2/24/04 - Polish polish polish - it's all I do all day

I polished my hood up with some Trim Shine today. Man what a difference. It went from looking like a piece of garbage to a slightly nicer piece of garbagr with a nice shiny hood! :) Seriously, it looks really nice now. The spider web cracks are much less noticeable now since there's no white road salt in them to make them stand out.

2/13/04 - First trail ride!

I took her out on a trail today! I managed to get the spring off my parts '70 and put it on the '72, and I also took a ski off the '70 and used that rather than trying to straighten the spindle on the '72's. I hopped on and it took off fine, so I brought my seat inside and warmed it up with a blowdryer so I could stretch it enough to reach the snaps. I got it on without too much trouble, and took off for the trail. It's like riding a chopper for me. Since my legs are so long, I have to sit way back on the seat and stretch my arms way out to reach the bars. It's a little more tippy than my Liquifire, and a little less maneuvarible since I can't easily shift my weight when turning (though it's easier to turn the bars than my Liquifire is), but it's really fun to ride and feels really responsive. My top speed wasn't very good though. I probably topped out at 30-35, and it took me a while to get there. With the track off the ground I can get up to high RPMs very easily, but with it on the ground and my weight on it, it really has to work, and if I'm going up hill it's even harder. It's quick off the line, but struggles to go fast. Possibilities: wrong secondary spring, old belt, primary clutch in need of rebuilding, carb misadjusted, or low compression (?). The behavior of the sled makes me think it's one or more of the first four, but the fact that it's so easy to turn over makes me think that it may have low compression too. On the other hand, it seems to run great and can run fast with the track off the ground, so maybe these engines are just easy to turn over. I still have no brake even though the mechanism is working. If you're going about 10 feet every 2 weeks, it'll stop you. I just can't squeeze it hard enough with the handlebar lever to make it really grab onto the clutch. If I hold up the actual brake lever I can make it completely stop it though. The sled has a tendency to creep forward at idle so either the belt shrunk or the two clutches are too far apart.

Things that need fixing:

No tail lights
Speedo not working
Wrong spring?
Ski spindle
Belt shrunk or clutches too far apart
No brake

2/12/04 - Ski Troubles

I took the ski arm off my parts '70 today and put it on the '72. It's crooked in the exact same way so it must be the spindle and ski and not the arm. I took the ski off and brought it inside to melt the ice off of it in the bathtub. I'm hoping I can rotate the spindle, but the parts diagram makes it look like it's all one piece.

2/8/04 - The '72 Moves!

This morning I cleaned up my tank shroud and glued the cracked side back together. When it warmed up, I went outside and saw that the paper towl I put under the tank was blue, and there was loads of blue slush on the right footwell. So the tank leaks. I held it up to try to find the leak and found a tiny pinhole in the middle of a rather rusty patch. I went to Ace and got some tank patch putty. I put it on, let it sit for a couple of hours, and now she doesn't leak. I put the tank back on along with the shround and tightened down the grab bars. I adjusted the brake as best I could but it still doesn't seem quite right. Next I tried removing the cam (?) from the driven clutch to try to replace the spring. I got the C clip off, but it still wouldn't slide off the shaft. I'm not sure if something else is holding it or if it's just stuck. I attempted to put my seat back on, but I couldn't stretch it enough to snap it on. I took it inside and warmed it up with a hair dryer and then I got all but the bottom two snaps on. I tried the rest of the seat but it wouldn't go since it's been sitting outside in my shed all this time. Tomorrow I'll try heating it to make it more flexible and try again.

2/7/04 - Leaky tank

I brought my now thawed tank back outside and set it on the back of the sled. I poured out the old gas in the tank which was like liquid rust. I poured in some new gas and sloshed it around and it was much cleaner. I did it again and called it done. I went uptown and got some fuel line and hooked that up. The tank was still loose since I didn't install the tail-light bar, so I just bungeed it on there. Shot a little gas in the carb, pulled a few times and she started right up and kept running! WOOHOO! I turned it around and hit the gas hoping it would move forward. What it did was immediately sink down and shoot snow out the back. This is pretty normal for cleated tracks I'm told. They tend to dig rather than move in powder.

I pulled it forward to some better packed snow and it took off. It's pretty zippy off the line! It's no spitfire, but it takes off a lot faster than my Liq. The engine doesn't really strain at all - it just goes. Top speed wasn't that bad, but nowhere near where it should be. It's very fun to ride! My one ski is still crooked, so my steering wasn't very good. Also, no brakes. :) I got it back into my yard and took a look at the brake situation. The cable felt stuck and it's a little kinked so I thought it might be ruined. I lifted up the actual brake lever and then tried the handlebar lever again and now it started to move. I worked it for a while and now it's more or less free. I then tried to straighten the ski. Amazingly, the bolts all popped loose very easily. Quite a change from my Liquifire. I got the arm that goes on the spindle off and I thought I could just rotate it one notch and put it back on, but no. The left ski's arm is lined up with the direction of the ski, but on the right one, I can't line the arm up, so it has to go on crooked which means I have limited steering range. I have no idea why it's like that. Tomorrow I'll bring the whole ski and and see if I can rotate the spindle on the ski side rather than on the sled side.

Next I noticed that the belt was sitting down kind of low in the secondary. I thought it was frozen, so I tried to turn one of the halves to see if I could get it to pop loose. It was totally loose already! It turns out the spring is broken so it's not actually locking into the one sheave and snapping it shut. So I was running with the secondary in that condition and it was still great off the line! Once that secondary is fixed and it's got the proper ratio from idle, it should be even better. Top speed should come around then too - hopefully.

The engine sounds so cool! It's barely muffled. It just sounds really raw. I lifted the back end up so I could rev it higher and I see what Eric (the previous owner) meant by the high pitched scream and turbine sound! When the engine is going fast, that's exactly how I would describe it. VERY cool.

I can't wait to get out there tomorrow or Saturday and hopefully fix the ski and the secondary. It seems like a REALLY fun sled.

One problem - I noticed quite a bit of blue slush around the gas tank before I came in. I really hope it just leaked out the gas cap when I tipped the sled up on its side to work on the skis and that it didn't come out of the bottom of the tank. I cleaned it all up and put some paper towels under the tank before I came in, so I'll see how it looks tomorrow.

1/29/04 - Water in the tank

I went out to see what it would take th get the '72 running today. We have so much snow that it took me over an hour to shovel the sleds out and pull the '72 out from between the two '70s. As I was dragging it out, I heard something hard banging around in the tank. I looked inside and found a big chunk of ice floating around in there, so I set about taking the tank off. I took what screws I could out of the rear bars so I could slide the tank out. It wasn't easy. I got it inside and let it thaw. The brake cable is stuck and the right ski is crooked, but other than that it looks like it's ready to go.

12/14/2003 - Sleds Retrieved!

Trip Stats:
Police stops: 2
Kippered Beef Steaks eaten: 3
Car failures: 2
1 Liter Gatorades drunk: 3
Hours late to Menasha: 4
Dictators Captured: 1
Miles driven: Over 1000

Last year I saw an early 70s Panther sitting in an alley in town. I saw the leopard print seat and instantly fell in love. I decided that one day I would have one. A couple of months ago, I was telling Kyle that I wanted a Panther and he recommended the Wankel powered variety. I always thought rotary engines were cool and had no idea that they were ever put in sleds! That did it - I had to have one. I wasn’t actively looking for one to buy, but it was kind of in the back of my head until Kyle sent me a classified ad he saw:

For Sale - Two Arctic Cat Wankels plus parts. The first is a 1970 Panther, the second is a 1972 Panther. Also included is another Wankel motor in parts. The 72 looks to be mostly all there. The 1970 is missing some parts like the skis, but I've got extra 1970 parts if you need them. I'd like to get $275 for the two sleds plus the extra Wankel motor. Sleds are located in Kiel, Wisconsin.

How could I pass that up? But I knew Emily wouldn’t be keen on it since I just bought a new Liquifire a few months ago. I floated the idea, and while I could tell she thought it was neat, she said (correctly) that we have other things to spend money on right now. I did my best to put it out of my head, but I was still kind of figuring out a way to do it.

I've got a bunch of old arcade parts that I'd been meaning to sell so I thought maybe if I put those all up on Ebay and made some money that Emily would be okay with the funding side of things. I was right. I put the auctions up and made more than the cost of the Panthers. The second obstacle was transportation, and two sub-obstacles: finding a trailer, actually making the trip. Kyle mentioned to me that there was a Spitfire in IL he was interested in and jokingly asked me to pick it up for him. I said "Sure, if you buy me a trailer, I'll haul it up for you." He wrote back and told me he had an old trailer that I could have if I hauled the Spitfire up for him, or even if I didn't! He ended up not being interested in the Spitfire anyway, so I had myself a trailer. Now for finding a way to make the trip which inconvenienced my wife and baby as little as possible. Suddenly, I got an idea. "Hey hon. How would you like to go to the Mall of America (near Kyle's trailer) and then make a trip to Ripon (our old college and near the Panthers)?" She thought that sounded great! So it was set.

Then it began to fall apart.

Kyle wrote and told me he was inspecting the trailer and one of the members had rusted through and it wasn't road-worthy. Strike One. Then Emily said she wasn't sure she wanted to make such a big trip since we were making two big trips to IL for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Strike Two. I remembered my chiropractor (heckuva nice guy) offered to let me use his trailer before, so I gave him a call. He was nice enough to let me take it all the way to Kiel to get the Panthers! I suggested to Emily that I drop her and Delia in Duluth on the way to get the Panthers so she could hang out with her sister and spend the night there so she wouldn't be alone. Score!

When I got up in the morning, I noticed the front driver’s side tire was low. I went and filled it up and decided to try to make it to Virginia or Duluth where I could get new tires if needed. We stopped in Tower and checked and it still looked totally full, so we pressed on. One mile outside of Virginia, whomp whomp whomp whomp whomp whomp. I quickly pulled over while we decided what to do. Downtown Virginia was only a mile away so I decided to slowly drive there on the shoulder. After about 50 feet, the tire was completely off the rim, so I had to stop for good. Since it was cold and snowy, and we were right on the side of the highway, we decided to call a tow truck or at least a service station to put the donut on for us. Not many places were open early on a Saturday morning, and those that were couldn’t help, so it was up to me to do it. I finally got the tire changed and we made it to a very nice auto shop in Virginia. They rearranged their schedule to fit us in quickly, and they installed two new tires for us (which we needed anyway). It took a total of about 2.5 hours from flat to fix, so already we were running very late. We made it to Duluth and went to Menards for a socket wrench set and some ratchet straps. I dropped Emily and Delia off at Emily’s sister’s place where they were going to spend the night. The road to Eau Claire was very familiar to me since we just made the trip to IL two weeks prior (and we’re going to make it again in 5 days) and everything was going fine until 7 miles outside of Rice Lake where disaster struck again and I stalled. The last time I remembered looking at the gas gauge, I had a little more than a quarter left, and that’s a 25 gallon tank. I had planned on filling up in Rice Lake when all of a sudden my fuel light went on. There was no way I was that low, but still, once the light goes on I should have at least 30 or 40 miles left. About a minute after the light went on, the car started rattling a bit and lost power. Once again I pulled over to the side and parked. The car wouldn’t start, so I called a service station in Rice Lake and told them what happened. They sent out a truck to come find me and were also bringing me some gas in case that’s all it needed. A very nice tow truck driver showed up about 25 minutes later and dumped some Isopropyl in followed by about 5 gallons of gas. We waited a few minutes and she started right up. Ice in the gas line apparently. Lesson learned: never let the tank get too low when it’s cold. So, about another hour wasted, but I was on my way. Things were more or less smooth for the next few hours. I was jamming along with the Dead’s 12/27/77 show (after I got done with the new Zeppelin 3/4/75 Dallas soundboard) and having a fine time. When it got dark, not only was I not real happy about driving around on unknown and unlit roads, especially with a trailer, but I noticed my backlights for my gauges weren’t going on. U-Haul installed our hitch years ago and we’ve always had problems with it. I cautiously drove on and used the dome light to check my speed. I stopped at a gas station and checked the trailer lights. I know I checked the driver side one and it worked, but I don’t think I bothered to check the other. Right after I made a left from a stop I saw that horrible sight of red and blue flashing lights in my rear-view. I pulled over, and sure enough, he told me my taillights were out. Apparently I had no tail lights, but I did have the brake light and turn signal on the driver’s side only. He told me there was a gas station up ahead and I could go there if I drove with my hazzard lights on. He didn’t run my license or anything and we parted ways. I made it to the station and jiggled the wires which didn’t do much. I checked some of the fuses in the car and they appeared to be okay, but I couldn’t always tell what was what because the abbreviations on the little guide were not very helpful. I still had the tail lights on the car, and I didn’t know what else to do, and I was already so late, that I decided to keep going. I made it to Menasha at around 8:00 and I met Eric (and noticed a beautiful juke box in his house) and told him how sorry I was to make him go out so late in the cold and dark. He was very gracious and we decided to go over to Kiel where the sleds were stored in my car along with his son who would help us load the trailer. On the way over, we had a great conversation. It turns out he too used to work on Pinball machines and he and his brother sold them at their antique store and even did operator warehouse deals years ago (for non pinball/arcade folks, operators are the guys who put machines in bars and gas stations and collect the quarters - you can buy old machines from them in bulk for next to nothing), and he was also interested in classic juke boxes. I told him about my pinball and video machines and we discussed how amazing the piles of relays and springs under the playfield of electo-mechanical pinball machines are, and many other things that people like us find interesting. He told me about his car and sled collection which sounded intriquing to say the least. He mentioned they had an ambulance and they even used to take family vacations in ambulances! How fun! Then, all of a sudden, more red and blue lights. Now my tail lights on the car were even out. Once again, the officer was very nice and let me go without a ticket. We made it to Kiel about 15 minutes later and I was not prepared for the amazing toys Eric had stashed in his storage building. There was an old Porsche, a Citron, the coolest ambulance I’ve ever seen (a 1976 Caddy) and more beautiful classic sleds than you could shake a stick at, including a gorgeous 634 Hirth Panther, some El Tigres, and many other goodies. After yanking the Panther tracks out of the frozen ground, we dragged two up on the trailer and put another in the back of the van. It was dark, late, and by now had begun snowing. We took back roads to get back to Menasha to avoid traffic and police, but it was pretty slow going because of the snow. We told stories about breaking down and the kindness of other people who help you out when you need it (which was very topical considering my trip down). I also got to hear about his other son’s cool web projects (http://projectilewaffle.com). I finally dropped them off at their house a little after 11. I felt horrible because he had church early in the morning. We shook hands and said goodbye and I drove off feeling lucky to have met such nice people. Now I had to get to a hotel and avoid police, which was made more difficult by the crazy windy roads and intersections of Menasha, WI. I called Emily and she directed me to a Days Inn in Neenah. I checked in around midnight, took a quick shower and went to bed. I woke up about 7 the next morning and turned on the TV to see that Saddam had been captured! Very exciting and uplifting. I was on cloud nine all day, so I can imagine how the Iraqis felt. When I finally got on the road, Eric called to say that he had forgotten to give me the extra Wankel parts he had and also the seat back for the ‘72. He was very apologetic (which he didn’t need to be) and I told him I could swing by and pick them up on our way down to IL. No big deal at all, but I do need to get that stuff because I at least need the recoil starter for the ‘70. I also realized I forgot the two windshields he gave me, so I’ll pick those up too. On the way home I listed to some great AM coverage of the Saddam capture and enjoyed the scenery, despite the rather wet roads. I passed a farm that had 30 or 40 antique tractors out in the yard and I saw a 1970 Panther sitting next to another barn. Hwy 10 went pretty quickly and I was in Eau Claire before I knew it. It was fun seeing the beautiful leopard print seat in the rear view and the two Panthers following behind the car. Some time between Eau Claire and Superior I came up on a truck with a 70s Spitfire in the back! I passed them and took a picture for Kyle and noticing my own classic sleds in tow, they gave me a friendly high-beam blink. Driving up the steep hills in Duluth with a trailer is a nerve-wrackign experience, but I made it up the practically straight up and down hill to Emily’s sister’s apartment (from a stop) to pick her and Delia up for the final trek home. It was uneventful other than our tail lights not working, so I drove with the 4-ways on. The next morning I tried to start our car to bring the sleds around back for unloading and it was completely dead. I called Phil’s Conoco for a jump, and, failing that, a tow. I didn’t think it would jump because it seemed like the whole system was gone, but it turned out to just be a dead battery after all. I drove around to our back yard, moved my boat and trailer behind Emily’s bus and dragged all the Panthers off the trailer and out of the van. My neighbor came over to help me drag them up in the yard since my poor Liquifire and its weak clutch couldn’t tow them up. I couldn’t resist temptation and I squirted some gas in the carb of the ‘72 and gave it some pulls. It fired right up! It ran for a little while and then it went dry. I tried again and this time I got it to move forward just a little before it burned off all its gas. I can’t wait to ride it! It’s such a cool engine. I plan on trying to get the ‘72 trail-ready this Winter and then during the Summer I’ll really tear them all down and clean them up. The ‘70 Wankel is a little tight and just doesn’t feel right when I turn it over, so it’ll need a tear-down. The sleds are in decent shape. Not great, but certainly not bad for what I paid. The ‘72 has quite a few cracked plastic pieces, but as long as she moves forward I’m happy. Some of the pieces can be repaired, but a few are actually broken off. It looks like I’ll have more than enough parts to make a decent sled from the two 70s, but some of the chrome is a little rusty and the rear bars are really corroded. I’ll clean up what I can and build a complete sled, and then upgrade parts as I find them. I’m not looking to make a show sled, but I do want it to look nice since their style is half of what drew me to these sleds in the first place.