What would have happened if the industrial revolution had suddenly run out of coal? Would those vast networks of railroad gone unused and rusted away to nothing? We think not.
Picture yourself, riding on the open deck of a new-fangled railboat – a vehicle simultaneously ridiculous and graceful, whisper-quiet and rolling so smooth it almost feels like floating.
We built three sail-powered rail vehicles in one week at Tinkering School. This is our story.
Day One – To the End of the Line
Day Two – Design, Build, Shop!
Day Three – Everyone Stole My Chair
Day Four – Take a Break When You Need a Break
Day Five – Shakedown Cruise
Day Six – Breakdown Cruise
Visit the photo archive.
We are not the first group of people to play around with sail and rail. If you search for “sail powered train” you find some whimsical and evocative images from the past. I’m especially fond of this collection.
This is the day we’ve all been working towards. The day that we will truly put our railboats to the test. I wake the house up early and we get everybody fed and up to the barn by 9. It’s a miracle.
As a group, we exude a heady mixture of excitement, trepidation, bravado, and cautious anticipation. The prospect of racing along, driven by the winds, skimming just a few shy inches above the ground seems to predispose us to fits of giggles.
But, we must first make repairs and modifications based on the results of yesterday’s shakedown cruises. The tools come out and we get to work. The barn soon fills with the sounds of cordless screwdrivers, hammers, the sewing machine, and technical chatter.
First order of business is to figure out how to stop chewing up the guide-wheels. One team plans to adjust the height of the wheel so that it contacts a better part of the rail, and the Kablooi decide to replace the rollerblade wheels with tubeless wagon wheels. Read the rest of this entry »
Our goal today is to take the railboats out on the rails to see what breaks, what doesn’t work, and what could work better – shakedown cruises. It takes a bit of work to get the boats really ready, so we head up to the barn early (by this Seniors session standards – 9:30) and start loading the boats and parts that are ready to go.
Editor’s Note: I’ve been misspelling Nicki as Nickie, and I mis-identified yesterday’s beach as San Gregorio when it is actually Tunitas Creek. Thank you for your patience.
Serena wrangles the mast, boom, and sail into the trailer. Read the rest of this entry »
Looking at the timestamps on the photos from yesterday, we calculated that work started at 9:30 in the morning and we turned off the lights in the barn at 10:30 at night. By our reckoning, that’s a thirteen hour workday… Perhaps that will help explain our slow start today.
People sometimes ask me what “tinkering” means. My definition is that tinkering is the thing you do between when a project is “done” and when it is “working.” At the end of the day yesterday, the Kablooi team estimated that they were within “half an hour of being done,” this morning they spent three solid hours tinkering with it – now it is ready to test.
Every project has a plateau somewhere near the 75% point. This is where it takes tenacity and persistence to keep the project moving along. You can see the goal on the horizon, but right now you just have to work on the rigging. It’s not glamorous, it’s not really fun, but it needs to be done so you have to keep doing it. This is what this morning is about – pushing the projects over the hump.
The Kablooi are happy to see their sail filling in the gentle breeze. Read the rest of this entry »
This is how the whole thing turned existential; Gilon walked back into the dining room after making himself a quesadilla for lunch, looked around the table and declared, “Everyone stole my chair.” That was how it started, and before the day was over, we talked about the elusive tangibility of existence, the difficulties of really “knowing” anything for sure, and the slippery slope of infinite possibilities.
Last night, the Bananagrams began. Our evenings will never be the same again.
Witness the galvanization of a habit into a tradition; every time the truck has to move between the buildings at Elkus Ranch, it accretes tinkerers like barnacles on a slow-moving whale. We’re off to the barn! Read the rest of this entry »
We have a fairly well understood goal – sailboating by the end of the week – and we’ve been talking about the critical considerations since we introduced the goal on the first night, now, over breakfast, we found the scope a little daunting. The weather, to say the least, is less than inviting, and there is a collective tendency to linger in the cozy dining room of the ranch house. But this is Tinkering School and time’s a wastin’.
So, we got right to it and started working on the designs for three railboats. Read the rest of this entry »
Our foggy morning at the ranch turned beautiful just as the tinkerers started to arrive. With some extra help from the amazing Elizabeth Rubenstein, we managed to get everything to the ranch, get it sorted out, beds made, and even a lunch for the collaborators put together – just shy of an actual well-oiled machine.
We are working on one big project this week (a bit unusual for Tinkering School which tends towards multiple project weeks), and we are announcing it on the first day – unheard of!
The project is to build sail-powered vehicles that travel on an abandoned railroad line – Railboats!
Read the rest of this entry »