Monday, August 31, 2009

Something About That Big Lake

We love Lake Michigan. I like all the great lakes but Lake Michigan is the closest so I guess that’s probably why it’s my favorite. The view of that big water is just stunning along with the seagulls and lighthouses and all that goes along with the deal. It’s tough to beat. Spring seems a little slow to come around over by the lake but otherwise I think I could live with the cooler temperatures the rest of the summer.

Sheboygan is our favorite lake town these days. It has a strong arts community, some great restaurants and of course the lake. A perfect Sunday for us is a drive to Sheboygan for a cup of coffee at the Weather Center Café. Then a long walk along the lake shore which for us is about five miles. Finally wrap things up with dinner and a tall Belhaven at the Duke of Devon on the riverfront. The Duke of Devon is a little English pub with great food and outstanding beers on tap. Worth the trip. Unfortunately we didn’t make any of that happen this weekend.

The work on the Whiskey is progressing nicely. We will be finishing up that project this week. On friday Dale base colored, trimmed the black and cleared the wheels. They are now ready for striping.

The body is being wet sanded for the vermillion (I am only saying that word once in this blog) panels and the final coats of clear. We use 600 grit paper and block sand wet which keeps the sandpaper from plugging.

Here is a shot of the wheels after they have been shot with four coats of clear.

The black trim on the hub and the rim is painted on prior to the clear. You can see in this shot of the hub it all has a nice deep and consistent shine.

I am in the middle of building a run of Sprint Carts. I’ll take a few shots of those for the blog tomorrow. We are also finishing up the Brewster Park Phaeton this week. We have some upholstery to finish up, striping and a few other odds and ends so stay tuned.

Have a great day.


Friday, August 28, 2009

An Outstanding Afternoon of Driving

For the nearly twenty years that I have been in this business my real driving experience has been rather limited. I made a decision this summer to change that. Although I have been involved in the building and restoration of a number of very advanced vehicles I am starting my driving adventure with the basics. I have connected with my good friend Debbie Bevan for a couple of lessons. It’s been a great way for me to grow into driving and I look forward to taking this more seriously as I continue.

We drove two horses yesterday so I managed to be out for a good couple hours. One pony and one horse to be specific. I must say I had a blast. Just like the last time. I am excited about this for two reasons. Number one it has been really fun and even though it is closely tied to my daily work it feels like a new experience. Number two I am optimistic that it may give me some new perspectives as we continue to create and develop new vehicles.

Work continues at a fevered pace on the Whiskey. Ryanne has the flat cushion and the wedge nearly complete. In the background you can see the beginnings of the lazy back cushion ready to go together.

Dale has the shafts in vermillion with clear. The axle is mounted and for all practical purposes the wheels are ready to go on this portion and roll away. He still has to stripe the chassis which will probably wait until Monday. This paint is a little green to be working on too much. It will be striped with a broad black line. Then of course shaft trim and any remaining hardware installation.

Bob & Brandon have the wheels sanded the second time around and they are being painted today. Getting these done today is great as it gives them the weekend to cure out a little before striping.

This is a sign I always like to see. Both wheels ready for paint. Like I’ve said before wheels can be the worst. They take a lot of time to get them to this stage but once they are in color it’s all worth the effort. Well I’m off to the races. I have a busy day today with a lot on the agenda.

Have a great weekend.


Thursday, August 27, 2009

Sixty Years of Beer & Smoke

The interior of our new showroom had been run continuously as a bowling alley for 60 years. That’s pretty amazing in itself when you think about it. Sixty years is a long time for a business to survive. I would guess that the interior was renovated once in sixty years. Probably during the seventies in conjunction with the glorious façade project. Judging from the shag carpet and paneling on the walls in combination with the 2x4 ceiling tile the early seventies would be a pretty good guess.

This space was the front entrance to the bowling alley when we acquired the property. The light shining through on the right is coming through the front entrance. The two doors in the bump out on the left are the rest rooms. The far left opening goes into the other smaller building. The wood floor in the forefront is the sub floor that was under the lanes. The holes in the floor were in place for the ball return.

Just like the exterior successful renovations of historic interiors usually begins with removal of the “improvements”. Such is the case here. This is the same room today. The right side of this photo is the same corner that the rest rooms were located. The wood framed floor was left intact and reused but it is now behind the overhead doors. The floor in this room was concrete but in very poor condition. We poured a new concrete floor over the top which varies in thickness from 2.5” to 5” in order to level the floor. The reflective material on the ceiling and wall is galvanized steel siding. I like using this material. Maybe a little too much sometimes but it has great qualities of light and texture. Pair with the right color combinations and it makes for a great space if I do say so myself.

Let’s talk tools. One of my favorite and most practical tools is our ironworker. We picked up this machine about 4 years ago as we were growing into more metal fabrication. This is a 45 ton unit which means there is 45 tons of pressure placed on the punch end when engaged. This unit was made by Metalpro which happens to be a Wisconsin company. They build two ironworkers along with some other fabrication equipment. Ours is kind of an entry level ironworker but it has served us very well over the years.

Basically an ironworker can perform a number of different functions on steel like punching, cutting, shearing, notching and bending all through leverage and hydraulic pressure. We are focusing on the punch end of the machine today for our project at hand. I am in the middle of making a run of Sprint cart frames. Our rear seat support has a series of three holes for the height adjustment. We are using our Metalpro today to punch the three holes.

Here we have two seat supports. The outside shape of the part was cut on a CNC plasma cutter. Another tool for another day. One support has the holes already punched and one does not. I have a steel pattern in which I can easily hammer set a dimple in the steel to mark the center of each of the three holes.

The punch has a sharp point on the end which I place in the dimple mark of the steel. You can see another one of the dimple marks a couple inches down from the one I am ready to punch now. You might have to click on these shots if you want to see the details of what’s going on.

I activate the switch and the punch plunges through the 3/16” steel like butter.

The punch cycles down through the steel and comes back up lifting the steel plate up to the orange (or is that vermillion?) stops which knock the plate off the punch as it cycles back upward. A perfect 7/16” hole in all of about five seconds. Drilling this hole would probably take a minute by the time we drill a pilot and clean off the burrs. So a huge time saver when doing production work.

Here we have it. A right and left seat support with holes now ready to be welded into the frame. OK gang those of you here for a shot of Whiskey are going to have to come back tomorrow. I will say this. It’s much easier to spot in a crowd today than it was yesterday. See you tomorrow.

Have a great day.


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Full Circle

Our downtown showroom began life as an automobile dealership in the early 1900’s. The larger of the two buildings on the left is the newest of the two being built in 1920. I guess that dealership lasted about 25 years or so before the owner decided to go into the bowling business. It’s my understanding that it was around 1945 when our building was converted to a bowling alley. It operated as such until 2006.

This photo shows how the property appeared in June of 2007 when we acquired it. I can’t quite recall just when but the lovely steel facade was installed sometime in the early 1970’s. The seventy’s were tough times for historic properties like this. It was the beginning of mall madness and everyone thought their buildings needed to look streamline and sporty. Now, if you know me you understand that I have nothing against contemporary architecture. But 9 and a half times out of 10 trying to turn an early 1900’s property into a contemporary looking building fails miserably.

So often people try to make buildings into something they were never meant to be. The garbage tacked on the front of this building was not in keeping with the neighborhood and completely obliterated the outstanding historic façade. So we rip off the “improvements” and this is what our building looks like now. The old building face was still intact under the steel but in poor repair so it took some effort to bring it back. But all well worth it. This building once again is accomplishing it’s original intent. To be a traditional façade in an historic neighborhood rather than a wanabe mall in the wrong location. I find it ironic that a building built to sell the all new automobile at the turn of the century is now housing horse drawn vehicles ninety years later.

We continue to pound out the Whiskey project. Here Dale is making a last fitting of the body before it goes in for paint. Everything lines up and fits as it should so he is ready to throw some paint at it.

The body and the chassis have been primed and sanded twice now. At this stage of the game we do our best not to break through the skin of the primer to expose any wood. The primer acts as both a filler and sealer.

Brandon has been sanding away on a wheel this afternoon. Bob has been working on the other and both are nearing the point where they are ready for second coat primer.

The upholstery for the wedge seat is taking some shape. Ryanne has the other flat cushion sewn and ready to pull buttons on that one too. I like the contrast of black buttons and piping with the tan Bedford cord. Really a classic, traditional appearance in keeping with a sporting vehicle such as this.

We are finally in the paint stage. The body was shiny and black by the end of the day. It looks really good. Smooth, level, and after a wet sanding and more clear it should look like glass. Let’s hope for a bright red blog tomorrow.

Have a great day.


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Extreme Blog Makeover

I spent the evening last night playing around with American Carriage Builder. It needed something. I wasn’t sure just what but it needed something. Oh, I don’t know, maybe our name, address and phone number for starters. For crying out loud. Sometimes it’s the most obvious things that you just don’t see. So I took care of that. Then added a few other new goodies along the left menu so go ahead and check it out.

Cheryl’s llamas are really enjoying these cool mornings. We can’t really get up in the morning and go for a run without her running back in to grab the camera. So she spends twenty minutes taking pictures while I’m plodding around the farm. I after my laps I head for the house and I hear “you can’t be done already!” This is now becoming the daily ritual.

We continue to push it hard on the Whiskey. It is really coming along. The shaft frame is in final coat primer and about half sanded. So a couple more hours on this part and it will be ready for color. Other than the step pads this entire frame will be vermillion.

I picked up a new tool today. It is a random orbit pneumatic detail sander. It came with a 2” diameter pad and a 3” diameter pad. I think I’ve purchased just about every detail sander known to man. They are all shoved in the back corner of a cupboard with the cords all tangled up. Someday you will be able to bid on choice at my estate sale. I think this one may be different. First of all it’s a for real tool rather than a do-it-yourselfer $19.95 special. It has a variable speed and really seems to work nicely at getting into those tight spots.

Brandon was using the it on some areas of the wheels and it appears to be doing a really nice job. It should save us a lot of time in some of the hard to reach places. Looks like a good investment so far. We are on the first sanding of the wheels and I would expect to see them going into second coat primer later today or Wednesday.

By the time you read this the body will be ready for paint. Bob has it just about done in this photo. He has a few areas to finish up on the bottom side and it’s ready to spray. The majority of the body will actually be black. The panel around the seat and the box under the seat will be vermillion but otherwise all black. Dale will start out shooting the entire body black with a base then clear. After that the body will be wet sanded and the vermillion base and clear applied. Wet sand the vermillion then clear the whole shebang. Should look like a million bucks.

Have a great Tuesday.


Monday, August 24, 2009

Monday Morning Fog

Monday morning fog can be taken a number of different ways. I guess I mean it in a literal sense today. I shot the photo below from our deck this morning. I even got my socks wet just to do this for you. Just more reassurance that summer is winding down and autumn is lurking in.

If you look closely you can see a llama in a roll hole in the pasture. They love this kind of weather. It has been a great summer for the llamas. Cool with green pastures all summer long. They managed to get through the summer keeping most of their head wool which is a rarity. Normally they rub their heads on the ground to knock off the mosquitoes and being so cool it was a non event.

Ryanne finished up the upholstery for the Mad Max Road Cart on Friday. It turned out just great. She has started on the upholstery for the Whiskey and we should have some photos of that later on in the week. So the wheels for Mad Max are repaired and ready to start paint work. They will go into primer later this week and I’m hoping to wrap up that vehicle by the end of next week.

The Kimball Brougham body continues to rest and relax. Life at the spa so to speak.

Bob started sanding on the doors. They are in first coat primer and are being sanded with 220 this go round.

We are now back down to maybe a half a million pieces. Dale has the front and rear chassis of the Kimball Brougham reassembled. All the parts have been primed and sanded before assembly so both of these components are ready for paint.

Time to get out and clear off the Monday morning fog.


Saturday, August 22, 2009

Studebaker - New York

The Studebaker empire started with two of five brothers named Clement and Henry Studebaker. The brothers migrated from Pennsylvania to South Bend, Indiana to begin building wagons in 1852. In 1858 another brother John Mahler Studebaker entered the company and purchased Henry’s interest in the business. By the 1870’s the Studebaker company was growing rapidly and shortly thereafter was considered the largest manufacturer of horse drawn vehicles in the world. By this time their factory in South bend covered 20 acres and they had additional manufacturing facilities in large metro areas such as New York, Chicago and Kansas City. In 1895 Studebaker produced 75,000 units and employed 1,900 people. It was also about at this time that Studebaker began experimenting with motor driven vehicles which lead to their successful transition into that market about fifteen years later.

I’m no expert on Studebaker but this is what I have noticed. Rather than being a focused manufacturer they seemed to make something for everyone. They started business building farm wagons and those were some of the last vehicles to roll out of the factories as they switched to motor vehicles. Studebaker built great fleets of military and municipal vehicles. They mass produced runabouts, sulkies and surreys in huge numbers for the general public and built limited high end carriages to appeal to the social elite.

I have had the pleasure of owning a number of Studebaker carriages over the years that I can say I have really enjoyed. The mass production carriages are pretty much like everyone else’s mass production carriages so no big deal. But the unique sporting and formal carriages are of outstanding quality and design. There is something very American feeling about the style of Studebaker carriages. Hard to describe but uniquely American. I think I’m correct in calling this vehicle a Sailor Wagon. It is a snappy little cut under carriage with a folding grooms seat that I happen to be quite taken by.

Here you can clearly see the groom seat in the upright position. The sides of the rails fold inward for clearance when the seat is stowed under the driver seat. The hinges are visible but the joints are so tight that they are difficult to see even up close. This entire mechanism still works just like the day it was built.

The oil caps are marked Studebaker New York which I would assume meant that it was produced in the New York factory. Over the years I have had vehicles marked Studebaker Brothers, Studebaker South Bend, Studebaker Chicago, and Studebaker New York. All four oil caps are in place and marked.

This carriage has some fantastic details. The raised trim on the body is unique and quite similar to details used in a Bronson Wagon. I really like the way the hand rail is designed on the driver seat with the step and double rail section. Very unique and appealing to the eye. The driver seat is hinged and folds upward for storage of the rear groom seat.

I love this detail on the body supports. The little wood block or cube on the end of the spring block is so different. I can’t recall seeing this design detail before so it really caught my eye. Right now the carriage is in natural finish. It has been restored but a long time ago the way it looks. I’m not sure if it was originally a painted vehicle or natural. I have not had the time to really examine it quite that closely. The body has a couple small damage issues that might be a challenge if we are going to leave it natural so we’ll see.

The only other real problem with the carriage are the wheels. When it was last restored they must have found a pair at the “Island Of Misfit Wheels” and installed then on the back. The front wheels appear to be original and correct. Count the spokes. Ten in the front means there should be twelve in the back. I count fourteen so that was the first sign. The hubs and fellows are not a match either. The fronts are interesting in their design. First off they have a really attractive hub. Secondly the fellows are a tapered profile almost in keeping with a Brewster fellow. They are wider at the spoke than they are at the steel. The fellows also lack any shaping between the spokes so the crisp edge of the fellow carries completely around the circumference of the rim. We are in the process of making two new wheels for the rear that will be an exact match to the front. Then we will be ready to dive into restoration of this great American classic.

Enjoy your weekend.


Friday, August 21, 2009

Whiskey Sweet

BREAKING NEWS! Columbus made national news this morning. Watch the segment below. Hang in there it's toward the end.

I was planning to show you the Studebaker Sailor Wagon today but things are moving along pretty quickly on the Whiskey so I’m hitting that again today. Maybe we’ll see the Studebaker over the weekend. I pulled it out and managed to get a few photos of it the other day so it’s just kind of in waiting. The one little issue with the Studebaker is the rear wheels. Somewhere along the line they were replaced with a misfit pair. So we are in the middle of putting together a new set of wheels made to exactly match the fronts (they are original) which happen to have some unique features. The new wheels will be together in a month or so just in time for us to start in on the vehicle restoration.

No fun pictures today. Just work, work, work. The Whiskey body is nearing the completion of it first sanding. By the time you read this it will be in the booth getting a second coat of primer. I put together the seat cushion frames last night so Ryanne will begin on upholstery today. She has things pretty well put to bed on the Mad Max upholstery and I’ll try to sneak in a photo of that next week.

When we make the frames they need to be a little loose fitting. I like to leave about a quarter inch around the perimeter of the frame for fabric. By the time it is all said and done there are several layers of fabric lapping the perimeter of the wood frame eating away at that quarter inch. That will make for a nice snug fit.

About the only obstruction is the lazy back. I notched both the back side and the bottom of the wedge frame to accommodate those irons. I have also angled the back sides of the cushion frames to match the angle of the main seat frame itself. Once the seat is upholstered that space will be a nice snug fit all the way around with fabric.

The wheels made first coat primer yesterday. We will start in sanding them today. I hope to have at least one of them ready for second coat by the end of the day today.

These puppies really suck up the time. The hubs and spokes are all hand sanded. All those little nooks and crannies need to be done with little sanding blocks to keep things level and smooth. Unfortunately there are no real short cuts here. You are looking deep into the abyss of the worst part of our job…

The axle and spring frame is together and in primer. Dale is planning to paint this part along with the main shaft frame maybe Monday but probably more like Tuesday. I’m confident by the end of the day on Wednesday the wheels and the body will be ready for paint as well. Next week will be in living technocolor compared to the gray primer week we shared this time.

If by chance I don’t blog tomorrow just go ahead and have a great weekend anyway.


Thursday, August 20, 2009

Carriage Town Michigan

I ran across an interesting article in the New York Times this morning. Kind of an American tale of a community reinventing itself. Like so many communities going through that process so is Carriage Town Michigan. This community is a neighborhood in Flint Michigan built by the pioneers of the then thriving carriage industry. Once home to the Durant-Dort Carriage Company, Flint Michigan was a leader in the carriage trade. Durant Dort ultimately morphed into General Motors through its creation of Buick. Credit Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times for the photo below.

There is something about this type of community that I find very appealing. The tremendous beauty of these neighborhoods just left to ruin. Now the underdog is fighting back to life. People are drawn back to the beauty and creating a new community. But was Carriage Town a victim of it’s own success? What caused the failure of such an incredible historic neighborhood? For better or worse it was probably modern transportation. Better known as the automobile. The creation of the modern automobile ultimately lead to the development of the suburbs and the fall of the city. After all who wants to drive their fancy new car two blocks back and forth to work. I find it so interesting how the product that created the beautiful core of Flint Michigan probably lead to its demise. I'm looking forward to jumping in my car and visiting Carriage Town sometime soon.

We are just a booking along on the Whiskey Gig. The body is in first coat primer and being block sanded as we speak. It is turning out nicely and I expect to see it in second coat primer later on today.

Here are the remains of the chassis parts. We were not wild about the wheels that were on the vehicle so we are changing them out. I was looking for a more refined traditional hub on this one and now we have it. So all the chassis parts are waiting to be reinstalled on a new axle. We should have that wrapped up today.

The shaft frame was sanded and put in second coat primer on Tuesday. It is now ready for final sanding and then on to paint. Maybe we’ll see some paint on those tomorrow.

Here are the new wheels. They turned out great. We copied the hub from the Studebaker Sailor Wagon which I will be blogging tomorrow. The hub is about 4.5” in diameter and a really pretty design. We went with twelve spokes on a one inch axle. These are wood hub wheels with a modern roller bearing boxing. They should look fantastic on this vehicle.

BTW I guess I need to have more bloggless days if I actually want people to comment on my work…

Have a great Thursday.