Archive for the 'In Progress' Category


The Emotional Roller Coaster of Vantruck: Attack on the U.S.S. BROWN C.STENNIS, Motorama to Now

Mar 26, 2017 in vantruck

Now that the dust is settling and the cloud is condensing on the events of the past month and some, it’s time for me to recap what all happened before Motorama and after. By the sound of the title, you probably already know it doesn’t bode well, but it’s a great tell nevertheless!

We begin approximately two weeks prior to Motorama. Recall that I made it a soft goal to get everything in running order for the trip down to its natural habitat, the rural amateur racing event. Taking advantage of randomly-spaced unseasonably warm days where temperatures did get into the 40s and 50s range, I made a bunch of headway into repairing some of the interior lighting (very important, after all, because VAN) and fuel system.


It was easier for me to do interior work while it was cold outside, because the nice thing about working on vans is that some times you can sit inside and do things! I discovered one of the random cut wires was the power supply to the upfitter-installed CB radio on a console that’s ceiling-mounted. Well, that got fixed, but I’ve still got no reception. I didn’t take apart the thing enough to find where the antenna wire went, but given that there is not an obvious CB band antenna whip or rubber dongle, I suspect it was hacked off at some point.

The main radio antenna does not seem to go anywhere near the CB radio based on other dashboard crawling. This is a problem for later, as I did not intend to irritate truckers the whole way to Motorama.

I had to play a little puzzle hunt game to find out where the upper console buttons went. These ended up all being lighting features. The most obvious one was the rear cargo light … which is borderline useless, I might add, so it’ll get upgraded or changed to a CHMSL to free up a circuit for shenanigans, so I played around until I found the door lights (“Courtesy lights”) and the….

…sex lighting. There was a broken wire splice near the headliner where the wiring escapes into the body panel interstitials, and once that was reassembled, the old-school INCANDESCENT LED STRIP - think older incandescent Christmas lights – was working again.

Nobody gets to tell me this “mood lighting” was for any other purpose. Sorry, not buying it.

The “IDK relay” was traced to one of the wiring octopi under the hood. Since it was a relay that was connected to a small bank of intact 30A fuses that was connected to nothing much besides itself, I surmised it was some kind of forward lighting accessory. My guess is foglights, which would have been high-brightness halogen bulbs (I pulled a broken set off that had no wires attached) so it would demand a lot of current, necessitating a relay of its own. This was left intact for now, for future brodozer lighting mods or something.

So, that’s all for interior work. In one of these sessions, I also stuffed a new stereo head unit in place of the (also aftermarket) unit; it’s the same model as Mikuvans, so I can irritate general audiences in either vehicle with ease!

About a week before Motorama was when the next scheduled abnormally warm day was, but it was to be quickly followed by plunging temperatures and 12-18″ of snow. I, of course, in my wisdom, decided this was the best time to replumb the fuel system. If you recall, Vantruck has a dual fuel tank system with a switching valve between them. Only the rear tank was working when I received it – the front tank was disconnected completely and the valve was bypassed.

I’d decided the system was such an abject mess that I’d rather replumb everything from scratch so I knew where it all went. So I ordered 25 feet of 5/16″ and 3/8″ rubber fuel hosing the week before, as well as a new fuel pump and fuel level sender floaty-bob assembly for the rear tank (which had a non-functional sender, resulting in me never knowing how much fuel was in the tank).

I assumed at this point that the forward tank had been just sitting idle so probably still worked, hence I only ordered a rear pump. We will see that this didn’t quite go as planned.

Step 1: Just start hacking everything off. I knew based on the shop book where all the tubes were supposed to go, so I just undid every fitting I saw. I dropped the rear tank’s binding straps and it was……

…suspiciously heavy.

I ended up grabbing a transfer pump (which I’d bought with the fuel hoses as a JUST IN CASE measure…which turned out to be a lifesaver) and a gas can, and pumped no less than 10 gallons of varnishy-smelling gasoline out of the tank. Gasoline is a perishable product: it decomposes into a array of miscellaneous petrochemical substances, and gradually dries out to leave a sticky brown residue. If you know anyone who has a moped, you’ve heard them complain about it, trust me.

Luckily, the fuel wasn’t much discolored and just smelled a little funny. I split the goods 50/50 with Mikuvan, which was near empty at the time – half grunge-o-line, and half fresh premium. I may regret this later.


Here, I’m draining the rest of the fuel lines coming from the rear tank. Notice how it’s dark? It’s not actually late – the tank emptying began around 3PM (daylight) and by the time 5PM came around, it was dark.

After I emptied the forward tank to a manageable state, I decided to pull out the fuel pump to see how it’s doing.


It died in my hands. Check that rust out! The interior of the tank was “somewhat rusty” – clearly could use a good proper cleaning or replacement, but the Internet had shown me worse. (Due to not wanting to die in a fire, I did not take a photo of the inside of the tank)

Alright, now I have a situation. If I put everything together as-is, the front tank isn’t going to be hooked up anyway, and then I’d have to drop everything all over again later. I know the rear tank pump worked, just that the fuel gauge is inaccurate. So I decided to commandeer the new rear tank pump for the front.

Trouble is, the tubing was different lengths, as the two tanks are different dimensions.

No problem! I’m just going to unbend the rear tank pump tubing structure a bit. This made it sit nice and flush on the bottom of the front tank!

Cut forward a few hours, and here are the new hoses hooked up. I labeled everything with paint markers during the process so I could figure out where it’s all going later, uhh, down the road.

Additional labels and definitely-not-OEM-spec tubes on tubes splicing, but it worked!

Here is where I say the Ford truck dual-fuel system is simultaneously clever and WHY THE FUCK WOULD YOU EVER DO THIS? designed. Both fuel pumps are powered through the valve, which seems to be a power door lock motor moving a little spool valve with electrical contacts attached to it. If this valve failed in any way – and it seems they do, quite often – you lose power to one or the other fuel pump, if not both.

People have bypassed it with both pumps being hardwired and pushing fuel through check valves (creating a flammable Diode-OR power supply!), wacky hacks with relays of their own, and so on. I had half a mind to do one of these things, but given that the valve seemed to toggle fine in an independent test, I was willing to give it a chance.

Everything seemed to work, though. I was able to blast around locally on either tank with no problems. A few pre-Motorama stuff-getting runs were made this way, to work the system in prior to leaving.

Alright, it’s time now for the big night! Now we go back to this spectacular, never to be topped epic load-out:

What’s in there? Sawblaze, Overhaul, the Doof Wagon (a Harbor Freight garden cart that several folks at MITERS motorized, because of course they did), Clocker, two lift table carts, several boxes and crates of parts, two suitcases, and a shipment of Nissan Leaf cells. And soon to be 5 people. No problem! Let’s get on the Mass Pike, YEEEEEEEEAH! Hair metal!

I get about 20 minutes out – just barely past Framingham, MA – when I suddenly start experiencing fuel feed loss symptoms, similar to the great misadventure of Mikuvan in 2014. Not knowing immediately what was the cause, we decided to not chance it in the middle of nowhere, at night, during winter. We announced to the other group leaving that we were turning back to swap vans.

I figure that since I never really had time to take the thing on the highway and flay it for an hour straight, that the higher fuel demand on the highway coupled with my one-shot smash service, had caused some systems to not play nice with each other. Nevertheless, we could still make it to Moto in time since we weren’t that far out.

Literally 1 block from the new shop, however, the night got much longer.


Okay, right…. let’s see.

I just had the rear right quarter panel repaired to the tune of $900. I’m carrying probably close to 1000 pounds of equipment (two 240-250lb robots, another that in steel carts, 100lb of Leaf batteries, more robots, tools, and change) as well as 4 of my best friends onboard. I think we made out pretty well here, all things considered.

The gist of it is, I had slowed down to cut the tight one-lane right turn onto the street shown, when a black SUV wanked into the rear right corner most likely at speeds around 25-30mph.  The police report was quick, as the scene was fairly clear cut – the driver was distracted, and made no attempt to brake. The hit was on the bumper mostly (shown curled inwards)  and spun Vantruck with all of its load manifest around 30 degrees.

Now is, however, the perfect “You should actually see the other guy, though” moment:

That was a Nissan Rogue SUV, the front of which vaporized on contact, but whose crumple zones and airbags* worked perfectly.

We 100% had the mass of Vantruck and the robots on our side – I cannot imagine the level of damage and hurt that could have happened if Mikuvan were in its place. I would have had neither the mass advantage nor the 80s American Steel advantage, and probably would have had friends in the hospital and the entire loss of the ship. In the end, the driver and I walked it off a bit, made statements to the police, and exchanged information. The SUV was hoisted off by a tow truck, he called for a ride home, and I shuffled the < 1000ft remaining to the shop parking lot.

*Yes, I know. NOBODY is allowed to give me shit about my disdain for vehicles with crumple zones and airbags. Bugger off.

And so, around 4:45AM Friday, we set out again after having stuffed Mikuvan to the brim with robot gear and personal effects. I basically white-knuckled it all the way to Harrisburg. TRUST. NOBODY.

I had plenty of time on the way to reflect on the events. No matter how many Russian dashcam videos I watch before every road trip (a whole lot), and no matter how much of that actually translates into my daily defensive driving practice (a whole lot), it still caught me out of the blue. I passed the SUV in question more than 2 blocks prior at a recently-changed green light (the driver was stopped and I already carried speed) and didn’t even think about it.  It was quite a blow to my sense of immortality and penchant for determinism. I like to think I’m in charge of events when I’m driving, but this was a veritable slap in the ass that no man can account for all physical events.

Also, I carried no collision insurance for Vantruck, because why would I. I realized life was going to get very interesting when I returned.

It’s the Monday after Motorama, a nice and sunny and unseasonably warm day again. Let’s survey the damage.


Yup, shit’s fucked. Not only is the entire repair area ruined again, but the taillight housing was completely destroyed along with the mounting points.

The right one-piece fender is throughly cracked in multiple places.

As well as curled upwards – the bed side itself is curled slightly inwards at the corner, and the tailgate is significantly bowed (visible in photo prior to this).

So begins the most recent chapter of my life which has occurred steadily the past few weeks: Heading to picturesque, postcard-chic corners of New England…

…to stare at people’s ugly-ass, rusty, broken-down trucks….

So what was the battle plan? I joked around about replacing the made-by-Centurion bed with a real 80s-era Ford F350 dually bed. The Centurion bed is made in the image of one of those, with the squared-off fenders, but lower in height and with one-piece panels.  Like how Ford didn’t change the Econoline from 1979 through 1991, neither did they change the F-series from 1986 through 1997. Only minor cosmetic changes and other drivetrain changes happened – nothing generational like what seems to happen every 2 or 3 years nowadays. Through lots of reading and forum-hunting, I determined that a 8 foot dually bed from anywhere between 1980 and 1997 was going to be a reasonable transplant and shared the same critical dimension: Cab-to-Axle length. I’m pretty lucky that Centurion designed it with the same dimensions as an F-series bed, or there would either be some kind of unsightly gap or I’d just give up and weld my own flatbed or something.

With that said, do you know how many intact 80-97 F-350 long-bed dually trucks are left in New England? Negative three.

Pictured above: meh. If I were Full-Redneck repairing it on my own, with no help, I’d take it. It has some patchable rust holes, and a cracked right fender (What is it with old Ford trucks and breaking right fenders?) that was all there, so repairable. Rusted tailgate, missing lights. All liveable things, but I’m not yet this desperate.

Besides expanding my search radius for F350 long beds, I also had to find a 75-91 Econoline-compatible rear step bumper. Nobody has products for the 3rd-generation Econoline any more. Everything I could find new was for 1992 and up, when the frame changed (they’re not compatible without significant welding and fab work, to my knowldge. Please prove me wrong.)

Cue calling around to find junkyards which might still have products designed to be used up and thrown away 20 years ago, and visiting them during the MOST WRONGEST POSSIBLE SEASON TO GO TO A JUNKYARD:

I think there might be a car in here.

Scouring a regional yard (hint: Junkyards don’t exist in high property value locations, at least not in our postmodern Gig Economy world) for the last dregs of 3rd-gen Econolines. This one had a step bumper that was in the same mental filing cabinet with the F350 bed above: If I had nothing else to love in the world, maybe. I’d rather hunt on Craigslist or eBay.

A more complete Econoline 150 I considered robbing the front bumper from just to have in case (The fronts were the same through the year range).

I also came across gems like this:

This yard had a few Solectria Geo Metros! Ah, the smell of well-aged federal energy subsidies. No batteries or inverter in this one. The best part though?

It was named Harambe.

This tells me they were likely sitting in storage somewhere University of Massachusetts Lowell affiliated until the whole party finally got scrapped very recently, because why would anyone name anything Harambe before last year???

The interiors are actually in nice condition. It seems like if you wanted to, you could call Jack’s Used Auto Parts in Billerica and buy it off them, drop some batteries and a ~25kW induction motor driver in, and off you go. The whole fleet of 4 Solectrias I saw were in similar shape.

So where do I stand on this search as of now? Everything is closing in slowly – the coming week could see great successes or my continued descent into self-harm and substance abuse.

  • Vantruck is currently laid up at the van salon (c.f. my hair mechanic) with a fuel system & carburetor rehabilitation program in progress. “How old are you?” “28.” “Yeah you definitely wouldn’t know what carburetors are.” Yes, please fix my box of unicorns so I don’t ever have to think about it. Do they make carburetors for electrons?
  • I found exactly 1 website selling exactly 1 New Old Stock 75-91 Econoline Rear Chrome Step Bumper. I ordered it, my credit card was charged, and something appears to have been shipped. I will find out if it’s a bobcat.
  • I have 2 leads on beds – one from Kentucky, and one from southern Pennsylvania. Naturally, the farther one is in almost fabled condition based on seller-supplied photos, and the closer one is workable but would require body shop time. It seems like I might face the quandary of needing to get a truck to get parts for my truck later this week, unless everything gets put back together in time!

What an excellent adventure. I wouldn’t wish it upon my worst enemy – or maybe I would, provided they drive something old and obscure that is impossible to find easy parts for. This brings me to my concluding point, which is….

Some kind of massive insurance loophole exists for old but collectible vehicles.

At least in Massachusetts, and at least with our (the driver of the Nissan Rogue and my own) insurance companies. So here’s the deal: In Massachusetts, if your vehicle is over 10 years of age, you’re exempt from having a salvage-branded title, which would put the vehicle off the road potentially permanently unless you choose to repair it and have a special inspection performed. That means even if it IS written off, the title would not reflect it, and you could repair the vehicle at will and all it would have to do is pass a regular yearly inspection.

I had anticipated the driver’s insurance company trying to total me out, since it’s obvious that short of full-custom fiberglass layup, the bed will be very difficult to replace (and swapping bodies with some other vehicle is obviously not SOP for an insurance repair). In talks with my own insurance company, through whom I did NOT carry collision or comprehensive coverage (so basically: fuck off), I learned that being totaled out was possibly the best option for the reason stated above.

Through discussing this with my vanstylist, we also decided that this might as well be the path to push on – to get a fair value settlement that reflects what Vantruck is, which is a custom-built vehicle not made in great numbers. On its title, it’s a 1986 Ford Econoline cargo van. That’s worth like 3 cents nowdays, so we had to argue for the collectible/rare case, and hope to get enough to make reasonable repairs.

As expected, 2 weeks after the event, I received a detailed appraisal with the big red THIS VEHICLE IS A TOTAL LOSS stamp on it. Except there were some serious problems:

Now hang on just a minute. On top, you tell me the vehicle does not have parts available – which is true, short of finding an identical Centurion product in a yard already catalogged and ready – but on the bottom, there are several Ford Econoline body panels listed with hypothetical labor needed.

These body panels do not exist on Vantruck. Seriously, look up those Ford part numbers – they are literally the half of the van that is missing. So which one is it – parts not available, or parts are available? This appraisal was written by someone listed a bunch of irrelevant parts and tried to say it’s a writeoff.

I gave this spiel to the driver’s insurance company upon receiving it, and demanded that they at least total me out for a fair market value of a similar vehicle.  This ended up being the point of leverage used by my mechanic as well.

In response, I sent them archived eBay and Craiglist ads for what de jure is a “similar vehicle”: same year, same region, and same mileage. I was lucky that I was able to locate more of these things for sale for between 6-8K in good condition.

This is one example, and probably the one that pushed the case through. Same year, same mileage range (Vantruck has 76K), and very nearby. So basically, you’re buying me this if you decide to total me out, dammit!

In the end, through some more phone calls, they capitulated, and I received a nice Vantruck build fund as a result.

What I learned through that week was the following:

  1. If your vehicle is just old, but common – like a Toyota Camry or something – you’ll get boned because the vehicle will be very low value to begin with.
  2. If your vehicle is just weird, no matter what, parts will be expensive or impossible to find, and you’ll get boned because there is no easy comparable to appraise, or because it’s a custom kit car, or something. (In cases like these, I understand people some times carry declared-value coverage, where you set your own payout).
  3. If your vehicle is old and weird, you seemingly can find an exploitable niche where the vehicle is highly valuable in a limited circle, giving you ammunition for demonstrating comparable values. On top of that, someone correct me if I am wrong, but it seems like you can get the vehicle written off multiple times with no effect on title or registration provided it’s adequately repairable. Probably also can’t pull the same trick twice with the same insurance company.

So in a strange twist of fate, getting beaned by a Nissan Rogue might have been the best thing that’s happened to Vantruck in its recent operating life. With the settlement (it’s not for $6.5K – salvage value deductions and total-out thresholds come into play) I intend to fund the bed purchase as well as a full repaint.

Here is one of the concepts (generated by Cynthia!) that I’m considering.

Yup! I quite like the same window blackout treatment that Mikuvan has, so I’m going to match the two. I have another idea in mind which leaves the hood white, but there is not an easy body crease or line to follow near the windshield – this blackout job just follows and overwrites the 80s geometric brown-on-brown paint line. It helps that the candidate beds I’ve found have been white to begin with, meaning they will not need extensive recoating ($$$ and time) to hide another color.

Another idea lurking in the back of my mind is black on black on black… on black. It appeals to me through its simplicity and DIY-ability (as I’m prioritizing the payout for getting a bed in the first place and addressing running issues). However, I’m actually not that much a fan of blacked out cars, and think Vantruck would seriously be too much black, a rolling wall of black. It would be a visual black hole, like reality glitching when you look past it. Granted, the idea of a completely black out vehicle creeping silently on electric power is also appealing.

But that’s getting ahead of myself. Mission critical is getting a new bed and putting it on – modifications will be needed, maybe even some custom mounting brackets, as the E-series cutaway and F-series truck frames are seemingly not the same spacing between rails. In a few days I’ll know if I need to be journeying into DEEP TRUMP COUNTRY to get parts for my TRUMPMOBILE.

The Chronicles of Vantruck 2: Not-Yet-Electric Boogaloo

Jan 12, 2017 in mikuvan, vantruck


It’s a new year, and somehow I’m outside, in the middle of winter in Massachusetts, at night, fixing a van.


As I’ve said before, imagine if I ever exert this much effort doing something socially beneficial or self-improving.

I’ve been sparse lately, though, due to a similar kind of exertion that is called “working for yourself”. When you’re me and you take contracting work, you begin to adopt everyone else’s malformed, premature project embryos as your own, and raise them until they can walk on their own, often into a wall. The upside is that I can pick my battles and choose my projects, but the caveat is that I was never good at time management anyway, so it’s sort of easy for me to get lost in work. Overhaul has been living under a table and Clocker 4 hasn’t been repaired from Franklin Institute yet. Please make #season3 happen ):

I am, however, signed up for Motorama again, and you know what this means:



This time, I will be unstoppable. I will be a worthy opponent!

But first, to get to that point, Vantruck has to be legal to operate in the state of Massachusetts, among other things. So time to get to work!

I have a habit of buying something and then doing research on what it is I just bought. This is why targeted internet advertising never works on me, because it’s too late to show me Ford truck ads now, guys.

To this end, I went ahead and picked up a copy of both the Chilton’s and Haynes service manuals, as well as copy of the Official Ford E/F-150-350 + Bronco Player’s Guide on CD, since I like information. Also, I’ve otherwise never owned a vehicle that had been worth writing an aftermarket service manual over. When one book can cover almost 30 years of one model, or SEVEN MODELS AT ONCE, that’s when you know that 1. it’s good, and 2. it’s why we need globalized diverified economies.

Okay, I’ll take number 1 back. These manuals suck. They’re definitely very “old school car guy” centric, but perhaps it’s just the ones written for old vehicles. The section on how to rebuild your carburetor or adjust the bands in the automatic transmission? Awesome! Checking all engine bearing, cam, and valve clearances? HUGE!



I’ll be up front, the only thing I know about carburetors is that a unicorn lives in each barrel and it decides how much fuel to mix with the incoming air. Vantruck’s Ford 460 engine has a 4-barrel carburetor, meaning it has 4 unicorn-power. At least 1 of those unicorns is slacking off when it gets below about 30 degrees, since it will only hold idle with a little bit of throttle application for a minute or so until it warms up. I am told the unicorn has to be choked to whip it back into shape, and the mechanism that does this might be sticky.

Whatever. I don’t care about carburetors. Maybe one day in the future I’ll write the Haynes manual on how to rebalance your future solar-powered bubblecopter’s main lift motors in excruiciating detail and some young hotshot will tell me that nobody uses electric motors any more and that all new bubblecopters manipulate the electroweak force to spontaneously decompose atoms in front of where you want the propellers to be.

So let’s see what I’m dealing with here…. Remember, the goal is to get turn signals and reversing lights working again!

Alright, so the circuit I’m interested in is protected by Fuse 10. I confirmed that yes, no matter how big a fuse I put in, it immediately blows on any turn of the key, so it’s a hard short to ground somewhere. Referring to the wiring diagrams in the manuals (which all say the same thing in slightly different line widths and wiring label mnemonics), I see that there is a combination switch on the transmission that directly controls the reversing lights.

Given that the hazard flasher still works, and the turn signals do flash with them, I suspected a hard short somewhere along the body harness for the reversing lights. The turn signals are on a different path and therefore not affected by the short, but it will blow the fuse and cause power loss to both.

Interesting fact: No matter how large the nose on a full-size American van, there is still an access port for the engine on the inside, and it’s the same for Chevy/GMC and Dodge too. This thing really has less lateral legroom than Mikuvan does, and it’s because the engine is slightly ahead of you, not slightly behind. You’re still basically sitting on top of it.

Why can’t you be a 1960s Econoline instead? They even made pre-truckified versions!

Here I am popping the doghouse off to inspect the wiring harness going to the transmission switch.


And I find the culprit immediately: A very fried and rotted wiring connector and harness that was touching the engine block. It seems to have been routed in the valley of the engine next to one of the cylinder heads – so I can only surmise that it’s gotten very hot, accelerating the decay of the legendary 80s US-made plastics. This connector shell basically turned to dust when I tried to open it, and the wiring insulation flaked off in large pieces.


Yeah, I picked the scab for a few minutes and separated the wires where they were exposed in order to make sure nothing was shorting,  I cut the harness wrap another few inches in both directions to look for additional shorted locations, but this was the only one.

And here we go – turn signals are back!

However, there were still no reversing lights. I metered the circuits and discovered the transmission switch’s reverse position had failed open – perhaps due to the shorted harness. So that’s a few bucks on eBay for another transmission switch!

Meanwhile, I moved onto excavating other wiring artifacts, playing such games as “Where the hell does this bare-ass connector go?”

I couldn’t find any mating end for this bare terminal; it’s on the same circuit as the power supplied to the transmission switch and is allegedly part of the ignition interlock (for no starting in-gear), but I can find no mention of it anywhere in the manuals – probably an aftermarket mod that was later removed. I taped it off for the time being.

Then we have this rare example of an American Wiring Kudzu:

Someone please tell me this is not OEM. Compared to Mikuvan’s “all in one extravaganza” wiring experience, this is borderline unreal.

I couldn’t identify what the leftmost and uppermost components (with rusty terminals) were, but one of the right hand side relays seemed to be a headlight relay and the other one a horn relay. If you know what those other things are, please let ME know. I just wire-brushed and dielectric-greased the terminals and called it a day.

Following the horn relay caused me to discover a very long-dead airhorn compressor buried near the front radiator supports. Since the plumbing seems to be in place, maybe I’ll try hooking up a new airhorn compressor at some point…

Flash forward a week and the new transmission switch has arrived. This is a photo of removing the old one – it was a very straightforward procedure, and I actually did it “by the book” as recommended.

Interesting fact: The orange tube seen in the first ‘doghouse’ photo is actually a linkage that connects the throttle body to a small lever on the transmission selector valve. Its termination is shown here. Not only is it actually a linkage, but it’s actually the connecting link in a 3-dimenional 4-bar linkage and moves in a circular arc centered somewhere inside the engine. It’s the transmission kickdown linkage, and when you hit the gas pedal hard enough, it moves outwards at the throttle body, translating through that circular motion into a downward motion at the switch here.

It doesn’t stop there; EVERYTHING IS LINKAGES. The throttle itself is a linkage, and the main gear shift selection lever also toggles the leftmost brown bar as a linkage. The parking brake linkage seems to move on the same set of pins this whole clusterfuck moves on, connected to the frame.  AND EVERY ONE OF THESE LINKAGES IS SLOPPY.

I legitimately don’t know if I should be horrified that someone thought this was a good idea, or amazed at the ingenuity that went into packaging everything.

Whatever. You’re all leaving for a sack of electrons in the next few years. I cleaned up the area and regreased all the pins and clevises for now. I should just pack everything with JB-weld so it fills the slop!

As the first wiring repair a few days later, I started with the most critical issue, the transmission harness. Here it is repaired with a few more inches to spare ; this extra length will let me route it up and over the hot part of the engine, over the air cleaner lid, and back down towards the transmission.

Alright, with my turn signals back on and the reversing light circuit showing continuity, I still had no reversing lights. Well, time to go see what other wires could be broken. The wire emerging from the transmission switch which allegedly goes straight backwards to the reversing lamps did not show continuity to ground, meaning it was broken somewhere along the way. First, I checked the light modules themselves, which meant starting at the back…

Bad mistake.

Judging by the aging of the various nylon splice connectors AND A WIRE NUT. WHO THE HELL USES WIRE NUTS HERE I think at least 2 jackasses have been here before me, making me the third ass. Several aftermarket trailer devices have probably lived and died here, and there were not only stubs of wires (some of which I might need) but splices like this rare Shadtree Wiring Octopus living in the back bumper area.

Speaking of trailer accessories, here’s a quick side story.

Since the beginning, Vantruck has had a magic switch installed on the underside of the dashboard. Neither the seller nor I nor my truck-buddy Dan who I blame for this whole thing could tell what it did, or where it led.  This magic switch had a yellow and a brown wire coming off it, with the yellow going directly to 12 volts at the fuse box. The brown wire, though, disappeared into the abyss.

As long as I had the dash and other panels off hunting for the transmission switch wiring, I decided to follow the brown wire.

From the switch, it runs downwards and follows the rest of the body harness out to the front driver’s side of the engine compartment. It’s definitely aftermarket, since it’s just stuffed into the bushing there, not part of any wrapped bundles.

Inside the engine compartment by the front left wheelwell, it makes a U-turn and dives under the frame. It runs allllllll the way back to just ahead of the rear axle, upon which it terminates in….



That was….. anticlimactic.

Oh well. I ripped this wire all the way out, along with the entire magic switch, and some of the wiring stock ended up making it back in the form of taillights.

At this point, I looked up and discovered this creative arrangement of fuel lines and seemingly a vestigial fuel-system switching valve. The seller had made it clear that the dual tank system doesn’t work. There is another switching valve to the right, a few feet closer to the front driver’s side, which is about equally disconnected.

Since it’s silly to have such a huge truck with less range than a Tesla Model S, this fuel system will be the focus of my next adventures. I’m just going to replumb everything from scratch – I don’t even care to detangle this right now. More importantly though, the fuel gauge sensor is faulty in the rear tank (left) and of unknown vintage on the front tank (right), so they are a higher priority than being able to cause 2 forms of global warming at the flick of a switch.


By the way, the yellow end of the magic switch ended in a wire nut by the fuse panel, which has a connection via a 30 amp fuse to….

…a wrapped bundle somewhere in the body harness again.

You know what, fuck it, I quit. I just removed all of the splices, trimmed the unknown broken wires, and put it back together.  Currently, power windows only work if I alligator clip the door harness to 12V, so I’m pretty sure one of these things actually went to them, in defiance of the manual telling me what color wires are supposed to do what. I’ll address this later…

Since I had to get access to the rear wiring anyway for the lights, and it hadn’t gotten that cold out yet, I decided to rust-treat the rear bumper’s inside cavities while it was off.

This thing was unexpectedly heavy. It’s made of mostly 1/8″ and 3/16″ steel with stamped brackets holding it to the frame with 5/8″ bolts.  I keep forgetting that I am working in a realm where everything was designed by and for much larger and manlier men than myself.  This is good – it keeps me on my toes, and makes it even weirder to everyone else around when I pop out of it at Motorama.

The treatment consisted of a wire brushing and air-blasting the rust powder off, then treating the remnant surface rust with converter, and a few layers of clearcoat over it once it dried. Probably overkill for surface rust on the stern of the Titanic, but hey, it’s iceberg season and I had work to do while the substances dried.

Getting it back on again was an even more hilarious adventure. dem gainz

Long story short, I basically rebuilt the rear harness using the shop books as a guide. I removed several ill-conceived marker lights, seen as shadows above the wiring loop. Clown #1 or #2 had just drilled a tiny hole through the sheet metal and shoved the wire through, un-bushed and liable to being torn on any one of those holes. I’ll do my own marker lights later if I feel like adding to the already gargantuan collection of LOOK AT ME I’M A TRUCK lights present.

Finally, after shaving most of the yaks living in this region, I pulled out the taillight modules and began playing hunt the wire. Here is another Shadetree Wiring Octopus habitat. The sheer number of splices on this length alone are mind-boggling, and make me suspect the taillights are not original.  I played a game of alligator clips trying to find out what was supposed to go to where – at this point, none of the colors lined up with the shop book, so I only had intuition to help along.

And an hour or so later, the corrected harness with rebuilt areas and 99% less splices emerges.

Luckily, the other side was actually in good shape, but this was the master side where the brake light, turn signal, and reversing light body harness came in, so it was the side which mattered. Everything was e-taped together, bundled, and shoved back in.

And there we go!

Those are some bright taillights… In fact, they’re the same ones I use on Mikuvan, the so-called 10W LED “buttheadlights”.

I discovered that beyond just hacking up the wiring, Clowns #1 or #2 had in fact installed the entire wrong bulb into the right side reversing light. They somehow stuffed a type 1157 dual-filament bulb into the socket for an 1156. Nothing made contact, and so that light didn’t work initially.

Not having direct replacements for the type 1156, I suddenly remembered I bought like 3 packs of those LED things and decided to just switch over right now to LEDs. I did not have 1157s for the taillights in LED, though, so that will come another day.

These are the “buttheadlights” in question, and I can vouch for their niceness.

Buttoned back up!

The story doesn’t end there, however. As long as there was a gaping hole in the fender, I couldn’t get an inspection sticker to be fully road-legal. At this point, I had plotted and schemed for 3 weeks on how to fix the hole, but the weather no longer permitted any outdoor work that involved curing or drying anything – and I did not have any place left to pull it indoors.  I finally decided to throw it in and took Vantruck to Richie’s Automotive in Waltham, a shop highly recommended by Dan which dealt a lot with trucks. This timed well with a spontaneous New Years trip to Atlanta, so I was able to leave it there and ask for the Have At It treatment.

And here we go! After I returned from driving vans for 3,000 miles, I was totally done with vans, so Dan got the privilege of piloting the battleship back to port. The fender patch is backed with sheet metal and all the damaged brackets were also repaired; I also had them go ahead and replace the exhaust system from the Y-pipe back since it had substantial rust holes in the muffler and other spots.

So that’s why it was so loud. I thought large American V8s just sounded like that all the time.

Finally, they threw in repairing all of the marker and trim lights, including all the little ones in the running boards which were out and I didn’t care enough to do with the other wiring, as well as the ones eviscerated from the fender. It’s great to have a shop well-connected to the industry, since I am definitely not knowledgeable on Giant American Truck things.

The current outlook is to replace the malfunctioning fuel gauge in the rear tank, which reads half when full and empty when about 5 gallons down out of 22, so it’s not helpful at all. I’m perfectly content having only about 250 miles of range on one tank, since that places it on the same refueling interval as Mikuvan. I’m therefore not inclined to actually repair the fuel tank switching valve system, but maybe just join the two tanks at the bottom with a hose or a transfer pump so I have use of both tanks, just not alternately.

After all, if I make it too good, I might be inclined to keep everything running…

In other exciting van news, however, this latest trip to Atlanta did result in Mikuvan rolling the grand ol’ 200K, in the most unromantic possible location: A few hundred feet from the entrance of the Merritt Parkway in Connecticut.

Hopefully I’ll captain this Space Battlevan-ship for many more parsecs to come. I’m eager for the weather to improve again so I can continue preparing it for the inevitable decals.

Introducing Vantruck

Dec 05, 2016 in vantruck

Hello everyone, this is Vantruck.


What is Vantruck?

Vantruck is a van.

And a truck.

At the same time.


It’s like Catdog; an instantiation of fabled admixtures of two animals.


Or perhaps, a McGangBang of two colliding titanic forces of 1980s excess and gluttony.

Specifically, it is half of a Ford E350 conversion van body mounted on a lengthened Ford F-350 duallie chassis. It is, therefore, literally half van and half truck, transcending traditional vehicle role boundaries.

Wait, did you actually BUY THIS?



Nothing, but perhaps everything, depending on your frame of reference and soundness of mind. All things are relative, you see.

Does it… work?

The powertrain is in good repair, the engine pulls well, the frame and underbody are fairly clean, but some of the electrical accessories do not work, including somewhat important things like turn signals.

Though I am told you don’t need those in Boston, the Massachusetts Vehicle Check program at least wants to see that There Was an Attempt.

It also had a tire blowout event in a past life which left these holes in the fiberglass fenders. They, too, will be repaired.


The interior also needs a good detail. Untold numbers of old flubby white people have likely committed unspeakable acts on this convertible rear bench seat and futon.

I would like to erase all potential history of this.

What are you going to do with it?!

Use it as a van and a truck, simultaneously, like GOD INTENDED.

Cosmetically clean it up and low-effort restore it, including pre-emptive rustproofing and electrical system detangling.

That sounds boring.

Image: InsideEVs via Jason Hughes

Eventually, reverse-engineer and install a Tesla PxxD powertrain. I have a bone to pick with how Tesla handles indepedent service and repair, and think it sets a very bad precedent for the automotive industry. Therefore, one of my future projects is to revive a trashed/crashed Tesla vehicle (whether wholly or in pieces) with minimal support and authorization from Tesla – ideally none – and open source the process & create solutions for adapting their parts to nefarious uses. I liken it to the DIY muscle car engine swap of the 21st century; the ideas and goals are the same, the tools and skills are different. I’ve been rage-reading this thread too much recently, and one of the things that spurred this desire was following the progress of Jason Hughes.



Why can’t you just be normal and buy a used Nissan Leaf?

That would be giving up.

How do I back your Kickstarter?

This project has no definite timeline. Definitely post-#season3, possibly beyond that, so I do not have a fundraising source for it planned.  Just keep buying Ragebridges. Or hire e0designs for stuff.

Can I buy the Ford 460 V8 to make a racecar?

I will happily trade a running 75K original-mile 1986 Ford 460 V8, all its installed accessories, C6 automatic transmission, and dual-tank fuel system for one very sad Tesla Model S PxxD.

What will happen to Mikuvan? ):

Mikuvan remains in active service. There are no plans to mothball or decommission it. Vantruck is larger than most Cambridge city blocks, so there is no way I am able to casually use it anyhoo. Also, 10 miles per gallon.



Candy Paint and the Hail Mary Finish: Last Update before Motorama

Feb 14, 2014 in Bots, Candy Paint & Gold Teeth, In Progress, Project Build Reports

Over the past few weeks, I was supposed to complete Candy Paint & Gold Teeth – especially taking this past week to do so. However, real life has a way of trying to happen all at once to me instead of in reasonably scheduled chunks. This often manifests itself in trivial instances such as a delivery guy showing up with a pallet jack at the same time I’m trying to answer a student question about machining, all the while my phone starts ringing. During all other times, I am a lazy bum.

This past week, it manifested itself in the entire shop being room-swapped, almost like out of some bad redecorating show:

Yes, that is the Shopbot, in all its 5 x 10 foot glory, mounted on a pallet jack and a trash can rolley base. With zip ties.

Oddly enough, I didn’t think this one up.

The former EE/laser cutter room was turned into the combination fab shop and Shopbot room…

..and the former shop had all of the EE equipment, rapid prototyping tools, and 3D printers stuffed into it!

Overall, it’s much more cozy instead of being a big patch of empty space. We did this to consolidate shop space in order to free up the massive area formerly occupied by the Shopbot for more researchers to have space. It was completely necessary, and (of course) this past weekend was the only window of opportunity: any later in the term and it would interfere with classes, and start of summer is too late because of the space needs of new researchers.

Besides that, the following also happened:

  • 2.00gokart Season 3 has started! This warrants its own post, but right after the shop was moved, I had to give orientations/machine training sessions to all of the 20 BRAND! NEW! excited students.
  • the Department of Facilities insisted that this week was exactly when they needed to wax the floors, so many of these things (but THANK ROBOT JESUS NOT THE SHOPBOT) had to be temporarily moved back out.
  • Mikuvan ate an alternator on Monday. This is reserved for another episode of Big Chuck’s Automove Blog, but this was a several-hours repair job yesterday after waiting for parts.
  • I had to teach a main-2.007 Solidworks lecture on short notice, which was a few hours of preparation.

What does this mean? Well, for one, I have almost nothing penciled in for next week right now, so I should just be able to sleep the whole time!

This post will recap Candy Paint’s progress up until last night. It’ll be short but pictureful. As it stands, there is a slim chance of the bot being completed right before check-in and inspections begin, so I’m just rolling triage – what can be done will be done.

First, the welded frame:

Hot. Damn.

I passed this welding job onto my friend Jack, who is the shopmaster of the D-LAB facility across the hallway. I wouldn’t have stood a chance – my only experiences with welding aluminum have always ended up in puddles.

This frame taught a lot of lessons – namely, I’m never going to do it again. I expected some “taco” deformation of the whole thing, but it was actually quite straight. What I found out later on was that many internal features had moved or warped out of place seemingly magically, and almost nothing fit the way it was supposed to. There was to be much Dremelling in my future.  I’m actually not sure why I wanted to go welded-frame in the first place… something about trying out new techniques. The frame was suboptimally designed to be welded – tight corners, very mismatched material thicknesses, and holes very close to edges, since my experience in design-for-welding is slight at best.

One of the first things I did was grind off some of those strength-giving fillets because the top of the bot needed to be flush – again, a design-for-not-welding guy trying to do design-for-welding. This will weaken all the joints, so I’m hoping the underside fillets and tab/slot mates make up for it.

A rough grit zirconia flap wheel made short work of the aluminum.

The finished result. I then took this downstairs to the giant 20 ton hydraulic press for some gentle frame straightening, using the bar that I messed up on the rolling machine as a flat jig. With this done, the next step was to post-process the holes:

One thing I am now aware of that is done is weld a blank frame first, then post-machine everything from a single datum. All of my features ended up moving around or warping – the big center hole’s bolt circle somehow shrunk almost .02″, necessitating Dremelling to remedy. I’m glad I invested in those carbide burrs.

With the frame ready – or almost, with an hour’s more Dremelling than I had intended – for drivetrain and other parts installation, it was time to make those other parts.

The center spindle is made from a single piece of 4340 steel. I single-point machined the giant 1″-14 threads.

I machined the giant center block from a 2 x 4″ brick of billet using the EZ-TRAK CNC mill in the auto shop. Here it is completed with one of the tapered roller bearings and spindle installed!

Waterjetting is easy, but billets are satisfying.

Stator and partially completed stator hub. The stator is a copier motor pull unit I had, the same size as the one in Kitmotter and one of the Razermotors. I’ll be rewinding this with only a few turns of ungodly huge wire.

It took a while to install the wheels, because all of the slots had shifted a little, warped a little, or shrunk a little. But this is what the bot looks like with all 4 wheels!

This is remarkably straight and level – there’s a tiny gap under one wheel. Oh well – after the first hit, I’m sure nothing will be straight ever again.

Installing the big center spindle block. This is a pretty integral portion of the bot, and it fastens onto all three major frame rails inside.

The little offset pocket is a zeroing error on the CNC.

Pretend-o-bot #1! The spindle isn’t constrained here, it’s just sitting in one bearing. This thing spins for a minute if I whip it up to speed…

I stripped all the windings off the motor and used a string to measure the length of new winding needed.

This motor will be spinning north of 15,000 RPM to drive the weapon bar at around 2500. To get this speed, I needed to make a very hot winding – I calculated that 4 turns, Delta-terminated, will be sufficient.

To make 4 turns and not waste all the copper space, I had to resort to very weird measures:

This is my “9x Hobbykinging Rig” from building the Chibikart motors. It places 9 strands of #28 magnet wire in parallel to simulate an easier-to-deal-with 18 gauge winding. “Hobbykinging” refers to the tactic employed on most Chinese r/c motors of using many parallel strands of fine wire to wind motors, as it’s easier on workers than trying to bend thick wire and fit it properly. Done right, it can achieve a higher copper fill than a single thick wire, but there is a diminishing returns point if the individual wires are too thin (such that the enamel insulation starts making up a sigificant portion of total cross sectional area)

To make the windings I needed, I calculated I had more than enough space for four runs of this. So, I wrapped the Hobbykinging rig 4 times around a 12 foot long table to yield 36 parallel strands of #28 – roughly equivalent to a 12 gauge winding.

This is what the winding looks like.

I actually enjoyed winding this motor immensely. It was so easy! Just sling the giant bundle into the teeth and pull. And only for 4 turns instead of 30-40 like the hub motors!

I wanna go work for Hobbyking!

The completed winding.

The  next step was to terminate the motor in Delta by bunching a start and adjacent end of another phase together (e.g. Start of A phase, end of B phase get bound together). I just ran the bundle out using heat shrink, then torched the ends to destroy the enamel coating, then used my Battery Abuser to tin the ends.

After this, I potted the bundles in epoxy to secure the windings.

Moving on to mechanical work again, it was time to assemble the drivetrain.

The sprockets were cut out a while back with the waterjet load. Here they are installed on the motors – and after some manual chamfer-filing while the motors were run under load.

A good amount of Dremelling and hammering was needed to move the mounting surfaces back to where they were supposed to be. The motors will hopefully be secure with their front and rear mounting brackets!

One side’s drive installed. Check out my little chain tensioner blocks – these are made from Delrin and are pushed into the chain with a set screw drilled into the frame.

Each side, after installation, got a 20 minute long run-in so the chain could carve its own path into some of the weld fillets. I came around and cranked the tensioner screw down little by little as time went on.

Now with both sides!

Most of the remaining work on this bot is just putting things in. I have to machine a (simple) shaft for the weapon motor, then it can be test spun. Electronics and batteries will most likely be installed ad-hoc.

I’ll leave the updates to Clocker to another post – so this will be the last one before Motorama. Now, back to the shop….

Returning to the Game With a New 30lb Featherweight: Candy Paint and Gold Teeth

Jan 19, 2014 in Bots, Candy Paint & Gold Teeth, In Progress, Project Build Reports

My mental design-year can be broken up into roughly two halves: Dragon*Con season, which spans from roughly March to August, and Motorama season, which is basically September through the next February. Of course, the observant would notice that these things seemingly coincide with robot tournaments.

But that’s kind of how it works. After each big event, I start thinking about what I want to do for the next. Robot fighting is a game which I do not foresee getting old for me for a very long time to come. And why should it? Of all the things I ever became involved in, besides being the first one over 12 years ago (…) , it’s the most freeform and unburdened by pages and pages of rules and procedures. Run what you brought, not what the organizers say you have to bring. It’s very much a high-energy (… literally…), destructive, and kind of redneck sport, and there’s no whitepaper to write at the end. I have literal dozens of sketched out designs that will likely never see the light of the day unless I drop everything and become a professional robot cockfighter, which I would love to do. Here’s just one.


Someone get on that right now. Build it so I can live vicariously through you!

But I digress. It’s been Motorama season for a while, and so my off-duty mental cycles have been devoted to engineering the latest entry in the Imperial Carolingian Robot Army’s Register. May I present CANDY PAINT & GOLD TEETH:


Wait a minute. Hold on, trap. That’s a giant spinning weapon, not a fancy multi-axis grabby thing. The hell is wrong with you?

I’ve  been out of the high-energy spinner game for quite a few years. My last “large” kinetic weapon was Trial Bot, all the way back from 2005-2006. That design wasn’t very effective, so it was retired after only one event. I’ve built quite a few successful weaponed 3lbers such as Nuclear Kitten (and its earlier versions), plus Pop Quiz which was successful Back In The Day. Overall, I haven’t been enamored by the big spinning chunk of steel like many competitors have been, choosing instead to focus on drivetrains and manipulator type weapons like lifting and grabbing weapons.

With the flooding of the hobby R/C marketplace by Chinese components some time in 2004-2005, the spinner game began getting ridiculous, with each wave of new bots combining a larger brushless motor with a larger hardened steel weapon of some sort. The arms race began being lambasted as the “brushless penis race” as most of the competitors were young men, and most of the successful designs were the same in concept and execution, only differing by how big the spinning toothed drum or bar was.  It got to the point where many matches were just a minute of robots hovering around each other, each aiming to deliver the match-ending hit, and finally a weapon-to-weapon hit that destroyed both robots or left them totally disabled to the point of only being to crawl around on one wheel.

It was, to borrow a previously used analogy of mine, like we were all dubstep groupies waiting for The Drop… or in this case, The One Hit. The only other bots that could survive were armored bricks which kept running into the spinner until something, one or the other, broke. I did not find this game very interesting, and ultimtely neither did quite a few builders, who began exiting the game after their last bots were exhausted, because it was getting expensive to rebuild over and over robots which were good for only a handful of matches, or even just one. I in fact retired Test Bot out of the 12lb class after it was “penised” at Motorama 2008. That year also saw the first Überclocker.

Several efforts sprung up to counter this, including the Sportsmans’ Class which I found as slightly reactive but ultimately aligned with my own goals of repopulating the ‘middle of the spectrum’. Back in the very old Battlebots days, the power to weight ratios of entries was so low that matches were more determined by driving skill, strategy, and reliability, than dancing around gyroscopically waiting for the right impact to land. This greatly contributed to the corpus of weird or interesting designs (check out the old Team Nightmare event pictures). In the current Sportsman’s class, flippers, hammers, and the odd clamp-and-lift or two (ahem) have all returned. The matches tend to go the full length and feature a lot of action and driving, with the added bonus that you could generally return home with something that did not require a dustpan to pick up.

It’s been a while, however. I miss the feeling of beating something with a chunk of steel. That’s where this design comes in.

There’s been relatively few successful overhead-bar spinners, known in the vernacular as “Hazard-style” after the multi-time Middleweight Battlebots champion. This type of design is hard to get ‘right’ because the blade tends to destabilize the robot if it’s too long or heavy, and then it’s more difficult to self-right if it does go over. Pop Quiz and Trial Bot are both this style of bot, so I have a historical attachment to this design too. Other examples of this design are Brutality

and Tornado Mer, which early versions of this design resembled the most.

Note that all these videos are from quite a long time ago.

I wanted to try making a bot that wasn’t square. Using a continuous round tube for the outer armor was appealing because it presents no obvious weak spots, unlike a square corner (or the backside of Brutality’s front wedge). I fixed the blade size at 2 foot span, 3″ wide, and 1/2″ thick, a relatively solid dimension that ended up being  almost exactly 10 pounds in steel. This dimension has been my ‘default’ go-to for a weapon of this size. A chunk of S7 tool steel typically costs about $100 in this size. All things considered, this thing was basically a small Tornado Mer.

The design goals for this bot were basically:

  • Be round.
  • Be reliable, over packing sheer energy

I started with the “doodle assembly” in which I haphazardly make parts and outline sketches.


 The size of the bot was dictated primarily by what size giant tube I could easily find and purchase. Yarde Metals had a few promising candidates in the form of 15″ and 16″ tubing, so I started with 15.  The rectangles represent the outlines of components I wanted to use. At this point, the choice of drive motor was a set of Banebots P60s with some 500-class DC motors. Fairly vanilla, and would give this bot an average drivetrain power for a heavy weaponed 30lber.

I experimented with several different possible heights, shooting for a 1.9″ blade height: 1.5″ wheels, 3/16″ ground clearance, and then a little over that to make sure I don’t whack myself. I’m used to sacrificing COTS parts for smaller packaging – Pop Quiz is still one of the lowest blade height antweights extant and for a while was the absolute lowest, and Trial Bot also had a blade height of 2.2″ using 2″ wheels.

The robot height decision was tied in with what I wanted to drive the weapon. Initially, I was inclined to make a super-wide custom direct-drive motor for the weapon – which would turn this bot into a giant Pop Quiz. One plan was to start from a chopped quadrotor motor on Hobbyking, except add external ring bearings (or metabearings – support rollers) to make it stiffer. I also took apart the 8-FUN motor again to measure the stator and considered using the motor inside as-is.

Further thinking and discussion led me to go for a brushless scooter style high-reduction indirect drive. I figured this bot was going to spend a lot of time upside-down and possibly crammed into a corner. A direct drive motor wouldn’t be as deterministic in such a scenario unless I also ran a sensored controller and used Hall sensors, which I didn’t want to do for reliability’s sake – one more part to jostle loose or break off its solder joints. The first image still shows a pretty insane and almost impossible (due to lack of tooth engagement or minimum pulley radii) and unnecessary 10:1 reduction. I put in a ~85mm motor diameter as a placeholder, since it was pretty clear that this had to be a custom job.

More components have been added here, including the outline of a Ragebridge as well as batteries. Height was the most important criterion when choosing batteries for this thing, since I would only have about 1.25″ of space to put them in. I elected to run an 8S power system with two 4S packs wired in series. My voltage philosophy is generally to run as high of a voltage as I can reasonably do so to minimize current draw and wire size; 8S was about as big as I could get without dangerously overvolting the average 12-18v RS550 motor. This high voltage would allow me maximum flexibility in choosing the weapon motor winding to best match it with the physical gear reduction.

I ended up deciding not to spend another $100-150 on batteries, but to use up more of my Nuclear Arsenal. I was going to split up two Thunder Power 7S 4.4Ah packs to make two 4S ones – two of them have dead cells, so they are not useful by themselves any more. 4 cells from those packs gives me a pack 30mm tall, or pretty much my maximum allowed height, as well as a great deal of battery energy for match length and number-of-spinups overhead.

The reduction is still shown as a slightly less ridiculous 8:1. I was also settling on what kind of power transmission to use:

  • It needs to not stretch – or at least do so minimally, for consistent power transmission properties
  • It should be rubbery, ruling out chain drive. A metal to metal coupling would be kind of asking for breakage.
  • It shouldn’t have teeth, because the high ratio I needed implied a small pulley, tight wrap, and therefore high tension in the belt; plus extreme impact loads.

I decided to give good ol’ V-belts a shot. V-belts often get written off as old technology, but they have favorable properties for this sort of thing – they allow some innate slippage due to the lack of teeth and do have tension members (they’re not just loops of rubber). The “L” series of belts (2L, 3L…) held promise for me since they’re designed to be small and flexible. A 3L belt seemed the best candidate here – 2L belts are tiny (1/4″ wide and 1/8″ thick!) and 5L is getting on up in huge. A 3L belt is 3/8″ wide and a little over 1/4″ thick, and the empirical smallest-pulley in use seems to be around 1.25″. Many larger bots have (and still do) use them for weapon drive, but they are not common in the little bots usually because of the minimum pulley diameter and thickness.

So naturally the next thing to get modeled is the Epic Drive Pulley. This shows the next weird thing on this robot that’s been getting me some stares. I’m electing to go for a live (rotating) axle suspended in dual tapered roller bearings rather than putting a hub and bearings on the blade, and only having a solid pole on the robot.

The latter is a mechanically simpler system, but in my opinion a live axle in this case saves both weight and height. With a hub and bearings that stick up above the blade, the center of impact force reaction is far up the shaft, which needs to be large in diameter and mounted solidly in the center of the bot to handle it. If I’m going to have a big solid block in the center, then I can put bearings in it instead, and move the center of impact much lower as a result. I also lower the blade height substantially doing so.

The big pulley is actually going to take up a substantial portion of the underbody real estate of the bot, since it’s on the other side of the bearings (to save, again, blade height). A lot of components need to fit under it, which ties into the 1.25″ of available workspace issue I raised earlier. This is what the blade spindle assembly looks like, in section; excuse the CAD-ahead going on:

Note the presence of Belleville washers on the top and bottom. These are often used to preload tapered roller bearings for zero-slop operation. In this case, I’m using the bottom washer for bearing preload (it pushes the bearings together, against the shoulder at the top) and the top big washer is only to keep the blade on. This keeps the bearing preload nominally separate from the preload of the blade. The idea is that the preload force has to be overcome before any of these parts even think of moving, and with (hopefully) most of the impact forces being side loads, it should prevent “blade wobble” from shaft compliance.

Now, in a good hit, everything will probably just munge together, but hey.

Back to the proper CAD order:

The internal frame rails were made using a “master sketch” that I reference all the solid models from. At this point, I didn’t know what any of the spacings or sizes needed to be, so I could just adjust the master sketch and the rails would resize to fit. The first time I did this, I made a sketch in the assembly; turns out Inventor doesn’t allow those kinds of references.

So I had to start over and make this sketch in a separate part and the insert the part into the assembly, letting other parts become Adaptive off of it. End random Autodesk Inventor tip.

Whoa, getting a little ahead of myself here.

After liking where the rectangles ended up, I began importing parts from previous robots and inserting them. The P60s are shown, as is the drive wheel solution: Banebots wheels on custom hex hubs, running on shoulder screw dead axles. I’ve never used Banebots wheels before, but they seem to be solid for a lot of other builders. The available of a hex bore was the swaying decision here, since it reduced the “hub” to a chunk of hex steel with a few retaining ring grooves cut into it.

To get power from the offset motors to the wheels, I have one stage of very short chain joining the motors to the rear wheels, and then another 1:1 stage from the rear wheels to the front wheels.

At this point, the protoform of the weapon motor has also been modeled for visual fitting.

This is the motor in a more complete form, though still showing the unrealistically sized 0.9″ pulley. Basically a one-sided hub motor with an integrated pulley, I’m going to blast it out from a solid round. No, not a two-piece welded assembly, nor a stack of waterjet-cut rings. I have a 3.5″ steel billet that’s been sitting around for far too long.

The magnets are the same ones used on the first iterations of Razermotor, sourced from Supermagnetman. The stator is also a leftover from the RazErmotor days, a 70mm copier stator that’s 15mm thick.

It sits on a 8mm shaft that rides in conventional 608 skate bearings. The very short load-to-bearing distance makes me confident that a good quality 8mm shaft (read: not made of the bullshit I make standoffs from, but real shaft steel) is sufficient for this motor; it’s also going to be hitting 12 to 15,000 RPM, and a bigger bearing would suffer.

A pizza appears.

The motor mount has a gratuitous number of slotted holes to let me adjust the belt tension if needed, but also maintain rigidity in the area.

This bot is of an ‘upside down’ construction. The top plate is rigid and integrated into the one-piece frame, and there’s only a bottom ‘dust cover’ which will be made from 1/16″ FR-4 (Garolite) laminate for the electronics. The batteries will have a bracket to retain them, but this is not shown yet. Basically, not a good idea in the old Battlebots days of floor-mounted hazards. I went this way because I didn’t want to have to remove the blade over and over to do maintenance. Everything in this bot drops in from the bottom and is bolted in place.

I also went to ‘duallie’ Banebots wheels because the single 0.4″ wide wheel seemed too fragile. These wheels have a thin web portion before they fatten up for the hub again. The chances of the bot landing on one side (or one corner, hence on the wheel) and breaking that off seemed fairly high. What I’ll likely do is put the two wheels side by side with filled epoxy in the middle to fuse them permanently into one.

A view from the top with the top plate made transparent. Buttonhead screws are shown, though for blade clearance issues, these must necessarily be flatheads in real life.

The design stood like this for a few days. I was satisfied with the roundness, but did not like how much wasted space there was inside. I needed to match the largely rectangular parts inside with a circle on the outside. I guess that’s just a trait of round robots.

After a while, though, I decided to refactor the design into one that was more practical. The roundness makes the bot more visually cohesive, but it is not very practical. I wouldn’t be able to push very well as a last-ditch backup, and being fully round is counterproductive for self-righting – a lot of it depends on luck and physics from jouncing around on-edge. A fully circular bot like Tornado Mer tends to “coin” around (though in that match it didn’t help that the weapon motor contactor locked on…)

I started playing with adding indentations or other features to the design:

Attempt number one: Cut off a chunk of the circle and append a polygonal wedge to it. Simple enough, and it would get the job done, but I didn’t like the fact that the two end corners were exposed. Sharp internal corners on this design would present an unnecessary vulnerability to opponent weaponry, since it would otherwise tend to bounce off the round sides or up the sloped wedge surface.

So I tried a ‘wraparound’ wedge instead. The wedge is not formed to the rounded surface at the corners, but is just tangential to it for a duration. This seam will be welded shut so it will resist peeling.

I liked this design a whole lot more, so I went with it:

Five front gussets support the wedge. I had to rebuild most of what was the rear end, including new cover plate shapes and motor locations. The battery cage has also been modeled – it comprises two 1/16″ aluminum folded sheet metal assemblies that each trap one modified 4S battery pack.

I decided to change out the motors entirely. Previously, I was planning on running a single-stage 5:1 P60 gearbox; however, their length and mass became issues. Plus, I’d have to buy them. Taking a page from 12 o’clocker’s “Angerboxes“, I modified the design to mount from the top down. The drill gearbox is a 6:1, yielding me a little reduction, so I could back down on the need to externally reduce from the intermediate chain stage. The simpler design saves a few ounces per side. Even though they’re plastic-cased, I think a well-supported motor (see the black rear mount) and use of the material in bulk will be sufficient.

The drivetrain is designed to hit 15mph, which is pretty zippy for a heavy weaponed bot.

A size comparison next to Überclocker, which it would bang up pretty badly. Clocker is a pretty good example of a design with too many pointy bits to survive in a big-weapons environment. At the very least, the clamp arm would have needed to be more vestigial to allow weight for a big armored plow in the back.

Physical progress-wise, I’ve accumulated the majority of parts for the bot, and more are on the way. First, a few weeks ago, I snagged these old weapon blades from a lightweight (60lb) bot which were reused in a 30lber years ago. They are…. 24″ long, 3″ wide, and 1/2″ thick, heat treated S7 tool steel with 1 inch bores. Exactly what I was designing! Well, that pretty much seals the blade decision.

The bottom one is solid, weighing 10.2 pounds exactly as it should, and the top has been weight-reduced to around 8 pounds.

I should be able to run the solid one; as-designed, the robot weight is 27.6 pounds, not counting some small hardware and wiring (which always adds up).

Most of the frame parts cut out of 1/8″ and 1/4″ aluminum. Caveat: I’ve only welded aluminum once and it didn’t go over too well. This will surely end well.

A few pieces are missing, so I can’t start just yet; I’m hoping to wander into the machine again this coming week with more parts for other bots.

However, I did sand and fit the rest of the pieces together. Pretend-o-bot #1 is complete!

I’m hoping to be able to roll the big outer hoop this week from barstock. I purchased two 1.75″ wide, 1/2″ thick 5 foot extrusions to make the hoop – only one is needed, but it was cheap and I’m most likely going to bang it up at least once.

I’ve been probing the local peer cloud to see if there are any skilled aluminum welders willing to take this job up. As much as I would like to learn on this bot, I also kind of don’t want to have it shatter on the first hit! If not, or if I’ll have to pay an absurd amount to get it done, well… here goes nothing in particular.

I’ve also gotten:

  • The first boatload of McMaster hardware
  • Motor magnets
  • A pile of Banebots wheels, since a full set of wheels plus spares on this thing is like 16 wheels.

Parts that are already on-hand and just need to be modified or pressed into service:

  • Ryobi drill motors. I purchased these from a parts distributor (p/n 984572-001) on the recommendation of a few veterans of the community. These are basically Harbor Freight drills but much higher quality.
  • The 7S 4.4Ah Thunder Power packs with dead cells, to be reworked into 4S packs
  • The copier motor stator

I’ll still need to machine:

  • The one-piece rotor for the weapon motor
  • The stator mount for the weapon motor
  • The epic block of bearing-holding at the center of the robot

As for the giant output pulley, I did a make-or-buy study as soon as the design was finalized: I threw it on, my go-to for hiring shady Chinese job shops to machine things for me (things made through them include all of the DeWut gear and my small run of hub motor parts). I will hopefully have the finished result back by the end of February – but if shit goes down, I’m going to cut out a circle from 1/2″ plate, stick it on a mandrel, and go to town.

In the next episode of Big Chuck’s Automotive Blog…