Monday, April 7, 2014

Elmira N.Y. turns 150

The nearby city of Elmira Celebrates it's 150th anniversary this year, and today, April 7th, is the day it was actually founded. Prior to this date in 1864 the village was known as Newtown. The story goes that during the council meeting to write up the charter, being held at Mr. Tealls tavern (Where else would a city council meet but at a tavern?) Mrs. Teall repeatedly had to call for her young daughter to keep her in line. After hearing the woman call for "Elmira" all night, they suggested that the name be given to the newly chartered village, and it stuck.
Notables from our little city include; Mark Twain, Hal Roach (Producer of the Little Rascals, Our Gang, and many Oliver and Hardy movies) Eileen Collins (Space shuttle pilot and mission commander), NBC news Anchor Brian Williams,  Fashion Designer Tommy Hilfiger, and Ernie Davis (The first African American to win the Heisman Trophy)

A postcard of Rorick's Glen showing the swing ride,
and the foot-bridge across the river

Elmira once had 2 amusement parks. The first was Rorick's Glen. It was at its' height in the very early 1900s, and finally closed around 1912. Seated on the south bank of the Chemung River, that bisects the city, and accessed by a foot-bridge, It featured a flying chairs ride, a roller-coaster, electric gardens (Remember this was before 1915!) and an open air, summer-stock theater that would seat 1200 people. It also had numerous walking trails, cabins, and picnic spots. Subsequent floods have all but erased any traces of this grand old park. The land was owned by the Boy Scouts for many years, and now I believe it is privately owned.  It is my hope to be able to explore this area some time in the near future, and write an article dedicated to it.
The Speedway! Ready for a ride on the wooden coaster
at Eldridge Park?
Next up is Eldridge park. It started as a sculpture garden, but by the turn of the century it had a midway. By 1920 it was so popular it had it's own train station. It boasted a dance hall, picnic grounds, a pleasure boat with a dragons head (known as Jasper) fountains in the middle of the "lake",and a beautiful carousel.  As the midway grew it added; bumper-cars, a "Whip" , the Flying Scooters, a Spook House, Shooting Gallery, Teacups, A Ferris Wheel, a Roller-coaster named "The Speedway", an arcade, and a big selection of kiddie rides including Jeeps, Fire trucks, Boats, a Kiddie-Whip and a train. (I'm sure I've missed something. Remind me of it in the comments)  It all went away in the late 1980s, but thanks to a dedicated group of citizens it is once again being revitalized. Back again is the Carousel, the flying scooters, and now we have the Jasper II!   Weekly classic car cruise-ins are held during the summer. I hope to join a few this year.
Notable industry in out fair city has included things like American LeFrance, who made fire trucks here in Elmira from 1871 until 1985. Remington Rand, who made typewriters and other mechanical equipment, Bendix, who produced coaster brake hubs that went on practically every bicycle made in the first half of the 1900s And Kennedy Valve that makes Fire Hydrants to this day.
Any person who has grown up here in Chemung County instantly recognizes the date of 1972. That year Hurricane Agnes caused major flooding in Elmira and the surrounding towns. It was a blow that Elmira struggles with still.  Elmira was once vibrant. It held wealthy business owners, grand Victorian homes, many of which are now multi unit apartments, and industry thrived. It is a city with an amazing past,( I haven't even mentioned the civil war prison, or the links or the underground railroad, or the Chemung Canal) and I hope it will have an amazing future. The thing we have going for us is a community that loves their city, and seem to be determined to bring it back.
This was supposed to be a really short write-up on Elmira's 150th birthday, so If I've jumped around a bit I apologize. It's late and I was writing whatever came to me.  What I hope is that I've sparked your interest in Elmira, or the history of your home town. What's the story?!  Why not stop by your local  historical society and see what's to be found. Let it be a start of an even bigger adventure.  GO explore your town. I'm on my way to check out mine! I'll tell you about it as I do.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Clementine, The '74 "Westy" part 1

Another Air-cooled VW has come to roost at Stray Cat. "Clementine" is an orange 1974 Campmobile Deluxe. To explain that a bit further, it is a VW Transporter, or Bus, that was converted by Westfalia into a camper. An extremely short history of VW busses is that the earlier busses, built before 1968, had 2-piece windshields that were split down the middle. Thus they are referred to a split-windows, or "Splittys". The later busses built from 1968 on, had one big piece of glass for a windshield, and because of that, they have come to be known as "Bay-window" busses. On top of that, Busses that were converted to campers are often referred to by the name of the company they were modified by. Some of the best known were: Riviara, Safarie, and Westfalia. Now the last one there gets shortened by the VW guys to "Westy". One more thing. Busses that retained their factory top were usually labeled "Weekenders" or are often called "Tin-tops". The ones like mine, that got a fiberglass top that raised up with a tent attached to make an upper bunk, are known as "Pop-tops"
Why have I rambled on about all this trivia? Because I have spent so much time on VW forums that I tend to speak the lingo without thought of other people not having a clue what I'm talking about. That out of the way, let me tell you about Clementine.
Unlike the Type 3, that was a chance-grab from my friend, I have been looking for a camper-bus for most of my life. I've loved how different they are, how they are an icon that even non- gearheads recognize. At first I wanted any camper I could find, but as the years rolled by and the search for one became closer to reality, I knew I needed to do some research to narrow down my goal.
The first decision was split window, or bay window. That was easy, because, even though I love the look of the old Split windows, so do collectors, and because of that they are simply out of my price range. So I was looking for a Bay. That gives me the years 68-79 to pick from.  Within that range there were a few major changes made. Mostly in 1972. That year saw extra reinforcement added to the cab floor to improve your chances in a wreck, and a move to a new engine. So I figured I'd shoot for '72 or newer, with a goal of a '76  so it'd share my age.  As for the camper equipment, it had to be a pop-top. That part has always been my favorite  part. I like the ones that pivot at the back of the bus, and open like a wedge. No problem there as that is how the ones in my year range  work.
Great. That's settled. Now I keep an eye out for the right one.......

Let a few more years roll by. Every one I come across just doesn't fit the bill. Too rusty, too beat up, seen sitting too long, wayyyyyy too much money, too far away.. and so on.  Then, on a day off after Christmas, I was doing my usual trolling of Craiglist, and spotted an ad for a 74 camper. It was a simple ad with no picture and only a brief description that did not exactly flatter the bus, but the price was reasonable, and it was nearby, so I thought it was worth a look.
I expected to find a rolling rust bucket. What I actually found was a running driving bus, with very little rust, that was in need of a lot of lovin'. This was it. Everything lined up. The seller drove it to my house, I had cash, and the deed was done.
So now I have a growing list of stuff I need and want. Before we hit the road, the tires need to be replaced, the fuel system needs to be re-built, and one of the CV joints needs to be replaced. Then it's on to making the camper parts work.  First up will be replacing the canvas for the pop-top, along with all the seals for the top, then on to making things work inside.

So here I am, sitting inside watching the snow fall, thinking that the worst thing someone like me can do is buy a summer toy at the onset of winter. Here's hoping that when the sun comes out, Clementine will be ready to go on some adventures, and that we get to share them with you.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

How's Abby doing?

Abby at the Watkins Vintage Fest in2012
Who's Abby?  Why, Abby is my 1970 VW
Type 3 Fastback. I can't say I ever desired a
VW Type 3. I've always had a thing for the old air cooled VWs, but Type 3s just don't exist in this part of the country anymore, so until recently I never even knew of their existence except for a distant memory of an odd white station wagon with no grille in the front, that used to tool around here when I was a kid. Time rolls on, and a couple of years ago I stop in to my buddy Jim's shop in an old warehouse, just to see what's new, and there sits this peculiar green car that I can only identify by the VW emblem on the hood.  It's in a row of other old cars including a BMW 2002, a Studebaker Champion,  a Camaro, and a Beetle Convertible. I kinda liked the weird little thing, but that was  all the thought I gave it until about a year later when my friend needed to find a new home for all the cars that had been in the warehouse. I saw it again, and started to see the possibilities it had, and started to think I needed to have it.
A little negotiation later and we towed the non-running VW across town and parked in the yard with an ancient set of Maryland license plates bolted on it to throw the village code dogs off the scent.
 I started to do some research about  the Type 3, mainly because it wouldn't run, and the reason it wouldn't run related to the world's first mass-produced electronic Fuel injection system that was installed 43 years ago, at the factory. The VW Type 3 holds the honor of being the first mass-produced car with electronic fuel injection  Over the next couple of weeks I learned all kind of things about the marvelous Bosch D-Jet Fuel injection system and the ATARI  of  a computer that controls it. After a major triumph of diagnostic work (I'm still proud of this) that included finding and repairing no less than 6 no-start conditions, I had the sweet little 1600 cc flat four  air cooled engine  running like a top. 
the transformation is underway
After a set of newer tires, a quick going through of the brakes, and a few other inspection items the Type 3 was on the road, and this unusual little car required a good name. so it was dubbed, "Abby Normal" in a little homage to Marty Feldman in" Young Frankenstein". Unfortunately the fuel injection triumph was short lived. After only a few short months, the barometric pressure sensor took a dive, and the car began burping and chugging like a collage freshman at a kegger.  it seems, on the East coast Bosch D-jet fuel injection parts  were made of unobtanium, and while they can be found on the West coast, they come at a price, and used.  I made the decision to switch to carbs. It got me back on the road, but not running nearly as nice as with the injection setup.
Since then Abby had shed her bumpers, traded in the original wraparound  b-ugly turn signals for some trim little bullet type ones off of a 68 Type 3, and ditched the plastic parts-store stick-on side molding in favor of a smoother look. Inside we have the original tatty seats, seatbelts from a C-130 cargo plane, and a  Magic Hat beer tap for a shift lever. She also sports a tach on top of the dash, more as a joke than anything else. But it's cool, and it works!
  Abby is never going to be a show car. not with all the body filler, fiberglass and pop-rivets she's been treated to over the years, so I decided the rat-rod look would suit her well.
The green paint had to go. It looked like Earl Scheib was forced to join the Army. So a quick sanding and several rattle cans of flat black primer later, and we have a hot-rod look.  The wheels went red, porta-walls will be ordered soon to give the tires a whitewall look, the body will be getting a proper coat of black paint with a matte clear  very soon, and I hope to lower the front end just a bit for a better stance. This winter I hope to be able to rebuild the engine, and work on a Mega Squirt fuel injection setup along with an MSD ignition.
Are you going to the Watkins Glen Vintage Racing Festival this Sept.? If so, you'll likely see me and Abby there. We hang around with the other unusual cars in the Concorso Speciale.  We'll be there unless the oil leak gets worse........

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Long Time, No Blog

Wow! it's been since May that I posted anything here.  The weather got nice, things got rolling, and even though I've had lots to talk about, I've been out doing and not writing. 
Well, the ol' shop has a few things going on. I'll spread them out over a few posts to organize a bit, but here I'll update you all on the motorized bicycle project.

this shows the placement of the engine. the gearbox will fit
in the space between the back of the engine and
the seat-post

The shaft drive mocked up for testing.
 Gonna keep this one in the wings for a future build
 It's been a while since I did anything on it, but I made some good progress a while back. The frame was stretched 6 inches, and the plates I fabricated were tack welded in to hold the Maytag engine.  Everything is just tacked in at the moment, so if I change my mind about anything, it can be easily modified. You can see now how I'm trying to mount the engine like it was on the old BMW bikes, or that ABC bike in my older post.  So far the biggest design change will be in the final drive. You can see in theone pic that I had the shaft drive from the Yamaha moped mocked up  to test. and  I started to modify bits to try and make everything work. It ws quickly becoming a major effort, and even though I'd have the nice clean shaft to the back, I was still going to need some kind of chain to make the pedals still work as I will need them to get the bike rolling to get the engine to start. Then I made a deal with someone on the motorized bicycle forum for some 90 deg gearboxes  and have decided that for this project I will be using one of those boxes to run a belt to a large pulley on the rear wheel.  I hope to get back to it soon, but there are a few other projects eating up my time right now.  New posts soon I promise
turning the 10-speed into useable pieces.

The frame stretched using the donor 10-speed parts
and the fabricated plates


Thursday, May 23, 2013

Score of the day

Just a quick little story to keep things interesting. I got a visit from an old neighbor this evening. He stopped in asking if I had any push-mowers. "As a matter of fact I do" I said. So we made a trade. I gave him two parts mowers that will go together to make one good one, and he gave me an old Sears chainsaw from the 60s
It was seized up, so it's soaking overnight in a mix of weasel-pee. We'll see tomorrow how it worked.
Old wrenches trick of the day, weasel-pee is a 50/50 mix of automatic transmission fluid and acetone

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Old Engine Day!

It's that time of year, Old Engine Day at the Curtiss Museum in Hammondsport N.Y. This is the first year I've made it to this event, and it was well worth the drive. The museum pulls out some of it's collection to stretch the legs of some nice early iron, and all the friends of the museum show up with their private collections to join in the fun.
The Model A Aero Engine in action
The museum had two nice aero engines they were firing up to the delight of the crowd every so often throughout the day. The first was a Ford Model A engine set up with a propeller, and short pipe exhaust so it made wonderful music as it tried to blow the leaves off the trees. the other nice one they had was a Heath Kit engine. Any of you remember Heath Kits? the radios and electronic kits you could have fun building at home? Well, they used to make airplane kits too! And the engines they used were an inline 4 cylinder air cooled  made by the Henderson Motorcycle company. They are a great engine to hear running,Just watch the video, and I'd love to have the chance to play with a Henderson someday.
A peek at the "secret show"
On hand were several hit-and-miss engines of all sizes. from  a Tom Thumb up to some monster chuggers on dual axle trailers. also a great variety of model engines, vintage motorcycles, and a "secret show" of sportscars in the parking lot when the MG and sportscar clubs arrived.

Yamaha donor parts. Yes, That's a SHAFT DRIVE!!!
The most productive part of the day for me was meeting up with a new friend from the Rochester area, Brad, and getting a crucial part of my motor-bicycle build. a final drive  from a derelict Yamaha moped. With that part, now I can start the planning of what I need to do with the frame to make everything work.

Brad and his creation
Now, about Brad. He's a pretty creative guy. He and his son brought a nice collection of engines and bikes, including a total custom built chopper- bike with a hit-and-miss engine. IT was totally rat-rod, and totally COOL. I even got the chance to ride it around the parking lot!  I see a technical write-up in the future. I challenge any of you out there to build something cool  too.
That's Brad and his son, at the beginning of the video.
Back at the home front, the new workshop at Stray Cat is making great strides.  All the outer walls are up, the roof is done, the floor had it's sub layer done, ad pending the delivery of a few more pieces of plywood, it is closing in on being ready. I've already moved some stuff out there to get a feel for how stuff is going to fit. It's exciting to see things coming together after all this time and effort.
a couple more weeks on the shop, and I should be shifting over to working on projects.
Here's a shot of the shop with some stuff moved in. Not all of that is permanent, and actually the workbench will go right where all that stuff is now.
Keep on trucking out there. I'll update again soon.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

gettin in gear

Holy cow! Has it really been two weeks since my last update?  Last week absolutely nothing happened on the shop. On Saturday I decided to clean out the ol' BBQ, and found it quite a bit more rust than I expected. After looking up all the parts I wanted to get it back like new, I realised I could get a new grill for not a lot more. So after a bit of research it was a trip to Target to pick up a new "Stok Quattro"  then spent the next hour putting it together.  After a week of grilling I can say it is a lot better than the old Kenmore. So far I recommend it.  That was about all I did last week. I needed a day off to recoup.
This week on the other hand has been hopping. It all started around Thursday night.  My buddy  Brian got all the parts working on his CNC mill, and sent me a video. Very cool. I'll be writing more about that soon. Then I was over at Jimmy's house because a friend from work was looking at an E36 BMW he had for sale. While I was over there, he tells me his friend has a truckload of plywood for me! Alright! An hour later I had a stack of 3'8" square plywood in my garage.  Great looking stuff, and it was just what I was waiting for.
Saturday I had to wait just a little before I could get to work on the garage. It was Free Comic Book Day!!! We went down to Elmira Heights to Heroes Your Mom Threw Out comic book shop to join in the fun. We had a ball, and came home with a handful of comics.

After we got home I got to work. I got the plywood on the end wall, covered it with tar paper, and stood it up. Then framed up the first section of the back wall, covered it with plywood, and tar paper, then got it up. By then I was beat, so it was grill up some dinner, and then go to bed.

End of  the day Saturday
 Sunday was a very productive day. I got the other half of the back wall up, put up the frame of the other end wall, and was able to put up all the rafters, cover them with plywood, and tar paper.
So now I'm tired, sore, and fried to a crisp. But man did I make some good progress today!
More soon. Stay tuned

The roof is on!! end of the day Sunday