Midnight at the Museum…

Been a nice ride down, but clearly was gonna be another foggy mornin’. The last 20 miles or so were ridden in pitch dark, musta been a power failure in the local grid. The roads seemed familiar though… I’d heard that address somewhere before. Coming around a bend, I spotted a high voltage glow in the distance that guided my last few miles. Not much traffic, save for a few bikes that passed me, and what looked to be a Saab 93. Couldn’t see much in the dark, but they gave a familiar ring-ding-ding sound and went faster than stink. Pulling up to the closed gates of the well lit museum, I joined a quene of motojournalism’s minor leaguers- the major mags were not about to dispatch a paid scribe to a midnight media event in the middle of the cornfields.

As promised, an old guy on an RD opened the gates at the stroke of  midnight and directed us to the parking lot. It was a long bit of a  walk from the lot to the roundhouse proper we were being directed to, so a 4 seat sidecar had been provided. And the sidecar tug… Is that a Suzuki “water buffalo” under that old Vetter fairing? No smoke, no drama… The only giveaway was the sound. And is that a “diesel fuel only” sign on the tank?

BMW Media Relations, beat this:

In the roundhouse office were arrayed a selection of home brews, coffees ranging from syrupy sweet stuff to the strongest cappacinos, and salad bar the length of a locomotive. Step out the side door and you had your choice of brats, chops, or steaks on the grill. We were cheerily informed that we we’re welcome to camp on the grounds for the night, even lay our bedrolls out in the shop buildings… So partake as much as you please! It was like a cross between a Linux users group meeting and an Airhead Tech Day.

That, along with directions to the bathrooms,  was the intro to the formal media presentations. Well, as formal as a bunch of geeks and gearheads can get after midnight. The basics were explained- “open source” began when AT&T got sloppy with licensing the 800 pound gueralla of operating systems, Unix, and let it out of their intellectual property inventory. The resultant escapee became Linux, the workhorse operating system that does virtual back office heavy lifting worldwide. Something similar happened with two stroke technology- Companies ranging from Yamaha to mighty truck and locomotive maker GM considered the two stroke obsolete, and patents expired and trademarked designs weren’t renewed… And two technology entered the public domain and became fair game for any gearhead to tweak. And what better target for tweakin’ than the two stroke, still the most efficient internal combustion engine ever!

The door to the first stall of the roundhouse opened, and we we’re invited inside. Nothin unusual, just an old GMC General hi-rail truck… ‘cept for the faded Michigan “Manufacturer” licence plates. A couple gray haired guys wearing faded “Detroit Diesel” jackets with the old “turbine” logo from the 80s popped the hood. Just an 8V-92, nuthin’ unusual. Then a third gray hired tech pulled out a laptop and plugged it in to the ECM, and the big screen monitors lit up. The air starter gave it’s mighty “whoosh”, and the old Detroit sprang to life. The monitors gave us the stats- 1000 horsepower in less than a second after startup, and the two stroke was still only wound out to 1200 RPM. At the bottom of the display was listed the fuel used- 100% biodiesel. The old tech hit a few keys, and the fuel source was switched to ethanol then natural gas then methane without missing a beat. Then the tech dropped the Detroit to idle and entered the cab. He announced that they’d reached the limits of the chassis dyno, so just a minute and they’d give the 2 stroke Detroit a better test. The door of the roundhouse opened, and the General was backed up and coupled to a restored railroad dynamometer car… Yup, the kind of special railroad car they used to test locomotives. They coupled and tested the dyno cars brakes, which were about to get a workout. Then they throttled up the Detroit again, as over 2000 horsepower were produced on biodiesel. Then the tech played with the keyboard, adjusting the fuel mix and injection paramaters… Aparrently Daimler had quietly continued development of DDEC software for the 2 strokes alongside of that for their 4 strokes, then never bothered to patent the 2 stroke version. The dyno results pushed past 3000 when the powerhouse foreman interrupted the show. Meanwhile, the emmissions monitors at the bottom of the screen calmly revealed that the two stroke beast was still meeting EPA201

The local REI linemen had figured out that the grid wasn’t going to come back up soon, and one of the retirees remembered that their was still a connection with the museum’s powerhouse that once provided power for the roundhouse and the nearby town. The old switch was thrown and the old EMD V-20 engine in the powerhouse was lightin’ the town up brighter than it’d been in years, but the powerhouse foreman was worried they’d run out of fuel by dawn with the extra load on the generator. So the General high rail car was called to switching duty, uncoupled from the dynamometer car, and coupled to a string of a dozen loaded cars of biodiesel. Lift axles raised and the General applying all of it’s 40 tons of tractive effort to the task, the cars moved like they were empties headed downhill. Then the conductor admonished the General’s driver to wait until he had the dozen loaded railcars brakes all released.

A sufficent supply of fuel having been spotted to keep the surrounding counties electrified for the forseeable future, we wandered back to the roundhouse as the double doors of the next stall opened. Hmm, garden variety wide cab locomotive, time for a nap… What the heck! EMD reputedly built only 47 double engined 8 axle “Centennial” locomotives for Union Pacific in the late 60s, and they remain the most powerful diesel engines ever built. Several remain unaccounted for, and as GM went bankrupt and spun off EMD which was then spun off again to Cat, who knows what all prototype and experimental bits went to the highest bidder or whoever could fit the parts in their pickup. A quick walk around revealed a 4 axle adaptation  of EMDs latest self steering truck with AC traction motors. Then they opened the hood, and as we counted cylinders jaws dropped… Dual v-20s and an up close view revealed them to be a modern 710 cubic inches apiece, just like the solo V-20s that powered the legendary Conrail SD80MACs.

There was no dyno car capable of testing this brute, but a track and trainload of sand was handy on the siding outside. The 8 axle brute, christened the “SD100” was started up on natural gas in the roundhouse stall, then switched to biodiesel as it sped up the main track to hook to the sand train at the other end of the siding. Then the roundhouse double doors of the next stall opened, and a twin of the SD100 appeared. It was promptly fired up and hooked to a classic “silver” passenger car and all present were invited aboard, then the business end of the mighty locomotive was coupled to the rear of the sand train. Despite having the power of 80 cylinders, airing up the parked train took awhile… You can only put so much air through a couple inch trainline. Finally we received a highball and the train accelerated more like a late commuter train than a slogging sand train. As we headed up the track, at first light we noted that our train was a two mile long string of short cars… We had moved  30,000 ton train!

We were greeted by a roundhouse breakfast of everything and then more, interrupted by test rides on a variety on a variety of tweaked two stroke bikes… Who would have though an RD100 could do 100 MPH on diesel? For the car guys a Saab 93 in full rally trim was provided with a Pro Rally WRC for comparison, and the Suburu definately suffered in the comparison. Road and dirt courses were laid out inside the vast museum grounds, and we minor league moto journalists didn’t make total fools of ourselves- the carnage  was minor… probly because they didn’t let us ride the 750 Kawatriple trike that could smoke it’s tires for blocks.   But finally, sleep could be put off no longer…

I just woke up, the fog has finally burned off, and everyone is gone… Was this all a dream? But what are these hand labeled DVDs in my pocket… DDEC 10.0 2014, Yamaha YPVS 7.0, etc.?