Stuff begins with stuff….

I picked up a stack of 24″ squares of 16ga mild steel today. Because of the way they cut and order stuff, 24″ squares must be ordered in lots of 8. I know that the tank for Puff will take two squares and all the other stuff I envision will take more and more, so I thought 16 would be a good order that will last a while.

Bit O’ Metal Trivia…  16 sheets of 2’x2′ 16ga weighs 160 pounds, pretty much…

A New Seat for Kermit

Before I get on with the seat, I have some other update duties to perform.

Kermit had started stalling at most stops, especially in such conditions as a freeway exit or getting caught by a light in a long straightaway. He would always start right  back up and and appear to return to normal without issue.

I suspected either of two things, idle circuit adjustment or the throttle cable arrangement, and really, I figured it would be a combination of the two.

Well, spent a good half day dinking with them both to no avail. I found that even sitting in the shop, I was able to duplicate the issue… If I held the engine at 3000 rpm or so, it would die when I closed the throttle. I also noticed that it had a little bit of a miss during that rev.

Then I finally figured it out, having until then ignored the very thing I had installed specifically to catch this kind of problem! The inline fuel pressure gauge was showing 1 PSI. I shut the engine off and was able to squeeze the hose and get the indicator to swing full scale, so it wasn’t a bad gauge. Started again and watched the gauge. When running at 3000 rpm, pressure dropped even lower, then about the time the engine would die, the pressure would come back up to 1 PSI. The entire circuit from tank to carburetor is less than three feet as the hose flies.

Long story short (too late), it was the fuel pump. Makes sense… could provide good enough volume to run, though a little lean at higher rpm, then when you come off the throttle, it dies because the idle circuit picks up from the top of fuel bowl. By the time you can restart it, the pump has caught up and filled the bowl. Rinse. Repeat.

So, dashed down to O’Reilly in Decatur (about a 30 minute round trip) and got another fuel pump and a new filter. All hooked up, 5 PSI, can’t kill it now.

That day, we went on a ride just short of 150 miles and it didn’t (unexpectedly) die once.

So, fast forward a week and I have a new (new to me, anyhow) Hobart AirForce 250ci plasma cutter to play with. Wanted a plasma cutter forever and finally had both the wherewithall to drop a few bucks on one *and* a decent price for a used one on Craigslist. Actually, it’s so barely used, it may as well be new.

It can cut.

I chipped the dross off, but this is how it does it.

One of my upcoming projects, and honestly one of the reasons I wanted the plasma torch now, is a replacement fuel tank for the purple trike. That will be made of 16ga mild steel.

In any case, today’s project was replacing the seat on Kermit. The old seat came from the basement at American Motorcycle Trading Company in Arlington. It appears to have been a take-off from a modern Indian motorcycle. Decent enough seat, though a trike puts more weight on your tailbone than a motorcycle typically does, so said tailbone can really tell when you’ve been on a long ride.

After looking at a *LOT* of seats online, mostly boat and tractor seats, we decided to try a particular tractor seat from Northern Tool, which also happened to be on sale for $70.

I knew that it would involve building a bracket of some sort to mount pretty much any seat, so after some test fitting and test sitting (by Gabby; I don’t fit on Kermit), I had an idea that 2″ square tubing would work pretty well.

There was no easily accesible square tubing to be had on Saturday, but I did get some 2″ 90 degree angle from Lowes. Using my schmancy new plasma torch, I learned how not to cut a straight line, then refined the technique until I *could* cut a straight line and zeroed in on a plan to give 2″ square tubing in the place I wanted it most, at the ends, by welding a short piece of angle to the span thusly:

The overal bracket is basically U-shaped, with the square “tube” ends holding the back of the seat suspended on a body crossmember and the front sitting on an existing pedestal that I would otherwise just as soon cut out.

I also got to cut out a reduntant piece of metal right where the left rear seat bracket needed to go. I used my welding apron as a blanket to protect wiring and fuel lines from the easily 3-4 second cutting action. This thing rocks. Anyway…

Painted up and bolted in, ready for a seat

I managed to *not* get a pic of the finished seat, but here it is in plywood test garb.

After the seat was tested by Mike Easter, I had Gabby check it out, short of a ride since the trike wasn’t back together yet. She had some errands to run, so while she was out, I also wired up to long installed and never connected oil pressure gauge and tachometer. The oil pressure gauge involved replacing the oil pressure switch with an analog sender and a bit of wiring. The oil pressure switch had a wire going up front to the wiring center, but it was not connected. I needed only extend it a foot or so the back of the gauge and wire up a ground for the sender.

The tachometer took a little more because I had to run a wire for it, pushing and threading the wire through the existing loom. Once connected to the breaker point side of the ignition coil, I started the engine up. The oil pressure gauge worked perfectly, but the tach showed double the expected RPM. There is a switch on the back of the tach, a three position switch to choose whether the connected engine is 4, 6 or 8 cylinders, in that order. I think it’s probably just labeled wrong because I had to put it in the 8 cylinder position to read sanely on this four.

With those now working, I loosened the bands on the fuel tank and turned it slightly to clear interference it developed with the filler cap and decorative lid.

The trim boards on either side of the seat needed cutting to fit around the new seat bracket, but otherwise, it went back together like a charm.

We took about a forty mile meandering ride through the countryside and so far the seat seems to be helping a lot!

Sponge Bob Gets His Stop Back

You may recall when I got Sponge Bob back on the road that the brakes were weak. I did a little hydraulics math and figured out that front brake cylinders might solve the problem.

They do!

Sponge Bob’s speedo had stopped working during the time the transaxle was down. During the week, I opened the connector and checked the pins. The seemed a little loose on the sensor coil. Not sure how they would have been stretched, but squeezing the sockets closed a little seems to have restored speedometer function, so now both trikes have speedometers!

Kermit Gets A Speedo

Not the Spandex kind…

I noticed recently that a couple of manufacturers are offerning GPS speedometer sensors for electronic speedometers. Kermit has been without a speedometer since we acquired him. The 2-1/2″ Drag Specialties mechanical speedometer appears to work, but the cable was broken. The cable was broken because the cable was too short for where it was mounted and did not allow a generous enough radius to it’s bends. I attempted to reuse it with a longer cable, but apparently the nature of the cable’s failure has it stuck in the back of the instrument.

I stumbled across a nice LED speedometer by Intellitronix that comes in, appropriately, green. More importantly, Intellitronix also make a GPS speedometer sensor. I had trouble finding it for sale anywhere, but I found that JEGS carries a couple of GPS sensors. Turns out one of them, the least expensive one no less, is the Intellitronix unit!

So, to simplify my ordering, I found a decent VDO speedometer and an Autometer chrome mounting cup, all from JEGS.

The dogs heralded the arrival of the FedEx guy and I got started as soon as I could.

Of course, the first thing is to ensure that the lighting is green. The speedo comes with red and green silicone caps for the backlight bulbs. I will probably one day replace the bulbs with LED versions, but for now, this is green enough.

The mounting location is intended to be temporary. At some point, I will fabricate a bracket to more properly center it between the handlebar tubes, but for now, I’ll put it on the left one.

The mounting bracket can accept a hose clamp and/or a pair of screws. I had no appropriately sized hose clamps, so I fudged it with a few wire ties and a single stabilizing screw.

You may note that the screwhead is chewed up a bit. Turns out that the handlebar “tube” is actually a handlebar rod. Threading the screw into it without the benefit of my tap set was a challenge.

Wiring the instrument is very simple, especially when running the lights and speedo on the same power. Three wires, power, ground, speedo in. I followed my usual color codes, orange for switched power, black for ground and gray for sensor.

It looks pretty good in place…

The GPS device is not weather tite, so I installed it in the trunk.

The unit has three LEDs, red for power, yellow for antenna data connection and green for GPS lock.

Ignition on:

The first time, it took about 3 minutes for the GPS lock to come on. Now it takes about 5 seconds.

The default setting for the GPS unit is to provide 8000 pulses per mile. It’s pretty simple to set the VDO speedometer to match.

I have verified that it at least indicates a reasonable speed driving across the yard. We’ll road test it tomorrow and compare the readings to a Garmin.

While I was running wire in the trunk anyway, I connected the tail/turn/brake lights in the trunk, too.

On the road again!

Picked up the transaxle and immediately got busy with other parts of life. Where have you heard that one before?

With vacation planned for the two weeks including and following Memorial Day, I had that Friday off work and  headed into Fort Worth to try to get it done.
Besides being a couple hours late starting, I also had trouble finding a bolt I was going to need. Once there, I decided to do the frame repair first. It took a while to get the metal cut to the right angles and length. I then picked up my torch and while setting the gauges, the red hose suddenly breached and spewed acetylene from the base of the torch. A quick trip to the second hardware store got new 25′ hoses. The old ones were 15′, so that’s good, too.
I got the braces welded into place between the transaxle forks and the bit of the body that hangs over it and commenced installing the transaxle. It went fairly well. I got it completely bolted in, shocks on and I mounted the wheels so I could use them and wheel chocks to hold the axles steady while torquing the axle nuts. Basically used my 18″ long 1/2″ drive ratchet and put most of my, um, substantial, weight on the handle, then tightened them enough more to put in the cotter pins.
I got the engine on the jack and lined it up. Since the VW rear end is angled slightly downhill, the rear of the engine needs to be a little higher than the front for the bolts and studs to line up, then you need to lower it slightly as you push it forward.
Then the trouble began.
One of the top bolts holding the engine and transaxle together is shared with the starter. I put the other bolt in, then discovered that my freshly welded in brace blocked the starter. Argh! It was nearly midnight and I knew that either me or the trike was going to suffer an injury if I started over that late, so I went on home. We enjoyed the rest of the weekend without trikes.
I got up Monday morning, Memorial Day, just as if I were going to work and went into town to work on the trike. So I could get the trike on the road, I had decided that I would just cut out the brace that was blocking me and reinstall the temporary bracing that has been temporary for about three years now. I trimmed and cleaned up those braces, got everything assembled and a test ride by 11:30. I hitched Sponge Bob to my truck and towed him home.
During the down time, the speedometer stopped working. It powers up and everything, just doesn’t indicate. Also lost one of the deck driving lights.
The biggest concern is the brakes. They are weak. Pedal feel is good and they bled out perfectly, nice clean fluid. I adjusted the brakes as described in countless documents, and while it improved slightly, braking power is very low. The brakes on the old axles could easily skid the tires if you wanted them to. I could get a tiny skid on the gravel driveway, but basically, they can’t skid.
Still, there was enough brake to stop and my GPS could tell us our speed, so we went to dinner on the trikes. Felt good to be back on the road!
While describing this issue to a guru, it suddenly occurred to me that I had purchased rear wheel cylinders. Makes sense, it’s the rear wheels of the Beetle the axles come from. However, the rear brakes of any car are always weaker than the front. Otherwise, they would always skid.
I did a little research and found that (replacement) front wheel cylinders typically have a 7/8″ bore, while rear cylinders have an 11/16″ bore. That is 3/16″ larger diameter in the front. Putting more math to it, the front cylinders have nearly 62% more surface area, which translates directly to 62% more transmitted force to the brake shoes for the same pedal effort. There is a corresponding reduction in cylinder travel, but that is of little consequence, so long as it moves the brake shoes enough. O’Reilly’s in Decatur will have my two front wheel cylinders this afternoon 🙂 though it may be a few days before I have time to put them in.
It occurs to me that the purple trike has the same hard pedal and limited brake action and I am 99% sure it’s for the same reason. I certainly would not have thought to order front brake cylinders for rear wheels back then.

Trans Spotting

It appears that the transaxle on Sponge Bob may be one of the semi-rare 1967-68 models. They are semi rare because a) they were only made for two years, b) most of them are still in serviceable cars and/or c) they are very desirable for trike building.

The reason for the narrow year range is that in 1967, they changed the electrical systems on Beetles to 12V and in 1969, they went to the IRS transaxle instead of the swingaxle. The change to 12V is important to the transaxle because they also changed the diameter of the flywheel from 180mm to 200mm. To fit a 12V flywheel that will mate properly with a 12V starter, a 6V transaxle needs some clearance ground away on the inside of the bell housing. That was done with Puff, and while I’m sure there is plenty of material, I’d rather have something that fits without modification.

There is really no such thing as a new VW transaxle, although some companies make high dollar aftermarket units that are all new, like Mendeola and Albins. These are mostly “call for pricing” priced, though I have seen a Weddle IRS transaxle priced at $7000.

Generally, freshly rebuilt swingaxles seem to run about $500, sometimes less.

I found a VW salvage yard that had a 12V swingaxle for $200. There is basically no warranty, though I’m sure if it was DOA, they would make it good.

So, way back in October of 2011, I picked it up. They were attending a swapmeet that was much closer to home than their place, and they were kind enough to bring it with them.

Then life got complicated. My mother-in-law became ill and eventually passed on. Thanksgiving and Christmas came and went. Within that whirlwind of activity, we moved, or technically, began to move, to a house in the country. It is a tremendous place on about 7.5 acres that has a nice house, a pond, a barn and workshop, horse pasture, several outbuildings.

Did you catch that? A workshop! An indoor workshop, with power and lights and a freakin’ door. That closes.

Sadly, with Sponge Bob stuck in gear, I still have to work on it at the old place, under a carport, dodging mosquitoes.

Fast forward to March 2012. A close friend died suddenly. His birthday was May 5, so at his widow’s request, we planned a memorial ride on his birthday. I was going to have Sponge Bob ready for her to ride with me in comfort, so as the date approached, I tore into preparing the transaxle I had picked up in October.

The brakes and such on Sponge Bob have always performed pretty well, but I couldn’t get that monster hub nut broken loose. It goes on at 245 ft/lbs torque, so it’s not infeasible to need 300-400 to break it loose.

My alternative was to get new wheel cylinders and hardware to go with the new brake shoes, seals and bearings I already head and just put all new stuff on the backing plate on the replacement. It came with hubs in reasonably good shape.

I ended up working out of town most of the week leading up to the ride, so when I got back into town Friday afternoon, I tore into it with the plan to get it on the road before Saturday morning, if I had to work all night. I came pretty close to that. I cleaned up and headed home (which is about a 45 minute drive now) about 3AM.

There was, however, no joy in Mudville.

One of the last steps before starting the engine was was to adjust the hydraulic clutch. I have done this enough times to make short work of it. I can get in the ballpark just by hauling on the release lever and taking up the slack in the cylinder adjuster. It usually needs just a little adjusting from there. Adjusting is easy; with the transaxle in gear, I push the clutch in with my left hand and kinda bounce the trike forward or back. If it bounces against the gears, tighten the clutch a bit and repeat until the trike rolls freely with the clutch in and bounces against the gears when the clutch is out. It kept bouncing. Having had the clutch too tight a couple times in the past and having it jump off the cross arm at full extension, I did a sanity check by slipping it into neutral then pushing on it. Oops, it bounced when it should have rolled.

Long story short [too late] this transaxle is stuck in a gear, too. First gear, by the other evidence. It doesn’t matter what position the gear selector is in, it’s in first. Well, except if you put it in 4th position; that locks the transaxle.

I borrowed a trike (which is kinda like borrowing someone’s kidney only with more blood) and the ride proceeded with dignity and grace, though with great fatigue on my part.

Fed up with used parts, I have elected to get a rebuilt transaxle (with a warranty) from The Bug Stop. I dropped off the original stuck-in-forth unit at lunch today. I will remove the replacement stuck-in-first unit tonight for delivery tomorrow. They will mix and match my parts and their transaxle as appropriate and credit me for two cores, producing a ready to install transaxle for a reasonable price expected to be around $400 total.

With any luck, they will have it ready by this Friday and I will have Sponge Bob on the road by Saturday afternoon.

Between now and then, I will attempt to permanently repair a very old chassis and body problem on the trike, too.

Road Trip!

After we got back from Arkansas, I had a work project that took me four days of travel to a dozen cities, then we both had Friday off so we could go to Turner Falls for the Okie Twisters event there.

We still had a bit of finish up work to do on Kermit. We finished the wood, replaced the windshield, put on the new(ish) mirrors. He was ready to go by about 9AM Friday.

None of those oil spots in the driveway are from Kermit, but we will be coming back to that…

We had shopped continuously for a tent trailer and finally found one we could make a deal on. Friday morning, we met the guy at his house and decided that we did indeed like it. We had trouble finding the bank to get cash but got it and purchased the camper.

Sadly, this is the only picture I have of it at the moment.

It is a great little camper. It can go from attached to the trike to ready to occupy in two, maybe three, minutes. It came with a zipper-on side room that’s actually bigger than the camper. It makes a pretty decent front porch, and only takes three poles and three guy ropes to set it up, adding about 10 minutes to the setup time, but I digress. As usual.

By the time we picked up the camper, some stuff we needed at the storage building and had run a few more errands, it was after 5PM on Friday and we were exhausted. We decided to go to bed early, get up REAL early and hit the road Saturday.

Up at 3AM, everything packed and ready, ice chest on the rack on the tongue of the camper and a few bits bungied to the top of it. We stopped to top off tanks and headed north on I35.

Stopped at the Loves just north of Denton to get beer and ice. Oklahoma is one of those states with no more than 3.2% alcohol in beer, unless you get it at a liquor store. It’s not so much the alcohol content I am concerned with as just the taste. Beers that come with only 3.2% alcohol tend to be crappy lite beers, beers so bad they usually can’t even spell “light”. Those that do manage to spell it correctly still fall short on taste. Anyway, we got some decent beer and hit the road again; no problems thus far.

Exit at Ardmore to stretch legs and maybe get breakfast and on the exit ramp, both trikes had some kind of difficulty. Kermit had the throttle cable jump off the rollers. I reeeeally hate the way they did the throttle on that one and I *will* be changing that. However, that was a 2 second fix.

Sponge Bob was stuck in 4th gear. I hobbled him into the parking lot of the IHOP by way of a lot of clutch feathering. We decided to eat breakfast so he could cool off before I tried to work on it. Long story short, I found a group of nuts on the nose cone to be loose which could have allowed a lot of oil to leak out (remember the oil spots in the driveway? I did as soon as I realized the transaxle had been leaking and probably for a long time.) and/or the shifter input to have some play that could get the gears out of sequence.

I couldn’t really seem to affect it, so I tightened everything that should have been tightened to begin with and we just got back on the highway heading north. It was just fine on the highway. Went the rest of the way to Davis and to the entrance of Turner Falls Park (where Sponge Bob had a major clutch failure year before last), through the gate, etc. Unfortunately, there is a substantial hill to climb and having lost my momentum at the base of it, I couldn’t get up it.

We tried dropping the trailer, the hope being to get up the hill without it and have someone go get the trailer, but he couldn’t make up the hill without the trailer, either. The clutch indicated it’s grievances with that particularly rancid smoke that clutches do in these asbestos-free times. I don’t give up easily, but I do know when it’s time to.

Gabby went on and found some of our guys. Troop (and Lisa) and Sammy came down. We hooked the trailer up to Troop’s trike and he hauled it on to the campsite and returned with a tow strap to pull me up. Once on flat ground, I could maneuver on my own.

We set up camp. The camper amazed all who saw it. The add on room requires guy lines to support it and the heavy wire tent stakes we had were essentially useless in the rocky ground where we set up. I tied the center one to a large tree root and managed to drive the other two in less than ideal locations, but it was adequate to hold the thing up.

We consumed a cool beverage or three and I set about a more serious attempt to beat Sponge Bob into submission. I removed the shifter from the nose cone so I could better feel what the hockey stick was doing inside. I found that I could manipulate it into a condition of semi-normalcy in which all gear positions except forth appeared to be attainable and perhaps most importantly, neutral  worked. I tried a test drive to find that in any position except neutral, the transmission was locked. Kinda like P for Park. In neutral, it properly freewheeled.

I continued to dink with it and got it back into “stuck in fourth” mode, and could indeed maneuver the trike somewhat. Basically, if we had no low speed hills or other such maneuvering to do, I could probably get the trike back home.

I was at that point still curious whether I could duplicate what I suspected had happened, that the loose nose cone allowed the hockey stick thing in to jump out of its normal timing and that maybe the proper motion to take it out of gear was simply not reachable until the hockey stick was returned to it’s proper path. I supposed that I would need a jack to lift the transaxle while tilting the nosecone to get this “misalignment” to happen.

As I was cleaning up my mess, Rickey and Richard came by to check on me and see if I wanted their help to tear into it deeper. We discussed it a bit and in short decided to give it a whirl. Richard towed me to an RV pad adacent to his motor home and we tore into it.

The ladies went shopping for the main thing we were convinced we would need if we could affect a field repair at all, gear oil.

With much pulling, yanking and jacking, we were able to raise the nose of the transaxle enough to get the nose cone off. Sadly, we were only able to verify that, indeed, something inside the transaxle is amiss. The selector shafts were all in their proper positions, but the 3-4 shaft could not be moved into the 4th gear position and selecting any other position locked it up solid.

We finally cried uncle about the time Gabby and Marsha returned with gear oil and lunch. The new plan was that we would load Sponge Bob onto Richard’s trailer and he would tow it home whilst I rode his trike.

We voraciously consumed our rotisserie chicken and headed back to our own camp just before the rains came.

It rained, on and off, for about 18 hours.

Yep, we spent pretty much the entire time at the event either working on Sponge Bob or napping in the camper because it was raining.

Well, that’s not entirely true. We ventured out to borrow Troop’s trike to go eat at The Cliff, a very yummy restaurant just outside the park. By the time we were about ready to head that way, that particular break in the rain was over, so we stayed and had hamburgers and hot dogs with the gang, which was more fun anyway.

The parade into town was canceled, but they did announce the various contest, race and trike game winners, all stuff we had missed during the day. They drew raffle tickets and 50/50 tickets, which we did manage to participate in. Roundman won first place rat trike… 🙂

As that was finishing up, it looked like it was going to start raining again, so we headed back to camp and were in bed and sorta sleeping by 9PM.

The camper performed very well, rain-wise. We had one window slightly open and a shift in the breeze made a little water come in, enough to run down a support pole and wet the bedding right next to my knees while I slept. A couple of seams seeped when water collected on top of them. So long as we were attentive to dumping the accumulation on occasion, we had a minimum of water inside.

The trip home was as good as could be expected. We had a convoy, Marsha on her trike, Gabby on Kermit, me on Richard’s trike, Sammy on his trike and finally Richard in the motor home, towing Sponge Bob. We had a lot of wet road, but not a whole lot of actual precipitation.

It’s unclear whether I was wet already when I put my rain suit on, had sweated profusely in the rain suit or had some leakage, but I was fairly damp in there. It was probably a combination of all three factors.

We had a couple of stops for breaks or fuel and split up on the north side of town, all heading to our various destinations.

After we got home and showered (you’d think we’d had enough water huh) and eaten, Gabby went to visit her Mom and I went to return Richard’s trike and have him bring Sponge Bob home.

We immediately began searching for transaxles on Craigslist and by Tuesday, I had called all the local shops and gotten pricing on rebuilding/replacing it.

Found a few on Craigslist, spread from Austin, TX to Edmond, OK. Most were in the $150 range.

One local shop offers them for either $439 for a rebuilt unit of the shelf or $439 to rebuild your transaxle. I can see if someone wanted to preserve their serial numbers, etc, the “rebuild your unit” option would appeal, but for me, I’m just gonna be happy if it all bolts up and works right.

I hope to be able to work on it this weekend, but we’ll see.