Five O'Clock Somewhere

Welcome to Five O'Clock Somewhere, where it doesn't matter what time zone you're in; it's five o'clock somewhere. We'll look at rural life, especially as it happens in Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, cats, sailing (particularly Etchells racing yachts), and bits of grammar and Victorian poetry.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Trailer Building

You know, arc welding is even more fun than a hot-melt glue gun!

Pat and I have been working on getting a trailer for Black Magic. The challenge has been finding one that is in good condition, that we can afford, that also can be used to launch and retrieve the boat on a ramp rather than being designed for the boat being hoisted on and off. We finally decided on having one custom-built. We had the basic frame built at a factory that does boat trailers but not sailboat trailers, and Dumbledore’s adding the keel tray, uprights, and other pieces to make it into a sailboat trailer – with a hitch: We have to provide sweat equity by helping out with the construction.

So Tuesday, Dumbledore and I went shopping to a welding shop for supplies, and then to a steel mill for raw materials. The steel mill was especially fascinating. First, we went to the office, where Dumbledore ordered up the materials (20 feet of this size angle iron, 30 feet of that size pipe, and so forth, cut into 10-foot lengths to fit into the truck), I wrote the check, and we got a receipt for the materals. Then we drove around into the loading area of the warehouse. Compared to the brilliant sunshine outside, the place was dimly lit; the primary light source was the occasional translucent green or amber fiberglass panel in the corrugated metal roof, supplemented by orange sodium-vapor lamps, so the overall effect was much like a church, except that it was much bigger than most churches, bigger even than most cathedrals, so big that I couldn’t see to the far end.

It wasn’t quiet like a church, however. There was a constant wham, bang, clank … wham, bang, clank … from somewhere in the depths of the building, resounding off the metal walls, ceilings, and girders that held up the vaulted roof. Also echoing in that space were frequent additional clanks of large pieces of metal being stacked upon each other, and the hum of many forklifts scurrying about like ants on important colony business.

Permeating the atmosphere was the smell of hot metal. It’s a burning smell, but not sweet like burning wood; it’s sour, like an electric motor that’s gotten too hot, or a car engine that’s about to boil over. Dante could never have imagined it. The smell of the heat was actually more intense than the heat itself; a light breeze blew through the entrance and exit doors, carrying a hint of summer dust but not of heat, so in the shade of the building, I was sweating only slightly.

We handed our receipt to a worker who hopped into a forklift and buzzed off into the cavernous distance; after a quarter-hour or so, he returned with our materials, which he loaded into the truck, and we took off.

Wednesday, Tadpole and I headed down to the lake. Last we had heard, Zorro had been planning to be at the lake Wednesday and then do some business in Albuquerque Thursday, although we weren’t sure whether those plans were still valid, since we hadn’t heard from him. However, even if he didn’t show up, there was still work we could do on Black Magic, and we could go sailing. As it was, we got a few boat things done, but we didn’t have parts to get all done that we had originally planned. Also, there was very close to no wind, so sailing wasn’t possible either. We checked into a motel with plans to meet Dumbledore at his workshop in the morning to begin work on the trailer.

Thursday morning, we met Dumbledore at his workshop at the Fleet 141 Compound, and we found out that Zorro had gotten in about midnight the night before (he’d been delayed tending to a sick cat), and that he’d left early that morning for his business in Albuquerque.

We got to work on the trailer. Dumbledore did most of the work, but Tadpole and I did get to help. First, we worked on the uprights and pads that will support the hull of the boat. Dumbledore used an acetylene torch to cut 12-inch-wide flat steel into 18-inch lengths, and then he used a grinder to smooth out the edges. With a power saw, we sliced some pipe into short lengths, then drilled holes through the segments; this required two steps, first drilling a pilot hole, and then drilling the final ½ inch hole. We ground flat surfaces at the end of lengths of Acme rod (gigantic screws) and drilled ½ inch holes through that (again, in two steps).

Dumbledore got out the arc welder to attach the pipe sections to the plates. It’s a fascinating process. A transformer or generator is used to create a high-voltage potential; the ground is connected to a clamp that is attached to the item being welded. The other side of the circuit is clamped to the welding rod. When the tip of the rod is touched to the grounded item, it creates a spark that melts the rod into the molten metal that creates the weld. It’s a marvelously elegant system. Martha Stewart can keep her hot-melt glue gun; it’s arc welding that’s really hot!

Next, we bolted the Acme rods to the plates; the pipe sections will allow the plates to pivot some to accommodate the shape of the boat, but, unlike the more usual arrangement of bolting the rods between two flat pieces of metal, will keep the plates from flipping over backward when the trailer goes into the water. Then we got nuts that fit the Acme rods, drilled holes in the nuts, tapped those holes with screw threads for set screws, and then put the nuts onto the rods. These nuts will allow for height adjustment of the pads. Finally, we drilled holes into the plates (again in two stages, but using a punch first to steady the drill on the right spot), which will be used to attach wood, which will in turn be covered with carpet, to complete the pads.

Then we got to work on the keel tray. We measured and marked the center of the trailer. We welded two lengths of channel steel to a length of 12-inch-wide flat steel – Dumbledore let Tadpole try a bit of arc welding, although Tadpole reports that it’s harder than Dumbledore makes it look. Next, we turned that assembly over and welded it to the trailer frame. Then we drilled holes for mounting a wooden plank, then drilled matching holes in the wood and bolted it to the steel. This, too, will be covered with carpet.

By then it was fairly late in the day. Tadpole and I went down to the boat to make some measurements of the locations of bulkheads and such, to figure out exactly where on the trailer to put the uprights. While we were there, Zorro arrived back from Albuquerque; he’d been hoping to get some sailing in, but it was much too blustery. Then Pat arrived, too; he brought a small fender to replace one that had gone missing, which we used to keep the deck from being gouged by the end of the boom.

Back at Dumbledore’s workshop, we applied the measurements to the trailer and found that it won’t take much adjustment to make everything fit perfectly, with the center of weight of the boat just ahead of the axle of the trailer for just the right tongue weight to tow smoothly.

Mother prepared a spaghetti dinner for us all – Tadpole made the salad – and we all enjoyed the meal and some conversation before Pat headed back to Albuquerque and Zorro returned to El Paso to take care of his cat.

Friday, we started with breakfast of eggs (over easy, of course), toast, bacon, and calabacitas, and then we resumed work on the trailer, working on the vertical elements that keep the boat upright. As on Thursday, each piece required multiple, time-consuming steps. We started with the support for the bunk at the front of the trailer, tack-welding cylindrical uprights in place, then cutting and shaping a horizontal piece of angle iron across the top, then adding supports, then, after getting everything tacked into place, welding everything solidly.

At this point, Mother needed to go shopping, and since Dumbledore’s truck was serving as a repository for tools and materials, she wanted to borrow my car. I had some things I needed to buy, so I decided to join her shopping and leave Tadpole and Dumbledore to work on the trailer. When I returned, the two of them had completed the frame upon which the forward bunk was to be mounted, although they hadn’t yet attached the wood for the bunk – Dumbledore was missing his 5/16 inch drill bit, and my drill bits were with my drills – in my car. Meanwhile, Tadpole and Dumbledore had mounted the uprights for and installed the aft support pads. They had also installed a metal plate at the front of the keel rest, to protect the keel from road debris during travel.

Tadpole and I worked on cutting carpet scraps to cover the support pads and the keel tray, while Mother and Dumbledore went out to get pizza for lunch. After lunch, we mounted the front bunk and cut out the V shape to center the hull of the boat – this was tedious because we didn’t have a power saw that would work for the task, so we had to use a hand saw. Next, we worked on a keel guide that would help the boat to load onto the trailer; we used pipe for uprights and then added strips of channel iron on either side of the keel tray at a level that, according to the boat’s official measurements, will be just below where the keel joins the hull. At the aft end of the trailer, these strips flare out, providing a sort of funnel to guide the boat onto the trailer and the keel onto the keel tray. Then we drilled holes in the metal strips and began mounting two-by-fours to them; we had the right side of the trailer done when we ran out of carriage bolts – well after the hardware stores had closed for the day.

We had hoped to get the trailer mostly finished, to the point that we could test-load the boat and adjust the fit as well as add additional support pads and a keel stop that would allow precise fore-and-aft positioning of the boat on the trailer. But by that point, we were really too tired to care all that much. We had supper (beef stir-fry and rice), watched a video, and called it a night.


Blogger Carol Anne said...

I have pictures of the process -- lots of pictures. I'll post them soon.

Sun May 28, 09:07:00 AM MDT  
Blogger Pat said...

Wonderful post and I'll want to see the pictures and the trailer soon.

Sun May 28, 10:31:00 AM MDT  
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Wed May 07, 01:37:00 AM MDT  

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