Dancing With the Devil

Been a while since my last entry. Sorry about that! Anyway, last week was an up and down, rollercoaster ride for me. Monday: back to work, nothing too strenuous there. Tuesday: started out fine. I put in an extra hour at work because I needed to have Friday off for my scheduled colonoscopy. (Yeeha). Heading home from work I stopped off at the Quick Trip store on 65th street to fill up my Subaru Outback that is my trusty winter ride. With that done, I headed north on Hwy 52 towards Zumbrota and home. About a mile south of Pine Island traffic was the usual mix of rush hour commuters, big trucks and such. Roads were dry and even though it was dark, traffic was moving along at a brisk 70 plus miles per. A large semi came up behind me north of Oronoco and pulled out to pass. As he got along side of me he seemed to slow a bit and so we were side by side for a good half mile or so. At that point he started to back off just a bit and I thought he might be getting ready to move into the slow lane, where I was. Suddenly, I noticed his headlights were awfully close to me in my left rearview mirror. It looked like he was crowding me in my lane. Right after that I heard a crunch and felt the Subaru skid sideways right in front of the truck. Things happened in rapid succession after that. There was no time to react and I couldn’t believe he had hit me at first. It felt like being pushed by a freight train sideways down the tracks. Since my cruise control was still set, the car shot across the road and into the median but not before the semi gave the car a final spin so that I was facing backwards and still travelling seventy miles per hour alongside of the big rig. I remember seeing the headlight of the truck very close like a large unblinking eye staring me down before entering the ditch and hearing scraping, crunching sounds. The sensation of being pushed by a freight train stopped only to be replaced by the feeling of going backwards rapidly. Instinctively, I clamped on the brake pedal. Not sure if that helped or not but the car spun around and faced forward at that point, while still travelling at nearly highway speed. As I veered down the embankment the catch fence appeared and with no steering control the car slammed into it and bounced off, careening to the bottom of the ditch and coming to a welcome stop a hundred yards or so from when I first entered and not too far from the Pine Island County 11 overpass. A small puff of smoke or steam came from the left front of the car that shone in the smashed out headlight. With the car still running, I unbuckled my seatbelt and attempted to exit out the drivers door. No luck with that as it was jammed shut so I climbed over the console and popped out of the passenger side door. Another car came to a stop on the left shoulder. A middle aged lady emerged and tentatively asked if I was OK. I said I was. Looking up the road I saw the offending truck with its right blinker on but instead of pulling over, to my amazement the truck just kept going. A quick call to 911 was placed. The dispatcher took my location and assured me that a state trooper was on the way. I turned my attention to my good Samaritan lady. We compared notes as to what just happened and she said that she was behind the truck and saw the whole thing unfold in front of her. She told me that at one point I was traveling backwards in the ditch, something that I already knew. She also graciously offered to stay and wait with me until the state trooper arrived to give her statement. I stepped around to the drivers side of the damaged Subaru to survey the damage. In the dim light of the overpass streetlights I could see that the driver side door was caved in, the left front fender was mangled and the headlight lens was smashed. There was a large black patch on the left side of the rear bumper, left by the semi’s front tire, no doubt.
I should have dropped to my knees and thanked God for sparing my life at that point but I didn’t, too jittery with adrenaline flowing and quite miffed by the truckers actions, both before and after the accident. Another good Samaritan stopped his pickup on the southbound exit ramp and made his way across the highway to check on my welfare. I asked him if he had a flashlight and he pulled out his cell phone. I popped the hood on the car and we both looked for any fluids leaking out like oil or antifreeze. Seeing none, I closed the hood and thanked the man, who said he was a truck driver himself, for stopping and to please be careful when crossing the highway back to his pickup. The trooper arrived shortly after that. He took the lady’s statement, then sent her on her way and asked for my license and insurance info. I was still shaking enough that it was an effort to retrieve the cards from my wallet. He headed back to his cruiser to file the report and I took refuge in the Subaru to stay warm. I placed a call to my wife informing her of the events and to assure her that I was OK and the car might be drivable. She wondered if she should start heading my way and I told her to sit tight unless I phoned needing a ride. The trooper came back with my license and a business card with his name and a case number on it. He suggested that I try driving the car up out of the ditch and carefully cross the highway to the right shoulder. That went pretty well because there was very little snow in the ditch and the Subaru is an all wheel drive model. I stopped again on the right shoulder of Highway 52 and the trooper told me to try driving it home unless there was a problem and then to pull over and he would call a tow truck. I thanked him for his services, shook his hand and headed slowly for home. The car drove just fine but every time I hit even the smallest bump I could hear the front fender scraping on the left front tire. Arriving home a few minutes later with the adrenaline shakiness gone, I had a chance to reflect on the events that had just transpired.
As a longtime biker and frequent traveler on Highway 52, I have an accepted level of risk every time I strap on my helmet and swing a leg over my motorcycle. This also transfers to every time I click the seatbelt in a car or truck. There is not too much that happens on the road that scares me, but this episode did. Big time. I had questions to answer. As I looked around my shop and saw unfinished projects, I had to wonder: What if my life had ended right there by the Pine Island exit six days before my 58th birthday? I have things to do, grandkids to play with, inventions to complete, rides to go on, music to play, sunsets to enjoy. All of that could have been taken away in the blink of an eye. The fact that I escaped the violent energy of the accident without a scratch when I could have easily been squashed like a bug leads me to just one conclusion: I had just been the recipient of a modern day miracle. And more than that, God has more plans for me. At this point I don’t know what exactly that will be but you can bet I will be paying attention. I made a pledge to my wife to be a better husband that night and also to be a better father, grandpa and Christian as well. I have forgiven the truck driver for his mistakes and prayed that he has learned a thing or two and that he made it home safely that night to his family as well. For that’s the only way to move forward after something like this happens. You may say that I was just lucky to survive such a thing but I say God has given me a second chance at life. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. For I have danced with the devil and I fear him no more.


Veggie Car Update

So I have had a chance to put a few miles on the old girl this fall. A few things became apparent early on. I spent some time chasing electrical gremlins for a while, not sure if they were age related or just the fact that the car has sat in storage for too many years. First off the headlights needed to be replaced as they were fogged over and just not bright enough for highway use. After doing that, I discovered that the dimmer switch made the left headlights go out when it was on high beam. After some trouble shooting I just decided that there was a fault in the wiring somewhere and so I just ran new jumper wires between the left and right headlights. Problem solved. Then there was an issue with the backup lights staying on all the time. Removing the bulbs was an easy fix for that.
The front struts had to be replaced as the front end of the car would bounce all over the place after hitting a good sized bump. I found a pair on Epay for cheap and installed them even though I had to make a makeshift spring compressor out of a couple of C-clamps. Kids, don’t try this at home. The car rode much better after that. I had a chance to drive it to work for a couple of weeks and run some errands as well. In the process I



put about a thousand miles on her. Gas mileage was pretty good too, about 44mpg, although I was hoping for 50. I think maybe trying to stay with traffic on highway 52 affected that a bit. Also, the odometer was acting a bit wacky for a stretch and so that might have an affect on mileage.
There was an issue with anti-freeze leaking and so I have had to replace a few hoses in an effort to correct that. I even replaced the thermostat and had a bit of a challenge doing that as well. Seems those crazy German engineers put the power steering pump right in the way of one bolt that needs to come out. Curses!
Last week I noticed quite a bit of growling coming from the drivers side and I suspected a wheel bearing. Sure enough, inspection of the old bearing revealed a pitted race. Years of sitting probably factored in there too. After getting a couple of new bearings from the boys at NAPA and installing them, things were much quieter.
The heater blower did not work either and after disassembling part of the dash to get it out I determined that the squirrel cage was seized up. A little penetrating oil on the shaft and working it back and forth got the fan to spin freely. The only other problem was the blower switch. It would only work on the high setting, no medium or low. Better than nothing on those cold mornings but I will be looking for a new switch or maybe I will just rewire it to be on medium speed all the time.
Starting the beast when cold continues to be an issue. If the air temp is freezing or below the car must be plugged in for at least an hour to have any sort of chance at starting. That’s not a problem if you are just running to town and can leave the car running. It will restart in the cold if not left sitting for more than three or four hours, however, that is not much good when I’m at work and the car sits for eight or nine hours. Rather than take a chance or being embarrassed by a non-starting car at the end of my shift I have decided to put the car in storage for the winter. The thing really runs well down the road and is fairly quiet inside the cab. It does not get strange looks from anyone like the old Geo-trike did and that’s just fine with me. Next spring I plan on playing with the veggie oil conversion again and so I will keep you updated on that little adventure at that point.


Too Much Stuff

While it has been some time since my last post that doesn’t mean there has been nothing to write about. Just the opposite has occurred, leaving me precious little time to put things on this-here blog. I will hereby try to bring you up to speed, dear reader. First, we became grandparents again, this time of a baby girl, Mirielle. She’s growing like a weed and has recently started crawling, big time. In my experience, after the crawling stage comes standing, walking and then running in short order.


I have had time to play with the diesel Jetta somewhat and even had it running on veggie oil, briefly. It needs more work to be road ready, however, and so that is my next challenge, before the snow flies, hopefully.


One of many test drives.

In addition to this, I have changed jobs again. No more working nites at the factory for me. Ten years of that abuse is about all I can handle. People have asked me what was the deciding factor in the job change. While there was a myriad of things that factored in, the real biggie was the chance to work the day shift for a change, and to live like a normal person again. My co-workers had a hard time with the change and made it clear that I would be missed by shrink wrapping my motorcycle on my last day in a last ditch effort to get me to stay. Isn’t that all you can really hope for, in the end?  That you do your job well enough so that folks want to shrink wrap your vehicle in an attempt to get you to stay? IMG_20160504_182941

This spring I also sold another icon of my youth. This ’71 Honda minitrail Z50. This one is the exact color and year of my first motorcycle. My brother and I rode the heck out of one of these back in the day but sadly, have no pics of the bike. I have owned this particular one for ten or twelve years or so, only rode it a few times. It has been parked in the corner of the basement covered up the rest of the time, only to be uncovered and admired briefly when special guests visit. I finally got to the point of hoping it would go to a good home, plus I really needed the cash for some bills. So I put it on the list that is Craigs. Lo and behold, a former classmate is the proud owner and it will be in his personal collection of vintage Honda minibikes from now on.0214161557

My son also got married this summer to a wonderful schoolteacher lady. It was probably about time as he isn’t getting any younger. Their wedding was in June with the honeymoon in Seattle and surrounding area in mid August. IMG_20160618_174929

In addition to all this stuff happening, I have been pretty much living on my mowers this spring and summer. Regular rainfalls make for good crops but also for endless lawnmowing, sigh. That about sums it up for now. I’m sure to have more to blog about soon.


Back in the saddle.


Veggie Car, Phase 2

84 VW Jetta
OK, so phase one was acquiring a suitable candidate to convert to a veggie car and get it running. Check. Even though that process took about six months to complete. Not to get it running, just to get the title straightened out took that long. The folks at the DMV sure know how to drag their feet. Jus’ sayin’. So phase two involved lining up a supplier for waste vegetable oil and getting it filtered and ready to use. Check. I talked to the local café about getting their oil and they were more than happy to accommodate me with a weekly supply. I just need to provide them with empty barrels, not a problem. After doing some Youtube research about veggie oil it would appear that the best way to filter the stuff and get consistent results is to use a centrifuge. This device takes out the solid particles and any water that may be lurking in the oil. Trouble is, they are expensive, the store-bought ones are anyway. About a grand or more, ouch. What to do? Light bulb moment! I will just build my own! 1206150953

These pics are the start of my bowl. I found an 8″ chunk of solid aluminum in my collection of stock and proceeded to start whittling. This was then bolted to an adaptor that mounted on an electric motor that spins at 3450 rpm. This whole assembly is then installed into a five gallon bucket on three legs. Ta da! Centrifuge, cheap! Add in some plumbing and a drain valve for the clean oil to exit the bucket and away we go. The thing actually works but my used electric motor has some play in the bearings that will have to be addressed in order to eliminate some mild vibrations. Here is the finished product. 1227151621

Stay tuned for phase 3…

Mailbox solution

1109151000Been a while since my last post. Yes, I am still alive. Here’s a pic of my latest project as a solution to a vexing situation with my mail carrier. Seems that the boxes I get on occasion are too big for my regulation mailbox and the United States Post office has a policy that if a driveway is longer than 1/2 mile, they do not have to deliver. Our driveway is 1/2 mile and maybe one hundred yards long. Sometimes the mail carrier will deliver packages to the door, other times they won’t, depending on their mood, the weather or what phase the moon is in. When that happens, the mail carrier will put a pink slip in the mailbox notifying me that they are holding my box at the post office. I will then have to drive the five miles to town to retrieve said box, costing me time and gas money. If the notice is delivered on Saturday, I have to wait till the following Monday to retrieve my package, causing delays in my service. This situation has torqued me off to no end on numerous occaisions. So, as a solution, I crafted this little beauty out of aluminum deck plate salvaged from Ol’ Silversides after she went to the crusher. It is just a little bigger than the standard Postal Flat rate boxes that I usually get and I made it to accommodate two of those boxes if needed. The other day it got put to use. Hopefully, this will eliminate a lot of pink slips from the Post Office and cuss words from me.

Car Wars, the Saga Continues.

So after getting the Double-Ott road worthy and driving it to work for the remainder of the winter and fixing the little problems that it had, I finally felt that it was ready for a new owner, my daughter and her husband, who had returned from China in mid April. (Long story worthy of another blog post all by itself.) I had logged roughly six thousand miles on the old girl and my wife had taken it numerous times to Albert Lea and back when our “good car” the ’05 Forester was making strange transmission noises. (Yet another pending blog story!) Shortly before the official ownership transfer, I had popped the hood to have a check of vital fluids when I noticed a small puddle of oil on the top of the engine, near the head gasket. This was not a good sign, said I. A few days later I performed the fluid check again only to find that the coolant overflow bottle had more in it than previously. A quick check of the radiator and I found out where it was coming from; the engine. This could only mean one thing. The head gasket on that side was not totally sealing, allowing the cooling system to be pressurized thereby pushing coolant out of the radiator and back into the overflow bottle. I told my daughter to keep an eye on the coolant level an let me know if the temp gauge got into the red zone. A couple days later she called and said that the coolant level in the bottle was quite high. Not good. This could only mean one thing; the engine would have to come back out and the offending head gasket would have to be replaced before any engine damage could occur. Bummer. Note to self: When rebuilding Subaru engines, don’t buy El Cheapo gasket sets from Ebay, unless you like replacing head gaskets every six thousand miles or so.
While this saga was unfolding, my stepdaughter started having issues with her ’97 Outback transmission leaking oil onto the exhaust pipe and creating quite a stink when up to operating temperature. A check of the transaxle oil level revealed way too much oil in there and it smelled like ATF, not gear oil, as it should. The transmission had probably blown a seal between the two and now it was causing problems. I changed out the transaxle oil and added some ATF to the transmission and sent her on her way. A couple days later we got a call from her. Seems the car would not shift out of low gear until it was driven for about ten minutes or so. Looked like it was new tranny time for the ’97. I started checking Craigslist for donors and found a couple, however, most of the parts cars were in the Twin Towns and needed to be towed. Not having a tow truck or dolly available was a huge handicap but then again, how many times would I put it to use? After about a week of searching, I stumbled upon a running ’98 Outback in Eden Prairie that was pretty cheap. Best of all, it ran and needed minimal work. That’s the best kind of used car, for sure. The plan at this point was to go look at and test drive the ’98. If it was up to my standards, (which are quite low, by the way) then we would buy the unit, drive it home and use the ’97 for parts. Since they were of the same body style, many parts will interchange.
Turns out that the ’98 was at a used car dealer tucked back in an obscure industrial park. (Thank goodness for Google Maps!) It did run just fine but had a small oil leak from the power steering pump and also a check engine light on, which turned out to be just a minor emissions code. We bought the thing and headed for home. Made the trip just fine. Whew. Now the next maneuver was to make one good car out of two, something I am quite good at after years of practice.
So at one point, I had two un-roadworthy Subarus sitting in the driveway, along with my wife’s good car, my ’89 Toyota pickup, the Geo-trike and my project VW Jetta that has been on hold for two months. The place was starting to look like a used car lot. Long story short, I just finished up on both cars last weekend and so that situation looks like it is resolved, for now. Hopefully, the Double-Ott will last another hundred thou or so and likewise with the ’98 Outback.

The Mighty Atlas Lathe

lathe6lathe2Well, here’s the story. I bought this piece of equipment in April of ’82. My son was born in July of that year so I have had it longer than him. The previous owner told me his dad owned it and when he passed away it was acquired by him. He was not sure of the year of manufacture but thought it was made in the ’40s, probably. Over the years it has turned countless numbers of cylinder bores, starter armatures, bushings and a myriad of parts for my inventions and creations. I’m pretty sure I recovered my investment of $250.00, after thirty three years. When I bought my new, bigger Jet lathe in ’97 it got used a lot less. I let dad use it for a while until he left the crossfeed engaged too long and it ran out of travel, wrecking some of the leadscrew gears in the process. I found all the parts on Epay years ago and finally got around to fixing it this past winter. After starting on the project, I figured I may as well go ahead and repaint/restore the beast while I was at it. So here is the finished product. What’s next for the old girl, you ask? I just gave it to my son last week so he can play with it. Might as well let him have it, seeing as how he grew up watching me use it.