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Friday, December 25, 2015

Plutonium 238

Good news!  Oak Ridge National Laboratory has begun manufacturing a new supply of Plutonium 238.

Below, a pellet of Pu-238 glowing orange from internal heating due to alpha decay.
"Plutonium pellet" by Department of Energy (via Wikipedia)

Sunday, December 20, 2015

The role of delayed neutrons in controlling a nuclear reactor

It's been a while since I did a nerdy nuke post.  I've had a subject in mind, and been thinking a bit about how to describe some of that nerdy stuff in an understandable way...  I guess it's time to give that a shot.

Today's post is about delayed neutrons, and how they allow a reactor to be operated without power taking off exponentially within microseconds.  I brushed over delayed neutrons in another post, but this will be just a little more in depth discussion of the how and why.

A few thoughts on Energy Independence

Years and years ago, I lived in the Mojave Desert.  I was stuck buying electricity from one of the most expensive utilities in the United States: Southern California Edison.  The only affordable way to cool your house in the summer months was by using an evaporative cooler.  People who cooled with air conditioners were either wealthy or had old homes, built before electrical prices went sky-high.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015


We went to see the Moscow Ballet perform the Nutcracker a few days ago over in Spokane.  It was pretty nice because we were 3 rows from the stage.  We were so close that we could see the performer's faces, something that I've never experienced in all the concerts and plays I've ever attended.

Emergency Power - Portable Generators and Power Inverters.

After that last post about the wind storm, it got me thinking about alternate sources of electrical power.  There are two readily available ways to get emergency AC (alternating current) power.  You can use a power inverter, or you can use a generator.  

Saturday, November 21, 2015

So we had a little windstorm...

On November 17th a windstorm blew across Washington, Northern Idaho, and Montana.  Central Washington lost power lines due to high winds snapping power poles.  The rest of the region lost power lines due to trees falling on them.

The trees were hard on other things, like dwellings, vehicles, and pedestrians :(

Wednesday, October 28, 2015


We were blessed to be able to see a couple of really good shows recently.  First we went to the Ringling Brothers Circus, something we have done every year since 2004.  For just the second time we got to meet the Ringmaster.  This year it is Andre McClain.

A pre-show picture I took from the entryway to the arena.

Recently we went to the Riverdance 20 year tour.  They requested that the audience take no photo or video of the performance.  Being a semi-solid citizen, I respected their wishes.  In lieu of that, here's a Youtube video of a show from 2002.  It hasn't changed, except for the cast.  The music is as awesome as the dancing.  It's difficult to get the music out of my head after seeing the show.

Next up will be the Moscow Ballet performing the Nutcracker.  We are trying to start exposing our daughter to a little culture, and really it's a wonderful performance to see first-hand.  The only other time I saw this ballet was in the 1980's when the Joffrey performed it.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Nature in action

I happened to catch a couple of pictures out in the back yard of stuff I don't see very often.  One is a Pileated Woodpecker.  I've only seen them a few times, although the Audubon Society says this is part of their normal range.

A good photographer would have taken a shot like the one below (Audubon Society shot)

Also I got to see a couple of young bucks practicing their fighting.  Fortunately I had the presence of mind to get my phone out and take a couple of pictures.  It was pretty slow and gentle, not a massive cracking of antlers.  I've seen pygmy goats hit harder :)

Saturday, October 17, 2015

A little fall color

Just a few shots of our tiny patch of aspen trees.

The "pine tree" at left is actually a Tamarack (Larch family), beginning to yellow up.

Monday, October 05, 2015


We went to the Pro-West Rodeo Finals this past weekend and had a great time.  It's also pretty inexpensive, compared to some of the entertainment alternatives.  $10/per seat in the grandstand.  Got a few decent shots with my phone...

Wednesday, September 30, 2015


I'm sure everyone is curious what I look like.

KH500 Refurbishment - fixing and replacing odds and ends

I worked on a couple of items on the bike this past day off.  It's not like I had a ton of time to tinker, but I did what I could.

Friday, September 25, 2015

KH500 Refurbishment - Christmas came early

I placed a rather large order with Diablo Cycle a few days ago.  The first package arrived yesterday, and it was better than Christmas.  For a change, I got what I really wanted ;)

KH500 Refurbishment: Engine (part 3)

I decided to check out the spare set of cylinders I have on hand, to see what condition they are in.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Saturday, September 19, 2015

KH500 Refurbishment: Engine (part 1)

This is Part 1 of the KH500 engine story.  I can already tell this will need to be split into multiple posts, due to the damage I found this past week :(

Monday, September 07, 2015

KH500 Refurbishment - Clutch Cover, Oil Pump

I bought the KH from a guy who had crashed it and was afraid of it.  He told me that the clutch cover had gotten a hole in it during the crash, and that a friend of his had welded it to repair the hole.  It looks a little funny.

Weekend off - Daughter stuff

My daughter has recently become interested in shooting trap or skeet.  We scheduled a session at the local gun club for her first lesson.  We got past the safety part and then moved on to holding a gun in the proper stance, and that's when we ran into a problem.  She didn't have the strength or body mass to hold the 20 ga. shotgun without leaning quite a ways backward, which is not the proper stance.

Proper stance is supposed to be more forward-leaning like this...

But her stance was backward-leaning like this...

Which on a small gal will probably lead to fatigue, if not being knocked over by the recoil.  Anyway her muscles were giving out just trying to get the stance right, so we stopped and tried to figure out plan B.

Plan B is building muscle.  She has been working arms, shoulders and chest for strength.  We also investigated getting a 410 ga. shotgun for her.  Pointer makes a pretty nice little shotgun, which she found much easier to hold in position.  I don't know anything about the gun quality, but it looks nice.  I am certainly not an expert on these things...

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

One day off: Refinishing the Cribbage Board

I have been on the DuPont schedule for the past few years.  I've never gotten used to it - probably never will.  There's a point on DuPont where you work three 12 hour day shifts, get a single day off, then work three more 12 hour night shifts.  The one day off doesn't give you much rest, but I did manage to get a small project finished, and that was the cribbage board.

KH500 Refurbishment - Electrical

Long ago, when I was still a teenager, I wanted the KH500 to look like a racebike.  I bought a headlamp-mounted fairing and installed it.  It looked about like the one below, only white and with a clear windscreen.  I never had the money to get it painted to match the copper color of the bike.

Deep Dream Generator

Google has an interesting service called the Deep Dream Generator (linked).  To use it, you upload an image from your computer, and it transforms the image.  What you end up with is a creepy impressionist-style image, filled with weird eyeballs and faces.  I find it amusing.  Below are a couple of examples, followed by their Deep Dream transformations.  Fascinating!

Below, the Horse Head Nebula in Orion (aka Barnard 33)

Deep Dream

Below, a widely circulated internet meme:

Deep Dream:

Waterfall image:

Deep Dream:

Try it out, you might get something really cool out of it!

Sunday, August 30, 2015

KH500 Refurbishment - Controls, Instrumentation, Cosmetics

The KH500 has some dings from falling over, and some other road rash.  The aluminum I think can be smoothed with a file and then polished with a wheel.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

KH500 Refurbishment - Fuel/Air System work

I've been taking apart the old 1976 KH500, a bike I've owned since high school, to get it ride-worthy again.  This is not a restoration, just a clean-up and replacement of worn-out stuff, hopefully mainly rubber and plastics.  I'm in the process of taking it apart and evaluating what must be done to get it a) Running and b) Safe to ride.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Shop Improvement #4: Moving the stereo receiver

Compared to the previous three shop improvements, this one is pretty minor :)

I recently purchased an old Pioneer stereo receiver and speakers off Craigslist.  I was in a hurry to put them to use, and so I moved some stuff and ran a few wires quickly, so that I could get it working.  Recently though, I got a little annoyed with having to reach so far for the volume knob, and the speaker wires and audio cables looked really tacky.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Shop Improvement #3: Installing Safety Rails

The previous owner built a mezzanine into the shop, with some stairs leading up to it.  I've stored quite a bit of stuff up there, but it's always been hazardous, because there was no stair rail, nor a safety rail for the mezzanine area.  A fall to the concrete below would not be much fun.

Shop Improvement #2: Turning the water back on

The shop has a small bathroom, which I've never been able to use.  The reason I wasn't able to use the bathroom fixtures is because for as long as I've lived here, the shop hasn't had heat.  With the lack of climate control, it would be unwise to turn on the water.  In the winter months it would certainly freeze, bursting a pipe and causing water and plumbing damage.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Shop Improvement #1: Heating

I just finished a couple weeks off work.  The first part of the vacation was spent at Glacier National Park, which was fun.  It was also pretty crowded, because half the park was off limits due to a fire, and those visitors ended up moving into the remaining open areas.  I will do a post on the park later on.  It's what happened after we got back home from Glacier that made the vacation become useful.

Chain sawing

I'm not a lumberjack, but I do have 5 acres of property, of which about half is woods.  When the weather has been co-operating, I have been trying to make my house safer from wildfires by removing trees that grow very near the house.

Additionally I have been thinning trees and removing limbs up to a high level, as well as clearing brush and slash from the forest floor.  The result is a safer place to live, although definitely not as natural-looking.  This summer, the natural look seems to be "burned up", which I have no interest in.

So I clear trees.

I'm pretty hard on chainsaw chains though.  I have about 10 of them, so that I can get through a couple of days' work without having to make a run to town and have them re-sharpened.

Re-sharpening the chains is a pain in the neck, because I lose at least an hour taking them to town, and then lose another hour picking them up the following day - not to mention the expense...
I have a hand-file for sharpening the chains, which I have never bothered to use.  It takes way less time to simply swap chains and keep cutting, and then take the chains in for sharpening later on.

My time off is limited, and so is weather-friendly cutting time.  When snow is on the ground, you don't want to be clearing the forest, and you can't even burn for about 6 months of the year.  It makes for a narrow time window to cut and burn stuff.

Long story short - Taking a lot of time to sharpen chains didn't work for me.  Here's the solution:

Friday, August 07, 2015

Two-strokes: Light and powerful engines

Let me get this out of the way:  I love two-stroke engines. They are simple, reliable, and powerful. They don't even have to be upright to work properly.  Heh, try that with a four-stroke!  I'm particularly fond of multi-cylinder two-strokes, like those in snowmobiles, older Grand Prix motorbikes, and personal watercraft - they provide lots of zoom without a huge weight penalty.  Two-stroke fans often call four-stroke engines "diesels" - meaning that they are heavy, and best used for slowly hauling around a load of cargo :)

Sunday, August 02, 2015

Credit Freeze

On the right column of this blog, you will see a list of favorite websites.  The third one down is a blog called "Krebs on Security".  I highly recommend reading his blog at least weekly.

Brian Krebs was a reporter for the Washington Post from 1995 to 2009, and now is a freelance web reporter.  He is one of the most respected reporters in the field of cyber-crime, and apparently receives quite a few anonymous tips from insiders of credit agencies, banks, and security firms.

As a result of his reporting, he recently earned the wrath of several cyber-criminals.  In one instance, he was "Swatted".  In another instance, an angry mobster sent heroin to Krebs' home from the Silk Road website, with the intent of informing the police he was dealing drugs.  Fortunately Krebs had been monitoring that crime forum, was aware of the plan, and notified the police in advance.

The other thing an angry criminal did was locate his personal data and post it on a crime forum.  The only reason Krebs did not suffer massive Credit Theft is because he had previously taken precautions for this very event.

This is the point where the story starts to involve you, dear reader.

Krebs' opinion is that so many large companies and government agencies have now been hacked that pretty much everyone's personal information has been compromised at this point.  This means anyone reading this is at risk for being a victim of credit fraud or ID theft (which are not the same thing).

I respect Kreb's opinion, and I also respect his suggestions on what you can do to protect yourself.  For those who are interested, he recommends placing a credit freeze with the three major credit rating agencies.

A credit freeze prevents the opening of new credit accounts in your name.  You can unfreeze as necessary to open new lines of credit (say for purchasing a vehicle), and then freeze it again afterwards.

In most states it costs $10 to establish a freeze (for a total of $30 to freeze with all three agencies). All other states cost less, or are free.

Here's the information you will need when you make the calls:
  • Your social security number
  • Street address (just the digits)
  • Date of birth
  • Zip code
  • A valid credit card (to pay the fee for the freeze)
The process is done by following an automated phone menu, which takes about 5 minutes for each freeze.

Below are the agencies to call, as well as their phone numbers.  If you don't trust these phone numbers or links from a random internet blog (I wouldn't!!!!), feel free to locate each of the agencies with a search engine and gather the information for yourself.

Equifax (866) 349-5191

TransUnion (888) 909-8872

Experian (888) 397-3742

The rest is up to you... :)

Missing Blog Images

I've noticed in the last couple of days that several images on the blog are not showing up - including the main image for my Blog!!!  It's a little irritating...

I checked using a couple of different PCs, and tried three different browsers, but the same images came up missing each time.  The images still show up in the original files, but re-publishing them does not make the images appear in the re-post.

These are not copyrighted images either.  Most of them are my own photos.  It's not clearwhat's up, but hopefully Google straightens it out.  I'm dead-certain that Google doesn't have a call center full of helpful people just waiting to help me fix these issues.  Also I don't have a lot of free time, so I'm not keen on trying to figure it out on my own.

If things aren't back to normal in a few days, I will look into it.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Shop improvements

I have been gradually working on getting my shop organized and more functional.  Among the things I've been working on are removing clutter, installing a hybrid sound system, and adding shelf space. The glider rocker I mentioned in a previous post was part of removing clutter.

The old bike - Kawasaki KH500

As I mentioned previously, I have an old two-stroke Mach III motorcycle that I've had since high school.  While I was out puttering around in the shop this past weekend, I had a sudden impulse, and decided to clean it up.

Home Projects - refurbishing a rocker

A relative has been keeping some stuff in my shop.  One of these items was an outdoor glider rocker that was in bad shape.  I had promised a while back that I would refurbish it for them.

First Concert

We took our daughter to her first rock concert, and everyone had a pretty good time.  One of the local casinos has a summer concert series that brings in some bands that were usually pretty big back in the 1970s and 1980s.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

The Unrideables

There was a period of time in Grand Prix motorcycle racing (The 80s and early 90s) when Australian and American riders were absolutely dominant.  Both countries had thriving off-road and dirt-track racing communities, while European and Asian countries did not.  As the Grand Prix motorcycles became more and more powerful, riders that could slide the machines turned out to be fastest around the track.

Kenny Roberts was the prototype dirt-track rider who become a successful Grand Prix rider, and he was in turn followed by many others.  The bikes were as amazing as the riders.  They were powered by very light two-stroke V-4 engines that were pushing 200 very peaky horsepower.

The tires of the day weren't really up to the task of maintaining grip consistently.  And unlike today, there were no sophisticated electronics to cut engine power in turns or for launching.  A heroic time really.

The videos below capture a sense of how vicious these powerful motorcycles were, and how awesome the guys were who rode them at (and over) their limits.

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Still here...

I've been working on a couple of new posts.  Patience please!

Sunday, June 07, 2015


One of the things I enjoyed doing with my roommate's telescope was astrophotography - that is, taking pictures of stars, planets and nebulae.  I only tried it a few times, and there was definitely room for improvement but still have a few prints of the better shots.

Telescopes, Astronomy and (next post) Astrophotography

Once upon a time in San Diego, I had a roommate who bought a really expensive telescope.  It was a nice Celestron telescope with an 8 inch aperture, just like this one.

Monday, June 01, 2015

HIstory of Grand Prix automobile racing

I found these videos fascinating - the march of racing technology across 40 years.

Three part series on the post-WWII era.

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Mt. St. Helens Eruption of 1980

I remember this happening...  Glad I wasn't directly downwind!

Video about Russian Submarine K-141, Kursk

Wiki sez:

"Kursk, full name Атомная подводная лодка «Курск», which, translated, means the nuclear-powered submarine "Kursk" [АПЛ "Курск"] in Russian, was a Project 949A Антей (AnteyAntaeus, also known by its NATO reporting name of Oscar II). It was named after the Russian city Kursk, around which the largest tank battle in history, the Battle of Kursk, took place in 1943." 

She sunk August 12, 2000 with all hands.  Some survived for a time at the bottom of the ocean. I cannot imagine a worse way to die, both for the men and for their families.

Found this video online and thought it was a fitting (if sad) testament to the men.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

High speed video

Insanity throughout

Insanity starts just after 2:30

Insanity starts at 2:50

Monday, May 04, 2015

Geological Cataclysm - The Missoula Floods

Western Washington state has a very interesting, if barren, landscape.  It took a fascinating geological detective story to understand how it got this way.  What is amazing is how awesome and violent the process was that produced this landscape!

The image below shows an area known as the Channeled Scablands.  Spokane, Washington is the city at the upper right.

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Geological Cataclysms - The Cascadia Earthquake of 1700

This is another successful and impressive geological detective story.

The largest earthquakes in the world occur at subduction zones.  A subduction zone is where one continental plate is being pushed underneath another.  Only a subduction zone can generate an earthquake greater than magnitude 8.5 (a "great earthquake")

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Spring Cleaning the forest - 2015

Taking a break from natural catastrophes for a moment.

I recently finished a two-week "vacation".  I work the DuPont shift schedule, which runs you in circles for three weeks before giving you 7 days off.  If you take the last four 12-hour day shifts off, you end up getting two weeks.

I put "vacation" in quotes, because I didn't go anywhere, and worked quite a bit harder than if I had remained at work.  I had to take the vacation though, because I was up against the maximum limit.  Also the property needed some work.  Quite a bit, in fact.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Geological Cataclysm - The Chixulub meteor impact

When I was growing up, everyone knew about dinosaurs and their sudden extinction.  No archaeologist or geologist could come up with a valid explanation of what caused that extinction.  All anyone knew was that the Mesozoic Era abruptly ended and the Cenozoic Era ("The Age of Mammals") began.  Dinosaurs were the dominant terrestrial vertebrate for 135 million years - and then one day, pffft... they were gone.  But why???

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Goodwood Festival of Speed

Before I get going on Geological Cataclysms of the past, I want to bring this to your attention:

Geological Cataclysms

I'm interested in cataclysmic geological events in history.  I find it fascinating how scientists manage to gather data from a handful of clues available in the current day and make a solid case for an epic event that almost defies imagination.

I will be posting about three of them in the near future, and those are the Chixulub asteroid impact, the 1700 Cascadia Earthquake, and the Missoula Floods.  Each of these events is absolutely fascinating.  More fascinating is the effort and research that went into convincing a dubious scientific community that these events occurred.

Monday, March 23, 2015

How military submarines find their way around

It occurred to me that a person finding this blog after a text search might have noticed that a fair number of the posts are about submarines.  Random readers may not be familiar with military subs, and they might wonder how subs move around the ocean without banging into stuff, or how they know which way they are going, etc, etc.  Sometimes submarines *DO* bang into stuff, but that's the exception, not a normal daily event.

So in that spirit, I thought I would share what little I know about underwater navigation.  Confession time:  I worked in propulsion, not navigation, so I will have to find this information before I can post it.  I have a general idea, but I will use the internet for more clarity before exposing my ignorance!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

USS Barb SSN 596

I haven't been blogging this week because I decided to do something different online, and that is to make a website dedicated to the ship that I served on.  A shipmate who was running a website for the ship has passed away, and I am trying to carry on his work.  Big shoes to fill...

I will get back to blogging shortly...

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Some impressive videos I've viewed lately

I like this one in particular:

This one is vertigo-inducing.

This one is just cute.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Steam turbine designs

I've posted a few times before about steam turbines, here, here, and here.  One of the things I find fascinating about steam turbines is how vast the variety is among them, depending upon the application.
  • Steam turbines that are used for marine propulsion will have stages to turn them in the reverse direction, and a separate astern steam throttle valve.
  • Steam turbines that are used in power plants for generation of electrical power come in a stunning variety of shapes, sizes and designs.
  • Steam turbines that are used provide cogeneration for other processes are often very compex and unique.
  • Turbines can be designed for various operating pressures and outputs, making each design slightly different and interesting in its own way.
Below: An early steam turbine diagram from 1905 for shipboard use.  The astern steam throttle is at top left. These two stages turn the shaft in the opposite direction than the seven forward stages.  Only two stages are used for astern movement, because it is not used often and so efficiency is not necessary.

Friday, February 20, 2015

LED Lighting conversion

No, I am not talking about some high-tech electronic thing I did.  Several months ago we switched the entire house over to LED lights.  It took over a hundred light bulbs and a couple hours' time to accomplish this project, but it was worth it.

I was an early adopter of CF bulbs, back when it cost over $10 for each one.  They probably paid for themselves quickly because at the time I was a Southern California Edison customer.  SoCal Edison probably has the highest electricity rates on the planet.

The refurbished curio cabinet

My wife has been looking for a curio cabinet for several months on Craigslist.  The style she wanted, and eventually found, was a curved-front type like this:

Swapping out bootable hard drives, Windows 7 edition

250th Post...

For nearly a decade now I have been building my own desktop PCs.  A friend showed me how easy it was to do, and after that I was done buying machines from Gateway, Dell, etc.

The PC that I am now using was built about three years ago from Newegg parts.  It's not a bad little machine, but it developed an issue.  I originally installed a smallish Solid State Hard Drive that was just for the Operating System (Windows 7 64-bit).

Sunday, February 15, 2015

19th vehicle - Honda CBR 1000... and we are done with vehicles!

This is the Honda CBR 1000 I picked up in 2006.  It had 1100 miles on it, and it was on consignment at a dealership in Boise.  I picked it up pretty cheap and it needed nothing.  I got another 1100 miles before the rear tire was gone.

18th vehicle - Christine

Link here:

Me and Christine, a 1979 Kawasaki KZ 650

17th vehicle - F-250 Powerstroke Diesel

I overheard a couple of guys at work one day talking about a vehicle they had seen for sale.  Both of them liked it and wanted it, but one had no money and the other wasn't really in the market for it.  I liked what I was hearing:  A Ford F-250 4x4 with one of the new Powerstroke Diesel engines.  I asked the guys if they were interested in it, and they were not.  I asked about where to see it.

Over the years I'd test-driven a couple of Ford diesel trucks at dealerships and liked them.  The trucks I had driven did not have turbochargers though, so they weren't very powerful.  The acceleration wasn't much to write home about on those trucks, and they were more expensive than a large gas motor, on account of the diesel engine.  So I never really was interested in a Ford diesel, until the Powerstroke engine came out.

The Powerstroke was Ford's answer to the Dodge Ram truck fitted with the inline 6 cylinder 5.9 liter Cummins turbo-diesel engine.  Dodge came out with the duo in 1989 and the trucks sold like hotcakes.  Ford had a diesel truck, but it didn't have 160 horsepower and 400 ft-lbs of torque like the turbocharged Cummins.

The Powerstroke was introduced in 1994.5.  It was a 7.3 liter V-8, and it arrived with a turbocharger and electronic fuel injection.  The engine produced 210 horsepower and 425 ft-lb of torque.  Torque (or twisting force) is important for towing, and why so many tow vehicles use big block engines.  Engines with a longer piston stroke typically have bigger torque than small ones, which are optimized to make horsepower at higher RPM.

15th and 16th vehicles - Other Kawasaki Triples

My 15th and 16th vehicles were bought on a whim.  They weren't very expensive, never got registered, and one of them was pretty much a basket case.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Fourteenth vehicle - 1995 Ford F-150

Buying this vehicle was a mistake.  Let me start with that statement.

The big blue Ford was not a *bad* vehicle.  It never gave me a problem or any trouble whatsoever.  The problem was how it was configured, and that led to really poor results.  I had gotten married and the little Bronco was aging, and I liked the idea of having a real, full sized 4x4 truck.  We test drove it, liked it, and within a few days, bought it.

The truck looked about like this one in color and in backdrop :)

Thirteenth vehicle - 1985 Ford Bronco II

The thirteenth vehicle I owned was a 1985 Ford Bronco II that I purchased used while I lived in San Diego.  I traded TR-6 number three in for it at a car dealer down inn Mission Valley.

The Bronco II had the same paint scheme as this one, with similar-looking aftermarket wheels.

Twelfth vehicle -1972 TR-6

I purchased the final TR-6 shortly after selling the Yamaha XS650.  I still owned the Corvette at the time, but I really missed having a little sports car.  This little Triumph was red.

The top and interior weren't in great shape, so I just left the top down with the cover over it (like in the above photo), and let the San Diego dew soak the seats.  It was under a carport, so nothing got *soaked*.  I kept an old towel behind the seat to wipe things down before going anywhere.

It let me down only once, and that was when the transmission failed.  If I recall correctly, something had been wrong with second gear.   My roommate was driving when it gave up the ghost.  Neither of us was very surprised.  I found another transmission, and this one had an electric overdrive!  That made everything even cooler.

TR-6 transmission with overdrive.  The two overdrive sections bolt on to the standard 4-speed at the right.

The new transmission required a little extra work, but it was worth it.  I installed the new transmission and built a little electric circuit with a toggle switch on the dash to engage the overdrive solenoid.  That solenoid is a little black cylinder at the lower right side of this transmission.

There are two electrical switches on top of the gearbox.  One is to turn on the back-up lights, and the other is to prevent the overdrive from engaging unless the car is in 3rd or 4th gear.  I guess the torque of lower gears would damage the overdrive unit.  Anyway, I was really happy with that car, and kept it for several years, until I decided to get my first 4x4, which I traded it in for.

Monday, February 09, 2015

Eleventh vehicle - 1976 Yamaha XS 650

At the same time I owned the Corvette, I found myself owning another motorbike.  A fellow submarine sailor begged me to take this bike off his hands as he was leaving the Navy.  He did not want to take the bike along with him when he left the service.  I bought it for a song.

Below: 1976 Yamaha XS 650

The Yamaha was basically a refined Japanese version of a classic British twin, the 650cc Triumph (Below).

The Japanese were in the process of destroying the British motorcycle manufacturing industry by building better and less expensive motorcycles.  The Triumph had an overhead valve engine, and a drum brake up front.  The Yamaha had a superior single overhead cam (SOHC) engine, and a front disc brake.  So the Yamaha ran better and stopped better than a generic British bike of the same size.

There were probably a huge number of other improvements the Yamaha had over a British bike, but I'm not familiar enough with the Brit bikes to point them all out.  One thing is certain:  It needed WAY less tinkering to keep it running.  The Yamaha was not a finicky bike at all - valves, points and carburetor adjustments were rarely needed.  Nothing ever came loose or fell off the Yamaha.

The Yamaha had an electric starter, but it also had a kick starter in case the battery died.  It was a very nice running and handling motorcycle, with no quirks at all.  The power delivery was good from bottom to red-line, and it didn't vibrate excessively (for a twin cylinder).  It always started right up.  If there was a down-side to this motorcycle, it was that it was pretty damn boring to ride - especially after having owned a Kawasaki Triple.

At 50 horsepower the engine wasn't especially powerful.  In addition to the mild engine, the bike was heavy, so acceleration wasn't this bike's strong suit.  Nor could you corner it too hard or you would find yourself scraping the foot-pegs.  It was probably not a bad machine for commuting to work, but I found the bike to be very uninspiring, and eventually I sold it to a shipmate.

Tenth vehicle - The 'Vette *Updated*

The tenth vehicle I owned was a 1971 Corvette.  What I really wanted was an old Jaguar.  I was pretty certain that a Jag would be expensive to own, unreliable, and difficult to find parts for.  So I decided to get a Corvette.  It was expensive to own, unreliable, and difficult to find parts for.

I traded my 1981 Z28 Camaro straight across for the 71 'vette.  The owner of the Corvette couldn't get the car certified for the California emissions "Smog Check", so he couldn't register it.  I, on the other hand, was in the military.  I could register the car in my home state and avoid the issue entirely.  Of course it would still be polluting the pristine California air, but it would be registered (and I would be paying licensing fees) in Idaho.  The trade was on...

*UPDATE* I found and scanned an old picture of the car:

The pokey old Z28 was gone, replaced by a Corvette with a big-block 454 cubic inch V8 with a 780 CFM Holley carburetor and a 4-speed Muncie transmission.  It also had independent rear suspension.  The engine was rated at 365 horsepower stock (which it was not).

The one redeeming feature of that Corvette:

The 'vette turned out to be an unreliable piece of crap, but it was brutally powerful, and it handled really well :)  There was so much *wrong* with that car that I had a list of stuff two pages long that needed to be corrected.  Sadly enough, I made that list long after I had fixed a bunch of other things and overhauled the engine.  To make this car right, it would have taken so much money that it would have been cheaper to purchase a different Corvette in good condition.

This is what the car *should* have looked like:

The car had been crashed at some point, the front end was a different style, having a later-model grille.  The new front end had also been damages slightly, with repairs made using Bondo dent filler up at the nose.  The replacement front end was probably from a 73 or 74, and the grilles were uglier than those of a 71.  The grilles were poorly installed, and one of them fell out and got damaged.  I ended up throwing both grilles in the trash.

This is the plain-jane front end my car had, lacking the cool '71 bumper or shiny grilles

The previous owner had installed flared fenders, added massive tires, and painted it with gel-coat, which is really soupy paint that is used on fiberglass boat hulls.  It looked pretty cool with the huge tires, although I actually prefer the stock look.

Below, a Corvette with flared fenders and very wide tires.

When I took possession of the Corvette, it had some awesome 4 inch side pipes on it.  I drove it for quite a while with those pipes, until I eventually ended up with a girlfriend, who kept burning herself on them.  In any event, they were starting to rust, as all exhaust systems eventually do.  I figured that if the exhaust system were going to rust, it would be best for that to happen under the car where no one would have to look at it.  I replaced the entire exhaust system, then I had to purchase the stainless steel side trim pieces to hide the bottom seam of the body (see the orange car in the third image).

The rear fiberglass of the 'vette had been modified too.  71 Corvettes have cool cut-outs with metal bezels for the exhaust pipes to exit the bodywork.  With side-pipes you don't need that, so these cut-outs had been filled in.  This is how it should have looked, but it didn't.

So far I have only discussed the car's basic appearance and what I didn't like about that.  There were also a plethora of mechanical issues that I worked through, and some that I never made it to.  I guess I should start at the front of the car.

The engine always had a miss, and I assumed that it was due to worn valve guides, a worn cam, or something to do with valves or compression.  As a result I decided to pull the engine and go through it.  What I learned was that the previous owner was an idiot.  Chevy Big-Block cylinder heads that were made for passenger cars have two types intake of ports:  The lower-performance oval port, and the larger high performance (but not very good for street use) square port designs.

Oval port:

Square port:

The Corvette had the oval-port cylinder heads.  While taking the engine apart, I was startled to find that the aftermarket intake manifold had square ports!  Stupid owner.  The inlet air was rushing down the huge square-port runners of the intake manifold, then hit the restriction of the oval port head.  The airflow *had* to experience quite a bit of turbulence where it hit the restriction.  You want the smoothest possible airflow into your engine, so somebody had screwed up, badly.

This was an unexpected cost to an already expensive rebuild...  I ditched the single-plane square port intake manifold for a dual-plane oval port manifold.  I also replaced the 780 CFM carburetor with a Holley 650 double pumper with a mechanical secondary.  The goal was to get away from high-rpm components, because it was a big block that wasn't even built for high RPM.

The Holley carbs were both a pain in the ass.  The old one leaked gas on the engine.  The new one leaked gas on the engine.  Both of them would get the float stuck and overflow gas on the engine.  They needed constant adjustment.  After owning two different models of Holley carburetors, I realized how awesome the Rochester Q-jet is.  It's nearly maintenance-free and rarely leaks or gets a stuck float bowl.

I went through that engine and didn't find anything else irregular, except that the rod bearings were .030 smaller than stock.  So the motor had been damaged at some point also.

Shortly after finishing the rebuild, after I had run the motor in, I found myself driving along near Seaworld, trapped behind a lot of cars that were moving way below the freeway speed.  I got really annoyed and impatient.  Another freeway lane opened up on the left, and nobody was getting into it.  I pulled over into the open lane and floored it.  The vette squatted down and the engine roared.

Immediately I heard a massive "thump" and saw parts come out from under the hood and go flying in the air overhead.  That wasn't very reassuring on a new motor rebuild.  Soon after that, steam started billowing out of the hood and blocking my view.

I pulled over and assessed the damage.  One of the motor mounts had failed, and the engine had lifted up on that side.  The radiator fan had hit the hood, cracking it open, and two fan blades had come off.  One of them punched a hole in the radiator (an expensive four-pass radiator), and the other fan blade had come out from under the car and gone flying overhead, caught in the wind.  It took a lot of time and money to get the car running again after that.

The car pulled hard to the right most of the time, unless you were accelerating, and then it went straight.  So depending on whether you were just going along, braking or accelerating, you had to make pretty big corrections in the steering.  I had always thought this veering around was due to front or rear wheel alignment, and I had the car aligned several times, with no improvement.  After several years of putting up with this, I finally figured out that it was the power steering pilot valve was out of adjustment, and just needed to be screwed in to a neutral point.

When I got the car it really handled poorly.  It was god-awful, and a real handful to control keep in a lane of traffic.  Part of that handling issue was the problem described above.  The other part of the problem was that it was riding on cheap-ass bias ply tires.  Bias Ply!!!  Eventually they wore out and I replaced them with pricey Goodyear radials, and the difference was amazing.  It was like going from a truck to a sports car.

The alternator caught on fire once, shortly after I replaced a different one that had simply quit working.  That was one of the few things the 'vette had in common with other GM models, so it didn't cost me a fortune to replace.

The transmission always crunched going into 4th gear.  The synchro was probably in the bottom of the Muncie.  I just double-clutched it like I was driving an old school bus when going into 4th.  It was one of the many problems that were just too minor to worry about on that car.

The rear window on some Corvette models was removable, and there was a little compartment to store it in.  Cool.  The rear window on my Corvette had been broken at some point, and the guy replaced it with a sheet of blue plexiglass.  Uncool.  I never got around to getting a piece of automotive glass for that.  It was so far down the list of things to do...  Things that kept the car running, for instance.

One night a buddy and I were headed down to Mission Beach when an ominous grinding sound came from the back of the car, and it stopped dead in the middle of the street.  I clutched it to keep the motor running, then had to really give it a hell of a lot of gas to move again.  I nursed it over to a parking spot using a lot of gas and clutch, as the rear end ground and popped.

I knew this was going to be bad.  I had it towed back to Sub Base until I had enough money to replace the guts of the rear end.   The ring had broken in the ring and pinion.  The positraction unit was also smoked.  That was a pretty expensive and long down-time event.  Since it was ruined, decided to replace the tall 3.08 gears with a lower 3.77 ratio for faster acceleration, which was not a good pick for a big block.  I probably should have gone with something in between, because at freeway speeds the big engine was running pretty fast.

At one point I had to rebuild the brakes, because they reached the point where I had to stop the car by pushing the brake pedal to the floor, and then stop the car by using the emergency brake.  The brakes were horribly complex.  Each brake caliper had four(!!!) cylinders and pistons that needed to be cleaned, honed, and repaired with parts from a kit.  The cylinders were so corroded that even after the rebuild, the brakes were still only so-so.  The aftermarket sells stainless steel sleeves that can be inserted in the cylinders, so I'm probably not the only one who had to deal with this issue.

The worst fuel mileage I ever got out of that car was 8 MPG, blasting up the road to Big Bear Lake.  The best fuel mileage I ever got was 13 MPG, gently cruising down the road from Big Bear Lake.  There have been times when I missed that car.  It really rocked when it was running.  But damn, it failed so often, so massively, and so expensively, that it wasn't very fun to own.

Inside view.  Just behind the shift lever is the engine nameplate data, with displacement, compression ratio, horsepower and torque ratings.

The car ended up gathering dust in the garage for a decade before I ended up selling it.

Ninth vehicle - 1981 Camaro Z28

The replacement for the Triumph was a VERY reliable car, and my first Chevrolet.  It was a 1981 Camaro Z28 with a 350 cubic inch V8, quadrajet 4V carburetor, and dual exhaust.  It had an automatic transmission, my first auto since the old Cougar.

It was really a pretty car, and looked just like this one.  To these older eyes, it looks a bit gaudy, but I really liked that car.  It was quiet, handled really well, and went reasonably fast without a lot of fuss and rattling.

The interior was pure 80's.  Nothing very inspiring about it.

When I bought the car, radar detectors were illegal in several states, and I still had a tendency to drive a bit over the speed limit.  I installed an under-hood radar detector and placed the remote up under the dash.  It would always give a little OK beep when I started the car, so I knew it was operating.

I liked this car a lot, until I got in a stoplight drag race with a shipmate back in in 1984.  He was driving a 1969 Mustang with a 302 2V, and I couldn't beat him...  He couldn't beat me either, but that wasn't the point.  I immediately wanted a faster car, and started looking for it.  I just now learned that the claimed output of this engine was only 173 horsepower!  That passed for a top-line performance car in 1980.  Good lord...

It wouldn't be too long before I started missing the old reliable Z28.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Seven and a Half: The dream car that got away...

Shortly before I joined the Navy, when I was "making a living" as a full-time short order cook and going to Boise State part time, I saw an ad in the paper that I had to check out.

A divorced lady with two kids was selling off the husband's E-Type convertible Jaguar.  It had a few minor dents and was missing the front bumper, but it was a solid car otherwise.  I test drove it a couple of times, and OH.  MY.  GOD... it was magnificent!  It was like the TR-6 but with twice the power and a hundred times the class.  People stare at you when you are in a convertible Jag.  The feeling I had while driving that car must be what heroin junkies are after when they shoot up.  It was heavenly.

The woman was asking $6000 for the car, and I would have bought it in a heartbeat for that much.  Problem was, nobody would lend me that kind of money, and it would have taken me years to save it.  I stayed in touch with the woman after joining the Navy, hoping to eventually save enough to buy it...  But she sold it before I ever got the chance :(

Here's what it looked like, color and all, although the paint wasn't quite as shiny:

This is the dashboard of the big cat.  Yes that is milled stainless steel, and yes you start it with the pushbutton on the dash after turning the ignition on.  250 kilometers per hour = 155 miles per hour, which the car can probably do.

This is what lurked under the hood:  A 3.8 liter, Triple carbureter, Dual Overhead Cam, Inline 6 cylinder engine, producing 265 horsepower.  A thing of great beauty, inside and out.

And... the experience was about like this:

The early Jags were awesome machines, but the later ones became heavier and even lost their great looks.  The headlights were raised up and lost their glass cover.  The dash became 100% vinyl and the cool toggle switches were replaced by cheesy rocker switches.  The motor went to 4.2 liters, but lost a carburetor, so the power stayed the same.  Eventually the inline 6 was replaced with a SOHC V-12, which still didn't make any more power than the original DOHC L-6.  Sad stuff.

Look at the poor fugly thing below, with its hideous hubcaps and ridiculous bumper.