Sunday, September 28, 2008

It's the law...

"No sir, I don't care if it's rational or not, I'm just here to enforce it. Do you realize that I clocked you travelling at 2 to the 5th power? You're lucky you weren't going 2 pi faster or this ticket would cost you an extra 5 factorial bucks! "

(Feel free to jump in with a joke about a cop and a glazed torus.)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Dirk Pitt had it right. I need a loft over a hangar to fill with big toys and treasures from my adventures. Sadly, I have money for neither the treasures nor the hangar, but that doesn't mean I can't have any fun hobbies. My personal weakness is model railroads, but for those who enjoy somewhat more functional models, the world of miniature steam engines is open to pretty much anyone who can fit a lathe and milling machine into a corner of the garage.

The complexity of these models is often quite astounding. Here (below) is a model of a compound Corliss engine. Like the real thing, steam is used in the smaller cylinder before it is exhausted to the larger cylinder. Both cylinders provide power to the crank and flywheel, which move the linkages needed to control the four valves in each cylinder.

If you don't want to waste time with a boiler or compressed air system to run an engine, there is another alternative. Stirling cycle engines don't need a pressure source, they just need a temperature differential (usually provided by an alcohol burner)

If you're interested in model engines, check out one of these websites for more information.

PM Research

Stuart Models

Lutz Hielscher

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Old Threshers 2008

Last week I took a couple of vacation days and headed to Iowa for an event that I look forward to every year. The Midwest Old Threshers Reunion is a 5 day event ending on Labor Day. It's a wonderful chance to celebrate American history and experience the things that have shaped the midwest for over a century.

I can't cover everything, but I'll at least hit the high points until I can look at some things in more detail.

Click Here [+/-]

There are plenty of demonstrations of the festival's namesake activity; threshing. Most of the threshing here is done with steam tractors, though there are occasional demonstrations with actual horse power and slightly more modern tractors.

There are also plenty of other activities demonstrated here including corn shelling, hay baling and grinding.

Tractor enthusiasts fill up a substantial portion of the fairgrounds every year with a wide array of different makes and models of tractors. Some are original, some are restored, and some look even better than they did the day they were built.

All of the tractors are on display out in the open where you can get as close as you want, and spend time with the owners.

Is that Alexander Botts?

The tractors are not just on static display either. There are parades where owners can show off their machines in front of the grandstand and plenty of equipment for the tractors to power.

Here, an Aultman Taylor pulls into position by the veneer mill, in preparation for turning a few logs into paper thin sheets of wood.

Combustion engines aren't the only things powering equipment here though.

Here a Keck engine blasts out the boiler tubes as it starts threshing a wagon load of wheat.
This restored Reeves engine has some of the most beautiful paint you will ever see on a steam tractor.

A trip to one of the on site museums will lead you to the powerhouse where steam engines of the stationary variety are operated daily throughout the festival.

I've posted about these engines before and yet there is so much material yet to be covered.

There are also plenty of gas engines on the grounds of all sorts of varieties.

Sometimes you'll run across rare and unusual models here. This is an Edwards two cylinder motor owned by Bob Zvacek.

This engine was probably too complicated to be a commercial success when it was first released. It's still a fascinating machine and Mr. Zvacek was nice enough to run it for me. I'll have to post the videos some other time.

If you get tired of walking around the grounds, I recommend hopping on a train.

The fairgrounds has it's own narrow gauge railway with three operable steam locomotives to pull trains. I was lucky enough to be spend some time as a conductor over the weekend. It was great fun, especially since it gives you the chance to meet some very nice people.

Of course if you've had your fill of steam trains, you can always ride the Midwest Electric Railway which operates trolley and interurban cars on a circle of track that connects the campgrounds and the pioneer village with the rest of the fairgrounds.

There are also plenty of cars and trucks on display and on parade throughout the entire weekend.

There are even a few motorcycles on display.

Those things alone should be enough to wear a person out, but if you have any energy left there are plenty of other attractions around.

Like the Pioneer Village where Sanford Lee (aka Prof. Farquar) regularly entertains.

There's the print shop, where festival fliers, newsletters, and other publications are printed on antique machines.

There are blacksmith demonstrations at both the North and South ends of the fairgrounds...

...and far too many other demonstrations, vendors, and exhibits to list here.

It's a wonderful event, and if you're willing to stick around into the evening hours you may even witness a truly beautiful event; steam engines at night!

Click here to close.