Sunday, August 5, 2018


I'm currently in Edmond, Oklahoma, a suburb of Oklahoma City. We helped our son, Mark, move down here for graduate school. As he re-tuned his radio from Colorado stations to local, he encountered KOMA FM on 92.5.

Those who grew up in Lewistown, Montana when I did will definitely recognize those call letters, although we listed to the AM version back then (AM 1520).

Here's a little detail from the KOMA website that should shake up some memories in you Lewistown boomers.

During the 1950’s, television was forcing radio into a period of change. The old radio shows were quickly fading into the past. Something called “Top 40” with “Rock ‘N Roll” music was the latest trend in radio. Changing with the times was KOMA. On May 1,1958, KOMA ended its long affiliation with CBS. The station affiliated for a brief period with NBC, but station management decided KOMA would be more effective as an independent.

KOMA began the first mobile news coverage by a radio station in Oklahoma City in 1958, and also became a true “Rock” radio station during this time when it was purchased by the Storz Broadcasting Company. It is interesting to note some important points about Storz Broadcasting, the “top 40” concept of radio, and the format system employed by most successful radio stations was developed by Todd Storz and Gordon McClendon who owned stations all over America including KLIF in Dallas and KILT in Houston.

Todd Storz became the President of Storz Broadcasting Company until his death in 1964. His innovative spirit and feeling for the public was carried on by corporation president, Robert B. Storz. The Storz chain of stations consisted of KOMA, Oklahoma City, WHB, Kansas City, WTIX, New Orleans, WDGY, Minneapolis, KXOK, St. Louis, and WQAM, Miami. All of these radio facilities served their communities with the finest in contemporary broadcasting.

In 1961, the KOMA studios and transmitter were permanently combined at one site on the south side of Oklahoma City. KOMA then became a pioneer totally automated station for a period of three years. In 1964, it was determined that KOMA could better serve the public by returning to “live” programming. Automation proved to be too sterile and impersonal, so “personality” was returned to KOMA.

Throughout the 60’s and 70’s, KOMA was the favorite of teens all across the western US. With the big 50,000-watt signal and the relatively few rock-n-roll radio stations across the plains, KOMA was the main station for the hits. KOMA (along with handful of other legendary stations including 890 WLS, Chicago; 1090 KAAY, Little Rock; 1060 WNOE, New Orleans; 770 WABC, New York; 800 CKLW, Windsor/Detroit; and 1100 WKYC, Cleveland) could be heard on car radios, in homes, and everywhere a kid could tune in. Often teens in New Mexico, Arizona, Wyoming, Kansas, Colorado, Nebraska, and other western states would eagerly await sunset when the mighty 1520 would come booming through with the newest hits of the day. They would sit in their cars on hilltops, turn it up at parties, or fall asleep with the radio next to their beds as they listened to Chuck Berry, the Supremes, Paul Revere and the Raiders, and the Beatles. Soldiers in Viet Nam even reported tuning in KOMA to give them a little feeling of being back home.

Led through the 60’s by Program Directors Dean Johnson, Dale Wehba, and Perry Murphy, some of the best-remembered DJ’s spun the hits each day and night. Charlie Tuna, Dale Wehba, Don McGregor, Paul Miller, John David, Chuck Dann, J. Michael Wilson, Johnny Dark, Buddy Scott, John Ravencroft, and many others were among those who played the hits from the studios in Moore, Oklahoma. And everyone remembers “Yours Truly KOMA” and the “kissing tone.” This was definitely an era where radio was fun. It was more than just the music. It was a magical blend of personality, jingles, contests, and fun mixed with the greatest music that defined the era and continues to live today.

These were considered by many to be the best years of radio. And for baby boomers across the western US, KOMA was king.


First, let me say that the Nazis of the first half of the twentieth century were about as evil as it gets. I don’t agree with most modern statements comparing some current group, Republicans, Democrats, school teachers (just kidding) with Nazis. The Holocaust was both real and very, very evil, as was World War Two in general (started by the Nazis). I hope that evil of that type does not show its nasty face again. (And no, both sides don't have "good people." Racism is not something "good.")

I am quite concerned about recent events here in the US. So I borrowed this article as an introduction to my short, and certainly inadequate tribute to Niemöller's lecture.

This is an article from the Web Site Holocaust Encyclopedia. Most Americans are familiar with this quotation.

Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) was a prominent Protestant pastor who emerged as an outspoken public foe of Adolf Hitler and spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps. Niemöller is perhaps best remembered for the quotation:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—

 Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—

 Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—
and there was no one left to speak for me.

The quotation stems from Niemöller's lectures during the early postwar period. Different versions of the quotation exist. These can be attributed to the fact that Niemöller spoke extemporaneously and in a number of settings. Much controversy surrounds the content of the poem as it has been printed in varying forms, referring to diverse groups such as Catholics, Jehovah's Witnesses, Jews, Trade Unionists, or Communists depending upon the version. Nonetheless his point was that Germans—in particular, he believed, the leaders of the Protestant churches—had been complicit through their silence in the Nazi imprisonment, persecution, and murder of millions of people.

It isn’t this bad … yet. But I am starting to worry. There aren’t any concentration camps so far, unless you count the camps setup for what is callously called “illegals.” It starts with a little hate combined with ambition and an opinion that one is right and all others, therefore, must be wrong. More than wrong …. fake!

With that as an introduction, I will now give my poor representation of his point and my view of the current claim of “FAKE NEWS.” Certainly in this modern world of 24-7 news coverage and the pressure to be first with an exclusive, mistakes happen and incorrect things are reported. Proper news organizations always print or report retractions when that is discovered.

Further, in the days of newspapers, it was clear the difference between the news on the front page and the editorials on an inside page. Many of today’s television news blur that line between news and opinion and the common format of a discussion group on a news station blurs it even more. Adding opposing views for “balance” was ridiculed years ago on Saturday Night Live ("Jane, you ignorant slut."), but now it is hard to tell news from entertainment. Perhaps because the line is even blurred by the news organizations themselves.

Then throw in the modern business competition. Back in the '60s and '70s, network news wasn't even a profit center. In the days of Huntley-Brinkley, Walter Cronkite, Harry Reasoner and Barbara Walters, the nightly news was short (30 min. or, later, 60 min.) and was fairly non partisan. Walter Cronkite once said that the fact he got grief from both the Republicans and Democrats made him think he was reporting from the middle without bias.

As cable and the Internet grew, 24 hour news stations or networks started to appear, and the goal of these services was to make money through advertising and market share. I suspect it was the high ratings that Fox News gained with their strong right-wing bias that caught the attention of some of the other cable network news services. Soon CNN and MSNBC were copying this political leaning, although choosing the left to focus on rather than Fox's focus on the political right.

In addition, there has been a long held view in American that the so called "main-stream" media has a liberal focus. It is a fact that a majority of reporters vote Democrat. However, that does not mean that all these reporters don't understand the rules of journalism and allow their personal bias to slant their coverage, at least to the extent they are accused of.

Again the issue is often the failure on the part of viewers to separate news from opinion. Although it is true, that it is becoming harder and harder to make that distinction as we watch these highly competitive broadcasters cater to what will bring them eye balls. Perhaps the issue is more of an economic and business problem than a political problem, but it has led to this situation where the President and his followers and accomplices are spreading about the term "fake news." It may have started with Rush Limbaugh and his "Drive By Media."

But the claim that anything negative about the president is ipso facto FAKE just doesn’t deserve even a serious reply. It doesn't matter if you are a conservative or a liberal, a republican or a democrat, or just a plain old citizen who has mixed views and opinions. You must see the danger to our democracy when government starts claiming news is fake, and news organizations (at least those that disagree with you and your policies) are fake and soon facts will not even be part of the political discussion and all kinds of falsehoods and conspiracy theories will reign supreme. We are nearly there now.

It is very serious. Not Holocaust serious, at least I hope we haven't reached that point.

Here is my response, borrowing from Herr Niemöller.

First they blocked CNN from news conferences. They wouldn’t call on CNN reporters or answer their questions. Then they closed down CNN. Said it was fake news.

But I didn’t care. I never watched CNN.

Then they stopped the New York Times, Washington Post, Reuters, Boston Globe, LA Times, Chicago Tribune from publishing. Closed USA Today and Wall Street Journal. All fake said the government.

I didn’t speak out. I don’t read the papers anyway.

They shut down NBC, CBS, ABC, and the Public Broadcasting System. Took away their FCC licenses. Said it was all fake news.

But I didn’t care. I never watched TV.

Then they deleted Huffpost, Politico, NPR, Time, Associated Press. All fake the president said.

I never got news off the Internet, so I didn’t even notice.

Finally, one day, they closed Fox News.

But there was no one left to protest except Breitbart, Infowars, Rush Limbaugh, and Hannity … and they didn’t say anything.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Bonneville Two

This year Bonneville Speed Week sponsored by the S.C.T.A. will be held August 11-17. In an earlier note I described the context of this dissertation, the various motorcycle speed records during the ‘70s. It was during the lapse from 1970 when Cal Rayburn beat Don Vesco’s record and 1975 when Vesco had his revenge that this story occurs.

I mentioned Robert Leppan and his 245 mph record in 1966 on a dual Triumph powered streamliner. That victory was celebrated by the Triumph corporation naming their most recent dual carborated twin 650 the “Bonneville.” Prior to that Triumph’s top model was called the "Thunderbird," but they had licensed that name to Ford. The ultimate evolution of the Triumph Trophy or TR-6 became known after that flat area of earth in western Utah.

In ’73 I worked for a large Triumph dealer in Denver. He planned to retake the record for Triumph and built a streamliner with engines from two 750cc Triumph/BSA triples. He gathered a team, built a bike, collected vehicles and crew, and headed for the Salt Flats that August of ’73. I was the most junior mechanic in his shop having just been hired, and I got to go along. As he said, “Mickey knows the electrics better than anyone else, and we all know Bonneville salt can be bad on electric stuff.” That’s what he called it, “electric stuff,” like points and spark plugs, alternators and batteries. Yeah, I was the only grease monkey that really understood that “stuff.”

We were staying in Wendover, a dozen or so miles from the Flats. I loaded my Honda XL250 thumper in the back of the truck for personal transportation, and rode shotgun in a U-Haul all the way to Wendover. We drove over 600 miles down I-80 and arrived in the evening, checked into an old motel, ate a hearty meal at a local truck stop, and prepared for the next day out on the salt.

We were soon set up on the flats erecting tents and making practice and qualification runs. But there was a problem. We were getting high speed loss of power. The tach would quit rising, and start to sink just when you were near the top speed. Now our bike was very high geared and took a bit of time and distance to come up to top speed. That’s typical, and there’s plenty of room on the six mile run to get up to speed. But that slow going seemed to foul up the engines and they couldn’t get to full rpm in the speed run.

Most of the mechanical geniuses were focused on the carbs, jets, float bowl height, fuel flow, air cleaner plenum, exhaust system, and other fuel/air related issues. I was pretty sure it was the ignition coils. Triumph never was famous for their Lucas electrics, and I was almost certain that was the problem. But no-one would listen to me. After all, I was the most junior guy on the team and they mostly brought me along to hand them tools or get them cold drinks.

The driver didn’t think it was electrical because of some story he kept telling about throttle response. The mechanics were all focused on the fuel. So I had to figure out some way to prove my theory. I got an idea.

I rode my little bike into Wendover and went looking for a Radio Shack. Sadly, there wasn’t one. Locals told me the nearest was in Salt Lake City, some 125 miles away. So I made my plan. I was supposed to be around during the day, although I was just a glorified go-fer, driving into Wendover to get some cold drinks or something. Besides, it was a long hot ride to Salt Lake City across the dessert. I told my boss some story to excuse me for the next day, and headed out on my solo adventure. I waited for the cool of nightfall. I bought a little two-gallon gas can in Wendover to extend my range, filled the tank of my little Honda and the gas can, and set off about mid-night. I don't think there was an open gas station the whole path of the trip and the XL had a rather small gas tank, so I was prepared to make it the whole way with gas to spare.

I couldn't really keep up with the traffic on my little 250cc dirt bike, but there wasn't a lot of traffic and it was a four lane with a wide shoulder, so that didn't matter. The ride across the cool night dessert was without surprises, and I eventually arrived in Salt Lake where I waited patiently for a Radio Shack to open. There I bought my needed gear: wire and connectors and six little gauges. Another stop at a local hardware store for some metal brackets, and I was soon headed back to Wendover and the Salt Flats.

This time the hot sun made the trip less than pleasurable. I soon stopped at a rest stop and slept in the shade on a picnic table for several hours as I was also approaching over 36 hours awake. I got back on the Interstate by 6:00 PM and made it to the motel by late evening. I spent a couple of hours in my room soldering and building my little test rig, and even got some more sleep.

So I was ready when I got back to our little camp on the Salt the next morning. The bike was under a wide tent like roof and the mechanics had the side covers off the fiberglass shell and were working on the carburetors. They were poking and prodding various bike parts and arguing about the fuel lines and sand and other minutia.

I started explaining, for the fourth time, my theory that it was the ignition coils and now I had a way to prove it. I showed them my little test rig with six connecting wires and six meters. I explained that it would show the average electrical output of each individual coil.

My theory was that, since Triumph had reused the dual coil design from the Bonneville, combining that with a single extra coil for the third cylinder, this was a weak point in the ignition. The Triumph Bonneville (how ironic a name considering where we were) used a dual coil. It was two ignition coils in a single body. That saved size and weight and probably cost. They reused that in the triple with a more regular, single coil to fire the three spark plugs. The whole assembly was housed in a small triangle shaped void under the gas tank near the front to get lots of cooling air. Our special designed, double engined bike moved the coils behind the second engine where there was little air flow, and I knew it was a hot spot.

I expected to show that cylinders 1 and 2 of each engine would drop off at high rpm under the high temperature experienced inside the aerodynamic shell and cause misfiring, yet cylinder 3 that used the single coil was not as affected. The double coil was more sensitive to the heat due to working twice a hard with little extra external area to bleed off heat. I already knew from the driver comments that ventilation inside the shell was poor and engine heat was extreme. In fact, that heat was one of the suspected causes of our very problem, but they were looking for ways it was affecting the fuel system.

My meters were coupled to the ignition circuit inductively. That means they read the magnetic field in the plug wires when the pulse of electricity made the spark plugs fire. The coils produce a high voltage pulse each time the points open. The collapsing field in the little transformers that were the ignition coils jumps the simple 12 volts of the battery to hundreds of volts to create a strong spark. The faster you go, the more frequent the pulses. As long as the energy content of a single pulse remained relatively constant, my meters should show an increase due to more frequent pulsing at higher rpms.

My theory was the dual coils lost efficiency due to heat, and I expect my instruments to show a difference between the electrical power produced by the dual coil compared to the single coil. I had built a simple circuit with rectifiers and capacitors to produce a small DC current representing the average power of the spark plug pulses and fed this DC to the little dials. This is how many of the instruments in a car are designed, hardly rocket science, although this bike was closer to a rocket than a normal motorcycle. If the pulse energy was dropping at high rpm (and temperature), then it is likely the plugs will fire poorly acting like fouled plugs. The two cylinders connected to single coils were not as effected, and confused the symptoms. Otherwise the experienced mechanics would have realized the problem was spark and not fuel.

Soon I was explaining to our rider how he would check the gauges at speed and look for certain symptoms shown by comparing the six meter readings. He said he didn’t understand what I was talking about, and since it was my idea, why don’t I take the bike out on a qualification run and perform the test myself.

I thought he was kidding, but he was as serious as taxes, and soon I was clothed in a full leather racing suit and full coverage helmet and being locked into the claustrophobic cockpit of an approximately 500 horsepower rocket. In the first place, I was the same small size as our pilot and fit in his clothes. Apparently I was also just as reckless (or crazy) as him because soon I was zooming across the salt at a speed that I’m sure approached what our modern astronauts experienced just before leaving the confines of gravity and this earth. Now I knew what it was like to fly a jet plane less than a foot off the ground.

Zooming along just six inches above the sale, I barely remembered to watch the six dials as the engine moved into the top rpm range as I entered the measured mile. Just as I had suspected, dual coil for cylinders 1 and 2 (as well as second engine cylinders 4 and 5) showed a lower reading than the single unit coil. By the time I’d positively determined that my theory was proven, I’d gone the measured mile and started to decelerate. This was not a record run, so I didn’t have to turn around and make a second run. As soon as the bike slowed, lacking ventilation, it got very hot and I was glad when the crew popped off the top with the window and let in some air. I unstrapped and began the acrobatic process of climbing out of a bullet, sort of like exiting the birth canal.

After a ride in the back of the pickup with my racing leathers unfastened and tied around my waste, I finally stopped shaking. Funny how, after the danger is over, you get all butterfly stomach and queasy. At least I didn’t throw up.

As we sped back to the crew tent, the fresh air dried out my sweat soaked t-shirt and I quit trembling. I think it is like parachute jumping. They say the first time isn’t bad. The hard part is doing it the second time because now you know just how bad-ass scary it can be.

I quickly reported my results. Then they asked, “Now what do we do?” I had an answer for that too. Back when I was hopping up my own custom Triumph when I was in the Navy, I had swapped out the Lucas ignition coils for good old GM parts. A quick trip back to Wendover and we had six large automobile ignition coils which were soon squeezed into the small space within the bike and one problem was solved. I installed them in front of the hot engines, which would also help reduce any heating problem. That fixed the problem of the moment.

Sadly there were other problems that week with chains, sprockets, and transmission that weren’t so easy to fix, and we left the salt two weeks later without a record. When you link two motorcycle engines together, you have to fabricate a lot of parts and systems to marry the power plants together. That can be very difficult to get right without several tries and we didn’t bring a machine shop with us. On a positive note, my ignition coil fix did solved the dropping rpm problem and I was a hero, at least for fifteen minutes.

That was the only year my boss tried for a record, so that little bit of history and a new land speed number for the Triumph brand was never entered into the books. The Vescos didn’t have any luck that year either with their Yamaha four-stroke powered bike. The engines performed fine, but handling was the issue. Back in Denver my new reputation added some credibility to my standing among the shop personnel, so it wasn't a complete failure.

After we got back to Denver, when one of the crew members handed me a little piece of paper that looked like it came from a cash register. This was the official results of the qualification run I had made when testing the coils. Produced by the Southern California Timing Association with time and speed of the measured mile: 226.395 miles per hour. There you have it folks, Not a land speed record, but faster than I’ve ever gone in anything short of a United Airlines plane. Now drink up your beer and shake my hand as the fastest person you've ever known … on two wheels. (Unless you've met Don Vesco.)

One final comment, in case anyone important (such as an executive from Triumph Motor Corporation or Don Vesco) is reading this, I write fiction. Sure, some of this story may be true, a little bit, but in general you have to know how to tell when I’m lying. It is simple. My lips are moving.

Monday, July 23, 2018


I was hanging out in some pub with a line of motorcycles parked outside drinking suds and telling lies. (That is, "we" were drinking suds and telling lies, not the line of motorcycles!) As often occurs on such occasions, the topic of conversation turned to the fastest one had ever ridden a bike. Plenty had done the ton (100 mph or more accurately 100 kmph) and numbers such as 120, 140, and even a 150 or 160 were being thrown out by the slightly inebriated crowd.

When it became my turn I said “226.395 mph.” The conversation stopped. Maybe it was the three decimal places. Maybe it was just that everyone was preparing to shout “bull shit!” But I stood my ground. “Hey,” I stated, “I’ve got the slip from the ‘Southern California Timing Association’ to prove it.” You see, they are the official timers at the Bonneville Salt Flats. Well, you didn’t think I went that fast on some two-lane highway, did you?

Soon the soddened crowd was coaxing the story out of me and buying me more beer to loosen my tongue. Now this may just be “bull shit” or the musings of a fevered mind who had a little too much “you know what” back in the sixties, but I swear this is exactly how it happened. Let me provide a little background to my personal tale and describe those early seventies adventure when I was too young to know any better and ready for any adventure, no matter how fast it meant I had to travel.

The Bonneville Salt Flats, the dry lake bed to end all dry lake beds, is a flat (very, very flat) hard surface that mother nature seems to have prepared just for us speed demons to practice our craft. Ever since 1955 when Jahn Allen rode his 650cc Triumph to 192 mph at Bonnie, beating the record set earlier that year by Russell Wright riding a Vincent-HRD 184 mph (or some speed in kilometers per hour) at Christchurch, New Zealand, the flats near the Nevada border and close to Wendover, Utah have been synonymous with land speed records. In fact, you can go back to 1914 when Teddy Tezlaff hit 141 mph in his Blitzen Benz for a four-wheel record, the flats have been the place.

A lot of earlier motorcycle speed records were made on beaches such as those in Florida or somewhere in England or Europe, but as speeds approached 200 mph, the stretch of scenery in western Utah became a beacon for those, mostly southern Californians, seeking to ever increase their speed in pursuit of the numerical goal of a land speed record.

Roland "Rollie" Free was famous for breaking the motorcycle land speed record there in 1948. He was on an open bike and became convinced the wind resistance of his clothing was preventing him getting the final few mph to break the record. So he stripped down to a pair of Speedos and laid prone on his Vincent to accomplish the feat. The picture of Free, prone and wearing a bathing suit, has been described as the most famous picture in motorcycling.

But it was in my time that the Salt Flats became the one and only place to be if you were interested in top speed. In 1966 Robert Leppan pushed his 1298cc Triumph powered bike to 245 mph. It was the age of the streamliners, motorcycles built within rocket shaped bodies. Leppan’s bike consisted of two 650cc Triumph twins taken off the popular TR-6 Tiger (similar to one of my favorite bikes I owned around this time).

He was a Detroit Triumph dealer and he was back at the flats in ’70 pushing the record, but crashed at 280 mph.

After Leppan's successful run, the land speed record, much like many traditional motorcycle competitions, moved aggressively to Japanese produced engines. In 1970 Don Vesco drove his Yamaha “Big Red” streamliner made out of an old airplane fuel drop tank to beat the 250 mark with a two-direction run of 251 mph power by twin 350cc two-stroke Yamaha engines. (In fact, I also owned a Yamaha RD-350 at that time which was the basis of his 700cc combination.)

Like many land speed record pilots, Don was a successful racer and had won the AMA Grand Prix 500cc class in 1963. The Vesco family is pretty much synonymous with land speed records. Father John Vesco ran hotrods on the various California dry riverbeds, and sons Don and Rick raced and set a number of important records.

To allow for tail winds and other situations, to obtain a record, you had to race two directions within a time limit. The average of Don’s run in ’70 was 251.924. However, just a month later at the Flats another racer, Cal Rayburn, riding a single engine Harley-Davidson 1480cc machine powered by a Sportster engine on nitro moved the record up to 275 mph.

In 1975 Don Vesco was back with the "Silver Bird" powered by two, four-cylinder engines based on the Yamaha TZ750, another two-stroke racing engine, and he was back again in 1978 with "Lightning Bolt," a 318 mph record maker based on twin turbo charged Kawasaki engines from the KZ-1000: king of the hill at that time. (I own a Z-1, 900cc Kawasaki four, the predecessor of the KZ-1000. Do you sense a pattern here?)

(Harley did recover the record with a 3,000 cc twin HD engine run by Dave Campos who went 322 mph in 1990.)

But this story is centered between the 1970 record and the 1975 record. Those five years saw many attempts including brother Rick Vesco driving a machine with dual Yamaha four-strokes based on the new at that time 650cc DOHC design which the Vescos added turbo-charging. (I also own a Yamaha XS-650 from which that engine came … I seem attracted to those fast designs.) That attempt was unsuccessful due to stability issues. It was while the Vescos were working their magic that I showed up on the scene.

Following years saw the top motorcycle speed pushed to 376 mph by 2010 and the last few records were mostly on bikes with Suzuki engines. (The current record holder roars on the strength of twin Suzuki Hayabusa in-line four-cylinder engines, with a 30 psi turbocharger boost. The maximum engine speed tops out at 12,000 rpm with an incredible net horsepower of between 700-900. This "Ack Attack" monster turned 394 mph in one run, so can 400 mph on a bike, albeit a streamlined, carbon-fiber paneled body with chrome-moly tubing bullet/rocket of a bike, be far away?)

These days the news often comes from down under as dry lake beds in Australia have seen some attempts of late and a push toward higher numbers, but currently the 376 mph holds. 2016 saw a serious attempt at Bonneville by a Triumph powered team, but their luck and the weather didn’t hold.

But getting back to my personal story in 1973 … oh wait, I think we’re running out of time. I’ll have to continue this tale in part two. That’s all for now, folks.

Friday, July 20, 2018


Permutations have always interested me. Ever since I was a baby mathematician bouncing on my dad's knee, I liked permutations. That's even if I didn't know that was what they were called.

Later I learned the big word and its meaning. The mathematical term is defined as the act of arranging all the members of a set into some sequence or order. The number of unique permutations of a given set of size n = n! called “n factorial” which is the product of 1, 2, 3, …, n of the terms. The exclamation sign is the symbol for this mathematical operation.

For example, the number of permutations of a set with four members is

4! = 1 x 2 x 3 x 4 = 24.

There are 24 unique ways (or orders) that four members of a set could be arranged.

Permutations and partial permutations (sub sets with less members than the overall set) are very important in certain math areas such as statistics. (I’ll keep it simple and not address partial permutations. Fell free to google it and learn more.)

I said permutations have always interested me. Growing up there was a beer brewed in nearby Great Falls, Montana called “Great Falls Select.” I don’t know if it is still available or not. I sort of imagined a big pipe stuck in the Missouri River where it flows through Great Falls that goes to the brewery. Not exactly Coors “Rocky Mountain Spring Water,” but probably not that different.

Their motto was “Always Brewed Carefully.” The neat thing about the phrase is that all permutations make sense and they used them all in their ads. Notice you can abbreviate the three words as “A,” “B,” “C.” Isn’t that elementary? Good advertisement copy!

Since there are three terms, then the number of possible permutations is

3! = 1 x 2 x 3 = 6.

Here they are:


Let’s try the permutations to see if they all make sense:

Great Falls Select is

ABC = Always Brewed Carefully
ACB = Always Carefully Brewed
BAC = Brewed Always Carefully
BCA = Brewed Carefully Always
CAB = Carefully Always Brewed
CBA = Carefully Brewed Always

Maybe that’s where I got my love of math … from beer!!

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Little Deuce Coupe

Little deuce coupe
You don't know what I got
Little deuce coupe
You don't know what I got

"Little Deuce Coupe" first appeared as the b-side to The Beach Boys' 1963 single "Surfer Girl.” After the success of "409” the previous year, (a song written by Brian Wilson, fellow Beach boy Mike Love, and musician Gary Usher), the Beach Boys added car songs to their repertoire of surf singles. At only a minute, 38, it is relatively short and perfect for AM radio play at that time.

Brian commented on the song in the liner notes of the 1990 CD re-release of the original Surfer Girl album: "We loved doing 'Little Deuce Coupe.’ It was a good 'shuffle' rhythm, which was not like most of the rhythms of the records on the radio in those days. It had a bouncy feel to it. Like most of our records, it had a competitive lyric.”

"Little Deuce Coupe" became The Beach Boys' highest charting b-side, peaking on September 28, 1963 at No. 15 on the Billboard Hot 100. It was released on the Surfer Girl album and then again as the title track of the album Little Deuce Coupe which collected many of the BB car songs.

The music was written by Brian with the lyric by local radio station DJ Roger Christian. Its main melody is a twelve-bar blues. The song typified the Beach Boys' car songs which along with surfing, glamorized the teenage 1960s Californian lifestyle later called the California Myth.

Roger "Hot Dog Rog" Christian was a radio personality and lyricist who co-wrote several songs for The Beach Boys, mostly about cars, including "Ballad of Ole' Betsy," "Car Crazy Cutie," "Cherry, Cherry Coupe," "Don’t Worry Baby," "In the Parkin' Lot," "Little Deuce Coupe," "No-Go Showboat," "Shut Down," and "Spirit of America," all with Brian Wilson.

He also co-wrote many songs recorded by Jan and Dean, including "Dead Man's Curve," "The Little Old Lady from Pasadena," "Sidewalk Surfin'," "Drag City," "Honolulu Lulu," "The New Girl In School," "Ride The Wild Surf," and "You Really Know How to Hurt a Guy." Christian, along with Gary Usher, collaborated on several songs that were either featured in or specifically written for the films Beach PartyMuscle Beach PartyBikini BeachRide the Wild SurfBeach Blanket BingoSki PartyBeach Ball, and Catalina Caper — including three songs for Dick Dale.

(If you don’t know who Dick Dale is, then you probably don’t know much about surf music or Fender amps. I’l try to explain in another blog. For now, there’s always Google!)

Well I'm not braggin' babe so don't put me down
But I've got the fastest set of wheels in town
When something comes up to me he don't even try
Cause if I had a set of wings man I know she could fly

She's my little deuce coupe
You don't know what I got
(My little deuce coupe)
(You don't know what I got)

The car referred to is the Ford Model 18. Deuce coupe is a slang term used to refer to the 1932 Ford coupe, derived from the year "2" of manufacture. (32 … three twos, three deuces, … get it?) In the 1940s, the '32 Ford became an ideal hot rod, being plentiful and cheap enough for young men to buy, and available with a stylish V-8 engine, although it could possibly be a ’33 or a ’34 model. The car on the cover of the Beach Boys album was customized extensively including dual headlights, although I prefer the original “long” grill myself.

Ford produced three cars between 1932 and 1934: the Model B, Model 18, and Model 40. These succeeded the Model A. The Model B continued to offer Ford's proven four cylinder and was available these years. The V8 (Model 18 in 1932, Model 40 in 1933 and 1934) was succeeded by the Model 48. The latter models were the first Ford fitted with the flathead V‑8. The same bodies were available on both 4 cylinder Model Bs and V8 Model 18/40s. The company also replaced the Model AA truck with the Model BB, available with either the four- or eight-cylinder engine.

Just a little deuce coupe with a flat head mill
But she'll walk a Thunderbird like it's standin' still
She's ported and relieved and she's stroked and bored
She'll do a hundred and forty with the top end floored

She's my little deuce coupe
You don't know what I got
(My little deuce coupe)
(You don't know what I got)

The Ford flathead V8 engine or "mill" (often called simply the flathead when the context is implicit, such as in hot-rodding) is a V8 engine of the valve-in-block type designed and built by Ford and various licensees. During the engine's first decade of production, when overhead-valve engines were rare, it was usually known simply as the Ford V‑8, and the first car model in which it was installed, the Model 18, was (and still is) often called simply the "Ford V‑8", after its new engine.

Although the V8 configuration was not new when the Ford V8 was introduced in 1932, the Ford Flathead was a market first in the respect that it made an 8-cylinder with V configuration engine affordable to the emerging mass market consumer for the first time. It was the first independently designed and built V8 engine produced by Ford for mass production, and it ranks as one of the company's most important developments.

A fascination with ever-more-powerful engines was perhaps the most salient aspect of the American car and truck market for a half century, from 1923 until 1973. The Ford flathead V8 was perfectly in tune with the cultural moment of its introduction, leading the way into a future of which the Ford company was a principal architect. Thus, like the model T, it became a phenomenal success.

The engine design, with various changes but no major ones, was installed in Ford passenger cars and trucks until 1953, making the engine's 21-year production run for the U.S. consumer market longer than the 19-year run of the Ford Model T engine. The engine was on Ward's list of the 10 best engines of the 20th century. It was a staple of hot rodders in the 1950s, and it remains famous in the classic car hobbies even today (right John Barr?), despite the huge variety of other popular V8s that followed.

The Thunderbird is probably one of the most iconic cars of the 60s. However, it only shows up in one line in this song, even if it would later factor prominently on 1964’s “Fun, Fun, Fun.” During “Little Deuce Coupe”, the lyrics uses it as a way to demonstrate the speed of the hot rod: “She’ll walk a Thunderbird like she’s standing still.”

The T-Bird, which made its debut in 1954, wasn’t really a sports car, but a sporty, personal luxury coupe aimed at upper middle class professionals, From about 1955 to 1965, the T-Bird was in its heyday, outselling even the Corvette. The earliest models beat out the 'Vette in part due to a roomier interior, roll-up side windows, a V8 engine, and the option of a 3-speed manual or automatic transmission.

In 1958, Ford turned the Thunderbird into a four-seater and added more amenities, like air conditioning, power windows, and a more powerful V8. Ford tweaked the car again in 1961, adding a low-slung, pointed front end and even more features, like a swing-away steering column. The Beach Boys’ Thunderbird was most likely one of these heavy models.

(An aside: Thunderbird was a brand name on certain Triumph motorcycles before the famous "Bonneville." Triumph licensed the name to Ford.)

Although the T-Bird may of had a larger and more efficient V-8, it is likely the Deuce had been stripped of sheet metal and anything adding weight. That would give the edge to the older engine design and truth to the brag. Besides, the older car engine has been modified. That is, it had been "souped up."

“Ported” means taking a small grinder and a steady hand to remove extra material inside the intake manifold and exhaust passages to improve breathing. “Relieved” is a similar process, but around the valve seats themselves.

Porting is common in drag racing, especially with the use of nitrous oxide (yes, the same stuff that is used to push out whipped cream from the can).  It just makes more room for the air to go in and out.

A valve seat is where the valve opens and closes.  It’s usually a small mound of metal, but it doesn’t need to be.  Relieving just removes the extra metal to make more room for bigger valves.

If you look at the valve locations on flathead engines (Ford, Cadillac, etc) — you'll see that the valves are canted toward the bore …. the angles differ between manufacturers and even years of manufacturer. What the canting does is it requires a depressed "pocket" on the cylinder side of the valve … usually about 1/8" to 3/16" deep. The most important flow area of the valve (by the cylinder) is buried below the deck surface. This means that the intake charge has to go up/over the area between the valve and the cylinder and make two turns: once to go up, then another time to turn back into the cylinder. This is bad for flow.

Henry Ford accounted for it by making a rounded trough in the head — to let the gas/air mixture go up, over and around. It actually hurts the flow in the "transfer area" — which is the area between the valves and the cylinder.

This is what relieving is all about — to ADD a new transfer area between the valve and the cylinder bore. Not only is it to give space for flow, it is also to enable the intake charge to take as straight as path as possible to the bore (no going up, over and around as is the stock designs).

Bore and stroke determine the displacement or “size” of the engine. The bigger the cylinder volume, the more fuel and air that can be “intaked” and “fired” and the greater the horsepower. “Stroked” increases the length of the combustion cylinder and therefore lengthens piston travel to increase volume, while “bored” means to bore (machine or drill) out the diameter of the cylinder to increase displacement. All seek to gain interior volume to create more power. The original flathead engine displaced 221 cu in, with 3.0625 by 3.75 in bore and stroke. Most modern “small block” engines today are closer to 300 cu in.

The combination of more horsepower engine and lighter weight allows the Deuce to top 140 mph when the accelerator is pushed to the floor. In fact, these cars were much more likely to be run for top speed on a California dry lake bed than in a true drag race. Still, power is power regardless of the kind of race, and power wins in most cases although don’t take a Deuce on a road course as we’ll see in following verses.

She's got a competition clutch with the four on the floor
And she purrs like a kitten till the lake pipes roar
And if that aint enough to make you flip your lid
There's one more thing, I got the pink slip daddy

The modified clutch is needed to match the increase horsepower and the close linkage of a “four-on-the-floor” makes the fast shifts required in drag racing possible. Of course, the original ’32 only had a 3 speed, so obviously not only the clutch but also the transmission has been modified and upgraded, probably with a new transmission out of a “modern” car of the times.

Proper “breathing” of a automobile engine isn’t just dependent on the intake (which had been ported and relieved), but also on the exhaust. In order to move the fuel/air mixture into the cylinder quickly, you have to move the exhaust out quickly. Restriction in exhaust flow creates “back pressure.” Mufflers increase “back pressure.” Sharp twists and turns increase “back pressure.” Small diameter exhaust pipes and long exhaust pipes increase “back pressure.” This is more complicated in the cars from the thirties due to large underbody or carriage structures and frames.

A consequence of the problematic nature in adaptation of large diameter exhaust tubing to the undercarriage of ladder-frame or body-on-frame chassis architecture vehicles with altered geometry suspensions, lake pipes evolved to become a front-engined vehicle exhaust archetype crafted by motor sport engine specialists of the 1930s, 40s, and 50s.

Besides performance, a further preoccupation was optimization of the acoustic effect associated with high output internal combustion engines. To quote a motorcycle saying, “loud pipes save lives.” Well, maybe a loud engine doesn’t save lives, but it sure makes them more exciting. The “song of the highway.”

The name "Lake Pipes" is derived from their use on the vast, empty dry lake beds northeast of Los Angeles County, where engine specialists of yore custom crafted, interchanged, and evaluated one-piece header manifolds of various mil thicknesses, a function of temperature, humidity, elevation, and climate they anticipated. Lots of work for a pleasing sound as well as good performance.

Even with no intrinsic performance gain to be derived, per se, lake pipes evolved a function of practicality. Common instances, their manifolds routed straight out the front wheel-wells posing an asphyxiation issue to the race driver breathing the exhaust, "lake pipes" were fashioned, extending from the header flange along the rocker panels, bottom-side of the vehicle, beneath the doors, thus allowing (1) suspension tuners a lower ride height sufficient for land speed record attempts, and (2) engine tuners ease and flexibility of interchanging different exhaust manifolds without hoisting the vehicle, thus precluding having to wrench under the undercarriage of the vehicle on the hot sand.

As body-on-frame chassis architecture was replaced by modern unit-body and monocoque styles, in tandem with smog abatement legislation rendered lake pipes, as a bona fide performance prerequisite, obsolete. No meaningful performance gain to be had for contemporary vehicles, lake pipes persist into the 21st century as a superfluous, retrograde aesthetic, usually chrome plated with various options, allowing the driver to control whether exhaust gas is routed the standard exhaust system (… purrs like a kitten) or through lake pipes (… roar). They are commonly terminated by "laker caps" which, affixed by fasteners at the terminal end of exhaust tips, serve to (1) "cap" the straight and loud exhaust system when not in use, and/or (2) signal authorities that the presence of lake pipes is merely cosmetic.

We suppose the Deuce in the song purrs like a kitten through standard exhausts, but makes a roar when the lake pipe caps are removed.

And comin' off the line when the light turns green
Well she blows 'em outta the water like you never seen
I get pushed out of shape and it's hard to steer
When I get rubber in all four gears

The reference to “cumin’ off the line” shows the discussion is about a drag race. That’s a short race in a straight line. Getting a good start is essential. There could be a flagger who would start the race, but by the 60’s the “Christmas Tree” had taken over at formal drag race tracks.

Any drag racing history buff worth his or her Wynn's Winder decal probably knows that the Tree made its official NHRA debut at the 1963 Nationals in Indy, where Don Garlits famously red-lighted away the Top Eliminator to unheralded Bobby Vodnik, who had "Big" covered by about a tenth going into the final.

Of course, for years, the colorful and acrobatic "flagman" had signaled the start of each race, but the flag starter system, popular with fans and racers alike, had its flaws. Foul starts were rampant as drivers flinched and left if the starter so much as accidentally blinked his eyes, and each starter had his own unique personality … and his "tells," as Garlits himself pointed out in his book "Tales From the Drag Strip," "We had all gotten pretty good at reading the flag starter just by watching his eyes. We could read the muscles in his arms and how they tightened up just before he threw the flag. … The older guys hated it when the Tree came in. We eventually adjusted to it, but we really didn’t want it."

Then again, the “green” might just be a stop light and "two cool shorts stand-in’ side by side.” — “Shut Down.”

Drag slicks (the wide rear tires) give better contact with the asphalt to improve traction “comin’ off the line when the light turns green.” However, the low weight and powerful engine of these cars made it possible for the tires to break loose with each shift. Since the higher gears had less torque or twisting force, it was a sign of a powerful (and light) vehicle to squeal the tires in the upper gears.

Difficulty steering and brakes shows the modified hot rod was best just going in a straight line on a dry lake bed or a quarter mile drag strip. The Stingray (or XKE) referenced in other car songs would be better on a twisty road course.

“There's one more thing, I got the pink slip daddy” — short for “daddy-oh.” (Had to fit the meter you know.) If I have to explain “daddy-oh,” then I give up!

In those days, the ownership of a motor vehicle in California was shown by a pink colored government paper you carried in the car. Today we might call such a document ”registration,” but it was also somewhat like a title, you could buy or sell a car just using it for proof. In the song the indication is that the lucky driver of the Deuce Coupe is the owner, perhaps clear owner with no loan. "Racing for pink slips" (which means that the winner keeps the opponent's car), inspired the 2005 Speed Channel series Pinks and is the primary wager shown in The Fast and The Furious films.

She's my little deuce coupe
You don't know what I got
(My little deuce coupe)
(You don't know what I got)

She's my little deuce coupe
You don't know what I got
(My little deuce coupe)
(You don't know what I got)

She's my little deuce coupe
You don't know what I got

“You just don’t realize what I possess!” Bye-bye!!

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Bittersweet, Broken Hearted Savior

The phone rings. I look at the alarm clock. Two AM. I know who it is. She’ll have her story. She’ll need my help. Again.

After a short conversation, I’m up, I’m dressed. Hot coffee poured into my traveling cup. I start up my Toyota FJ and soon I’m cruising down the serpentine road next to Boulder Creek. From Nederland to Boulder to DIA. She’s sleeping on the floor, waiting for me to be her savior … again.

It’s April, but the twisting road can still be treacherous. Fields are white in snowy spring, and I can't remember the last time that I've seen her. The highway is still cold and wet, and I can't forget the way I had to leave her. And every passing day, she flickers and she fades.

My thoughts go back to the beginning. Many times I’d spend the night in her small apartment. We both went to CU. I was learning engineering while she studied dance. I would rise early in the morning. Her eyes are closed. She can't see me watching. A little light looks through her bedroom window. She dances and I dream, she's not so far as she seems.

I remembered all the times we drove up Boulder Canyon to Nederland, Peak-To-Peak Highway, Estes Park. These were our favorite places. We’d find a bright meadow and watch the sunset. She’d run across the grass and I’d watch her hair blowing in the breeze, but now only in my dreams. What was I thinking? Love, love. Now she seems so far away.

Later, after graduation, we moved to the city. That was the start of the drifting apart. I worked in the city. We lived together. But it was different than my dream. Now when the morning light fills the room, I rise and she pretends she’s sleeping so we don’t have to talk. This is what we wanted: love, love.

We didn’t talk about it. We didn’t tell each other all the little things that we needed. We would work our way around each other rather than speak. We’d tremble and we’d bleed. It was bitter sweet. Sweet, yet bitter; more bitter than sweet. One day she left.

And I'll love her yet, though she has done me wrong. I'll bring her back, though she has been long gone. I'll always be her broken hearted savior.

We had drifted apart. She moved to L.A. to follow her dreams. At first there were phone calls. Letters. But soon nothing. I worked for a while before starting my own company. I was busy all the time and just lost track of her. Eventually I sold my little company for a few million and moved up to Nederland.

I bought a farm and still do some work on the computer net. Yet I think of her every day. She’s come back before. It always seems the same. I pick her up at the airport. We go out for breakfast. Some times she comes back to the farm with me. We spend some time talking about our dreams. She might stay a week or two, but she always drifts away. A little talk. I'd hold her hand. Sometimes I'd give her some money. But then she'd leave. Love, love.

Maybe it’s back to New York, some times back to L.A. It’s always the same. She’ll tell me her story. How every heavy night takes out the little life that's left within her. Every man she gives her love, he takes it, and leaves her with a dinner.

Our love was once a flame, now I'm just a forgotten name. Am I the only one to blame for having loved her? And I'll love her yet, though she has done me wrong. And I'll bring her back, though she has been long gone. And I'll always be her broken hearted savior.

The sun starts to rise as I leave the Canyon and the city of Boulder behind for the turnpike and DIA. It will be the same this time. Yet I love her. It's bittersweet, more sweet than bitter, more bitter than sweet. I have no choice. It’s a bitter sweet surrender. Is someone to help her when she falls from the heavens? Yes. It will always be me. I arrive at DIA. Park in the near lot. She said by door 204. Yes there she is.

Her eyes are closed. She’s sleeping. Is she dreaming of brighter meadows, melting sunsets, her hair blowing in the breeze? She dances and I dream, she's not so far as she seems. She can't see me watching. And I'm thinking love, love. I’ll always be her broken hearted savior.