Thursday, July 28, 2005

Motorcycle Honeymoon *---Part #2

In the morning, the temps had fallen into the 40’s overnight, and according to the weather channel were expected to continue to fall all day… not exactly the best news when your only mode of transportation is a motorcycle, and you’re away from home!

One of the places we wanted to see was the Train museum in Roanoke, so despite the weather we packed the bikes, suited up and headed out. By the time we reached the museum, the temps were in the lower 40’s, but the sun was out and riding, in town at least, didn’t seem all that bad. We had a great time in the museum checking out a ton of historical train info and climbing around on old locomotives, but, by the time we were ready to leave, it had started to snow, and snow fairly heavily, these great big flakes that reminded me of the ‘lake effect’ snow we’d get when I lived in North Bay.

Undaunted we headed out anyway. We rode over to a Department of Environmental Conservation office in Southeastern VA, where Donna had once worked, before Tim snatched her off to a ‘life of luxury’ so she could say Hi to some old friends. As we sat in the parking lot, it continued to snow, enough that it was beginning to cover the grass, but the pavement remained only wet.

Once Donna had finished chatting with her old friends we headed out. One of the places we had still had to go was to the motel where her parents were staying, as she would not be taking the rest of the trip with us. Donna was going to visit with her parents and hop a flight back to Kansas City, while Tim and Steve hooked it back on the bikes later in the week.

When we got to Donna’s folks room, they were kind enough to let us all hang out in there and get warmed up, before we threw a leg, pointed the bikes towards the Blue Ridge Parkway and headed out once again. The higher we climbed in the mountains the cooler it got. It did stop snowing, but it continued to get colder by the hour, not warmer. We had to drop off the parkway in at least two places that I remember as it had been closed due to ice and snow.

Late that afternoon we decided to call it a day and slipped into ‘Fancy Gap’ to find some warm food, and hopefully an even warmer motel room. We found a motel, the only one there in Fancy Gap; it was definitely NOT the Marriot! The rooms were marginally clean, the bathrooms, well, suffice it to say neither my wife, nor I, were willing to shower in there. There was more “black” in the shower stalls than there was on our leathers!!

We checked in, cranked the heat up and walked a couple of hundred yards down the road to the local restaurant. As I recall, the food was acceptable, barely, but the company was good and the coffee was hot, and we ended up laughing about the day and our ‘chilled to the bone’ bodies.

I don’t know how everyone else slept, but Maryan and I slept the sleep of the dead. We laid down, with at least me having initial thoughts that had nothing to do with ‘sleeping’, but, the next thing I knew sunlight was streaming through the windows and it was morning. I don’t think either of us ‘moved’ all night. We were still cuddled up like I remembered us being the night before… and it took everything I had, to get up out of bed, go get some coffee from the office and get our day started.

It wasn’t long before everyone was up, the bikes repacked (which by the way, is almost a ritual on motorcycle road trips) with all our gear and we were once again suited up against the cold and heading out.

This day was even colder than the previous one, the difference being the sun was out and we had high hopes it would warm up. It would, but warm up meant it got all the way up to 42 degrees! I remember at one point, around noon, we had to drop down off the parkway again, as yet another section was closed due to ice and snow, and found ourselves in some little town South of Fancy Gap, but still North of Little Switzerland.

We found a local hardware store there, and initially went inside to see what we could find in the way of gloves, either to wear over, or under the ones we already had. When we got inside however, they had this huge old coal stove sitting in the middle of the store. It was all stoked up and pouring out an incredible amount of heat.

The four of us ended up standing around this stove; it was so big I’m not sure we could have all held hands. One by one we were opening up our jackets and letting that heat soak in, each of us taking a little journey to the ‘glove isle’ only to wander back to the stove again. The shopkeeper was very friendly, and sympathetic to our plight, he even pointed us to the best of the local diners for lunch.

I wish I could remember the name of the town, and that store, to give them credit for being so hospitable, unfortunately I can’t.

I do remember we bought sever pairs of gloves, some thinner, cotton types to act as glove liners, and Maryan I think got some X-Large leather work gloves to wear over her regular riding gloves.

Once we’d all gotten as warm as we could stand and had lunch, we once again saddled up and headed out looking for the next entrance to the parkway. Once we found it and got back up on the Blue Ridge it felt as though the temperatures had dropped another 10 degrees, I’m not sure it actually did but the wind was just cutting though us. It was the first time, in all my years of riding, that I actually found myself wishing I’d installed a windshield on a bike! The wind was just that cold.

I should mention that it wasn’t for ‘lack of gear’ that we were cold. I was wearing leather pants, with leather chaps over those, an undershirt, a long sleeved pullover top and a flannel shirt, underneath my insulated leather jacket, a full face helmet and heavy ‘winter’ gauntlet style riding gloves. Maryan, Tim and Steve were all similarly attired, however both Tim and Steve had windshields (wimps!).

We cruised down the ridge eventually reaching Little Switzerland around 3:00, maybe 4:00 in the afternoon. We’d initially intended to stay at the famous ‘Lodge’ there, but on arrival we discovered they wanted over $120/night and that simply wasn’t in the budget!

I’m glad it wasn’t, because about a quarter of a mile down the mountain was this small little motel/restaurant that had rooms for about $40/night and the restaurant served beer!

So we checked in, got relaxed and cleaned up (the bathrooms here were very clean!) and headed over to the bar for a little post ride, pre-supper BS session. I remember this as one of the best meals we had on the trip, and that the four of us laughed all through dinner.

The best part was yet to come though, as after dinner the waiter suggested we enjoy the sunset on the deck. It was absolutely perfect! The building sheltered us from the wind, and the sun was setting over the mountains as we all sat there, talking and marveling at the view. It was a $40 motel, with a million dollar view, one we most likely would have missed if we’d stayed in the ‘better’ place!

Part #3… to follow… If we hit a hotel with access along the way… well then I’ll post it before I get back, if not… I’ll post it when I get back!!

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Motorcycle Honeymoon... Part #1

I know most people dream of taking a honeymoon trip to Hawaii, Tahiti or some other exotic place, and to some degree so did Maryan and I. We were kind of short on cash though. We’d recently finished renovating the home we’d bought, and (as those of you who’ve gutted a home and put it back together know) it had really sucked up all of our available funds.

We’d picked April 16th as our wedding date, spring is in full bloom here in North Carolina then, and knew we would be getting married in Roanoke, Va. just a short hop from the Blue Ridge Parkway.

As we started letting folks we knew, know about our plans, a couple of things happened. First, my boss at the time wanted us to have the wedding at his house, complete with a reception afterward. While it was a wonderful gesture on his part, we were looking for something a little less ‘grand’ and a lot more private. Second, my old riding buddy Tim (and his wife Donna) wanted to be around for the wedding, and planned on riding his bike in from Kansas City, Mo.

Maryan and I talked about it, and decided that getting married and taking a bike trip for the honeymoon would be a kick, so we started making plans.

We found a Justice of the Peace in Roanoke to perform the ceremony, found a bike friendly motel (that means rooms on the first floor where you can park the bike right outside the room) nearby that was reasonably priced and clean, and let Tim, and another friend of mine, Greg know what the plans were.

The week before we planned to get married the weather was absolutely beautiful, upper 70’s, a couple of days were almost 80, the humidity was low and everything was beginning to bloom. We were looking forward to a great trip, with some of my good friends Maryan had already met Tim and Donna at a “Honda Hoot” in Asheville, NC shortly after she and I had met, but Greg, she’d only heard stories about. I was excited about us all getting together as Maryan and Donna had gotten along well at the hoot, and Greg, well he’s another one of those unique folks I’ve met along the way and I was certain they’d get along great!

The week of our wedding however, the weather cooled off some, and the day we were leaving we flirted with an overcast sky, rain shower, and cold temps all the way to Roanoke. We got in early though, made a call to the JP and she said it was fine, we should just come on over and we’ve have the ceremony early; which is exactly what we did.

We got married in this woman’s home, and she was a very warm and welcoming person, making us immediately comfortable in her home and telling us quite a bit actually about her life before getting to the vows and the legal stuff.

She was a pretty cool old woman too; as I recall she was 87, widowed and retired, and that she explained she did the wedding ceremonies because she enjoyed seeing happy couples and helping them get started on their new lives together.

I remember as we left her house, a married couple now, the sun was shining and the air had warmed considerably, it was like us getting married had changed, not only our lives, the weather, for the better!!

We went and had a little lunch and headed back to the motel for some ‘alone time’. “Some”, alone time is exactly what we got. We’d….ummmmmmmm… gotten comfortable when a series of ‘knocks’ began occurring at our door. Now being newlyweds and all we were not about to be jumping up to answer the door!! I’m sure they all thought it was quite funny... I was not thinking ‘funny’ at the time!

Eventually we did get up and look out the door, and what did we find but a bottle of champagne and a note wishing us well. Well we decided it would be rude of us not to ‘toast’ our recent union, so we popped the cork and poured a couple of glasses.

Shortly after that Greg showed up, we all talked for a bit, and then we decided we needed to go out, and have a nice dinner to celebrate the day. We found a restaurant in downtown Roanoke called “Frankie B’s”. It wasn’t a big place, small actually, but the atmosphere was definitely 1st class. So the three of us headed off to dinner, Greg drove which allowed Maryan and I to imbibe as part of our celebration.

I remember Maryan ordered a lobster, and when they brought it out, they had completely removed the lobster from its shell for her. She had all the flavor, and none of the work!! I know we had at least two, possibly three bottles of wine with dinner. I know I ordered one, Greg ordered one and I think (at least that’s how I remember it) the restaurant brought us one ‘on the house’.

That wasn’t all they did either. The owner sent us desert, the entire staff signed a menu for us, and throughout it all the service, atmosphere and food were excellent. (If they’re still there, and you’re in Roanoke, I’d highly recommend it!!)

After dinner we headed back to the motel once again, Maryan and I fully intending to slip off into our room for some more ‘alone time’… However, when we got back to the motel, Tim, Donna and a buddy of his Steve, had arrived. We’d been expecting them in the morning, but they’d made better time than expected and were here now. A few hours of where are we going, what time should we leave etc followed before we kicked everyone out.

Tomorrow... Part #2, the trip begins...

Just a reminder, we'll be away for about a week. I'm visiting soem friends up North, attending my goddaughters graduation party and in general trying to relax and enjoy my wife, and some good friends.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Five things I miss from childhood....

Comfort Addict tagged me with this one, it was fun trying to think of the top five things I miss.

1) Ice cream on the way home from the pool

There was a public pool, near the high school, in the town where I grew up. In the summer it was often one of those places we’d gravitate to when the weather got really hot. I have these memories of the “Mr. Frosty” ice cream truck, and how sometimes as we were walking the couple of miles back home it would pass, and once in a while I’d have enough money to buy a cone. I’m sure, that ‘soft-serve’ stuff they served wasn’t really all that good, but to me, then, it was the best thing ever.

2) Playing in the woods

Summer was a time when I could vanish with my friends into the ‘woods’, which in reality were simply a couple of vacant lots at the end of the street. To us though, it could be the wilderness, a jungle… essentially anything we wanted it to be. We’d build forts, hideouts, dig ‘foxholes’ and play Army… climb the trees and spy on the neighbors…

3) Not knowing how life works

The naiveté of youth. We were poor, but I didn’t know it then. I always had food to eat, clothes to wear, a warm bed and a roof over my head… who knew what it actually took to provide all of that? I didn’t know about homeless people, starving people were the people my parents told me would ‘like’ the dinner I didn’t want. Small kids like me, well, we just got to be kids… I do miss that

4) The taste of everything being new

When I was young, I had (and actually still do) an almost inexhaustible energy for anything that was ‘new’, new to me that is. As far back as I can recall, when ever I’d get interested in something new, everything else ceased to matter. I’d focus on that one thing until I’d discovered all I could about it. While I still have the desire, and the energy at times, I simply don’t have that ‘luxury’ these days.

5) Music

Music that I related to that is. I listen to, and enjoy all (well, most) types of music, but, as a kid it seemed to speak to me. I could identify with all the lyrics, they made sense in my life then. I suppose it was because the artists were close to my age, and going through similar emotions… but, I still miss that!!

Friday, July 22, 2005

Yet another twist in the road…

I worked from home today, always a nice break from the 50 minute commute (each way) to the client site.

As usual I was having a stellar day. For whatever reason I really get a lot more done when I’m able to sit here, in my office, at my PC, than whenever I’m anywhere else. I suppose it could have to do with ever single tool and utility I’ve created over the years is here, or, that I’m just more focused for some reason, regardless, I was having a very productive day.

Then, at about 4:00pm I received an email fro my project manager, and the entire sync project I’ve been working on since March is being “re-scoped”. For those of you who don’t know, that’s about the same as saying we’re going “back to the drawing board”. Talk about letting the wind out of your sails! She was upbeat however, as always, making it clear it was in industry decision and not the result of our work so far.

I can’t help but thinking that it’s a mistake to go back at this point. That they were so close to having a system that would work, short term, and that could be expanded over the next year or so to incorporate all the additional items they really need.

Well, it’s not my call, nor is it my client’s call, it’s an industry deal we’re working on, so if they (the industry representatives) want to revamp the project it’s entirely within their scope to do so. I can’t help thinking though, if they’d just waited 4 more weeks, until we hit preliminary testing, most, if not all of their concerns would have slipped away.

Such is the nature of the contract life though. We’re never really ‘in the mix’, more facilitators of the deliverables.

I’m so glad I didn’t have to be outside today though… the last I checked the heat index was still at 104… like it was from about 1:30 this afternoon. In that kind of heat it takes about half of the trip home for my car to cool down enough to approach comfortable! Instead, I’ve enjoyed the AC in the house, and am now listening to the approach of the afternoon thundershower we’ve been promised!

I’ve got some plans for the truck this weekend, but maybe half days (mornings) and then I’ll tackle some ‘interior’ house projects (where there’s AC) in the afternoons.

I’m also tossing around some thoughts on another series of memories posts, hopefully I can get something written and posted over the weekend.

We’re pretty busy making final plans for the trip up North as that time is rapidly approaching, and I’m really looking forward to seeing a lot of my old friends again!

I’ll be seeing Whit, and Mitch and Jack for sure, I’m hopeful though that I’ll be able to hook up with a few more as well! I know my Mom and Andy are planning to come up to the lake for at least one day, and possibly one (or more) of my siblings will make their way up as well. I’m pretty much playing it by ear, like I always do with vacations. I’m a sort of have a couple “want to do’s” and let the rest just happen, type of vacation person.

Maybe it’s because so much of the rest of my year revolves around goals, plans, deadlines and fitting things to the rules other have, that I enjoy no plans, goals or itineraries when I’m on vacation.

My ideal vacation is similar to the one Maryan and I took a few years ago. We knew we’d be gone 14 days, our general ‘destination’ was Denver and the Rockies, and that we’d be meeting up with my biker buddy Tim and his wife Donna in Kansas City on the way. Other than that we really had no plans at all. No reservations… just us, the bike, some clothes, convenience items and the road.

We still talk about how much fun that trip was!

I think I should write a story about that trip for y’all… what do you think?

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Life’s little twists…

Some of you may remember the posts I made a while back that had to do with ‘String Comparisons’, Jaro-Winkler, NYSIIS, DoubleMetaPhone, Levenshtein and my implementations of their work. I also posted recently that while that work had been useful in our initial testing as we got further down stream that it had been rendered all but ‘un-needed’.

Then about a week ago, I got an email from a fellow up in Canada who’s very interested in what I’ve done, and specifically in my Visual FoxPro implementations.

This was a bit of a surprise, as I’d sort of expected I’d see some interest from the VB.Net/Java folks first as they’re much more active development environments these days.

The guy is working on duplicate identification and ‘near matches’ in some Canadian government databases, and wants to test my work in their environment! I’m excited and flattered that he’d be willing to test out the product, sight unseen.

You see, I never really thought much about this blog actually bringing me together with other programmers, and/or clients. Back in January I was thinking of it more as a creative outlet and a ‘venting’ mechanism. It’s funny, to me at least, how a blog sort of takes on a life of its own, as well as it’s owner.

I know for certain I’d never intended to share any of those old poems, the stories about old friends, firefighting and so on, they just sort of slipped out the end of my fingers and onto the screen! I know the continual postings of others, their poetry and stories, encouraged me to post some of mine. The stories I’ve read on many of your sites have reminded me of, and encouraged me to write about, memories of my own.

I honestly thought, initially, that I’d be writing a journal, mostly for myself, but that maybe, just maybe I’d get some feedback from time to time. That so many of you would stop by and take the time to comment has been a particularly enjoyable side of this place for me!

So, for the past few days I’ve been putting some finishing touches on the programming work I’d done previously and compiling it all into a ‘Loadable library’ for him to start testing. It’s been a fun diversion from the daily “fix this”, “change that”, and “Oh, we forgot to mention we wanted this too” process that’s essentially the work day of a contractor. I’m working on ‘my’ product, for an actual ‘beta’ tester!

I expect I’ll be delivering that to him this week, and pending his feedback I’ll probably be making it available to other developers from one of the other websites in the near future. It’s unlikely I’ll ever get rich on this utility, but its one more step down the road towards that end.

Now on to a few completely unrelated issues.

First, about the chemical stripping of the truck bed, I can tell you it’s all but a dead issue. I spoke with the pricing guy yesterday and he wants more to strip it, than it would cost for me to buy a brand new floor! They don’t do the ‘dip primer’ process either, so even if it had been affordable, the end result wouldn’t have been ideal for my purposes.

So, it’s back to scrapers and strippers for me. The upside to all of this is that he did have a good idea for getting into those ‘crevices’ with paint, a cheap garden sprayer! Simply load it up with the paint/rust inhibitor of choice and slide the wand into the channels… when finished just chuck the whole thing in the trash… not a bad idea at all!!

So, the plan now is to finish the welding on the top side, flip the floor over, strip and treat the underside and start reassembling the bed,. I fully expect to be in reassembly mode by Sunday… I guess we’ll see where I get!

Second, Adobe PDF documents, has anyone here used the JavaScript utilities that are available in version 7? Do you possibly know anyone who has? If so, I’d appreciate it if you’d please point them in my direction. I’ve got an idea for handling some data gathering on the web, via PDF forms, and I’d love to talk with someone who has done this, or tried to.

Last, and certainly not least, my wife had another MRI on Wednesday. It’s looking like surgery is the only way she’s ever going to get the pain in her lower back resolved (the other pain in her back, me, will be much harder to get rid of!). She had it now, of course, after the Doctors strung her along for six months of injections, muscle relaxants, anti-inflammatories and pain killers they need a ‘current’ MRI before they can schedule her for surgery. As if that ruptured disc somehow ‘moved’ to another location!

I am so worn out with the medical community these days. If a car dealer did this kind of thing with car repairs we’d be calling the State Attorney General, filing ‘Class Action Lawsuits’ and all sorts of stuff. I find myself pondering the reasons we tolerate this level of medical ‘care’, instead of demanding our medical folks be as ‘up and up’ as we’ve come to demand our car repair shops are!!

It’s probably fear most of all. None of us ‘want’ to be sick, or be in need of a Doctor, but when we are, we want to be able to rely 100% on their advice and counsel. It’s just truly unfortunate that there are so few we seem to be able to do that with! The one’s who are simply adequate; seem like such stellar performers, when compared to the rest. Fortunately, the surgeon she’s seeing at the moment, is really good, and he’s pretty personable as well, as surgeons go anyway.

Despite my ranting… If I were him, and I wasn’t the Doc who’d ordered the original MRI, I’d probably want another too, just to be sure nothing ‘new’ had happened… but, then again, he took one look at the original and was wondering why the other surgeon hadn’t scheduled her immediately… go figure.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Something a little different today....

I had an entire 'other' post in mind for today. However, when I got home Jack Cottet had sent me the letter that follows. His candor, selflessness and obvious love for the fire service is all over this letter. I hope it gives you all a better sense of why I felt he was one of those great folks I've had the good fortune to have been around.

So without further babbling from me, here's what Jack had to say:


Thanks Bill for the kind things said about me in your Blog concerning the volunteer fire service. I do want to make the point that the fire service is a team effort. Unlike the movie “Back Draft” where the star --- Kurt Russell seems to do it all and the rest of the characters are just in support roles, in real world firefighting whether paid or volunteer it is always a team effort.

The thing about it that has always appealed to me is that you can make a real difference in someone’s life and have a real good time doing it. Firefighting is like being in a fight or battle in which the odds are against you so the challenge is great but most of the time you end up winning. I feel the challenges in rural firefighting are greater than in urban settings, even though the buildings are much smaller, because we don’t have the water supply; we have longer runs and must rely on personnel not on duty in stations.

Having been involved for over forty years I can tell you there are lots of changes today however much also remains the same. Forty years ago we needed good leadership to have confidence in, we needed a few good guys or girls to pick up the line and get it on, equipment to supply water and protect us and a little luck. It really hasn’t changed that much today the basics are the same.

What has changed is a lot more concern about safety and accountability for personnel than in the past. I do most of my firefighting today from the front seat of my vehicle, talking on portable radios. The portables were unheard of (almost in the old days) -- but today we remain in constant contact with each other by radio. When we put people “in harms way “ in a building we need to talk to them so they know that we have ladders at windows on all four sides of the second and are in the process of venting the roof. We need to be able to tell them that it looks from the outside like the fire may be in the walls or attic or it looks like they just hit it good, all of which is visible from outside but may not be from the inside due to no visibility.

The team effort comes about like this; we have an old guy like me calling plays for a guy a little younger to execute. In our case often that is my best friend and his crew consists of his son or sons, with his wife running the pump outside. What you call a family affair, they all know they can depend not only on each other but also on the guy driving the tanker the people on the corners controlling traffic, the medic on the ambulance and on and on.

Perhaps a real “war story “ tells it best. A few weeks ago at midnight the bell hits for a “job” at the local motel (known as the “no tell hotel”).

Automatic mutual aid is en-route from three other departments; they are sending their best to us just like we do to them when summoned. On arrival we have heavy fire in the center unit of a 10-unit motel it has breached the roof (a good thing) and is 30 ft. in the air. Looks we are going to lose the whole place due to horizontal spread to the other 9 units.

First engine has several family members on board. They hit the hydrant (fire talk for lay a hose from it to the pump). The Captain and one man advance a 2 inch diameter hose with a big smooth bore tip on it into the burning room. His wife sends the water as the door gets popped open courtesy of # 2 son. Down on the floor and crawl under the heat to the center of the unit. Look up --- nothing but orange fire in the attic . Hit it hard with water. Surprise here no water comes back to scald – it is evaporating. Hit it harder and longer – ah steam visible from outdoors means it is working. Water expands 1700 times the original volume, the resulting cloud of white steam is the visible evidence that things are going well.

Meanwhile back at the ranch -- or motel, Command has been very busy. Back up water supplies have been established , incoming units have been assigned the job of a search to be sure the No Tell is truly empty as the owner assures is the case. Another group is assigned to ventilation on the roof. A thing called a trench cut is being done. That means a chain saw is cutting a two foot wide swath across the whole roof to stop the fire and expose it so we can whack it from below. Simultaneously the light tower on a mutual aid rescue is up turning midnight into noon in the motel parking lot and salvage efforts are being initiated, which means we are putting down plastic covers over the furniture and contents to control water damage.

In under 20 minutes it is over, fire’s out, units being returned. A bunch of well trained volunteer “professional” firefighters have done the job, no one got hurt, the motel will be repaired and we didn’t even get mad at each other, well not real mad anyhow. This is what firefighting is really all about. As you can see there was no single star, just a well trained group, several really --- that did what they are supposed to do. The individual’s thoughts are now turning to “look at the clock --- it will be 1am before we get out of here and I have to work tomorrow”.

I often think that two groups of people are the most under appreciated of all in our society. One is our military for what they do for us and the blood they spill on our behalf and the second is the fire service. Paid or volunteer makes no difference, these people run into buildings that others are running from, sometimes with the horrible results of 9-11-01 still in mind and still possible. I could go on and on, for example of how our little fire department reacted on September 11, 2001 and how proud I was of that reaction

But enough for now.


And here's the pic he sent along...

So that's it for today... I hope you enjoyed this 'other side' of the story.

As usual, thanks for stopping by and please feel free to leave a comment, it lets me know you're still here and reading all of this!!

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Some ramblings on firefighting….

Since some of you have let me know you enjoy the memories I’ve related about firefighting, I thought today I’d ramble on a bit about the ‘process’, the stuff that goes on behind the scenes that folks rarely see,

The first thing you need to know about firefighting is that it’s hot work. That may seem like I’m stating the obvious, but, think about it, other than in the dead of summer (like now) how often do you think about it being hot work?

That’s one of the things I remember most, the heat, and then the sound. I don’t really know how to explain the sounds that a working structure fire creates. There’s the sounds of the fire of course, a sort of growling, roaring sound that’s louder with the intensity of the fire. Then there’s the shouting, one crew to another, the team members letting each other know what they intend to do next, and the instructions on the radios… it all combines to make for a fairly ‘manic minute’.

Oh, and while I’m thinking of it, that’s what we always called it “work”… as in “You know you had ‘work’ when… Greek opened the restaurant for us after the call”. In fact there was a list of 10 or more of those that used to hang in Cleveland’s Station House (or Fire Barn as it was also called).

As we were all volunteers, we were a fairly eclectic group. There were farmers, store owners, electricians, carpenters, plumbers, computer folks, medical professionals, State, county and village DOT folks… essentially just about any walk of life you can imagine.

Being so diverse, we often had differing views on how things ‘should be done’, which most often would conflict with what ‘was being done’. It didn’t matter what your particular take was on any aspect of the ‘job’, someone was bound to be disagreeing with you on some level.

In addition, as these were small towns (North Bay had a permanent population of about 700 people at the time) there were two primary social interaction possibilities besides the one local ‘watering hole’, church, and the fire department. The FD had more social ‘things’ than the local churches did. There was the ‘Fish Fry” on Friday evenings, Bingo mid week, fund raisers both, in addition there were several Chicken BBQ’s and other ‘weekend’ fund raisers throughout the year.

So the primary social outlet, for many of the members was the FD itself. The meetings, events and the calls were all opportunities to interact socially. In a rural community this can be important as the houses are often far apart and you can go weeks, months even, without seeing your neighbors.

Unfortunately, you can’t effectively run a fire department like a social club, the stakes are just too high. There was an almost constant internal power struggle between those of us who wanted new, progressive tactics, better equipment, a ‘fire focused mentality’ and those who thought things were just fine “the way they are”.

Guys like Larry Flint, Abe Cable, Jack Cottet, Greg Campell, Gary Skinner and myself were always ‘stirring the pot’ of change, and as such were often ‘suspect’ in the eyes of many of the older members.

Hopefully you’re beginning to see the landscape of all of this. You’ve got a few, ‘die hard’ folks with little except firefighting on their minds, and then rest of the membership, who, for the most part, saw the ‘firefighting’ aspect as something they endured as a necessary ‘evil’ of belonging to the FD.

Sometimes, you just had to flat out prove you were right as no amount of discussion would ever convince the skeptics you could possibly be right.

Rural water supply was one of those issues.

For those of you living on ‘City Water’, this has probably never been a real issue for you, or your local FD. For smaller rural departments however, getting and maintaining a sufficient supply of water for firefighting is a constant struggle. Without ‘City Water’ there are no fire hydrants, so, all the water has to be brought to the scene.

Speaking of hydrants, I suspect most of you also think all fire hydrants are ‘red’. They’re not, in fact, the color is a ‘key’ to the amount of water flow (as in gallons/minute) the hydrant is capable of producing (also known as ‘available flow’).

The NFPA indicates the following color and flow rates:
  • Blue - 1500GPM or more - Very Good Flows
  • Green - 1000-1499GPM - Good For Residential Areas
  • Orange - 500-999GPM - Marginally adequate
  • Red - Below 500GPM - Inadequate

How many colors other than red do you remember seeing?

With most new fire truck pumpers capable of producing somewhere between 1000 and 1,500 GPM flow rates, it’s important to have that volume of water available as well! In the seminar I worked on with Jack, we years ago documented not only that we could effectively flow, in excess of 1,000 GPM, for over an hour. But manage that rate with every drop of that water being trucked in by tanker, at approximately a 1,000 gallons or less per load. Pretty cool stuff back then!

We documented both ends of the trip, loading, and dumping, proving our assertions that a ‘square’ 12” dump valve was faster than a 12” round one, that a vent for the tank needed to be at least as large as the dump valve, and internal flow chambers inside the tanks also contributed to (or hindered if they were too small) improved dump times. You see, you can’t do much about the time it takes to get the truck from the water source to the fire and back. What you can directly effect however, is how long the truck sits getting filled, and then dumping, the faster you get water in, and out of the tanks, the faster they’re in motion again!!

For a guy like me, who loves the ‘process’ of improving the process… this kind of stuff was heaven!

If you think about the two blue diamonds above, as the portable water tanks (portable ponds), you can see that simply arranging them like this, instead of with two sides aligned, provides additional dump spots, six total, instead of four. Also, we built a pressure siphon to move water from one tank to the other to take away the need to dump primarily in one tank or the other, again minimizing the amount of time a driver had to wait before dumping that load of water!!

For larger fires more ponds could be deployed, more siphon devices and the flows improved.

I do miss all of this stuff, life seemed simpler then, I was teaching then as a primary living and had a good measure of free time. I found myself immersed in this process for nearly 14 years in total. I wouldn’t trade a second of it for anything.

Are you still enjoying this? There's more if you're interested!

Monday, July 18, 2005

Taking a break today..

From all of the ‘project talk’. For those of you who are enjoying that topic, I assure you there’ll be a lot more to come, but, I don’t want this place to turn into just a DIY discussion spot.

A fellow by the name of Jack Cottet contacted me by email this past weekend. I’d mentioned Jack, in passing almost, in the post about a month ago about my friend Larry Flint. Then last week someone ‘Googled’ looking for Jack, and his article on ‘Rural Water Supply’ and this place showed up in the search results. (I still find the internet search engines amazing)

Curious, I followed some of the links that search yielded and found a posting on a Fire Department forum that Jack had made, and left a post there asking him to email me.

It’s funny, I was thinking about Jack, and the crew from the Cleveland, NY fire department when I was writing that piece, but had no idea where he might be these days. It turns out the internet, for all its vastness, really is a pretty small place!

It’s nice to be reconnected with Jack, and I’m hoping we can get together while I’m up North and catch up a bit. I’m sure we’ll also end up talking about Larry, some of the rest of the crew, and several of the fires we all fought together. I’m looking forward to that.

One of the most vivid recollections I have of Jack, is from a house fire on Rt. 49, between Cleveland and North Bay. When we pulled up to the scene, there was a 30 foot fireball blowing out of the roof and Cleveland already had crews inside the attic fighting it.

As Larry and I got to the side door of the house, one of the other North Bay assistant chiefs (Ken) was standing there; Larry looked around for the other guys from our truck crew (who were standing around over by the truck). He turned to Ken and said: “Tell those guys with the yellow things on their back (the breathing apparatus), the fire’s over here!!”

With that he and I made entry into the burning house. As we preceded down the center hall of the house, though a fairly thick dense white smoke, out of that smoke emerged Jack. His helmet and glasses slightly askew, his face blackened from soot, he was clapping his hands together and saying something to the effect of “Textbook fire boys, shed fire that’s extended into the attic, let’s not waste any time here!”

As he spotted us, he paused and told us the crews in the attic were getting ‘beat up pretty good” and could we get a line up through the living room ceiling and help them out.

You see I remember, as we pulled up to that house, and while Larry and I were running for the door, my mind was pondering ‘why’. Why was I running toward a house that was fully involved in fire, when most would be going in the other direction? Why was it that, despite any of my fears, would I always go in anyway?

Jack’s apparent calm that morning, when we encountered him in the hallway, changed my feelings almost immediately. He was a seasoned professional; I had faith in him, his crew, Larry and myself… It was at that moment I realized ‘Why’, it was because despite the obvious dangers, I had complete faith in the guys I was working with (I say ‘guys’ but there were women as well).

Faith that they’d watch my back, get me out of trouble if I managed to get into any and that we’d all get through this one, like all of the others.

We did, and there are people living in that house today. Not the original owners mind you, as I recall, they went to jail for arson. We saved the house though, yeah it had smoke, fire and water damage, but it was repairable.

Jack lived fire fighting, and from his email, he still does. I doubt he’s on the business end (the knob) of a hose line much these days. I’ll bet he’s still doing some of the things he always did best though, training firefighters to be better, faster and safer on the job than they would have been without his guidance. Developing new techniques that improve the process and effectiveness of firefighters, especially in rural areas, is something else Jack is known for, he’s always looking for a better way.

So, in case you couldn’t tell already, Jack is another of those people I’ve met over the years where just knowing them has enriched me, and my life. He and I were never ‘best friends’, but, we were colleagues. We had a common enemy, fire, and we were determined not to let the enemy win!

Sunday, July 17, 2005


I spent the day today concentrating on those wheel wells. I decided they were coming along nicely enough that I didn’t need to have them stripped, all I needed to do was put in a bit more elbow grease.

So I got after it this morning. It was not bad out there early, in the upper 70’s and humid, but the fans were doing a pretty good job of keeping me comfortable. By 8:30 or so however, the temps were already in the mid-80’s and climbing. I soldiered on though, determined to get a coat of primer on something!

As I continued to sand, grind and scrape, thinking I’d fixed all the rust, I found this! Finding this after all I’d already done points out that you never really know where rust might be hiding. To me it looked like someone had drilled a hole here once, and later, before the truck was repainted at sometime they’d simply puttied over the hole and painted it.

This would have been blistering a new paint job inside the year.

So I welded it up, and ground it down until it looked like this, I took a second shot as I wasn’t sure you could actually see it in the first. I didn’t go the cut and patch route this time as the hole was rather small, and by running a weld bead over the entire area I also ‘burned out’ any rust that was present.

With that out of the way I moved on to the hammer and dolly process knocking out all the major dings and dents, before laying down three heavy coats of primer/surfacer. I use a lacquer based product for this as it allows you to ‘topcoat’ with virtually any other type of paint, and has the added benefit of quick ‘flash’ or dry time.

Now I’ve shot literally several hundred gallons of lacquer primer over the years, and today was the first time I actually saw primer ‘blush’. “Blushing” is something that occurs when the surface of the paint flashes over first, and traps moisture underneath. I’m not surprised though given the heat and humidity today. It’s not a ‘show stopper though as I’ll be sanding most of the primer off and reapplying in the finishing process.

So here’s how the piece looks in primer. Not bad when you consider how rough they were when I started. This shot shows that I still have some work to do with the hammer and dolly to square this up, but overall, it’s in pretty good shape at this point!

So that’s pretty much it. I’ll be repeating this process on the other fender well, and the rest of the truck as well. I’ve got new rocker panels to install in the cab, and the final leveling of all the fenders and the sides and front of the bed. Hopefully Monday I’ll find out about the stripping process and getting the cab done too.

I’ll save about 40 hours by having the cab stripped and dipped alone!

Other than that, and being pretty wiped out from the heat, there’s not much to tell you all. After I post this, it’s my intention to go and enjoy the rest of the day with my beautiful wife!

I hope you’re all having a great weekend!

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Life’s frustrating at times…

Between the heat, my back problems and the ‘Strippers’ not calling (or emailing) me with a price on stripping the various truck components I feel like I’m stuck in a sort of ‘limbo’ this week.

The few moments I’ve actually felt good enough to get out in the shop, it’s either been a severe weather out there, or unbearably hot. Now maybe if I’d lived here in the South all my life, I’d be better acclimated to all of this, but I wasn’t, and I’m not! For those of you who wonder why southerners move so ‘slowly’, it’s because if you move too fast in this heat… it could kill you!

I don’t think it’s where I’ve lived though, as I was uncomfortable there in the dead of summer too. I’ve just got one of those metabolic systems that’s much better suited to cold weather. I can work outside when the temps are in the 20’s in just a flannel shirt and jeans, no heavy coat required.

Come summer though, I can only take so many clothes off, and not get arrested!

The problem is, with our trip up North fast approaching I’d like to have all of this body work roughed in and have the motor and trans out so when we get back I’d be pretty much in “re-assembly” mode. I’m more than a little frustrated that it doesn’t appear I’ll make that goal.

However, as promised I processed the pics off the camera, moved them to my webspace and have them for you today.

I’m not sure if I’ll actually get to work on the truck project today or not. I’ve promised my wife I’d put up some new towel racks and treat the lawn with an insecticide to cut down on the ants (who’ve taken up residence yet again). Resilient little critters ants, seems they just keep coming back for more!

So, the pics and progress from the project.

You may recall how things looked originally, rust, rust, and more rust. In actuality, there was even more rust to be found as I removed the undercoating and paint from the fenders.

I know I would have been better off if I’d just ordered a couple of replacement wheel wells as they probably would cost less than $50 bucks apiece. Considering I spent the majority of the weekend stripping, cutting, fitting and welding repair pieces I have far more than that in my time alone!

I didn’t though, and I have a reason, sort of, for my madness. You see I used to be really good at all of this stuff. Over the past 10 years or so I haven’t really been able to use these skills at all. I had no shop, or friends with a shop to get in there and turn a wrench, fabricate parts and in general have some fun!

So, while I am buying a lot of new components for this truck, I made a decision early on to try and repair what I could, and if I was unhappy with the repair, or I actually made the piece worse, I could always just go ahead and order a replacement..

Well, overall I’m pretty happy with how things turned out with these pieces!

This is that corner that was all ‘eaten away’ in the first rust pic above. It’s not perfect, but once I skim coat it with some plastic and block it off, it will look like new. I’d been so caught up in the process though, I only had one rust hole left when I realized I hadn’t really taken any pictures of the process. So as I worked on the last piece I took a series of ‘stages’ shots to show you how the replacement process actually works.

Once you’ve identified an area to be repaired, you mark the section you intend to cut out. It helps if you get the lines as square as possible; I noticed after I’d taken this picture that the ruler had slipped so I squared things up before cutting out the rusty piece.

With the rusted metal cut away you can begin marking up a replacement piece. In this case I had access to the underside of the piece, so I simply pressed a piece of sheet metal up to the underside and marked the edges with a sharpie.

After that’s done, you cut along the lines (a little oversized) to get that new panel. To simplify the process (and the amount of moving around I had to do) I just clamped the work piece to the fender well and repositioned it as I cut along the lines I’d made.

(Who knew learning to cut along the lines in kindergarten would still be coming in handy this late in life?)

When you’re done, if everything goes according to plan, the patch should look something like this. A small gap is actually better than ‘no gap’ as welding to two pieces together and having them appear seamless requires you get full penetration from one side of the piece to the other.

Here’s another shot of the finished repair, and one of the underside.

You may have noticed all the little ‘circles’ on the fender wells, each of these is a little ‘dent’, the result of years of hard work for this old truck. Once I finish stripping the rest of the undercoating from these, I’ll hit everything with the sandblaster one more time and they’ll be ready for the primer/sealer coat. Once that’s been applied and dried properly I can begin the filler/sanding/blocking process.

You might also remember the portion of the bed I cut out from last time. I also formed a patch for that area, fitted it up and tacked it in place. I haven’t fully welded it yet as I can only do that if the “Strippers” and I come to terms on the cost, and, they’ll dip the entire bed floor in primer after it’s been stripped. You see, once you strip metal clean, it begins to rust almost immediately. The only way to protect it is to get it covered in paint ASAP. Also, all the channels and crevices in the bed will be almost impossible to treat with conventional spray equipment.

If they’ll strip and dip it, I can go ahead and weld everything up. If not, I’ll have to treat everything with a zinc rich “weld through” primer before I weld, and even then the results could be less than ideal!

Oh, and before I forget it… when I unloaded the camera, I found some pictures my wife had taken of one of our cats. It seems “Precious” has become a bit of an internet addict. Like the rest of us, he also finds some items more interesting than others, and is sometimes a bit embarrassed when caught surfing certain pages!!

Our other cat has no interest at all in things computer, preferring instead to gaze out the window at birds (or something) for hours at a time.

So there you have it. The pics I promised, late I know, but at least they’re here!

I’m hoping to get back out there later today, and again tomorrow, but right now I need to go make good on my other promises!

Again, thanks for reading and stopping by, please leave a comment before you go!

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

One more day for the pics…

I did something to my back yesterday, I’m not exactly sure what, but it was ‘not happy’ today. I got up this morning intending to head off to work like I normally do, but as I rolled out of bed I had extreme difficulty just standing up.

So, I took some muscle relaxants and an anti inflammatory and emailed the boss letting her know I would be working from home. Normally, the meds kick in, the pain subsides enough to let me work and as long as I don’t have to move around a lot, things are fine.

The morning went pretty well, I got some progress made on a couple of the items on my plate, but then, around 1:00 or 1:30 I became extremely tired. So I thought I’d lie down, take some weight off of my back and get back to work in an hour or so. Well, I woke back up around 7:00 tonight with us in the middle of one of those weather channel ‘severe thunderstorms’. Needless to say, not much else at all got done for a while, and certainly no ‘electronic’ work.

I’m glad you all like the story about Frank. He was a character, of that there’s no doubt, and one I’m glad crossed my path. He was one of those people, who, if you’re around them, can get you thinking everyone is like they are.

The employer I’d had before going to work for Frank had cheated me out of nearly $20,000 (This was in 1976 folks, at lot of money today, a ton of money then). As a result, I’d become rather cynical when it came to promises prospective employers made me. Frank sort of ‘restored my faith’, in that he never, one time, ever told me anything that wasn’t 100% on the money. Despite only working for him a short time, he and his ‘way’ had a lasting impact on my life.

The guy who cheated me, well, he too taught me a very important lesson. There’s a large difference between earning, and receiving money. Prior to working for Mike, like most people, I’d gone to work and each week got paid for that week. Mike’s deal was a little different in that it was a ‘commission’ job. That means, in theory, I’d get paid a percentage of every sale made in my territory.

For me, this was (I thought) an incredible opportunity. I could go out, work hard and get paid in line with my efforts and success. The truth is, I was pretty happy. I was making more money than I’d ever made, I was setting sales records in the territory and I was having a lot of fun.

Things came to a head, because Mike got a little greedy. At the end of the year my 1099 (which is the independents version of the W-2) was about $20K higher than the checks he’d sent me. In and of itself, not a big thing, especially if I had a bonus check he was holding, or some other clerical oversight. The biggest problem was, I would be paying taxes on that $20K, and I had never seen the money!

A fairly large battle followed, I quit and opened the shop in Oneida, lawyers got involved and eventually I got about half of what he owed me. I could have gotten it all, but the court/lawyer fees were more than I could have ‘fronted’. Mike was a multi-millionaire, I wasn’t, he had a law firm on retainer, and I had a lawyer working by the hour.

When it’s all said and done, the lesson was worth far more than the money.

Anyway, I’m not sure what corner of my mind that all crept out of tonight, as I rarely think about him and those times, preferring to leave it one of those closed chapters of my life.

Tomorrow, I’ll process all the pics off the camera, and write up a narrative to let you know what you’re looking at. I enjoy sharing my progress on this project with you all, your comments and encouragement help me stay focused on moving forward.

Thanks again for stopping by and for taking the time to let me know what you’re thinking!

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Progress at last…

Despite some killer temps and humidity I managed to make some decent progress on the truck bed over the weekend…

Before I get into that though, I was reminded on Friday of the fellow that owned the Dodge dealership in Oneida, NY I worked in after closing the shop. His name was Frank Ryan.

Frank was in his 60’s at the time I’m pretty sure. He was at work everyday though, as was his sister Josephine. Many of the sales reps were also at or near retirement, and had been at the car game for a long time.

Frank was one of the ‘cleanest’ car dealers I’d ever been around. He didn’t take shortcuts, and he tried very hard to sell cars that would bring people back to his place when they wanted another. His vision was more ‘down the road’ than, ‘here and now’.

I remember this one car, it was only a year or two old, a mid-late seventies Duster/Demon I think, but it was the worst color/interior combination I think I’d ever seen, lime green exterior, with a red (I think, or it was some equally clashing color) interior.

We were outside the dealership as we were closing up one evening, and I mentioned that I would never have taken the car in trade, and that I thought he’d never sell it.

His response is something I remember to this day. “Billy, there’s a butt for every seat; all I have to do is find the right one.”

At the time I remember thinking he’d have better luck finding the right person for the car if he painted it a different color, or took it to a big city, instead of trying to sell it in that little town. Funny thing though, the car was sold in less than 2 weeks. He was right; I did the final delivery prep on the car, and was there when the customer picked it up.

He was raving about the car and color, and how he’d been looking for one specifically that color for a long time.

You see Frank understood something about human nature. That beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder, that despite ‘our’ thoughts about the car and its color combinations, there was someone out there who would see it as beautiful. The challenge then, was to put aside personal preferences, and allow that person to find the car. The better job the dealership did of ‘exposing’ the car to potential buyers, the higher the likelihood a buyer would be found.

So what he did, rather than hiding the car on the back of the lot, was put it in the front row. He also placed it in the newspaper, and encouraged the sales people to show it to anyone looking for a car in that size/price range. His efforts resulted in the car being sold in about two weeks, at retail and a profit, instead of it being taken to an auction and sold, most likely, at a loss.

I’ve thought about that conversation many times over the years, and how appropriate Frank’s attitude was, not only to that specific car, but to life in general. So often we allow our personal likes, and dislikes, to color our view of the world. Then, once we’ve ‘tinted’ the world we wonder why everyone doesn’t see, what we see. Why they “just don’t get it” like we do.

I think, most times, we’d be much better off if we just let things be what they are, like Frank did with that car. Don’t attempt to change them, but instead just let them be, highlight their uniqueness and let things work out, however they eventually work themselves out.

Obviously this doesn’t apply to criminal behaviors, or other such decisions folks make that cause harm to others, but more to life in general. I’ve lived in communities (not for very long mind you) where if your grass got above a certain height, the ‘community’ would have it mowed, and send you a bill. Others where the paint you intended to put on your house had to be ‘approved’ before you could change the existing color.

I also lived in another ‘historic district’ where energy efficient windows were ‘not allowed’ as they weren’t available when the home was originally built.

I think about the amount of time, money, and energy folks there were expending to ‘make sure’ all of the neighbor’s homes looked as ‘period correct’ as possible. To what end?

These are simplistic examples of the much larger ‘group think’ mentality we all are often prone to. Some one’s too pretty, not pretty enough, doesn’t wear the right clothes, behave in the right manner, drive the right car or have the right kind of job/career.

If Frank had thought that way, that old car would probably have never been sold; if I was thinking like that I’d certainly not be putting all the work into restoring this old truck. I think, that sometimes we just have to do what we feel is the right thing to do, regardless of what anyone else might think. Paint your house purple or white, turn your yard into a ‘forever wild’ area or landscape it to the n-th degree, drive a Hummer or an old beater to work, whatever it is that makes you feel good about the life you’re living.

Anyway… back to the more important subject of the truck!!

I mentioned in the last post that I’ve come to believe the undercoating is a very evil substance when it comes time to remove it. While it certainly serves a very useful purpose as both a sound deadener and rust preventative, it’s one of the most difficult substances to remove I’ve ever had to deal with.

Forget sandblasting it. First, you really aren’t supposed to use sand for sandblasting any more. Something about free silica and lung problems (it would have been nice it they’d mentioned that 30 years ago!), so today, we use ‘media’… Glass beads, garnet and aluminum are the ‘media’ locally available to me. A fifty pound container of garnet is about $20, and while 50#’s will strip a fender, it won’t do a quarter of an inner fender when removing rust proofing.

Then there’s paint strippers, which kind of work, but often take three or more applications to completely remove the old material and result in a gooey, toxic slime that has to be scrapped off and disposed of.

Sanding devices, like various grinding wheels, sandpaper, wire wheels etc, all work to some degree, but very quickly warm the material and that clogs the ‘grit’, so basically you wind up doing more of a “pushing it around” process than actual removal, and have to change the wheels fairly quickly.

So what works? A healthy application of elbow grease, applied to a good selection of scrapers of varying widths and degrees of stiffness and, patience. Removing the majority of the undercoating from the two rear fender wells took the better part of an entire day, at least 9 hours. To finish the job I’ll need to ‘wash’ the remnants off with some petrochemical product, I just have not settled in on one yet.

The obvious question is, why go through all of this on the areas that don’t appear to be rusted? The not so obvious answer is that it’s very likely that there’s rust being concealed by the undercoating. Most vehicles, in the late 70’s, in the Carolinas, were not ‘rust proofed’ at the factory. It was most often a ‘Dealer applied’ or aftermarket process. Sometimes, undercoating is sprayed on by the owner in an attempt to halt, or slow down a visible rust problem (or worse yet, to cover one up).

So, given the extent I’m going to with everything else on this truck, making sure, where ever I can that I’m finding and repairing ALL the rusted components seems a logical decision to me.

I can tell you though, that in the afternoon heat and humidity, I was really questioning my sanity!

Probably the best thing that happened was finding the existing rust on those wheel wells. In order to form and weld in the patch panels, and avoid a fire, it was necessary to remove at least a portion of the undercoat, so removing it all seemed the right thing to do.

So far it’s proven a good decision. I found a lot of ‘hidden’ rust that, if left untreated, would certainly have been showing up in the paint job by this time next year. A scenario I’m hoping to avoid!!

So, now that the fenders are nearly completely stripped, of course, I discovered today that there’s a ‘strip shop’ in town!! So, I requested a quote on stripping the bed itself, and dipping these fender wells too. I could have done this “research” before I’d sweated through the weekend, but if I’d done that I would not have experienced first hand all of the effort involved in manual undercoating removal!! For me, sometimes I have to reach the limit of my patience before I actually look for a better, more effective solution.

Once I know what these folks charge, and if it’s reasonable enough, I may dip the cab as well!! It will mean a lot more of the truck (like all the dash gauges, wiring, controls, vents, etc.) will have to come apart, be bagged up, tagged and stored in such a way that I’ll be able to somehow find them again… but, I think overall it would sure make for a much nicer final product!!

So, for the moment, the project is on hold. One, it’s just far too hot out there right now. It’s about 97F today and the dew points are in the upper 70’s, ‘Tropical’ is when the dew point is over 70, this morning the weather guy was saying our dew point was 75, and he’s never seen one above 77... Pretty hot and steamy out there. Two, if I can send out the bed floor for stripping that will save me another full weekend, the cab probably two full weekends, so I’m waiting to hear what they say.

Thanks again for stopping by… I’ll try to get some pics of the weekend work up by tomorrow.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Another weekend..

Has come and gone... and I've got a lot to tell you all. This is essentially just a teaser, to let you know I can't do that tonight. Our company just left, I've got some work (as in to pay the internet bill!) to finish before morning, and an early day tomorrow.

Let me just say I made some decent progress on the truck bed, that undercoating is the spawn of Satan and it's far to hot out for serious manual labor!

On the whole however, the weekend went well, and I've lined up the motor and transmission parts to arrive when I get back from New York so I've got a 'target' date now where I have to have certain things complete. I don't have room in the shop for the additional parts, the existing parts and the truck! (I need a much bigger shop for this kind of work!)

My buddy Whit is in the process of putting up a new garage at his place, it should be finished in the next week or so. When I get up there I'll be taking some pics to get some ideas, and maybe, just maybe we'll put up a new shop here next year (if the employment holds out!).

Anyway, much more tomorrow!!

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Should I start a clinic… or a TV show?

I have to tell you this, the mere fact that some of you have mentioned that some of my ‘restoration’ stories had you feeling like you’d like to learn about this sort of thing, has been very gratifying. Maybe it’s the old ‘teacher’ in me, or simply the fact that I like sharing what little knowledge I’ve picked up over the years, but I’d really love to be able to teach this stuff to anyone who cared enough to learn about it.

In my minds eye, there’d be 3-7 ‘students’, maybe 2 or 3 additional ‘advisors’, and we’d all work together like a team to restore some old project vehicle. Start to finish, top to bottom, one crew, one restored vehicle. Man, what a way that would be to make a living! Combining two of the things I love doing, sharing what I know and building cars, and then making a living in the process… I know I’d be having a grand old time!

I think it’d make a great TV show too! In the same vein as ‘American Chopper’, “American Hot Rod” and “OverHaulin’”… only with amateurs, not professionals, doing the work. Of course there’d be trouble, mistakes and a lot of ‘guidance’ along the way. I personally think it would make for better shows overall as well.

I mean it’s wonderful to watch the likes of Coddington’s crew, or Chip Fosse and the gang build, or rebuild, a vehicle. But, wouldn’t it be even more fun to see the mistakes, how to avoid them and how to recover from them? I think so.

But, then again, no one is knocking on my door asking me to put something like this together. If they did, I know the computers would be going ‘cold iron’ and I’d be warming up the shop tools!!

Well, enough of that fantasy and back to the realities of restoring an old truck.

I thought I’d share a bit of the overall plan with you folks so that as it’s moving along you actually have an idea where I’m headed.

The concept is to build this truck in such a way, that on an initial glance, it looks like an old Chevy pickup that’s just in real nice shape, on closer inspection however you’d notice some subtle differences, like the altered ‘gas tank doors’ that weren’t available in 1978. If it was running you’d hear the rumble of a 350Hp V8 (also not available in ’78) just different enough sounding that you’d know the factory didn’t ship it that way.

As you looked at her some more you’d notice that the ‘graphics’ on the truck are unlike any you’d ever seen, familiar, yet unique. You’d see some other unique features as well, driving lights built into the front bumper, backup flood lights inside the rear bumper as well.

If you opened the hood at night you’d be surprised at how well ‘lit up’ the engine compartment was, especially considering you couldn’t actually ‘see’ any lights.

In short, I’m hoping to build a this truck in such a way that other car nuts like me, and even a many ‘regular folks’, will notice it’s a little different, but most will just notice it’s in really great shape for an older truck.

Y’all will be the judges as we move forward; I’ll be looking at your comments on the photos I post as we progress to see if I’m actually achieving my goals!

Also, I’ve been asked in emails how much I’m anticipating this project will cost in total. I can’t give you an exact number, as there are a lot of ‘soft costs’ like electricity and some shop supplies, but I’m budgeting about $5,500 for parts and materials. That includes some new sheet metal for the front of the truck, a virtually complete new interior and all of the “junkyard gems” I’ve picked up. It will also cover the complete performance rebuild of the motor and transmission, new brakes, brake hoses, shocks and any steering components we might need.

The $5,500 does NOT include final paint work. I’m still torn between doing all the paint myself and doing only the interior and the engine compartment myself and shipping the body off to a shop like Macco for the finish paint. Depending on what I finally decide to do, paint will add another $500, to $1,500.

So worst case, I expect to have about $7,000 tied up in what essentially will be a new truck. There’s no possible way we could have replaced this truck, with another one, in comparable shape (when it’s finished) for twice that amount of money. Then there’s the sentimental value the truck has to my wife…. Pretty tough to place a ‘cash’ value on that ‘eh?

So here’s where we are, same place as the other night. Last night I ended up working until very late, and tonight, well, ‘Cindy’ is rolling through and the weather is a bit too ‘iffy’ to be out on the side of the garage cutting out ‘donor’ pieces. So, tomorrow I work from home, and if all goes as expected, I should be able to start back in on the truck between 2:30 and 3:30pm…. If I get where I expect to, the fender wells for the bed will be repaired, as well as the rusted sections in the bed, and I’ll be ready to hit everything with the sandblaster and a coat of POR-15 before putting a coat of primer on it and flipping it over to clean up and rust-proof the underside.

Again, thanks for stopping by, and as always I appreciate you reading and commenting on what you see here!

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

The weekend….

Sometimes, things just don’t go as planned. It’s not necessarily a good or bad thing, it’s just that you had a picture in your head of how things would go, and it just doesn’t work out that way.

This past weekend was one of those for me.

As most of you know, I had a pretty busy weekend planned. A lot happened, a lot got done, but just not what I’d planned to do, in the way I'd planned it.

The bike was the first surprise. I mentioned over the weekend that it’s been giving me trouble recently. What I failed to mention was that it nearly caught fire the last time I attempted to start it.

I’d thought the battery was low after sitting over the winter months, so when it still didn’t start after charging it, I assumed it simply needed a new battery. Well, that didn’t turn out to be the problem. After installing the new battery, (which by the way, involves removing the seat, as well as a bunch of electronic and plastic components) and reattaching everything I turned the key on and thumbed the starter.

All it did was ‘grunt’, again I assumed the new battery simply needed a charge, so I slipped the charger on it and went back to disassembling the truck bed while the charger did its thing.

I knew I had two small areas of concern on the truck bed, but, like everything else this weekend, as I was pulling off the ‘fender wells’ I found this, this, and oh yeah this… all additional work I didn’t need at this point.

So after discovering yet another 6 or 7 hours of sheet metal work I decided that maybe, just maybe I should fire up the scooter and take a ride (it was after all about 93 degrees, with a heat index of 97), so once again I turned the key and pressed the starter. All it did was grunt, and being more than a little frustrated at this point, I kept hitting the starter… until that is, I noticed a fairly sizeable plume of smoke drifting out from the side covers!

I turned of the key, quickly pulled the side covers (for what it’s worth I was sweating so bad at this point I could have extinguished a fire with my t-shirt) and found a secondary ground wire with the insulation totally melted off, so much for getting my face in the wind. Sunday at this point is feeling like a bit of a disaster.

About the time I went in the house to grab a cold beer and feel sorry for myself, hey I was feeling like I deserved a decent pity party about now, who shows up but Nina, our ‘adopted’ daughter freshly back from the ‘islands’. She always has a way of lifting my sprits, and within 20 minutes we're all laughing, I’m burning her a backup DVD of her photos, and Maryan and I are getting the details on what seems to have been a great trip for her!!

Any time I need a ‘peaceful happy place’ now I can just check out these photos of her working vacation:


We had a great late lunch, corn on the cob, ribs, fresh salad all courtesy of my wife and her incredible ‘grill skills’. After lunch I went back out to the shop for a little bit, as I wanted to try one last thing with the bike. I clipped off the wire that had burned and taped off the end. Then I proceeded to find the ‘bike end’ of the battery ground cable, disassemble and cleaned it, and then reassembled everything. I took a deep breath, clicked the key to the start position, and hit the starter… She turned over and fired up like she was brand new!! (I went by the dealership today and ordered a new ground cable just to be safe) … It finally looks like I might just get some riding in soon!!

So with a win under my belt, and on the brink of dehydration, I decided to call it a day and head back in the house for a shower, some clean clothes and of course a cold one. Maryan and Nina were headed to the video store and it looked like we’d be watching movies and chillin’ for a while. Which is exactly what we did, in fact we got so relaxed we all fell asleep! When I woke up, Maryan had gone to bed and Nina was still asleep on the couch.

As I was locking up for the evening, she woke up and was making motions like she was going to head home, I offered her the spare room, and we were all asleep again in about 10 minutes!

I got up Monday morning with a real agenda. I wanted to get the truck out of the garage (it’s not ‘mobile’ so it needs ‘help’, as in ‘pushers’ to move it) and get the truck bed floor inside. I’ve got a whole bunch of parts in route and need to finish up the bed and get it in primer so I can get to work on the ‘rest’ of the truck.

So I sorted out the parts I have so far, put all of the interior components (carpet, door panels, weather stripping, dash pad, seat covers and so on, in the cab and sorted out all the other exterior pieces and stacked them neatly in one corner of the shop. (All of this had been stacked on the back of the truck where the bed used to be). All of this again on a day with temps in the low 90’s and a heat index close to 100… Is it possible I’m getting to old for this stuff???

Once I had everything ready, the folks I’d been expecting, started calling to tell me they wouldn’t be able to come over (I actually think they were the smart ones!!! It was way to hot!) … As I went inside to cool off and see if I could actually hold that pity party I’d been planning on Sunday… another wonderful thing happened.

Nina and Maryan offered to help me move the truck out, and set up the bed floor in the shop. The three of us managed to get the bed off the stands and on its side, Nina held it up while Maryan and I pushed the truck out. We could have gotten it a little better ‘placed’ if we’d had a crew, but, we got it outside and that’s what mattered!!

Then we got the bed inside, back up on the stands (I took this picture tonight and you can see the truck in the background) and I was ready to begin the final clean up on it. With all of that done, I called it a day, cleaned up the tools and went inside to cool off and relax.

I got home from work tonight, had some dinner and went out to have at the bed floor. It had rust in both rear corners that needed to be cut out and patched. I cut out both corners and you can see that it looked even worse underneath. I managed to get a patch made for one side, and weld it in place before the rain and thunderstorms started. I actually thought about cutting out the second one in the rain, as that cool rain would have felt good, but thought better of it when the lightning started. I figured that about the last place you want to be is standing on wet metal in a thunderstorm!

So while things didn’t go exactly as I’d planned, this weekend has to go down as one of the best 4th’s ever. Family, friends, good food, good beer, great conversation, movies and power tools… (and the bike is fixed!!) does it get any better than this??

Thanks again for reading… I hope you're enjoying my little restoration journey… If all goes according to plan (which it probably won’t) I should have some pics of the bed reassembly and the ‘blocking’ process to make sure everything is completely smooth later in the week.

Sunday, July 03, 2005


Well, Saturday wasn’t quite as productive ‘truck-wise’ as I’d hoped. Between the sun, heat and humidity it was sort of like work outside for an hour, come inside, cool down for 40 minutes or so, and then go back out.

My friend Rick came by and did help me break the truck bed the rest of the way down. So now it’s in pieces that I can manage on my own. I’ll bet most of you didn’t know that a truck bed (at least on this Chevy) is actually several separate pieces that are bolted together. There are seven pieces in all; the bed, two sides, two fender wells, the front panel and the tailgate. With it broken apart I can move it pretty much by myself now. Together it requires about four people to move.

Of course after we’d torn the bed down, we had to come inside and cool down with a couple of cold beers, while we entertained my wife with stories from the jobs. Rick is working for PHE, better known to the world as ‘Adam & Eve’. As a guy in his mid-20’s, it’s interesting to hear his take on life inside that company. Definitely a world away from the culture where I’m working! We had a nice couple of hours just laughing and talking about the ‘contract’ life.

Rick used to work with me at the last ‘regular job’ I had, so he’s got some interesting thoughts on the differences, and we had a pretty good time.

Later in the day, our ‘adopted’ daughter Nina came by as well. ‘Adopted’ as in she used to date my step-son, but they split up, and she’s continued to come by and be a part of our family. My wife and I are very glad she has, as we always enjoy her company when she stops by!

She’s been on the island of St. John in the Caribbean for the past month. Nina took a job working in a restaurant there in exchange for room and board. She got home Friday night, and stopped by yesterday to fill us in on her trip. She looked great, all tanned, rested and relaxed; we should all look that good!

I’ve got to tell you, working mornings serving up breakfast, getting out of work at 11:30am and having the rest of the day to hang on the beach and party sounds like a pretty good deal to me!! Hopefully she’ll bring some pics today when she comes over for the BBQ and I can share a few here!

I’m heading back out to the shop in a little bit, the plan for the remainder of the weekend, besides a good deal of relaxing, is to get the truck itself outside, pressure wash, sandblast, treat the underside of the bed and get it moved inside.

Once that’s done, (next week) I can begin to finish up the work on the fender wells and the bed surface (the part you’d see when it’s finished) and begin the re-assembly process.

I think that’s a goal that’s attainable, if I just plug away, and avoid getting ‘overheated’, which was really a problem yesterday.

On the down side, my bike is really becoming a problem. I thought the battery was the problem, but after charging it fully, and still having problems getting it to turn over I’m pretty sure either the primary ground cable is bad, or worse yet I’ve got a starter problem. Once I get the truck out of the garage, and have a little room to work, I’ll be able to tear into that issue as well.

I’ve really missed being able to ride it so far this summer, and had expected to take a ride late yesterday afternoon. If it’s the starter, I’m seriously considering taking to the local shop as I’ve got so much else on my plate right now. If I do, it would be the first time in my life I’d let a ‘shop’ work on one of my bikes after the warranty had expired. I’m not entirely sure I’m ready to do that!!

I hope everyone is having a great holiday weekend!

Saturday, July 02, 2005

And today, a star again....

Late on Friday, one of the mainframe programmers came to my cubicle and asked me if I could populate a file in the DB2 databases. This was a totally unexpected event. The request was from the same woman who’d made the breakthrough in ‘data-matching’ I mentioned yesterday.

This was just one further testament (in my eyes) to her commitment to being a team player. There are far too few, truly team players, in the corporate world today. Most folks, especially those from the mainframe vs. PC side of things would rather die than admit it might be simpler to ask someone from the ‘other side’ to help out.

Then again, this organization, and especially this team in particular, are all about being a team. I credit a lot of this to the manager, but a good degree of credit has also got to go to the members of the team as well. The ‘we are a team’ mentality is certainly fostered, and supported, in the way our manager involves all of us in projects. As the saying goes though, “you can lead a horse to water”… What happens next is up to the horse!!

I’m going to spend a few minutes on Monday, getting a mainframe connection from home and writing a short little procedure to populate this database, so that, on Tuesday morning, she’ll just be able to go back to work on her portion of the project. It’ll probably take most of the day to run it over the internet though… so I’ll let you all know how it turns out!

That’s it for now… I’m headed outside, into the heat and humidity, to get back to work on the truck. The goals for today are to finish disassembling the truck bed, move the ‘truck’ outside, and then move the bed and doors back into the garage so I can work inside (out of the sun) on them. When they’re done, I’ll move them all back outside, and drag the truck back in to pull the motor and transmission out for the ‘overhaul’.

If the weather holds out, and my friends show up to help, I’ll post some pics later of the process.