After my stuck on the side of the road hassle with the shutoff solenoid I was all set to take the '98 to Syracuse last Wednesday. Got about 20 miles from home, took a freeway offramp and got a huge cloud of steam from under the hood. Turns out the upper radiator hose had spat out the coolant temp sensor when the metal clip holding it broke.

Fortunately there was a little garage nearby and the guy made me a temporary replacement clip out of wire. Unfortunately I'd lost the seal for the sensor so I couldn't get it sealed in. I tied another piece of wire around the sensor to hold it in tight and wrapped a towel around the whole thing which got me back home with only 2 gallons of water leaked out but it wasn't any fun.

IDParts provided a new sensor, clip and seal for cheap enough that I didn't think it was worth figuring out what I needed for a seal. On Friday I stopped at Harbor Freight and bought a selection of o-rings. I'll keep a couple in the car from now on. The clip in question was metal, the replacement is plastic so it won't rust but it might fatigue and break none the less. I went to a junkyard and found another metal clip. I'll keep an eye on the plastic clip and replace if I think its warranted.

The replacement part in place:

Monday, August 11, 2014

Whats this?

So whats a car guy doing with that, that, thing?

The new truck search continues and our plan originally was to try a Toyota FJ. Turns out the dealership is closed on Sundays in the summer time so we headed back to the Nissan dealer. We tried an Xterra which I was surprised that I really liked. Considering the Xterra is a Frontier in different trim I expected not to fit right in it. Turns out either I was in a better mood or the Xterra has different seats. We both liked the Xterra a lot which means I've got some thinking to do.

The star of the day was the leaf though. The Jetta broke again on me on Wednesday so I'm a little unhappy with it. If I could get my employer to install a charging station the Leaf could just handle my commute. So seeing that the dealership had one out front we opted to give it a shot.

I'm pleased to say its an impressive little car. Okay actually its not that little, its bigger than a Versa which is Nissan's cheap car. Its got leg room similar to my Jetta and has a nice little storage area behind the back seat. The car makes a happy little computer chime, the "shifter" is more like a computer joystick and it really doesn't shift anything since there aren't "gears" to shift through anyway. The car gets right up and moves when you put your foot on the go pedal and makes almost no sound at all. The most fun we have was watching the battery recharge as we went down hills.

Would I buy one? Maybe. At $30,000 they're pricey but considering a full recharge on the battery is going to run around $3 the price gets offset. There is some state money and even some from the power company too. Unfortunately my 59 mile one way commute doesn't really fit the Leaf's 100 mile capacity without a recharge at the work end. Angie's 20 mile round trip commute would make way more sense. Unlike everything else this is probably a car I'd lease, think about how far electric cars have come in the last 3 years (like started existing completely pretty much) then think about how far they might go in the next 3 years. This is one where trading up makes sense...

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Jetta breakdown #2

Back in December the Jetta left me stranded when the oil feed from the engine to the turbo let go. Yesterday it left me again, this time the power feed to the fuel feed solenoid failed. I got towed home and hooked my laptop to the car, the computer showed the fault right away. Today after work I put a jumper on the solenoid and the car started right up. I made a mental note to put the jumper wire in the car in case this happens again.
After some searching I found:

A weatherproof butt connector fixed the problem and we're off to the races.

While I was there I found another wire which I thought was for the reverse lights. Its not but I'm glad I fixed it anyway. I also spent some time trying to figure out why the remote trunk release doesn't return. It'll pop the trunk but once popped it stays popped.until the mechanism is manually reset. The mechanism looks like it ought to manually reset itself and playing with it on the bench it will reset occasionally but not every time. I think maybe a spring would do the job, need to look at some at the hardware store.

Looking at trucks again

It feels like just yesterday we were buying the Ranger. Alas its been nearly 6 years and while the engine and transmission are still good the Ranger's body is just giving up. Its got a bunch of holes in the bed and the rockers are rusting away. Worst the middle crossmember is just evaporating.

So for the past couple months we've been searching around. So far we've tried:
2006 Toyota Tundra - loved it but people want stupid money for them
2011 Toyota Tacoma
2006 Toyota Tacoma - I don't get why people love Tacomas. I didn't like either particularly and both had 6spd manual transmissions that I hated. They're like driving a 5 ton truck from the '50s, imprecise, long throw, heavy clutch.

2011 Nissan Frontier - Nissan's seating position kills me, the seats never go back far enough, and this crew cab truck shouldn't be having that problem.
2014 Nissan Frontier - This one was an access cab vs the crew cab above, Angie hated it, said it felt claustrophobic.
2011 Nissan Titan - POWER! The 5.6l v8 in this makes it easily the fastest, most powerful pickup we tried. Seating position is better than the Frontier but because the engine is tucked into the cab the truck gets a really long weird dash area.

2010 Chevy Silverado - Where the Japanese can bend space to make a car feel bigger on the inside than the outside would indicate Chevy has managed the opposite. This truck felt very big and ponderous to drive. I didn't mind it too bad but Angie hated it.

2010 Ford F150 Lariat - The Lariat is the top of the line, full of upgrades and features. Nice truck, the first crew cab where I could really stretch out in the back seat. Way more truck than we need and way more money than I want to pay.
2014 Ford F150 STX - The only access cab full size truck we've driven. We both liked it a lot and if the dealership had come down $3000 more we'd have bought it. As it is I've come to my senses, buying a new truck doesn't make any financial sense for us, we don't drive it that much. If we were looking to pay that much it'd make more sense to buy a jalopy of a pickup and a new car for me.

2004 Dodge Dakota - I did this one on my own today as a bit of a lark, I happened to see it and stopped in. Unfortunately it was a smokers car and while I know I could get the smell out I know Angie would give me hell over it. Worse it wandered badly down the road, the AC didn't work, the radio didn't work, the driver's seat was all squished out and had cigarette burns. I'd consider buying it but they wanted nearly $8,000, then I'm going to have to put maybe $1500 into it. Maybe I'll go back and point out all its faults and get them down some. I'd probably do it at $5,000.

Anyway the search continues. The drive today reminded me how much I like Dakotas although I hate how they changed the body style in 2005. Dodge seemed surprised sales of the Dakota slumped, I'm not.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Lanterns, lanterns, lanterns

So while I haven't been a very good blogger lately I have been THINKING about writing... :)

Two weekends ago I welded up the 190D exhaust again, that makes attempt #3. While its a pain I'm getting kind of good at pulling the pipe down, welding up and reinstalling relatively quickly. This time it had about a 3" crack which I covered with a piece of cutoff exhaust pipe I had hanging around the garage. In the past I'd made my repairs from strips of sheet metal but this method is much faster. I took the car to work last Thursday and all was fine, Friday when I tried to take it to work it was worse than before, rats. Saturday I ordered a new pipe and new rear brake pads. Angie has been complaining about the pads squeaking which could be from using Car Quest brand pads. I ordered Pagid which are OE Mercedes and supposedly won't squeak. They're easy enough to change and cheap enough that I'll give it a shot.

Yesterday I got a new lantern in the mail. I haven't ordered anything on eBay in a long time and I'm not sure what prompted me this time but I found what turned out to be a very nice 228C from May 1946 for a really good price:

In the end, with shipping it was less expensive than my 228B and in comparable shape. Now I really need to get to work on my 228D which I've had for maybe 2 years with no movement.

Of course before I get to that I've been DYING to play with an inverted Kamplite I bought at the convention. I paid $40 which I understand is a really good price. This one has a dent just above the globe but it doesn't effect operation at all. I'd tried to light it at the convention but the FA tube appeared to be clogged. These have a very odd FA tube because the fuel pickup sticks into the fount upside down, basically everything is backwards on these.

The pickup has a very small hole in the side covered by a metal screen which you can just barely make out in the picture. When I removed the screen I could shoot brake cleaner through the tube and it would just barely get out the side hole. I soaked the tube in citric acid for 10 minutes, then polished with steel wool and pricked the hole with a 200A pricker rod and now brake cleaner shoots out that hole in a stream.

After reassembly I was a little worried when I didn't get that familiar gurgle but the lantern lit with no hesitation:

Its loud, and when shutting down it pops hard. Like other King Sealy lanterns (Kamplite, Thermos and other AGM derivatives) it doesn't have a burner screen. This one has a few holes in the burner head to act kind of like a screen but its not the same. To prevent the popping from blowing out the mantle I turned the cleaning rod which worked great. Strangely my Thermos lantern doesn't pop on shutdown at all despite not having burner screens.

Anyway next on the list is the Day Lite lantern which is a Petromax clone I also bought at the convention. It ran for awhile but now just flames up. I think it had an iffy gas jet as I can swap in the one from the Wenzel and its better. I'd originally intended to just fix this lantern but then the Wenzel's foot valve failed so I ended up ordering some $50 worth of parts. I'd like to use the Day Lite as a test bed to help me really understand Petromax and then maybe do a rebuild video with the Wenzel.

In other news I recently shot another episode of Lantern Lab which I'm not really happy with. I rushed and it shows, especially in the lighting. I'm going to play with the footage some but I suspect it'll fail to impress me and I'll need to reshoot.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Where you been?

Charlotte, MI. People there will tell you its Char-lotte which differentiates it from Charlotte, NC. Google says tis 770 mi from our house so last Tuesday (a week ago today) we loaded up the old Jetta and headed out. I'm pleased to say ~1500 miles later everything went pretty much perfectly. The car ran well, used about 40 gallons of diesel fuel. We spent a night each way in Niagara Falls, the first night was at the Radisson we spent our honeymoon in which was a treat.

The purpose of the trip was the 2014 Coleman Collectors Club Convention which was a hoot as always. We camped on site, my 413E made the trip as is usual:

Also as usual we camped with Ryan an Tara. A fun thing about camping with them is that we have the same tent, or rather we have the same tent model, they have a 2 person and we have a 4. Thats hilarious because both Ryan and Tara are 6 feet tall. I'm around 6 feet but Angie is significantly less...

Anyway some highlights of the convention include this beautiful hollow wire chandelier:

and a cool branding iron:

I have promised to work on a Colman rising sun brand. I'm thinking about having it printed in plastic on a 3d printer to make a mold to cast in bronze or brass.

There was more including a ride in two different Model A Fords, a horse and buggy ride and ice cream made with an old hit and miss engine. That ice cream was some of the best I've had in my whole life. The guy was making 5 gallons at a time and said he made 7 batches. 35 gallons over 2 days seems like a lot to me but it was that good, nobody had just one dose.

Of course there were a couple big light ups:

Of course I'm right in the middle of everything...

Light ups are interesting, they're a bit like herding cats. The organizers always want to lay out the lanterns in some pattern which requires everybody to pay attention. It seems like people want to just drop their lantern in the first spot they find and get out of the way...

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Time passes and stuff happens

Months slip away like water.
So let me bring you up to date. I'm off on another work trip to California, it seems like I live here part time. Last week we were made our yearly spring trip to camp. This year's big project was to move the outhouse. The old outhouse hole was full. I don't remember what year I dug that hole, I'm guessing 2005. 9 years isn't bad for a hole I dug by hand while the outhouse was tipped forward. We probably should have made some sort of a box when we dug that hole to keep the dirt around the hole from collapsing in, you live and learn. This year we rented an excavator to do the digging. We built a box 4 feet tall by 4 feet wide by 32 inches deep out of OSB scraps and 2x4s, then dug a hole to fit the box. Finally I built a frame of 4x4s to slide the outhouse onto. The sliding went pretty poorly when the outhouse hung up on a concrete block as I slid it. I should have stopped at that point and jacked up that corner with the wagon jack to get the block out but instead I ended up wrestling it around with the excavator. Later on I had to spend a bunch of time jacking the outhouse up to get the 4x4s back into the right place. The other mistake I made was not spiking the 4x4s together, mostly because it didn't occur to me to buy spikes...

The next day we used the excavator to dig a test hole in a place Dad thought there might be some gravel. Off to the side of one field is a hill that appears to be degraded shale or slate which breaks up pretty good with the excavator. We dug some up and used the wagon to haul it to fill some wet spots in the road. Angie ran the excavator while I made runs with the Cub Cadet. I had the much harder job, the excavator can fill the little wagon no problem to the point where the Cub Cadet can just barely handle the weight. Then the dirt would be stuck in the wagon. Since it was a little wet when I'd dump it'd stick in the bed and I'd have to shovel it out.

To make this work we need either a real dump truck or a bigger dump wagon we haul either with the truck or the Farmall Super M.

Speaking of the Super M it got all new wiring this trip. We'd known the wiring harness was in tough shape for awhile and when the tractor wouldn't start at all we knew it was time. We finally did get it running by wiggling some wires but it wouldn't run well and couldn't pull any kind of engine speed. Fortunately we'd already ordered a wiring harness. The harness included the main wires from the generator to the switch and voltage regulator and from the switch to the coil but didn't include the lights or some other incidentals, we made those other wires ourselves so now every wire on the tractor is new except for one battery cable. That got the machine running and I used it to plow and disc the garden. I tried to shoot some video of my rollover plow but I haven't reviewed it yet to see if its any good.
While the tractor now runs its probably time to do a 12 volt conversion on it. 6 volt batteries are expensive and seem to be prone to failure. A small 12 volt battery would cost half what we pay for a 6 volt, it'd probably last twice as long and in a pinch we would be able to jump start the tractor off the truck. Having 12v electrics on the tractor would also allow for an inexpensive electric ignition conversion. Thats not a big requirement I've never really had any trouble with the points but it would make for a better running engine with increased reliability down the road.
I almost forgot, while we were doing all this work I put in new spark plugs too.
After all that effort the tractor started nice as you please although it did crank slow from the bad battery. When we left I put the battery on the desulfator, we'll see if a few months of that maybe helps salvage the battery. I doubt it and I see that a 12 volt conversion kit runs about $150. I may end up just doing that in the fall.

I'd bought some asparagus to plant at home but the package of roots I'd bought was way more than we could use around our house so I bought the rest to plant at camp. Asparagus is cool for camp since it comes up in the spring and requires relatively little maintenance the rest of the year. I planted a 14 foot trench worth which should provide us with about all the asparagus we can eat. The trenching was hard work and in retrospect I should have used the excavator.

Buster liked the trench though, he came up to inspect and immediately flopped down in it. I'd guess the bottom of the trench was cool and it was a hot day, especially for a black dog.

Finally we planted our yearly camp garden which feeds the wildlife. We've seen a big increase in the deer population around our farm over the last couple years and I'd like to think this garden has something to do with that so I keep doing it. This year we planted mostly turnips but some kale, squash, cucumber and whatever other old seeds we had at our house. Angie also bought some sunflower seeds which she put around the edge of the plot.

We planted by broadcasting seeds which we then disced in with the Cub Cadet. I'd tried plowing with the Cub Cadet but the so was unusually strong, last year we didn't get good coverage with the oats we'd planted so the grass took right over again. The plow I've got is also a little over large for the Cub Cadet and we're probably under weighted so it just had a hard time. The Super M just walks away with the 2 bottom plow I've got and it only takes a few passes to clear this area. Our neighbor Grant came by with an old spring tooth harrow which made short work of cleaning up the furrows. In past years its taken me hours to plow and disc the plot, working with the bigger tractor certainly made things easier.