A Leaning Tower ‘a Piece ‘a …

July 9, 2011

Got a little detail work done this morning: the front porch rails received a coat of exterior white atop last weekend’s coat of Killz primer. I used a new can of Killz and an old can of white flat left by the former owners of my house. The house paint can was already cracked open, who knows how long ago, and pretty gloppy, but it did the job.

Next up on the porch, the slab needs the old blistered paint removed. I hope to use a buddy’s power-sprayer to make short work of it, but I may have to resort to using my power-sander. Thankfully it’s not too big, and the paint looks mighty loose. To replace it, my artistic consultant is leaning towards a good shade of blue.

I made a bit of a discovery in the garage too this week. Looks like at one point about four feet of corner brick wall settled slightly outwards from the structure. To repair it, my predecessor slapped some concrete in the cracks and walked away. Look like a big job to tear that portion down, plumb a good cinder-block foundation, and lay some bricks but I am pretty sure I can make it happen. It also explains the mystery of why one of the garage doors won’t close true. I look forward to both mixing cement and wielding a trowel again which I have not done in many, many moons. I will have to brace that corner of the roof, and level-up the garage door frame beams. Time to get a serious sledgehammer.

But first, the rest of the exterior needs re-pointing here and there. Also, if I dig out a rubbish pile left by the previous occupants, I can probably turn up a good number more of the vintage bricks I’ve been finding; I do want my repairs to blend in as much as possible.

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My New Ant Overlords

July 7, 2011

On lunch today I went out to the parking lot at work to put a little 10W40 in my bike.  It was dripping a wee bit until recently and I was correct it needed a glug or two.

I popped open the seat to grab the tool kit beneath. Ants!!! Little tiny ones carrying eggs! Hundreds of them.  And little baby spiders too!!! Ewwwww!!!! I gooshed as many as I could, and gave the inside of the bike a nice rub with an oily rag, sending them into retreat. I think I remember learning somewhere that oil defeats the little fiends ability to walk and they hate the stink of it too. I generously greased up the infested tools and toolkit as well.

My garage is currently very dirty amidst its ongoing renovation project and they must have climbed aboard in the past couple of days. While I work in there, I must remember to spray down some organic insecticide I have that smells like Root Beer. Also, I best keep the bike nice and oily all over.

“They are Superior!!!

Songs for Motorcycle Riding

July 6, 2011

When I tell folks I ride a motorbike they frequently respond that they would too, but don’t because on a longer trips they would miss listening to their radio, iPod, CDs, eight-tracks, etc..

As an impassioned convert to two-wheeling, and having a few miles under my butt, I always try to convince them that they do not need a radio or distractions while on a motorcycle. Between the wind, the noises of the road, the sound of the machine, and the inner-peace that comes from ‘cycling, additional outside stimuli is not needed and against the point. Without fail, when the lecture is over I get a solid sideways glance along with a responding tone that more than subtly lets me know they think I’m off my rocker.

Admittedly though, sometimes when I am in a  good mood old songs come into my head while cruising down the road. Good old favorites that just seem appropriate for a time alone.  Here’s ten regulars with links. Enjoy!

1. Everybody’s Talkin’ – Harry Nilsson

2. Long Way to the Top if you want to Rock n’ Roll – AC/DC

3. Wayfaring Stranger – Bill Monroe

4. Who the Hell was in my Room Last night – Butthole Surfers

5. Maybellene – Chuck Berry

6. Travelin’ Band – Creedence Clearwater Revival

7. Ride the Tiger – Jefferson Starship

8. Wooden Ships – Crosby, Stills and Nash

9. Lamb Lies Down on Broadway – Genesis

10. Theme from “Gappa” – Seitaro Omori

Garage Progress Update

June 21, 2011

Making good headway on the garage. Almost all of the interior dividing wall is gone and the space has opened up nicely. I may save just a little bit of framing/stud intact for now as some shelving I previously reinforced might be attached to the studs by the original builder. The heavy beam across the top of the former wall seems sturdy enough to remain and I have hung a nice bright flourescent light on it. Still a little bit of door frame to go out. It’s termite-eaten and looks like crap. I also removed some random wood bits that were attached to the bottom of the roof itself. I was afraid the bits might be load-bearing, but later decided it was too frail a confabulation to shoulder anything, and may have been built only to keep the dividing wall from swaying.

Now the whole space is more accessible, I will have an easier time with the continuing restoration. More planks of paper wall material and sheets of moldy gypsum board need ripped out, along with all the accompanying rusty nails and detritus. Thereafter, a nice bucket of mud will point any bricks done in by the ravages of time and a nasty creeping vine I ripped down. One side of the garage, hidden by a hedge, seems also to have become a big dump of bricks, dirt and lawn junk.  I do want to get that out of there ASAP to remove any moisture or pressure on the wall. The roof needs a bit of paint all the way around, along with some drip rails to help the water go into a nice catch barrel.

In my backyard, the previous owners jerry-built a tree house. Carpenter ants loved the untreated wood bits, and made their way into some treated lumber bits as well. The well-intentioned orignal builder was no carpenter, and screwed the structure together with drywall screws, which promptly rusted, splitting the boards at the ends.

Most of the wood is going straight to the dustbin, but there ought to be just enough good wood left to finish up my muchly needed work table project. The table may be a bit overbuilt and heavy as heck when I am done, as I don’t honestly know how to build one, but I desperately require a place to install a heavy vice I picked up somewhere along life’s journey. The table must be fully capable of supporting the better part of a motorcycle’s engine block too.

My motorcycle now fits fine in the garage.  It’s great to have her in a space where she is protected from the elements and my kids as well. Although they are only two-year olds, for some reason they love to climb atop it, grab the handlebars and make motorcycle noises. Yesterday I charged up the battery, and simply honked the horn when they got to close, sending them running for cover.

The bike is running very well indeed. A dose of STP seems to have rid it of a bit of a rough idle. When running though, one bolt near the clutch housing is dripping a little bit of good-looking oil ever so slowly. I’m thinking the case might be a touch overfilled, or that bolt may just need torque’d back up to spec. Along with that, one of the exhaust cans seems a bit loose and rattles.

My old lawn mower is now running well after a bit of wrenching.  It was a gift from a buddy to replace mine that was sadly stolen. It’s a well-broken-in “ProPower Ulti-something” (K-Mart store-brand) with a Briggs-Stratton 4HP engine and front-wheel drive. I hit the blade on a stump and bent all out of whack.  Mt attempt to bend it back to spec failed miserably, so I hit the K-Mart for a replacement. I would have walked right past the blades without my son noticing them on an end cap.  Love the “Big K” and love that Boy!

Without the blade in the mower was running real smokey and stinky. After removing the belt housing, I sprayed out the drive-shaft with some oil to clean out the light patina of rust and help it turn better. The new blade thankfully had a universal mounting kit and attached neatly right on. Not sure what the torque setting is on the bolt, so I settled on “tight as hell”.  Firing it up it still was smoking bad. Checking the gas, I think it was grinding through whatever was left in the bottom of the tank. A short walk to the gas station got me a gallon of high-test to fill ‘er up, and I gave her a nice shot of STP too.  Fired up nice on the first pull, humming strong and no more smoke. The throttle cable on the thing needs replaced and it is stuck on wide open. I’ll get around to replacing it, but for now it still does the job well and very quickly.

Much, much to do, but still having a great deal of fun. May Zeus bless the inventor of the reciprocating saw.

Shade Tree Mechanique

May 13, 2011

Got to work on my buddy Morgan’s bike last night and had a wonderful time. For fun, I’d rather work on a old bike than most other diversions, especially on a nice Spring day under a big shady tree. Morgan’s dog, a top-notch, obedient four-year old kept us company, perhaps pouting a bit that our attentions were focused on a big pile of rubber, metal and plastic instead of her. I asked Morgan for a soda pop, and he gave me a grape energy drink in a tall can. Good on a hot day, refreshing, slightly strange futuristic taste.

He got himself a Kawasaki KZ440 LTD with a belt-drive a season or two ago. Nice medium-sized bike with a big, black leather seat. Parallel twin four-stroke. The thing would not turn over but the ignition worked and the starter seemed to work fine, at least audibly, per Morgan. The battery was new and fully charged.

My buddy had drained the gas, so we put in a quarter ounce of fuel stabilizer I brought along and he filled the tank back up. I was also armed with my. trusty tool kit, chemicals and other handy bike bits in a cardboard box, once a home to an exceptional case of local root beer.

The air filter checked out A-OK, but the oil looked high and fried in the engine case’s tiny clear window. Looking at the plugs next, they were recently changed Morgan said, but we found them now burnt black as sin itself.

Pulling the side cover, recently repainted a vintage racing red, exposed the bike’s two junction boxes. The fuses in their sockets were not blown thank Zeus; compatible, good glass fuses for a vintage bike are not an easy find. One of the boxes was hanging loose, and got properly secured back on its mount. The same box had also become home to a spider’s nest and got a good cleaning out.

A light cleaning with grease and fine grain sandpaper cleaned the plugs well enough to provide a proper spark. After a light puff of starter fluid in the air intake, she started but the idle was very weak. Sounded indistinct and weary. There was a good spark coming through on both wires, but the poor thing would stall out without some generous throttle twisting, even with the choke wide open. The choke lever felt loose and ineffective too.

A short walk to a nearby Advance Auto Parts allowed my buddy to put three quarts of motorcycle-quality 10W40 in his arsenal. Draining the oil reservoir produced a tub of black, foamy goo and sludge. The cylinders were not having a good time trying to churn that muck.

Pulling the oil filter revealed it was shot, meaning one more trip to Advance. Inspecting it, I found a tiny flake of metal or two. Sludge was caked in the filter holder’s crevices, requiring a little spray oil and elbow grease to wipe out. Gritty. Not good, but not a deal breaker either. I theorized the flakes were probably off the valves or maybe worse the cylinders. I recommended a thorough valve job and engine case inspection, including a Sea-Foam cleaning down the line, but it was not enough worry to quit the current job about.

The folks at Advance have their act well in gear, and had a Fram CH6012 oil filter ready on the shelf. Advance caters to the motorcyclist with lots of items and has good customer service too; Double-A, Pep Boys and AutoZone need to turn it up a notch.

Gaskets replaced, we put the oil filter in its new home. We carefully filled the crankcase, stopping to turn it over a couple times to let the oil settle and work its way into the engine and filter.
Morgan’s neighbor Bob dropped by to watch the show and entertained us with stories of the motorcycles of his long ago youth. He spoke dreamily of long-gone Norton Commando 750s, Triumphs, the perfect Moto Guzzi, the BMW that should have been bought but somehow got away.

Satisfied that the bike’s oil level was up to par, Morg’ fired her up for a good warm-up. The bike started strong, then stumbled a bit. I adjusted the choke; the once feeble lever tightened up and started to work well again, providing the desired mix of air and gas. Old Kaw’s with carbs take a few minutes to warm up and the bike started sounding better, then even better. Reaching a good idle with the choke now off, I told it’s rider to “kick ‘er in the guts”. A confident roar from the engine, a single tiny puff of smoke from the left exhaust, and the bike was now idling sweetly, making the nice, polite “tucka-tucka” sound of a side-by-side vertical twin. Twisting the throttle made her let out a strong, lovely purr.

Sun still up, there was time for some detail work too. I brought a pile of clean shop rags and gave her a good rub down. Cleaning off the layers of grime revealed a solid, shiny bike under there. A little more grease and rust remover allowed my buddy to adjust the front turn signal lamp that had slid down the handlebars a bit.

The rear left turn signal looked droopy but intact; a previous owner managed to give it a good whack I bet, then cobbled it back together. I recommend not rushing that fix, and checking online if any bits or spacers were missing. But, the hour was getting late, and other affairs beckoned me. Morg’ offered me a burger for my trouble, but I had to hit the road.

I heard today that the bike is doing great and 20 miles-per-hour faster on the top-end. Morgan was “psyched” too that a buddy just came over and fixed his bike. That kind of makes me chuckle as working on bikes, mine or friends, is my joy. Motorcycles can contain mysteries, puzzles, and have their own personalities. Fixing them iss like when you get to meet somebody new, making them better than they were, helping them on their way. For me, the feeling is close to the charge I get when teaching people when they are a receptive, grateful student, or lending a hand to my favorite charities. You can’t beat that feeling, and it stays with you, way down the line.

Decorating the Garage

May 9, 2011

Got to spend some time cleaning out the garage today. Dusted off a few mantiques to brighten up the place. I hung a rockin’ light fixture that I got from my good buddy Ben. Had time to dance with my lady to the sounds of 50’s music on the satellite radio. Life is good.

Doria took some great photos…

Spring

March 28, 2011

Spring is here, and I am back in the shed where I ought to be in my leisure.
Tended to the motorcycle’s rear brake first. It was a bit stuck, but a once-over with lots of grease, new brake fluid and a good bleeding has returned it to up to par.
I suspected the spark plugs on the vintage machine were fouled, and swapped out the old set for a new gang purchased for me by a very considerate friend. The old were ashen; too much oil last season and a weak battery being the likely cause. I made sure to screw in the new lot only after a liberal application of anti-seize grease to their threading; the very idea of stripped threads on an engine utterly terrifies me.
In the process, I managed to pull a spark plug wire out of its cap and had to re-wire it. Not something I’ve done before, but it seemed simple enough in execution. Better something like that coming undone in the shop than on the road I say.
I dumped out a fair share of the old oil and replaced it with a bit of fresh up to the fill-line. I thankfully had a new bottle in the garage larder, left over from tinkering with a car. For luck, I also gave the air filter a light squirt of starter fluid from a can abandoned some time ago in my garage by a fellow gearhead. A quick electric jump and the bike started with a roar, strong and lusty, and quick to warm up too with just a bit of choke. To test the wire job, I pulled the repaired cap from the spark plug which produced a mild electric shock to my fingers verifying my handiwork was quite adequate.
Engine at a good tick, I noticed a bit of exhaust coming out of the front part of the engine. Not good. Shutting her down to cool, I examined the front exhaust outlets to see they looked a bit rusty and crooked. Wrench in hand again, the first no. 10 nut cap on pipe four came off with no issue but its neighbor cleanly snapped off the dowel-like mounting stud. Fiddle-dee-dee. Removing the pipe collar, out tumbled a snapped 29 year old collar plug and a ratty looking gasket. Fudge. Tight clearances made getting the rest of the broken, rusted stud out a slow, contemplative affair.
Not pricey bits to replace, but I’ll have to wait a few days for the mailman to come with replacements. Also, I’ll need to check the other 3 to assess their worthiness. Again, better in the garage than on the side of the road. In the interim, I’ll air up the tires and thoroughly clean and check the crucial front brakes.
I save the broken bits off the bike for reasons of practicality, but perhaps for reasons of sentimentality or spirituality too. They are offerings of humility to both the Goddess of Speed, as well as to Columbus, the acknowledged Patron Saint of motorcyclists. In time, my garage will likely have an altar built in their honor, with small lamps burning smoky exhausted engine oil reverently.

Garage Restoration Status

October 21, 2010

I’m making good headway on getting my garage in order.  It is a old structure dating from 1930 or earlier. Its dimensions are clearly from another era; it would fit a Model T car just fine, but a modern car would be too tight a fit. It’s a charming little red brick hut.

The roof needed major repairs.  Luckily, I have a great friend who it handy at these types of things and utterly fearless. With him leading a crew of volunteering buddies, we removed the disintegrating, likely original shingles, replaced rotted boards, and nailed in nice fresh asphalt shingles. The garage, which used to stink from mold and decay, now is dry as a bone. It now smells of dust, wood and oil like a good workspace ought. Last winter’s snowfall proved the new roofs integrity. Around the sides, I still need to apply some white exterior paint for appearance and longevity assurance.

At one unknown point, an attempt had been made to turn the little hut into an apartment or office.  Electrical wiring had been strung from our house to the garage overhead. While roofing, we noticed the ancient wires had become exposed down to the metal, the rubber/asbestos coating long gone.  Now they are removed, I’ve decided that when I do run electric, I’ll dig a trench and bury the wires instead.

The interior of the garage was quiet a mess. a  light fixture, a switch, a drop ceiling and even a thermostat had been installed. From water damage and age, all may have to go. Nothing salvageable found as yet, but maybe some nice vintage bits might turn up.

A crude room divider was erected long ago, made of simple boards. It is strong, albeit ugly. I plan to work on mainly nothing larger than a motorcycle in there, so it can stay for now. I fear too that the divider may have become unintentionally load-bearing over the years and removal might be tricky. For now, it will work for me as a handy place for shelves bearing solvents and “mantiques”.

The two main garage doors were sealed off in the worse way possible. Bricks were placed along to bottom of the door on both inside and out.  Next, dirt was poured upon the bricks. On the interior side, a series of boards were used to shore-up the dirt. The bottom of the doors were simultaneously crushed and permanently dampened.  Then the termites came, and left. To repair the doors, for now, after clearing the rubble I daughter-boarded-in scrap wood at the bottom.  I will ultimately have to build new doors.

An odd side note about the doors: keeping one of the doors slightly open was a large, wobbly homemade shelving unit!  To get the door to close flush, but save the shelves, I shortened them a bit and rebuilt them to a more solid standard with more scraps.

Much work to go. Drop ceiling needs ripped out.  Side door not in good shape. Original window needs replaced. Ventilation needs improvement. I found a bag of Quik-rete on the floor that made a nice lump I’ll need to pound down.

At least now I am at a point that the structure can be used for more than just storage. So far I used the space to repair my mountain bike, and fix my motorcycle battery, without worry of mess or parts disappearing in the lawn. Good times. Sure beats the time I had to rebuild my brakes on the dining room table.

RECIPE: Dad’s Chili

February 17, 2010

2 lbs. Ground beef 85% lean
1 lb. Italian sausage meat (hot or sweet)
1 packet chili seasoning
3+ chili peppers
1 big tin whole tomatoes. The Italian kind with a nice fat bay leaf swimming in the liquid work great.
1 celery heart
1 big sweet onion (no little bitter ones)
2 tins of beans. 1 GOYA Pinto and 1 Black make a great combo. Kidney Beans tend to be too filling and are disliked by many.
Fresh Garlic clove
Sea or Kosher salt
Chili seasoning
Extra Virgin Olive oil
Shredded sharp cheddar cheese
Breakstone Sour Cream

In a big five-quart pot, throw in your seasoning packet and the un-drained beans. Mash up the tomatoes once lightly in a separate bowl and throw them in. Chop up 4 or 5 stalks of the celery into little “U” shaped chunks and throw them in. Roughly dice up the onion and don’t be afraid if the chunks are big. Press/mush 2 nice garlic buds and throw them in too.

Brown the ground beef in the olive oil over medium high heat, stopping before it gets dry and greasy. When cooking the meat, do not salt or pepper it. Drain it and throw it in the pot.

Brown the sausage meat carefully over less heat to not burn it. Drain off the excess fat and throw it in.

As for the peppers, always get a spare to taste them, so you know what you are working with. If they are not too spicy, just slice them a little lengthwise and throw them in. If they are very hot, slice them open and get the seeds out under a coldwater rinse to avoid nuclear meltdown or bitter chili. If you want to skip the peppers altogether, that is fine; at the end add more chili seasoning to taste.

Fire up the gas under your pot and start stirring. Throw in a couple shakes of your salt. Bring the pot to a vigorous boil, stirring frequently to keep it from burning and cook evenly. After you reach a full, strong boil, turn the heat down to a nice simmer.

Let it simmer for a good 20 minutes. At this point, don’t be shy to add a couple more shakes of chili seasoning to taste.

Serve with shredded cheddar and sour cream on the side.

Chili sits well in the fridge for a couple days and freezes great too!

RIFFS: The Moth

January 24, 2010

I watch the Moth

Flutter on the window.

It wants to get out to the Sun.

The Moth knows

He should be on the other side.

This is no place for a moth.

I empathize.