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!

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And, since we’re at Elkus Ranch, before we do anything else, we all have to say “hi” to the goats.

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To get things started, Gever has proposed a challenge; “How far can you shoot a cork using common rubber bands?” Julianna has in mind a variation on a slingshot using two long bolts.

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Gillon explores a similar design, but uses guy wires to stabilize the vertical bolts.

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His design produces a lot of laughs, but not much distance on the cork.

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Sam has fabricated a braided super rubber band which may allow him to put more energy into the cork.

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Luigi is proud of his first-generation launch platform.

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Declan catches the eye of the photographer with his novel design to use the cork as a wheel and drive it with a twisted rubber band.

IMG 0037Sam’s (yes, there are two Sam’s this week) cardboard airplane is developing nicely.

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As the designs evolve, the testing moves outside. Gever has stipulated that cork must be launched from this corner of the deck, and that is where Gillan mounts his platform.

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Intent on their contraptions, Nickey, Mackenzie (collaborator), and Rhody prepare to fling some serious corkage.

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Gever has built a cardboard dart he’s eager to try. As he would soon discover, it does not work as well as the naked cork and rubber band that Hanna is perfecting.

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The testing grounds at Barn One becomes littered with corks.

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Luigi’s giant sling-shot continues to improve.

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Rhody’s newest innovation is tape the cork to a heavier object that does not lose quite so much velocity to wind resistance.

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Nickey’s shot goes down past the lower gate – woohoo!

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At times the testing facility becomes crowded with eager tinkerers vying for best position on the launch deck.

The icebreaker project seems to have run it’s course and done it’s job well enough. We clean up the barn, stow the tools, collect the corks and get ready to discuss the big project.

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Gever lays out the concept and then facilitates a discussion of what parts of the project present the greatest challenges. The tinkerers decide that having a chunk of railroad track is not going to provide enough information, so we decide to drive to the abandoned track and get a feel for the railroad first-hand. Right after dinner – we suddenly realize that we are starving. It’s pan-roasted chicken and vegetables marinated in shitake-sesame vinaigrette, with roasted potatoes and salad with feta and fresh tomatoes.

Then we load up, and head to the end of the railroad line – where our project begins.

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Julianna and Serena supervise Gillan and Luigi and the taking of accurate measurements of the critical dimensions.

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Which we write down and photograph so that there is no chance of forgetting.

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Various hazards and details are studied carefully to make sure that no opportunity is missed and no critical constraint is missed.

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Rhody has been demonstrating some balance beam gynastics, and Sam is inspired to try it himself. The Russian judges are not going to like that dismount, Sam.

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Meanwhile, the judges seem to like Rhody’s precision cartwheels.

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We wander the tracks looking for other things that might cause trouble. The conversation drifts back and forth from trivialities to keen observations about the possible issues they face in designing wind-powered vehicles for these old, and mis-used tracks.

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With a knack for finding new problems, Gillon points out a broken cable that was once welded to the outside of the track.

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Just off the track is a beautiful view of the old Davenport landing and pilings.

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And further along the trail, we find the edge of the continent and Mackenzie finds a spotted egg shell.

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Everyone finds they end of the world to be a pleasant place to hang out. The light fades, everyone lingers as long as we can, and then we head back to the cars.

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Mackenzie summarizes the day in a physical poem; a cork, a bit of rail, and shell. Yes, that was our day.

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And we found this.