Couple weeks back VW Group agreed to pay a $10,000,000,000+ penalty for selling a bit less than 500,000 vehicles with “cheat devices’ that allowed excessive NOx emissions. Today HOG(NYSE), better known as “Harley”, got a paltry  $12,000,000 slap on the wrist for selling 340,000 “cheat devices” and 12,000 uncertified bikes that didn’t even pretend to meet emissions standards.

So VW is getting hit for upwards of $20,000 a vehicle, while Harley is getting off for less than $40 a vehicle… I’m all for supporting American manufacturing, but this is a bit much! ‘Specially when you figure in that VW made low single digit profits on most of those cars, while HOG(NYSE) was making 30% or so profit margins on bikes that often sold for more than new VW cars.

VW, I think EPA just gave you grounds for an appeal…

DSC_5221The competition is tough for the title of “Armpit of Iowa”, but little Britt is determined to win the title. They started off over a century ago by issuing a “what were they thinking” invitation to the hobos to bring their convention to Britt every first weekend of august. Yup, too late to help with corn de-tassling and too early for harvest, and on a branch line to nowhere to boot!

So a century and change later a hobo convention purportedly still annually occurs in Britt, but given that the peak years for hoboing were the depression, they’ve had a shortage of real hobos of late. I first answered the call of the hobo convention over a decade ago, when real live hobos like Steam Train Maury and such shared their stories, and it was a treat. But anybody who rode trains back in the depression when over a million americans rode the rails in desperation has most likely already “caught the westbound”. And unlike the old days when the hordes of hobos almost overran Britt in a good way, attendance seems to have stabilized around a hundred or so.

Most of that hundred hard core “hobos” has at best only a vague connection to hoboing. We have the youthful “anarchists” who get stoned over on the west end of the “jungle”, while the better behaved and mostly senior “hobos” settle into a relatively civilized existence with a park shelter, cook shack, and even showers. To the east was relatively quiet camping, though overly lit by the City of Britt with the intent of keeping the hobos on their best behavior. Arriving at this week long event on friday ’bout dinnertime, I was stuck with accommodation at the far east end right under a streetlamp.

Now the “hobos” made a good try at putting on an evening variety show, but it mostly wasn’t an experience I’d want to repeat. That was thankfully over by 10pm, so I walked the couple blocks uptown in search of WiFi… Whole damn town, even the library, was locked down. hoping to kill off any semblance of hobos at the hobo convention for decades, they had booked a Beetles tribute band against the “hobos” variety show in the same time slot… They were no more entertaining, and fortunately only moderately amplified. But not to be outdone, the local bar had booked a slightly more talented 70s rock band, but with too much more amplification. So I retired to my tent, and by 11 I’d given up on getting any signal from both AT&T and Sprint and tried to sleep.

Now despite the volume, the 70s rock might have eventually bored me to sleep. When the band took a break, I was “serenaded” by the country muzak that some business the other side of the tracks thought their customers would appreciate. And further east, some misplaced “anarchists’ were arguing about something, perhaps which chain of gas stations it was most ethical to commit driveoffs from? The loud band finally knocked off at what must have been a liberal local enforcement of the 1a.m. bar closing time, allowing me to enjoy uninterrupted the anarchist’s growing argument. About that time I was wondering what the hell I was doing there… If the argument proceeded to the level of great bodily harm, how the hell was I going to call the police with no cell service? “S’pose I could hop on the bike and ride over to the courthouse, only to be mistaken as an attacker in this paranoid western Iowa hell hole and ventilated by the whole department’s inventory of bullets…

Sometime around 3a.m. or later the anarchists collapsed silent, and I got a couple hours of good sleep. ‘Twas a night of “good sleeping weather”, so I was able to squelch the streetlight’s over-illumination with my faithful sleeping bag. Then some “neighbors” on the other side started up… Their generator! Like I said, with few real hobos still available, the hobo convention tends to draw various misfits and “counterculture” folks with rather vague if any connection to hoboing. The noisy generator sported a heavy gauge electrical cord leading to a massive tent, out of which was clearly visible what appeared to be the vent hose of a cheapo portable air conditioner. The cord ran under a genuine Caddy hearse, and given these “neighbors” Ozzie Osborne inspired black gothish costume complete with  cape and scepter, I can see where they might desire some air conditioning. But don’t they take that stuff off at night when they’re hopefully sleeping?

Tossed fitfully ’til 7 when I got up. slammed down a Dew to reach some temporary semblance of consciousness, made myself sorta presentable, and walked the couple blocks over to the Casey’s C-Store. The best thing to happen to Britt in decades, Casey’s served up a portion uncontrolled slice a breakfast pizza that was a meal in itself. A good thing, ’cause when i got back to the “jungle” around 8 breakfast still hadn’t happened. Pretty certain that saturday would bring the parade, boredom, and a repeat of friday night, I packed up while I still had a chance of staying awake for the 200 mile ride home. As I left about 9 the anarchists were slowing awaking from the chairs they’d slept in, and the goth wannabes had yet to appear in today’s daylight…

OK Britt, quit trying so hard, you’re officially the armpit of Iowa. And “hobos”, you might want to take some lessons from the reenactors and require at least an attempt at recreating the honorable history of the great hobos of the past. And a block away from the phony jungle, a few of today’s hobos slept in their big rigs awaiting loads or travel trailers plugged into the local farm co-ops expansive buildings waiting to bring in the harvest… They’re the closest thing we’ve got to hobos anymore.



DSC_5187And a bunch of Wild Childs they are! That’s a century old Case steam tractor being fired with renewable fuel… Corn cobs! Case barely survives as half the current brand name Case-IH, but given that FIAT/IVECO spinoff CNH (Case New Holland) also owns New Holland which we used to call Ford, the Case name’s days in the tractor market may be numbered.

DSC_519960s Minneapolis-Moline, note the pioneering use of clean propane fuel… These days they give you a big tax credit for that. MM along with several other tractor makers was bought up by White in the 60s and run into the ground.

DSC_5201CO-OP, built for a network of farm cooperatives from the 30s through the 50s, IIRC this one is a rebadged Oliver, another victim of White’s tractorcide.

DSC_5203Ferguson 30 from the 50s… Henry Ferguson and Henry Ford were partners in creating the Ford N series tractors, then the Henrys had a falling out. The result was Ferguson building his own line of near identical tractors to the Ford N, ‘cept they used overhead valve Continental engines and kept the design alive with more power after Ford dropped the N series. Ferguson survives as half the Massey-Ferguson name now owned by AGCO.

DSC_5205More Case tractors…


DSC_5210McCormick-Deering brand of International Harvester (IH), lives on as half the Case-IH brand name, but some of ’em are startin’ to look a lot like New Holland tractors.

DSC_5213British built IH diesel from the 50s.

DSC_5212Ford 8N, last of the line of N series tractors built from the late 30s to early 50s. Reputedly half the Ns every built are still running, despite Ford having bought implement maker New Holland and switching to that brand name, then selling of their whole tractor business to FIAT/IVECO. The closest thing you’ll find today to a Ford tractor is an all wheel drive Super Duty, which has plenty of power and pull but no rear PTO or 3 point hitch to put said power to work. This orphan’s been workin’ out, flexing the muscles of a flathead V8 transplant! Ford may have given up on tractors, but Ford lovers never give up…

DSC_5191The Case steam tractor beginning it’s 2nd century of work. Wonder when the 3 surviving big tractor makers will catch up and come out with a tractor that can be fixed by any local blacksmith shop and runs on renewable fuels?

Thanks to Minnesota’s Machinery Museum in Hanley Falls for another great Threshing Show!



No, I won’t even call them hobos, a hobo is an honorable person who travels to obtain work when work ain’t available in their locale, a tramp is just lazy and finds the railroad an easy place to loaf. Couple years back a bunch of Wall Street raiders headed by Bill Ackman saw an open door on a CP locomotive and hopped aboard. If they’d just hopped in any empty boxcar nobody would have minded, but Ackman sat himself down in the conductor’s seat even though he didn’t even know how to couple a car never mind couple with another railroad. Then he invited the CEO who damn near ran CN into the ground, Hunter Harrison, into the engineer’s seat so he could work the same “magic” on CP.

What followed has been a couple years of customers pulling the pin while these Wall Street whiz kids tried to shrink what they viewed as their toy railroad until it would fit on the executive boardroom table, customers and employees be damned. The hoped for couplings with a major eastern railroad never happened, I swear both NS and CSX would have run their trains into the Atlantic Ocean before they’d merge with the barely rolling wreckage that CP was becoming.

But the Wall Street whiz kids weren’t able to derail CP, and despite Ackman dumping a bunch of stock on the market today CP’s stock price dropped a couple percent and is recovering. With over a century of history behind them, even the Wall Street whiz kids couldn’t kill CP. Lesson for Wall Street: You worry about your corner offices, and let the railroaders run the railroads!

Dear Diana,

Thank you for your interest in purchasing a Ford GT!

We are thrilled that you share our passion for performance and the all-new Ford GT.

The demand for Ford GT from enthusiasts like you has surpassed our very limited production. Unfortunately, we do not have enough Ford GTs to fulfill your request at this time.

We have confirmed our Ford GT production plans for only two years. However, if additional production is confirmed, your application information will remain in your profile for easy updating.

Meanwhile, we encourage you to stay connected to the latest announcements, news and information through our website:

Thank you, again, for your passion for our all-new supercar.


The Ford GT Team

To be honest, I didn’t expect to be “selected” to buy a Ford GT… Heck, without some very creative financing I’d probably have to live in the the car, and the accommodations look pretty spartan. So Ford, in the best tradition of ol’ Henry, why not make more? And thanks to the miracle of mass production, spread out the millions in development costs over thousands more Ford GTs. Heck, probably could even drop the price a below the current $400k plus, maybe even hit the $100k sweet spot that would make Porsche sweat!

About now some Ford middle manager is saying “This Gearhead Grrrl don’t know nothin’ ’bout what it costs to build a car outa carbon fiber, and them pretty Brembo brakes ain’t cheap either!”. They said that about aluminum decades ago, and now Ford is making even pickups out of aluminum. They can afford to make pickups out of aluminum because way back in the 60s Ford was one of the pioneers of welded aluminum body building with the optional aluminum W series truck cab. After a decade and change of practice as a low volume option, they made aluminum standard for the CL series cab and made aluminum an option for the higher volume 2nd generation Louisville series trucks. The formula is simple- Make more, you get better at it, and prices drop. As for the Brembos, we’ll be happy with black.

So build more Ford GTs, and let ol’ Henry relax in his grave…

Sorry Diogenes, but ethics ain’t improved much during the last couple millenia since you went on a fruitless search for an honest man. In the latest charges against VW in the growing DieselGate scandal, the Attorney Generals of New York and a couple other states allege that the “cheat code” was more than just a hack to get VW past U.S. Emissions standards ’til they could get new models designed around Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF) tanks into production and wasn’t just vestigially present but inactive in the rest of VW’s diesels for going on a decade. Turns out that the cheat was on in pretty much every VW TDI diesel sold in the U.S. since late 2008, and maybe longer in the rest of the world. VW is probably the largest volume builder of diesel cars in the world and has a big chunk of the light commercial vehicle biz too… Which means that VW may very well have been the biggest producer of NOX and other emissions for the last decade. Sorry VW, this is no longer an insignificant small market half million car “oops”.

Apparently there’s no more honesty to be found in the heavy truck biz…The EU’s antitrust regulators and prosecutors just came down hard on their market’s heavy truck makers, hitting Daimler, IVECO, Paccar, Volkswagon, and  Volvo with a few billion in fines for using the tightening emissions standards as an excuse to collude in price fixing. Knowing what the hardware to meet the new standards in 2007 and 2010 in the USA cost, I was somewhat taken aback when the big truck makers uniformly seemed to jack prices by $7500 for the 2007 models and yet another $7500 for the 2010 models. No surprise, given that the guilty parties in the EU are also 3 or the 4 surviving U.S. heavy truck makers.

In the corporate world Diogene’s search has been taken over by Ethisphere, a non profit that rates companies and even nonprofits on their ethical behavior or lack of the same. Participation is voluntary, but I would guess every Fortune 500 company with a chance of winnin’ their awards is applying for them… So how come only one automaker, Ford, has made Ethisphere’s awards list for several years now, while Cummins of engine fame has been a regular honoree for over a decade now? No surprise, Ford has given up trying to fool us with a half dozen upmarket variations on the same vehicle and they knew better than too even try to get a diesel car certified in the USA. Cummins is big in natural gas and pays the worlds best architects to design public buildings in their hometown of Columbus, Indiana. The lone truck only maker to merit Ethisphere honors is Oshkosh, who makes mostly military trucks but is known for underbidding Navistar by so much on a lucrative contract that losing Navistar protested that Oshkosh’s prices were too low. Locomotive and just about everything else electrical builder GE earned honors too, as did Deere in the tractor biz.

So how come VW didn’t make Ethisphere’s honor roll? And Toyota, GM, Honda, BMW, Daimler, Suburu, Isuzu, Paccar, Fiat Chrysler, ad nauseum?

  • Which given the great location, a suburban county fair park, was no surprise. The surprise was that the usual padded attendance was only around 6000. For an isolated location like Billings that would be good turnout, for an upstate western New York location within a days ride of at least a half dozen multi-million population megaplexes, it’s a real letdown. Perhaps not too many riders cared to be affiliated with the club now that they’ve with no notice, never mind board and membership authorization, moved to BMW of North America’s corporate campus?

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