Sunday, May 20, 2012

Time Schedule - Start in June, Finish August

It all begins June 1st.  Less than two weeks away.  I always figured May or June was going to be the start date, and now it's official.  The blank slate, the Tiltmaster, will be back from the repair shop on Monday (A/C picked up a rock in the condenser), and then it will be all set for construction.  I spoke with Mike yesterday at the CORE fundraiser, and he can definitely score some metal beams / ladder racks relatively inexpensively.  So that will be the framework to start building with.  I've decided to plan the construction out in greater detail here.

I estimate the truck will take approximately 600 person-hours of labor to build, and unless I'm laid off (increasingly unlikely), I won't be able to build it all by myself.  At the same time, I hate being asked for help on some crazy project I have no interest in, and really believe in doing unto others as you would have done unto you.  Some people don't mind and encourage asking for help, but that's not what I want to see come into the world. Let's face it, as a charity this does not have any direct benefit to improve the human condition like say, volunteering at a soup kitchen.  I believe it is a "good" thing to build though, which means it's moral and valuable.

I am now actively inviting people to collaborate with me on the creation of this to solve the challenges in the most painless possible way.  For example, one dilemma I was thinking about was how to operate this thing on playa.  So far, it's just me and Shane that are 100% committed to it.  That means we would both have to be sane and sober whenever taking it out, with one to drive and the other to man the entry ramp gate and stereo.  I don't really want to drive it around; I want to interact with people on it and play music and generally look at it and ride it around and relax with some drinks.  Since Burning Man was always better last year (right?), I decided it was time to step it up and contribute.  The thing is, I don't want to contribute a taxi service.  I want to contribute a taxi.  So here's where synergy steps in:  Burnagain Campers aren't taking an art car this year.  I am.  My former camp isn't going, because nobody but me got tickets.  Voila!  We can collaborate.  If we join their camp, suddenly perhaps a crew can be found.  Plus rumor has it, they enjoy driving art cars around.  I want win-win situations for every dilemma!  I know it's possible.  Absolutely no one is obligated or coerced into doing anything, but if your project and/or desire aligns with mine let's collaborate.

So here's the basic framework for the build this summer.  I will plan three major build sessions, approximately 3-4 weeks apart.  This will allow me to prepare all the materials and plans and organize enough work to make everyone's time productive.  It'll kind of be like an Amish barn raising --- everyone shows up, and boom, it's done.  Since I know I'm always exhausted weeknights after work, weeknights will be for planning, part ordering, and designing.  I'll work every other weekend for construction, with generally 4- 5 hour Saturday and Sunday afternoon sessions, and then ramping up through the months of July and August.  By my effort alone, that will count for 11 weekends, or 110 hours.  The 3 group assembly sessions will count for another 300-400 hours in 5-10 people help out.  That leaves just about 200 hours of labor unaccounted for.  Worst case, that work takes place on-playa when perhaps more willing helpers can be found.  Or, the project is scaled back.  So I'm going to keep the work scheduled to avoid the involved hinged ramp detail until the very end, when we can see how it's coming along.  If construction is easier than planned, then we can get more elaborate.

Build Session 0 - Saturday 6/2. Cab-over framework. (weekend after Lightning in a Bottle)
Build Session 0.5 - Saturday 6/16 or Sunday 6/17. Hull facade framework. (weekend after EDC)
Build Session 1 - Saturday 6/30. Finish Hull and Cab Framework (weekend after Elesium)
Build Session 2 - Sunday 7/15. Build deck and pilot house Framework. Paint wood paneling.
Build Session 3 - Saturday 8/11. Wood paneling entire vehicle, make smokestack.

All the rest is detailing.  The two additional projects could be: fold-down ramps along the sides, and giant back end of ship extension with curving hull, rudder, and propellers.  I would love to do both of those, but just not sure how far the labor will go.  I will render this up a bit further and put up pictures.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

DMV and Balancing the Forces of the Universe

Even the biggest waves crashing in are neutralized when there’s normal flow going out.  But when not enough is going out, then the wave comes in to overtake you.  A life lesson from living on the beach.

So today I am overwhelmed by the simple task of going to the DMV.  I don’t even feel like writing out the long boring story in detail.  So let me summarize:  I need to find a certified California Weighmaster and make an appointment with the California Highway Patrol to have a 2nd VIN verification and to make sure the truck conforms to FMVSS-120 and about three other Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Certifications that are required, because my car didn’t have the appropriate stickers.  They did take my $900+ dollars though. Oh, and you can’t get an appointment with the CHP unless you show up in person, and their office closed at 5:00.  I know this because I showed up at 7:00 after working all day (except for the 2.5 hours I was at the DMV).  And I need to replace the low beam headlight bulb before I bring the truck back, not that I have an appointment yet.  Tomorrow’s projects: light bulb, CHP appointment.  The Weighmaster will have to wait till next Monday I guess.  Don’t they know that I’m the Tiltmaster?

I can’t even get started on building this mutant vehicle if I can’t legally get it registered for on-road use!  This is why I never built anything in Detroit: the 2400 mile drive means your base vehicle better be damn near perfect.  To top all this off, after getting it back from the service center I have noticed that the A/C doesn’t work.  There are no simple unplugged wires either, so this clearly has something to do with the exhaust manifold gasket and attachment stud replacement, or the drive belt replacement from last week.  First rule of doctors: do no harm.  Grrrr.  So now what?  Surrender, clearly.  And let it go.  If I don’t, I won’t be ready for tomorrow’s wave.

At least I have finally struck a balance between the overwhelming aspects of my job and my desire to follow my crazy dreams.  Unlike back in March, I am now perfectly happy being employed weekdays and free to pursue my obsession at night and on weekends.  When work took over all my weeknights and weekends, then I was really out of balance and miserable.  Between the layoffs and stress cause by that, I pretty much shut down.  Fortunately I had already set the wheels in motion on this art project so once the stress lifted I was ready to start.  I’m now excited about life and work is not dreadful.  Everything feels like it’s falling in place.  I didn’t really expect the DMV experience to go very well, and it turned out that way.  Time to regroup and move on.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Shop Progress. Shrinking the design.

The hacker space (SLAC) has come along nicely and now we've got a work bench and a proper welding table.  The welder is a simple wire-feed 110v type, and I think it should be no problem to use.  The group actually has two.  Between that and the promised 3 or 4 grinders that will show up once the personal shelves are up, I think just about everything I'll need to actually fabricate this art car is now ready.

For the last 8 days, the donor truck has been at Tom's Truck Center getting routine maintenance and some small repairs done.  I'm gonna pick it up tomorrow morning before work, and tomorrow evening it will be at its new home at the hacker space.  Then the measuring can begin and final plans can be drawn up. I'm pretty sure I won't be building this to an exact plan... it will be more fabricated on the spot.

I started this weekend to render a new design using the smaller sized truck I actually bought.  The original design was for an 18-20 foot bed Isuzu FTR which is a 26,000 lb GVW truck, when I actually bought what amounts to an Isuzu NPR with a 12 foot bed and only a 12,500 lb GVW.  So it's basically half the size and carrying capacity.  Also I decided the ship needs to be angled a bit steeper as she goes down, so I wanted the propellers more visible.  And ideally the cab can be fully tilted forward for service with all the metal framework in place.  Those measurements will dictate the final dimensions.

As you can see, with the smaller truck, everything has to shrink.  The gray box in the background was the original ship's bridge.  The overall length will need to be reduced by about 4 feet.  In this partial rendering I haven't shortened it yet.  The deck of the truck is about 2 feet lower, so everything has to drop.  All the platforms and ramps also will drop.  I've been thinking long and hard about how to attach the ramps and that seems to be the biggest design challenge so far.  The front cab-over section will be hard to construct since the beams are so long, but how to attach the sides / hull with a proper folding hinge section is a pretty difficult design and engineering problem.  Anyway, that's all I have to share today.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Everyone Loves Parades

Okay, it's been a while and a lot has happened.  For starters, last Saturday I flew to Phoenix and met the donor vehicle.  After getting up at 4am to catch the Super Shuttle to LAX, I was pretty much exhausted by the time I landed in Phoenix at 9am.  Fortunately, Raul, the salesperson at National Auto Mart, very helpfully picked me up at the airport and drove me to the auction house.  He was a really nice guy, and clearly a family man.  When he asked what I was going to use it for, I explained it was going to be turned into a parade float.  This seems to be the easiest way to explain the project.  He hadn't heard of Burning Man, but he said if I sent him a picture he'd add it to the wall in the office which had pictures of all the nicest and coolest cars that had been auctioned off there.  I told him he'll get a picture of it via email at the end of summer, and that was that.

So there in the parking lot was my new Tiltmaster, and I immediately hit the road.  It was a long day to say the least, and I finally got back to Orange County around 6 at night.  I never noticed it before but pretty much all of California has a 55 mph truck speed limit.  The truck really didn't like going over 65 anyway, and it was actually a lot less noisy and more comfortable going 55.  The CD player is broken, so all I heard was diesel engine for the 380 mile drive back.  It gets 11.5 mph completely empty.  I filled the 30 gallon tank when it was half empty a few times, since I didn't know how much was in there or if the gauges could be trusted.  Aside from the broken CD player and a tendency for it to pull to the right, it performed flawlessly.  The ride is a bit stiff while empty, and the transmission cracks off shifts like a rifle.  I am sure under some load it smooths out a bit. My first day's impression left me motivated to make the first modification: a pair of fuzzy dice.  This thing demands fuzzy dice hanging from the ceiling like no vehicle I've ever owned (there is no rearview mirror).  It's like it was speaking to me.  Kind of like my old Dodge Ram needed a gun rack and for its driver to get a cowboy hat.
The following Monday I took it into Tom's Truck Center in Santa Ana for some maintenance and an inspection.  Once I started noticing trucks, I started noticing that a whole lot of them had Tom's Truck Center mud flaps, and they're a big new truck dealer and I figured they could be trusted.  Personally I'm more fond of those Yosemite Sam "Back Off" mud flaps, and have been eyeing those too.  All kinds of strange personalization ideas come into my head.  Don't get me started on the appropriate license plate frame.

Anyway, so I quickly learned that medium duty commercial trucks are really expensive to maintain.  Try $490 every 26K miles for transmission fluid and $190 every 6.5K miles for engine oil.  For either, it takes 13.5l of oil or fluid (about 3.5 gallons).  The power steering fluid should be changed every 32.5K.  And it keeps going. The drive belts have to be replaced periodically too. I had all those done and later on read the owners manual to find out the differential oil, air cleaner, and valve lash also probably need to be done.  Who knows when the prior owners did it.

The prior owners did maintain the brakes at least.  The alignment was less perfect, since it pulled to one side, and plus the front tires were shot.  I got two new (next load rating up) tires on there and got it aligned.  Now I'd been noticing some diesel exhaust smell in the cab while idling, and sure enough they found a broken manifold stud and an exhaust leak.  $700 later that was fixed, since I don't want to drive this around at 5mph and accidentally get asphyxiated.  All told, I got all this service and repair done for under $3K after negotiating myself a 10% discount.  Plus I think the service guy liked me and gave me a break for explaining that this will become a parade float.  Everyone loves parades!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Thief Resistant - New Design Criteria

For the last several Tuesdays, the group sponsoring the maker's space (SLACerspace is the name... acronym stands for something) have been meeting for beers.  And discussing some business.  The space will be officially opening this Saturday with a morning garage sale to get rid of excess clutter, followed by fabrication of work benches.  I appreciated the chance to bounce some ideas I had off the group.

Unfortunately, there is a design requirement I hadn't even considered in my plans before.  I have to make this piece theft-proof during and after the construction phase. I learned that apparently thieves case the warehouse area every few hours and occasionally try to break into the unit.  And closer to home, on Sunday, my road bike was stolen out of my garage due to my own forgetfulness when I left the garage door open.  That was another harsh reminder.  So my idea of building things on the flat bed truck and leaving them there is not a good idea.  There is a high likelihood they will get stolen right off the back of the truck if they require under 20 minutes of wrenching to remove.

This basically means I need to weld all the structure onto the truck.  I don't yet have good welding skills, and was planning to do everything with bolted joints, since I'm good at engineering those so they'll work.  But now, I need to weld stuff.  This is going to be a new challenge.  I was just this weekend looking at scaffolding on Craigslist because I thought that would be an ideal way to get the 2nd story platform onto the truck and keep the weight down by getting aluminum tubes.  It would sure weigh a lot less than a wooden deck supported by 4 x4s or even steel frame bolted onto the truck bed.  Here was my idea for the scaffolding, a 5' x 7' x 5' collection :

Scaffolding would be too easy to remove by thieves.  Theft prevention is a new complication and I'll have to factor it into the design.  Perhaps I should bolt everything together, but then tack weld the joints to make them permanent.  If anything needs to some apart, a quick hit with a grinder may be all it takes.  For now, I'm gonna rent some storage space inside the SLACerspace to keep the metal beams and sheets of plywood.  If I can get the metal frame onto the truck in a semi-permanent way, maybe I will still be able to bolt things to it without fear of theft.  Maybe it's just the obvious loose things which will get stolen.  Anyway, it's pretty frustrating.  And after losing my nice bike this weekend, I really don't want another financial setback by losing the building materials I haven't even purchased yet.

Oh, and I am trying to get the truck insured now.  As predicted, personal auto insurance will not insure a commercial truck.  So Allstate is going to have to write me a commercial policy.  Hopefully they won't rip me off too badly.  So far we're on day two and I don't have a quote or policy, so this is apparently not a no-brainer.  My current thought is to keep registration and insurance through Burning Man, and then put it into proper fenced storage, register it non-op with the DMV and cancel the insurance.  Then about 9 months later, fix it up a little over the summer and take it to Burning Man for a 2nd time.  Then it's over, the thing gets dismantled and the truck will be sold.  It's a temporary thing... as is life.

I did get my airplane ticket to Phoenix today to pick up the truck.  Using 12,500 American Airlines miles, and paying $85 for "last minute ticket issuance fees", I'm able to get out there on Saturday morning.  The guy from the auction house offered to pick me up at the airport, so I'm gonna take him up on the offer rather than pay for a 20 minute cab ride.  This guy and his company already has my money for the truck, so hopefully my trust was well placed.  I did check the BBB on them before wiring the money, so I do think they're legit.