Slow Motion

Some things are just best going slow: slow-set epoxy, stirring toffee, prime rib and slow-roasted coffee, slow motion video to diagnose volleyball technique, being slow to speak and slow to anger, allowing childhood to pass slowly, the bride walking down the aisle and maybe a lazy summer day. Corvettes and Teslas, not so much.

In August of 1975, I took a slow journey on a 1961 Lambretta Motor Scooter. I had been in Mennonite Voluntary Service in Colorado where I found the scooter in the back of a junk-filled garage. I adopted it, tracked down a title, and found a kind mechanic to help me get it running. When the end of the year came, I asked if I could have the money instead of the bus ticket they were going to give me, so I could ride the scooter to Indiana.

In 1975, apparently insurance policy did not dominate public decision making so they gave me the $168 and let me go. In addition, my mom had passed away the year before, so I guess there was no reasonable voice of restraint. Here is me loading up with Alex Pickering watching, one of the boys in my cabin at Frontier Boys Village.

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I was slightly embarrassed to ride a scooter designed to accommodate a woman with a skirt, but I had been making $15 a month in VS, and couldn’t be too picky with my transportation. I tied down my back pack, my sleeping bag, bed roll and pup tent, and the old helmet with the scratched and hazy shield. The day I left Frontier, it was hot with a decent tail wind, and I headed down Highway 24 East from the mountains onto the Colorado plains.

Late that afternoon, I couldn’t find any paved road where I wanted to go, so I took a 10 mile stretch on Interstate 70, hoping for no interference. Before long, four big motorcycles riding in a square passed me going something like 90 mph. They slowed down quickly, and moved over to the shoulder and stopped, looking back. I was getting nervous, but I had nowhere to go but ahead. When I got near, one of the riders stepped out and motioned me to stop. He had some colorful expletives to communicate that he was genuinely surprised I was out there, and admired my bravery.

They were riding Kawasaki 900’s and Honda 1000’s, the big bikes of the seventies, and asked if I would care to join them at the next camp site. I had no special plans for the night, so I agreed, and they let me ride in the middle of the formation for the next few miles. At this point we were going 36 mph, which was my maximum. In the evening, one of them took me along on his bike to eat, and then I set up my tent for the night. In the morning, they went their way fast, and I went my way slow.

That second day heading east on Highway 24, the 120 cc motor began acting up, and would only go 18 mph. At least it quit rattling and vibrating so much for awhile. Fortunately, the policeman who met me at the Kansas state line, did not give me a ticket for having my helmet off in the heat, and escorted me to a little repair shop in Kanarado. A couple hours and a few dollars later, I was on my way again at 36 mph, thanks to having the jets of the carburetor cleaned out.

On up Highway 383, that night I made it to the Harlan County Lake in Nebraska, and slept on a picnic table. A breeze finally came up around midnight which gave a small reprieve from the mosquitos. The next day was one of those twelve hour rides for about 300 miles, but at least I only used around three and a half gallons of gas. At 38.5 cents per gallon, I could go more than 200 miles for a dollar.

Most of the next day I rode east on Highway 136 past some of the most beautiful farmland in America. I remember the heat of the prairie and the cool along a river bottom, the smell of mowed hay, pigs and dairies. By nightfall I made it to Beatrice, NB where I met up with some GC friends. We went to Lincoln for a movie and pizza, and the Goosen family provided me a real bed to sleep in again. I was apparently real tired, and they didn’t wake me that Sunday morning, so I slept right on through church. I was a bit sheepish showing up for Sunday dinner, but they were hospitable and I ate more than my share of chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy.

The next morning, it was off toward eastern Iowa, where more friends lived. Going east on Highway 36, the scenery was also gorgeous, but mechanical troubles began again and now the scooter needed to be pushed to start most of the time. Something had damaged the magneto, and it was not keeping a good charge. When I finally got to Kalona, the trip was going from slow to tedious. I was sore from sitting on the vibrating scooter and running out of time to make it back for the fall semester at Goshen College. So I left the scooter there in the Miller barn, and joined a car pool headed to Indiana.

Surprisingly, I went back to pick up the scooter at Thanksgiving, intending to have it repaired for a second annual scooter trip. The next summer, I actually did start on a trip to Michigan’s UP, but twenty miles north of the Michigan state line I was already sick of it. I saw a old man out mowing who looked trustworthy and asked him if I could leave the scooter in his garage for a week or so. He agreed and I hitch hiked the rest of the way north to see my Handrich relatives in Grand Marais on Lake Superior…

I wouldn’t say that there is anything inherently good about my boat building process going so slowly, but if I remember correctly, the turtle eventually won the race, according to Aesop. The main reason for the slow motion on the boat is that I have to figure out how to do some new things as I go along.

A continuing challenge is double curves, where the wood has to follow a beautifully rounded shape in both dimensions. For furniture and sculpture, is common to use a big enough piece of wood that you can simply cut away from two sides for both curved faces. This is how I made the transition curves of the stairway. But this process usually requires a piece of wood that is either too large or too heavy for a boat.

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Another way is to cut a curve in a block of wood and reverse the pieces for the first curve. Then the wood is rotated 90 degrees and a curve cut repeated, as shown below.

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Except for small pieces on boats, this method is often too heavy or wastes too much wood. The inner curves are also hard to shape to a uniform curve.

Another way of creating a double curve is to use saw kerfs on one face to allow the thin side to bend better. Then a curved profile can be cut in the other plane as shown below.

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For some boat parts, the wood is steam bent. This is not my preferred method, as the steamed wood has to be formed over a pattern and sometimes takes irregular shapes. I like it better when the dry wood can be bent over the cross frames. If the grain is fairly straight, a long stringer will take a fair curve and establish the best lines.

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If a single piece of wood won’t bend well enough, it can be sliced into laminations and glued. This oak stringer below is made of three pieces epoxied together so it could bent bent and twisted also.

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Another double curve area is on the hull surface. Even though my boat is designed with hard chines (line edges), some places, the surface curves in both dimensions. This was accomplished with tongue and groove plywood, thin enough to make the bend along its length and able to flex at the joint seam.

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A couple of weeks ago, my son-in-law LT Newland was here and helped epoxy the back seat framework and a moulding together. It was great to have some extra hands on a slippery, sticky task and for one day, it became not so slow.

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The current stage is putting the planking on the stern, using tongue and groove marine plywood for the base layer.

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It’s one thing to talk about a journey of a thousand miles beginning with one step, and another entirely to actually take the journey. The slow start of the boat building adventure turned into research delays, detours to figure out working methods, and much slower progress than I imagined. It now seems like a journey of two thousand miles.

For now, we just “Carry on.”

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