Monday, March 29, 2010

Rear undercarriage

Did you but have chickens you would know why they bring you to the point of writing poetry. My wife keeps chickens and I have composed the following, to be hummed liltingly to the tune of Mary Had A Little Lamb.

There certainly isn't a shortage of manure if you keep chickens,
On the path,
Beneath my left shoe where I wasn't watching;
Chickens do a-lot-of-manure,
And hardly any eggs, the little bastards.

It doesn't scan or rhyme terribly convincingly and if I were a Japanese Zen master I would edit it down to a Haiku, possibly involving the word 'plop!' like that one about the frog and the pond:



However I'm not a Zen master nor, it will be discerned, much of a poet, and to compensate the world for this grievous loss here are three photographs showing how I cobbled together the rear undercarriage of my not-Japanese wagon. It has 406 rear wheels. If I was witty I could probably cobble together a joke about Error 404 Only 2 Rear Wheels but I am assuming everyone reading this knows what a 406 wheel is and has no interest whatever in my utterly pathetic sense of yumour.

If they don't, then a 406 wheel is a BMX 20 inch and it isn't 20 inches at all and neither is a 451 which is a Raleigh 20 twenty inch. Why they call them 'twenty inch' wheels can only be explained by a Zen master. The front wheels are 349, which vaguely means 16 inches.

1. Which of course loosely translates as
A frog jumps into a pond
I can't remember the last line, or the other two come to that

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Wagon forecarriage

My son has just called me a twat. He was practising Dvorak's Humoresque; I felt moved to accompany him as if it were funeral march. After five bars of this he looked scathingly at me for a silent moment and declared
'God you're a twat,'
and I felt very proud of how discerning he has become.

Because I am.

Anyone else would have designed the pivot of a wagon in an instant; it took me days and days to think of a head tube. Which, eventually, I did because it admits of a full lock, and your first wagon, which has a feeble half lock, soon teaches you that the front wheels need to be able to turn right round and point backwards if the thing's going to be used in the garden. And that leads to another design concern: maximum body height is 20 inches or the thing will topple over from time to time when a female person of the opposite sex treats it like a mobile compost heap, which I strongly suspect will happen since she bloody well never empties the cart, the hateful witch. - Not that I would ever criticise my wife, other than here in this obscure little corner of the Internet which I happen to know she doesn't visit - Given that this is a monocoque and that one axle needs suspension so that irregularities of the ground don't result in an occasional aerial wheel, this dictates 16 inch front wheels and in turn this necessitates nicking them off my bike trailer because those ones are already sprung.

I use car valve springs because they're free: your New Zealand Councillor has decided that recycling a car shall cost you fifty dollars, and the result, predictable to everyone bar politicians, is an endless supply of donor vehicles up the Old Coach Road. (Or was. Until they clear-felled it, when dumping became rather more risky.)

Car valve springs bounce up and down rather excitably so you have to tame them by lashing several under compression with big zip ties. We dignify this makeshift by calling it 'pre-load' so that wives-and-daughters think we know what we're talking about. In theory the bouncy bit needs a firm attachment to the not-bouncy-bit. In practice notched tubes work though I do weld tiny internal stubs to the dead axle, around which the bottom springs are jammed solid.

For this wagon the bike trailer's four springs were augmented with two more, making three for each wheel, piled on top of one another and tightened down with my zip ties.

Basic welding turns a head tube into a rotating tripod, the verticality (is there such a word?) being determined by using a kitchen cupboard door as a welding jig, bolting the supports to it before welding. Yes of course there's some distortion. That's what hammers were invented for. Anyway how accurate d'you want the steering to be for goodness' sake? It's only a hand wagon. And before my son affords me any more schoolyard commentary, the cupboard door was pre-chucked-out. My family are astonishingly stupid, admittedly, but not stupid enough not to note a sudden surfeit of drilled holes and welding scorch marks on the kitchen furniture.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Blue Magic

Wooden farm wagons have no suspension. They twist. A small stiff monocoque wagon needs suspension so that potholes don't result in an occasional aerial wheel.

Suspension is admirable except when it gets ruined by Blue Magic. We had a blue Moulton once but Blue Magic got to it, which we deduced because it resulted in The Blue Magic Nut. It was not especially magic, confining itself solely to the act of vanishing. It sheared off the rear swing arm leaving a small boy and me to ride back, slightly lop-sided, from Quorn one October day in 1999. A Blue Magic Nut is irresistible to a four-year-old and we spent many hours on subsequent occasions searching when he mislaid it, until, thankfully, the magic ran out of one end and it vanished forever. Is there really something about Blue and small boys? I am reminded of the tale of Louis Knight's blue bear, and because I can't remember the details I have very kindly emailed Mr & Mrs Knight, asking:

I need to do a blog entry on Sucky Blue so you'd best tell me the story again so I don't get it wrong. I remember
a) Louis
b) five or more Sucky Blues
c) radiator. - R

Mr & Mrs Knight have very kindly emailed back:

Sucky Blue.

When Louis was a very tiny baby somebody bought him a medium sized, blue teddy bear. It was an instant success and spent considerable periods of time with either one of its ears or its tail firmly wedged in his mouth. Louis' not the bear's. Over time the ears and tail began to show signs of wear and tear, partickly when he started to get teeth. Louis not the bear. Also the bear had began to smell a bit like a teenager's bedroom and when removed for washing we had a tantrum fest. A plan emerged; we scoured local shops and eventually found an identical medium sized blue bear in a pristine unsucked condition. We waited until Louis was asleep and performed the substitution. We actually watched him until he woke up to see if the pretender would be accepted or rejected. He woke and immediately put the new bear's ear in his mouth. Out it came again and he looked very hard at it. Finally, he decided it really must be Sucky Blue and in it went again. The subterfuge was complete and we could wash either Sucky Blue as often as needed. As more teeth emerged we were forced to extend the plan and ended up with five Sucky Blues at the peak of the operation. We were able to carefully control the integration of the newcomers to ensure that all bears maintained the same state of suckedness. Obviously such a deception required that all bears other than the current Sucky Blue were hidden from view and only swapped when Louis was asleep. Eventually of course, the inevitable happened. We had just returned from holiday and all five Sucky Blues needed a good wash. Louis was asleep and all the bears got washed and lined up on top of a radiator to dry in a hurry. (Gah, do you remember radiators and central heating? How I miss a warm house) For some reason Louis woke and wandered down stairs to find us. He stood transfixed before the radiator in a state of shock. We were unsure how he would react; we thought he might be angry at the deception. It turned out that it was all his birthdays and Christmases at once. He shook with uncontrolled delight.
We now only have the two Sucky Blues. We had to throw three away because they got so bad that washing had little effect. Louis maintains that he still knows which is which and that there is only one real Sucky Blue.
We tried the same trick with Claudia and her toy rabbit, Kerry. Sadly she saw through the trick and rejected the identical imposter immediately. Even now the spare rabbit sits on a shelf unloved and is known as K2. K2 is pristine and Kerry is totally munted. - Bob

Er - where were we? Suspension is what I was on about and I was about to deliver the revelation that the children's wagon has full suspension and, when you're unloading your forty-foot container, it sways with a lathe bed on board.

So I have concluded that for stability, only one pair of wheels should be sprung. And this ties in with what I have concluded about bike trailers, which is that no pairs of wheels should be sprung because when you put 50kg of chicken wheat on the back, the trailer sways from side to side and is Most Annoying.

A sprung trailer, that sways. And is about to have its wheels cannibalised

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Wagon wheels

Foreign wagons, large & small, in Motueka saleroom, with 'forks' on the front axles.
Wagon wheels have stub axles unless they're made by Foreigners. German wagons had forks both back and front. Bizarre. Motueka is full of ladies' mountain bicycles fitted with black wire baskets, the lower support attached to the front axle of suspension forks. Bizarre. (Of course the baskets break; what else can they do?)

Wagon wheels are properly made of wood and shod in iron but I go for tyre availability. Wheels I have aplenty: they're what you make when you can't think of anything else to do, like my mother sequentially buying Stead and Simpson green pastel sandals of which she eventually had twenty-four identical pairs. Bizarre. Old people get into odd habits. I merely build wheels.

The children's wagon originally had kiddies' bike wheels, and I just winched the cones over on the three-eighths axles thinking the children didn't weigh much and wouldn't bend them. Sean Greenhough put me right. Sean Greenhough was a small lad who you'd notice standing on top of the telephone kiosk, and after he battle-tested the wagon they got replaced with proper stub axles. Three-eighths is too small but some Phil Woods wheelchair hubs with a seven-sixteenths bolt, given to me by Peter Carruthers, have been fine. Wheelchair hubs are obtained from my wife's mother's wheelchair, which you leave propped up on bricks. - She won't notice. - Otherwise 12mm is the normal minimum.

Rear hub bored out & fitted with 6003 bearings

Certain alloy MTB hubs, both front and back, have enough metal to be machined out to accept 6003 bearings, with a five-eighths tube as a spacer and a 12mm bolt as the stub axle. One bearing housing has to be machined oversize and assembled with Loctite because there's no hope of accuracy if the hub has to be reversed in the chuck. Only metric bearings are cheap in New Zealand and attempts to get bargain half-inch ID bearings from America always founder when visiting friends-or-relations fail to show the required sourcing enthusiasm and expect me to thank them for a tee-shirt. Why do aunts buy the children socks for Christmas? Ever known a child grateful for socks? We have to do a lot of editing of their thank-you letters though frankly I prefer the originals. 'Dear Aunt, Thank you for the purple knitted woolly hat which I can really see my friends casting covetous eyes at', or 'Dear Aunt, Oh! how thoughtful. How did you know I lacked one of those small iron men made out of horse-shoe nails welded together and painted black?'
Front hub bored out & fitted with 6003 bearings

Nowadays BMX front wheels have 14mm axles and the cheap ones have cones which can be wound across to one side to make a stub axle. I found two 36 hole hubs but they're normally 48 hole. The expensive ones with sealed bearings have a shoulder machined on the 14mm axle and require more brain power than I have available to adapt to wagons.

14mm axle with cones wound over to make stub axle

Welding bolts into a dead axle with my MIG is tricky owing to low power. It's supposed to be 150 amps but I suspect Team Exaggerating Bastards were in control of the advertising department that day, so I cut the ends off my bolts, pop them in the 3-jaw, and machine them into tubes so they don't act as a heat sink when plug-welded into 5/8 mild steel tube. There is not a chance that the bolts will be in line, so I put the wheels on and rotate the dead axle watching the wheel rims wobble in and out, selecting for the top the point at which rim distance front and back is exactly equal as measured with my pointy-lecture-telescopic-pen-thingy.

14mm axle bolted through box section, with spacer inside to stop it being crushed

Mounting holes can be drilled through box-section tube, and over-sized spacers machined to a tight length-wise inside fit get poked down into the square tube so the clamping bolt pinches the spacer and doesn't just squidge the box-section. Parallel wheels are vital on a bike trailer for low rolling resistance but slightly less so on a wagon where one only seeks to reduce tyre wear. But welding axles so they're perfectly in line is fiendishly difficult, unless you confine yourself to theory. I would never, ever put a finished dead axle in the vice and straighten it with a big hammer. Never. Not ever. Not even once. Nope, certainly not. Unless I had to.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Wagon box

Lots of vigorous woodwork, or if you're German, lots of wigorous voodvork. Willow is easily sawn and sanded though rather less easily planed and chiselled. Two bulbous planks suggested Oxfordshire Bow Wagon sides, while four others carefully matched to one another for maximum width and draw-knifed to a close fit make the box base. Overall dimensions are set by the available tree and the inexorable fact of 28 inch doorways.

The rave and strouters (beautiful word. No wagon can be made without strouters) give 10 inch high sides and the wooden staves, mortised and glued and pinned with treenails into the shutlocks, obviate the need for horrible corner irons to stop the sides flopping over when subjected to lateral stress such as children are wont to afford. (Shall I tell you what raves and staves and treenails are? Nope; I'm feeling unkind. And you'll have to go and find books on wagons in the Library because Google struggles with strouters and shutlocks.)

Everything bolted together with coach bolts because that's what they were invented for, and glued with this fantastic strong foaming polyurethane waterproof glue which in the southern hemisphere is sold as Selley's Aquadhere but is probably called something quite different in Heaps of Sileby, that is assuming Heaps hasn't been bankrupted by Loughborough B&Q. I liked Heaps of Sileby; it always sounded so apposite. Heaps was the ironmonger and Sileby was the downmarket version of Barrow and Barrow was the downmarket version of Quorn and it always amazed me that the people in Toiletpipe Terrace who lived opposite didn't move there to feel more at home. Toiletpipe Terrace was so called because by every front door ran a large ventilation pipe on which the postlady warmed her hands on frosty mornings. Toiletpipe Terrace was famously inhabited by a pallid fat boy of about twenty with zits, a baseball hat, and a D-reg Ford Escort with a personalised number plate from which we deduced that his name was A2ONY L. On Saturday mornings he used to take the wheels off and play loud thump-thump-thump music and everybody in the street hated it (I asked) and he did Routine Maintenance, though what that maintenance may have been I never knew because our car didn't have its wheels off from one year to the next nor did it ever seem to need to. He had a friend called Master Batey with a florid green Renault 5 and the number plate B19TEY, the 19 being so disposed as to look like an A. He too played loud thump-thump-thump music on a Saturday morning and the pallid fat boy used to take Batey's wheels off to compare them, and sometimes other young men came round too, thump-thump-thump, and everybody pulled wheels off all over the place and it was all agreeably mysterious and puzzling. Once the pallid fat boy left his car propped up on bricks with black plastic bags over the brake drums, but in the event he found the plastic bags weren't nearly as good as wheels and he put them back on. When these young mortals had finished comparing wheels they drove vigorously round the village, thump-thump-thumping coming from the music systems with which each car was fitted, and sometimes they squealed their brakes to a standstill and sometimes they squealed their tyres from a standstill, but as they none of them seemed to work at gainful employment I always wondered that they needed to have a wheel inspection of a Saturday morning when there were so many other mornings open to them. I expect they're all respectable banking executives nowadays.

Heaps of Sileby was unchanged from 1954 where bolts were tumbled into stout brown paper bags and the ironmongers wore brown stable coats and thick pebbled glasses and almost certainly spent the evenings studying LBSC and making Petrolea or Titch. The only good thing about Loughborough B&Q was the bullet drills and the brass tubing for model steam engines, neither of which are readily available or indeed available at all in the heaving retail splendour of Motueka (pop.n 7,485).

Er - where were we? -

The children's wagon sides are only five and a half inches high and it's smaller in proportion, and to reduce navigational damage, narrower. Might as well give dimensions:
(Children's) wagon box base:
Internally 11 and a quarter inches wide, and
Internally 36 and a quarter inches long, and
The top o'the box splays out to 17 and a quarter inches.

This new wagon:
Internally 17 inches wide, and
Internally 48 inches long, and
Width at the top 25 inches.

The sloping headboard on the children's wagon made for some tricky mortising, no surface being at right angles to any other. But beauty requires a sloping headboard, so a strategic strouter, bolted to it and in turn bolted to the side planks and raves, obviates the mortising and just needs a bit of cunningly angled sanding for good gluing joints. All the straggly bits get buzzed off afterwards with an angle grinder to make my woodwork look far better than it is. Nobody is deceived except myself, and if they're quarrelsome I shall tell the critics it's the Vernacular Look and if that doesn't shut them up then I'll take the wheels off and play loud thump-thump-thump music by way of punishment.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


A wagon made by an artist

Right, boys and girls, I'm making a wagon. What d'you mean, why? Since when did why? figure in our discussions? Because I like making wagons, that's why, and it's a jolly fine reason. I do not need a wagon; I already have one. Well the children do, and even now they're grown up they still play on it, scooting up and down the road to the annoyance of the neighbours who think we're irresponsible parents in which matter they're entirely correct.

As a matter of fact I am genetically disposed to make wagons; it is in my blood. I had an ancestor who edited The Coach Builders’, Harness Makers’ and Saddlers’ Art Journal - a snappy little title - of which I have seen this many copies: 0. But I know it's genetic because my brother made a wagon and he's an engineer and never normally makes anything without a motor and wagons don't have motors. He couldn't help himself. He went innocently to bed one night and suddenly came to in his workshop and there was a wagon he'd just built.
A wagon made by an engineer

The purpose of a wagon is to look pretty. Engineers all want it to be functional but this is nonsense. All wagons are functional and the chief function is prettiness and my wagon is so pretty that passers-by stop and ask me if I made it and then call me brilliant, which I need to hear since Kaye next door seldom does. She calls me Ruptured instead. 'Hello, Ruptured,' she says when we find ourselves simultaneously emptying the bins. At least, I think this is what she says; it might just be the famous New Zealand Vowel Shift which all the linguists are presently writing their PhDs on. We like the New Zealand Vowel Shift. The local schoolchildren all try to make you say Six and when you do they giggle furiously. My wife has had to learn to say Six because otherwise the patients don't understand her. They really don't. 'When did you last have Six?' she sometimes has to ask, mostly of the high school girls. Otherwise they think she's talking about Sacks, and get very confused.

The new wagon is the result of a felled willow tree given to us for free firewood, but I happen to know that wagon floorboards were willow because it's tough and doesn't splinter, so it got turned into wagon planks instead. Each plank is 19.05 mm thick because I eschew Imperial measurements, and it's as wide as I could get it. The game is to saw thick, and plane thin after a summer's seasoning. Planer-thicknessers are little troubled by willow, which is light and fluffy. I imagine willow won't last 20 years but oak firewood is scarce in Motueka. Does linseed oil preserve cricket bats for longer? Anyway willow is light, and the children's oak wagon is surprisingly heavy even though the planks are a mere 12.7 mm thick.

Now, a word about words because the dictionaries don't agree with one another. A wagon has four wheels and a cart has two and if you don't agree then I'll fight you. And I'll fight you if you call it a trolley like that rat-faced bloke in Beacon Cycles once did, because it isn't low and trolleys have to be low. Wagons aren't low. And anyway a trolley sounds like a thing on platform 4 of March Station, and my wagon is très elegant. I forget why I went into Beacon Cycles, but he was disparaging about my wagon and he was disparaging about my recumbent and he had a face like a rodent, except for the ears. He was ugly in a different way from Rhodes Boyson but I'm not choosy. I'd like to have had him shot just the same.

A cart, having two wheels. And a daughter, having a biscuit

Monday, March 8, 2010


When I grow up I'm going to be a Businessman because I've thought of a dead easy way to make money. When computers were made out of lots of tape recorders gathered together in a big room there was this innovation called the Space Invaders machine, a toughened box like all others in the Students' Union fitted with a slot for 10p coins and two electric buttons that you punched wildly until you got exterminated whereupon you abandoned the electric buttons and kicked the shit out of it. All the machines in the Students' Union were toughened. All of them had scuff-marks from frenzied kickings. And the kicking was the important bit. When broken people would still feed them coins, and then the kicking would commence with added vigour and deliver greater satisfaction.

At 20 to 7 each morning RadioNZ broadcasts a brief report entitled Business and the other morning I learnt that 42below, an Auckland company manufacturing vodka, is about to enhance its market share of fragrances and body butter. Fragrances! Body butter! I'm not sure I care to know what one does with body butter, but if people pay for the stuff, making money's going to be a doddle.

TOAD Hall (it stands for The Old Anglican Diocese Hall, sold off by the church due to lack of patronage) doesn't do body butter but they do a wicked line in ice creams. Actually it's the shop where we buy our vegetables. The owner used to be a North Island farmer, but:
'One day we saw our neighbour emptying a drum of old pesticide into the river. "Out of sight, out of mind" he said cheerfully. I asked him if his grandchildren didn't swim at the beach at the river-mouth. "That's their problem" he said, and that's when we decided to move.'

Toad stands at the outskirts of Motueka and draws tourists in but since tourists don't buy carrots and broccoli, Toad sells tourist-grade ice creams of such magnificence that they feature in American gourmets' travel blogs (Do people really feel the Internet needs such reflections as
Wow! Lamb chops and venison sausages in several flavors, Thai rice mixes, flavored tuna (we get Thai chili and smoked) in the can, and interesting chip flavors (prosciutto and brie, chorizo and tomato).? Well yes they do as a matter of fact.)

Yesterday outside Toad I had my recumbent discussed at me by one of these ice cream tourists. Slurping cheerfully at a luminous pink confection with his great big flapping tongue he had watched me ride in, park the bike and go off to buy bananas, and on my return he graced me with a short but instructive talk on why he would not ride such a machine - too low, too uncomfortable, too inefficient and the triangle of forces would prevent my being able to balance properly. At the conclusion of his lecture (slurp, slurp) he asked me if recumbents are commercially available and what one would cost. I told him. He was horrified.
'But that's six times as much as my mountain bike cost!' (slurp).

So when I become a Businessman I won't sell useful things like bicycles or broccoli. No; I'm going for body butter and excess tourist nutriment. Except that to save paying wholesale for body butter - or at least finding out what it is - I'm reverting to student days for an even better idea.

I'm going to make a stout box with a slot in it and a sign that says 'Please give me your advice on something you've never seen before and don't know anything about.'

Tourists are so gloriously stupid that they'll immediately put money in the slot. There'll be a button to press but it will have no effect at all. After pressing the button a few times and finding that the box isn't receptive to advice, they'll kick the shit out of it. Honour will have been satisfied and a useful contribution will have been made to New Zealand's GDP. And once a year I'll don a dark suit and tie and report my profits on the RadioNZ Business programme.