Sunday, September 29, 2013

David Brown Tractor Story Revisited

Original text:

By Manfred Rieder

Don't laugh - it is a research project

In 1956 I watched my aunt Ingrid single handed rebuild her Steyr Daimler farm tractor at the family's pumpkin farm in lower Austria. Pumpkins there are a huge cash crop as the seeds are pressed into the most delightful salad oil, a staple in almost every Austrian kitchen. After that experience, I always wanted my own tractor, just like the kid that never got that red fire truck with the long ladder...
A few weeks back I interviewed Jean Thibeault, the king of tractors in Sutton who owns dozens of beautifully restored machines. Last week I saw him at the IGA, and foolishly told him:"if you can ever find me one for (amount deleted for marriage considerations) I would love to own one". Then I forgot about the conversation until Jean showed up two days later at my house and told me that my tractor was ready for pickup. (Whattagoddado at this junction...?) I obediently followed him to his place and there it sat" A big white elephant of unknown origin of which Jean only would tell me that it was make "sometime somewhere in England". As a collector of pure Canadian and American iron, this clearly was an intrusive species, acquired with others at a sale some decades ago.
Jean schlepped a battery to the machine, clamped it on and after the motor reluctantly turned over, pronounced it "ready to go". At this junction, I have to admit that I have less than one third of an acre of yard in the center of Sutton but 40 acres "out back". At myage I am not going to begin farming and I have never sat on anything larger than my riding lawn mower. However, $ 60.- of flat-bed charges later, the monster arrived in my yard, and thankfully, "she who must be obeyed", had not yet returned from work. I realized that it was not likely that I could find a way to hide a 4,268 pound piece of equipment in the backyard. Needless to say, I had not conferred about this with Nancy, my secretary of finance for four decades, who had just made the last payment on the restoration bill of my lovely 1995 Range Rover.
Unfortunately, our Roman Catholic church in Sutton does not have a resident priest, because I suddenly felt the urgent need to go to confession, start marriage counseling or seek asylum, all not necessarily in that order.
Then Nancy arrived and the look I got was about the same as a woman, 40 years married, would give the old fart if she would have caught him in bed with a 26 year old bimbo. (Actually, I am always surprised that people can still come up with a mien of utter incredulity, after you have known them pretty much all your adult life....)
"It's just a research project", I mumbled. "You know I write about cars, airplanes, trains, all transportation related items interest me and I want to start researching farming equipment". At this point let the mists of time swallow the ensuing conversation which had as a tenor the subject: "Well,you write about trains but you don't buy one", or: "You spent twenty years writing about airplanes and (I got her there because we had owned two, one never flew, the other one still does - so there) etc.
However, here it is, a 19637 David Brown farm tractor, a bit seedy looking and in need of paint and Bondo, but of sound machinery and a great roaring three cylinder 76hp motor, which can drown out Nancy even at her very best voice. And it goes! Six forward and two reverse speeds, power take offs, hydraulics to mow, tow, move houses, differential braking like a German Panzer and even power steering. This DB was the first machine in England to have this option because otherwise the beast would become an immovable object.
Now comes the research part (Would I lie to Nancy?): I have one thing in common with James Bond: we both own Aston Martin DB's. David Brown, the storied manufacturer who by royal warrant built those things since 1935 and equipped thousands of troops with them in WWII as movers, aircraft tugs, refueling rigs and trench  diggers, purchased Aston Martin in 1947 after which every Aston Martin motor car had a "DB" designation, Bond's was a "DB-5".
Bond's car (or any other "DB" of that year, was capable of approximately 140mph, mine does exactly 6  according to the information available through the David Brown Tractor Club in Melham, England, of which I am the newest member. But as long as my very personal "Miss Moneypenney" will permit me the purchase of sandpaper, a bit of Bondo, a can or two of Duplicolor "White Lilac" and "Old Colony Red" for the wheels, I will hold my personal David Brown very dear as my personal link to James Bond. And if I should ever install a wet bar on it, I don't have to worry about "stirred, not shaken". With this truck, stirring is not an option!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Hasta la Vista Newport - A Festive Downtown Enjoyed by Hundreds

Big line-up at the Buffalo Chili

QNEK productions were a crowd favorite

A blue "Whatsit" got lots of looks

Gorgeous Plymouth

Model A's, a perennial favorite at the show

The kids loved this mascot on a Plymouth Hot Rod
By Manfried Rieder Starhemberg

The jury was out when we left but at Jaspers for once the Red Sox, ahead on TV at the time, were relegated to second place as everyone was still filling out ballot forms for the favorite chili. Jaspers had a stand of course, so the patrons were somewhat reluctant to opine about the quality of the competition but slowly some crows favorites emerged. There was the chili by the Fresh Start Community Farm, our personal favorite, hotly contested by the Buffalo Farm chili and the "Duck chili". One patron eulogized the entry by the golf club bust after some ribbing by other jurors admitted that: "Well I work there, so I better vote for them".It was a very good chili nevertheless as was the one from the actors of QNEK productions who put on a lovely show with great zest, excellent music and immense joviality. But then, so were all of the contestants, outgoing, eager to explain ingredients and sharing "secret recipes". This was a  superb day which showcased how vivacious and generous the downtown merchants, the volunteers from the many groups who worked together to have this festive event and of course the local people who mostly walked there can be. It was fun, colorful and luckily we were blessed with a glorious fall day with the sun glimmering brightly on the lake, the last boats of summer bright against the distant hills and a general feeling of neighborliness and well being everywhere.
As a bonus, some 20 old car enthusiasts put on a parade and the vehicles could be viewed near the Gateway for those who needed to walk off some of the chili.
Saturday showed Newport as it should be every weekend - a vibrant colorful town full of appreciative visitors to enjoy the many sights, sample the excellent food and savor the drive to and from the city through the magnificent Vermont countryside.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Hunting Season Starts Early in Newport

Not afraid of the big green frog

Checking the wiring

That hurts

Back to sleep

By Manfried Rieder Starhemberg

It was a lovely Sunday for sports fans. Our day started with the Singapore Formula One Grand Prix at 7:30 and the results were eminently satisfying for this ex-Austrian because every time Sebastian Vettel wins, they have to play the Austrian anthem for the winning Red Bull team, like it or not you Ferrari fans out there. Then of course we had the America's Cup races from San Francisco in the afternoon and the NASCAR Sprint cup race from nearby Laudon, New Hampshire followed by a great NFL bout between the Bills and the Jets. The jets won after accumulating about 150 penalty yards in a riotous massacre where penalty flags were waved as in a Fourth-of-July parade.
In the middle of the game we saw a mouse. There are four cats in the house and we had assumed that mice would not be a problem in our lovely home on Prospect street and they had not been for the past year and a half that we have lived here. But there it was. A mouse! It appeared briefly, we chased it and when last we saw it it had disappeared into the depths of the clothes closet. Flashlights and brooms were engaged, I even considered donning my 30 year old Abercrombie and Fitch hunting jacket to add some spice to the hunt, or at least the old Pith helmet I like to wear when I stalk the occasional wildebeast in my ancient Landrover. Alas, just like I can never find a wildebeast, the mouse had made good its escape.
Just after we had settled back to the third quarter of the Bills-Jets melee, there it was again on top of my green frog cooling fan. Having always had the aspiration to work for National Geographic as a wildlife photographer, I had my point-and-shoot Olympus to hand and begun snapping away. The mouse was not impressed. Neither were our senior car Sidney (center couch), junior male cat Marble, reposing in Nancy's lap, grandma cat Fluffy who watched the proceedings with detached interest from floor center.
The mouse moved freely about the room until our kitten Brownie sat bolt upright on the bed and pounced. The mouse never had a chance. It took Brownie about two seconds to grab it and present it to us with eminent satisfaction.Being a young kitten and probably intending to have a long game of this, the mouse was unharmed and I persuaded Brownie to let me do catch and release. I managed to save the mouse and put it outside, apparently shook up but unharmed which makes for a happy ending to the beginning of hunting season in my Newport game reserve.
And Brownie went back to sleep and all the other domestic creatures had blissfully slept through it all.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Time to winterize your bicycle

by Manfried Rieder Starhemberg

Lets face it, winter is coming against all bicyclists most fervent hopes for rapid advancement of global warming. Which means that it is time to think about getting your bicycle ready for  a nap so that it may be enjoyed again as soon as the white stuff will be gone. Here is how I do it and believe me, after having owned the old "Lazy Walker Bicycle Co. of Montreal from 1993 to 2002, I have done it a few times:
First, send your wife or girlfriend shopping, make them visit their mothers, aunts, the animal shelter or Victoria's Secrets but get them out of the house because the future of your relationship will depend upon this step.
If you are not so encumbered, omit step one and proceed directly into the laboratory. This essential room in every bicyclist's habitat is often crowded with dangerous machines that only women fully understand - they glow in the dark, make whooshing noises, pop things up or spin wildly around. My wife calls this array "kitchen" but we bicyclists only need to understand two things: there is hot water to be found over the square  hollow tubs and the large white thing with the handle in front. If you pull that handle and look around a bit, you will notice beer. Ignore all the other things - they are experiments your spouse conducts when you are at work and they need be of no concern to us.
Step three is the most important one: Put a large plastic bag or two on the floor, better yet an old shower curtain (no, not the new one in the bathroom cupboard). You may also use cardboard but whatever you do, in order to establish our mission, we must be able to leave no trace after we are done.
Now bring the bicycle and put it on the floor covering upside down so that it rests on the handle bars and the seat. Now, a highly organized professional like myself would get a beer and carefully contemplate what sits before me. I probably see an accumulation of dirt at the highest part of the frame where the crank sits. This is also called the bottom bracket which is confusing as it is now the top bracket. Clean this with hot water and a sponge and proceed to wipe down the frame, working from the top down. Wipe all the painted surfaces dry, preferably with the cotton T-shirt that says "I am with Stupid". Have another beer.
Next you must clean the wheels, Slide a rag through the spokes, going back and forth until all the road grime is gone. Then I usually take a rough shop rag or that face towel with the awful color that needs to disappear and I run the chain through this. Simply clamp the rag over the chain, hold it loosely against the links  and turn the crank over and over until the chain looks "kind of clean'. You will never get it totally clean until you remove it (expensive tool, hard to use but guaranteed to bust at least one link if you don't know how to use it). Should you be proficient enough to get the chain out, put it in a bucket of hot water with a lot of detergent and let it sit for an hour. After this, rinse it with clean water, use Q-tips if you want to enter the Tour-de-France and want a shiny chain. I never do this - chains normally do not wear very often and just cleaning the road dirt off and lightly re-oiling it serves just as well.
Now clean the derailleurs, the doo-hickey that shifts your chain up and down the thing with all the teeth on it. Each rear derailleur has two sprockets with teeth and it is most important to clean those on either side. Oil them with a few drops of 3-in-One oil and run the chain through again to distribute the lubricant well.
Next oil all the cables where they enter the housings and depress the brake levers to make sure some of the oil gets moved in and out of the housings. After you oil the exposed shifter cables, turn the crank and shift the gears. If they do not shift properly get another beer and call the local bicycle shop for an appointment. Or, get a smallish screwdriver. You will note two tiny exposed screws on the derailleurs. These set the bottom and top travel of the arm and by carefully adjusting them against their respective stops you will limit the distance the arm can travel. This will prevent the chain from jumping off the cogs.
If the bottom bracket does not have excessive side-to-side movement which would indicate worn bearings, clean the area where the crank enters the frame (both sides !) and apply a little grease (tongue depressors work but not the nice emery boards "She" has in the cosmetics drawer. I just put a bit of grease on my finger actually and work it around the crank where it enters the bottom bracket. This just prevents moisture to creep in - most brackets today are sealed and should outlast the average love relationship.
Now check the brake pads. If they are glazed and squeak, you will now get my permission to steal one (1 !) emery board and file the glazed surface until it is dull. If the pads are unevenly worn or have become thin, take them off (any adjustable wrench works but in some cases you will need an Allen key, mostly 7mm. Buy one of the inexpensive sets that have a dozen keys on them, they normally cost about $ 4.-. Bring the pads to your local bicycle shop and buy new ones. If you rely on your memory you will go to the shop more often than you intend to because there is a great variety of pads out there and they will have to match your set up exactly. On the way back from the shop pick up more beer.
Now, we are nearing the end. Turn the bike right side up and loosen the seat post. This is the tube underneath the seat that goes into the frame. The seat of course is the thing that is never adjusted right and starts hurting you after six blocks. The seat post nut is on top of what we highly sophisticated specialists call the seat stay which is the frame tube that spans from the bottom rearward to where you sit. Loosen the nut and make sure the seat post moves up and down. They often rust in and you will almost never get them to go up or down again which is why it is very important to remove the post.  Make sure it is clean and lightly greased and securely tightened otherwise you will slide  down, seat and all, at the first pot hole. This can be funny for onlookers but will not improve your riding pleasure especially if you have nothing to tighten the nut with...
Almost done. One important last step: Compress the front brake fully and rock the bike forward and backward. The tube in the center of your handle bar and the forks below it should not have any lateral movement. If they rock, you have loose bearings in your head set. This is not to be confused with audio equipment, rather it holds your front end assembly together. Most often, just tightening the top nut on the neck of the frame will cure this problem. If, by moving the handle bar left and right, you hear a grinding noise, you may have bad bearings. This is best done by the local shop but if you have done everything else right, you should not need a tune-up but you can just specify that you wish to have the headset checked out (should cost about $ 12.-)
We best have another beer and contemplate the rest of this work. I personally hang my bike up in the garage but if you have very little space, you may wish to remove the wheels and store wheels and frame separate. In any case, I put plastic bags around both sides of the handle bars to protect grips, shifters etc. from any deterioration or accumulation of dust and I also put a securely taped plastic bag over the seat. They can crack, get eaten by mice or simply die of old age if they are not protected, especially the foam filled ones. Please note that even as we all wish to stay ecologically correct,  do not use paper bags. Plastic is excusable this time around!
Now, remove all evidence of your work, dispose of the T-shirt and face cloth (Do NOT put those in the laundry basket - divorces have been caused by lesser things than that). If you followed this scientific treatise well, your bicycle should be as good as ever when you take it back out in spring. And please do not forget to clean the sink and hide the empties!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

One day in the life of Memphre

By Manfried Rieder


"I really do not like to be interviewed but so much has been said and written about me that I find it is time to have my say and hopefully the people who live around my lake will leave me alone for another 65 million years"
Memphre quickly ducks his head and neck under the surface and upon coming back up explains that he does not like the wind on the surface.
"Unlike most surviving plesiosaurs, our family has always been medium warm blooded which allowed us to survive the ice ages as we do not just feed to keep our bodies warm, but the food affords us growth in muscle and body size as well. I am actually pretty small compared to some of my ancestors but I am only about as old as some of the cities around the lake. I remember my parents showing me the first new buildings and then came the boats. Those were scary, especially the ones with the big round things on their sides which splashed the water sky high and those things made a horrible noise and they were smelly as well. Thankfully they are gone now".
"Well, you asked me about how I spend my days and that is a pretty straight forward question. Like most aquatic creatures which dwell mostly on the bottom, I have a small cave system as my home. It is not at the deepest part of the lake but just a little ways up into Canada on the western shore where the water tends to stay clearer for most of the ice free season. Normally I will feed on some Perch which is quite bony but they act as a toothbrush if chewed  properly. There are other fish which are tastier but it matters little as long as I have about 200 of them every day. I also enjoy some of the algae and - don't laugh please, there are some apple trees near the shore and when apples fall into the lake I consider them a special treat and sometimes I save some for my lady friend over on the Magog side".
"You are telling me that there are more of you living in lake Memphremagog?"
"Naturally, otherwise we would have become extinct a long time ago" chuckles Memphre. "I am just in the second decade of my courtship and by the time I grow to full adult size which will be in another hundred years or so, we will mate and have an offspring. We plesiosaur survivors normally have one kid, the egg takes a lot of caring for until it hatches and we take turns at that job. After that, we stay close for a few years until the youngster can establish his own habitat after which we leave it to its own devices".
"How many of you are in this lake, and do you ever 'socialize'?"
"I do not know the exact answer to this. I know of six adults and maybe four or five creatures my age but we are pretty solitary and even after we have procreated, the couples drift apart and go their separate ways".
"What do you do during the day?"
"Practically nothing. I like to float around and watch what is going on. I do enjoy seeing the funny boats darting about and ever so often I play with the people who like to catch my fish by sneaking up on their bait and giving it a nudge but I am always careful to come up under the boats so none is the wiser"
"There have been reported sightings of you over the years and someone even make an image  of you which is in a park in this city."
"I would like to see this but that seems to be out of the question" muses Memphre. "But what they actually saw was one of my ancestors who had a place near what is now the public beach in Newport where you non aquatic creatures try to behave like reptilians in your funny colored garb. This has caused no end of mirth for us and we have watched it for as long as has been going on. My ancestor was a bit of a show-off and he loved to porpoise around people but he thought that by imitating a large otter he would go unnoticed. Normally we don't swim like that at all, we move more like eels by undulating our bodies with the neck just slightly above the water, not unlike a beaver. Our head and neck, fully extended, is quite heavy and it takes a lot of effort to raise them fully up and obviously this serves no purpose. The youngsters like to do it but they are so much more flexible and also more curious than those of us who have lived here a long time."
"Is it not a very boring existence for you and your kin?"
"Not at all, we have nothing to fear as long as we stay away from the obvious hazards of larger boats and there is a lot to explore on the lake bottom. There are ship wrecks, there are underground springs and caverns, we can race around the islands, we can visit each other if we feel that we would like to share some information or we just drift our days away, enjoy the light filtering through the water and simply continue to exist. Before the last ice-age or maybe right after it, my ancestors had contact with family in Lake Champlain until the two lakes were separated. I was told that there also have been sightings on that lake which pleases us because we know that there must be distant relatives in other bodies of water. Anyhow, I am getting sleepy and I see the Northern Star tour boat is filling up and I prefer to stay out of its wake. It was nice chatting with you and if you are still around in about one hundred years or so, send me another invitation in a bottle and maybe I find it and we will meet again".

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

A Tale of Two Cities

Newport vs Newport - A completely biased comparison
Manfried Rieder Starhemberg

This summer I had the opportunity to experience the difference between my new home in our lovely Newport, Vt. and my former home in Newport, R.I. The "other Newport" has seen unprecedented growth and development over the past two decades and right now there are at least five megagazillion Dollar projects in the works. Our little town will get this soon with the expected tear-down of downtown, the water front Hotel and marina and all the other goodies we have been promised. Will it work? Who knows. In the Rhode Island place it seems to have worked to a degree. Dozens of pubs, restaurants, gift shops, boutiques and motels are mostly flourishing, the marinas are full and if you did not inherit one of the prized moorings in Newport harbor, you may have to kill someone to get one.
Did all the new condo and urban renewal projects help the populace? Well, no, according to one disgruntled bartender  on the Cobblestone walk."My rent was $ 400.- ten years ago, now it is $ 875.- while the landlord has made absolutely no improvements. Ten years ago I worked in this place for minimum wages plus tips and just got by - now I still work for minimum wages which are not much different from ten years ago but  everything around me costs twice or three times as much".
This is the tenor of most conversations about town. The people who work in the hospitality industry which is the largest employer in town, have not benefited from all the glitz around them, many could not afford to keep renting in Newport and are now commuting from outside the area. Home ownership for the regular folks is out of the question with single family home prices in the area topping $ 300,000.-
President Obama declared that people who make only $ 250,000.- are considered "poor". Well, even his poor folks might find the cost of Newport a bit pricey...
Let's compare statistics for a moment. The median income in Newport by the sea is $ 35,694.- and in our place it is listed on Wikipaedia as $ 20,054,- I am not sure if the new development promised us is going to change this very much. Sure, there will be some high paying jobs coming here but those people are already working for the companies which will locate here and the rest of the expected employment will still be the people who work for the never ending minimum wages or in the $ 10.- bracket. Ask anyone who works at any of the local businesses who have more than a handful of employees and you will find that this is the sad average in town.
Historically, we have much in common though. Both Newports have an abundance of stately homes and while ours are now mostly converted to apartments, many in Newport R.I. are owned by very wealthy people or have been converted into Bed and Breakfasts, antiques emporiums or upscale eateries. There is a very active preservation society at work which has done exemplary work in their quest to make sure the venerable homes have to be kept in style and character as authentic as possible. People grumble when the town does not allow them to install thermo panes instead of the eight pane antique windows but the tourists love to see the original mill work, frets and gables and widows walks on top of the stately old captain's homes. Of course, the main attraction is still to be found at the "cottages row", the great houses of the Vanderbuilts and Morgans which are one of the main tourist attractions and generate millions every year in revenue. Both our town and Newport have lost many significant buildings, here due to fires or economic changes which made upkeep no longer feasible, in Rhode Island, almost 40 of the most valuable buildings were razed by unscrupulous building boom and short sighted development before the city became aware of the damage it was inflicting upon itself.
While we had the great economic boom one hundred years ago, Newport, R.I. had fallen in decline during the50s and 60's and only the addition of the America's Cup yacht races which spawned unprecedented rejuvenation of the waterfront along America's Cup Avenue saved their bacon. The closing of the Naval Submarine station in 1973 also did not help and decimated the local population by almost 20% and caused a huge increase in unemployment and plummeting real estate prices.
Now, downtown thrives like never before while our little charming downtown seems a bit like a ghost-town on weekends with the prospect of the massive building project of 2014 looming in the near future.
So, where is the good news? It is in the details: We have access to one of the most beautiful lakes in New England and the water is not even salty. When we do some yacht racing, all twelve boats can be seen from the share from our lovely boardwalk while in the other Newport on race week the two hundred yachts race out in the bay and you cannot see them at all unless you pay huge amounts of money to be on one of the excursion boats. If you own a boat you can put it in the water for free at area launching ramps and a dock in the harbor, at Newport Marina or the charming docks of the East Side Restaurant will set you back two weeks worth of pay for most who can afford a boat in the first place. In Rhode Island, a slip for a 25 ft. sailing boat costs almost $ 2,000.- for the summer season, about half that again to have it stored over the winter. 
And then there is parking: Just visiting Aquidneck island after the toll on the Newport bridge is pretty much an elusive dream unless you know someone. I have spent hours driving around only to finally find a spot two miles from where I wanted to be. Not here - I can park anywhere in town, there are more free parking spots at any time of day then we will ever need.
We do lack the variety of restaurants they have down near the ocean. If you want a cold beer, chances are you end up at Jasper's here while on America's Cup avenue there are approximately 40 dispensaries of adult beverages within the span of a mile and many fine restaurants as well. I personally am quite happy to sit on the deck at the East Side however where I can enjoy a quiet lunch with friends without the blaring noise of a bustling tourist industry, indifferent wait staff wishing us to hurry up to get more people seated, and a not always pleasant view of an over crowded harbor or the specter of more McMansions or Condominiums in the making.
Anyway, fall is coming and this is where the real differences come in: The cute waitress girls in Newport by the mansions will put their bras back on and go back to work at the A&P or on unemployment while the sailors disappear back into the law offices and brokerage houses of New York and Boston and the city dozes off until spring. Not so in our lovely town. The girls will still work for the same places, Pick and Shovel will bring out the stove pipes and the good flannels, our fine garages will offer "Winter Specials" to get your antifreeze in order and your tires changed and then we are ready for our glorious foliage season. After that we can look forward to the first snow, then the spectacle of a glittering frozen lake and the ice fishing and if this is not enough, there is always our homey Goodrich Memorial library, the movie house or the bowling lanes.
So, having lived in both Newports, I am happy to conclude that I am insanely happy to live here now among friendly people who do not undergo seasonal personality changes, I shall look forward to sail my little 15 ft. wooden Albacore dinghy (do not forget the free boat ramp at the Gateway !) and tool around our magic winter wonderland in out 13 year old 4-wheel drive Volvo. Thanks Newport, Vermont, I am home.