23 November, 2013

Andrew in the UK Sanity Enhancement Device

     So yeah, we made it safely back to Great Britain and now are settled into something of a routine while we wait for Baby to arrive.

      One of the biggest differences for me this time in the UK is my Sanity Enhancement Device.  This has taken the form of an old Armstrong MT500 army motorcycle--I mentioned it here before when I bought it.  Having a project of my own to fool around with and ride has been a huge improvement for me over previous times that we have been in the UK.  Previously I've struggled to find a satisfactory outlet for my fix-it urge while on the Green and Pleasant Isle, but this time, this time I've got a genuinely interesting thing to work on.  Here's how it looked when I got it:

      And here's how it looks now:

      Admittedly there's not a lot of visual difference--just new tires, a couple of reprints of vintage decals, and a current tax disc.  It had been sitting for 10 years before I bought it, so I had to go through the carburetor.  I've also replaced the timing belt, (yes, it has a belt rather than a chain), the belt tensioner and idler, the inner tubes, and a few other things.  I've greatly enjoyed getting to know this bike and am happy to have finally gotten it all legal to ride. A friend of mine in Bognor Regis gave me a nice warm coat to wear, I've got a good helmet and nice warm motorcycle gloves, so I'm pretty much set for winter motorcycle riding.  Yeah, I know, maybe not the best weather for riding in, but I'll take what I can get!

       Baby #3 is not here yet, 2 weeks till the due date!

01 October, 2013

Rescue Trip in the 5 Ton!

This photo is not from today's trip--it's from some other trip.
      So, today, around 2:45, my department manager came to me and asked about doing a rescue.  "Some local guys have a big Hyundai truck (HD65) that needs work--they've left a K1,000 deposit and they want to know if we can go get the truck now--they are afraid to leave it parked where it is overnight because people might vandalise it or steal parts off of it."  I wasn't really in the mood, so I tried to push the job off on another guy, but he was otherwise engaged, so I asked Evan if he wanted to go on a rescue and away we went.  We took the 5 ton, (M813A1 cargo truck) because the admittedly sketchy details of where the Hyundai was parked made it sound like it would be too big of a job for the decrepit shop Land Cruiser.  I felt just a twinge of foreboding as we left in a huge cloud of dust (it's been super dry here for months).

      We eventually found the Hyundai parked on the side of a narrow dirt road just above a pretty steep incline.  When we got out of the truck to survey the situation, we were told "oh by the way, the Hyundai has NO brakes."  Swell.  That meant that simply towing it out of there wasn't going to be an option.  Another problem was that the Hyundai (and the 5 ton) were both pointed the wrong way on the narrow road.  They were both pointed UP hill when we needed to go DOWN hill.  We scouted around for a good place to turn around, then finally decided that backing the 5 ton down the hill and turning it around at the first hairpin curve would probably be okay.

       So I cautiously backed down the hill, putting the transfer case into LOW range (which gave me better control as the speeds were much slower and also engaged drive to the front wheels).  At the curve I backed into the bush at the side of the road on the outside of the curve, then carefully (with lots of help from Evan directing me from outside) pulled forward into the bush on the inside of the curve.  The road was quite steep right here and the whole truck seemed to be listing to the right about 30 degrees.  Reverse once more, then turn down hill and voila! we were pointed the right direction.  By this time, a pretty good sized crowd had gathered, maybe 50 people?  Men, women, children, we were apparently the best show in town this afternoon.

      Now I got Evan to stand on the passenger side running board and help direct me as I reversed up this steep hill, squeezing past the throngs of curious onlookers and past the disabled Hyundai.  Once we were past it, we stopped, tied a tow strap between the Hyundai and the truck and then the fun began.

      Naturally, the Hyundai was parked at the only flat spot on the hill, so naturally it wouldn't roll.  Also naturally, whenever a disabled car needs to be moved here, throngs of men rush in and start pushing.  So now we've got 10-15 men pushing this Hyundai, which has no brakes and which is tied to the M813 with a short tow strap.  Naturally this means that I need to keep the 5 ton moving whenever I see the Hyundai moving!  So, with EXTREME caution, I carefully pulled forward while the men pushed the Hyundai until it finally started to roll.  Once it started to roll, I gently lowered it backwards down the hill to the same curve where I had turned the 5 ton around.

      Of course this was not without its own share of difficulties.  Before we had quite managed to get the dead truck turned around, it got stuck on ruts in the road and had to be muscled back into motion while I ever so carefully followed along behind, trying to keep some slack in the tow strap and not to run over any of the men pushing the Hyundai.  It was mildly nerve wracking.

       Bear in mind that during this whole process the Hyundai has NO brakes, which is why we had to be so careful about not letting it run away.  We eventually got the Hyundai more or less pointed down hill with the 5 ton attached to it with a tow strap, but unfortunately, because of the curve in the road and the wide turning radius of the M813, we were no parked 90 degrees to the rear of the Hyundai.  Eventually we realised that we were driving a 12 ton truck and that the rear end of the Hyundai was probably pretty light, so we just put the 6x6 into reverse and pulled the rear end of the Hyundai across the dirt road until we were all lined up a bit better.  Evan and I were pleased with how easy this was to do, I don't think the 5 ton even realised that the Hyundai was even out there.  It simply backed up and dragged the rear end of the Hyundai behind it.

      So now we're all lined up and pointing down hill.  I put the truck into 1st gear, LOW range and away we go.   1st gear LOW is waaay too slow (about 2 mph) so I went up to 2nd LOW and that was a bit better, though men jogging along next to us still had no trouble overtaking us.  They jogged along the road in front of the Hyundai, waving pedestrians off of the road hollering for people to get out of the way.

       This method of lowering a brakeless vehicle down a rough dirt road worked quite well.  The road never really leveled out, only got more steep in some places and less steep in others, so gravity assisted us all the way to the bottom.  We were quite popular all the way down, people waving and smiling, everybody loves the 5 ton.  Every time we take it out it's a Public Relations boost.

       Once down on the flat we moved around to the front of the Hyundai and dragged it the rest of the way back to the shop.  In the rear view mirror I could see that the rear tires on the Hyundai were spinning forwards on one side and backwards on the other, which meant that the driver was trying to use his seized-up engine and clutch as a crude brake, but the 5 ton was just overwhelming his available traction.  We slowed down a bit and carried on without incident UNTIL...

       Home again, home again, we picked a place to park the dead Hyundai in front of the shop, on a slight downhill.  As I braked gently to a stop, the Hyundai plowed straight into the rear of the 5 ton!  The only way I knew that anything had happened at all was because I heard somebody shouting about it from the side of the road, never felt a thing in the truck.  I guess the driver must have forgotten about his crude brake and just coasted right into the back of us without remembering to stop.  I felt bad for him, but I didn't want to shame him, so I pretended not to notice anything, even though the front of the poor Hyundai now has a massive dent in it.  Thankfully his windscreen was already broken before we started, so the extra damage that happened to the glass when he ran into us won't really make a difference.  I was surprised to see that we made it back in almost exactly 2 hours--it sure felt longer than that.

       Another interesting trip in the M813!  That truck is 12 tons of Adventure Mobile.  Since we left in such a rush, I didn't have time to run home and get a camera.  I may try to get a photo of the front of the Hyundai in the next couple of days.


19 August, 2013

UK bound once more...

   So we're off to the UK again in a couple of months.   And once again it's to have another baby!   Number 3 is due in early December.

     Last time we were in England (2011), I had a hard time because I wasn't allowed to work (wrong kind of visa), and it's hard for me not to have some sort of machine to fiddle with.  I got desperate last time and even went so far as to dig bicycles out of rubbish tips in an effort to build my own "custom" bicycle.  The resulting bicycle was moderately cool; it had drum brakes and a three speed hub, both of which were things I had never had on a bicycle before (bear in mind that the last bicycle I had was a single speed, coaster braked, Schwinn Scrambler when I was 11). but without the magic of internal combustion, it was not as much fun for me.  Plus I put the wrong sized tires on it, so it was hard to pedal (I'll fix that this time, though).

     But this time will be different.  My loving wife, who could not bear to see me so miserable again, gave me her blessing to buy this:

        It's a 1986 Armstrong MT500, ex army bike!  I've been wanting one of these for years, so I'm excited about it.  It ticks all the right boxes for me, it's a little unusual, it's different from any bike I've owned before, it's a street legal dirt bike, it's black, and the MT's have a reputation for being hard to break and easy to fix.  It's got the legendary air-cooled Rotax 4 stroke, and parts are still easy to get for it.  So yeah, I'm happy. 

        I even bought some tools to work on it with and have plans to maybe customise it just a little (like maybe a disc brake front end off of the later MT350, maybe different tyres, perhaps a different headlight and tail light/rear mudguard).  Hopefully I can figure out how to get it legally ridable and may even get a chance to pootle about a bit on it.  If not, well, worst case scenario is that it becomes another one of my long term projects, something to keep me busy whenever we are in England.  In the absolute worst case, I suppose I could sell it again when we leave, but I'm hoping it won't come to that. We shall see!

02 August, 2013

And Now For Something Slightly Different

       Thursday the phone rang on my desk.  I very rarely answer my phone at work, most of the time I just let it ring.  This is because I am already too busy at work to take on any more work and because I enjoy celebrating the freedom I have NOT to answer it.  It seems that not everybody is able to simply not answer a phone, but I am.   I refuse to be a slave to some box of wires and diodes that screams incessantly at me.  If the person on the other end were standing next to me and saw that I was busy, doubtless he'd wait for a more convenient time.  Phones allow us to be unaccountably rude, screaming at people electronically and demanding that they speak to us.   On the whole, I much prefer e-mail.

        Call me and we'll talk about it.

        Anyway, so on Thursday afternoon my phone rang and for some reason I was sitting there when it rang and for some other reason I answered it.  It was Dave, who works in another department:

        "Hey, can we use the truck to move a big empty fuel tank from Aviation to the main centre?"
        "Ummmm, well, how big is it?"
         "30,000 litres."  He might as well have said "20 baths, a hin and two ephahs".  30,000 litres sounds big, but I really had no idea how big that might actually be.  I thought about it for a second, then decided that I could always drive there, decide it was too big and decide not to do it, and Aviation is only a few miles away, so...
         "Yeah, we can do it."
         "Great!  Do you want to drive or should we use one of our drivers?"   Hmmm.  Their truck driver tends to drive a little too fast for my tastes, and this sounds like a big, awkward load.
          "I'll do it."
          "Okay, see you around 9:00."

          Next morning, around 8:50 or so, I fired up the truck and started letting it warm up.  I asked Ben, who is a fairly new guy, if he wanted to get checked out in the truck as it seemed like it might be a good opportunity for training more truck drivers. He said yes and hopped in.

           At the Construction and Maintenance department we spoke with several different people who all had different ideas about how big the tank was.  One said 6 feet in diameter, another said 2.5 meters, another said something else.  Nobody seemed to be absolutely certain.  We threw a couple of tie down straps into the truck and off we went.

         When we got there, this is what we found:

      That tank is about 7 feet in diameter nad 23-24 feet long.  It also is pretty heavily constructed and weighs around 5 tons (!), and somehow nobody remembered to tell us that it had a bunch of pipes and stuff sticking out of the top of it that made it look like a small submarine.

     Well, we decided to go ahead and give it a go--the loader was able to lift it, but it couldn't go high enough to lift the tank over the side without the loader's back wheels coming off the ground, so he lifted it up just higher than the bed and Ben and I backed the truck up under it.  Once in place, the loader operator lowered the tank on to the truck and we tied it down.  The loader had to keep the tank lifted up just a little bit or else it would have tipped out of the truck while we were trying to tie it down.

       At first we had the tank tied down with heavy loading straps, using the original military tie-downs on the sides of the bed, but once we had it tied down that way, we weren't happy.  Right about then, Dave showed up in a pick-up truck with a bunch of chains in the back, so we used those and chained the tank down to the bed at the container twist-lock points--that made us feel much better about things.

        So now it looked like this:

     Loaded on to the back of the truck, from the ground to the top of the highest pipe sticking out of the tank is just over 21 feet.  So now we're taller than a double decker bus.   I don't remember what I was doing when this was taken--doubtless looking at that tall pipe and wondering if we were going to fit under the power lines.

       Rather than try to drive out the main gate from Aviation, (which leads down a number of tight turns and under a bunch of low power lines, etc., we decided to drive straight down the airstrip and out a gate that we were told was down there.  I asked the Aviation director to get us a key for the gate, he decided to just go open it himself.  By the time we got to the end of the runway, (we were going pretty slow because the heavy load was a little unstable) the director and a couple of the employees had decided that the truck was too wide to fit through the gate and so they decided to just take down the fence instead.  Here I am driving through the fence:

     From there I was able to turn on to a better road with only a few power lines over it, all of which turned out to be high enough for us to drive under.

      We made it to Ukarumpa without too much difficulty after that, though the entry gate had to be quickly modified in order for us to fit under it.  The load shifted quite a bit on the way, rolling a bit to the right.  Once back at Ukarumpa, the loader unloaded the tank.  In spite of our average return speed of 1 miles an hour, we beat the loader back and had to wait a few minutes for him to arrive.  Here we are, waiting for him to help us start unloading:

      So!  All in all a successful move.  And the mighty Heavy Metal Thunder proves its usefulness once again.

      In other news, I am way behind at work.  I'm having a lot of trouble keeping up with the load and it's starting to get me down--I'm tired of telling people "I'm sorry, but I don't have time for that." but it's true--I really don't have time for any more work--I think I'll be hard pressed to get the stuff that is in the shop done before we leave in October to go have a baby.  So if you know any motorcycle or small engine mechanics who might be interested in this weird life I live, send them my way!!!  

20 June, 2013

Well, it HAS been a while, hasn't it?

        Shortly after my last post I turned 40.  Suddenly, I was being picked to serve on all these committees, like the Executive Committee of the local branch of the organisation I serve with, a sub committee on that committee which is re-examining the way we govern ourselves here,  another committee dedicated to improving the Tok Pisin language and Melanesian culture school that we run for new people coming to work here from other countries, and an informal committee looking into the best ways to repair and maintain airstrips around PNG.

        At work I've suddenly found myself accepting the role of "Assistant Manager" which means that I have to spend even more time in the office, chained to my computer.  At the same time, more motorcycles and small engines have been pouring in to be worked on.

        At home I often find myself working on e-mails or reading materials related to the various committees that I am now on.

        Anyway, I'm here now.  In the ever diminishing amount of spare time that I have, I've been working on this bike:

It's a 1989 Honda NX650 that I bought from a place in Tennessee where I used to work.  When I got it, it was missing a cylinder head, the clutch cover, all the reduction gears for the electric starter, and all the body work.  A lot of the missing parts I had here from an XL600R that I parted out. (that's why I have a kick starter on this NX now).  Other parts, like th ecylinder head, the 1970 SL350 fenders and the starter reduction gears, all came from eBay.  The fuel tank is from a 2 stroke Suzuki Ag bike (a TF125, I think?).  The cylinder was wrecked from having sat outside int he weather for a year without a head bfore I bought it, so I had to bore it out.  I decided to go ahead and go with a big bore kit and went out to 675cc.  The bike had a nearly new rear tire on it when I got it and the front tire on it now is another new one that was given to me by somebody who left a few years ago.  I know the CDI boxes on these things are like the ones on the later XR650L's--that is to say that they are unreliable and DC powered.  After doing some searching on the internet I discovered that switching to an XR style stator would allow me to run an XR style AC powered CDI box that is much more reliable than the original one was.  I'm going for a somewhat battered look on this one, which is why I am deliberately using a tank with a dent in it, a slightly mangked set of fenders, etc.  I want people to look a this bike and wonderif maybe I rode it here from the US.

That's it for now.

      Anyway, I'll keep you posted!