Sunday, March 28, 2010

Parting Company




The den is a mess. It's usually disordered, and mostly messy, but now it is in total chaos. The place is a jumble of boxes, paper, tape, and bubble wrap. You have to climb in to get to the computer. This will last throughout the month of April. By the end of the first week in May, it will all be over, and my collection of Japanese die-cast robot toys will be scattered to the far corners of the globe. The old toys will have new owners. I'll have enough money to replace our crummy old cars with newer, somewhat less crummy used cars. Maybe have a few bucks in the savings account. We'll see.

I made the decision some months back. It was time to let the collection go.

It's kind of odd. I have all sorts of reasons to get nostalgic about this. I gathered the robot toys in the old collection during a wild, and eventful season of my life- first true love and serious relationship, friendships broken, trusts betrayed, fights, broken windows, lots and lots of booze, and dope.
And then the restless years- over a decade of not staying in one place for more than a few months. Apartment after apartment- the shelf going up in the living room, the collection taken out piece by piece, dusted off, and put on display.
This is it. I'm settled here. I'm done with moving...
And a few months later the room would again be full of boxes. The same boxes that held the collection after the first move. The same boxes from the Jr. High school where I worked back in the seventies. The box that held the Sony amplifier that I bought in seventy six. Those same boxes are empty now for the last time- piled on the back porch to go out with Wednesdays trash. The thirty year old robots are, one by one, being nested in crumpled newspaper, and secured in new Fed-Ex cartons, waiting to be shipped, same day delivery, to who knows where.

Like I said it's kind of odd that I don't have any sense of nostalgia over doing this. It occurred to me last night as I packed up the large, gift-box sets that will be the first to go up for sale- this is the last time I'm going to look at these things. I'll never see them again except in the pictures that are on my hard drive, or posted here on the wfb. Just like I'll never see Diane again. Diane was my first real girlfriend, the first true love in my life, and the one who gave me the silly talking Robocon that started my whole fascination with Japanese toys. Diane went on to marry well, and raise a family. She died this last year from cancer leaving behind a husband and two kids. The guy who was my closest friend back then called to let me know. I doubt I'll see, or hear from him again, and I do not care if I don't.
Anyway.
I packed up box after box last night, and it was a chore that needed to be done and nothing more. Wednesday I'll have to get out of bed at midnight to open bidding on the first, and most sought after item. That's going to be a pain. The auction will have bidders from all over the world. The best way I could come up with to ensure that people in Europe, Asia, and the Philippines all have a clear idea of when bidding opens and closes is to start the sales at midnight, and keep bidding open for a twenty four hour window. I'll survive.

Again though, what strikes me here is that I don't seem to have any palpable connection to the toys any longer. When I first bought them, each one was just a delight. For years I took great pleasure in setting up the shelves, working the transformations on the various robots, then periodically re-arranging the shelves. And when I brought the collection out of mothballs almost ten years ago that sense of delight was reawakened in me. I found Robot-Japan, the collectors' forum, on the internet, and learned for the first time, that there were thousands of people all over the world who, like myself, were just crazy over these things. I made friends on line, traded notes with people from all over the planet. It was a lot of fun.
And now it's just over- closing the door on one of the last tangible artifacts from a life I once lived, and a person I once was. It is a disturbingly easy thing to do. I'll be glad when it's all done.

JWM

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Project Failure

From jwm's world famous blog
'56 Starlet with three-speed


I finished up the work on the '56 Starlet last weekend, and put the old girl on the street for the first time in almost thirty years. Of course there were some bugs to work out. Even as simple a job as putting a three-speed on an old bike can give you a world of grief. But I got lucky. The little bugs were just that- small matters of adjustment that I got worked out with a little fiddling. The shifter works fine, and the heavy old machine is just a little easier on the legs than it was before.

And completing that project bolstered my confidence, and opened the door on the big project I've been anticipating for a couple of months now- putting the big three speed hub on the chopper bike. In fact, I used the picture of the stick shift mount to head up the last post here on the wfb. I was going to wait for the weekend, but I'm working the 6:00 AM to 2:30 shift, and daylight savings gives me a long afternoon. I couldn't wait for Saturday, so I ripped into it on Tuesday after work.

Taking the bike apart is easy. Machines always come apart easily. It's getting them back together where you encounter the problems. Before having the new hub laced into the rim I figured it would be a good idea to bolt it into the frame, hook up the chain, brake and shifter, and make sure everything fit, and worked the way it was supposed to. Once I had that assurance I could get it all spoked up and then just re-mount the wheel on the bike, and go cruisin'.

And here's where everything just went horribly wrong. I'll spare you all the tedious details, and sum it up: I couldn't get anything to fit right. Within the span of an hour I made a precipitous plunge from reasonably competent backyard mechanic to being a left thumbed geek who couldn't tell a crescent wrench from a claw hammer.

This was gut drop, red lights in the rear view, weak in the knees, full body sweat, Oh my God, what have I got myself into here? An hour became two, and then three, and then Mary came home, and I hadn't eaten, and she said, "OK I'll cook dinner tonight." Sit at the table with black fingertips, I haven't had a shower, what the hell it's after eight...
And I got into bed with my self esteem in free fall, and realized I hadn't done one single thing right since 1974. I couldn't sleep. I had to get up early. What the hell am I gonna' do here? I know! Put a post on the Schwinn forum. One of those guys will know what to do. So I did. The answer came before I'd finished typing. The moment of genius came on like a soft warm light in a cold dark cave. I figured out the problem. Easy. Drill some holes; cut some metal. Go down and get a couple nuts and bolts. Sleep followed.

I woke up Wednesday morning with my self worth restored. I could do this thing. Sure it'll take some work but I can do it. At lunch I checked the Schwinn forum, and Wayne, one of the more competent guys who posts there, had given me a list of steps to resolve all the issues, and finish the project. His solutions were better than the ones I had come up with. I got home Wednesday afternoon in good spirits, and went straight into the garage. I did all the stuff that Wayne recommended. The hub went into the dropouts just fine. Then I looped the chain over the sprockets. It almost fit. And the rotor was jammed into the brake pad. And there wasn't enough axle protruding on the shifter side... OK, I could see what I needed to do. See if I can find some ultra thin washers to space out the left side. Get out the die grinder, cut into the frame right there...

No. No fucking way. The lights came on again, only it wasn't the magical soft glow of Wile E Coyote Super Genius. It was the bright epiphany of realization. I was in over my head. This seemingly simple task was, in reality, an engineering project that was just beyond my skill set. I could push forward, but I stood a much better chance of ruining the bike than improving it. The best thing to do was to leave it alone. I felt like I'd been released from jail.

I unhooked the chain, pulled the hub out of the frame, took off the rotor, and bolted it back onto the wheel. I noticed that the wheel bearings were too tight, so I re-set them a little. I put the bike back together, gathered all the parts for the three-speed hub, and put it all back in the box. Then I wheeled the chopper bike out of the garage, dusted it off a little, and took it for a cruise around the block. It worked just fine, and it felt as cool as ever. Mary drove up beside me when I was halfway down the street. I told her I'd meet her back at the house in a minute, and then we'd go get some dinner. Job finished.

JWM

Sunday, March 7, 2010

A little change in the wind

Shifter mount ready for installation on the chopper


February just about set a record for being the most difficult month in memory.My mother's illness, my own bout with some hideous bug or other, my wife's bout with the same illness, no work, and suddenly finding my life on a very short leash has taken its toll on my otherwise less than sunny disposition.
But February is over, the first week of March has passed, and things are beginning to look hopeful once again. For this I am grateful.
I had a couple of days of work last week. That was a good start. But Thursday I had a call from the boss waiting for me when I got in. Something about a long term assignment.
Of course I'm going to take it.
And bit by bit, my mother is regaining her strength. She still needs the walker, but she's fixing her own food again, and the demands on my time are slowly easing. More to be grateful for.


I've been working on restoring the '56 Starlet for Mary. I'm installing a three-speed on the old machine, and soon enough we can get a truck, and join the Cyclone Coasters Vintage Bike Club, and go on their monthly group rides along the beach paths here in the Southland. And the three-speed conversion is coming along nicely on the chopper bike, too. I got the shift mount built, and next I'll start lacing that monster three-speed hub into the big fat rear wheel, and I'll be styling uphill, and down. There is something immensely satisfying about taking on a fabrication project yourself, and pulling it off without taking it to a shop, and paying to have it done. Fun stuff. So for this one day, things are going OK.
God willing they will continue to do so.

JWM