Friday, September 30, 2005


Owning a small business concern, I have had a repeated problem with people ripping the public restroom sink off the wall. The hanging sink, though sound for home, presents a real challenge in public places. Despite all efforts, the sink ended up on the floor more than once. I like to think of mothers, weary from the workaday world, taking a short break by sitting on my sink while an adorable toddler tinkles rather than peeing his pants. More often, it is just malicious intent. That and standing on the sink to smoke crack closer to the exhaust fan.

After examining all options, I decided any Home Depot solution would be temporary at best. I figured the next time the sink was on the floor, it would be surrounded by birch contact paper particle board. So, I bought the cheapest vanity sink and welded this fine looking rollcage for it. This photo was actually taken before completion during an exhaustive QA session with my small dog. Unsatisfied, I welded some more cross braces front to back, primed it, painted it gloss black and bolted it to the wall with 6 wall anchors.

By the looks of this sink, it would appear that I was in the prison privatization business.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Times of Great Abundance

In stark contrast to the thriftiness exhibited by using your idle automobile as a farm tractor, neighbors threw this quaint desk in the trash. It had been subjected to various insults over its long life and I had to strip three layers of paint plus the odd contact paper. People ask if I refinish furniture and I do - just as often as it takes me to forget what a terrible job it is. Just as often as it takes to forget the safety strippers don't work. Just long enough to forget the feeling of fingers frying in black, chemical resistant gloves.

Probably not the best thing I ever found in the trash, but this is the cornerstone of the buck-98 outdoor room. Why the crosswords will be solving themselves! Chances are, this desk was the best thing the prior owners had in their house and they threw it in the trash. I should challenge them to a crossword puzzle tourney.

The machine is no make-shift

According to April 16, 1921 issue of Scientific American, the entire operation of placing the automobile and attaching the chains requires about 5 minutes. A good use of 5 minutes, I would say.

Two 1921 issues of Scientific American cost about $6 at a garage sale. A princely sum, to be sure. For a brief instant I wavered, then I thought of what $6 would buy at the grocery store newsstand.

Staggeringly, Scientific American "A Weekly Review of Progress in INDUSTRY - SCIENCE - INVENTION - MECHANICS" was already in its seventy-seventh year. Who knows how it changed in the preceding years, but a current issue of Scientific American looks nothing like the 1921 issues of The Weekly Journal of Practical Information. Other articles questioned whether the battleship was still relevant, extolled the merits of cleaning electrical machinery with compressed air and suggested antenna aerials be constructed of wood to reduce eddy currents. They were a stoic group at Scientific American, as they ponder, "Of all the myriad problems growing from prohibition there is none more baffling than what to do with breweries." They suggested growing mushrooms.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Dada Desk Set

Recently, I decided that my less than stellar New York Times Crossword performance was probably due to the lack of a proper outdoor room. In a Sunset magazine fueled hysteria, it seems that a fellow without an outdoor room is a savage. A suburban dweller without an outdoor room - criminal.

Though it does not look inspirational, this little trash can desk is the cornerstone of my future outdoor room. As usual, I have broad, sweeping plans but would like to execute them for under $10 and in a couple days. This rubbish find was a puzzle. It looks somewhat modern, but it's made of quartersawn oak. I couldn't figure out the hairpin legs on a piece with an old oak drawer pull (see center drawer, click the pic to blow up.) Then I realized, this is a super crappo re-use desk! This fucker was a bungalow built-in! Some dingdong pulled it out only to insult with those dimestore legs, a new plywood backpanel and a mod color. Over the three coats of paint, somebody decided they wanted it woodgrain again but refinishing it was too much work! Instead, they painstakingly puzzle piece cut contact paper to bring it back to its original grandeur. It was the most dada thing I had seen all day and that is saying something considering I had lunch in Monterey Park at a place that featured 'smelled beef'. What a nutty bing-bong world.

Considering how much I hate refinishing, I really considered buying some brick contact paper and bolting a bicycle wheel to the top.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

No Average Day of Garage Saling

There is no average garage saling day. Even after all these years, I find the anticipation palpable as I wonder what will be found. There is just no telling . Sometimes I buy absolutely nothing and I must say, once the disappointment subsides, it is very liberating to not have to find a place for yet more junk.

Unless you are looking for a 32 Oz. sipper cup, you will never find what you are looking for. For example, if you decided to look for a paint-by-number featuring a crying bear with a parasol sitting on top of an elephant with a silly hat, chances are you would be disappointed. But there it is. And now I own it. (1 of 10 items, $10 for the lot) Somebody, somewhere, probably thinks the 1960 Ford Thunderbird is a super looking car. Not me. But, I was happy to find this dealer promotional model (1 of 10, $10)
I can't say no to a good looking crescent wrench. When you have as many cars as I have, it makes sense to have a little tool kit for each and a crescent wrench is compact and handy. Plus, that shiny one is a Snap-on, as is that little punch. And that push-button switch? All metal and therefore superb for an oven door. Try finding one of those at the hardware store. (8/10, $10)
The budget buster of the week, but this is why I clip coupons. Save on the stuff that doesn't matter (like Windex) so you have the money to buy something totally kick-ass, like this United Airport directional sign that was hand carved out of a chunk of steel with a cutting torch. Bob Hope Airport aka the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena airport was called United Airport from 1930-1934. Think it isn't the real deal? (1/1, $100)
There was a time that a cross country trip required the driver to carry a box of spare parts. Generally, I try not to buy unsorted boxes of hardware because they don't sort themselves. But, this box was hard to resist. (1/2, $1)
I was happy to find this third full container of jack oil as I bought a new hydraulic jack this weekend! (1/2, $1)
Naturally, I already have a floor jack, but I have been wanting another. Those guys at the tire stores have a great system of two floor jacks under the A-arms. Car is up in the air in a second. Plus, I have always wanted a Hein-Werner O'Boy. Besides the great name, Hein-Werner are widely regarded as the best floor jacks ever made. Old guys have told me these were made for tow trucks and were light and portable in comparison to the full size Hein-Werners. Having hauled this jack around a bit, I can tell you the tow truck drivers of yesteryear must have been pretty stout characters. (1/1, $20)

Worst part about not smoking is not requiring ash trays. And also, not looking cool. (2/2, $1.50)

About my logos

With the exception of my original, quite ugly logo, all my logos are courtesy of the very fine, Mr. Coop. He knows a charity case when he sees one. Before, I was adrift. Now, I am a champion.

Friday, September 16, 2005

All Hail the Ragged Edge

The third great American innovation, after baseball and jazz, is hot rodding. Sure, one could argue that the big third is rock and roll or the craftsman bungalow. And I am insane for The New Yorker but it is not so different than its predecessors to be an American revolution. I have forks stolen from the Algonquin, had lunch at the round table, own bound copies of The New Yorker, enter the cartoon caption contests and bought a new laptop largely in anticipation of the The Complete New Yorker, but it is not hot rodding.

Look at that fighter plane belly tank nose coned, rear engined, hand painted numbered, wire-wheeled death trap. Defined as much by failures as successes, hot rodding was a crazy hodgepodge of trying everything and seeing what stuck. Though a belly tank on the nose didn't catch on, the later belly tank cars were a true cigar shaped revolution.

Hot rodding is a mirror of what it means to be American. Scrappy ingenuity. Doing the best you can with what you have. Trying, doing, failing, refining and succeeding. More with less. There was no money or magazine to be featured in, just a pure desire to go ever faster.

One day, you are nothing. A loser with an old $30 Model T. Your friends come over and help you remove the fenders and the next day at school you are a Greek god. Some aftermarket parts from the nascent Los Angeles speed industry and you are on the way to lakes. Remove the headlights, bumpers, toolbox and anything not absolutely necessary and you are racing six cars abreast across the dry lakes.

Eventually, any car person must get around to the Model A and Model T. Certainly any car person with an interest in the social history of the United States. Fords were not the fastest cars of the time, but they were plentiful, cheap and, perhaps most important, modular. You could swap newer, more evolved parts to your old bucket of bolts and have something absolutely terrifying to drive to Bob's. The post-war era was an amazing time in US history and it is captured in the Southern California hot rods. It was optimistic, infallible and a comparatively monied paradise. Not that there weren't serious issues that would make your skin crawl, from racial divides to wicked dentistry, but there was a national pride that can only be imagined now.

Flush with the end of the war, the end of the Depression and plenty of blue-collar, union, skilled jobs, Los Angeles was an absolute paradise. GIs coming home to sweethearts and mothballed Fords. A brand new bungalow on a street that was an orange grove the year prior and a desert not long before that. With new skills learned during the war years, hot rodders came home with a plan and copious high tech surplus was waiting for them. New exotic materials and engineering skills meant hot rodding made great leaps in comparison to before the war. Since cars were not built during the war, severe latent demand meant new cars were purchased and broken down Fords were everywhere for a penny, nickel and dime. The sounds of scratchy AM radio broadcasts, threadbare rugs, tall dressers on skinny legs and the smell of orange blossom blowing through the window. A true paradise.

The absolute epitome of that, the zenith of that moment, the absolute driving American spirit is all captured in the dry lakes hot rods. The resourcefulness, the community of hot rodders, the pushing the envelope, the ten things tried that didn't work out for every one that did, the outlaw spirit, the scrappy attitude and the fearlessness. It was so much more punk rock than punk rock ever was.
And all that coffee cup knowledge, experimentation and backyard engineering netted real advances. As evidenced by the incredibly beautiful Pierson Brother's Coupe, those skills came together to great effect. Talk about looking like 150MPH standing still, this car gives me the chills.

That hot rodding, try anything mentality continues today. Teams in my beloved Formula 1 make changes to the car race-to-race, week-to-week. But, the big questions were answered long ago by the dry lakers. The Formula 1 effort is hunreds of millions of dollars and god bless em. It is absolutely thrilling, but the advances are made in the windtunnel, not in a suburban garage. Formula 1 is the European Union space effort. It's NASA technology.

What is being done to preserve the history of the third great innovation? Coop and I found out. In Rosemead, California, there is a temple to hot rodding. EARLY hot rodding. No small blocks and Hemis. Lucky for all of us, the stewards tending this treasure trove absolutely know how important it is. And the knowledge is deep.
All the trick shit. All the coolest, rarest speed equipment from back in the day. Absolutely beautiful in form and function. Nothing for sale. Well, new stuff and some repop for sale, but don't even joke about that Cragar head, Lasalle grill or those Buick drums. It is not going to happen. And thank god. Nothing here should be sold, because if I was a rich bastard, instead of being a regular bastard, I would buy it all. And I shouldn't be able to because I wouldn't let people like me look at it. And even though my passion runs deep, I don't know squat about this stuff comparatively.
"Do you have any old aftermarket flathead four heads?" I asked.

"You mean to look at? Cause I just want to be clear what we are talking about..." as he squinted his eyes.

"Um, yeah, to look at," I replied.

"Well, yeah, if you have some more time, you can come in the next room," he said.

More time? We would still be there if we could.
Yes, those are original Edelbrock and Weiand boxes. And yes, they are full of heads and manifolds that have never been on a car.

The worst thing that could happen would be for some rich jerk to buy the whole kit and kaboodle. Second to that, imagine all sorts of what-have-you jerks buying bits and pieces only to be scattered across the country. The third worst case scenario would be to have it all boxed up and put in museum display cases. This stuff belongs in this old auto parts store. This is where it was originally sold and there is something surprisingly satisfying seeing it as it should be - in between seemingly incongruous oddball collections like church keys and punk rock flyers from the 80s. Somehow, it all makes dusty sense with the corny jokes written on construction paper. So, what's more rare than original speed equipment in the original boxes? How about the molds used to cast that same speed equipment? Yeah, I guess that would be pretty rare.

I will never be anything but a spectator to jazz and baseball. Sure, I could learn to play the trumpet but I will never be able to participate at a meaningful level. And playing on a softball team would never scratch the surface of the complexity of the baseball diamond and how the physics of that space has kept the game much the same as it always was.

But I will be able to build a pretty decent hotrod, and have the same joys of mechanical ingenuity and hair raising wire wheel thrills that the dry lakers enjoyed. In twenty years, I may build a truly great hot rod. More likely than my reaching the level of Ellington or Babe Ruth.

The Birth of Hot Rodding: The Story of the Dry Lakes Era
The books of Don Montgomery
Muroc: Where The Hot Rods Ran - My favorite as all photos were taken on a single day in 1938

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Best $2 Lamp Ever!

You can put a bottlecap, used teabag, spider eggs, a piece of Bazooka or the Bat Phone under a glass dome and it immediately ups the ante. Stop toiling, people! Your art stinks! Glass dome it and move on!

The garage sale purveyor said that it was some sort of obscure director's award. Maybe a cinematographer's award. The garage sale matron really had no idea and was just making stuff up. She believed her own bullshit, as they often do. I blame the early rising, lack of coffee and excessive sun exposure. Since I garage sale every week, I don't lose my shit when I have a garage sale. I am carved of wood. Practically an Olympian of garage sales.

Anyway, none of that means a hill of beans. I probably have twenty lamps but I don't have a finer lamp than this at double the cost. I mean, Hooptyrides Garage has not a single Lalique, Tiffany, Steuben or Pairpoint lamp, but we do ok. No Dirk Van Erp, but we get by. No Roycroft, but we aren't sitting in the dark either.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Ford Country Squire Door Panels Replaced!

Clearly, the original Ford Country Squire door panels did not need to be replaced as there were years of reliable service remaining.

But, I replaced them anyway. This is the passenger door which turned out much better than the drivers door. In other words, I am getting better at it.

Using the original door panels as a model, I trimmed the aluminum panels to the almost correct size by leaving them a little long to anticipate the losses from the roll at the top. Since I do not have a sheet metal slip roll or brake, I was not able to curve the top edge. The local sheet metal shop matched the curve to the original door panel in about 5 minutes and then put a hard edge at the top to hook into the door. I would love to say that the service was great and prices reasonable, but it was not. The sheet metal shop is run by a cantankerous old world bastard. The sort of fellow that has phenominal chops and deep knowledge, but is an arrogant prick that has zero interest in sharing even a few tips while complaining the whole time about how youth has no interest in learning the lost arts. Jerk.

I lined up the panels on the door, marked the material that needed to be trimmed and did the final cuts with tin snips. After lining the edges with weatherstriping, I re-hung the panel and attached the door hardware to hold it roughly in place. Starting at the top, I drilled and riveted my way around the door panel.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

In Praise of Chaucer Vans

Never one to lollygag when there is Photoshopping to do, Coop whipped up this delightful Chaucer van.

Certainly quiets any concerns that a Canterbury Tales theme van might not be a good idea.

Friday, September 09, 2005

In Praise of Custom Vans: Part 1 of 100

Without a shred of hipster irony, I love custom vans. Always have. Since I was a kid. I have spent many valuable hours considering what my future custom van theme will be.

Hot Stuff? With the little mudflap devil and a red crushed velvet interior? A big heart pass-through to the rear bed? A pitchfork shift lever?

Perhaps a Canterbury Tales theme with swords for rear door handles, a Z-Brick interior and bar with gilt mirror spelling MEAD? CHAUCER airbrushed on the side? With the gap-toothed women busting out with a pair of frothy steins?

A TEQUILA SUNRISE van? A round bed and velvet bedspread with dimples like an orange? With a sunset airbrushed overhead? And a minibike on the back bumper? And a tequila filled jerry can with a spigot? Painted to look like a Cuervo label?

Beowulf? Star Wars? Moulin Rouge? Champagne? Old West Whorehouse? I don't mind getting stuck in gridlock traffic as much as some people because there is always a new custom van theme to consider.

Nevada officials apparantly had no qualms about issuing this fellow a RAPER license plate, though they should have arrested him immediately for wearing those shorts.Given the interior space of a van, this guy made quite a commitment with the giant plaster lion. He must have been a big fan of the New York Public Library.
In good faith, you can not deny that this would be fun as hell. Knuckles practically touching on that tiny steering wheel. Listening to Fleetwood Mac on those white headphones. Drinking a Coors in the pre-open container law days. There are only two questions in custom vanning. Ford, Chevy or Dodge? Budweiser or Coors?
Even as a kid, I knew there was something sinister about vans. Who knows what lurks inside? What would John Wayne Gacy drive? The official vehicle of the Mann Act.
Of course, the reason that guys like this would build a killer van is so they could get chicks. He must have had some incredible van.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Everybody's asking, 'Did you fix it?'

Sure, I fixed it. The voltage is a little low, but keep in mind the relatively slow idle of a diesel in comparison to a gas engine. As idle was increased, voltage did rise to an acceptible level.

Is that a fancy Fluke 88 V automotive multimeter? Yes, it is. Is it worth the money? Nope. But I am an insufferable snob.

Miracle Mercedes Benz Runs Without Electricity!

I am fascinated by machines that operate without electricity. Powered by individual effort, steam, fuel or gunpowder, there is just something satisfyingly low tech about a machine that operates without the tether of an electrical cord. Clearly, I am of a generation raised with Foxfire books. Naturally, since I collect nearly everything without concern for size or utility, I have sliderules, Curtas, a telephone that operates with a hand crank, a counting machine and this staggeringly beautiful, and back-breakingly heavy, stencil maker. One would think that worldwide demand for stencils has not changed appreciably in the last 50 years, but when was the last time you saw such a machine?

The worst thing about car batteries is notorious leaking of extremely corrosive acid. The battery box on the 1961 Mercedes 190b is literally rusted away. The rest of the car is virtually rust-free but the I am going to have to rebuild the battery box from scratch as currently water pours into the passenger compartment through what used to be the battery tray. Recently, I was thrilled to buy an Optima at a garage sale. This is a true advance in battery design as they are 'gel' based and sealed. They can be mounted upside down and have huge reserve power ratings for the hard cranking diesels.

So, the battery light came on the 1987 Mercedes 300TD and I decided to swap in the Optima. Of course, the battery tray was rusty as hell. I think of the 1987 Mercedes as a new car, but twenty years of slowly leaking batteries told a different story. I removed the tray, wire brushed it and painted it with miracle product POR-15. If you have never used POR-15, you are in for a real treat. It is a rust preventive paint that is thick like molasses and results in a tough as nails coating almost like an undercoating. Complete with brush marks. The instructions for POR-15 ready like a lazy man's best friend. Right there in black and white, they say to not worry about residual rust.

Then I sprayed the tray with Eastwood Trunk Splatter paint because I thought it would be fun. And it was.

Naturally, replacing the battery did not solve the battery light problem. With the modern cars with modern voltage regulators, you can troubleshoot charging problems easily with a voltmeter. People will say, 'Oh, you need to load test the battery! You have to do voltage drop tests between this and that! And do all this other stuff.' Which I suppose is true, but if the battery reads 12.5V with the car off and 12.5V with the car on, it is a damned good bet that the alternator is not charging.

Following my infuriating run-in with the Chevy truck fuel sender, I was prepared from the worst from Mercedes. Admittedly, it would have been nice to buy just those worn-out $3 brushes but things have changed since the time of the Model T. I realize that manufacturer's can not sell every single component in every vehicle and this combination voltage regulator with the brushes replaces the two most common failure points in a single $53 package. Perhaps it is telling that I feel this is a reasonable solution.

Before I got it installed, I had to drive an hour to my mother's house to, among other things, repair the taillights on her Ford Escort station wagon. But, I had a fresh battery and even without the alternator, I thought I could get there and back - if I did not have to use headlights. In case I was wrong, I brought a battery charger but unless a kindly widow let me charge my battery at her quaint farmhouse, I don't know what good it was going to do me. Widows with farmhouse apple pies are getting pretty scarce in Los Angeles.

Needless to say, the battery didn't hold. But it was thrilling! Diesels do not need electricity, per se, to run. To start a diesel requires electricity to turn the starter motor and to warm the glow plugs. But once the engine has started, the residual heat and awesome engine compression enable all subsequent combustion. In theory, this is correct - once running, diesels don't need electricity. But when I was driving, I wondered if it was really true. Would the diesel injection pump require computer controls? No, it is a mechanical system. Would something else need computer control? Would it really run? Probably a line of thinking best pursued from the couch rather than on the freeway, but you know, I am a scientist! Hands on!

And it was amazing. I felt like I was in an Apollo space capsule. You don't generally think of an automobile as having a host of electrical systems, but, boy, once they start failing, you can think no other way! First, the A/C stopped working. Then the fan stopped working. And the dash lights went dim. And the gas gauge quit. The power window barely went down. And the battery warning light went out. There was not enough power to run the battery warning light! But, the car kept running! At 80! I imagine the brake lights were not terribly bright, so, you know, not a great idea. When I got home and turned it off, I tried to start it. Totally dead.