Sunday, October 25, 2009

What to do with a rusty old bike?

I've had a few minutes to look over the Columbia Speedliner my sister brought up to me from the auction of the family homestead. In the daylight, I mean. It's very complete, and with the exception of the front wheel (which has a different rim and tire on it than the rear), looks completely original.

Unfortunately, as you can see, it's also almost entirely rusty. The paint (which may once have been cream) is mostly gone, replaced by a light coating of rust over the whole frame and all bodywork and accessories. The chrome is all pretty much gone, too, from the handlebars, stem, cranks, rims and crash rail on the saddle. The whole thing looks as though it was ridden for a little while, crashed into something, fixed, and then put away for a very long time in a place offering protection from rain, but from not other forms of seasonal moisture. Too bad, really. The frame design has the same features I thought were cool on my Columbia -- the U-shaped seatstays and chainstay, the wishbone connectors to the bottom bracket and seat tube, and the integral kickstand.

But the question is what to do with it. On the one hand, it's pretty much complete. So for someone looking for a bike to dip in an acid tank and fully restore, this might be a decent choice. Except it's a Columbia, not a Schwinn. And it's a ladies' frame, not a men's. So I doubt seriously that it has any collector interest, given its condition.

I've had a few thoughts. First, throw it up on Craig's List and see if anything pops up. And second, cannibalize it for parts for my own Columbia, then FreeCycle it. It has a few parts of interest, after all.

For one, it has that two-speed Bendix rear hub with the handlebar cable shifter. I need to have a set of wheels built up for my own Columbia, and though I have a set of Suntour hubs ready and waiting, there's nothing that says I couldn't also get this coaster-brake 2-speed hub working again and built into my rear wheel. The shift linkage and shifter are frozen up, but the hub turns, and I'm sure I could rebuild it. And if I took that path, I wouldn't have to worry about setting up the Columbia's frame for a rear brake. And I wouldn't have a single speed, but rather a pair of gears to choose from. On the other hand, I'd probably have to work just as hard up hills as with a single speed, given the drag introduced by a coaster brake.

Then there's the kickstand. I haven't seen any others like the one I need for my Columbia, and here one presents itself. Even though this one is pretty rusty, it could be sanded, primed and then painted or even just twined and shellacked to present an interesting detail. There's a chance it wouldn't work in my bike's mount, but I should be able to check that out without too much difficulty.

The fork would also more authentically replace the fork my bike is currently in need of. Ditto the headset. Ditto the bottom bracket. But I want a front brake, and this fork wouldn't provide a solution for that. Plus it would still need to be sanded, primed and painted. Ditto the fenders. Ditto the chain guard. Ditto the mousetrap rear rack.

Cannibalize, restore or sell. What to do with a rusty old bike? If you have any opinions, I'm all ears. But I'm leaning towards cannibalization.

All for now,


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Another Columbia

As I understand things, my branch of the Ellsworth family has been in New England since the mid-1600's, starting with a land grant of a tract of farmland outside of Hartford. A lot of family history has unfolded for the Ellsworths outside of Hartford in the past 350 years, as you might expect.

A chapter of that history came to a close last weekend, with an auction. My great aunt will be the last Ellsworth to live in the farmhouse that has been at the center of the past couple of hundred years' worth of our family. Much of the land had already been sold off to pay for the care of her brother, before he died, and last weekend, much of the home's furnishings were sold at auction in a precursor to the sale of the property itself. This to pay for her own elderly care.

My younger sister went down to the auction, and called me excitedly about a Columbia that was for bid. She apparently went to town buying stuff, and filled Michael's truck with stuff of questionable value, sentimental or otherwise. My dad ended up having to haul the bike back my way. It was waiting for me tonight on the porch.

It's a mixte/ladies'-framed Columbia Speedliner from the mid-1950's, according to an ad I found:
It has a 2-speed Bendix rear hub shifted by what looks like a brake lever, rather than the kick-back two-speed Bendix hubs that some Schwinns used to have. This allows it to retain "positive foot braking". It should coast beatifully, according to the ad. And only 40 lbs!

It is complete with fenders, chainguard, a rear rack, and a dilapidated wooden child seat. The saddle has a crash rail on it, and it has a kickstand that looks like it'd work in my frame -- ah-ha! To that point, the frame is actually very similar to my Columbia in design, but lacking the second top tube (and in a mixte style, of course). Same wishbone seat and chain stays, and probably the same of most everything else. But I don't think it's retained any of its original paint, and very little of its chrome. It is probably a total loss, honestly. But it was won for a buck, so at least it was priced right.

I'll post a picture later. For now, it's taking up space in my barn, continuing its slow journey back to the iron ore from whence it sprang. I need to figure out what to do with it, at some point.

All for now,


Monday, October 19, 2009

Fall Cleaning

As mentioned I would last week, I've started selling off some of my Gravely 2-wheel tractor implements. I've posted four things to Craig's List, and have had one bite so far. Failing a sale, each will go onto eBay, next:

One (1) highly dangerous Gravely open-reel two-stage snowblower:
This thing is just crazy. It was my dad's when I was a kid, though he gave up on snowblowing sometime in my teens, and hired a plow guy instead. It looks like it was intended to consume small animals, just as much as throw snow. Not something you want to be messing around with near the business end. It absolutely devours snow, even icy stuff pushed into snowbanks and left to harden for weeks on end. This comes with a spare reel, which I picked up as a package with the rotary plow, below.

One (1) far less dangerous but still beastly Gravely quick hitch snowblower:
This one was my most recent acquisition. It's not as dangerous as the first, because you can adjust the chute remotely and it has side cutters rather than open sides. It's a lot wider than the first one, so it takes more power to run through deep snow. But in a normal snowfall, the extra width makes quick work of the driveway. The nice thing about this one, too, is it is very easy to get onto and off the tractor. The downsides are that the chute's remote lever is stiff and finicky, and that it doesn't feel securely mounted to the tractor. This one I bought from eBay several seasons ago. I'm keeping one much like it that's not a quick-hitch model and slightly narrower.

One (1) entirely unconventional Gravely rotary plow tilling/trenching device:
I bought this maybe 5 years ago and used it three seasons. It looks awfully funny, but it excels at destroying a patch of lawn to create a new garden bed. And it does a decent job of creating rows/hills as well. In that sense it's perfect for a serious gardener/small farmer with an acre or so to plow and hill. It's probably overkill for a home garden though. If the dirt shield isn't set right, it'll occasionally chuck rocks at your head as it works -- I always managed to duck, but a hockey goalie's mask might be a good accompaniment to this one. I have a spare gearbox for it and I think some other stuff as well. I'd planned to make a spreader for it, but that was in another life.

One (1) aftermarket angling plow blade:
This is not a Gravely part, and that shows, in that there's not a whit of cast iron on the thing. But it's a clever design that looks like it'd do the trick in terms of plowing walking paths through snow. It came on a tractor that I bought for parts out in the Hudson River Valley, and which I sold a year ago. I've never used it, but I bet it could be disassembled, sandblasted, painted, maybe updated with some replacement hardware, and serve someone well.

And once the leaves are up, the 430 tractor will be sold off as well. It's doing bang-up job on the leaves this season, as always -- blown engine or not.

All for now,


Sunday, October 11, 2009

Leaves and Tractors

Just a quick post today, as I'm off to San Francisco in a few hours to Oracle OpenWorld. Normally a trip I'd be looking forward to, as it's one of my favorite cities. But I'll be going out alone, this time, and in this case, the trip is also eating up time that feels scarce on several fronts -- time with the house, time with the girls, and time with a good friend who is moving away.

The girls and I did have a good day yesterday, at least. After Ava's soccer game, the three of us went to Tougas Farm in Northborough, MA, to pick some apples and find some good pumpkins. We filled two peck-sized bags. I largely stuck with softball-sized Cortland (and I'm totally serious about their size, btw) and smaller MacIntosh varieties, while Juli and Ava pretty much sprinted between rows grabbing whatever sounded interesting. We'll be in apples for weeks! We made out well from a pumpkin perspective as well. I got a good pie pumpkin and each of the girls has a Jack-o-lantern pumpkin, too, that we can carve in a couple of weeks, then set out on the porch.

In any case, leaves and tractors. Yesterday I finished assembling my leafing contraption. I'd gotten the box built a week ago, and installed the truck loader onto the front of the trailer yesterday. I filled the old Gravely 430 with the blown engine with gas (and oil), did the same with the truck loader, and they both fired up right away. Well, I first had to figure out that the fuel petcock on the truck loader was off, but it was fine after that.

The girls were outstanding stick collectors while I was finishing up the rig, and each of them took several laps around the yard on the tractor with me (in earplugs). I managed to get the grass cut and leaves vacuumed in the back yard and out along the road and driveway, which is a good start. Next weekend I'll have to mow along the fence to get the leaves and grass away from it, then do the whole yard.

The nice thing about this setup is that in 2-3 hours, I can clean up the whole property, save for flower beds. I just repeat the process every weekend once the leaves start to drop, until they've finished and the leaves are all in a pile.

Previously, I'd brought the leaves to our local transfer station, but starting last year, I've been using them to mulch my garden beds, mulch around trees, and to offset erosion at the edges of my leaching field. The worms are happy, and since nearly all of my trees are maples, the composting leaves are not chemically offensive to other plants. Not that I can tell, at any rate.

The rig is working well, or about as well as it always does. The stovepipe pulled apart yesterday, so I'll need to put it back together then tape it up again. And the tractor has a blown engine and a leaky main seal, so it really needs to be replaced at some point soon. But the replacement engine I installed on the vacuum for last season is running great, and apart from having to lube up the throttle/governor linkage yesterday, it's required no maintenance at all.

Once I get the leaves up, I'm going to start offloading some old Gravely equipment. I have two Gravely snowblower attachments that I'm not going to keep (don't ask why I have two extra snowblower implements). I have a home-made plow blade that I'll either scrap at the metal pile at the transfer station or send off as a freebie with one of the snowblowers. There's a rotary hoe that is a fine rototiller, but not likely something I'll need or use at my next home. And then there's the 430 tractor. I tried to Craigslist it last season to no avail, so I think I'm going to eBay it this time. I paid $430 for it, and assuming it survives this season, will have gotten I think 4 seasons out of it. I really don't expect to or need to get any money for it, but it would be a shame to just scrap it.

I'll hold onto the truck loader and other leafing rig components just in case I'll need them for my next home ownership experience, whether that's a year or more away. I'll also be keeping my extremely reliable Gravely walk-behind tractor, though it's been leaking a bit this season as well. Also not going up for sale are a snowblower attachment and the 50" deck that I bought new maybe 5 or 6 years ago. I can always shed these later, if I don't end up needing them at my next place.

All for now,


Sunday, October 4, 2009


It's almost leafing season, and today I'm procrastinating building up my leafing rig by blogging instead of doing that work. In truth, I don't really have time to get the rig built today anyway. I'll say more about that later, but first, I wanted to share a bit about my plans for the Columbia.

I mentioned last week that I've got sort of a vision for the straight bar heavyweight cruiser I bought over the summer, then promptly crashed. I should start by saying that this bike will never be more than a clunker. I'm not going to blast it down to bare metal and get it resprayed or otherwise restored. The vision is to make it a functional, fun utility bike. Something good for tooling around town on, picking up ice cream, milk, pizza or beer.

The bike is comprised of a solid frame, a decent set of cruiser wheels and tires, a too-short seatpost, an old sprung leather saddle, a set of kids' size cruiser handlebars and grips, a one-piece crankset, a junky set of pedals, a junk headset and a bent fork. It functioned before I crashed it, but it was an $80 bike, so it functioned about that well.

So what's the plan? Start by replacing stuff that won't work with stuff that will work, then add racks and baskets to round out the package as a utility bike. Simple. And, I've started collecting stuff to that end.

I have a replacement fork for it. It's a 1"-steerer version of the black Tange fork I put on the Paramount last winter. It's a crazy-strong mountain bike fork with cast dropouts and fat Prestige-tubing legs. It has cantilever bosses to accept a front brake, which also gives me two points from which to mount a front cantilever rack. The steerer is plenty long, and I'll leave some extra length to allow for plenty of bar height with a regular road stem.

I have a new Tioga BMX headset for it. I'll have to put it together with an old top nut from a road bike (the OEM top nut from my wife's Bianchi) so a road stem can pass through into the steerer. A BMX headset has a top nut sized for a smaller inside diameter steerer and stem, but swapping the top nut is an easy fix when using a fork with a non-BMX 1" threaded steerer.

I have a pair of racks for it. These are the two aluminum racks that were once on the Paramount when it was set up as a commuter. Front cantilever rack (cheap Nashbar unit), and a rear Blackburn rack sized for 26" wheels. I'll have to sort out the forward/top mount for the rear rack, since there are no rack braze-ons, but that shouldn't be hard.

I have a set of beefy Sun rims in 36-hole with Schraeder drilling, and a set of 36-hole SR hubs ready to be built into a set of wheels. I also have a single-speed freewheel.

I have a cantilever brakeset for it. These are old Dia-Compe wide-profile cantis that should offer plenty of bite. There's no way to mount the rears, but the fronts will be fine. I'm going to give some thought to a rear brake. Not sure how to pull that off given the frame's configuration, but I'd like the added stopping power. One option is to take the bike to a frame builder and have a set of braze-ons added, but that sort of violates the "no paint" tenet I spelled out above. Maybe someday.

On the Paramount today are a set of pedals that will be transferred over to this bike. The Paramount will get back its SPD-style Look pedals.

Still needed are a stem, a set of Nitto Albatross bars in CrMo, a longer seatpost and a nice pair of brake levers. I'm contemplating buying a second set of those pannier baskets I put on Juliana's bike, and maybe another Wald basket (a deep one) for the front rack. I also need to think about the crankset. The one on there is functional, but there are a couple of options to consider, there. First, I could pop in an MRP crank adapter and put on a 3-piece crankset with a nice, little chainring to give me plenty of power and not much speed. I'd probably save a pound or two in the process. Or, I could install a smaller front chainring and tolerate the heavy and battered one-piece crank (repacked, of course). I'll also need a new single-speed chain.

The current bars, stem, seatpost and wheelset will all go on eBay, and I need to start listing stuff pretty soon, actually. The crank may as well -- will have to see. I'll reuse the saddle, tires and tubes that are on there now. The result should be a fun and funky around-town utility bike, and the project should keep me busy, once I've gotten the leaves up and other outdoor activity starts to dry up.

All of this sort of assumes that I'll have space, time and money in my next life to keep this bicycling hobby/habit rolling. Today a "For Sale" sign went up in front of my house, and the first open house will be held later today -- in less than an hour as I post this. There are appointments to see the place next week, and with any luck, we'll get some decent offers quickly. It's a pretty house, inside and out. It has beautiful light and a lot of character and interesting details. It's a house to be proud of. I've enjoyed my time as its custodian, and I'm proud to be leaving it in better shape than when I arrived, just over a decade ago. But not just anyone wants an antique home, and the sale may take some time.

I'm ready to move on, and am looking forward to exploring my new path -- however it unfolds from here. I'll probably be shedding a lot of stuff as I leave the old path behind, and that's probably a healthy thing. But with luck, I won't have to leave any of the bikes at the curb, so to speak. Even this old bruiser Columbia that still needs so much work.

All for now,