Monthly Archives: October 2011

Halloween 2011, The Scare is Back!

Our son, Andy, visited recently, and on one of our trips to the grocery store, one of us, I don’t remember who, suggested we buy one of the pumpkins outside the entrance.  I think we were all surprised that there was unanimous agreement that the three of us should team-up and carve one.  Because Andy likes cats, he suggested that the artist in residence, The Princess, draw a cat face on the pumpkin.  Andy and I then took over, massaged her drawing just a bit, and carved it.  The following pictures are pretty scary, so you might want to warn any small children near your computer.

Another pretty scary thing is working on the Pony.  Gene and I spent an entire afternoon this week attaching the flywheel and clutch to the engine and then sliding it into place.  It was one of those operations that took all kinds of coaxing, jiggering, ooching, etc.  This was not a “by the book” repair, far from it.  As a matter of fact, we ended-up tightening the clutch to the flywheel by going in through the port where the starter will soon be installed.  Here’s a shot of that.

Those of you who know me from my former life, know that I was a risk manager for most of it.  It should come as no surprise, therefore, that there was a piece of wire attached to the small wrench Gene and I used to do the tightening.  Our fear was that the wrench would fall down inside the torque tube and we’d have to pull the engine back out in order to retrieve it.  Sure enough, while I was tightening one of the bolts, the wrench slipped and down inside she went.  But, thanks to our risk management I was simply able to fish it back up by the wire.  Funny thing, that the wire was Gene’s idea, not mine!

We got everything tightened-up, then the engine bolted to the chassis and finally tried the clutch.  Uh oh, no engagement with the clutch when we pushed on the clutch pedal.  By this point we’d run out of day, so had to pull the tarp over the Pony and leave the problem for the weekend.  Once again I was concerned and a bit down.  What was wrong, how would we figure it out, and what would  this do to my plans for a pre-Thanksgiving engine start?  I went home and drowned my concerns with a martini.

While Gene and I pondered our clutch problem, the Pony was having some issues of his own.  As you all know, the Pony, Gene, The Princess and I, we all live in Thatidiotictractorland, and very little news filters in from other countries to spoil it.  But this week the Pony started making a lot of noise and yammering that he was the 99%.  Frankly, right now I’d say that the Pony is more like 20% (finished that is), but he wouldn’t leave it alone.  He was still at it today when I went out to Gene’s to work on the clutch.  Well, before we knew it, Gene and I had a full-fledged revolt on our hands as this next photo sequence indicates.

That Pony, I’m tellin’ ya.  Now he says he’s going to stay for a while, but I don’t know, when Gene goes for the tear gas and the rubber bullets, watch out Pony!

Now for the real explanation.  Gene sent an email this week and he said he’d done some measuring in his immence, 3-bay, (but 4-car size) garage and determined that there’d just be room for the Pony.  So today Gene hooked up his lawn tractor to the Pony, and with Gene driving his tractor and me steering the Pony, we chugged right up into the garage.  This is so great.  No longer will we be subject to the foibles of the weather, the dark of night, or insects and critters.  I told Gene I should be really mad at him for not having thought of this a year ago.  Heck, we’d probably be out driving the ol’ Pony around by now had he been inside all this time.  But I was so happy at the turn of events I just couldn’t thank him enough, but hey Gene, thanks, thanks, thanks, thanks, etc.

And as if to prove how great it’s going to be in the garage, we fairly quickly figured-out the clutch problem.  An adjustment in the linkage was all we needed, and we now have a reconditioned and functioning clutch.  Woo hoo!

From the Pony Laureate:

Gene’s Garage”
And now a quick trip
From outside 
to in.
Where I’ll rest, 
They’ll rebuild,
And I’ll win.

The Pony

Happy Halloween everyone, and ooooooo thanks for reading.

Gold! (Part 2)

Last week’s post was interrupted by a PNN (Pony News Network) report, which detailed the historic move of the Pony’s motor back out to the chassis.  Since that dicey, but ultimately successful operation, my only tractor progress has been the coating of the inside of the fuel tank with an epoxy finish.  The purpose of this is to seal off old corrosion and keep it from contaminating the fuel supply.  Like almost every step I’ve taken on the Pony’s restoration, this one left me wondering whether I’d messed it up, or not.  The instructions on the can indicated that the liquid should be swirled all around in the tank and then the excess thoroughly drained.  I was not to allow any of the epoxy to pool anywhere.  Well, the morning after I coated it I noticed some pooling.  I was able to scrape some of it out, so I’m hoping I’m ok.  Hoping, boy there’s a word that is equally applicable to the lottery and the Pony’s restoration. 

Resetting the scene.
Almost 30 years ago, I’m lost in the Sierra Mountains of Northern California.  I’ve been driving for hours.   It’s late, it’s dark, it’s cold, and I’m tired and frustrated.  I can’t find the idiotic brother and the rest of the gold dredging crew, and I’m getting madder by the minute.  As I was leaving a small general store I spotted the name “Bruce” on a scrap of paper on a bulletin board on the porch.  Hallelujah!  From that whole bunch of idiots that had abandoned me, directions to a new campground.  Back in the car, more scary driving on twisty, turny, dark-ass roads, but now finally with a destination in mind, and then the campground, and the RV and sure enough, the whole crew straggling out, bleary-eyed to greet me.  The news headline the next morning might have read “Mass Murder at Campground,” but I had no gun.  Instead there were hugs and handshakes and relief all around. 

It was hard to get to sleep that night after all the excitement and then the silly chatter as we lay awake in the dark RV, but eventually sleep did come.  Morning came way too soon, and as I came to grips with where I was, why did I feel like I’d wet the bed?  They’d stuck me in an overhead sleeping area near the roof, “best bed in the joint” they’d said.  I said, “Hey, everything’s wet up here,” and I heard, “Oh, Bruce…” and giggling.  Then they finally admitted that this “luxury” RV they’d rented had a leak in the roof just above where I’d slept.

This was really going great; I thought, what next?  But I’ve got to say, the rest of the expedition was a blast.  Thank goodness I didn’t kill them all!  The group had been on-site for several days when I got there, and unlike previous dredging trips there were smiles, as the river (South Branch of the Yuba) was yielding some of the precious yellow metal.  So what does a gold dredge look like?  Have a look below.

You’ll note the dredge is anchored in place by ropes.  The current was hard and fast and the temperature was hoo boy!  The operation often involved two guys underwater at a time and a third keeping track of things top side.  Essentially what the two in wet suits do is vacuum the bottom of the river, sucking up anything and everything that will fit in the hoses.  That stuff flows over a  grate in the sluice box (silver part) that allows the heaviest stuff to fall through and the rest to flow back into the river.  Several times a day the grate would be lifted and the gleanings examined for gold nuggets, pretty exciting each time that occurred.  It’s incredibly hard work moving boulders and rocks all day to allow whatever is around and under them to move up into the sluice and over the grate.  At least they said it was hard work; to a man they were all notorious liars, so take it with a grain of salt.  I only donned the wet suit to look at rainbow trout and pretty rocks under water.

My gold search was limited to panning for the stuff on the edge of the river.  After getting lessons in the finer points of the technique, I spent several gorgeous days with my bottom half in the river, completely numb from the cold.  With panning, first you scoop up some river bottom, pick out the larger stuff, and then keep swirling it around until all you’re left with is “black sand” and hopefully some gold.  When you get it to this point, if you’re lucky you pick out the tiny gold flecks with your tweezers and stow them in a small vial.  Here’s a couple of shots of me demonstrating the process.

The shot below shows the crew doing a little panning.  My uncle Ed, who’s passed on now, supervises.  My cousin Ed, who we lost last year, is walking in the water, while my cousin, Bill, sits in the foreground.

On the second night, I grilled chicken I’d brought up in a cooler.  I guess they HAD worked hard, because everyone loved that chicken.  To this day, that chicken dinner is spoken of with reverence.  Later in the evening the days nuggets would be weighed by lantern light.  The shot below is a little dim, but I believe you can make out the hand scale being used.

The boys had a deal with the guy that owned the claim, that they could work the claim for a percentage of the gold, so it was important to keep track of everything, well almost everything.  I don’t remember anymore what the total take was, but I know everybody went home with gold, some enough to make  jewelry from it.  For my part, I was happy to take home a small vial of water from the Yuba with a nice collection of gold flakes in the bottom.  I’ve still got it, and here’s the proof.
After a few days I drove down out of the mountains alone.  We’d found gold, and it was great, but it was the experience that was priceless. 
We’d never be there again, we’d never be that age again, but the memories, ahhh, we’d have those forever.
Here’s my favorite picture.  I wonder why.

Thanks for reading.

Gold! (Part One)

The year was 1982, now almost 30 years ago.  It was so dark that even with my “brights” on, it looked as if they weren’t.  After driving most of the afternoon and evening, I was now climbing narrow, twisting roads in absolute blackness, higher and higher into the Sierra Mountains.  Jim had sent directions to a campground where we were supposed to meet.  But I’d already been to the campground, found no trace of him and was now rather aimlessly driving the roads, asking for directions, and checking other campgrounds as it got later and later and I got more and more tired and frustrated.  No cell phones back then.  I started to fear that I’d have to spend the night in the car someplace, alone and, man, it was really getting cold outside.  The cold was more of an issue in that the airline had lost my bag.  I kept trying to see out further than the headlights would allow, seeking any bright spot along the road that might now simply give me a place to pull over safely and rest.  What a nightmare, and the day had started out so well.  

At that time I worked for Miles Laboratories and lived in Elkhart, IN.  Among other things, Miles had a great stable of household name, consumer products like Alka Selzter, One-A-Day Vitamins, SOS pads and Bactine.  Miles’ corporate headquarters were in Elkhart, but it was also the main plant for the manufacture of numerous products, one of them being Alka Seltzer.

The plant was union, and during a period during which relations between management and the union had become particularly fractious, the quality control department began finding bits of ground-up pencils in the Alka Seltzer.  Things eventually smoothed-out, but as Risk Manager I was left with a particularly nasty claim to pursue against our insurer for millions of dollars worth of damaged product.

When the claim reached the point where the insurance company couldn’t avoid it any longer, I went out to a sister company in Berkeley, CA to try to negotiate a settlement.  It was not easy.  In fact I remember my nerves being so shot at one point that I had to pick-up my coffee cup with two hands, so as not to tip-off the other side as to how nervous I was.  At the end of the day we settled for I thought an incredible sum at the time, $5 million.  In later years I would go on to bigger victories, but that was my first big pay-off.

The meeting over, and jacked-up by my success, I left Berkeley in a rental car  on an entirely different adventure.  Brother Jim and his wife Minnie who lived in Livermore, CA and my cousins Ed and Bill and others who floated in and out of the scene were camped high in the Sierra Mountains of Northern California on a gold dredging vacation.  I know just reading that you are thinking “what in the world,” but in the context of my family, almost all of my relatives, that fit right in.  They were and are all seekers.  All looking for something.  All eternally optimistic that surely they’ll find that something just around the next corner.  My brother seeks exotic cactus seeds on camping trips to Africa.  For years my uncle Carley hunted golf balls, then filled suitcases with them, and took them to Florida where my dad would sell them.  My aunt Gloria was an inveterate garage saler and passed this addiction on to her sons.  Cindy and I have haunted auctions and antique shops for years.  You probably remember my story of looking for rare coins in bags of pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters.  My dad bought a share in Mel Fisher’s company and ended up being paid in pieces of eight from the ship, Atocha.

So in that family it is not too hard to believe that probably the ultimate pursuit would be for GOLD.  And the leader of the gold dredging operation was the biggest dreamer of all the relatives, my cousin Ed.  Yes, the same cousin Ed that climbed down in a wishing well with me to dig pennies out of the muck at the bottom.  Now many of this cast of characters were supposedly squirreled away in some location unknown to me here in these dark, damn mountains.  Now I was the “seeker.”

Finally, a light up ahead, a small general store.  I walked in, happy to see light and asked about campgrounds in the area.  I got a few more leads, walked out the door and glancing to my left noticed a bulletin board full of notices, notes, etc.  Then, out of the maze of notes I saw my name “Bruce.”  Could that possibly be intended for me.

#######This is breaking news from PNN (Pony News Network)#######

We interrupt this story to bring you an important news story.  On Friday after spending the last year in Bruce’s garage, the Pony’s engine was moved back out to Gene’s to rejoin the tractor.  I had mentioned to Gene that it might be a good idea to move the engine while son Andy was visiting from New York.  He offered up his son, Joel, and add to this father son group mutual friend, George (with his pick-up) truck, we had the critical mass to potentially move a tractor engine.

I’m going to do a little picture show below ( all photos provided by Princess Photo), which tells the story, but while looking at the first picture, left to right you are seeing Joel, George, Gene, me and Andy.

What these photos don’t show are the two near catastrophes where the engine almost ended up on the ground.  One occurred when George and I took it upon ourselves to move the engine into the pick-up.  The board the engine was on tipped backwards at a certain point, and we almost dumped the engine on the garage floor.  Then out at Gene’s, when the move from the bed of the truck to the 2×4’s on the tractor took place, some of the boards slid off on one side and the engine hung precariously in George and Andy’s arms for about 30 seconds.

But all came out well in the end, which is reflected in the smiling faces of the Pony work crew in the final photo.  Thank you George, Joel, Gene and Andy for risking life and limb to put Humpty, I mean the Pony, back together again.

Stay tuned to future posts for mor breaking news, and thanks for reading.

100, 65, What’s in a Number Anyway?

Ya know, there’s The Rose Bowl, The Peach Bowl, The Cotton Bowl, etc., each now amended with the name of some commercial backer like Chiquita Bananas or Samsung Electronics, or Wheaties.  Here in ThatIdioticTractorLand we only have one bowl; Massey-Harris sponsors it, and it’s called The Sediment Bowl.  Have a look.

This bowl will be filled with gas, not fans and it will filter gas coming from the gas tank prior to it’s going into the carb.  With the exception of one small gasket, this little gizmo is ready to go into action.  Not much other tractor work this week, but we’ve got big plans for next week. 

After about a year in my garage, if all goes as planned, the engine will rejoin the rest of the Pony out at Gene’s this Thursday.  Gene and his son, Joel, will join my son, Andrew, and me, and together, we’re going to lift the engine into Gene’s minivan and drive it out to his place andmaneuver it into place on the chassis.  The Princess has agreed to serve as photographer.  Cross your fingers, I’m nervous as a billy-goat.

It’s appropriate that we reach this important step in the Pony’s restoration now, as this post is number 100 since this whole business began.  Can you believe it?  I mean…it feels like 200!  The time did NOT fly by; this is an agonizingly slow process only punctuated by little successes along the way.  Of course, as we’ve seen, the rest of life can get in the way of progress at times.  But it really has been worth it.  After all this time, no longer does life get in the way.  The Pony has wheedled his way into our lives, mine and yours, so that it’s all just one life, albeit an “idiotic” one.

Speaking of numbers, we don’t talk about The Princess’s age around here.  It’s “ok” to celebrate birthdays, we just don’t dwell on the number.  Today, October 9, is The Princess’s special day.  As she decreed, it was a sunny, mid-70’s day, so to celebrate I went out on the morning 40 and didn’t even wake her as I left the house.  Later, we went to a matinée movie, (Hedgehog), took a walk, and then went out to dinner.  Those wishing to appropriately acknowledge The Princess’s birthday may leave a comment, or write Happy Birthday on a $20 bill and send it in care of the Pony at ThatIdioticTractor.  He’ll find some good use for it I’m sure.  Here’s a hint on the number, as of this month The Princess is royally insured by Medicare.  Happy Birthday Princess!

Remember some time ago I told you about how I had declared war on the letter A.  I decided that the cross-bar in it was superfluous; you just don’t need it to know that it’s an A, and by skipping it one saves time, ink and pencil lead.  I started to do everything, especially the daily cross-word, with what appears to be an upside down V. Now something kind of interesting has happened.  This has turned out to be a sort of left brain experiment.  I’ve been doing this for months now, my A’s over and over again, without the crossbars, through repetition training my brain to see an A in a different way.  This week while doing the cross-word, several times I noticed that when I write H’s I have a strong inclination to skip the cross-bar.  The H, of course, is similarly constructed with two lines, joined by a cross-bar. 

Wow, this is really interesting, and kind of scary too.  Apparently I’m trainable, but only to do really useless, stupid stuff.  Then to top it off, I involuntarily start doing other  stupid stuff.  The mind, they say, is a terrible thing to waste, but apparently not in my case. 

There was an interesting side-affect to this experiment.  Whenever The Princess picks up one of my unfinished cross-words, she sees my upside down V’s and fills in all the cross-bars.  Dammit!  She can’t seem to help herself, and see’s it almost as her duty to correct me.  Of course, nuthin new there…

Just one more thing.  Steve Jobs death this week although not a total shock, nevertheless hit a lot of people pretty hard.  Probably a genius, the man had tremendous imagination and insight, a uncany ability to not just see into the future, but to make the future.  If you’re thinking, wow, he sounds a lot like your idiotic author, you may not be totally mistaken.  A couple of posts ago I was talking about a place where I could hear into the future, and I said this:  “I don’t know, but hearing (behind you) into the future, well that’s just kind of weird.”  This week the press dragged out an old commencement speech given by Jobs that contained this quote:  “…you can’t connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking backwards.  You have to trust in something…” 
Well, I trust that that dang Pony motor will start.  I can hear it behind me already.
Thanks for reading.

Wagons Full of Memories

Here’s a couple of pictures of the transmission cover and shifter mechanism as first removed from the Pony.

Now, here’s a few shots of the refurbished parts.

The first shot above includes the refurbished differential cover and, I don’t know, some other thingy that was in the way when I painted the second section of the Pony.  Oh, and Saturday I went out to Gene’s and put the second coat of Pony red on the section that will hold the gas tank and starter.  In the second shot, I’m making a new gasket for the transmission cover. 

These next few shots were taken Sunday by Gene and his wife, Lynn, as I was installing the parts shown above.

I don’t know why I’m smiling in this picture, since what I’m doing here is cleaning the Pony’s “rear end.”  I cleaned generally around where both covers were to be installed, and then finished up by rubbing the surfaces where the gaskets would be applied with lacquer thinner.  This assures good adhesion of the “black velvet” gasket sealer.

In the shot above you can see the new blue gasket already “sealed” onto the transmission case.  I used cork on the differential and thick, blue, paper gasket material here.

Above, the end result of Sunday’s work.  Then one last shot. 

The Pony sits primarily in the shade, so with the sun sneaking through in a few spots, sometimes you get some pretty odd color affects.  I took this one Sunday of the second coat of Pony paint.  Almost looks like we’re going for the hot rod flames affect doesn’t it?

You can usually tell when I don’t have much to say…lots of pictures….
I saw a picture recently though that reminded me of another one, and then another one, so here’s is a little sequence looking back.



Of course, three generations of “little red wagons,” well people too.  First, son Andrew.  He’ll be mad that I printed this.  At Christmas, 1979, when he got his wagon, he was also an avid watcher of the TV show CHIPS, about the California Highway Patrol.  So, in addition to the wagon, we gave him the CHP outfit, complete with gun, handcuffs, helmet, badge.  In the shot from 1951, the IB is on the left, brother Phil, center, and yours truly on the right.  Then way back in 1934, that’s my dad in the suit and tie, and his siblings, left to right, Kenny, Gloria and in the rear, Carly.  Looking back at these photos, a few things strike me about the ubiquitous little red wagon.
*  They’re good for taking photos.
*  All inhibitions disappear once you get in one.
*  Technology cannot kill it.
*  They fire the imagination.  It’s a wagon, but it’s a space ship too and a car, a time machine, a locomotive, a fire truck.
*   They’ve been used, and abused for a lot of things, not just firing the imagination, but hauling out the garbage, doing yard work, delivering papers, and producing first cases of compressed vertebrae, whip-lash and road rash.
*  And finally they leave memories, and they’re usually nice ones (exception:  that frozen 1958 delivery of Thanksgiving newspapers).

Thanks for reading.