01 November, 2009

WOW, it's been a long time!

Okay, so it's been nearly 5 months since I added anything to my blog! I am filled with shame and self-loathing, but will probably soon recover.

So what have I been up to for 5 months? Quite a bit, actually--our 6x6, 5 ton, ex-marine truck finally arrived and we have had lots of fun figuring out what its capabilities are. In fact, here's a photo of me "stuck" in a river crossing during one of our first test drives. I say "stuck" because I wasn't really stuck, I only thought I was. Guess you could say that I was stuck in my mind. To be fair to myself, I did attempt to back out of the hole I was in, (actually I had managed to get the front axle grounded on a huge rock), and I couldn't. Later, however, after we had gotten a friend of ours with another big truck to come hook up to our truck with a chain to pull us out, I managed to simply back out without difficulty. I'm not exactly sure why it backed out so easily in the end, but at first I just had all 4 rear wheels churning up sand from the river bottom. (And yes, because this is an ex-USMC truck, it DOES have differential locks in the rear diffs, so all 4 wheels can actually be spinning at once. Apparently the Army trucks don't have this feature and are therefore puny and inferior.) In the background of the photo you can see the wooden bridge that I was trying to avoid driving our 12 ton truck over. After we got back out of the river, I drove over the wooden bridge without difficulty. On the way home, I drove over it again. Doesn't look the strongest, but apparently there is a truck bigger and heavier than ours that drives over it on a regular basis. In the background you can also see our neighbor's russian army truck that he was about to try pulling us out with.

Other things that have been keeping me busy: I put new tires (light truck mud tires!) on Clare's '81 Mitsubishi Galant then picked up another car like it to use for parts, (the previous owner was practically giving it away and it's actually quite a bit nicer than Clare's) and then picked up another car like mine to use for parts, (once again, the previous owner was practically giving it away), I sold one of my bike projects, (the NX250 engine in the XR250 chassis), finished and sold another bike project on behalf of one of the departments here, finally got started on a huge quasi-restoration job for a commercial customer who has patiently waited 5 years for me to get started on it (!), agreed to play the part of Lazar Wolf in the Ukarumpa Community Theatre's production of Fiddler on the Roof, agreed to become the "pointman" of the Quick Response Team, wrote a few newsletters, helped my friend Tim get his Volkswagen Kubel (Thing) running enough to get it to his house from where it had been sitting for a few years, (the throttle linkage needs some work so at one point I was steering and working the gearbox while Tim rode on the back bumper and moved the throttle by hand) and of course, the day to day business of keeping things running in support of the translation work going on here. I'm sure I've left a lot of stuff out, but I think you get the idea. Some of this stuff will be showing up in the blog over the next few weeks (I hope).

13 June, 2009

Children Take Time

Yup. No doubt about it. Kids take up a lot of time. Not to say that we aren't happy to spend that time in that way. But I don't have quite as much "free" time as I used to.

Another good thing about living in Ukarumpa: you can save a ton of money on baby toys and paraphanalia. Levi's walker is borrowed, (I know, I know, "walkers are dangerous!" you protest. Get over it. Somehow we all survived. Don't buy into the media hype. Be free!), most of his toys were given to us, his crib was given to us, and so on. People in this community pass around stuff like that almost as soon as the word gets out that somebody is pregnant.

Ukarumpa. A cheap place to raise kids.

In other news, I am at it again--this time squeezing a BMW F650 engine into a Husaberg FE400 frame. So far it's coming along very nicely. Photos to come another time.

02 April, 2009

Why My Blog Has Slowed Down Considerably

By now you've all noticed that I haven't posted anything on this blog since January. There's a reason for that. It was in January that I learned that one of the people who follows this blog is a reporter for a newspaper here in PNG. Now I feel like I have to be really careful about what I write!

01 February, 2009

Experiment in Sino-Japanese Transportational Solutions and Financial Yikes!

First, a Levi update: Levi is doing well. He often sleeps for 6 hours at a stretch at night. He is growing fast and is actually bigger than I was when I was his age. He generally seems to be a happy baby--he smiles a lot and is beginning to figure out how to laugh, which is fun. Clare took him to the clinic the other day to get his 2 month vaccinations and being jabbed with needles made him grumpy for the rest of that day and sleepy for the next couple of days. Overall, we are very happy with him.

So when we got back from Australia after Levi was born, I found that my department had bought 12 Chinese made 3 wheeled trucks and 2 Chinese motorcycles at an auction in Lae. Apparently we were the only bidders, so we got the whole lot for a song. The idea is to use them for department run-abouts on centre--certainly a cheaper solution than the Toyota Hilux and Hiace diesels that are currently being used. Anyway, they've all been sitting for some time in the salt air around Lae, so they all need some attention to get them running. Most of them are new with only 2 or 3 km showing on the odometers. They are all powered by 200cc engines, (the motorcycles are 125's), that are based on an old Honda design. I've known about the existence of these Chinese-made Honda derivatives for several years, but had never had a chance to see one up close. Among all the spare parts that we got with the lot of bikes and trikes were 2 engines that had come to bad ends, so I was thrilled to finally have the chance to pull them apart and see what there was to see inside of them. These particular engines were made by Zongshen, (affectionately known as "Zongers"), but as far as I can tell the ones made by Lifan, Jialing, Loncin, etc. are all very similar.

Other than a very unusual valve train that uses only one camshaft lobe to operate both valves, and a weird circular shift pattern, they were quite normal inside. I put one good engine together out of the parts and decided, (for the sake of scientific research) to put one into a 1975 Honda XL 125 chassis that I had laying around the shop. The idea here is to ride one around in a motorcycle chassis for a while and see if these Chinese engines would be a viable option for people who want to resurrect dead Hondas. 125-200cc Chinese Honda clones are almost always available on eBay, and I have often wondered if they were worth the USD$350 or so that they usually go for.

So far I'd have to say that they seem pretty good. The one in the bike pictured above had at least 3,500 km on it when it was taken apart, (I'm not sure why it was taken apart when we got it), and the rings still look new, nor is there any discernable wear on the cylinder walls. I really like the clutch in this motor--it's far better than the original Honda unit and has 6 springs instead of just four. I've only just started to ride this thing, but my initial impressions are better than I was expecting. Some research on the internet has shown that most of the troubles people have with Chinese bikes seem to be with the chassis and not with the engines. One thing I will say though, is that some parts are REALLY hard to find. For example, I have no trouble finding cylinder heads, carburetors, stators, flywheels and other parts that I will probably never have to replace, but trying to find a piston and rings for the 200cc engine has proven to be nearly impossible. Many of the parts in the engine can be replaced with original Honda parts, but the piston (a part that will have to be replaced every now and then), is an oddball--not like any Honda that I know of. So! That's my new challenge--to find a source of pistons to be able to keep these things going for a few years.

In other news, my wife sat me down tonight and told me that our trip to Australia for Levi's birth and the World Financial Crisis (which has effectively reduced the value of our income from the UK by about 25%) has knocked something of a hole in the boat of our finances and we need to start bailing in order to stay afloat. (Aren't metaphors grand?) I told her that I am planning to sell off a couple of my motorcycle projects this year, namely The World's Fastest (and only) NXR 250 and the Bush Bomber 280. Later she told me that she had made a mistake on her spreadsheet and that things weren't quite as dire as the had at first thought. But still a long way from rosy.

Ah, it's good to be back at work again.

11 January, 2009

Loooooooong time, no see

Wow, it has been a while, hasn't it? I think things are finally starting to settle down a bit for us. When I last posted, we were getting ready to leave Melbourne, where we had been living for 10 weeks around the birth of our son, Levi. There were a number of things that we wanted/needed to do before we left there and so my poor blog got shuffled into an electronic corner and left to gather electric dust for a time.

When we left Melbourne, we still didn't have a PNG visa for Levi, (not for lack of effort on our part, but our timing wasn't so good--first we had to get Levi's official Australia birth certificate, then we had to take him to the Embassy to be sighted by a representative of the US government as part of the US passport application process, then we had to wait for a passport to arrive in the mail, then we had to send that off for a visa stamp, etc., etc. By the time we had a passport for him, many government offices were closing for Christmas & New Year's.

So, we sat around at our mission guesthouse in Cairns, (tropical north Queensland), and waited. Our planned return to PNG ont he 19th of December came and went and we had no word or hint concerning the status of Levi's visa. We changed our return date to the next available flight, (9th of January), and continued waiting. We knew that the visa office was closed until the 5th of January, and honestly I wasn't sure that there would be enough time to get the details sorted out by our 9 January flight, so reluctantly we started thinking about extending our stay in Cairns by another 10 days. This was especially "headacheful" as it meant that we were going to have to extend our Australian visas, (which were due to expire on the 9th) and that was going to cost us $240 each.

And then a strange thing happened. Suddenly, on the 2nd of January, we recieved Levi's completed PNG visa. This was really a mystery to us, as the postmark clearly indicated that the visa had been sent out after Christmas from a visa office that we knew was closed.

Never ones to look a gift visa in the mouth, we excitedly finished up the various things we wanted/needed to do in Cairns and finally flew back to Ukarumpa on yesterday, the 9th of January, (the day before my birthday, I might add!)

Now some of you clever ones are probably wondering why I didn't write to my blog while I was sitting around with all that extra time in Cairns. Good question! The reason is because we had to pay $2/hour for internet access there (regardless of the amount downloaded/uploaded). Sure, that's not the world's greatest excuse, but for some reason when I am on line and am aware of a clock slowly, inexorably ticking down the seconds in the background I find it hard to concentrate on my blog. Too much pressure.

Anyway, we're back home now! Phew!