Friday, June 29, 2007
Monday, June 25, 2007
Saturday, June 23, 2007
Friday, June 22, 2007
Thursday, June 21, 2007
Monday, June 18, 2007
Sunday, June 17, 2007
You may remember that we had originally planned to take 4 days to drive to the competition but it turned into a marathon 32-hour drive. That left such a bad taste in our mouths that we were glad to be taking the full 4 days to return. It was like a bit of a vacation after a pretty stressful week. We weren't on too tight of a time schedule and that allowed for some fun.
Before we could leave Peoria we had to get two new trailer tires. Remember, we had cords showing on one tire and we had already put our spare. It didn't take too long find a tire dealer that had the tires we needed and we were on our way, albeit a little later than we'd hoped. The first day was pretty boring because there really wasn't anything touristy along the way to Sioux Falls, SD. The exception was the Danish Windmill in Elk Horn, IA. This is actually pretty interesting to visit and has a cool story behind it.
We got in kind of late and ended up having to stay in a rather crappy Super 8. I suppose that goes without saying. It was at least a clean place to sleep. The sad thing was that it was just as expensive as the Ramada across the street that was considerably nicer and even had a casino!
The second day we planned on making it to Mt. Rushmore and staying there. This leg of the drive had more going for it with stops at the Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD, a stop at Wall Drug in Wall, SD, and a stop at the Pioneer Auto Show in Murdo, SD. The Corn Palace is certainly different. It could almost be considered a living work of art since it changes so often.
Wall Drug is naturally the tourist trap that it advertises itself to be... for hundreds and hundreds of miles. I at least found someone to talk to... she didn't say much but she's probably heard it all...
The Pioneer Auto Show has a lot of cool old cars and tractors. They even have a building devoted to old bicycles and motorcycles. Ernesto blogged about a shaft drive bicycle he saw in a bike shop in Georgia and I actually saw one just like it in the Pioneer Auto Show.
Later that evening we arrived in Keystone, SD, the home of Mt. Rushmore. We got a good hotel room for the night that actually had a view of Rushmore from our balcony.
We were there early enough to go up for the lighting ceremony that was supposed to start at 9PM. They decided to start it half an hour early because there was a strong storm approaching the area that was supposed to hit at 9PM. You could see it coming and the winds really kicked up. This was a bit of a problem for the staff because they were trying to show a film about Rushmore and the wind was blowing their $10,000 screen pretty furiously. They eventually stopped the film and closed the ceremony early. Those Boy Scouts that had to take down the flag had a heckuva time because the wind had it nearly straight out. The rain hadn't hit yet so they still lit up Rushmore.
The next morning we had breakfast at a little restaurant called the Executive Order Grill. Let's just say they have some serious embellishment on their website because there was no actual dishes used in serving us. They offer a $0.99 pancake breakfast for people staying at the hotel where we stayed (Travelodge) and it was easy to see how they can do that. The overhead required to put two pancakes on a paper plate is pretty low. Combine that with a single server covering the entire restaurant and you have a pretty disappointing experience.
Our first stop was to visit the Crazy Horse Memorial that is still under construction. This is a seriously impressive monument. I wish we had a little more time to spend here but it's definitely worth visiting.
Next on the agenda was driving to Cody, WY, our planned destination for the day, so we could drive through Yellowstone National Park in the light on the last day. We passed through several small towns including Gillette and Buffalo. For many miles approaching Buffalo, WY, we could see a large storm system in the mountains to the west. It was pretty obvious that we'd be driving into some serious rain. The worst of it looked like it was going south of where we were headed. Just as we pulled into Buffalo, the rain started and really let loose as we got out of the vehicle to get some lunch. The store blew through as we ate and the rain let up as we were leaving town. We turned on the radio and heard the emergency broadcast system tone followed by information about a tornado warning out for Gillette! We had just been there an hour before and it was definitely in the path of what looked like the worst of the storm. They also forecast 8-10 inches of rain along with it. I guess you could say we were pretty lucky.
We continued on and made it over to Cody around 6PM. It was still raining and when we stopped to get a hotel room, all the places in town were full. The next closest hotel was in West Yellowstone, MT, on the other side of the park. We really didn't want to drive through the park at night but we didn't have a choice at this point. The woman at the hotel said the weather was driving campers out of the park and filling up nearby hotels. We called ahead to a hotel in West Yellowstone and got their last two rooms, hoping that it wouldn't be a repeat of the Super 8 of two nights ago.
Just as we entered Yellowstone, the road started upward and was actually gravel because they were doing some construction. Almost as soon as the slope increased, the precipitation turned to snow! That's right. Snow. In June. It was snowing hard enough that you couldn't even see the bottoms of some of the valleys. We kept going up, and up, and moved in and out of pockets of snow. The temperature had definitely dropped, something that became apparent when we stopped for gas at one of the service stations in the park. Naturally, the little latch on the gas pump handle was broken so I had to stand there in the sleet and hold the lever for the full 35 gallons. Our plan was to drive to the lodge at Old Faithful and at dinner there. Unfortunately, we didn't know how late the restaurant was open and were really hoping that it wouldn't be closed when we arrived at 9:45PM. That would have been a serious bummer considering that West Yellowstone was still another 30 miles beyond Old Faithful.
The snow got a little heavier as we crossed the Continental Divide twice at 10,300 feet and there was probably an inch or so accumulated on the grass along the road. The road wasn't slick at all but that didn't help my nerves while pulling a 30 foot trailer behind me on the mountain turns. Fortunately for us, the restaurant was open and we were able to enjoy a nice dinner despite the lack of enthusiasm from the greeter for our showing up late. I guess to avoid this rudeness, one should be sure to make reservations when they're completely unsure of when they're actually going to arrive at a restaurant where you don't know that you should make reservations...
We arrived at the hotel at about midnight, completely exhausted, but glad to see that it was a nice hotel. The next day was going to be a long one.
We got up early the next day and drove back into the park to visit Old Faithful in the daylight. The temperature was about 38 degrees and we found out that the road we had driven on the night before was closed beyond Old Faithful due to slick road conditions. Yet another stroke of good luck. They had the weather forecast for the park as 1-7” of snow by noon. We managed to arrive about 20 minutes before the next predicted eruption, good timing considering the intervals were about 90 minutes. It was a chilly wait but worth it.
Now began the final leg of the journey. We drove up route 191 out of West Yellowstone, MT heading for Bozeman. Once in Bozeman we could catch I-90 and head through Missoula, Coeur D'Alene, and eventually Moscow. The whole way to Bozeman we drove in and out of more snow. There was still plenty in the mountains. That snow was keeping the rivers in the valleys running well and we saw many rafters and kayaks along the way. The last 6 hours of the drive were fairly boring and we were all glad to be home. The nice thing about driving west is that we gained hours as we went. Despite the long day, we still got into Moscow at about 8PM but I was in bed at 9:30, completely wiped out. It took a few days to get back on schedule and stop waking up at 5:30 in the morning.
All in all, a pretty fun trip that left me wanting to go back and spend more time in certain places. Seeing the people riding in Yellowstone made me jealous and I kicked myself for not taking a bike with me. We had plenty of room in the trailer for sure. Perhaps I'll have a chance next year if this project exists again.
Friday, June 15, 2007
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
I know, I know. This is a very redneck thing to be a part of. Having grown up around farming and farm tractor pulling, I though it would be fun to help out with. I was basically along as the faculty advisor for the team. I didn't actually do any of the design work, I simply got to be the answer guy when the seniors had questions through the year and even turned a few wrenches when needed at competition.
Initially, we were planning on leaving on Sunday, May 27th to arrive on Wednesday the 30th with the competition slated to start on Thursday the 31st. That way we'd have plenty of time to make the drive, a projected 32 hours. Due to some delays (i.e. the design team working until the last possible minute to get the tractor done, including not sleeping Monday night) we didn't end up leaving until Tuesday at 4pm. That meant we had to drive straight through to Peoria. It's a good thing we had three drivers out of the six people because I knew I wasn't going to be able to do it all myself. I don't care how much coffee you gave me. I drove for the first 9 hours while the rest of the team slept. That put us through Butte, MT and across the Continental Divide at about 12:30AM. At the next stop we switched drivers but I couldn't sleep in the car. It was merely resting my eyes and being conscious of everything that was going on. We kept switching off every few hours or so through the rest of the trip. Time just seemed to drag on certain stretches of road in Wyoming and South Dakota.
Our only real hiccup in the trip was a trailer tire change in Des Moines, IA at about 9:30PM on Wednesday. We had cords showing through on two tires and another 200 miles to Peoria. We changed the worst tire and headed down the road. It was a very wet and bumpy drive between Des Moines and Davenport. It was also a good thing that we were traveling late at night because traffic was minimal. The only other people on the road were truck drivers and it was a bit nerve racking when they'd pass you and suck our trailer and Suburban sideways a little bit or they'd block crosswinds and we'd get slammed after they'd pass. We eventually pulled into the hotel in Peoria at 3:30AM on Thursday.
To our surprise, there was one team working on their tractor in the parking lot complete with generators, welders, and light towers. Turns out, it was the University of Kentucky and the frame of their tractor had broken during transport and they had to repair it. I can't imagine the reaction of those guys when they opened the trailer doors to see that! We felt pretty lucky that everything was ready to roll with our machine.
About 2.5 hours of sleep and we were headed to breakfast and then the fairgrounds to get set up and ready for the technical inspection portion of the competition. There are rules and performance parameters that each team must adhere to and so each tractor is inspected to make sure everything is safe and that everyone is inside the rules. If you pass all of the stations the first time, you're entered into a drawing for a new Miller MIG welder. We just missed passing all of the stations because of two stupid lock nuts. The team idiot was in charge of that portion of the design and he wasn't even at the competition to own up to his mistake. We were so pissed off. There were only two schools out of the 23 in attendance that passed the first time and so they flipped a coin for the welder at the awards banquet. Finding that out really made our blood boil. Kudos to the boys from the University of Missouri for finding two 5/8” lock nuts for us in the junk drawer of their toolbox.
One of the coolest parts about being there was simply seeing all of the other tractor designs. If you think about it, you turn 150 engineering students loose on 23 tractors and you're going to get a lot of different ideas. Some of the schools had been competing for a number of years and had a pretty developed design and a lot larger budget to work with. For example, Purdue's tractor had six engines and Illinois' tractor had five. We had two. There really isn't a limit to how many you can use but you still have to come in below a certain weight. That's where the engineering comes in. It does help when you have the funds to give you the luxury of having to deal with those extra engines.
You can see lots of pictures of the assorted teams tractors by clicking here.
We were all happy to have a good night's rest after the tech inspection. The next day brought a design review where engineers from the various sponsors (CAT, Deere, New Holland, etc...) inspected each team's tractors based on criteria such as manufacturability, safety, serviceability, and ergonomics. It was interesting to hear the comments and see what people who were specialists in these areas could pick up on. It's hard to take all of those areas into account when you're the only one doing the design work and you don't have specialists there to help you with each of those areas. Our team had the unfortunate position of being rookies at this competition so they didn't know exactly what to expect from the judges. That led to a lower score that we would have liked but can be chalked up to experience and will benefit next year's team, if there is one.
Now came the days that everyone was really there for, Saturday and Sunday, the pull days. Saturday was the 1050lb weight class and Sunday was the 1300lb weight class. Saturday morning, we were allowed two practice pulls to make sure everything was going to work right and to get a feel for the track conditions. After our first pull of about 160 feet, we decided we needed to cut our tires because they weren't really digging at all. Most of the other teams had cut tires and it's not against the rules (unlike in a lot of farm tractor pulls). Off we went with our 4” angle grinder and a very aggressive wheel. Here's a couple of shots of Ryan doin' it to it.
We went back for the second practice pull and pulled about 20 feet farther. That made us feel a lot better. For each weight class, each team has two pulls. Points are given based on placing in each pull. We pulled 174 feet in our first pull and 172 feet in the second pull. That was good for 12th and 13th place respectively for the 1050 weight class. We were pretty ecstatic. The top 10 were all 3, 4, 5, and 6 engine tractors. We were the second best two engine tractor there. Not too bad for the first year and considering the tractor's drivetrain wasn't designed for the 1050lb class. It was designed around the 1300 lb class.
You can watch a video of our pull in the 1050 lb class by clicking below. (I apologize for it being so choppy, we still have a crappy camera)
One thing we didn't have going for us was speed. Our weight distribution was perfect and we had the traction. We just didn't have the horsepower to get going off the line to have momentum at the end when the sled brakes kicked in. We also knew we weren't using all of the horsepower we did have. There was a bit of a heated discussion around the tractor that evening about whether or not to switch out our gear ratios to get more speed. This is where I earned my money as advisor because I had to intervene. Keeping in mind that the tractor was really designed for the 1300 lb class, we had no performance testing to know whether or not changing the ratio would help. We didn't even know how it would perform in the 1300 lb class to begin with. With all of these unknowns, we decided that it would be prudent to leave the drivetrain as it was and not work through the night trying to modify something we weren't sure would help. We were glad we did.
On Sunday, we were given one practice pull so we took it to see how it would perform. We pulled 202 feet. That seemed pretty good to us knowing that the track was going to change before the official pulls. The format was the same with two pulls for every tractor. We pulled 211 feet in our first pull and only 177 feet in the second. Not sure why it was so short in the second pull but it seemed as though the CVT and the engines didn't get wound up quite as much as in the first pull. Such is life. It was still good enough for 13th place overall in the pulls.
You can watch a video of our pull in the 1300 lb class by clicking below.
After so much hard work, it was definitely time for a beer so I treated everyone on the team on Sunday evening. Now, the only thing we had to do was drive back. Fortunately, we were planning on taking four days at a more relaxed pace. More on the return trip in the next post...
Friday, June 08, 2007