Dec 31 2019

Sorry for the lack of posts, it’s not been from a lack of working in the garage.

A few weeks back I posted the first picture below, wondering if anyone could guess what I’m building. Not one message, which either means that no one guessed, or that no one reads this stuff other than myself, hah. Anyway, it’s done – a power drawbar for the mill, very much a copy of the Kurt brand. Sure, there are a lot of DIY power drawbars on YouTube, but having always been a contrarian, where’s the fun in copying a simplistic one when I could spend a lot more time figuring out how Kurt designed theirs. It’s mounted and working; the question now is how long my custom 3/4″ socket will last against the hardened drawbar. I may do a Youtube series on its development…

In the last picture, my brother mentioned that someone he knows regularly waxes his metal workbenches to keep them from rusting and to keep liquids from the metal. Seemed worth a try and it came out pretty nice, but time will tell.

Not much going on with Midlana, as it’s been raining a fair bit. After that, it got cold enough for snow in the mountains, which means tons of traffic during the holiday, never mind wet roads to spray down Midlana. Being on-call also serves to put a damper on fun things, for now.

13 Dec 2019

Checking over the car, a front spring was found hung-up on its spring  perch. Makes me wonder how long it’s been that way, because it changes where the tire is on the camber curve. Oh well, tire wear isn’t much different, but it is a reminder to keep an eye on things.

In the garage department, my brother made a workbench that sits over the front of his car, and given how little space I have, it seemed like a good idea. I almost went with wood, just because, but due to the design, worried that over time it would sag, so I went all steel. The fun started with a 36′ x 72″ sheet of 1/4″ steel plate, having not figured out what I signed up for—180 lbs., by the way. The first entertainment was that when it was pulled out of the truck and the back edge sat on the ground, it caught on the cement joint between the driveway and garage. No problem, I thought, because it kept it from sliding the rest of the way out of the truck. I managed to stand it up vertical, but then the bottom edge dropped all the way down into the joint. The joint is deep and narrow enough that I couldn’t lift it out far enough to keep it from sliding back in, but it also wasn’t deep to keep it from falling over if I let go of it to go get tools, and would likely snap off the cement along one edge. Fueled by many bad words and getting irritated, it finally came free.

The plan for the table was for the legs to fit between the front wheels and the nose of Midlana, offset to miss the front suspension. The top would be offset over the car, creating a new workspace in otherwise wasted space. Locking swivel caster wheels means that it can be rolled out when necessary.

So that’s what was done. Once the legs were done and welded, with a connecting frame between them, came the next challenge, getting the sheet onto the frame. Theoretically, one end could be sat on the frame, then the other end lifted up and slide over. In practice, it didn’t go well, and I’ve learned to listen to the little voice saying “you’re going to hurt yourself.” Time to pull out the chain hoist, which made short work of lifting the sheet onto the legs. It’s tack welded to the frame in case it ever needs to be removed, and also forms a convenient electrically conductive welding table. Not shown is that the four corners have been radiused to avoid damaging clothes and flesh.

Once in position, it was time for the first project, which I may have mentioned before, a wooden-gear clock. In short, this project hasn’t gone well. The first problem was finding that my laser printer doesn’t scale drawings properly in both dimensions. Next, I tried having the parts cut with a CNC router. The problem there is that the edges are somewhat splintered and in a few places, chipped. With a lot of work with sandpaper, they’re probably usable. Still, I was frustrated by the daunting amount of work, so checked into having another set cut with a CNC laser. This leaves very nice (if somewhat burnt) clean edges, and given the number of gears, that’s a pretty big perk. Unfortunately, going that route is around $600 and kind of took the wind out of my sail. Until I decide which way to go, again, that project has been set aside, again.

Next project… well, let’s see if you can guess what it is based upon the last picture, hah.

30 Nov 2019

It’s that time of year when Lulu, Midlana’s printer, starts its annual discount season, and right now, it’s 25% off at checkout. Discounts vary day to day so it’s smart to keep an eye on them (they don’t inform authors). The sale typically extends into the first couple of weeks into December, so now’s the time to hint what you want for Christmas.

On the lathe front, I received the interface board and everything is up and running. The first attempt at threading lead to some head scratching before figuring out that the software was unaware of my 4:1 gear reduction, plus, I had the servo driver box configured wrong, go figure. Got that sorted out and, dang, it works. Only thing left is to come up with a cover over the controller assembly to keep chips out of it.

On my drive home, I go through this stop sign everyday, and everyday I puzzled over this and finally decided to share. Typically, a car doing a burn out goes straight or slews left or right, but not back and forth. Once moving, some cars with independent rear suspension will slew back and forth (“fishtailing”), but not at the start. Given where the burnout starts, maybe it’s a FWD car and the driver’s just turning the steering wheel back and forth… Shows what I know, having never owned a FWD car, hah.

3 Nov 2019

I get into work early, about the same time as the developer of the electronic lead screw posts his weekly videos. I knew he was really close to putting the boards up for sale, and I’d even checked his website the night before. Unfortunately, I had some real, actual work that had to get done and completely forget about it for a couple of hours. When I remembered (“crap!”), I went to his site, he had them in stock, so I tried to order. Unfortunately, there was something wrong with his site, his connection to Paypal, Paypal itself, or the version of IE I was using. After that failed, I tried Ebay. Got there, “two left”, so I tried ordering two. Pressed Buy, and it said “sorry, one left”, AHHHH! Quickly changed my order to one, pressed Buy and it said “sorry, zero left.” Aaaaahhh!

My saving grace is that a kind reader on my build forum bought two and offered to send me one. The plan is to finish up the rest of it first, and if a second batch isn’t available by then, I’ll take him up on his offer. Using plywood for the baseplate was a matter of convenience, we’ll see how it holds up. A metal cover will ensure no chips get into the unit, especially the processor with its 0.020″ pin spacing.

In car news, my brother and I are considering possible trackday events.

30 Oct 2019

The big deal last week was my baby sister getting married. Since dad had passed away, I took on the role of both giving away the bride and making one of the speeches. Everything was going fine, right up until I went to get her, walked down the hallway, turned the corner, and saw someone right out of… what, a wedding magazine? A dream? With the lighting, the dress, and, well, her, it literally took my breath away. Time seemed to compress; it was like two ends of a string had come full circle and touched. One end was when I saw her when she was one day old… and the other end was her there in the dress. All those years flashed by in the blink of an eye, and there we were. It was oddly difficult for us to make our way to the front of the event.

So… back to guy stuff, later that weekend I made a bit of progress on the electronic lead screw, routing the cables several times before settling on running them to the back corner where the hinges are. The plan is to mount all the electronics to the outside of the end cover (not the inside for fear of dust and grit. The idea is that about the time that’s done, the developer of the project will be selling his interface boards. While it runs fine without it—using individual boards—it saves so much clutter I want to go that way. We’ll see.

20 Oct 2019

An update on the electronic lead screw mentioned back in August. As mentioned then, the software was developed by “Clough42” in a Youtube series. My highest form of flattery is when after reviewing someone’s design, I can’t see how I can do any better. Fortunately, the designer open-sourced everything. Also, he used off-the-shelf boards, so nothing has to be fabricated, mostly, meaning that the servo motor and spindle encoder need mounting, and a box is needed for the display, controller, and power supplies, all to tidy it up but also to keep chips from shorting things out. The picture shows the cobbled together—but working—mess . The bracket alone took a fair bit of time and made a huge pile of chips.

I’ll next make the enclosure for the power supplies and controller next, but worked a deal so I don’t have to make the small display box. That’s because the designer provided CNC files for milling the cutouts and engraving the text. Someone else is making one as well and mentioned he’d made his display box using the CNC files, so I asked what he’d charge to make a second box – deal done. It saves a lot of time and I’ve made enough electronic boxes in my youth that I don’t mind avoiding another.

Anyway, while the designer used commercially available boards, he did go ahead and design a small daughter card that combines several functions together, which really cleans up the installation, so I’m going to pick up one of those as well. It makes the whole installation cleaner and more reliable, plus it keeps my build so that if he modifies the code, there’s no concern about it not working.


5 Oct 2019

A couple things happened this week. First was coming home from work, thinking what I’d accomplish before dinner. That  changed when a puddle of water was found near the front door. “Hmm, and the hot water heater’s on the other side of this wall.” There went that evening. Then while walking Midi back home today, I saw a huge tree branch that came down the night before that had crushed our fence and a small fruit tree. The “good” news is that it’s the neighbor’s tree, but I went ahead and cut up my side of it.

In garage news: this weekend’s goal was to replace the very worn lathe cross slide screw and nuts. The screw is an odd 7/8-8 left-hand Acme thread, but I found a place that sells it in reasonable lengths. A buddy is making the same repair to his Takisawa TLS-800, so he bought a chunk of bronze, along with a 7/8-8 left-hand Acme tap, which he loaned me.

The first job was to machine the bronze block to create the nuts. The key was fully machining it as one block and only separate the two as the last operation. Doing this ensures that both would index to the same position when installed (rather than one ending up off by, oh, 37.5°, for example). With those finished, the next task was repairing the cross slide screw assembly. Rather than starting from scratch, the plan was to cut off only the worn threaded portion and attach the new part. This avoided having to mess with the drive gear, which may or may not have been permanently attached.

Taking out the old cross slide was an education but straightforward, but then I realized the Catch-22 I’d walked into. In order to replace the cross slide screw required using the lathe for two operations: cutting down the new screw shaft, and boring out the forward section of the existing assembly. Thankfully, only the first operation required the cross slide. One end of the new Acme screw was turned down to 0.624″ without issue, though it did act like it had been hardened; oh well, that’s what carbide inserts are for! Next, the original cross slide shaft was removed from the lathe (again) and the worn section of the screw shaft cut off (no going back now!). The bit was installed in the lathe chuck and was bored to 0.625″, with the help of a reamer I had from building Midlana. The new section of screw was installed into the original section, with the far end located with a live center to ensure it remained straight, then soldered together… yes, soldered. I intended to use silver solder that I’ve had for years, but the flux was all dried out and I couldn’t get it to flow. Finally I gave up and used ordinary rosin core solder. I did this because the torque required during use is low, and since it wicks between the two metals and sees only shear torque. I remembered seeing a demo where two plates were attached together. One was lap welded, while the other was soldered together, with the same overlap. Somewhat surprisingly, the soldered joint was stronger because it has much more surface area of contact. We’ll see how it holds up over time. If it fails, there’s always pinning it. Anyway, in the fourth picture from the last is a comparison between the new and old screw thread—pretty striking wear.

Lastly, I’ve been thinking about how to improve my driving. It all comes down to not being comfortable with it in turns (its capabilities are far too high to mess around on the street). Turns out that Willow Springs Raceway has, in addition to the main track and the Streets of Willow, a drifting track. Though smaller than I’d like, it might work for gradually upping cornering speed in order to learn how the car acts at the edge of adhesion. We’ll see.

(Oh, I’m trying something new. I set the native resolution to my cellphone camera low enough that the pictures don’t have to be resized. It saves a step and I think the shots look better.)

28 Sept 2019

 What a difference a week makes. Had the hill climb been this weekend, it would likely have been cut short on Saturday, and be a lot less enjoyable for us open-top cars. Anyway, here’s a video (taken by someone else) at the start of the parade lap up the hill and through town, showing the wide variety of cars that showed up.

Not car related, but more puzzlement  about human nature, it was something we saw on Virginia City’s main street. It was a guy sitting at a folding table next to the sidewalk. A sign on the table said “Book Signing”, and in front of that was the title of his book, “Navigating Life’s Challenges Through Poetry.” I didn’t know what to think and still don’t. On the one hand, he may well have poured his heart into his work, so he deserves credit for that. To not only expect customers, however, but also ones wanting a signature, in Virginia City, in the off season, just left me wondering what he expected. During the hour lunch when we were nearby, not one person approached his table, and I kind of felt sorry for him, because he apparently expected some business. On the other hand, it seems like a terrible place to expect a line of eager customers (though I admit that I don’t know what venue would be better… a renaissance fair maybe, a book fair?)

I hope he does well, but at some point, hope isn’t enough to make things happen, you have to be aware of how your product fits with its audience. Given where he was, I think maybe mining or train books might sell, and I certainly wouldn’t expect to sell any Kimini or Midlana books that way. It’s all about picking your battles. People make a day trip of Virginia City to learn about its history, maybe buy a T-shirt and grab lunch, but that’s about it. Of course, maybe the joke’s on me. Maybe someday I’ll see signed first edition copies of his book going for $500,000. You just never know.

27 Sept 2019

Alright, here’s the promised video: Midlana at the 2019 Virginia City Hill Climb.

To be honest, after learning my time and watching the raw video, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to post it. That’s because the video looks, well, slow. If you could have been there in the car, you might have thought different—I did. Learning that I was a good 20 seconds behind my brother was instructive because of how similar our cars are, in terms of weight, power, and even top speed. We were within a couple miles per hour of each other in the fastest section (130s), yet his time was much faster overall. The evidence was on the tires, where his showed the characteristic “beach marks” that indicate that they’re up to temperature and being worked. Mine have some of that, but not as much (ignore the spotted appearance, I had to drive through some oil soak-up granules right before parking).

Another aspect of the tire wear is that it appears that camber should be backed off at both ends, about half at the front, and 25% at the rear. (It’s good to see that camber can be adjusted to too much. The reason is that while it’s easy to dial it out, it’s downright impossible to add more if it’s already at the limit!)

The bottom line is that I’m not comfortable running the car near its limit because I still don’t know how it’ll react (partly the consequence of always changing things). The best place to sort this is on a skid pad, and about the only one around here is at Willow Springs. The thing is, they either don’t use it as such (it’s part of the course, so they just run straight through it), or when they do, they put a really small diameter circle on it, like around 30-40 mph. No, no, no… I want something that I can pitch the car sideways at 60-80 and see what happens. If the back comes out, see if I can hold it there (think Top Gear’s grandiose power slides). It’s also a safe place to try things like lifting off the gas mid-corner to see what happens. That way, when such things do happen outside that environment, they’ll be dealt with the right way.

Anyway, after watching the video a number of times, I see many places where a second or so could be saved, and that adds up. We’ll see.

One note on YouTube: If you use Microsoft Internet Explorer, you’re giving up resolution choices. Using IE, the highest available is 720P, but 1080P is available when using Google Chrome.

25 Sept 2019


My brother, having attended twice before, suggested getting to the bottom of the hill early so that we could park under nearly the only tree near the road; this proved to be a good idea. At 6000 feet, the sun is intense even in September, yet move two feet into the shade, and you might be cold. When wearing a racing suit, however, being cool is better than warm. Coincidently, Midlana’s intercooler intake tract served well to keep rain, hail, and the sun off my head. Anyway, we scored the shady tree, then got in line.

Below is a mix of just a few of the cars; only after the event did I realize I only took phone videos of the line of cars rather than stills. Given that there were roughly 60 cars, I missed showing quite a few. Being new to the event, I got a ride in an old Ford Falcon with a warmed over engine, and the ride was pretty entertaining, though its intent was to show the line and where the corner workers were located. The last two picture show the condition of Midlana’s tires after the day was done. It shows that they were both only starting to work, and both have a bit too much camber. That’s easy to fix and will enhance braking as well.

Next I’ll get to work on the video that I’m sure you want to see instead of my blathering…

24 Sept 2019

The Virginia City Hill Climb: we came, we saw, we experienced:

  • Horses, dirtbikers, and people crossing the course
  • Cars dumping oil or coolant
  • A car spun and and sideswiped the rocky wall
  • Cars breaking down
  • A car trying to avoid a rabbit, hits it anyway, sideswiping a rock.
  • A resident shooting at squirrels
  • Combinations of the above causing delays
  • Running out of food at the banquet dinner

—And we still had a great time—but I’m getting ahead of myself.

On the drive up, we fulfilled a childhood dream of mine. One of my favorite movies is “The Great Race”, starring Natalie Wood and Tony Curtis, filmed in 1965. In one scene, their characters meet at a rock formation in the middle of the desert. I always wondered where that was, and tried on and off over the years to figure out where it had been filmed. Only recently did the Interweb provide the location, so on the way up. we made a detour several miles west of Lone Pine, and there it was. It was really cool to find, and the irony isn’t lost on me that in the scene, the main character’s car is being towed by his trusty steed, as was mine. In some ways, getting this shot was just as big a deal for me as the hill climb itself.

We arrived Wednesday before the weekend’s events. On Thursday, we drove our cars from Virginia City up to Lake Tahoe. Rain threatened, but was supposed to happen later in the day. Driving up was uneventful, though driving through South Lake Tahoe wasn’t much fun due to typical city traffic and construction delays. The thought of “I could experience this back home without towing the car 525 miles” crossed my mind. Once clear of the town, we continued clockwise around the lake. Along the west side of the lake is State Route 89, and there’s a section between Cascade Lake and Emerald Bay unlike any road we had experienced. Consider a narrow-topped mountain ridge that road engineers wanted to run a road along. Well, “along” doesn’t do it justice, because they ran it right along the top edge. Rather than describing further, paste the following lat/long coordinates into Google Earth: 38 56 56.06 N 120 05 30.97 W, then go to Street View. The drop-offs on both sides are pretty dramatic. I managed only one shot of Midlana at Tahoe with the lake in the distance.

Our intended path to the north became blocked by weather (which changes minute to minute in the mountains) as the scheduled rain showed up early, so we turned back. Since the weather prevails from West to East, as we drove back around through South Lake Tahoe, the rain was moving across the north shore toward our escape route out of the mountains. As we drove up toward the ridge, the temperature dropped into the single digits (deg C) but never to zero. That’s good because the roads didn’t become icy, though we did catch some of the rain. Midlana, with no fenders, kicked up huge rooster tails of spray, which was great entertainment for me, not so much for other cars, which fortunately were few and far between. Also fortunate was that I didn’t pass any cops (who may have noticed my lack of wipers and fenders). Then, hail! As it hit, it broke up, with little bits flying everywhere (I thought it was snow at first) but fortunately it was small diameter. [No pictures because the driving was a little dicey, never mind the risk of using a cellphone while moving.] As we dropped down the East side of the mountains, the rain cleared up and by the time we got back to Virginia City, it had completely evaporated.

That evening, we explored Virginia city, a place that at one time, had more than four times the population of Los Angeles (35,000 versus 8000). All the mines have since closed down and the city now survives on tourism, with events such as ostrich races, long distance horse competitions, outhouse races(!), and of course the hill climb. Other events go on as well, as attested by these characters seen on the sidewalk one evening in the first picture. The second picture is from a bar where bras seemingly become detached and misplaced. I can’t help but wonder how many women wake up the next morning wondering, “now where’d I leave that?”

Wild horses and deer wander freely wander around town, with droppings appearing overnight even on main street. This horse was wandering around our cars when we came out of the motel one morning. This didn’t help my concern about them wandering across the course around blind turns, or there being blind areas where corner workers might not see them.

Virginia City is at an altitude of 6200 feet. This cuts the horsepower of normally aspirated engines by about 15-20%, depending upon air temperature. Turbocharged cars compensate for the thinner air in two or three ways: because there is less air to slow down the compressor wheel, it spins faster, pulling in more air; the exhaust, with less air pressure outside the car resisting it, allows the turbine to spin faster. Both factors naturally compensate to some degree, and the third is that most ECUs use closed-loop boost control, meaning that it closes the wastegate until boost is at the programmed set point. All three factors combine to give turbos an advantage at altitude; whether that makes the car win is up to the driver…

Friday was tech inspection, with the inspector finding what I already knew: two slightly loose rod ends on the upper front A-arms. It wasn’t a big deal because there was only slight play, but it bugs me because they’re not the cheap units. Apparently these two have more force on them, so they’ll be upgraded with the best parts.

Saturday practice:

Saturday started with the “Sermon on the Mount”, where the organizers sternly reminded everyone that this isn’t a competition, or even the clock; it’s simply a way to drive fast up a windy road without having to worry about police or traffic. Additionally, no times are provided to entrants until the entire event is over, which keeps people from overreaching their own abilities. I was still fixated on finding a horse standing in the roadway around a blind turn, and wondered how everyone else seemed unconcerned.

Finally we lined up and got started. The first thing that became apparent is that the sportcams that everyone uses to make YouTube videos have wide angle lenses that makes everything look further away (as well as making it look like they’re going faster). In reality, the turns aren’t as far away as they appear. The second thing that became apparent is that once I was driving, concerns about horses or anything else faded away, and only The Next Turn mattered. At the end of the day I felt more comfortable with the course, and purposely didn’t run a stopwatch for the same reasons as above; I didn’t want to overreach based upon a time.

That’s enough for now; there is a lot more to talk about and many more pictures and video, so keep an eye on this blog over the next week or so. I will say that this year, the all-time record finally fell, to a car on street-legal tires no less (unlike the former record time that was accomplished on illegal race slicks).

16 Sept 2019

This weekend is the Virginia City Hill Climb and me and my brother are about set. My brother’s car had a bit of a hiccup, with a new noise coming from the differential. Turned out that some of the ring gear teeth were cracked, and he was told that’s because this model diff is good to ~350hp, and he’s running 450whp through it. That’s a bit surprising given that the straight axle assembly weighs 150 lbs. Anyway, it’s fixed now, though he’s a bit concerned though about how long it’ll last. I urged him to take it easy, not stressing the gears, and to baby it up the hill, hah.

At the same time, he also had his old torque-sensing gear differential swapped back in, replacing the clutch type. I asked why, given that the general consensus is that clutch differentials consistently yield faster lap times. He said that at a track day event, he lifted a tire under braking—once—and smoked the differential clutches on that side and ruining it, so he’s done with that type.

Speaking of differentials, it reminds me of the many changes that have been made to Midlana since her last track outing: higher compression, better cam, larger turbo, overhead intercooler and ducting, retuned, different transmission gear ratios, different type differential, stickier tires, diffuser, different shock settings and spring rates! A good reason to do a lot of practice runs and take it easy learning what’s effectively a different car.

The weather this weekend looks promising, with temperatures expected to be in the low to mid-70s. Cool enough that we won’t overheat, and warm enough that the tires will probably get up to temperature.

The cars will be towed up Wednesday (a 9-hr tow, ugh), then driven up to Lake Tahoe on Thursday for some sightseeing and picture taking. Friday is more local sightseeing, which is a kind of a big deal around Virginia City, because this is where the Comstock Lode was discovered, the largest silver mining area in the world, at one time at least. Mark Twain ran a newspaper in Virginia City for a few years (with Wikipedia saying that he was challenged to no less than four duals during that time). Friday evening is tech inspection; Saturday is practice, and all of Sunday’s runs are times, with your best being “the one.”

I’m taking both the Sony and GoPro action cams and hope (with a glare toward the GoPro) to get some good video to work with. Editing it down will take a while, but I’ll be posting pictures as they’re taken through my Instagram feed (Midlana1). Don’t expect any updates here until next Monday or Tuesday night.

In other news, the wife said that there’s a big branch from one of our pine trees hanging over (and on) the neighbor’s fence, and she wanted to spend ~$1000 paying someone to trim it. Since she sleeps in, I went out early “unmolested” and cut up the offending branch (and yes, the voice in the head did point out that I may be getting too old to be climbing trees—I paid no attention). Granted, I didn’t trim the entire tree, but I choose to look at it as having just “paid” for a good portion of my upcoming trip. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

4 Sept 2019

Finishing up in the appearance department, the intercooler was painted and now the car looks a lot more finished. While still motivated, the right side panel was also opened up; it remains to be seen what its effect on cooling is.

In other news, the replacement cross feed screw for the lathe arrived. Disassembly of the existing cross slide screw showed the expected signs of a hard life; the middle portion is much more worn than the ends. The current thinking is to machine down the replacement screw and press/pin it to the front portion of the existing assembly. That seems easier than trying to machine the entire thing, though I might change my mind later. The bronze split nuts are also heavily worn and can be rocked back and forth on even the new shaft. I’ve never purchased bronze before and was surprised that a 1.5 x 1.5 x 6″ piece is $60 (from McMaster).

The good news is that I have a buddy who has this same model lathe will be making the same repairs. He already has the oddball 7/8-8 LH tap, necessary for making new nuts, and I can probably sell him half the section of bronze. Anyway, that, the electronic lead screw, and wooden gear clock will get more attention after the hillclimb.

2 September 2019

Actual Midlana content!

With the hillclimb coming up, there’s a few chores to take care of, with finally fabricating a replacement engine cover being the first. Longtime readers will recall that repositioning the intercooler to the top of the engine compartment meant that the previous nice clean engine cover no longer fit; believe me, I tried. The new cover is two-piece to surround the intercooler core, and to be removable. As mentioned before, the engine cover buys time by keeping flames out of the passenger compartment in the event of an engine bay fire.

I forgot that months (years?) ago, I’d starting taping paper templates to the back of the old engine cover to figure out sizing and where to separate the two, so starting with them saved some time. Anyway, it took me back me back in time to making the various aluminum panels on Midlana, which included relearning various fabrication tips, like “make sure to apply pressure to the riveter away from the panel so that when the rivet stem snaps, the tool doesn’t leave a scratch.” Oops. The pictures pretty much step through the details.

I again want to mention how great yellow iridite (also known as “Bonderite” or “Alodine”) is on aluminum, as it’s an excellent way to prep for paint. The two part solution degreases, etches, and protects the metal (with no treatment, aluminum feels oily). Paint sticks way better with it, and best of all, it’s all done at room temperature and applied via either dipping or brushing the parts, then rinsed off with ordinary water.

The riveted-on green vent panel was removed from the old engine cover and reused. There is some concern that engine compartment cooling may be limited by now having both upper and lower covers. Also unclear is whether the right-hand side vent should be opened up. The left side was always open, originally for the side-mounted intercooler. The right vent was to feed air to an oil cooler, but was never implemented (the engine uses an oil-to-coolant heat exchanger instead). Anyway, easy enough to try it.

I chose to go with ordinary flat black paint instead of the metallic green, mostly because I’m lazy, and also because the dark green is so close to black that the two colors won’t jump out as an obvious mismatch. Still on the to-do list is painting the intercooler end tanks and side plates.

The weather this year is been surprisingly mild; we’ve only run the A/C a few times, so with it being September, there was some talk that SoCal might avoid the usual heat. Hah. The wise old farmer’s advice about, “the first week of September is always the hottest” has proven astonishingly accurate again. Right to the day, hot humid weather moved in and chased me out of the garage a bit early. Sweating is okay up to a point, but when I keep drinking liquids with no need to run to the house, that’s enough for the day.

In other news, parts for the electronic lead screw are showing up, but nothing much to show until more parts are here. Oh, and in other news, 7/8-8 left-hand Acme thread (a very odd thread!) was ordered to replace the worn cross feed screw in the lathe. Though the old lead screw hasn’t be removed yet, it’s clear that it’s worn because when backlash is set to “reasonable” in the middle of its travel, it binds up towards both ends. Backlash is a very subjective thing; some people are fine with a fair bit, and some are not. I’m somewhere in the middle.

24 August 2019

Took Midlana to a sort-of Cars and Coffee event in San Diego with my brother and his car. “Sort of” because it was sponsored by a high-end vinyl wrap place (providing a hint for what constitutes “awesome”). There were a number of supercars, Corvettes (no mid-engine model, yet), VW Golfs (a train of them heading to the event passed everyone on the freeway at ~100mph), some old-school muscle cars, and I guess not surprising, a Tesla car club. You might wonder what can be done to a Tesla, and so did I: a wrap, wheels, and air suspension is about it, about 15 nearly identical cars lined up, meh. I guess this trend will only strengthen over time and become the new normal. A few other cars may have been track rats but looked suspiciously clean. There was a Lambo with a full roll cage inside; I can only imagine the hit to its resale value, but I guess if they’re fine with it, okay.

Anyway, our cars got plenty of attention, probably because of the wide cross section of car people. I posted a couple pictures to Instagram but to be honest, not much stood out. Many were just stock with custom wheels and maybe some vinyl, but I couldn’t help but get a shot of one of the attendees, looking like a guy from Central Casting for Road Warrior and Game of Thrones. Later, I heard him tell a friend that he was going into contract law. You just never know!

The drive showed that the fast idle is solved; I didn’t realize how annoying it was until it was gone. While the cause is now understood, it’s a puzzle what was going on, as somehow the throttle cable was getting shorter as the engine warmed up, which is backwards from expected. Maybe the sheath is expanding (getting longer) as it heats up, while the inner cable isn’t? Anyway, I’m glad it’s resolved, which means attention moves to the next item on the annoyance list, which is how crankcase blowby gasses from the dry sump tank exit out the bottom of the car. At a stop, depending on the wind, the vapors will emerge, enough that I wonder how long it’ll be before someone points out a “problem” with my car. All engines produce the same vapors, but they’re feed back into the engine. The concern is that doing so may fowl the plugs, which I rather not risk. Typical fixes include having a “puke can”, basically a container containing stainless steel wool to strip out most of the vapors. Haven’t decided whether to go that way yet.

In other car news, aluminum is on hand for the new engine cover. While I don’t remember the price of aluminum being high while Midlana was in construction, $55 for a 4’x4′ sheet of 0.050″ 6061 does seem a bit much.

Because we’ll be in the Reno area for about a week, dust, rain, and maybe unwanted attention might be an issue, suggesting that a car cover might be wise. I took a chance on a first generation Miata cover, which actually fit very snug.

In shop news, a tool post height gauge was fabricated, ensuring that the cutting edge is at the exact height of the center of the chuck. Since it was free to do, it’s double sided, so that the cutter can be lowered down to, or raised, to the correct level. A tool holder rack was also built, mounting on otherwise unused vertical space above the lathe. About the only thing left to add is a (probably plastic) backsplash to ensure flying metal and oil ends up in the lathe tray and not on the floor.

A bit more on the lathe; you may recall that it didn’t come with the external factory set of change gears (necessary for threading or driving the carriage at particular speeds). Of course, they’re long out of stock, impossible to find used,  and cost around $1000 for a custom set (some people say 3D printing works but I doubt they’d last). I’ve decided to take the leap and build an electronic lead screw. Normally I’d design and build something from scratch, but someone beat me to it. Clough42 on Youtube is currently doing just that. After watching his series of videos, I couldn’t see how I’d do any better without spending a lot more time and money, so instead, will follow along and make one of his, using the same hardware, development enviroment, and his embedded software. Since I left the embedded controller world, things have changed in a big—and good—way. Back then, the end user (me) had to make or buy development hardware and software, typically costing $$$$. Chip manufacturers finally figured out that they were doing it all wrong. Instead of making developers pay through the nose up front, they finally switched to the razor blade approach. That is, practically give away the development hardware and software, then make up for it when selling the millions of chips that go into end products. So now you can get a very powerful development board with built-in debugger for the crazy price of $30, and the entire software development package to go with it, for free. To be fair, it still requires a stepper motor, driver, gears, and a belt, but for about $200, it means being able to cut any thread, English or metric, and drive the carriage at any speed.

Lastly, someone apparently hacked my FedEx account, which is pretty amazing because I thought it had been closed years ago. FedEx confirmed that  it was closed in 2009, and they were puzzled how they managed to bill me $14.41 (to ship something to a police station in Massachusetts!) I was almost tempted to call the police station and ask what “I” shipped them, but thought better of it after thinking about what it could have been…

8 August 2019

My old lathe moved to its new home yesterday; I hope it serves the new owner as well as it has me. What offsets the slight sadness at seeing it go is getting a superior replacement for “free” (the buying and selling prices being essentially the same). Of course, the budget got blown by upgrading the chuck and tool post, as both were beat. This was a lesson about paying for a machine with the coveted “extras” we’re told to get, only to then pay a second time to replace them. The chuck will go to a buddy who’ll use it as part of a rotary table, and the tool post was given away with the old lathe. I feel fortunate to own a well-made lathe and realize that if it’s treated well, it’ll likely outlive me, hmm.

So now what. With the mill and lathe issues dealt with, attention turns towards preparing Midlana for the hillclimb, which is creeping up on us six weeks from now.

28 July 2019

As posted earlier, the second throttle return spring didn’t cure the fast idle. Turns out that it may have simply been that the throttle body end of the cable was misadjusted too short. When cold, opening the throttle plate (at the throttle body) always resulted in a reassuring snap as it was released, closing completely. When warm, however, it was more of a soft “thump”, and the cable appeared to be keeping it from closing completely. Because of the hot weather, it’s unpleasant driving any open-top car, so it’ll probably be tested in the garage.

Regarding the lathe, cleaning up the new (though older) one took maybe 20 hours—it was a mess. Once done, four nice but expensive leveling caster wheels were placed under the 2500-lb lump, in addition to two traditional leveling screws. At first I wasn’t going to bother, but the thought of having to move that much weight ever again, even once, made it an easier decision. Also, it raises the lathe 4″, putting it at a better working level. Speaking of moving it, a neat tool for moving anything really heavy is an indexable pry bar, sort of a big crowbar with an adjustable foot. Between that, wood blocks, steel bars, and the castor wheels, the two lathes swapped positions.

Since it’s 3-phase, a variable frequency drive was connected and briefly run to prove it works, but playing with the new one was pushed off until the old lathe could be cleaned up and put up for sale. I’ve been watching Craigslist long enough to know what I was in for, and expected odd/irritating/lazy/wishy-washy/scammy people, and I was not disappointed. Not 30 minutes after the ad was posted, I received this from someone who hadn’t even seen it:

I will be  buying this from you, so please kindly withdraw the advert from site. My husband will overnight the payment asap but he will be paying with a Certified Check from his Bank and it will  deliver to you via FEDEX, so  I’ll need you to provide me with the following information to facilitate the mailing of the check… And am offering additional $70 with the original price to have this asap.

Name to be on the payment………..
Address to mail the check to………….
City, state and zip code ………….
Final Asking price……………….
Cell phone # to text you on …………….

I will make arrangements for the pick up as soon as you have your check clear, due to my work frame and my Kids,  I will not be able to come with the cash and pick it up so my husband will mail the check and have someone pick up the item after the check clear.,   Reference to your  post  am completely satisfied with it  and the payment will  be deliver within 48hours..God Bless
The way the scam works is that since it’s a certified check, a bank will instantly clear it, the buyer picks up the lathe and vanishes, and about a week later, the bank calls up and says, “yeah, about that check, it’s no good.” Hard not to wish something bad upon such slimy “godly” people. I’m surprised that banks don’t have an immediate way to check such things, but oh well. Another tidbit to the scam is the “offer” to send the check via FedEx. That’s to avoid mailing it through the U.S. postal system, where mail fraud has much harsher punishment.
The new lathe is being upgraded to a “multifix” tool post. Granted it’s from China (it’s not manufactured by anyone in the U.S, and is actually a Swiss design). The machinist forums speak very highly of it, so a set was ordered. Upon arrival, I was puzzled by a big tool holder in the box that I hadn’t ordered. It must have weighed at least 5-lbs on its own. Curious, I contacted the seller and they said that shipping is actually cheaper for them if they weigh it down so it gets bumped to the next weight tier. Okay…
Lastly, it looks like the chuck may have to be upgraded as well. While it’s a desirable part (a 9″ Buck ‘tru-set’ chuck”, but is completely worn out). Worse, someone ran a drill through the jaws, removing all the teeth, and the jaws are hard or impossible to replace, and these appeared slightly tapered. It’s not terrible, since it was somewhat expected that it might need upgrading. Besides, as a machinist once told me, “you should buy the best quality chuck you can, then put a lathe under it.”

15 July 2019

Hope you like to read…

I have the parts needed to rebuild the Grizzly 13 x 36 lathe, but couldn’t move it because my brother was using the engine hoist. The idea was to rebuild it, making a custom stand with a set of real drawers. The thing is, after all the work and expense, it wouldn’t be worth what I’d put into it, so I was hesitating.  At the same time, I was on a metalworking forum thread that had a thread about a really cool yet somewhat-obscure lathe, designed by Takisawa, built in Taiwan, and imported by Webb and others. Turns out that a forum member who owns one lives locally, so I went over to check it out. It’s a 2500-lb beast—a “real” lathe—and while the same size as the Grizzly, is twice as heavy and much more heavy duty due to having a one-piece casting that includes the legs. Most importantly to me, the owner said that out of the dozen or so lathe brands he’s owned over the years, he’s keeping this one—that statement carried a lot of weight with me.

The tipping point came when he later forwarded me an ad for one, and not only was it very local*, but also very affordable. To make a long story short, I bought it, a Webb/Takisawa TSL-800 14 x 30 lathe, manufactured in 1978. The downside is that it only came with a chuck and a so-so quality quick-change tool post. Lacking were many of the usual accessories such as a four-jaw chuck, tool holders, collet closer, collets, taper attachment, steady rest, and follow rest. The most bothersome thing, however, was it not having any change gears, necessary for cutting threads. These came as a set with the lathes, always included, but weren’t there, and is unfortunately a common story. I think it’s due to the lathe being one big casting; the 2-speed 5 hp motor consumes the inside of the left leg, and oddly, the right leg is empty, but with no door or shelf. Because of this, nothing can be stored in the lathe, so owners are left to store everything elsewhere, where it’s eventually forgotten about and often thrown out. The seller had purchased the lathe new, so they should have them. The catch is that they’ve moved twice before, which may spell doom for the gears. The shop is in the process of moving a third time, and as the lathe was being loaded onto the truck, I asked about the gears one last time, this time to an older employee. He said that he remembers seeing them in a wooden box, years ago, and would keep an eye out for them during the move. We’ll see.

The lathe was fully assessed once it got home. It’s amazingly dirty, and while it was expected to see dried oil and dirt in the usual areas, this one’s more evenly dirty everywhere. It’s almost like it had been somewhere with an aerosol form of oil/adhesive/paint floating around. If it was just oil, I’d expect WD40 on a rag to remove it. Whatever this stuff is, it’s really on there, and so far I’ve used up 1.5 gallons of acetone, the only thing that can remove it. The original paint color is battleship gray, which I kind of like. Under that is body filler over a bright orange primer coat. There’s a story here, as well: owners of this model theorize that the factory got a bad batch of body filler that never cured (or maybe they never added catalyst?), and worse, over time it loses adhesion with the underlying primer coat. As a result, both the filler and gray paint come off in patches, leaving bright orange areas. Before I started cleaning, I was planning to tear it down for paint. As cleaning progresses though, the embattled look is kind of growing on me (think of it as a “rat lathe”). The decision to leave it as-is is strengthened by an owner who tore his down for paint, saying later that dealing with the Bondo dust and paint made him wish that he had never started. And then there’s the sump…

Being a real lathe means that it has a coolant sump and pump setup. The central area where chips collect has a grate and screen at the bottom to allow coolant through into the sump. The grate and screen had long since clogged up and been covered by chips. The seller said they hadn’t used coolant in years, so it seemed like a non-issue. Yes, well… I took the screen off and what I saw and smelled defines description. Actually, I can, I just hope you aren’t eating: imagine being told to clean out a portable toilet with just gloves and paper towels. Yup, kinda like that. Moving on, once that’s done, since coolant won’t be used, the pump is coming off and a blanking plate sealed in place of the drain screen. In addition, the entire electrical system is being removed in anticipation of running exclusively on a Variable Frequency Drive. The one that’s on the way has a power switch, direction switch, and speed control built-in, so it’s pretty much plug-and-play.

Somewhat related, the brake pedal doesn’t work other than turning off the motor, which then coasts. With a large chuck spinning at high speed, stopping takes a long time—now I know why. I thought that the brake lining had just worn out, and perhaps it had, because the shop had removed it completely. That actually worked in my favor since it helped negotiate a lower price. The brake pedal switch will be wired into the VFD to activate electronic braking, which allows retaining the physical pedal as functional.

Other issues included an oddly-cocked gear lever on the quick-change gear box. I couldn’t understand why the lever wasn’t aligned with the labeled panel positions, yet seemed to work, so I wanted to remove the cover to see what was going on. Removing the cover, however, meant removing the levers first. One came off fine, but the split pin in the other would budge. I eventually figured out that someone or something had forced the lever and doing so had partially sheared the split pin, misaligning the holes and making it impossible to remove. That answered the alignment question, so the only answer seemed to be to force it further until the pin sheared completely, while hoping that it could still be slid off the shaft, which it thankfully could be.

There are also several damaged/destroyed ball oilers. Hopefully they aren’t too hard to find replacements for, just have to measure the bore and assume that they’re metric (update: they seem to be imperial size…). I saw a suggestion somewhere to drill them oversize so fractional inch units could be swapped in. That’s all fine if the lathe is completely torn down, but if it not, it gets chips into all the worst places.

It may sound like a lot of issues, but I enjoy the journey. Nothing serious has been found, all the gears and bearings look and feel great, and all the issues have so far either been resolved or at least figured out.

A couple other tidbits: In today’s dollars, this would have sold for approximately $16,000, which is believable. I’m considering whether to make a wheeled stand for it. Due to its weight, moving it is a really big deal, and being able to retract the feet and push it around is tempting. Lastly, since Grizzly is mentioned up top, here’s an upbeat video about the history of the company and its founder: It’s neat to see that with hard work, and even when starting out with no money, it’s still possible to become a success.

* If you are considering a lathe, mill, or some other heavy piece of equipment, be sure to factor in moving it. The first place I called quoted $700-1000 to move it three miles. The second place charged $280, so the amount can be a big part of any “deal” you find. The alternative is to rent a heavy equipment trailer. It’s specially built for the job, heavy duty, and the trailer bed drops straight down to ground level instead of tipping. Because I didn’t have the time, or a way to move it onto the trailer, I elected to pay to have it moved, but next time, I’d consider moving it myself.

7 July 2019

Shaken, not stirred.

The first earthquake happened while we were on the freeway, and didn’t notice anything (and I don’t think anyone else did, either, since we’re about 180 miles from the epicenter). The second one, though, was much stronger, hitting while we were at home. I was watching TV and gradually got an odd sensation, where if your heart rate is just right, it can resonate with your height, and gradually start you rocking back and forth slightly. I thought it was that at first, but it kept increasing in intensity, and eventually saw the lights starting to move. It lasted for quite a while, maybe 20-25 seconds, then faded out as slowly as it started. That’s the thing about earthquakes; when you feel one start, you never know if it’s going to be The One, or if it’ll stay docile and bow out gracefully.

My brother just got his replacement engine running; you may remember that his belt tensioner locked up, shredding the alternator belt, which then ate the dry sump pump belt, resulting in zero oil pressure, and the engine was done. The new engine has a more aggressive cam in it, and he’s rather pleased with himself about the lopping idle. Having the engine running now gives time to ensure it’s solid before we head to the hill climb.

Speaking of having a solid car, I drove Midlana about 70 miles, in part to test whether adding the second throttle return spring fixed the hanging idle… nope. The engine will be warmed up so that it’s repeatable (only happens hot), then confirm whether it really is a sticky throttle plate, or the intake control valve. If it’s the latter, I’ll spray some carburetor cleaner into the idle control valve port as a quick fix to see if it really is that. If it is, it’s surprising that it’s happening so soon after a full cleaning. Of course, it could also be the idle control software loop, though that seems unlikely since it worked fine before and the tune hasn’t changed. If that doesn’t smoothly resolve itself, it’ll be time to figure it out via the ECU log files.

Lastly, some mischief has been afoot on the shop side of things, because something irresistible was found and will be here next week.