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2012 Session 2 - Seniors

Session 2 - Railboats

2012 Session 2 - Seniorsgever1 Comment

What would have happened if the industrial revolution had suddenly run out of coal? Would those vast networks of railroad gone unused and rusted away to nothing? We think not. Picture yourself, riding on the open deck of a new-fangled railboat - a vehicle simultaneously ridiculous and graceful, whisper-quiet and rolling so smooth it almost feels like floating.

We built three sail-powered rail vehicles in one week at Tinkering School. This is our story.

Visit the photo archive.


Post Script We are not the first group of people to play around with sail and rail. If you search for "sail powered train" you find some whimsical and evocative images from the past. I'm especially fond of this collection.

Day Six - Breakdown Cruise

2012 Session 2 - Seniorsgever1 Comment

This is the day we've all been working towards. The day that we will truly put our railboats to the test. I wake the house up early and we get everybody fed and up to the barn by 9. It's a miracle. As a group, we exude a heady mixture of excitement, trepidation, bravado, and cautious anticipation. The prospect of racing along, driven by the winds, skimming just a few shy inches above the ground seems to predispose us to fits of giggles.

But, we must first make repairs and modifications based on the results of yesterday's shakedown cruises. The tools come out and we get to work. The barn soon fills with the sounds of cordless screwdrivers, hammers, the sewing machine, and technical chatter.

IMG 1383 First order of business is to figure out how to stop chewing up the guide-wheels. One team plans to adjust the height of the wheel so that it contacts a better part of the rail, and the Kablooi decide to replace the rollerblade wheels with tubeless wagon wheels.IMG 1382 The Piki team discovered that a full load of passengers caused a dangerous flex in the deck of their boat. A sheet of luan is fastened to the bottom to correct this.

IMG 1394 The Kablooi boat was missing a license plate evidently.

IMG 1395 And when you turn over the license plate...

IMG 1399 Rhody whips up an embroidered pirate flag for the Nooi boat.

IMG 1401 While Serena invents a foot hammock for the riders on the front of the Nooi boat.

IMG 1404 Gilon takes safety seriously.

IMG 1409 Sam is a teenager, prone to teenager moments.

IMG 1412 With all of the necessary repairs and modifications complete, the Piki get their boat loaded on the trailer.

IMG 1418 As the teams get a little cocky, the boats start to express some, not so subtle, trash-talk.

IMG 1423 The new jib on the Piki boat catches the eye of the team as it rises up the mast.

IMG 1426 Luigi kind of wishes he had cut it a little bigger, but is generally pleased with it as an addition to the boat.

IMG 1430 As a finishing touch, Rhody adds her freshly minted Jolly Roger to the Nooi sail before it is raised.

IMG 1433 The Kablooie boat is quick to assemble (despite the fact that they forgot the long screws they needed to mount their new guide-wheels), and Sam (aka Nigel) goes under to affix the mast to the mount.

IMG 1435 It's a little tricky to get everything lined up and in place so that the bolt will go through.

IMG 1442 The Piki team spent some time putting their monicker on their boat. We're all particularly fond of the way the last 'I' in 'Piki' is rendered.

IMG 1445 It's "anchors aweigh!" and off to Far Tortuga (aka Santa Cruz), eleven miles hence.

IMG 1450 But wait! They left without Anita!

IMAG3723 View from the poop deck on the Nooi boat.

IMG 1466 The railboats move through the landscape like boats on canals. Sails partly obscured now and then by bushes and shrubs, passersby doing double-takes, and life aboard settles into a hypnotic routine.

IMAG3725 Until... the boom breaks, and you have to repair it with a hammer and duct tape.

IMAG3728 And then the urethane skate wheels practically explode after a few miles of fast railing.

IMAG3730 Leaving a trail of crumbling urethane and a very complicated problem to solve in the field - how do you replace a wheel when you have no spare?

IMAG3736 Some of the other wheels are doing no better as they lose material to the razor sharp edges of the rusting rails.

IMG 1474 Meanwhile, back at the dunes, the Piki boat is also suffering from wear and tear under a full passenger load.

IMAG3739 And a few miles away, the Nooi have come up with a solution for replacing a destroyed wheel - swap it with a skate wheel and make a new guide-wheel out of duct tape!

IMG 1481 Then it's "raise the sails!" and they are whispering down the rails again.

IMAG3741 After half a mile, the duct tape guide-wheel seems to be doing the job.

IMG 1488 Cars honk and passengers lean out the windows to cheer as the railboats pop into view.

IMG 1496 The long canyons where trees encroach are collectively referred to as "The Doldroms."

IMG 1505 The teams perfect various methods of pushing, kicking, and pulling their boats down the rails to get to good wind.

IMG 1513 The duct tape guide-wheel finally wears out - and is quickly replaced with a new hand-made wheel.

IMG 1534 Out in the clear wind, the boats are downright sprightly.

IMG 1544 At 7pm, the wind dies, leaving the Kablooie team stranded in the brussels sprouts fields.

IMG 1546 At the end of the rail, we celebrate with pizza at a nearby restaurant - a first in the history of Tinkering School - we're just too hungry and tired to drive home and make dinner.

In the end, the Kablooie boat went seven miles, the Piki went a little more than nine, and the Nooi pushed and pulled themselves all the way across the city limits into Santa Cruz.

Day Five - Shakedown Cruise

2012 Session 2 - Seniorsgever4 Comments

Our goal today is to take the railboats out on the rails to see what breaks, what doesn't work, and what could work better - shakedown cruises. It takes a bit of work to get the boats really ready, so we head up to the barn early (by this Seniors session standards - 9:30) and start loading the boats and parts that are ready to go. Editor's Note: I've been misspelling Nicki as Nickie, and I mis-identified yesterday's beach as San Gregorio when it is actually Tunitas Creek. Thank you for your patience.

IMG 1119 1 Serena wrangles the mast, boom, and sail into the trailer.IMG 1123 The Kablooie mess with their flimsy guide-wheel posts once again.

IMG 1126 The fully loaded trailer gets guided onto the ball hitch on the back of the truck - team work!

IMG 1133 We arrive at the railroad tracks. Gever lays down a few guidelines and a couple of strict rules to ensure the safety of everyone involved.

IMG 1136 These tracks have been ignored for so long that a sand dune can be seen in the far distance where it covers the rails and railbed completely. We call those "the dunes" and past that is "Far Tortuga." The agreement that Gever makes with the teams is that no one goes to Far Tortuga until all of the railboats are working.

IMG 1144 Team Kablooie brings out their railing deck (we've decided to use the term "railing" to designate the active form of railboating) to see how it sits on the track.

IMG 1151 The flimsy Kablooie guide-wheel posts have been damaged in transit and Gilon climbs under to do some quick repairs and adjustments.

IMG 1153 Some kind of horrible traffic accident, evidently.

IMG 1161 The Nooi also get their railing deck disentangled and off the trailer for a rail-fitting. The Piki and the Nooi have implemented designs that allow them to fit and position the wheels to the track upon arrival. While the Kablooi haven't had any alignment problems with their load-bearing wheels, the adjustable positioning systems used by the other teams eliminated one possible source of problems before they could arise.

IMG 1164 One of Sam's very precise wheel and guide units, field-mounted and ready to go.

IMG 1176 With the other two railboats out of the way, the Piki can now get their deck on to the rails for wheel-mounting.

IMG 1179 The Piki boat shows off it's sleek lines and broad stance on the rail - very yar.

IMG 1182 Luigi checks the guide-wheel mounting to make sure it is free-spinning and hands it to Rhody for mounting.

IMG 1183 Which Rhody then does.

IMG 1186 And Gilon is still underneath the Kablooi deck mucking about with the guide-wheel posts.

IMG 1196 Sam celebrates the incredibly silky ride afforded by the dual rollerblade wheel solution he helped deisgn and then built four of.

IMG 1202 The entire Piki team pitches in to raise the mast and set the rigging.

IMG 1208 Once again, Sam drives in the mast pins.

IMG 1219 Flimsy guide-wheel posts somewhat in place, the Kablooi also raise their mast and sail.

IMG 1221 Since the vehicles do not have proper brakes (the plan is to just let go of the boom and dump the wind out of the sail), Anita has to trap Nooi boat with her legs while the sail rigging is finished.

IMG 1240 The Piki and Kablooi are starting to have very boat-like looking craft as well.

IMG 1243 The maiden voyage of the Nooi provides the perfect opportunity to try out their new innovation - the AnchorBag(tm). Much to the surprise of Gever and the rest of the tinkerers, it works surprisingly well.

IMG 1246 Our setup area overlooks some very nice scenery.

IMG 1249 The wind starts to pick up and the sails start talking to us.

IMG 1257 Everyone is ready to go! Including Rhett who comes out from the cement plant to see what we are doing on their tracks. We explain and then invite him to take a ride.

IMG 1266 Sam volunteers to take him down the tracks.

IMG 1270 And with the wind filling in nicely, they accellerate down the rails towards the dunes.

IMG 1277 The Piki take advantage of the open track and send Luigi and Mica down the rails as well.

IMG 1282 They bring Rhett back (mule-style by dragging the boats upwind with a lead line) and decide to try more people on the Nooi boat.

IMG 1289 The flimsy guide-wheel posts on the Kablooi boat do not go more than twenty feet before giving out and letting the load-bearing wheel derail. Rhett, offers to take Hanna and Gilon to the cement factory workshop to get some parts they can cobble into working guide-wheel supports.

IMG 1299 They return with some bone-dry 2x6's that they somehow rope Gever into cutting for them.

IMG 1300 We have lunch. Every day. Just not always at lunchtime. Today's lunch was at 2pm.

IMG 1320 The Piki's offer Gever a ride on their next test run. How can he say "no?"

IMG 1335 Portrait of a Tinkerer: Mica on the foredeck.

IMG 1336 Portrait of a Tinkerer: Able sail-handler Juliana.

IMG 1343 Out on the open rail, the boats are lively and smooth riding.

IMG 1345 The teams weigh anchor at the bay by the dunes for some serious playtime.

IMG 1349

IMG 1350

IMG 1352

IMG 1355

IMG 1363 Once everyone has had some time on the dunes, they portage to the other side and then set out for Far Tortuga.

IMG 1369 Over the horizon, on uncharted rails, beyond the sight of Gever and the retrieve vehicle.

When we get everything back to the barn, we have a list of tweaks, fixes and modifications that we will make in the morning before setting out again. By mutual agreement, we decide to try for Santa Cruz tomorrow - eleven miles by rail and sail.

Day Four - Take a Break When You Need a Break

2012 Session 2 - SeniorsgeverComment

Looking at the timestamps on the photos from yesterday, we calculated that work started at 9:30 in the morning and we turned off the lights in the barn at 10:30 at night. By our reckoning, that's a thirteen hour workday... Perhaps that will help explain our slow start today. People sometimes ask me what "tinkering" means. My definition is that tinkering is the thing you do between when a project is "done" and when it is "working." At the end of the day yesterday, the Kablooi team estimated that they were within "half an hour of being done," this morning they spent three solid hours tinkering with it - now it is ready to test.

Every project has a plateau somewhere near the 75% point. This is where it takes tenacity and persistence to keep the project moving along. You can see the goal on the horizon, but right now you just have to work on the rigging. It's not glamorous, it's not really fun, but it needs to be done so you have to keep doing it. This is what this morning is about - pushing the projects over the hump.

IMG 0751 The Kablooi are happy to see their sail filling in the gentle breeze.IMG 0756 With the sun comes a very delicate wind that brings the smell of warm grass up the Elkus canyon. Everyone comes out of the barn to test their sails.

IMG 0763 A giddy excitement pervades the group as the sails billow and snap on the wind. Actual force is required to move the booms and the conversation turns to new considerations for brakes.

IMG 0779 Mackenzie leans back against the pull of the boom on the Piki boat.

IMG 0783 Juliana has been making great sticks for booms, battens, and railings.

IMG 0787 Serena and Anita work on a stronger mast socket that might obviate the need for guy-wires on the Nooi boat. On a typical sailing boat, the guy-wires are connected to the bow, stern, and gunwales, giving a nice broad support system that the sails and boom can swing under, but on a short railboat there is almost nowhere to run the guy-wires that doesn't get in the way of the boom or the passengers.

IMG 0793 Sam and Declan work together to get the wheels mounted on one side of the Nooi boat, leaving the other side to connect once they are sitting on the track and can be sure of the spacing and alignment.

IMG 0800 The Piki boat is looking very yar. Collectively we agree that it looks like a cross between a Formula-One race car, a sailboat, and Frogger.

IMG 0803 Back inside the barn, there is rigging going on everywhere.

IMG 0806 A pretty functional home-made cleat on the Nooi boat.

IMG 0811 Sam drives home the mast pinning bolt which holds the mast pressed up against the front of the mast socket. This was deemed better than drilling a hole through the mast which would weaken the pole.

IMG 0816 Now that there is a sense that the railboats might be moving quickly, some handles are scavenged from the paraglider risers and attached to the deck of the Nooi boat.

We break for lunch, and a lengthy conversation ensues about the time that is left, the importance of having a testing day and a racing day, and we decide that if we are going to have some time at the beach it is going to have to be this afternoon. So we go to the beach.

IMG 0817 The beach that Gever takes everyone to is at the mouth of San Gregorio creek. To get there we must walk down a treacherous path lined with poison oak.

IMG 0828 The treacherous, treacherous path is treacherous.

IMG 0836 Some tinkerers questioned their choice of footwear. Perhaps there is a reason that flip-flops are not favored by Sherpas.

IMG 0830 We are rewarded with miles of empty beach.

IMG 0842 Declan, Luigi, and Sam race to the waves - the only way to get in the 50-degree water is to challenge your friends to do it with you.

IMG 0864 Serena is not far behind.

IMG 0854 And soon everyone is bobbing in the waves like excited seals.

IMG 0877 g Gilon and Anita, pretend to be racing down to the waves - since they absolutely have no intention of going in.

IMG 0881 g Inspired by the possibility of animating himself, Gilon puts on a show.

IMG 0902 Portrait of a Tinkerer: Mackenzie, refreshed from a swim.

IMG 0903 Portrait of a Tinkerer: Juliana at the beach.

IMG 0923 An expedition is mounted. We will walk all the way to the far cliffs that appear to tower above the northern end of the beach and might just contain a bed of fossils (according to Gever - who has never actually come down the treacherous treacherous path to the beach).

IMG 0931 A bit of flotsam becomes a launchpad for Gilon, who didn't really want to come to the beach, but now seems to be fully enjoying himself.

IMG 0950 Everyone is enchanted by the expanse of empty beach on a perfectly sunny day.

IMG 0955 Your Moment of Zen: Luigi's feet on a California beach.

IMG 0974 An empty egg case from either a shark or skate.

IMG 0982 Declan marvels at the rich bed of clam and snail fossils clearly visible in the lower strata.

IMG 0996 Gilon gazes back down the beach to where we came from - more than a mile away.

IMG 1007 Not content to peer around the corner at the inaccessible beach beyond the rock wall, Declan takes to the water and wades out to have a look.

IMG 1026 The unused paraglider is brought out and Gever teaches Luigi, Nickey, and Gilon how to kite a wing. With almost no wind, there's a lot of backward running involved.

IMG 1029 Luigi and Gilon are delighted to see the paraglider as a wing and not a sail.

IMG 1034 Hunger drives us back up the treacherous treacherous path and back to the ranch for hamburgers and veggie-burgers and the traditional Wednesday night bonfire.

IMG 1042 One thing that can be said about this group is that they are certainly convivial.

IMG 1050 A few sparklers are discovered and we sit transfixed by their sparkly sparking.

IMG 1056 Not a group to break with tradition, we all start light-painting with our flashlights.

IMG 1064 The city-glow from Half Moon Bay adds a surreal and ethereal quality to the shots.

IMG 1069 Luigi conjures up a vortex of energy.

IMG 1068 Mackenzie looks to the stars.

IMG 1073 Spinning and tossing the flashlights becomes popular for a few minutes, only to be replaced by...

IMG 1082 ...running around dancing and spinning and waving your arms.

IMG 1097 Yes, it was a great day. Just the thing we needed to get excited about working on the railboats again in the morning before we head off to the railroad track to test them.

The realization that it is Wednesday came upon us suddenly sometime in mid-afternoon. Just two more full days of tinkering before we have to say goodbye to each other. The tinkerers seem determined to cram more hours in the day and Gever finds himself out on the porch at midnight calling the kids in from the bonfire.

Day Three - Everyone Stole My Chair

2012 Session 2 - Seniorsgever2 Comments

This is how the whole thing turned existential; Gilon walked back into the dining room after making himself a quesadilla for lunch, looked around the table and declared, "Everyone stole my chair." That was how it started, and before the day was over, we talked about the elusive tangibility of existence, the difficulties of really "knowing" anything for sure, and the slippery slope of infinite possibilities. BEGIN FLASHBACK IMG 0295 Last night, the Bananagrams began. Our evenings will never be the same again. END FLASHBACK

IMG 0298 Witness the galvanization of a habit into a tradition; every time the truck has to move between the buildings at Elkus Ranch, it accretes tinkerers like barnacles on a slow-moving whale. We're off to the barn!IMG 0301 The Kablooies drill the axle mounts on their finished frame. Sam on the big honkin' drill.

IMG 0305 Rhody jigs up a special brace for the Nooi railboat.

IMG 0308 Sam is setting up a factory for producing Nooi wheel units.

IMG 0310 Anita joins Rhody to help finish the brace. It's a critical structural element in their deisgn.

IMG 0315 g Sam needs a lot of identical chunks of wood for his wheel unit factory.

IMG 0329 Mica and Julianna make light work of their adjustable wheel unit construction projects.

IMG 0331 Mica was here. Drawing her name in sawdust. On the table. In person.

IMG 0333 Portrait of a Tinkerer: Sam making precise marks.

IMG 0335 Julianna and Mica's efforts see the wheel units coming to fruition.

IMG 0338 Portrait of a Tinkerer: Rhody has focus.

IMG 0340 At the testbed, Juliana takes a wheel unit for a testdrive.

IMG 0342 Portrait of a Tinkerer: Declan explains how the pieces fit together.

IMG 0344 We are using all of the clamps today. Anita and Serena fit, clamp, and screw.

IMG 0347 The long bolts that were purchased to mount skate and rollerblade wheels on are galvanized - which means that they don't fit the plain bolts we got very well, which means that Juliana (along with Gever and Hanna) try grinding the bolt shafts down with a file. It seems like it could work, but after more filing than we collectively care to admit, we dispatch Gever to the hardware store to get proper bolts.

IMG 0351 Luigi is an unstoppable force in the barn this morning.

IMG 0358 Portrait of a Tinkerer: Mica tightening the bolt on a wheel unit.

IMG 0361 Can you see it? The mast rising above the railboat, the sail stretched tight, the lines singing in the wind? The Kablooi mast and boom are almost in place.

IMG 0363 But first, they have to finish mounting the wheels. Unlike the Piki and the Nooi, the Kablooi have decided to use the big wagon wheels. To reduce the rolling resistance they have pumped them up to 40psi, rendering them nearly as hard as the urethane skate wheels.

IMG 0374 Declan makes friends with a goat.

IMG 0385 Serena makes friends with donkey.

IMG 0405 What a friendly place! Gilon makes friends with donkey.

IMG 0417 On a tour of the upper barn with Leslie the ranch manager, the tinkerers meet the herd of sheep, horses, cows, and bigger goats.

IMG 0438 Julianna reports that it is both thrilling and a little bit scary to hand-feed an eager sheep.

IMG 0452 We live in a world filled with enormous and mysterious creatures.

IMG 0466 Serena and Rhody of the Nooi ask Gever a seemingly simple question; "What kind of sail should we make?"

IMG 0468 And true to form, Gever whips up a diagram as he explains the basic principles and designs.

IMG 0471 To make sails, we have a collection of donated paragliders in various states of disrepair.

IMG 0480 Watch out for the giant glider monster!

IMG 0484 The Nooi spend some time getting to know the shape and properties of the paraglider.

IMG 0492 Your moment of Zen.

IMG 0493 The barn sustains a continuous hive of activity throughout the day as railboats come together.

IMG 0499 Mica helps shape the Piki boat prow.

IMG 0500 Nickey and Gilon work out a complicated relationship between the load-bearing wagon wheel and the guide wheel.

IMG 0504 Sam's factory has produced four identical and very carefully assembled wheel units.

IMG 0519 g Declan is happy cutting a new boom, but Gever has some serious misgivings regarding his sewing technique.

IMG 0531 Juliana and Mackenzie work on the new deck for their railboat.

IMG 0533 Mica takes a turn at the scroll-saw.

IMG 0543 Bits of scrap wood are assembled into a mock rail.

IMG 0546 Box of nuts. At rest.

IMG 0554 Piki drop their new deck into place.

IMG 0561 Which must be immediately sat upon "for testing purposes."

IMG 0573 Portrait of a Tinkerer: Luigi gives us the look.

IMG 0588 Before the paragliders can be used as sails, Juliana and Luigi must remove the lines.

IMG 0593 A sudden nap-attack takes Mica and Juliana out of the game for half an hour.

IMG 0597 But then they are back at work and going like gang-busters.

IMG 0600 Hoping to leverage the lifting qualities of the wing, Serena cuts holes in the ribs of the paraglider to slot the Nooi mast into, thus preserving the aerodynamic shape (hopefully!).

IMG 0615 The mast gets slotted in, and Rhody ties it off at the top.

IMG 0622 It's working (we imagine, because there is almost no wind)!

IMG 0624 Droopy sails cry out for battens, so we dash down to our favorite eucalyptus grove for thin, flexible branches.

IMG 0631 Which results in a very bushy load.

IMG 0660 A bit more work and then it's time for dinner. Tonight is pasta with leftovers. Mackenzie puts marinated chicken on hers.

IMG 0662 And here's a simple vegetarian version.

IMG 0665 Guten appetit, everyone!

IMG 0667 Then it's back up to the barn for a few more hours of building. Everyone wants to be ready to test their vehicles tomorrow.

IMG 0674 "I'm testing my starfish pose!" claims Declan.

IMG 0678 His audience does not seem impressed...

IMG 0684 ...because they are too busy working. Serena is trimming and cutting battens to bias her sail into the proper curve and shape.

IMG 0689 Some new ways of attaching masts to decks are invented.

IMG 0699 It is a rare evening at Elkus when we catch a glimpse of the sunset, so almost everyone goes outside to work on the sails in the golden-hour light.

IMG 0700 Barn One - our workshop, playspace, and home base.

IMG 0705 Work is good for conversation.

IMG 0723 The Piki sail goes up for a test hang.

IMG 0727 It was a long, and very productive day at Tinkering School. The last of the tinkerers left the barn at 10pm, pleading for just a few more minutes.

We can't all help but wonder if the railboats will work on the test run tomorrow.

Day Two - Design, Build, Shop!

2012 Session 2 - Seniorsgever1 Comment

We have a fairly well understood goal - sailboating by the end of the week - and we've been talking about the critical considerations since we introduced the goal on the first night, now, over breakfast, we found the scope a little daunting. The weather, to say the least, is less than inviting, and there is a collective tendency to linger in the cozy dining room of the ranch house. But this is Tinkering School and time's a wastin'. IMG 0153 So, we got right to it and started working on the designs for three railboats.The teams are formed thusly: Piki - Juliana, Luigi, Mica, and Mackenzie Nooi - Rohdy, Sam, Declan, Serena, and Anita Kablooi - Sam (aka Nigel), Gilon, Nickey, and Hanna

The materials are divided evenly; one sheet of 3/8" plywood, one sheet of 1/4" luan, two 2x4's, four 1x4's, and a shared pool of assorted wheels ranging from tubed wagon wheels to urethane 70mm skate wheels - and a $30 gift card to the local hardware store.

We begin.

IMG 0161 The Kablooi use their materials to mock up a few ideas. After a few minutes of various layouts they settle on a design that "feels pretty right."

IMG 0163 Juliana and Mica explore various relationships between a load-bearing skate wheel and a lightly loaded rollerblade guide-wheel on our salvaged chunk of rail.

IMG 0165 The Nooi soon move from paper to prototype to work out some difficult resource constriants.

IMG 0175 Returning tinkerer Nigel (aka Sam) seems right at home at the controls of the chopsaw.

IMG 0183 There are parts of the emerging plan that give Gilon pause...

IMG 0187 The Piki team starts assembling wheels by sorting out and inserting bearings.

IMG 0189 Evidently, the right tool for the job is the Crayola marker.

IMG 0191 g With bearings in place and correctly aligned, Juliana finds something irresistibly silky about the simple skate-wheel mechanism.

IMG 0196 Sam sees things differently and has developed a reputation as the quiet thinker of the Kablooi team.

IMG 0198 Getting the wheels centered on the rail is deemed a critical component of the Kablooi design.

IMG 0201 Gilon is the Kablooi master of accuracy and steadfastly maintains a very high standard of precision.

IMG 0202 The shelves of Tinkering School. What do these parts want to be?

IMG 0206 The next step in precision marking is precision cutting - Nickey gets to it under the watchful eye of Hanna.

IMG 0208 The Nooi have also chosen to use a mixture of skate and rollerblade wheels so they set themselves to the task of fitting the bearings to the wheel blanks.

IMG 0213 Meanwhile, the Piki have been looking for ways to create more rigidity in their railboat. Juliana tries increasing the number of diagonal members in the body.

IMG 0217 When asked, Gever is a fountain of advice and peculiar digressions that touch on topics ranging from insect anatomy to ice cream physics.

IMG 0219 Portrait of a Tinkerer: Juliana is happy when she has a tool and a project.

IMG 0220 Portrait of a Tinkerer: Luigi has a laid-back style that belies his intensely productive mode of working.

IMG 0222 Portrait of a Tinkerer: Gever in the thick of it.

IMG 0234 The Kablooi team is starting to have a frame and the complexities of getting one particularly difficult screw properly placed has become a "wait, I have an idea - let me try something" kind of game.

IMG 0245 Every team has managed to use all the 2x4's and 1x4's they have been allocated in the design of their railboat frames, leaving nothing to make masts out of. We decide that eucalyptus is not cheating. We head down to our favorite little forest where Gilon fells are nice straight sapling.

IMG 0247 Serena also finds a particularly perfectly dimensioned mast disguised as a small tree and brings it down.

IMG 0258 IMG 0259 IMG 0260 Timber! Juliana fells her sapling after fighting with it fiercely for a few minutes of hard sawing.

IMG 0269 Then we cart our bounty out to the truck and head back to the ranch.

H IMG 0166 There is a lot of discussion of the importance of precision because the rails are thin and the margin for error is small. Mica decides that the drillpress is the right tool for precise placement and alignment of the holes she needs.

H IMG 0167 Cleverly camouflaged, Nigel (aka Sam) manages to get in an afternoon nap before being discovered by his teammates.

IMG 0275 Portrait of a Tinkerer: Gilon takes the opportunity to ride on the runningboards of the truck very seriously.

IMG 0281 Portrait of a Tinkerer: Serena is caught enjoying herself on the ride up the hill.

H IMG 0173 Refreshed from his nap, Nigel helps offload the new masts.

IMG 0284 crop Mica discovers that the unloaded electric drill "feels neat" when she spins it against her cheek.

IMG 0285 The designs and the constructions get far enough along that the teams decide they are ready to go to the hardware store. Much to our chagrin, the local store does not carry the right kind of 1x4, even after we sort a big pile that has to be brought down with the big forklift.

IMG 0289 So we also go to the big hardware store in Daly City, and in doing so break a long-standing Tinkering School tradition by leaving the ranch on two consecutive days.

IMG 0292 Luigi is far more critical of the quality of the 2x4's than any 12 year-old has a right to be.

Almost as soon as we arrived home, the persnickety toilet in the girls bathroom stopped working, overflowed onto the floor and out the door and down the hall... Anita and Gever left Hanna to the defrosting of ground turkey for taco night while they dealt with the unspeakable mess that was now making a run for the girls dorm room.

And, in spite of the excessive time spent in cars, it was a very productive day and the teams are feeling pretty good about having something to test on the rails by Wednesday morning - maybe not finished, but definitely testable.

Day One - To the End of the Line

2012 Session 2 - Seniorsgever2 Comments

Our foggy morning at the ranch turned beautiful just as the tinkerers started to arrive. With some extra help from the amazing Elizabeth Rubenstein, we managed to get everything to the ranch, get it sorted out, beds made, and even a lunch for the collaborators put together - just shy of an actual well-oiled machine. We are working on one big project this week (a bit unusual for Tinkering School which tends towards multiple project weeks), and we are announcing it on the first day - unheard of!

The project is to build sail-powered vehicles that travel on an abandoned railroad line - Railboats!

Railboat1IMG 0009 And, since we're at Elkus Ranch, before we do anything else, we all have to say "hi" to the goats.

IMG 0023 To get things started, Gever has proposed a challenge; "How far can you shoot a cork using common rubber bands?" Julianna has in mind a variation on a slingshot using two long bolts.

IMG 0025 Gillon explores a similar design, but uses guy wires to stabilize the vertical bolts.

IMG 0026 His design produces a lot of laughs, but not much distance on the cork.

IMG 0028 Sam has fabricated a braided super rubber band which may allow him to put more energy into the cork.

IMG 0029 Luigi is proud of his first-generation launch platform.

IMG 0035 Declan catches the eye of the photographer with his novel design to use the cork as a wheel and drive it with a twisted rubber band.

IMG 0037Sam's (yes, there are two Sam's this week) cardboard airplane is developing nicely.

IMG 0038 As the designs evolve, the testing moves outside. Gever has stipulated that cork must be launched from this corner of the deck, and that is where Gillan mounts his platform.

IMG 0039 Intent on their contraptions, Nickey, Mackenzie (collaborator), and Rhody prepare to fling some serious corkage.

IMG 0042 Gever has built a cardboard dart he's eager to try. As he would soon discover, it does not work as well as the naked cork and rubber band that Hanna is perfecting.

IMG 0046 The testing grounds at Barn One becomes littered with corks.

IMG 0054 Luigi's giant sling-shot continues to improve.

IMG 0060 Rhody's newest innovation is tape the cork to a heavier object that does not lose quite so much velocity to wind resistance.

IMG 0062 Nickey's shot goes down past the lower gate - woohoo!

IMG 0063 At times the testing facility becomes crowded with eager tinkerers vying for best position on the launch deck.

The icebreaker project seems to have run it's course and done it's job well enough. We clean up the barn, stow the tools, collect the corks and get ready to discuss the big project.

IMG 0071 Gever lays out the concept and then facilitates a discussion of what parts of the project present the greatest challenges. The tinkerers decide that having a chunk of railroad track is not going to provide enough information, so we decide to drive to the abandoned track and get a feel for the railroad first-hand. Right after dinner - we suddenly realize that we are starving. It's pan-roasted chicken and vegetables marinated in shitake-sesame vinaigrette, with roasted potatoes and salad with feta and fresh tomatoes.

Then we load up, and head to the end of the railroad line - where our project begins.

IMG 0080 Julianna and Serena supervise Gillan and Luigi and the taking of accurate measurements of the critical dimensions.

IMG 0082 Which we write down and photograph so that there is no chance of forgetting.

IMG 0085 Various hazards and details are studied carefully to make sure that no opportunity is missed and no critical constraint is missed.

IMG 0098 Rhody has been demonstrating some balance beam gynastics, and Sam is inspired to try it himself. The Russian judges are not going to like that dismount, Sam.

IMG 0100 Meanwhile, the judges seem to like Rhody's precision cartwheels.

IMG 0104 We wander the tracks looking for other things that might cause trouble. The conversation drifts back and forth from trivialities to keen observations about the possible issues they face in designing wind-powered vehicles for these old, and mis-used tracks.

IMG 0105 With a knack for finding new problems, Gillon points out a broken cable that was once welded to the outside of the track.

IMG 0116 Just off the track is a beautiful view of the old Davenport landing and pilings.

IMG 0122 And further along the trail, we find the edge of the continent and Mackenzie finds a spotted egg shell.

IMG 0129 Everyone finds they end of the world to be a pleasant place to hang out. The light fades, everyone lingers as long as we can, and then we head back to the cars.

IMG 0131 Mackenzie summarizes the day in a physical poem; a cork, a bit of rail, and shell. Yes, that was our day.

IMG 0134 And we found this.

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