Art Car Progress: September, '05

Hard to believe but Burning Man has come and gone and what an adventure it was! To my utter and complete astonishment the art car not only worked as planned but very well. The only problems were brightness of EL wire and noise from the engine which induced quite a bit of rattling in the add-on superstructure.

In short I had the vehicle mechanically complete before leaving for the Playa, but there was still quite a bit that needed to be done to the electronics, to make the vehicle both visible and interesting. Once at Burning Man, Don and I spent several days soldering and crimping connectors, snipping and connecting wires and drivers to make the EL wire do it's thing in some sort of coordinated theme, before I attempted to get a Playa license at the Department of Mutant Vehicles, aka the DMV. Licenses come in two varieties: day and night. A night license is easier to obtain, because a vehicle need only be very bright, when viewed from any angle. A day license is harder to get because the vehicle must be seen as something other than what it once was; i.e. the original vehicle has to be unrecognizable beneath its trappings.

About a month prior to Burning Man I recieved email from DMV saying that the chances of me getting a day permit were hovering between slim and none, so once the upper deck controls were finished (a non-trivial aspect!) I concentrated on the nighttime visibility problem until time ran out. Although I had completed the folding side panels before making the trek I still had to do something about the front, back and upper structures.

We arrived on the Playa on Tuesday. With wiring complete, drivers secured and cabling relatively tidy, Don and I drove the vehicle over to the DMV at sunset on Thursday, unluckily parking between two larger vehicles; one equipped with glaringly bright fluorescents and the other with incandescent lighting. The inspection gal there took one look at our efforts and said the car wasn't bright enough! She said come back before 10:PM and try again, as that was closing time. We went back to our camp and, with Don and Rebecka pitching in, we added another 100ft of EL wire to various parts of the vehicle. I returned a few minutes before ten, but the gal we had talked to earlier wasn't there and the guy in charge said 'sorry, we closed at 9:30'!!

Then suddenly our luck turned. He did a doubletake on the art car, turned to me and said: "Hey aren't you Steamboat Ed?" and I said yeah, that's me. Turns out he's been reading this build blog and he gave me until closing time the following day to get the car up to snuff. Well, long story short: we went back, did some more tweaking, mostly involving battery charging and replacement as testing had so depleted the car battery that we couldn't restart the engine after the initial inspection! By late Friday afternoon all batteries were charged and we had tested the results. We drove the car back to the DMV at sunset; luckily the original gal was there, took a look and said sure, here's your permit and would we like a day permit too? Woohoo! I gave her a big hug for that! Wish I could remember the names of all the nice folks there, but my memory for names sucks. I just remember she was an inch taller than me!

Following are photos taken in my shop and on the Playa, documenting the last of the build. For more on the adventure stay tuned for a new link under Road Trips.

Photo #1: Mechanism Vern and I worked out to make driver's seat adjustable fore and aft. A "U"-shaped piece made from 1/2" square steel tube is positioned in one of the square notches in the aluminum aft clamping block. The long ends of the "U" extend within slightly larger 3/4" square steel tubes affixed to the bottom of the seat. Seat can be slid fore and aft on this intersection and is clamped in position with the aid of two large wing bolts that hang thru slots and attach to plates beneath the upper deck, on either side of the seat. Vern really threw himself into this project and spent nearly the whole day getting it right!
Photo #2: Short on time to do a proper job, this was my kludge to reduce vibration noise from the steering tackle. When there's more time I'll go back and shim the bearing seats with Delrin washers, to take up the slack produced when I turned them down. This will remove slop from steering wheel rotation, too.
Photo #3: Shot inside the nifty combination electronics enclosure and seat/stepstool that Don made. This will serve as the junction box for all power distribution from a heavy duty 12v motorcycle battery to the various EL wire drivers. It's hinged on the front end so we can flip it open and access the innards very quickly.
Photo #4: The original muffler was wimpy and had to be replaced. I got this similarly-sized but much more efficient one from a great place in Santa Rosa called Johnny Franklin's Muffler. Interfacing the new muffler with the existing manifold meant a bit of sawing, followed by a pile of welding to add new straight runs and several pre-bent sections of tubing. Here it's mostly complete, hanging from the garage door via bent bits of steel wire. This was done to position the last little bit of tubing coming out of the far end of the muffler square, relative to a flange union, the last in the string of fittings to be welded to the muffler. There was more to be done with the mating flange, but it was a whole lot simpler than this!
Photo #5: Enhanced close-up of the flange, now tack-welded onto the pipe stub on the output side of the muffler. Moisture seemed to ooze out of the string of pipe during the welding. Getting the correct angle of rotation to weld the fitting onto the pipe meant mounting the whole thing in the vehicle, making a mark with a Sharpie, then taking it all out before it could be jigged properly. I got pretty good at attaching/removing the whole snakey thing after a while..
Photo #6: Downstream from the previous work I made an extension tube so that exhaust would be vented at the top of the vehicle. In order to protect passers-by from the hot pipe I made a shield by cutting a section of 3" dia muffler tubing down the middle. It had to be held off of the main pipe with a couple of threaded standoffs. Here I've made a simple fixture from a bit of bent aluminum strip and a clamp, to locate a standoff accurately for welding. The pipe is lifted off of the table with clamps that will attach it to the side of the vehicle. Magnets on the welding table keep the assembly from tipping over.
Photo #7: And here we all are, the intrepid few who pulled it off. From left to right: Ed, Vern and Don.
Photo #8: At long last: loaded up for the trek to the Burn! Still piles to do on the electrical stuff, but that was completed on site.

For the tail end of this saga link on over to my latest Road Trip: Burning Man 2005.

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