2nd July 2008
I was actually invited to go off on one of my rants this week – a bit like offering Amy Winehouse a line of coke…
It seems that some folk actually enjoy my mud-slinging so straight away I reached for a few back copies of Museologist-Monthly to see what scandal I could unearth. I love it when the musos tell me I don’t know what I’m on about because I’ve usually just lifted the juicy bits from their private publication.
It’s a quality, monthly magazine bursting with fascinating facts. This month, for example, Darlington Railway Museum is in trouble for the ‘patronising tone’ of its re-branded display.
Museologists, patronising – never…
1.7million quid later – and yes, the Hapless Lottery Failure chipped in – they’ve still got it all wrong by talking down to visitors with their ‘traintastic, intertracktive’ display.
Sad to say, it sounds like ‘experts’ at work again.
Truth be told, your average, feet-on-the-ground muso is usually one of the good guys – it’s only the upper echelons who strive to make a mockery of their profession.
Then there’s a tasty, little article on how the British Museum is hiding behind its charter yet again when it comes to repatriating looted Nazi treasure. They just can’t give it back – they’re not allowed. Yeah – right.
Or you can apply for a job as a ‘learning officer’. I can’t help hoping that this is a sort of Superman-type operative who can don his tweeds in a phone box then fly off in moments of extreme need to explain to the musos what’s bloody obvious to the rest of us.
I mean, perhaps if the befuddled bureaucrats at the DCMS (Dept. for Culture Media and Sports), had consulted with such an agent they’d now have an idea why they’ve failed so dismally to hit their targets for ethnic minorities visiting museums.
Just a wild stab in the dark here, but could it be because museums are mostly stuffed full of things from yesteryear in these parts (apart from the stolen stuff that they’ll not give back) and this may not be quite so appealing to folk whose culture originated elsewhere?
Only an idea…
Those dyed-in-the-wool musos at the British Museum attempted to massage the figures a little with a few extra bodies through the doors of their free ‘China Exhibition’ but that was sure to be popular considering what else you might get for nothing in London.
So, not much meat in this month’s Muso-Monthly, I’m afraid.
Nothing daunted, I leafed through a few back issues. There’s a good article in May’s offering about that beautiful, old tea clipper of ours, Cutty Sark. Her welfare is an old favourite of mine on which I could gleefully write a ten-thousand-word rant without pausing to let my keyboard cool down.
There she was merrily being conserved until… Next thing there’s flames as far as the eye can see, forty fire-fighters, six pumps, two turntable ladders and a conflagration that wasn’t fully extinguished for two days… But luck was with the musos. They were later able to assure us that despite all the steam and cinders only ‘two percent’ of the ship was burned.
Wonder what the fire used for fuel all that time?
She’s all teak and steel – anyone seen what becomes of steelwork in a torched building? She’ll fix – that’s the BBP motto – but they’ll have to be careful because the enviro-mentalists will suffer apoplexy if the musos go chopping down teak trees so there’s going to be much buying up of reclaimed timber – unless they take a leaf out of the SS Great Britain conservation manual and use MDF.
And another thing… because they’re lifting the ship about ten feet higher in her dock so they can host parties beneath her hull they’re chucking out her stone ballast to make her lighter and therefore better able to hold her shape – something she’d not struggle with at all were she afloat rather than suspended from some arty-farty display designer’s dream but that’s a whole new world of controversy...
Those chunks of masonry were lugged in there in the 1820s by the hard working men of the Dumbarton shipyard where Cutty Sark was built, for goodness sake. Great lumps of stone that crossed the oceans with the old girl and are as much a part of her fabric as her keel – and the musos talk of conservation!
At least it’s a good job she can be mended though. I mean, imagine if there’d been a proper fire and parts of the ship had been destroyed forever. Such tragic loss would constitute history in the making and history is something you just can’t go around destroying willy-nilly once it’s been made.
And then, in another stroke of luck, the Hapless Lottery Failure chucked twenty-three million at their rebuild project – thirteen to start with and another ten once the ‘expert’s’ invoices landed. They called it a ‘top up’. What was wrong with your maths first time around, Hapless Lottery Failures?
Not wishing to appear cynical here, but could it be that their award had less to do with salvaging an incinerated sailing ship than salvaging their reputation amongst the disgusted, British public for funding useless, politically-correct, do-good rubbish?
Their image could certainly do with a major un-tarnishing campaign and what better way than bringing an icon back from the brink of destruction? Pity they didn’t think of that in 2001. Perhaps they’ve hired a ‘learning officer’ since.
But despite being passionate about Cutty Sark, I couldn’t even get into full-rant mode over that because, you see, at least the commercial guys have it dead right and are clearly winning the day. What a venue she’ll be when complete and, most importantly, she’ll be able to pay her way for the enjoyment of generations to come much as we envisaged for K7 by turning her into a living exhibit rather than a pile of scrap on a plinth.
There you go – ahead of our time, we were.
So it wasn’t until I went down the local on Saturday evening that I finally found a topic worth a damn good bluster.
Right then – someone tell me… because in the village where I live about the only topic of conversation involves hoards of men running after a ball so I asked what I thought were perfectly reasonable questions only to be offered no sense at all.
Why, oh why, do they play it in the winter, for goodness sake?
Why, when it’s dark, cold and usually wet do these multi-million pound ball-chasing clubs pursue their sport such that they have to switch on all the lights, turn the heating up to avoid losing their fan-base to hypothermia then send their heroes out to churn up grass that won’t grow back before April because they’re buggering about in the depths of winter?
Surely it would be preferable to run after a ball in July when the evenings are light, wearing short pants is more appropriate and they can go-green by not burning a megawatt a minute trying to see through the rain and hail.
The grass would heal itself immediately the players headed for the night club blondes, the fans could make a delightful, summer’s day of their ball-chasing fetish and there’d be substantially less chance of being blasted off the pitch by freezing weather.
“It’s too hot,” one ball-chasist told me.
Not in England, as a rule, and what do they do about that in Spain, Italy, Brazil?
I’m assuredly informed that we have to play in the snow because someone called Fifi is in charge and what Fifi wants Fifi gets.
Ok then – here’s another. Why, when inclusiveness has become the new watchword and political-correctness has run riot, do politicians and public alike worship a game that positively glorifies tribal behaviour? I mean, our local ball-chasing fans despise their rivals who live only ten miles down the road because they wear different coloured shirts yet only last week I found them all cheering Outer Mongolia to win against The People’s Republic of Kazakhstan, or somewhere like that.
How does that work?
And why, when British soccer is feted as something wonderful, do all our star players sod off home so they can thrash us on behalf of some other country every time there’s a world cup or whatever to fight over?
They’re idolised too but most of them only chase a ball for a living because they’re too stupid to do a proper job. There’s not a week goes by without one of them making the papers for punching, raping or squashing an innocent member of the public whilst drunk in charge of a Range-Rover.
“Ah, but look at how much money they make,” I’m often told.
Yes – about the same as my local drugs-baron who also drives a Ferrari but only the lowliest life forms seem to admire him and at least he’s clever enough to hold down a difficult job even if his intelligence is somewhat misapplied.
And that’s another thing – the fans sit in the pub proudly showing off their forty-quid nylon shirts in the latest team colours, brag about the seat they’ve just purchased with their season-ticket then assure their mates that none of the company will miss a single game because they’ve just renewed their Sky Sports subscription.
Having completed the formalities they then moan for the remainder of the evening about how much money this player or that is making, or what he cost to bring over from his goat farm in Novosibirsk to play for Tottenarse United. Next they huddle close and discuss the recent hostile takeover of this club or that by some colourless nobody who made his money selling fresh underwear to endowment mortgagees.
His peers all seem to own oil pipelines or insurance companies – they control billions of pounds and pull the levers on some of the heaviest corporate machinery on the planet with sponsors to match yet they seem unable to organise a phone call to Fifi to say, “Listen, you idiot, we’re not chasing a ball until the weather improves and our grass starts growing again!”
Rant over - ahhh, that feels better.
Now then, tin bashing.
We’re nearing the end of our dry build – that being our systematic reconstruction of each part of the boat without the benefit of rivets or glue. Only skin-pins have held her together thus far and only small sections have ever been assembled at once.
First the frame was stuck back together by our mates at PDS Engineering allowing us to repair the cockpit outriggers, seat formers and flap-trays. Next we rebuilt the cockpit rails and foredeck, rapidly followed by the nose and spar fairings. This gave us a more or less complete front end above the frame so then we stripped her down again and rolled her first onto one side then the other to repair the flutes and make new side skins.
K7’s original floors have been heat treated to make them soft and therefore easily repaired and the final conserveering battle – the air intake assembly – is now being re-clothed with a shiny, new outer skin.
We spent a few nights sorting the right-hand side then continued right over the top.
As usual there’s still a heap of work before the assembly will stay together with an Orpheus trying to suck it inside out. The real challenge with it is to stay within weight constraints. History has demonstrated how a couple of bags of sand lashed to the outer casing made the difference between the boat performing and her uselessly slurping gallons of water. She really is that that sensitive so we have to think carefully about every modification we make.
We’ve had to add a fair number of our own widgets to the intakes to allow much of the original to continue doing its job but at a guess I’d say it’s probably about eighty-percent original by weight. And more importantly, it’s technically perfect from a historical point of view.
Put simply, we now have almost all of our boat except the sponsons but they’re a new build from delicious, sparkling material and we’re well on with making the necessary tooling so we anticipate no great difficulties there.
Bluebird K7 exists once again, albeit in kit form.
25th July 2008
Thought I’d be in a world of pain for asking awkward questions last time about the so-called ‘beautiful game’ but everyone laughed – I was amazed. Not a single moaner. Nor was the museological camp represented, as they usually are, in my post-diary inbox so I seem to have got away with my last rant. They’re probably still reeling from the fact that I read their magazine. So as the world seems to be in a good mood perhaps now is a good time to try and harness the power of the Internet.
This is the plan. Over in Cumbria, Vicky, Anne and all the good-guys at the Ruskin museum are working night and day to create a fabulous home-port for our iconic speedboat. Bluebird K7 is the real-deal, a genuine Rolex, the Hope Diamond of hydroplanes so she needs quality surroundings for when we take her home.
Meanwhile, a hundred miles from there in a small workshop, our crew leave their wives and kids more often than is healthy to breathe deadly dust from the fifties as we slowly resurrect our tin boat. But there’ll be no show unless we complete our mission and what keeps the project alive is maintaining a high profile. Seeing us on the news or reading about us in the papers or simply word of mouth is what brings sponsors aboard and encourages folks to buy our tee-shirts so we have to keep at it.
That’s how we met Chemetall-Trevor, for example, and let’s be honest; we’d have been completely stuffed without his incredible paint stripping chemicals. We’re still in awe of them to this day. We mixed our stripping bath in 1996 and it’s still working! He told me when we met that it would work indefinitely and to be honest I didn’t believe him. I mean, how could it possibly?
And don’t forget the boys at Kearsley Airways who rebuilt our pumps, Argos Inspection who did all our non-destructive testing and PDS who spent months welding the frame back together.
All we have to do is ask and fresh sheets of material arrive next day from Thyssenkrupp and our supplier of military-grade and aerospace alloys is no less accommodating.
Then we have ‘The Virgins’.
You see, what happened was this.
Many moons ago when it became apparent that the Hapless Lottery Failure was exactly that we began casting about for potential sponsors and one of those we considered was the considerable might of the Virgin empire.
I made a tentative pitch but in the immediate, post-September 11th days most airlines were tightening their belts. I was still indulged for a few moments, however, by a gentleman called Will Whitehorn. He explained that Virgin were not considering anything other than aviation projects and there existed little chance of this changing. Fair enough, I’d not have been doing my job if I’d not at least tried. But Will didn’t close the door completely, instead leaving it open a crack in case we ever needed anything off the Virgin shelf, so to speak.
The opportunity almost came a couple of years later when we considered bringing an engine over from the US. Will kindly made the intros to the airline people and we set about calculating dimensions and weights and working out whether anything about an Orpheus posed a risk to the hundreds of holidaymakers sitting on the deck above. But it was all for nothing – the engine proved unsuitable and the plan dissolved. But still the door didn’t close.
Then one day, Paul Hannaford called to say that a Virgin train by the name of Donald Campbell was to be put to other use so its nameplates had to come off. Being both valuable and interesting items, Paul’s dad, Norman, a train expert, had immediately spotted that the nameplates might provide an interesting display for the museum and a potential source of much-needed funds for the rebuild.
I straight away left a message for Will who mailed back presently to say that we needed to speak with Mr Allan McLean at Virgin Trains. Since then, Paul Hannaford has project-managed a unique opportunity with Allan whereby we’re to have both plates from the train donated to the cause - one for the museum, one for the rebuild project.
Simultaneous to this, Bluebird has been heading towards the end of phase-one of her rebuild; that being a complete dry-build from front to back. We basically have a complete boat less the sponsons, which we’ll get onto constructing presently.
It’s fortuitous and exciting that these events have come together at the same time so we’re now in a position to host a press conference and unveil K7 to the world whilst gratefully accepting our gift from Virgin Trains. To this end we’re doing exactly what we did for the frame’s homecoming and hosting two photocalls on the same day; one in Coniston in the morning and the other in the BBP workshop later that afternoon. And because we were asked to mail images as far afield as America and Australia last time we’re going to make the publicity shots available via our web server this time around.
So here’s what we’d like you to do.
Below you’ll find an early publicity shot and our press release. This will shortly be followed by a second release with more emphasis on the rebuild for distribution outside of the UK. Besides, there’s bound to be somewhere in the world where ‘Virgin Trains’ takes on a whole new meaning. A pal of mine from Arizona was once mortified to discover I had a bottle of ‘Fairy Liquid’ in my kitchen…
What we’d like you to do is to ‘Google’ your local TV, radio and newspaper newsrooms. They all have a page where you can upload stories and images. We don’t care if it’s the Little Grattonby Tea Drinkers Gazette – send it to ‘em. Then if you have time, hit the biggies. Who cares if the Sunday Times, BBC News 24 and Sky have our release spewing out of every orifice – good!
Let’s see how big a splash we can make, and don’t forget to mail and tell us who you’ve sent it to.
Thanks in advance.
Virgin Trains keep Campbell’s Bluebird on the rails
As Donald Campbell’s iconic hydroplane, Bluebird K7, nears the end of a significant phase in her rebuild programme, a generous donation will help keep the project on target.
Unveiling of Bluebird K7: Between 14.30 and 16.00 on Wednesday 30th July 2008 Bluebird K7 and representatives of the rebuild team and museum staff will be available for interviews and photographs at Kiltech Ltd, 66 Hudson Street, North Shields, Tyne & Wear, NE30 1DL.
The Ruskin Museum – contact Vicky Slowe 015394 41164, Information@Ruskinmuseum.com.
The Bluebird Project – contact Bill Smith 0191 2580611, 07721 524371, Bill@BluebirdProject.com
Notice to editors please feel free to use these high res images for publication
31st July 2008
My feet are killing me!
I only ever wear soft, comfy shoes for the same reason that I’d never wear laced and studded welding gloves with the name of some Italian homosexual embossed in the leather. Shoes are merely protective clothing – a view my wife doesn’t share – but now and again I don a pair of shiny relics from my corporate days and stand around on a concrete floor for days on end. So on Wednesday morning I struggled in the bottom of the wardrobe to get them onto my feet, wiped off the dust with something Rachel hasn’t taken the label off yet and set off for Coniston at six am.
The previous two days had passed in a blur of phoning and faxing a database of press and media contacts with a year’s worth of changes to put right and now the stage was set to discover whether the news-hounds still loved our big blue boat. Our last press day was based around the frame’s homecoming. A complete frame for the first time in forty years thanks to PDS Engineering and images of it were requested as far away as Western Australia so how would we do with a more or less complete boat?
First thing was a dash to the Ruskin Museum in company with Mike Bull and Alain where the Virgin train plates were presented by Allan Mclean of Virgin Trains and gratefully accepted by the usual suspects.
Left to right – Allan McLean then that Geordie diver followed by Anne Hall and Vicky. This nameplate has been cleaned up for display purposes. It’s about 12mm thick and made of cast aluminium. Allan was a friendly bloke who’d arrived the night before and enjoys a drop of real ale so I believe the local Bluebird Bitter went down smoothly. Novie and Paul gave the appearance of having appreciated it to excess. Paul’s dad, Norman, also came along for a look-see and it’s only because he knows his train stuff that we were alerted to track down (good pun, eh?) the right Virgins and ask them nicely.
Various reporters arrived in due course plus a camera person from Border TV. I’d never been interviewed on a building site before.
But I didn’t mind in the least and just look at the fab, new building to the left with a gaping hole between the tarpaulins where the door that’ll let K7 in and out is going to go. We still encounter the occasional individual who goes all incontinent at the thought of lighting a fire inside our Orpheus or having water on the outside of our boat. They’ll just have to plug their ears and look the other way…
But much as we enjoy a visit to Coniston we couldn’t hang about and were soon treating Mike (the lager-lightweight) Bull to a second serving of car-enhanced hangover on Kirkstone pass in a race to meet the second wave of reporters over on Tyneside. Mike and his good lady-wife, Ellie have been recreating the seat for K7 and have written their own diary piece so I’ll not tread on their toes. You’ll have to wait for it.
More reporters arrived – didn’t mind this one either.
Then still more arrived.
Doddy and I had a great afternoon posing about on the boat for photographers. They wanted to capture the idea of the old-hand and the new whippersnapper crossing the gulf of history or some such and tried all kinds of ploys.
“Pretend you’re talking about something,” they suggested.
I shrugged and turned to Doddy. “Bought any new hammers lately?”
And look at our display behind the boat. The eagle-eyed will notice that the banner in the centre was originally on the wall at PDS but when we went to collect the frame, John was called away at the last so we pried it loose and nicked it. Looks rather fetching up there, we thought, with our sponsor’s logos all around. The second nameplate came with us. It’s just as it came off the train, covered in diesel soot and corrosion, but that’s how collectors like ’em. Or so I’m told. We’ve spoken with Bonhams about auctioning it and will get to that presently.
Here’s another interesting thing.
The boat has grown a wooden sponson, which caused some confusion because we didn’t make it absolutely clear that this wasn’t how it was meant to be. The sponson, we explained, was actually the tooling we’re about to use to reproduce a pair of perfect replacements. Matrix Lasers allowed me to use their digitising kit for a day and drive their programmer mad into the deal by switching from millimetres to inches a dozen times as I checked every dimension. Then they water-jetted the tools from inch-thick plywood of the highest quality. We’ll be off to Kirkdale2000 soon to have some tubes bent for the sponson’s internal framework and that’ll be another vital stage in the plan underway.
The end result of our effort was major coverage on TV, radio and in the press – all of it extremely positive and something of a payback for those who’ve supported us all this time.
Well, sadly, K7 must be torn down to bare bones again. The object of the dry build was to make sure we had all the bits, which we do, and now each of those parts must be finally fettled, painted and fixed once and for all into what will become the reborn Bluebird K7.
Right then, that’s that, I’m off to soak my feet.
I knew she was a nutter the second I saw her dog.
I also thought I’d escaped the woman by being slightly ahead of her on the ramp from the beach but in that moment my sheepdogs mugged an unsuspecting spaniel, nicked its tennis ball and streaked off into the distance; lithe, muscle-bound little blighters that they are.
But whereas mine are a credit to their wolf ancestry her terrier-type seemed to be descended from a small sofa. And – horror of horrors – it was wearing a coat. OK, the sun wasn’t properly up but it’s still summertime.
People who put coats on dogs should be banned from ever keeping dogs.
I must qualify this, however, because I was once delivered to Anglesey in a Greenpeace helicopter where the woman, whose garden we landed in, had a terrier as bald as a snooker ball because it’d had steroid injections so it needed a coat. But otherwise… dogs have fur.
Nor was I in the mood for such silliness because I was running late and morning coffee was the one vital item culled from my itinerary.
I struck the fear of God into my mischievous hounds with a yell that, if you’re a thieving collie, translates into, ‘put that ’kin ball down before I thrash you to within an inch of your miserable life you b’stard!’ and tried to continue my escape but the grey-haired biddy was onto me. So that I’d not make a successful getaway she adopted that quickened-pace, finger-wagging, steady eye-contact thing that only women can do properly and closed inexorably as the Titanic’s iceberg.
“I saw you on the telly,” she called across the divide to properly set the hook. Her dog waddled after her as though encased in a pink quilted iron-lung.
I surrendered – it would’ve been dangerous to ignore a woman with zips up the front of her slippers for much longer – I was caught.
My dogs raced back and wrapped themselves around my legs with those tongue-lolling grins they use to ensure they never get thrashed for anything and stood by for further mischief.
“Saw you on the telly,” Mrs Dog-Coat puffed this time as the grade took its toll.
I turned to greet her but the smile on my face felt false as I watched her dog waddling towards a bed in the doggy coronary-care unit. The poor creature eventually crested the shallow rise despite being morbidly obese and flopped onto the cooling concrete at its mistress’ feet.
“I saw you on the telly… and I think what you’re doing with that Campbell’s boat is a terrible thing.”
Now this caught me off guard.
Remember the scene in Bridget Jones’ Diary where the bloke who’s sung the one-hit-wonder is accosted by someone in a restaurant and thinks he’s been recognised only to have it pointed out that he’s actually trapped the lady’s coat with his chair? It was one of those moments.
I’d been cocky enough to think she was chuffed at meeting me so next time I smiled it was for real and at my expense.
“Why’s that then?” I asked her, suitably disarmed.
I’ve heard every argument – some are valid, voiced passionately and worthy of respect while others are just plain stupid – either way, my answers are usually loaded into in the breech faster than one of those American missile cruisers can come alive. But this one got me.
“Well, it’s not very green, is it?” She said.
I’d not heard this before so I had no ready-use ammunition.
“It’s not, you’re right enough,” I offered lamely, “it’s completely blue, as a matter of fact.”
It was Mrs Dog-Coat’s turn to have her gyros toppled… she eyed me in a slanted sort of way.
“No,” she said after a beat. “That’s not what I meant at all. What I mean is that it’s… well, it’s noisy and you’ll… you’ll scare the ducks if you start the engines.”
That one drives me nuts! K7 has exactly one engine and anyone who suggests otherwise is evidently clueless on the topic.
“Noisy, like low-flying RAF traffic sort of noisy?” I asked innocently.
She’d obviously not thought of this and it showed.
“And as for scaring ducks,” I continued quick-as, because having a brood of recently hatched ducklings at home meant I held the high ground, “I terrify mine every morning when I rattle the door to their house to feed them but they soon get over it. The local blackbirds panic too whenever a sparrowhawk cruises over but a good fright does none of them any harm.”
I’d long since concluded that Mrs Dog-Coat was the type to save the world by carefully washing milk cartons and placing them in a council-supplied Noah’s ark for reusable materials but I thought I’d find out whether her efforts went any further.
“Do you keep ducks too?” I inquired.
Evidently she didn’t.
But really I knew I’d found two bird species she didn’t have back home.
“Ultimate recycling machines,” I pointed out. “Feed ’em just about anything and they pay you back with fresh eggs (whilst taking up less space than your fat dog – I thought but didn’t say) and if you chuck some chicken poo on the vegetable patch you’ll soon be re-enacting the story of the giant turnip… any uneaten turnip you can feed to the chickens.”
But she wasn’t impressed with agricultural notions not mandated by her local authority so I made a move towards my environmentally-unfriendly 4x4 to chuck the dogs in before they got bored and ate her pooch – or what they could of it anyway.
“You’ll pollute the lake,” she called after me.
“Excuse me…” I turned and fixed her with a level stare. “We’ve already removed two and a half tons of potentially toxic metals and one dead person from Coniston Water. What do you suppose we might put back?”
As usual… as ever… and typical of your average do-gooder, she’d not taken a moment to look beyond her recycling bin to consider the bigger picture.
“You deliberately want to make greenhouse gases,” she spluttered finally. “It’s people like you who are destroying the planet with all this global warming.”
Now she was really knackered. That’s like picking on a bloke cutting grass beside the M25 because his lawnmower is a tad smoky. I gleefully pointed out that Coniston Water was carved from solid rock by a glacier that seems to have melted approximately twelve-thousand years ago for reasons that can’t have had anything to do with 1960s jet engines.
She opened her mouth to spew more nonsense but in my caffeine-deprived condition I was on a short fuse.
“Why’s your dog wrapped in an eiderdown?” I shot back instead.
That silenced her momentarily.
“I beg your pardon she said at last…” Glancing confusedly between one of evolution’s finest designs melting in its man-made-fibre cocoon and a bloke she’d set out to vilify a minute earlier.
“That pink, quilted number,” I wagged a finger in imitation of her. “It’s August,
fair enough, and not the hottest day since records began, but it’s still the middle of summer so why is your pet encapsulated in one of those things they use to heat the tyres of Lewis Hamilton’s F1 car?”
Mrs Dog-Coat was aghast.
“She’ll get cold. Won’t you Chloe…” Her dog panted and twitched its tail beneath a layer of lagging.
So that’s what it was called…
The woman knelt to comfort the animal in case the very mention might cause chill draughts to waft beneath its quilt.
Your dog won’t get cold, you idiot – I wanted to scream, but didn’t quite.
“Have you considered,” I said instead. “One, that Chloe has fur – thanks to a few million years of evolution during which her great-granddaddy dined on Siberian hares and never met a human. And, secondly, that you’ve overfed the poor thing to the point where she’s obviously uncomfortable, unfit and in imminent danger of dropping dead.”
This appeared to hit the spot because Mrs Dog-Coat gushed concern and started taking the pooch’s pulse – so far as I could tell anyway.
I really didn’t want to upset someone’s grandma but she’d started it and by now I was so incensed that I lobbed a final round her way before buggering off.
“And I don’t mean to be rude,” I said sweetly, “but please don’t sermonise me with your lofty, do-good waffle until you can understand a dog well enough to give it a happy life.”
And with that, my bad day began as I reminded myself sadly that we’ll have to deal with literally thousands of ignorant, Mrs Dog-Coats in our efforts to run a boat that’s gone from hero to zero along with its pilot within my short lifetime. It was a blessed relief later, therefore, to get back into the workshop with the boys, back to our old routine and safe once again in the bosom of a team that say b*ll*cks to the lot of them…
A week earlier we had a complete boat. She looked fantastic and everyone was clapping us on the back for such a fantastic job.
Rob’s local rag even gave him a whole page with the headline, ‘Bluebird’s Back Thanks to Rob,’ which earned him some quality ribbing from the team. But the party is over and now our boat is back to bare bones. We hung the flutes from the ceiling because we’ve run out of space. There have always been at least some of the panels attached at any one time since last September but with literally everything stripped off and more panels than we started with we’re becoming somewhat cluttered.
We’d always estimated a few weeks to get the frame ready for the paint shop but once we got into it things fairly flew along. It’s only possible to stay on the same job for so long before morale begins to suffer. The nose was a good example – the air intakes another. The trouble is that when we go all specialised not everyone can get involved. I mean, it’s two people max on the English wheel and if that’s all that’s happening the rest of the team is at a loose end.
But give us a pile of fettling to do on the frame and we’re tight as the Royal Philharmonic.
One thing we decided on long ago was that the pilot’s harness would be properly fixed this time and fate dealt us a good hand where this is concerned. You see, all they did for the upper fixings in 50-whenever was to drill the transverse, upper frame tube at F-15 from the top downwards and stuff a bolt through. That was acceptable – just, at the time – and one of the fixings even survived the crash but only because the other three failed.
But, ominously, the lower ones weren’t actually attached to anything of any substance and, at the risk of causing much controversy, it has to be said that whoever arranged the lower harness fixings would, in this day and age were a similar accident to occur, be facing accusations of gross negligence, possibly even manslaughter. And I don’t say this lightly.
So we took advantage of the fact that both horizontal, F-15 crossmembers are non-original replacements and made a few mod’s in the interests of pilot safety.
We drilled the upper tube in the right places, drilled new fixings in the bottom one too where no holes existed before then sleeved each fastening properly to take some high-tensile bolts when the time comes to strap someone into Mike’s replacement hot seat.
John did the metal cutting after we’d brought the whole welding armoury to the party.
Then we drilled the frame tubes and fired the sleeves in.
Below you can see the work on the F-15 crossmembers where I’m busy welding the portside (left), lower hard-point for the harness. The starboard one is clearly visible above my head. The frame is portside-down and you’re looking aft so the upper crossmember is to the right of the pic where one of the upper mounts can also be seen.
Next we sleeved the holes in a section of vertical frame tube that PDS had to replace ahead of the main spar; same routine.
This is where the main spar bolts into the frame and as usual it’s been over-engineered by those Norris boys. What a privilege it is rebuilding history to their designs.
Next we did a spot of conserveering on the flange plates. These small squares of steel welded into the main frame are where the marriage between steel and aluminium takes place. They’re sharp little things and some of the forward ones have lost a millimetre or so. Not bad going for three and a half decades under water. Common wisdom would say chop ’em off and throw ’em away but that’s not how things are done around here so we doubled them instead.
This is the lower, starboard plate at F-15 and, as you can see, the original in the foreground is looking a bit thin. Not so the 2mm thick doubler behind it. Methinks the F-15 outrigger isn’t going to fall off anytime soon. This is also the place where the frame snapped. The repaired joint is internally sleeved with an extra external gusset inserted to the right of the flange plate just for good measure. The front of the boat won’t fall off again either.
The frame is therefore just about ready to go and Bill at Bettablast is soon going to give it a coat of paint. Well, actually, it’s going to get a coat of zinc followed by a polyester, powder coat in silver so it’ll look just like it used to and be guaranteed never to go rusty again. We’ll clean the insides of the frame tubes with a splash of Chemetall-Trevor’s liquid wizardry then put some inhibitor in there and she’ll be good as new. But painting the frame has thrown up one or two problems. Like how to support it so we can wheel it from spray booth to oven without touching it, for example; because if we touch it we then have an area without paint and that’s not an option either.
So we constructed this lethal assemblage.
Everything is upside down here but what you can see on top of the frame is our new moving-dolly for trundling K7 around the paint shop. It needs its wheels attached but you get the idea (ignore the castors in the foreground; they’re yesterday’s means of moving the frame around the workshop).
The frame sits on the dolly atop a series of steel spikes inserted into the existing rivet holes so the contact area will be virtually nil for painting purposes. We’ve built a similar apparatus for the front end so now all we have to do is build an extension for the oven at Bettablast and we’re in business.
Exciting times or what?
Recreating the Ultimate Hot Seat
By Mike (& Ellie!) Bull
Our involvement with creating the new cockpit seat for Bluebird came about after I jokingly told Bill that my wife Ellie- who can sew a mean historic or Gothic frock- was the possessor of an industrial flat bed sewing machine; you know, one of those ones with a motor so big, lights dim ten miles away when you switch it on. I was only kidding about but from there Bill seemed to ponder and then like the idea of there being a personal angle on the creation of a new seat for the boat, and eventually he invited us to do the job. That was the easy part…then I had to tell Ellie! Much like myself when first presented with a token piece of genuine K7 and a hacksaw, many of her bodily functions let her down at the news, though after a while some blood came back to her cheeks and she nervously agreed to help.
Searching for the best possible reference photos came next, and a very sincere thanks to all those out there in anorak land who helped us with this.
Initially my own part of this mini-project was to build a dimensionally spot-on mock-up of the seat area of K7’s cockpit here in wood, to give us a matching space to build the seat into. Then as research progressed, we soon realised that the seat itself had a few wooden parts and suddenly I was making those, too! Gulp…
During our research, we finally realised what Donald had been saying in his final cockpit transmission, too-
‘I can’t see much ‘cos my foam’s very thin indeed…I can’t see over the top…’.
I was also much amused by Donald describing it as a ‘G-seat’ a couple of times in his ‘Into The Water Barrier’ book; actually it’s clearly just ordinary foam and vinyl with the odd bit of plywood, a weaker and more basic structure in fact than that found inside the average 1960’s car seat! This made it seem all the more incredible to me that the seat had gotten out of the boat as intact as it had- seemingly, with only the top and the bottom halves partly broken apart from each other. Considering the condition of the surrounding metal seat structure, it’s astonishing that the thing wasn’t far more crushed. However, after a lot of pondering about it with Bill, I personally don’t think that the seat was held into the boat by anything other than it perhaps being a tight shove fit, and by Donald being strapped in on top of it, and that it thus shot out after Donald like a piece of wet soap in your hands as the rest of the cockpit was crushed around it. But, that’s just my own personal theory, and I digress; luckily from our reference material we could get a good look at the pair of wooden wedge shapes that supported the backrest from the famous images of the seat as recovered after the crash. There was the well known Paul Allonby photo, and here it is also in a still from a newsreel-
- as seen here it’s laying on the backrest, with the seat portion up in the air, and you can see the lighter coloured wooden pieces resting on the ground. From the shape and size of these pieces I was able to determine that the backrest angle wasn’t in line with the original metal seat structure in the boat- rather, it lent forwards of it somewhat. A picture of Donald sat in the seat when it was new at the factory, in a cockpit mock up, shows that the backrest was originally in line with the metal structure- so clearly, quite soon from new it was then angled further forwards- perhaps to make Donald more comfortable due to his bad back, or simply so he could better reach his steering wheel? Either way, that was another of the little nuggets of information that you can only find out as you go along, just as the boys have been doing with that big Meccano set of theirs.
Along with all of this, Ellie and I sat and pondered what clues we could glean from the original photos regarding the general stitching and original construction method of the actual vinyl parts of the seat. In the in-cockpit photos from before the crash, the seams that ran across the seat were visibly ‘grinning’ in some places- see, I’m learning all the sewing lingo- meaning, the seams were wearing and stretching open a little; not surprisingly, right under Donald’s backside as it happens. (Well, it was the fastest arse on water at the time!) So, that clued us in as to the original method of construction, and we made some practice pieces with some scrap vinyl and foam that we had, which looked pretty good. Bill approved, so it looked like we had our method settled.
A Christmas visit to the (pre-Spencair) freezing cold workshop then followed, where I was left to my own devices with the old girl (Bluebird that is, not Ellie) while the others got on with all that black-art metalwork stuff that they seem to enjoy so much. I figured out those skin-pin things by screwing them every which way and wiggling them a lot with my frozen fingers, and eventually various parts of the cockpit structure came free, so as Bill & the boys were busy putting bits on, I was busy taking them off, enabling Ellie and I to draw around them to make templates, take measurements, and generally get to know the relevant parts of the cockpit as well as possible. Following the Christmas break, I got on and built the cockpit mock-up here out of MDF; from this I could work out the final dimensions of everything relating to the seat, with the good old fashioned Mk.1 eyeball. ‘If this lines up with that, then that makes it this big, which means this part is this size…’…and so on. Basically, as far as I was concerned it absolutely had to match the original cockpit photos- such as they are- as well as possible. It wasn’t too difficult- a lot of it drew itself as I went along, absolutely proving the worth of having the real-size structure here to work into- and who needs a front room, anyway?!
Foam was purchased, and I swear, blue was the only colour it came in, honest! Once cut to size (Look, Ellie, I said I was sorry about the kitchen bread knife, okay?) this was immediately very comfortable and supportive in my cockpit when I had a trial sit on it, though an overhead hoist was needed to help get me back out of there again; it’s deeper than you might think in there! Bill supplied me with some squares of plywood- a bit alien to me, as I’m used to using rubbishy old MDF for making things- and I set about constructing the wooden elements of the seat. This took no time at all; indeed, our illustrious team leader seemed most amused when he rang me on the same day that the ply had arrived here, only to hear that I’d almost finished cutting it all out already! Only four screw heads show on the outside of the finished seat, and they’ll be hidden from view when it’s in the cockpit, but nonetheless I still used slot-headed brass woodscrews, just to keep the old ‘look’ right! A few coats of a nice subtle satin varnish- even on the bits that will never show- and the basic wooden parts were done.
There are some interesting square cut outs in those rear backrest wedges that just about correspond to holes in the sides of the metal seat structure, and presumably these were something to do with how the seat was once intended to be fixed in, but as the plywood parts came out of the boat absolutely intact, and the metal was annihilated, again I can only assume that there was no physical connection between the metal and the seat at the time of the crash. But for old time’s sake the cut outs were added anyway, even though they’ll also not be seen once in the boat!
Bill meanwhile was hunting about sourcing a suitable replacement vinyl fabric, about which he can probably better tell you himself. Suffice to say, I’m glad it wasn’t me who had to sign-off the colour choice, lest it be gotten ‘wrong’ and a herd of angry anoraks appear at my door late one night with burning torches and pitchforks! However, there were surviving scraps of the original for him to match to, including a piece from deep down in the cockpit where the sun wouldn’t have faded it, and I can say that the dark blue vinyl chosen looks absolutely fantastic both for colour and texture- it was great when a ruddy great big roll of it arrived here, and I couldn’t resist immediately photographing it in different lights, and in black and white, just to see how it looked!
Pattern making came next, flapping great big sheets of paper about over the wood and foam until it started to resemble something roughly seat cover like-
Then finally we could set about marking out the vinyl- a challenge in itself- and, gulp, cutting the stuff out! Ellie fired up the industrial machine on 8th March- seven years to the day since Bill and Co. brought K7 ashore. A coincidence, honest! Oh, and did I mention that the sewing machine was built in 1967? Honestly, you couldn’t make this stuff up. I’d bought Ellie a cone of a thousand metres of navy blue industrial thread, and had actually offered to buy her two, but was patted on the head and assured that one was enough. Well, I don’t know, do I?!
It took a couple of trial runs to get used to the properties of the fabric, and to ensure that the finished spacing on the seat panels was coming out as it should- I’d just about nailed this by eye, and was then absolutely delighted when Fred Blois was able to take a close look at the surviving original 1967 headrest at Filching for us, and confirm the sizing. Cheers, Fred! So soon we’d made this-
All the seams underneath this piece needed a gentle iron on the reverse side to soften the vinyl and make them all lay the right way, and I suggested we use a wallpaper roller on them too, a method which worked well- so well in fact the wife left me to it, but I’ll have you know that I did that ironing in a very butch and manly way, okay?! Could be a dangerous precedent to have set mind, next time I want a shirt flattened out a bit…
Then we moved on to what I called ‘Donald Campbell’s Posing Pouch’; the 2 inch wide section that sticks out of the front of the seat to rest in the curve of frame F17- under Donald’s knees, basically. (It’s the piece sticking out uppermost in the wreckage picture above)
Getting that shaped right in multiple pieces of the reasonably stiff vinyl was a nightmare, but gradually we could move on to making the sides, and it all started to come together more rapidly then. As Ellie got on with the sewing, I started to realise that I don’t speak seamstress, and she doesn’t speak fluent idiot, so as guilty as I felt, it was for the best if I just stopped asking stupid questions and left her to it!
I instead got on with making the bottom section, the piece which actually sits in the curved metal seat pan. This was one of those bits that I’d fretted about for months, and I dithered back and forth with Bill re. the method I’d use, only for it to go really easily and be done in no time when I finally knuckled down to it!
The only known picture of this section on the original is again in the post-crash wreckage pictures and some tweaking of the Allonby image revealed that the bottom section was also fabric-covered over wooden formers. Interestingly, this bit must have been another later mod made to the seat, as when pictured out of the boat ten years previously, (see ‘Leo Villa’s Bluebird Album’, page 92, and see if you can spot it!) the seat seems to have only had a bit of bare foam stuck underneath it. Anyhow, I made the formers, added foam between them, and covered the section with vinyl, heavy-duty stapled into the wood. This stapling was an assumed construction method on my part, but a totally valid one I felt as along with glue and drawing pins (!), that’s how the vinyl was fixed to the back of the original ’67 headrest, too. Each individual staple was then further tapped in with a light hammer (Well, it wouldn’t be K7’s seat if it hadn’t have been bashed with a hammer somewhere along the line) to make it conform to the curve it was on!
Ellie soon had the main seat cover finished, and after some final trimming and flattening of seams, it was over to me to glue it down to the two pieces of foam, getting it all positioned correctly and not making a mess with the glue as I went. No pressure, then! I worked extra slowly just to be sure, and bit by bit the cover went down onto the foam, and suddenly, a seat appeared; I couldn’t resist popping it into place in my ‘cockpit’ to have a look if everything lined up the way it was supposed to, and lo and behold, it did! So that was a good moment. The final task remaining was to glue the vinyl covered foam parts down to the base section, which only took a few minutes but which made me sweat like a pig, trying to work swiftly but extra-cleanly with the gloopy contact adhesive. And then there it was- the new seat for Donald Campbell’s Bluebird.
I’m pretty pleased with that; it didn’t come out quite as perfectly as I’d have liked, but somehow its homemade-ness seems ‘right’, and dare I say it, makes it seem more like the one-off original might have been- and I can live with that.
Soon it was packed up and couriered up to the workshop, and Bill pronounced himself happy with it which was a big relief, as we’d been bricking it here! Throughout though Bill was insistent that it would be me who first put it into the boat, and it transpired that a good time to have it in there was for the full ‘dry build’/Virgin train plates press day, so the day before that I was to be found crammed into the cockpit, sweating like a pig, pinning bits of seat structure back in temporarily before taking a deep breath…
It fits!!! It dropped in there pretty much perfectly, which was tremendously satisfying.
Such a relief! Throughout the course of the press day everyone said lots of nice things about it to Ellie and I, including one Mr Smith who remarked that it was like we’d ‘poured a five gallon drum of instant seat mix into the cockpit’- that’s good enough for me, then.
Next job for us now will be to make the matching headrest, which hopefully should be a lot simpler! But in the meantime, I’d like to offer thanks to Bill for entrusting us to do this, and to my Ellie for her hard work and expertise- after all, she did the bit that everyone will actually see!
One last thing to say about the seat now it’s made; I don’t care who you are- if you’re getting into the cockpit and thus stepping onto ‘my’ seat, WIPE YOUR BLOODY FEET!
It was good enough for Donald after all…
16th August 2008
Saturday morning dawned once again. Rachel plopped a pot of coffee onto the bedside table while I clutched the pillow to my head and vaguely heard Lucy tell her mammy that daddy wouldn’t wake up again.
I’d normally correct this within a minute or two but fate had conspired to shut the BBP down for a day. How dare the guys take holidays with their families and children with so much aluminium still un-fettled? So instead I lay there listening to the sounds of the house enjoying the luxury of not having to get up.
Rachel bustled through the bedroom door presently, shot off a couple of questions to check I was in there then called, “I’m going downstairs to watch the cockless fairies.”
At least that’s what it sounded like through the pillow.
Cockless fairies, thought I…
Concluding that she must’ve discovered some niche-porn, streaming-video site to tickle her fancy and wondering whether they might have something for the aluminium fetishist I chucked the duvet, brushed my teeth and arrived half asleep in the living room to see what was what.
Sadly I wasn’t to be mortified and fascinated all at once by what some people do for pleasure. Instead I found Rachel watching four blokes in a rowing boat hurtling along as though trying to outrun a tsunami.
“What’s this then?” I asked, yawning.
“The coxless fours,” she said without taking her eyes from the screen.
“What’re they doing?”
I just don’t do sport unless it has wings, wheels or engines. Rachel, on the other hand, loves to watch people running and jumping so she’s been glued to the Olympics and feels I’ve missed the point somewhere because all it means to me is that material prices shot up when the Chinese worked most of the world’s spare metal into their stadium.
“They’re racing,” she explained exasperatedly, “and the Aussies are beating us.”
Now I don’t mind being beaten by the Aussies – they’re a good bunch – but again, Rachel felt this wasn’t quite the way to view the situation. Then, as I watched the combatants powering towards the finishing line, the Brit lads suddenly set their jaws and seemed to vow death or victory as the commentator grew increasingly excited and willed ‘Great Britain’ to win.
I paused to wonder when I’d last heard this. Wherever did ‘Great Britain’ go? Somewhere along the line the political-correctness freaks downgraded our pair of letters from GB to UK. It’s like when seventy degrees was a hot, summer’s day, eighty was killing heat and you sometimes saw a hundred on your holidays if you were rich enough to go ‘abroad’. Now folk tell me it’s going to be thirty-degrees tomorrow and I think, is that hot or cold?
But back to rowing boats… The Aussies were busting themselves but somehow they had no answer for our boys who found a reserve of something special and pulled as though collecting their children from Gary Glitter’s welcome-home party. No doubt the Aussie lads had trained as hard as us and they probably had the same things for breakfast. I’d reckon they wanted to win just as badly too but with clenched teeth and bulging veins and sweat pouring down their faces the four lads in our boat just ground the Aussies lead to nothing and grasped their prize in the last couple of hundred yards. The commentator cheered Great Britain as the hairs on the back of my neck stood up.
Later that evening I tried ingratiating myself with a barmaid whose forearms were barely visible beneath rolls of those, ‘I support this or that’, rubber bands in myriad colours. She set out to discuss the abolition of world poverty but recoiled from this Anti-Christ when her suggestion that the G8 nations handing out a squillion dollars and all the oil you can drink would make the world a happier place was matched by my theory that if you gave everyone who’s a bit skint a council house and a new Mondeo on Monday half of them would’ve sold the lot by Friday and drank the proceeds.
“Cynic!” she accused.
“Definitely… I think it came in a selection box with my grey hair and flabby tum.”
“Of course,” I agreed.
Her mouth fell open revealing a ball of chewing gum the size of a bull’s testicle and a five-eighths Whitworth bolt through her tongue. I thought I’d best qualify my answer before she rang Bob Geldof.
“The Germans manufacture machines better then anyone else in the world,” I said knowingly. “The Italians produce brilliant designs that often don’t function for very long and the British, when they put their minds to it, can jolly-well overcome all obstacles.
“Donald Campbell said that, you know.”
Her jaw clamped down on the ball of gum – I think it was symbolic, but mine wasn’t the variety of racism she’d been brainwashed to recognise.
“Donald Campbell…” I repeated whilst waiting for a hint of recognition but blankness came effortlessly to this girl.
“Seven times holder of the world water speed record and one time holder of the… oh never mind.” I collected my pint and sat down in the far corner. I imagine she’d be more thrilled with free minutes for her mobile than anything Great Britain might achieve.
Yet I live in everlasting hope of firing the imagination of youngsters so I was excited to see the process beginning at a recent meeting with some of the people who will eventually shape the museum display and bedazzle its visitors.
For the first time since I stood in the Bluebird Café having just returned from a dive only to witness the disappointment on a little kid’s face when his dad told him he couldn’t see Bluebird because it sank I could finally see a way to put it right.
So I hosted last week’s meeting bubbling over with fascinating stories from the past twelve years (don’t forget that we started looking for K7 in 1996) and was initially asked for some info on Donald.
Now there are many people with a far more in-depth knowledge of the Campbell’s history than me and I made this known thus skipping several items on the agenda though I did provide the name of someone who knows the job inside out. Next on their list was an idea to really get the kids buzzing.
Despite being married to a teacher I still don’t do fluent teacher-speak and keystage, foundation, SATs for level-two remains gobbledygook to me but one thing I remember vividly is the thrill of being a small boy . “Too much time to grow up and grow old,” said Donald once upon a time. “It’s a sad day when the man loses the enthusiasm of a schoolboy…’
So the proposal to stun the youngsters with awe and amazement was something I was really looking forward to. It turned out to be a real corker…
“We thought about a piece on health and safety issues comparing then and now… For example, they may have used flammable foam in the seat in the sixties but presumably you’d not use such a thing nowadays?”
I swear on Lucy’s ducklings I’m not making this up. Please believe me.
Health and flipping safety, of all things!
Donald was a health and safety free zone, for God’s sake! He drank, smoked and…
[Rachel made me delete this bit so all you need to know is that sex with a stranger has since been proven to be a potentially life-threatening situation.]
Oh, and he drove a jet-powered, tin-boat at stupid speeds until it killed him. I’ve done dozens of presentations, lectures and interviews on Donald and Bluebird K7 but not once has anyone ever asked whether his seat was likely to spontaneously combust. Easy to wipe down, perhaps, but who gives a flying fling at a rolling pastry what it was made of?
Ellie and Mike have a made an historically perfect and beautiful reproduction for the rebuilt cockpit but will it catch fire? How the hell do I know and I care even less. Anyone daft enough to sit on it while it toasts their gonads deserves all they get!
I took a deep breath before replying.
“Now I usually get myself into trouble,” I said slowly, “and I seldom care. And now I feel I’m about to do it again.”
Had my interviewer been from the Hapless Lottery Failure I’d have… no, they’re not allowed in the building. In fact I did ban one once on the basis that she was an archaeologist and therefore oblivious to what was required. I did relent eventually and proved myself right, but I digress.
“If you want to excite kids,” I suggested in a controlled sort of way, “what about pathology, crash investigation, diving, marine salvage? Do you know how much G-force it takes to break a man’s back?”
In the course of our search and discovery of K7 we became involved with the RAF school of medicine and the AAIB at Farnborough to name only a couple of interesting establishments. Health and bloody safety… get a life.
Anyway – bless ’em – my interviewers seemed to take this aboard and by the end of the afternoon we’d laid the groundwork for a dozen interesting concepts. Just goes to show what kind of a disaster we may have ended with had the musos and HL-effers been given free rein.
As things stand it’s looking like the museum display will be full of offerings from those who were actually involved. Artists, engineers, crash investigators and don’t forget the two electricians, an IT engineer, a warranty clerk and the amateur tin-bashers who’ve been slaving away in the workshop to bring you this.
The frame is up on her moving dollies. I had a quick conference with Bill at Bettablast before we built anything. He asked me whether we had wheels for moving the frame about. “Yes,” I told him, thinking the ones we’ve been using all this time were perfectly adequate. “And what will happen to them in the oven?” he asked… fair question, seeing as ours are made of plastic, so we greeded some of his cast iron ones instead. Good job he asked that one or we’d have had our boat standing on her axles in four bubbling puddles of polyurethane.
The next problem is that to make our frame corrosion-proof it must undergo a process whereby a coating of zinc powder is applied then stoved at 180 degrees C for twenty minutes to properly cook it. Then a second coating of polyester powder is applied electrostatically (the powder is given an electrical charge that makes it want to stick to the frame in the same way as dust likes to stick to a TV screen) then this is cooked too. But there’s another problem – the frame was filled with oil in places and we’ve since splattered Ardrox all over it, some of which will have inevitably made its way inside through the multitudinous rivet holes. We need to cook the whole frame first to burn off any nasties that may contaminate or discolour the paint and we’ve no idea how long that might take.
Not so straightforward, is it… and to make matters worse Bettablast’s oven measures only 5.5 metres and our frame is nearer 8m long so we’ve been building an extension. I couldn’t help but chuckle at the thought of writing such an absurd idea into our application to the Hapless Lottery Failures back in the bad old days. They, of course, would want to spend thousands having the frame hauled around the country to an architectural powder coaters only to have themselves shafted by an outfit who would see the word ‘lottery’ and apply greedy-rates to their invoice. Naturally the lottery failures would then immediately declare this ‘not value for money’ and the whole plan would collapse in a bureaucratic heap.
But imagine the outpouring of stupidity we’d have got from them had we said, ‘give us a hundred quid and we’ll build something to do the job – that would’ve thoroughly baffled their ‘experts’. Yet that’s exactly what we’ve done.
Thank you, by the way, to the last two people to purchase one of Keith Hick’s fantastic paintings from our web shop… you just paid for our powder coating oven.
First things first. We popped across the street to see our mates at Percy Hudson’s Sawmill and went on the scrounge, as we do. We’re forever greeding bits of MDF and plywood from them and we nick the bits of timber they leave lying in the street overnight too. They occasionally bring a piece of broken woodworking machinery for us to weld back together but it’s mostly one way traffic so it was nothing new when we went begging for the few unused lengths of industrial racking through which weeds were growing at the bottom of their yard.
Good as gold are Hudson’s boys…
This lot will likely cost us several cases of lager for their Christmas bash so someone else get in that shop and buy another painting, please.
In double-quick time we’d set about it in true Scrapheap Challenge / Junkyard Wars style and chopped it into pieces.
‘Bluebird Project, you have eight hours remaining – eight hours.’
Next, we welded it all back together again in an exact size and configuration that’ll assemble into the mouth of the existing oven. Still looking a bit rough at this point but you see where we’re going with the concept.
But the interesting part was specifying a suitable material to keep the heat in while the powder cooks. Insulating materials abound but go looking for a board that’ll happily take 200 degrees C for twenty minutes and the options close-in rapidly. Fire-board will do it but it’s frightfully expensive. Normal loft insulation can handle the heat but by the time you’ve built something to support it and fitted an inner skin to prevent particles flying about and sticking to your wet paint the cost has skyrocketed again.
We finally settled on a foam board, which coped very well in the oven except that its foil backing began to blister after a while. Concerned that fragments might get loose we simply stapled cooking foil over the top and it performed beautifully from then on. Job sorted – a pack of said foam was purchased at reasonable cost from the local stockist and ‘Rob the Saw’, as we named him for the occasion, was charged with cutting to our carefully marked out dimensions while Mike steadied the job.
When only balanced in position you can see that our lash-up is going to get the job done.
This stuff is 1.6 times more efficient than your normal glass-wool insulation so we effectively have the equivalent of about 80mm here and we have to build a pair of doors to close one end. It’s a bit laborious but all in a good cause because we know that the surface coating on the old girl is going to be absolutely the last word in attention to detail and corrosion protection.
Our new rollover jig is nearing completion too at Ivanhoe Forge – I’m off to inspect that part of the job on Monday. The time is fast approaching when K7 will start going back together for real…