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In the 80s it was the talk of the biz courses at my “bleeding edge” university- “Just In Time (JIT)”, “lean management”, or simply “Kanban”- Components moving from factory to factory with no delays and no need for inventory and warehouse space. Then after class I went to work and spent the night fighting breakdowns, weather, and every other imaginable industrial gremlin just to move bread a couple hundred miles to store shelves by the morning. But we had a couple industrial aces up our sleeve- A crew of crack maintenance techs with their own machine shop and materials stash in the basement of the bakery, another “backup” bakery less than a hundred miles away, and extra trucks and drivers ready to go. In the name of “lean management” all the above backups were deemed unneccessary expenses and eliminated, resulting in that bakery company being eliminated by bankruptcy.

They didn’t realize it, but it was the American auto industry and especially Ford that invented JIT with a mega factory complex called “The Rouge” that took in iron, coal, rubber, sand, etc. and turned them into new Fords- When the assembly line is right next to the foundry which is right next to the steel mill, etc. blizzards and international disputes don’t slow production down. And just as the Japanese adopted the wisdom of American Professer Deming who we’d ignored, Toyota, VW, and others rebuilt their industry with giant factory complexes like Ford’s Rouge. Throw in Japan’s topography where almost every industrial area is a seaport and JIT worked like a charm for Toyota et al.

So by the 80s the Japanese were having Detroit’s lunch so the big 3 figured they’d better copy the Japanese, without bothering to consult a map to see how much more vast their supply chains were compared to their Japanese competitors. About the same time Wall Street’s “masters of the universe” decided that the vertical integration that gave the big 3 automakers a predictable and controlled supply chain was a waste of capital. Ever eager to please dim bulb investors and puff up their stock options, Detroit and America’s executives dismantled their great corporations with essential suppliers sold off to the highest bidders.

It gets worse… Remember NASA’s amazing mission control? Ford built it, built TVs too. GM developed the high power semiconductor technology for their Electromotive Division locomotives that made hybrid and electric cars possible, then sold off the whole division. So when cars needed computer chips to pass emissions the automakers didn’t invest in making said chips, and as cars evolved into smart phones on wheels they still haven’t invested. Then two of the big three lost even more of their captive supply chain in bankruptcy and Ford got smugger. Meanwhile, Toyota’s supply chain was all across America and the world, and after a couple natural disasters broke that supply chain Toyota deciding that keeping stashes of components around wasn’t such a bad idea.

So the world’s automakers are happily cranking out vehicles by the millions despite stressed supply chains… Then a pandemic comes along and shuts down the factories for a couple months, followed by double digit changes in consumer preferences and outright panic buying. Consumer electronics demand becomes so inflated by a suddenly stay at home populace that intermodal rail becomes more expensive than trucking last peak season and canned goods disappear from Costco shelves to prepper’s pantries. Meanwhile manufacturers of every thing in the potential “internet of things” from a toaster on up gets chips so it can be called home… It takes years to build a chip factory, and automakers were competing for chip making capacity with consumer electronics and even lowly appliance makers. With the pandemic hopefully over (get vaxxed if you haven’t), Ford has over 100,000 orders each for the Bronco, electric F150, and upcoming Maverick pickup. A year after it’s announcement Broncos are finally crawling off the assembly line and Ford has lost half their production capacity for conventional vehicles, never mind chip rich electric vehicles. GM having lost most of it’s semiconductor capacity isn’t doing much better, and both GM and Ford have promised around $25-30 billion each investment in electric cars, assuming they survive long enough to build them.

And Toyota, the trend setter that abandoned JIT and went back to old skool “keep stock on hand”? Headed for another year as the world’s biggest volume car maker!

When your ship can damn near be seen from space with the naked eye, maybe it’s too big…

The quest for more payload and with it low operating costs is eternal- No doubt a few millennia ago someone built a really big canoe or row boat that required a double digit sized number of paddlers, only to fail to deliver or worse when most of the paddlers were disabled by drunkenness or worse. Then came the railroads…

Union Pacific “Big Boy”, Northern Pacific’s “Yellowstone” may have been a couple tons heavier
Then in the 50s UP tried “Bunker” oil fueled turbines. When that didn’t work, they stoked it with coal…
UP twin engine “Centennial” from the late 60s
6000 horsepower UP EMD SD90MAC from the 90s, Canadian Pacific suckered for a few of these lemons too

Union Pacific is a brute force kinda railroad- When their tracks across Great Salt Lake were sinking a couple decades ago, they just dumped two trainloads a day of ballast there until the tracks quit sinking. So no surprise that UP has been the major offender in pushing the practical limits of how big a locomotive is “too big”. While the “Big Boys” hauled plenty of freight for UP, they were so heavy that most other railroads tracks couldn’t handle them. Then along come the “little” diesel locomotives and you just couple 2 or 3 together, hook up the control cables, and you’ve got as much or more power than a “Big Boy” with a lot less expensive drama. UP’s megalomaniacs weren’t about to settle for that, so they tried 8000+ horsepower gas turbines later fueled with coal, the “Centennial” with two Diesel engines in one locomotive, and finally EMD’s ill fated 6000 horsepower SD90MACs in the 90s. All of the above since the “Big Boy” were failures, even the SD90MAC had no advantage over the “normal” 4400 horsepower locomotives because it had the same six axles to put power to rail and a newbie lemon of an engine to boot. UP is still pushing the limits, trying to run 3 mile long trains on tracks where the longest siding is 2 miles long. Worse yet, many of the other railroads are following UP’s lead.

17 axle South Dakota doubles, legal for about twice the 80,000 pound weight limit of most states…

Of course, some of the truckers too are feeling out just where the point of diminishing returns is… That’s an efficient rig for hauling from pit to plant, but good luck making a U-turn on even a wide road or getting through a muddy site with barely 20% of the weight on the drive wheels…

But ships don’t have to fit into standard 12 foot wide lanes or keep their back trailers back wheels out of the grass on freeway interchange loops. Despite UP’s challenges, the practical length of a train is limited by siding length and it’s weight by the strength of the couplers to around 7500 feet and 20,000 tons. Here in Minnesota barge tows on the Mississippi and “Lakers” on the Saint Lawrence Seaway are limited by the size of the locks they have to fit through, but none the less a barge tow can swallow a couple unit trains of grain and a “Laker” four or more, for some pretty impressive productivity. But the big container shipping lines weren’t satisfied…

And they’re building bigger ones yet…

Let me put the scale of this ship in perspective- It can carry over 20,000 TEUs, which is shorthand for “Twenty foot Equivalent Unit”, though the 40 foot long containers are now more common, and it can carry 10,000+ of them. Being a quarter mile long more than one granary crane can load/unload it at a time, but that’s still 10,000 lifts and 10,000 moves to be made, and then the same number again to reload. Probably the busiest railroad intermodal traffic lane is Southern California ports to Chicagoland, and about 25 intermodal trains travel that route every day carrying about 200 40 foot containers apiece… And it would take two days for those 25 trains to haul this ships load away! It gets worse- about half the containers coming into the SoCal ports get trucked out, that’s 5000 trailers and chassis to get hooked up, pre-tripped, and out the port’s gates, and the same number of containers and chassis returning a few days later.

A new ship like this costs about $100 million, but that’s only about $10,000 for each 40 foot container hauled, an intermodal unit train and locomotives cost around 10 times as much and a truck 15 times as much per container capacity… So there’s nothing holding back the growing size of these ships, and thus not a whole lot of motivation for the shipping companies to draw a line at “too big” and buy nothing bigger. For the ports and canals that have to deal with these floating behemoths, the costs are much larger- Multi-million dollar gantry cranes have to be replaced with even bigger and more expensive new gantry cranes, harbors have to be dredged, and in New York harbor the taxpayers paid over a billion dollars to raise a bridge so these behemoths could fit. The Panama Canal just spent $5 billion to put in a new set of bigger locks, and this behemoth of a ship is too big to fit… But the Canal is being pressured to spend $17 billion plus cost overruns for a new even bigger set of locks, which will be obsoleted the day they open by even bigger ships. And The Suez Canal, where the above behemoth’s twin is now stuck and plugging up much of the world’s commerce? They just spent $9 billion to widen their canal, and it still wasn’t wide enough!

I think the container shipping industry has found what “too big” is, now the world’s governments need to unite and firmly tell them their behemoth ships can’t grow any bigger.

I’d forgotten just how long a truck show takes to “digest”, even a virtual one. The American grand daddy of truck shows is held in Louisville every march and it’s literally millions of square feet of trucks and anything related. I’d make it if work allowed, which tended to be about once a decade. Back in the 90s I made the pilgrimage and was driving home, got sleepy around 9 or so in northwest Indiana, only to find they’d had an ice storm and the power line workers had filled all the motels. So next rest area I opened up hotel VW, folded down the Golf’s back seat, and unfurled the air mattress and sleeping bag that is standard winter carry for Minnesotans. Nothin’ else to do as Hotel VW has no cable, so started reading through the usual pile of brochures I’d collected in these pre-HTML days. Didn’t get to sleep ’til midnight and barely made a dent in that pile of brochures. As I’m now finding out, even a “bite sized” show like Work Truck in virtual form takes a while to digest, so here’s the rest of my take on the rest of Work Truck Show 2021:

Ford got a little more specific, the F600 belatedly gets a diesel option, probably because an air compressor for the 7.3 liter gas (hog) isn’t available yet. That fugitive from the last millennium, the E-series, is still being tweaked. More details on the E-Transit: 67 KWH battery capacity, 200 KW motor, +600 pounds weight over IC engine version, 33-3800 pounds payload.

Freightliner showed why they’re having Ford’s lunch, opening with a background pix of an M2 Hi-Rail truck. Econic low cabover is a world truck targeted at refuse/recycling with high or low roof, left right or both drive, and all round air suspension that enables standard axles scales. If the price is competitive, they’ll own this market! The M2 gets some tweaks, but the bigger news is Freightliner is giving techs more access to program their trucks for upfits. For the electric(?) future Freightliner showed an eCascadia conventional tractor with 300 mile range and an eM2 conventional straight truck with 250 mile range with the biggest 475 KW of battery packs. For any big truck e-rodders, Freightliner is offering up to two 135KW motors per axle, and 6x4s will be available… That’s a few KW shy of Scania’s top V8’s rating, would make an interesting drag race…

Kenworth predicted electrics will eventually get 25% market share, they’re developing electric versions of several models for production in 2023 like K270e and K370e class 6 and 7 cabovers with 100-200 mile range. The T680e Conventional class 8 will have 150 mile range, and all have regenerative braking. The 6×4 hydrogen powered tractor KW is developing with Toyota will have a 300 mile range after a 15 minute refill.

Mack presented their LR low cabover electric with refreshing honesty- Price will be about 3x that of IC, and heat rejection is so high that the liquid cooling system uses the same radiator as the IC version! 334 KW motors with 400 KW peak power, 264 KW battery capacity and recharges in 90 minutes if you’ve got 150 KW available…

Hinos class 6, 7, and 8 conventional have been MIA and a new factory quiet as they tried to get their big diesel past EPA’s finicky certification. Once again, Cummins to the rescue with their B and L series diesels becoming standard and only power until Hino’s electrics become available. I’ve never heard anyone complain about the reliability of Hino trucks, they’ll now be available with 6×4 drive and heavy front axles, and the L series can produce up to near 400 HP- If these trucks are attractively priced and Hino can supply them, they’re going to take market share.

Thats all folks!

I want to thank the Work Truck Show and it’s parent the National Truck Equipment Association and all the makers for persevering through this pandemic and bring us another great show, even though it was confined to our monitors. Hope to make it next year to take advantage of the ride and drive- I want to drive some electric trucks!

Tuesdays online presentations began with “technical difficulties”, so decided I’d wait ’til Wednesday to do an update.

GM Fleet: Like Ford, one way communication, but a lot more down to earth. GM also gets credit for the high proportion of women presenters, which counts here at GearheadGrrrl’s blog. Some of GM’s offerings like the G series vans are going on two decades old, but it’s good to know they’re still updating the product with little tweaks here and there. Same with the rest of the line, as GM is offering help in integrating up fitter mounted cameras into their systems, moving DEF tanks and stuff out of the way, and preps for mounting ambulance bodies. Heck, they even have a back seat delete option to help turn the Bolt electric hatch into a micro van! But GM has also been afflicted with the ‘electric car craziness that’s going around, to the point of soon bringing to market a bespoke electric step van…

No doubt most of the electrics are shared with other future electric trucks, but there’s got to be at least a hundred million $$$ invested in that assumed unit body. That’s a lot of investment for a step van market that’s not even a hundred thousand vehicles a year where thousand vehicle a year customers like Hostess are gone while other fleets have upsized to separate bodies on chassis cabs or down to vans and van derived cutaways. And in a market where fleets are demanding and getting aluminum bodies and galvanized frames so they can get 20+ years from a vehicle, will they accept replacing batteries that cost more than the vehicle is worth after 10 years? GMs spun off step van operation, Workhorse, tried going all electric and is going up in flames and taking a lot of capital with it, the other players are proceeding cautiously. So how the heck does GM think they’ll grow the step van market and squeeze out enough competitors to every pay off the cost of tooling up this thing?

Freightliner Custom Chassis: The actual market leader (Ford may contest that) in step vans is being much more cautious, experimenting with electric power in their existing chassis while offering evolutionary upgrades to their current products. And remember the story that Daimler was switching to Cummins B series power in their medium duty trucks? These guys didn’t get the memo and are still pushing Daimler’s 4 cylinder diesels!

International- Some minor tweaks like factory lift axles and improved rustproofing, but the cab is two decades old and Traxon (VW Group) just bought the whole company… Is a Scania cab and maybe powertrain too in International’s future, and how soon?

Ram: No EVs, but a lot of useful tweaks like up fitter access to the OS to connect added on cameras, even camera’s mounted on trailers and a back up assist system that top’s Ford and GM’s. Even plow packages for the half ton pickups that tie into the OS and shut off front collision warning when a plow is mounted!

Isuzu: Saw my first Isuzu straight truck at the old Convention Center dock back in the 80s and inquired of the Canadian owners their opinion- They couldn’t be happier, even with a tag axle and resulting heavier load their Isuzu was still dead reliable and easy on fuel. Isuzu’s cabovers are downsized big trucks with real work truck cred, an almost unknown alternative to the beefed up pickups that dominates light end of medium duty. Big news this year is Isuzu is joining the medium duty majority in offering the Cummins B series with Allison Automatic in the Class 6 and 7 chassis.

Peterbuilt: Has built electric semi-tractors, tandem refuse trucks, and class 7 straight trucks, and has even put on staff a grant writer to fund customer’s buying more. That said, the stats are sobering- only 100-200 mile range, 300-400 KWH batteries, a few tons extra dead weight, and they don’t even mention prices. In more reality based news, they’ve got a new “pick your gauges” programmable dashboard display and looks like the legacy cab is slowly getting a well deserved retirement.

Fontaine Modification Centers: Another little known company with a big impact in the truck biz- They modify 36,000 trucks a year, probably at least a tenth of the heavy duty market they modify. They’re doing electric repowers, and if you see an a big truck with a chopped cab roof, twin steering axles, front driven axle, or even right hand or dual steering, chances are they built it.

All in all, not much new hardware, some useful tweaks, and excessive electrification fantasies… But two days to go!

Admit it- None of us gear heads can just walk on by a decently executed bucket truck, Hi-Rail, service vehicle, or the hundreds of other variations on the “work truck” theme without eyein’ up the machinery and then spending the next few minutes or hours figuring out how it works. So when the folks that put on the annual Work Truck Show actually offered this lowly backwater blogger a press pass I jumped at the chance. But living 800 miles from the shows home in Indy or else wintering in Florida 1200 miles away, I never was able to fit the show into my travel plans…

Until COVID-19 blew the hell out of our plans, period. Thus I’be been comfortably holed up here at my Buffalo Ridge home consuming more online content than I ever could travel too- As a small town water system operator I’ve built up a stack of more continuing education credits than I’ll ever need in this lifetime and probably at least the next three. I’m learning CAD and fantasized getting an engineering degree from a college hundreds of miles away, and I’ve actually at least virtually made the Work Truck Show… Finally!

I gather that the Work Truck Show is your typical exhibition hall trade show with the big three having big chunks of prime turf on down to the newbie hopeful supplier behind a table in the back corner. Forced onto a computer display that pecking order can be seriously disrupted, and a video production savvy guy or gal from that tiny table in the back corner can outshine the big three. and they did…

Ford was the first to fall, starting with the pre-show tweets of a Ford exec promising an exciting new truck, setting us gear heads up to speculate the intro of the Maverick compact pickup or announcement of the VW sourced next generation Transit Connect. What we got was a sales pitch for Ford’s fleet management software (yes, Ford software?) and various new features of their attempts to give their so-so truck offerings all the features of a cheap smart phone of five years ago. Yes, real useful? stuff like a speed sign reader that instead of just announcing the speed limit like some of Ford’s overseas trucks have done for years actually slows the truck down to that speed. That should be a real hit on two lanes where political pressure has produced ridiculously low speed limits than sane drivers add 5 or 10 MPH too. Ford didn’t do themselves any favors- If you want software to police your fleet, best not to buy it from the vehicle maker who can turn around and use it as evidence to void your warranty. And that “new truck” tweet was wiped while Automotive News hinted that the next Transit Connect will be built in a Ford plant on a Ford platform… Who the hell is running Ford?

Next on my dance card was Mack promoting their medium duty truck and some more Volvo bits that have infiltrated the legendary Mack trucks build sheets. Modern Macks are a touchy subject for us old school gear heads who have mourned Volvo’s slow and steady substitution of their usually inferior bits for the legendary Mack bits. That said, Mack and even Volvo North America’s media reps are a joy to work with, always helpful and answering every question, even from us old Mack loyalists who view Volvo as a foreign invader. Thus Macks MD series has a Cummins B series engine, Allison automatic, and Meritor Axles under the legacy Mack cab. The B series and Allison are the best in class(es) 6 and 7 and the Mack cab is both more functional and even more aerodynamic than the 20 years younger Volvo cab, which ain’t a bad thing… Too bad most of the Mack line is stuck with Volvo bits instead. Nothing fancy, but I’d sure as heck rather be behind the wheel of one than a low bid Freightliner, International, or worse yet Ford. The new Volvo bits being fenestrated are the Volvo T-Ride tandem suspension we have known and loathed for the decade or so they’ve been trying to insert it instead of our legendary Mack suspension, and the more useful “Command Steer”, which looks to be a real useful option if not game changer for rough road trucking, here’s a link to more info: https://www.mapyourshow.com/mys_shared/wts21/handouts/210308%20-%20Mack®%20Command%20Steer%20for%20Mack%20Granite®%20Models%20Now%20in%20Production.pdf

And that little disruptor that used the online opportunity to outshine the big two if not all three? XL Fleet, a growing company that has added hybrid and even plug in hybrid capability to several brands of light and medium trucks years ahead of Ford while GM and Ram haven’t even made it to the starting line. Yup, while the big two or three are reinventing everything but the wheel to bring electric vehicle vaporware to market, XL Fleet took advantage of the Lego like layout of trucks to tuck batteries between the frame rails and motors on those long driveshafts to produce working models of the big manufacturers electric vehicle fantasies. No surprise that XL Fleet was getting inquiries from some big fleets, and they answered every one. Here’s the link for more info: https://xlfleet.com/

That’s all for today, be back with more of the show highlights tomorrow.

Stress crack in the fiberglass body of a 27 year old Motorvation Spyder sidecar.

‘Bout a month back the stub axle of my rust belt year round ride sidecar broke, given the sidecar’s age I felt a full post mortem examination was in order. The Spyder is unique in having no external frame resulting in a lower center of gravity, better aerodynamics, and a cleaner look. To pull that trick off the Spyder has a sheet steel subframe laminated between the layers of it’s fiberglass body in high stress areas. The photo above shows “rust jacking”- Rust expands the metal, you can sometimes see this happening between the outer and inner frame rails of old rusty trucks as the normally tight fitting rails are pushed apart.

Steel so rusted it crumbles under screwdriver attack…

So I took off a few parts that pierce the body of the sidecar where those steel plates lie, as you can see above rust is all too plainly visible and yields easily to casual probing= not good!

Different hole, same rust…

So we have a rusted out “frame”, busted axle, and while were at it should replace the wheel that’s so old it don’t even have a DOT marking. Given that this hack has given 27 years and over 100,000 miles service and a new one is $5k, normally it’d take on a one way trip to the “grove” and I’d order up a new one. But sidecars and especially the Spyder are on the gearhead’s endangered species list, so I’m gonna try to rebuild it. Given that the remains of bankrupt Motorvation are still being fought over. parts may not be available for a while, if ever. So I may have to make my own… But a metricized Spyder sidecar reborn via CAD would be worth it!

Well, time for a reality check…

Attempting to replace all 4 calipers, the lines that feed them, the master cylinder, and install a hopefully better fitting right rear ABS sensor. After some minor battles the front and right rear calipers have been fitted. The old front brake lines won’t come off without twisting to destruction the next line going up towards the master cylinder. The rear brake lines fit something, but not this car. The ABS sensor fit after I reduced it’s diameter a bit to fit the hole in the aftermarket stub axle I fitted a couple months back. I’m gonna do the last caliper after a break and attack the master cyclinder tomorrow- No snow and high temps in the 40s here in Southwest Minnesota so I’m going outside this afternoon!

This is par for the course for 10+ year old cars- I’ve got the cab off my ’98 Ranger and the rolling chassis sitting in front of the shop awaiting my attention, and it’s a real horror story of chassis rust and won’t fit parts compared to the VWs. But the damn Ranger has only 92k miles on it, I bought it new, engine uses no oil and cab has no holes so I ain’t scraping’ it yet. With equivalent new Rangers starting at $30k, seems to be worth saving for the times I need a bit more hauling capacity than the Golf TDIs offer. Same thing sees to be happening all over the gearhead world- Historic truck websites that were started by people restoring quarter century and older trucks are turning into repair and even total rebuild virtual clinics for poor folks trying to hopefully make a living with decades old Macks and such. It’s not unusual to hear of rebuilds from new frame rails up and replacing half the cab panels then engine and transmission rebuilds. 

All that sounds heroic and a shot back at the greedy manufacturers and the EPA, but “rust never sleeps” and metal fatigue is real- Just had an axle shaft break on one of my 20+ year old sidecars the other day. Looking at the underside of my ’03 Golf during seconds of much needed distraction I can see all the telltales of rust and have to admit it’s only got a couple, maybe five years left. Then there’s the economics- Cost me $17k with tax 17 years ago, so it’s cost about $1000 a year to keep in my driveway. But the latest parts order was about $600 and it’s ate a couple hundred dollars worth of parts several times and a $500 set of tires in the past few years- So it’s costing as much as a newer car without the peace of mind. I’m seeing this all over- Like the guy who bought a 15 year old Mack for $15k, spent $20K on a rebuilt engine a couple years in, and now it’s sitting in his back yard because the frame is shot and it won’t pass a DOT inspection… Makes $100K for a new truck look like a good deal.

So if you’ve got an unrusted A4 that needs no major work, it makes sense to keep it until it does. But the average A4 here in the rust belt already has at least one wheel in the junkyard, and it’s pretty much the same story for any vehicle of that age. I realize some folks keep the old cars because they can’t get a loan on a new one, but it makes no sense to totally rebuild rusting A4s when newer TDIs have plenty of life in them and an excellent engine and emissions warranty. For me, having driven VW diesels for the last 4 decades I’ve saved enough $$$ that I can splurge on gas hogs every couple years, but old habits die hard. So I’m gonna put my A4 back together the best I can, park it in the driveway in case my Golf 7 TDI breaks down, and shop for a new car… Maybe a Golf 8 R?

The potential super spreader event otherwise known as Black Friday is thankfully past, most of us gave it a pass but a lot of retailers of the past just couldn’t let it go. Face mask optional Bomgaars offered 20% off Friday which is only as much as most folk’s health insurance deductible and no where near enough to make me hook up the trailer and haul home another months worth of wood pellet fuel. Fleet Farm offered a similar deal and sweetened it with a 10% coupon when I failed to respond, given they at least wear masks inside the “Kato store I might take them up on their stupid marketing… It’s only -10% if I let them do the work of picking it for me!

Black Plague Friday better spent wandering in the woods, Small Business Saturday and beyond provides some excellent opportunities to score some swag, parts, tools, or whatever…

Like -10% on Aerostitch suits and even more on their other great gear for riders!

Many of the small parts suppliers like diesel car parts horde ID parts are offering deals, same with Max BMW which being part owned by Penske may not be small but they’re offering -15% on BMW motorcycle parts. Speaking of hordes, need more printed repair manuals? Haynes + Chilton is offering $10 off so four more will be joining my library, I should have waited another day for the -50% offer that came after I’d ordered. Given how hard they’re promoting online manuals, I have a feeling they’ve got a warehouse full of print manuals they’re trying to empty. I’ve got enough out of print manuals for orphan cars that no way will I put my trust in online manuals alone.

It’s tool time… The big box stores and their websites are littered with good deals on hand tools, look for a good selection of wrenches as well as the usual sockets aplenty in the sets. But when you get old like me you need big lifting tools to take the load off your tired bones and back, like this:

That’s formally called an “engine hoist” and less formally a “cherry picker’, I’ve used mine picking up just about everything but engines. Just about every auto supply store and a lot of big box stores carry them and they’ll certainly be on sale for around $200 and up in the next few weeks. But what if you need to lift the whole vehicle?

Time to lift your car like the pros on a DIYers budget- I’ve had this lift a couple years now and it’s a pleasure to safely lift the whole car- Last summer I did the whole 40,000 mile service on the 2015 Golf TDI- transmission and engine fluid and filter changes, inspect brakes and exhaust, etc.- Without having to shuffle jacks and stands around. As you can see, it comes with rubber block adapters to properly lift most unit body cars at the rocker panel seams. They’ve also got a heavier model with adapters for heavier vehicles with frames like trucks and the larger Stupid Utility Vehicles (SUVs). Costco don’t offer a huge variety of gearhead gear, but when they do it’s good quality at an unbeatable price- Through Monday the 30th the pictured 5000 pound capacity model is $1149 and the bigger 7000 pound capacity model is $1499!

If you miss that deal Costco marks these down several times a year. Same with all the other Black Friday and Cyber Monday offers, same stuff will selling again for as good or better a price in a few weeks or months. Just gotta make your list of what you or your giftee needs and wait for the prices to drop!

Gearhead Grrrl’s Thanksgiving SOP has been a pre thanksgiving roasting of the numerous corporate turkeys who have done stupid stuff that ticked off if not totally enraged gear heads in the past year. Grievences having been aired, there follows a Black Friday shopper’s guide for gear heads. The turkey roast has been suspended for this year as many of the habitual offenders deserve credit for just surviving this year of plague. Said plague has pretty much put off in person shopping if not outright killed it, and any retailer that expected me to crowd into their premises today in search of a dubious deal is on the short list for the turkey roast when that ritual is restored.

Give REI Co-op credit for the “Opt-Out”, inspiring me by giving their workers Black Friday off to enjoy the outdoors, and in this pandemic there’s no place safer. What better excuse to bring back the day trip, a day off pastime I picked up when you could drive all day on $10 worth of diesel in your VW. On the TDI Club forum we joked about spending more on fast food than fuel, despite using tricks like 12 volt powered heaters to keep Arby’s 5 for $5 sandwiches warm all day.

Minnesota’s great state parks got on the Opt Out bandwagon too by offering free admission, but not much of anyone out here in rural western Minnesota was taking them up on the offer… Except the other TDI driver I met at the next state park. I had this one to myself…

But there had been some wild life goin’ on. I found every state park well maintained but damn near devoid of humans, a shame given todays clear skies with temps rising into the low 40s.

No, this ain’t Minnesota’s famous North Shore… This is our West Shore!

Couple hours of sunlight left, time to head home. Goodbye to Big Stone Lake, source of the Minnesota River AKS glacial river Warren (something had to dig out that huge valley!)

More prairie but still plenty of water downriver at Lac qui Parle state park.

Amazing how safely you can have so much fun out here, only time I got within the standard 6 feet of anyone was when I stopped for soda and a slice of pizza at Casey’s in Ortonville and a couple maskless CovIdiots wandered in. The outhouses at the state parks were pretty decent and will be open all winter, next time I’ll just bring more food with and avoid the self appointed super spreaders. Damn good way to pass a fall day, and warm enough to ride tomorrow!

Yea, I know it’s the middle of an epidemic and we’re gettin desperate… But this is one hot rod chair that came my way for a screaming’ hot price! Couple months back I was attempting to mass produce giant Biden signs in my shop, which required lots of paint and the cheaper the better. Local Reuse Center had good deals on recycled paint and being as they were COVID-19 safe with masks required I took a stroll through the vastness, always on the lookout for bargains. And what should I discover but:

“Nursing home fugitive”

Now what caught my attention was the wheels:

Spinergy wheels with Spox composite spokes built outa straight pull hubs, decent tires and coated handrails too… Just the wheels retail for over $1000! The price tag? $30 for the whole chair. Confirmed that the price was correct and within a minute it was safely inside the hatch of my Golf. Was such a deal that I posted the chair on social media just in case it was stolen.

The immediate plan was to put the wheels on this:

Old Yeller, an early Quickie GP lightweight sports chair that I acquired in another smoking’ deal in the late 1980s. I pushed this chair through an under 4 hour Twin Cities marathon, played dozens of basketball games from that seat, and plenty of picket lines and protests too. It’s the best of early lightweight wheelchair technology, a veritable lego kit built of bits from hardware stores and bike shops ’cause that’s where the inventors of the lightweight wheelchair got them.

We’re now about 4 decades and a couple (d)evolutions into the history of the lightweight wheelchair and my new acquisition turned out to be a current model from the same builder, Quickie. And while the thick seat cushion, deeply contoured backrest, and positioning headrest made it look like a “Geri Chair”, underneath beat the chassis of a hot rod- I had not just the best high performance wheels, but an aluminum framed hot rod with plenty of tuning potential under that massive “seating system”.

First step was to remove said seating system, being pretty expensive it’ll be stored away along with the full documentation that came with the ‘chair. Next off came the seat belt and wheelchair tie downs, which look like something off a half ton pickup and probably overbuilt to some obscure spec.

Next up was adjusting the chairs geometry, this thing has more alignment adjustments than many cars, even front wheel toe! Undoing the “Geri Chair” hyper conservative spec that must have been dictated by an OT with no liability insurance, I slid the rear wheels forward so I can wheelie at will, adjusted the casters for zero caster, and raised the foot rests and wheelie bars so they didn’t scrape on every tall pebble in the concrete. The results:

Took it for a test drive around the house, a couple loops on the concrete garage apron, and down and back a hundred feet of dirt driveway to the mailbox and it handles pretty well and pushes easy, even on the dirt… Definitely a keeper!

All it needs now is some upholstery, Quickie wants $60 for the backrest and a basic foam seat cushion is damn near a hundred, I can probably upcycle something loitering around the shop for less. I’d like more camber in the rear wheels, but unlike the old Quickie where all you needed to adjust that was some 1/4″ ID washers, this new one requires $70 worth of Quickie parts. Like everything else today, the new Quickie chair is lighter than it’s ancestor but has more proprietary parts that aren’t as well made. And for robustness, the frames speak for themselves:

Yup, “Old Yeller”‘s got twice the frame and I haven’t needed to bother Quickie for parts this millennium. Obsolete? Sorry Quickie, your plan failed!