Thursday, November 26, 2020

Year 2020 - What The Hell Happened!?!?

Hello Everyone!!  And, Happy Thanksgiving!!

Well, COVID happened!!!  

I cannot imagine that there is a person alive in this country, at least not anyone with any cognitive skills at all, that hasn't heard about the Covid (aka: Corona Virus, Covid-19, China Virus, etc.)  I also cannot imagine that there is anyone in this country (probably the world) that hasn't been affected by it in some way or other.

So, before I go any further let me say that if you have lost anyone close to you because of this virus, please accept my condolences, and condolences from my family and our Prowler family.  We are very sorry for your loss.  There is no dispute that what this virus does, in the worst case, is tragic and very sad.

Next, I will tell you that, so far, my immediate and extended family have been very, very fortunate with regards to Covid.  We all know friends, or friends of family, that have had Covid and/or tested positive - but no one has been lost to this thing.  That may change, but for now my family and I are very grateful and thankful for this good furtune.

Unfortunately, I haven't updated the blog for almost a year!!  I have no excuses - just been busy.  And, honestly, I haven't had a lot of Prowler news to update on, except for Francis.  He continues to be the "Energizer Bunny" of the Prowler building world this year.  So, most of this update (Prowler Stuff) will be about his progress. 

Here is what I have for you in this update:
Prowler Items
1.  The French Prowler Progress
2.  The Static Display Prowler
3.  Ruff Cutting Prowler Part Dies
4.  George's Early Prowler Drawings
Non-Prowler Items
5.  Oldest Daughter Bought Her 1st House
6.  Youngest Daughter Solo Flight, Then Private Pilot
7.  New Porch/Deck On The House
8. Trailers, Trailers, Trailers
9.  New Wisconsin Property
10. Hardinge CHNC Lathe Progress

If you follow my blog, by now you know that my day job is flying for a major US airline.  If you follow any business news then you are probably also aware that every US airline has been all but decimated by this Covid thing.  My airline's stats for 3rd quarter 2020 showed revenue (money coming in) that is barely 25% of what it was in 2019.  After major changes to the airline in the 2nd and 3rd quarters to try to stem the flow - the company's cash burn is still $6M a day as we start the 4th quarter!!  It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that this is not sustainable for too long.  You can move the numbers up and down a bit, but every major airline is in the same state - cash burn is far outpacing revenues right now (and has been since late Feb and March of 2020).

The two greatest costs to every airline are fuel and pilots.  Depending on what point you look back in history (depending on the cost of a barrel of oil at that time) pilots and fuel trade places for the top cost at any airline.  Currently, Covid has also hit the oil industry and fuel costs right now are fairly low.  So, if you're an airline looking to cut cash burn as much as possible and fuel is not on top of the list - well, you know what's next.  Except, that hasn't happened to a great degree - yet!!  Yes, there are some airlines that have sent out furlough notices as of this date, but not in any numbers that match the loss of revenues (75%).  I think this is largely for two reasons: 1) Rebound; and 2) Qualification and Currency.  These are actually different topics, but they are closely linked.

Rebound - From the minute the bottom fell out of flying demand in March 2020, the airlines have had their best prognosticators trying to guess when and how demand for flying would return.  We've heard about V shaped curves, U shaped curves, W shaped curves, etc., etc.  (I personally think it's a check-mark curve [ |/ ] with the very steep drop and wiggly tail to the right that is pretty flat.)  But, who knows!?!?  The reason this is important is that an airline (as in any business) wants to be there to provide service when there is demand for it, right?  So, you don't want to be the "only guy" out there who isn't ready.  Ah, but what does it take to be "ready"?

Qualification and Currency - What it takes to be ready is (very simplistically): an airplane, fuel, and a flight/Inflight crew.  A lot of airplanes got parked in the desert this year, and it does take a little while and a little work to get them up and running again.  But, it is manageable and not a huge cost.  You can get fuel with a phone call.  But, your flight crew has to be qualified and CURRENT!  Depending on the type of training program at an airline, the crew has to pass a checkride every 6, 9 or 12 months to be qualified (this might also include some OE and line checks).  And, every pilot must have had 3 takeoffs and landings in the past 90 days to remain current in that type of aircraft.  So, if an airline decided to furlough 75% of its pilots (to match the reduction in revenue) and then the passenger demand for flying suddenly returned - you'd be caught without your ability to provide the service until you get your flight crews re-trained and current - and that takes TIME.  In some cases, it can take a long time.  That's why you haven't see huge numbers of furloughs at the major airlines - yet.

The point of all this is that most airlines have been trying to come up with creative ways to reduce the cost of keeping pilots around as much as possible - but they are bearing the brunt of the cost of NOT doing widespread furloughs.  So, now the airline industry is basically in a situation similar (but for much different reasons) to the late 80's and early 90's where airlines are taking on huge debt and "burning the furniture" to try outlive "the other guy" and be one of the few to survive and be able to provide the airline service to customers when demand returns.  It's a cut-throat game.  But, "to the victor go the spoils."  And, the spoils are sizable -just look at Delta's profits in 2019 ($1B each quarter!!!).  That's $1B per quarter left over after you've paid all your payroll, bills, taxes, etc.!!  Nice work, if you can get it.

The "creative ways" I mentioned above is what has applied to me for most of this year.  My airline started to offer what they call a VIL (Voluntary Incentive Line).  What that means is you can volunteer (on a monthly basis) to stay home and get paid 2/3 of your monthly guarantee (base pay check).  [That equates to roughly 1/2 of a "normal" paycheck, or even less, depending on how much a given pilot chose to work each month during "normal", "non-Covid" times.]  Financially, for me, that was enough to stay afloat and tread water for a while - so, sign me up!!  Starting in April this year I was basically "off of work" until just recently (Nov) when I had to head back to the schoolhouse and get re-qualified and re-current.

So, what did I do with all this time?  Well, unfortunately, not a lot of Prowler related work.  I still worked hard, nearly every single day.  But, it was a lot of work done to help my kid(s) and to finish some major projects that have been hanging fire around here that are not related to rebuilding Prowler Aviation - as you will see.  But, by getting a lot of this stuff off my plate now I'm hoping that when work (the day job) goes back to normal in the future, I'll then have more time to work on Prowler related projects with my days off. 

On to the update.  First, the Prowler stuff - then, the other stuff:

Prowler Stuff

1.  The French Prowler Progress -   Francis is currently the "rockstar" of the Prowler building world.  He has been making great progress and sending me lots of updates as he does.  I really appreciate him sending me updates with lots of pictures that I can share with you all.  (Eric in Montreal is the only other currently active builder that I know of, unfortunately I don't know the status of his Prowler project).

Francis started the year finishing his torque boxes.  He made the mods to the boxes that Ray designed when he built his torque boxes.  Ray added some access ports that he built into the tops of his boxes over the pivot link so that if he ever needed to get in there he would be able.  [Turned out, Ray did have a failure in one of torque boxes and he ended up needing to make repairs in each torque box.  Good thing he had those acess holes available! I covered this in a previous post, Section 2.C here.]  Anyway, Francis liked this idea and did the same with his torque boxes:

That looks great!  It looks like he has the cover to the torque box access held above with some of the screws in the box access, and the cover hanging by yellow tape is probably the  access and cover that will go into the wing skin. (I think I got that right!?!?) 

In March, Francis turned to working on his forward outboard wing sections (fuel tanks).  Here are his wing tanks getting ProSeal and assembled:

Here are the fuel tanks after he got them sealed up and riveted together:
Outstanding!!  After getting the tanks together, he realized that he forgot to put the screens on the fuel pick-up lines.  So, he had to use a little ingenuity to get them on.  Here is one of the screens:
Here is his setup for guiding the screen in place:
And, here is the screen mounted in place and visible from the access hole for the fuel level sending unit:
He must have gotten a clamp around that screen to keep it in place.  Nice recovery!  After leak testing his tanks, he found a few small ones.  Here he is fixing a leak that he found around his tank sump:
With the outboard wing tanks done, Francis turned to completing the rest of the wings.  Here is the wing in June:
Here he is putting the lower wing skins on:
and
Note the tool he uses to apply pressure to the wing skin.  The long wooden board had foam taped to it and it is hinged off the wing jig on the bottom.  At the top the blue strap goes over the top (aft edge) of the wing.
With the blue strap, he can pull and apply pressure to the wing skin while working from the top (inside) of the wing:
Here are the L & R wings with the lower skins completed:

In Sept, with the skins mounted, he turned to cutting the holes for the access panels.  He used a router with guides made from pieces of thick polyurethane.  Here's the router:
And, the router guide mounted in place with clecos:
Here is the beginning of one of the hole cuts:
I believe that this is a pic (below) of an access hole that he is locating to put in the wing skin.  I believe that he mounted the access cover with the two clecos on the inside and then centered/placed the red guide around the access cover panel.  Then, he installed the clecos all around the guide to hold it in place while using the router to cut it out:
Here are a few pics of the doublers under the wing skins and panels in place from the other side:
And, the outside:
Here are a few pics of another circular access hole being cut and the subsequent perfect hole:


Here are more pics of the skins with the access panels:



Awesome work, Francis!! 

As if all of that were not enough, Francis picked up some side work this year helping the owner of a Yak-3 aircraft to get the airplane flying again.  In his email, Francis said that the owner asked him to do some welding and riveting on the spinner and backing plate.  Here are a few pics of the work in progress:
The inside:
The finished spinner:
and backing ring:
Here is the finished product in flight:
Well done, sir!!  That is awesome that you can say that you played a part in restoring that beautiful aircraft.

2.  The Static Display Prowler -  Well, I've had this Prowler sitting in my yard on wing jacks for a couple years now:
I want to have a way to get ahold of this thing so that it can be mounted on a trailer, or a stand, or even a pole.  After thinking it over for a while, I decided that the brackets that attach the MLG hydraulic actuator to the spar are held by 6 bolts through the main spar caps.  Since the static display won't have landing gear, this might be a good place to grab a hold of the main spar for mounting hardware.

I happened to be in HFT one day and saw that their hitch receivers are not real expensive and are heavy duty enough to hold the weight of the airframe - a couple of times over.  That should be a satisfactory safety margin!  So, I found some 3/8" steel plate and cut them into shapes that will cover the 6 mounting holes:
Then, figured out the angles so that the hitch receivers will be perpendicular to the cockpit floor and mounted them to the plates:
I had to open the holes for 5/16" bolts thru the spar caps, cut away some wing skin and then test fit the mounts.  Here's the left wing:
And the right wing:
Here's what both mounts look like installed in place:
The next step will be to find a good place and fabricate a 3rd mount that attaches to the fuselage aft of the cockpit.  With three mounting points on the airplane, I'll fabricate a stand that can be secured to a trailer.  Then, the plane can be dropped onto the mount points on the trailer for moving, etc.  More to follow.

3.  Ruff Cutting Prowler Part Dies -   Recently, I have begun managing the process of making a large number of dies (form blocks) for making Prowler parts.  I started cutting what dies I could with the 1" thick aluminum bar stock that I had in the shop.  Here is the ruff cut set of the largest mid ribs from the center wing section (just outboard of, and below, the cockpit walls):
(There is also an aluminum die stock under the wood pattern above.)  This is a set of center section wing nose ribs:
Remember, because of the forming technique I'm using, even though it's the same part, I have to make separate dies for the L wing and the R wing.  This essentially doubles the die count and the associated machining and work to make each die!

Here is the current stack of ruff cut dies waiting to get machined so that they can make Prowler parts:
When I ran out of pieces large enough to cut the dies I wanted to ruff cut next, it became obvious that I was going to need to get more 1" aluminum stock.  Buying more 1" aluminum bar is a somewhat expensive endeavor, so I set out to make a list of all the dies that I have left to make.  Once I had the list, I had to figure out the overall dimensions of each part so that I could buy stock large enough.  For example, here are 4 wing bulkheads that I need to make dies for and each one has to make a LH wing and a RH wing part.  So, I'll need enough stock to make 8 dies from these 4 patterns and 6" wide stock will work:
I also had to try to figure out the most efficient way to place the dies on each piece of stock to get the least amount of waste.  Throwing big chunks of aluminum that I'm buying for $2.50/lb into the recycling bin that gets me $0.22/lb is not a super appealing proposition.

Anyway, what I came up with was a list of 60 dies that will make the majority of the large parts that need to be formed for the wings and the fuselage.  (Later on, there will be many smaller parts in the various sub-kits of the airplane that I will be able to make using a die and the press, but this current list will get the bulk of the wing and the fuselage finished). 

As of right now, I have 17 of the 60 dies already completed (mostly outboard nose rib dies).  Added to that, I  have 14 of the 60 dies ruff cut and ready to start machining.  That leaves 29 dies that I still need get stock for and to ruff cut.  Last week, I placed an order for 2 bars of 1"x6"x12' aluminum; and 2 bars of 1"x8"x12' aluminum (almost 400 lbs).  These 4 sticks got here yesterday. Here they are in the shop:
Next week, I'm going to get to cutting these sticks up and getting the remaining 29 dies on the list ruff cut and on the stack.

Now for some quick machinist math.  I have 42 dies left to machine just for the wing and aft fuselage.  Assuming that I have all of the computer work done to convert the CAD drawings for each of these dies into files that the milling machine can use to cut the dies, I can usually get one large die done per day.   [As a side bar: For each die, it usually takes me about a 1/2 day to get the cut files processed, written, tested and ready for the mill to start cutting.  I can get a lot of this done while I'm working the day job and sitting around in hotel rooms, etc.  But, the testing has to be done in the shop at the machine.]  As I get more proficient at cutting these things, I could possibly cut 2 smaller dies done in one day. 

That means I'm probably looking at a minimum of 35-40 days of machine work to get these dies all made.  With my normal work schedule at the day job, I can usually get 1 or 2 days a week in the shop.  That means I could get roughly 4-6 dies made per month.  At that rate, I'm thinking it will take 10-12 months to get all these made (in ideal conditions).   Ugh!!  It's going to be a long haul.  Well, it will give my bank account time to recover from the aluminum purchase!  Ha!

4.  George's Early Prowler Drawings -   In my last update, I posted about 3 drawings that I found that I believe were George's hand-drawn early concepts of the Prowler.  At that time I had finished framing two of the drawings, but still had one left to find a frame for.  Again, this was the first one I did using an "off the shelf" frame from Hobby Lobby:
And, this was one that I built a frame for using a large canvas frame from Hobby Lobby and Lexan from HD:
The final drawing was also pretty large, and I found an online website that you can order any size frame you want and they make it and ship it to you.  This was a metal frame and it worked really well and was not hugely expensive.  It turned out pretty well:
Sorry about the weird angle of this picture.  I had to take the picture that way to avoid the glare and reflections from the natural light from the windows.  Anyway, they are now all hanging on the office wall of my shop and look great!

Non-Prowler Items

5.  Oldest Daughter Bought Her 1st House -  After graduating from Univ. of Montana last year, our oldest daughter got a job working for the State of Montana.  She discovered the USDA - Rural Development program and got pre-qualified for a home loan.  She searched long and hard and just before the pre-qualification was due to expire, found a home for sale that met most of her important requirements.  She and her realtor made an offer and it was accepted!  It is a 40 year old manufactured home in pretty good condition, but needed some work.   It came on a lot and a half in a small town called Superior, MT and it also came with a small guesthouse and a nice sized shop!  Here is a pic from the property listing:
While waiting for escrow to close, we started making a plan for things that she was going to need.  I/we starting collecting things around here that Kayla could use in her new place and we didn't need any longer, or we had more than one of.  There was a lot on the list, fridge, dryer, beds - you know, the usual stuff.  In addition to the normal stuff, if I was going to be able to help her fix the place up, we would need hand tools, work benches, table saw, ladders, wheelbarrow, air compressor, etc., etc.  It became obvious that I was going to have a trailer full of stuff to bring up there!

She also discussed wanting to be able to keep her horse there in the back yard, but was going to need a shelter for it.  [She checked with the county and the laws do allow "riding stock" to be kept in residential areas.]  I had some old steel pallet rack frames laying around that I scavenged from somewhere.  I thought that they would work and I fabricated them into a steel frame that would make a shelter.  By pre-assembling it in the shop, it could go together fairly quickly at her place and then all we would have to do is find boards to mount on three sides.  After several day's worth of cutting and welding, here is what I came up with:
A few days before the closing, I loaded the trailer and got it ready to head north.  Here is the truck and trailer on the morning we left the shop:  
We drove the whole way to her new place in one, long day (16 hrs).  Here is the trailer the next morning in the driveway of her new house:
We spent almost 5 weeks there helping her get a lot of demo and renovation done to the place so that it was set up for her to be functional and livable.  The list of projects accomplished before we headed back home included:
=> new laundry walls & flooring;

=> new vinyl flooring in kitchen and dining room;
=> new kitchen cabinet paint;
=> new range hood with new vent that actually goes through the roof;
=> new vinyl flooring and new accent wall in the living room;
=> new fenced in dog yard behind the house with a new pet door for her dogs;

=> horse paddock set up and "horse house" put up and sided;

In addition to all this, there were contractors that showed up to put on a new roof:

There were also contractors that completely removed the insulation from the attic, treated for mold and then re-installed all new attic insulation.  There was also electrical and septic work that was required by the lender to be completed.  Plus, we had to set up the shop with all the tools and equipment to get all this work done.  It was a very busy 5 weeks of hard work.  By the time we left her, she could put her dogs outside for the day, go to work, get home and cook, clean, and had a safe place to sleep.  The end result was a happy kid!

6.  Youngest Daughter Solo Flight, Then Private Pilot -  The youngest has been pursuing a flying career.  She finished a year of college but has decided to delay the college for a while to get her pilot certificates and ratings.  Here she is with her instructor right after her solo flight in early May:
This was her 1st solo takeoff:
And, her 1st solo landing:
After her solo, her (then) instructor was leaving for an extended time, so she "moved" her flying to the Lincoln Airport near SMF.  Her boyfriend was working on his CFI certificate there so she went there to finish her PPL work.  She took her oral exam in late Aug, but because of the smoke from the massive wildfires this year, they didn't have VMC conditions and were not able to do the practical portion of the checkride.  Trying to get the practical rescheduled was problematic and went on for almost 2 months because of reduced visibility and DPE availability.  But, FINALLY, on Oct 10, Crysta completed her checkride and became a Private Pilot!  Here she is on that day with her temporary certificate:
Congratulations, kid!!  Great job!!  She's now started working on her instrument rating.

7.  New Porch/Deck On The House -   The east deck on our house finally reached the point of disrepair that I couldn't ignore it any longer.  Feet were actually, literally going through the deck boards!  So, between putting things together for the oldest daughter's new house, painting a trailer and fixing a cantankerous old CNC lathe, I ripped out the deck and put new pressure treated stringers and deck boards on it.  Here is the demolition mess with the deck location in the background:
Here is the height of demo.  I kept the posts and beams, then put in new cross bracing boards:
Here is the deck with the new pressure treated stringers and deck boards installed:
I wanted to put a new, wider stairs up to the deck which would need a larger concrete landing pad.  So, I had to form-up and pour the new concrete:
I fabricated new steel staircase stringers (wooden ones rot too fast)  Here is the new stairs with all the concrete poured in place:
Handrails around the entire deck are next on the list.  In fact, you can see the bottoms of the posts that I just installed in the pic above.  I'm going to be working on the rest of it later today.  Look for a completion pic in future update.

8. Trailers, Trailers, Trailers -   This has been the year of trailer work for me.  I ended up with a total of 3-1/2 large trailer projects this year.

Trailer Project #1 - This project started in April when I got motivated to repaint my big tandem axle trailer that I use to haul my tractor and bigger loads.  Take a look:
The plywood sides that had been put on before I got it had all but rotted off and the rust was taking over, all over.  It's been sorely in need of an update and this was finally the time.  In addition to the repainting, this project was also going to include adding steel sheet to the sides, fabricating better tail light protectors and making a better spare tire holder. The first order of business was tearing off all the unwanted stuff and adding the steel sheets to the sides and front:
With these steel sides on, I had to come up with a way to make tie-downs available on the inside of the trailer deck.  I took off all the old stake pockets around the outside lower edge and added reinforcement plates in several places - then I drilled 1/2" holes through these plates and trailer frame:
Then, I fabricated these anchors:
Now, when I need to move something inside the trailer and tie it down, I put these on and secure them with a nut on the outside of the trailer:
And, I can hook ratchet straps or whatever to these anchors on the inside to tie down the load:
With the sides added and the other mods complete, it was on to sandblasting.  This is a tedious, hard, sweaty, witch of a job that requires a lot of PPE.  But, there is no better way to prep large areas of steel for re-painting.  Whoa.....this guy is scary!!
Here is the trailer after some sandblasting:
Here it is with a coat of primer:
And, finally after new paint:
It was a lot of work.  These few pictures are capturing weeks of work.  But, the trailer turned out looking really nice and now it will be protected for several more years of hauling work.

Trailer Project #2 - In August I needed to find a trailer that I could use to haul a bunch of equipment on a one way trip later in the year.  After searching Craigslist for weeks, the only thing I could find was really old junky things that were way too expensive.  But, I did find a fella that was selling a package of parts of trailer frames, trailer axles, springs, wheels and other stuff at a reasonable cost.  It was a lot of stuff and there was enough to make at least two trailers, and maybe more.  I worked the deal and got the stuff in the driveway in front of the shop.  After surveying all the components, I started making the 1st trailer from a section of frame with a tongue attached, a pickup bed, and a lighter duty axle that didn't have trailer brakes.  Here it is with the deck welded on and the springs and axle attached:
Someone had made that axle from hubs off of an old F-150 pickup truck (I think).  And the springs were off of some old vehicle (They were not trailer springs). Here it is on it's landing gear with the fenders, tongue jack and lights added:
Here it is after some paint:
The oldest daughter came home for a visit recently and we added sides and a spare tire so that she could use it to move more stuff to her place.  She's going to keep it for hauling hay for her horse and hauling the "processed" hay away, later up into the mountains.  Ha!  Here is the trailer with the new sides and new trailer tires attached to her truck and ready to go:
This trailer turned out pretty well and I know that Kayla will get a lot of good use out of it.

Trailer project #3 - This trailer was the one that would be used to haul a load about 2,200 miles for me.  It was going to need to be a pretty heavy duty single axle trailer.  I picked out the 3,500lbs axle that I got in the pile of trailer parts (this axle also had trailer brakes that I could use for this trailer).  I had also gotten a heavy duty boat trailer tongue with the load of parts I got.  So, I started putting these together with some additional 4 inch channel iron that I had so that I could see what it would look like:
I welded these all together and onto the tongue and made the main frame of the entire trailer out of  4" channel iron - all the way around.  It made a really sturdy frame.  Then, I had to fabricate the brackets to hold the axle springs and mount them to the bottom of the channels.  Here are the spring brackets I made:
And, here it is with the springs clamped in place.  The brackets I made above take the place of the wood blocking you see in this picture:
Then, I moved onto the axle.  I had to tear down the brake assemblies and hubs to clean and inspect them.  Then I put it all back together again, bought some new wheels (load range E from TSC) and put them on the trailer:
I added the side rails and fenders while it was still upside/down.  Then primed and painted the bottom sides of everything on the trailer.  Then, I flipped it on it's landing gear and continued to paint the tops sides of everything:
When the paint was dry, it was off to the lumber yard for a test drive and to pick up some 2x6 boards for the deck:
Here is the end result:
The trailer is finished and ready to load.  Oh, BTW, the Ford F150 is/was also going to be making the one way trip.   What?  Trip to where, you ask.  Well, let's talk about that next!

[Oh, yeah.  Trailer project #3-1/2.  This (1/2) project is currently a collection of parts that is eventually going to become trailer #3 that I build.  I have all of the parts I need to build another trailer except the axle tube and the springs.  I've already done a fair amount of work to get these parts prep'ed and ready to go together.  So, once I buy an axle tube and find some springs all I have to do is find the time to weld it all together!  Watch for that in a future update.]

9.  New Wisconsin Property -   I spent 2-1/2 weeks in Wisconsin this July with my folks.  I normally spend a little time with them before and after AirVenture each July, but with AirVenture cancelled this year I got to spend the whole time with them.  I also got to do a little looking around for some land near them.  (I had actually been looking online at properties for nearly a year, but this was a great time to finally go see some of them in person.)  I was looking for something that did not have a house.  I've already got one of those and have no desire for another one.  I was also looking for some place where I might be able to store my RV (the other 50.5 weeks of the year that it's not being used in Camp Scholler).  If it had a barn, or shop, or some kind of large building - that'd be a plus.  And, if it had utilities - that'd be a home run!

After beating up the real estate listings and doing a lot of driving around east central Wisconsin, I found a property that I liked.  It met most of my requirements:  It's within 35-40 mins of my folks place, it's within 35-40 mins from OSH, it's 5 acres in size, it's rural, it has a 40' x 60' pole barn, it has a septic system, 200 Amp service and a well for water!  Sweet!  Oh, also, the east end is along a small river.  I made an offer on the property the day before I left WI to head back home in CA in early Aug.  On the 1st day of my drive home I got a counter offer from the listing agent and I accepted it.  Closing was set for 9/11/2020.  Here is a bird's eye view of the property with the approximate lot lines:
If you look closely in the pic above you can see a small single car garage in the woods along the south lot line.  This panoramic pic (below) is taken from the north end of that building looking north (as the property was when I made the offer):
For the rest of the drive home and the next month and a half, I was planning another trip back to the property.  I had a lot of things around the CA shop that I had duplicates of and other things that I didn't need in CA anymore and wanted to move them to the WI shop (lathe, work benches, file cabinets, hand tools, etc.etc.).  That was the reason for finding another truck and building the 2nd trailer.  I was hoping to make the trip back before it got too cold there so that I could stay in the RV while I cleaned up the property and got some things fixed up and/or set up around there.  As soon as I got the 2nd trailer built and painted, I started loading it and getting ready to make the drive.  I left home on Oct 7th and here is what the truck and trailer looked like the day I dropped the trailer in the yard on the new property on Oct 9th:
The truck and trailer performed flawlessly on the trip.  The trailer hauled 2,200 lbs of stuff on the 2,212 mile journey.  I had the trailer weighed before the trip and it came in at 3,760 lbs gross weight (yeah, it was a little over gross!).  With the 250-300 lbs I had in the back of the truck - the truck itself pulled and/or carried over 2 tons of stuff without any problems.  I did the gas math and it got 13mpg average over the entire trip.  That's not bad!!

The day after I got there, dad brought my RV down and we got it set up and then started cleaning up.  There was over 30 dead Scotch Pine trees on the property and myriad piles of trash all over in the woods that needed clearing out.  Here is one of the days that dad and his tractor were on a roll and it was hard to keep up to them:
He, and his tractor, did a great job and made short work of the dead trees.  Later, we even harvested a few trees that he took to his sawmill to make into 4x4's.  I eventually got the trailer unloaded into the single car garage that I will use as a workshop for now:
Later, I dedicated one whole day to cleaning up a pile of over 100 tires.  Someone had used this as tire dump at some point.  I dug them all out, cleaned them off and loaded them on the trailer.  I took them to a tire recycling plant about 65 miles away:
I stacked over 2,500 lbs of tires on the trailer and, again, it performed flawlessly (yup, it passed another "over gross" stress test!).  I burned what trash that I could from around the property, and the rest went to the dump/transfer station.  Here's a load of steel stuff that I took one day:
The very next day, it got cold and snowed:
Over the 2.5 weeks that I was there I also got the well powered up and running with a pressure tank installed.  I repaired the gutters on the pole barn and got the rain water draining away from it properly.  I also planted trees along the north lot line and cleaned up dozens of piles of pallets and other junk from the woods behind the two outbuildings.  Eventually, it got too cold to stay there living in the RV and I had to leave to head to work (yes, they finally cornered me into going back to work).  So, I winterized the RV, finished some last details, locked everything up and headed back to work on Nov 3rd.

I'll head back to the property in the spring.  I want to investigate the septic system more and figure out a way to set it up so that the RV can dump into it.  In fact, I plan to build another building that is tall enough for the RV to park inside (the pole barn just isn't quite tall enough).  I also have some other ideas about using this property in the future to stage Prowler "stuff" for AirVenture.  I will cover that more in future updates.

10. Hardinge CHNC Lathe Progress -  My last post about this project was several ago and just after I got the necessary electrical components moved out of the huge, old cabinet and installed into the smaller, more compact one.  I had also just gotten the ballscrew bearings on the Z axis tightened up, got the home switch on the Z axis relocated and had rebuilt the entire X axis belt drive system on the end of the cross-slide.  Here is what the machine currently looks like:
With all of that done, I fired up the machine and tested everything.  Everything was working great, except now (for some reason) the spindle wouldn't turn at the proper speed (it had been working fine up to this point).  What the heck!?!?  I tried everything I could think of to get it working.  It would turn, it just turned much slower than commanded (max speed should be 3K rpm, but it would only turn about 300-400 rpm at best - and the motor had an erratic buzz/hum).  It frustrated me beyond words for months.  I contacted the tech support for the company that makes the spindle motor amplifier (Servo Dynamics).  One of their techs was very helpful and offered several suggestions, but nothing really helped.

All along through troubleshooting this problem, I thought it was acting like it had an AC hum to me (interference from typical 120 Vac 60Hz power).   But, I couldn't locate the source.  I moved and re-routed some of the power wires, but nothing helped.  Then, one day, I thought "What the heck."   I would try to tune the amplifier one more time (tuning the amp is a process of electrically "matching" the motor to the amplifier to get the best electrical performance and response). 

Doing this requires reaching into the electrical cabinet and balancing my left hand over the tuning potentiometers while holding a small screw driver and "tweaking" these pots.  As I did this, my hand slipped at one point and brushed against the group of control wires going to the amp.  Suddenly, for a second or two, the spindle motor stopped buzzing and sounded "normal".  So, I poked the wire bundle again, and sure enough, for a couple seconds the motor sounded normal.  Whhhaaaattttt!?!?!?  Here is what the area looks like:
What I eventually discovered is that the cable that takes the control signal from the CNC (computer) to the spindle amplifier had lost it's ground on the cable shield.  This control signal is a small +/- 10Vdc signal that the computer uses to tell the spindle motor which way to turn (pos = CW and neg = CCW) and how fast to spin (0 Vdc = stop, 10Vdc means max speed in whichever direction).  Well, this small signal is sent via a two conductor, twisted pair cable that is shielded to prevent 120Vac interference.  When the shielding lost is contact to ground, the spindle motor signal got corrupted with a lot of electrical interference and the amplifier was essentially amplifying a bunch of "garbage."  That was the reason for erratic behavior and the buzzing/humming.

This was a major....albeit accidental.....breakthrough!!!  But, I'll take it.  Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good!!  Finally, the machine runs like it should.....mostly. 

While troubleshooting this spindle problem I also discovered that the spindle encoder was not working properly.  In fact, someone had cut that cable completely in half!!  Best I could figure out, the encoder stopped working (bad Zref channel) and it must have been causing the CNC to throw an error code.  So, instead of fixing/replacing the encoder - they just cut it out of the system.  Here is the old spindle feedback encoder mounted on the machine with the cannon plug removed:
Well, the machine is more accurate and reliable with an operating spindle encoder.  So, I set out to splice the feedback cable and find a replacement encoder.  Sounds easy, but, it's not!  First of all, this is 40+ year old equipment.  Most of the parts for it are obsolete and not produced any longer.  If you can find something used for sale that is still operating - it's cost prohibitive.  Trying to find something new to replace the old with is difficult, at best, because mounting hardware changes constantly (usually gets smaller and more compact).  Then, with these encoders, electronically, there are literally dozens of types with multiple versions of each type - and you gotta find that one that is "just right."  Well, persistence pays off.  I finally found a few on eBay that looked to me like they would be a suitable (almost direct) replacement.  I made a few offers and finally got one at a reasonable cost.  Once it showed up, I tested it and then installed on the machine:
Another thing I wanted to do with this project was get the tool turret working again.  The lathe was originally designed with an 8 position tool turret.  Tool selection was fully automated on the original CHNC design, but I am hoping to be able to make it work again and be, at least, manually indexable (selectable).  I dug into the maintenance manual that I have for this machine and found that essentially the tool turret table is mounted to an air piston that is below the turret.  If I could find the air passages that the CNC used to pressurize the area under the piston and on top of the piston - then, I should be able to make the tool turret pop up and down.  Well, I did, I found them:
I had to make the aluminum manifold that you see in the foreground.  This gave me a place to attach air lines to and port the air to the correct passages machined into the cross slide.  Next, I am going to source a 3 position air valve that will allow for 3 conditions: 1) pressure on the up air line and vent the down line; 2) vent both air lines; and 3) pressure on the down line and vent the up line.  With this I will be able to get the turret completed.  Mounting the valve and routing the air lines will be the biggest task here.  More to follow on this.

Next on the list was the automatic collet closer.  I just got started on trying to get this system to work again on this lathe.  Again, I started with the maintenance manual and figured out a part that I am missing.  It's the black hub part that is labeled V in this pic:
W & Y point to some set screws and ports on this same part.  I'm also missing part labeled X, but I can fabricate that myself from a piece of steel plate.  On a whim, I called the buddy that I bought this from to ask him if that part might still be sitting around.  He didn't think so.  Rats!  But, later he called me back and told me that he did have that part on another machine of his.  He has an aftermarket collet closer that he bought to put on his machine - which would mean that he would not need the part anymore that I want.  So, shortly I will be heading over to his place to help him install his aftermarket system and bring home Part V that I need.  More to follow on this too.

FINALLY - The End.

Well, that's all I have for now.  I think this is the longest blog update that I might have ever done!  Well, heck - it's been almost a year!!  Anyway, as always, thanks for checking in.  If I don't get an update done before the end of the year, I hope you all have a very happy, healthy, (Covid free) holiday season.

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