Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Too Much Fiber...

Things started with this... staff were met in the morning with an awful smell.  A Bad Smell.  Investigation showed sewage backup into the crawlspace of the KAXE studios.  Opening the door to the basement crawlspace I found the floor flooded with fecal material.  Plumber called.  This is what the crawlspace looked like:

Finally got the line open enough for shit to flow downhill but both the plumber and I knew there was something going on, suspecting some directional boring that had gone on in the summer of 2018.  We tried televising the line but his camera was foggy and he had a new video head on order. We will televise again when the new head comes in....

With new camera head in place and a another blockage, it took about 4 hours to finally get the line cleared of fecal laden water to get this video of the Ah Ha moment:

And a still shot:

Uff ta.  A big, beautiful orange fiber line right in the middle of our sewer line from the building to the street sewer.  Distance put it right at the boulevard where the directional boring took place. While I won't go into the details of the negotiation, I'll just say that some fiber intallation contractors would dig this up immediately with their own crew to correct this, and others will want proof that it is indeed their line.  Meaning we pay for the digging and if it is their's, they'll reimburse.  We had the latter.  So this:

Some time later, the line repaired:

Reimbursement is still in process but it looks like we'll have over $20K in cleanup and restoration costs.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Hammond Como interior photos

This is a view of the steel, toothed 'motor' that responds to the magnetic oscillations from the coil. The poles of the coil terminate in a steel toothed form that surrounds the perimeter of the gear. I don't have a photo of the coil assembly.

This is the all-important fiber gear that is attached to the manual thumb 'spinner' to get the motor going. If there are missing teeth on this gear from spinning too hard or stiff movements, the clock won't run well.

Here is the hand drive stack for seconds, minutes, and hours. Each gear will separate for cleaning.

The stack on the right is the 'hand set' stack with the knob shaft that protrudes to the exterior of the clock.

All Things Hammond

Laurens Hammond was a engineering genius. Pictured are two Hammonds, a 1932 Hammond 'Como' clock that I recently restored alongside a Hammond A100 organ, also restored. The heart of both is a synchronous motor locked in precise time to the 60Hz alternating current provided by the utility company. In the organ, a rotating tonewheel assembly is locked to the 60Hz timekeeper which preserves perfect pitch.

I'd picked the Hammond Como up on eBay and while it worked, the movement was stiff with the original oil now grease from 1932. After disassembly, a bath in an ultrasonic cleaner, re-oiling, and a general cleaning it keeps perfect time and I anticipate it will run for another 50 years. The clock mechanism has a 1 RPM geared-reduction motor that maintains time with the precision of a quartz watch.

Sunday, September 20, 2009


Sustain, whether you are speaking of renewable energy, food production, or a lingering guitar chord is a very good thing. This weekend at the Houg Ranch saw both food and fuel sustainability in action. Sam Kvale with assistance from Katie Houg, Sam Larson, Dennis Nordine, and Wendy Kvale butchered 80 of the now infamous "Urban Chickens" that Sam raised within the city of Bemidji. These chickens became the focus of attention after the City revoked Sam's permit and gave them 24 hours to vacate the City limits after a neighbor felt they were causing her health issues.
The big picture in all this is Sam and others are trying to show that healthy, sustainable lifestyles can be undertaken in urban as well as rural settings. This challenges dated concepts of what a "City" should allow in their property use ordinances. For example, a city may find the noise, pollution, aesthetic degradation associated with a commercial business acceptable but not the presence of chickens, goats, or rabbits raised for one's own healthy food source. Perhaps changes in the economy will help these sorts of decisions to be made.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Didjya Know...

that a large percentage of waste veg oil is used by the cosmetics industry? Called "yellow grease" and culled from the grease traps from restaurants world-wide, it is turned into fertilizer, animal feed, and cosmetics. Personally, I'd rather use it as fuel than rub it all over my face.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Reflections on WVO

The irony of wistfully writing about thoughts on used fryer oil is not escaping me.... but anyway.

Conversations lately inevitably begin with "Howz the car running?" My answer is typically "amazingly well" and I continue to talk, watching for the eye glazing to temper my answer. But here's the rub... it really does amaze me that after about 40,000 miles so far on WVO, I've not had a single issue related to using WVO as a fuel. In short, it works.

I continue to scan for driver reactions to my well-marked car and by and large I am met with indifference. There just doesn't seem to be many Fry-Geeks out there. Most interesting to me is the indifference met by Toyota Prius drivers. They just don't seem to notice another type of hybrid on the road which makes me ponder who they are and why they bought a hybrid.

There is one driver demographic that seems to be tuned to alternate fuels. Contrasting with the well-healed indifference of the Prius drivers, the Enthuse-O-Meter waves and thumbs up affirmations invariably come from the elements of society largely given to individualism. Those drivers of skanky, rusted out cars with the blanket tail falling out of the rust hole in their trunk seem to be a kindred spirit. I don't know if it is because they see a car powered by garbage as beating The Man, The System, or The Pocketbook but these kind folk ARE enthusiastic. The future of our energy independence rests with all of us changing our ideas on consumption and conservation. If my informal roadside survey is any indication, those having less to begin with have a jump start on all of us.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Ice Boating

A new winter sport for our family is iceboating... a sailboat on skates that skims over the ice. More pics to follow!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

THANKS Backyard Bar-B-Que!

This is so Win-Win....

There's a delicious new restaurant in Bemidji run by James Sutton featuring real smoked pork made right onsite. Their pulled pork sandwich topped with cole slaw served with a side of sweet potato fries is to die for. What makes this especially sweet is that James really wants to do things that conserve energy and reduce waste in his restaurant so he has graciously donated his used fryer oil to be reused as fuel.

From a fuel geek standpoint, James' oil is premium! To maintain quality control over his food, he changes the fryer oil frequently and doesn't fry chicken or other meats that can contribute different high melting point fats.

So thanks to the Backyard Bar-B-Que in downtown Bemidji for donating to the cause and 100% re-using a waste product.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


A project that I was going to do this summer, when it was warm and dry, was add additional heat to about 8" of veg oil line that are unheated. Well, it is now cold, wet, and I am finally getting to the project.

Those unheated 8" can prevent me from switching over to veg oil when it is cold, which in Minnesota can be as low as -40F every winter. My solution for this winter will be to wrap the exposed veg oil line with heat tape and insulate. Just enough heat has to be added to liquify the plug of solid veg oil so the aux fuel pump can get the oil moving. There is enough heat in the rest of the system to keep things toasty but these short sections of line have been a show-stopper. I use 120v heat tape and an inverter which works well.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

One Year on WVO

This October marks my one year anniversary for running on waste vegetable oil. Here's some stats:

Approximate gallons veg oil used: 500
Miles driven @ 45 MPG: 22,500
St of MN taxes paid on veg oil: $100
Gallons of diesel saved: 500
Cost equivalent: $1,825
Pounds of CO2 saved from entering atmosphere from fossil fuels: 11,200
Amount of human food displaced: Zero

People ask how the car is running and I am continually surprised by how well it continues to run on WVO. No smoking, hard starting, or rough running. No mechanical damage. Just a greasy garage and stained clothes mark this anniversary... along with a big smile.

I'd like to thank my supplies for all the effort they have put in to providing me with oil...

ARAMARK Food Services of Bemidji State University
Itasca Community College Dining Services
Concordia Language Villages

Friday, October 10, 2008

KAXE Reception Issues and solutions

The FM band is becoming crowded and many listeners are losing reception of KAXE's signal on our translators at 105.3 and 89.9 in addition to our main signal on 91.7. The cause of the signal degradation is beyond KAXE's control, however there are some products out there that have recently come on the market that can help you recover a listenable signal once again.

Because the band is so crowded, it has become imperative that your radio is digitally tuned and with high selectivity. But tuners, including digital ones, differ TREMENDOUSLY in quality and their ability to separate signals. There is a new one on the market, the Sony XDR-F1HD that I've bought to test and it may be the answer to many reception problems.

This new tuner, and it is just a tuner that you must hook into an existing stereo system as it has no speaker outputs, uses a very sophisticated Digital Signal Processing algorithm to separate close signals. It is "Black Box" electronics and will never be held dear like a classic Sansui receiver of days gone by. However, this little monster performs extremely well and when used with an external antenna, is about the best FM receiver money can buy. Here's the amazing thing... this tuner costs about $100 including shipping.

A very thorough, high tech review of the tuner is here..

There are things not to like about this tuner... it loses the station presets when unplugged for more than a few seconds, the LCD backlight stays on continuously, it runs very warm, and it feels and looks cheese-y and does not integrate well visually with existing stereo equipment. Sigh. But it does work nicely and really does a fine job of separating KAXE from other stations close by on the dial.

I've not mentioned this radio also receives HD Radio (TM) broadcasts... KAXE has choosen to not broadcast in HD because of the interference it would cause to our existing analog listeners on our signal fringe. HD Radio (TM) is a whole 'nother discussion that I'll take you down sometime.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

American Engineering - Toastmaster

American Engineering could have reached its peak in 1948. RCA ribbon microphones such as the 44BX and the 77DX have yet to be duplicated in terms of smoothness of sound and the Toastmaster Model 1B14 is certainly the 44BX of the breakfast world. Many of us grew up with this toaster in our homes, it was the most common wedding gift of the 1950's and at a retail price of $23.50, it was not inexpensive. Frustrated with the disposable toasters of today, I've been wanting to get an old Toastmaster and found one recently in Duluth. Paid $20 for it which raised the eyebrows of those around me but I have since made converts of my whole family. I wanted to "go through" the toaster before I started using it and disassembled it completely. What a true testament of an ethic when things were made to last. The model I have was made in 1948 according to the serial number and it was obviously well used. However, it was NOT worn out. A complete cleaning, burnishing of the electrical contacts, and reassembly left me with a toaster that rocks! Toasters nowadays are S-L-O-W due to manufacturer's concerns of liability for starting fires, so they keep the internal temp down. Well, the 1B14 can make toast in about 1/2 the time of a conventional toaster and the satisfying 'snick' of the pushdown is pure joy to those who appreciate quality. Internally, the 1B14 is extremely well made, with robust components and a design that just doesn't seem to have wear points.

A word of warning, however. I'd gotten my in-laws 1B14 that was in immaculate conditions however it used asbestos as the insulator between the nichrome heating wires. I was heartbroken as I couldn't in good conscience use this for food consumption. The 1948 model I bought in Duluth used mica for the insulation and is the reason I was so excited to find it as mica doesn't present the health hazard asbestos does. But think about it ... this toaster was made 60 years ago and works better than what you can buy today. hmmmmmmm.

Monday, September 15, 2008

KAXE 3 Phase project

Saturday a volunteer work crew assembled to prepare our transmitter site for the coming 3 phase power. Power line was hand trenched as well as a base prepared for the new transformer. The soil had rocks the size double basketballs and the crew dug in ferociously! Many thanks to Paul Bignall, Jim Columbus, Erik Houg, Jeff Poenix along with Jennifer and Zane, Big John and his dog Sarge, and Don Erlandson for spending a Saturday sweating in the dirt!!

Friday, September 5, 2008

New Oil Source

I want to thank Itasca Community College's food service Director, Annette Delich, for donating ICC's used fryer oil to me for 100% reuse as motor fuel. If you see Annette, tell her you appreciate ICC embracing new ideas and acting responsibly. Their donating a waste product displaces refined petroleum gallon-for-gallon, with a renewable, carbon neutral energy source and does not take consumable food away from the table!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Fat of the Land

Since I'm working with oil so much, I needed to find out for myself what exactly a trans fat is... and the answer is actually simple and interesting! Trans fats are by-and-large, man-made fats produced by hydrogenating vegetable oil to make it more solid, like Crisco. Trans fats are now the culprit in raising the level of the BAD cholesterol, LDL, so they are something to be avoided. Anything made with 'partially hydrogenated vegetable oil' has trans fat. Interestingly, pork lard, beef tallow, butter and other animal fats are very low in trans fats. Current science is saying it is healthier to eat lard than a hydrogenated vegetable oil, so enjoy those pie crusts made with real lard. Just be aware that the square package of lard sold in the grocery store is likely a HYDROGENATED lard and would not have a health advantage. Time to get to know the local butcher and get some real rendered lard that is not commercially hydrogenated.

The vegetable oils found in restaurants' deep fryers can either be zero trans fat, meaning they are not hydrogenated, or have trans fat present. The typical restaurant uses "creamy" deep fryer oil... it is called creamy because it is a mix of hydrogenated vegetable oil that lends thickening to the oil at room temperature. For fuel use, a zero trans fat oil is going to have much better low temperature performance than a "creamy" oil, though both will burn nicely once warmed up.

Monday, June 23, 2008


Our local paper, the Bemidji Pioneer ran a nice article on the car. The article, linked here, was well done by Leslie Rith-Najarian and I appreciate the interest it has generated. With fuel prices high and taking an ever-increasing portion of household income, energy is an important topic for rural and city dwellers alike. It is actually pretty exciting to see nearly everyone engaging in discussions on energy use. This is something we should have done 30 years ago when we had the first warnings of a finite supply of oil.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Tax Man Cometh!

There are times you don't want a letter from the Department of Revenue appearing in your mailbox but this one has a good ending. From day one of starting my veg oil car, I knew I would be high profile and attract attention both wanted and perhaps unwanted. In my (rather obsessive) research, I had found out that "organic fuel" users in Minnesota must pay the current fuel excise tax for every gallon of home-made fuel they put in their tank. Okaaaaay.... hmmm. I won't debate whether this is right or not, at least not now, but I started sending off quarterly checks to the Department of Revenue along with my form ORG-1 for the fuel I made and used from the very begining. Currently MN requires $0.20 per gallon excise tax and this is increasing slightly in the coming months.

Well recently, I got a threatening letter from Revenue stating that I have been identified as "a person that uses a special fuel and has not paid the motor fuel excise tax" with the letter detailing the criminal penalties that I will be charged with blah blah blah. Sorry, Dude. This was one of the times (albeit few) that I've done the legal thing from the start. I fired off a letter of my own along with documentation of my paid taxes and demanding a written apology, correction of my records, and a change of attitude towards alternative fuel users. To the field agent's credit, I received a very quick written reply apologising for the error and even had a request to participate in changing Minnesota's policy toward alternative fuel users. This I'll have to ponder a bit because I don't necessarily object to paying the fuel tax but I would like the State to recognize and encourage alternative fuel users instead of spanking them.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Break Even Point

Cool. This month marks my conversion cost break-even point point! I started in October '07 and have now filtered and nearly used about 250 gallons of veg oil. This puts me over the $1000 mark for fuel costs saved, which is about what my conversion cost.

I'm left with these reflections... First off, with the right conversion components, WVO can really work in a very cold climate. I've been impressed at how much of the time I can really run on WVO, despite sub-zero (F) temps.

The past 10,000 miles on WVO have also driven home the point of how much fuel we as individuals consume. I've handled each gallon of oil multiple times from the transportation, filtering, and filling my tank and there's nothing like being hands-on to make one realize how fuel is burned. It is deceptive to fill one's fuel tank at the gas pump... it is strictly a TIME>MONEY relationship when the fuel is flowing but we don't actually SEE how much fuel is being used. Maybe there should be a requirement for clear fuel tanks so we could see this direct relationship between driving and fuel consumption. Or maybe just eliminate fuel pumps and each gallon would have to be manually lifted and poured into your vehicle.

My car has enough graphics on it to clearly identify it as being run on veg oil and public reaction has been rewarding. From truckers at the fuel pump, grocery carryouts, and the thumbs up from drivers on the road, individuals seem to enjoy the idea of "beating the system" by running alternate fuels.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Filtering WVO

Everyone has a different way of dewatering and filtering their WVO... here's some pics of how I'm doing it. I use 4 stages of filtration-- a coarse filter, a 20 micron water filter, and finish with 5 + 1 micron sock filters. Dewatering consists of heating the oil in a propane turkey fryer to around 250F. The oil I'm getting has very little water to start with and I only occasionally hear slight crackling as the oil heats up.

Stage 1 - These are simply fryer filters for the restaurant industry held by a basket made for them

Stage 2 - A 20 micron whole house water filter. These can stand temps up to about 200F but I have melted the elements at 250F. This housing seems to deform under the heat and leaks, hence it is in a pail.

Stage 3 + 4 - Final filtering is thru a 5 micron sock inside of a 1 micron sock, suspended inside of a plastic pail with a bottom drain that empties into my storage barrel. These socks have filtered over 200 gallons so far and still flow very well. As these filters are somewhat expensive, prefiltration with the coarse and 20 micron extends their life greatly. I bought the sock filters with the steel ring on the top and they suspend well from a hole cut in the pail lid.

A brass 12volt pump pushes the hot WVO thru the water filter and up to the final filters for gravity draining into the drum. This particular pump is older and I've replaced the shaft seal with Viton so it does not leak with 300F WVO running thru it.

I'm currently using a trans-fat free cooking oil that is supplied by ARAMARK, providing dining services to the campus of Bemidji State University. The ARAMARK staff have been wonderful to work with in setting aside this oil for me and they are totally on-board with the whole project as part of a campus-wide awareness of reducing their environmental impact. While ARAMARK has selected a trans-fat free cooking oil as a healthier alternative to saturated oils, it also has the benefit to me of being very cold-weather friendly with a low pour point. Using this oil, I have been able to run on vegetable oil at temps as low as -20F.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

159 MPG

I filled up the diesel tank this week.... while it cost over $50 to fill it, my mileage per gallon of *boughten* diesel was 159 mpg. I can live with that. To me, this vehicle is a true hybrid as much as a Prius.

Under the hood, the WVO components don't take too much room, as seen on this photo of the passenger side of the engine.

One thing that helped enormously was the removal of the AC compressor, idler pulley, and power steering pump. One belt now for the water pump and alternator, the thermostat is fully exposed and life is beautifully simple. The car is great to drive without power steering, with excellent road feel and just a little stiff at parking speeds.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Driving on Waste Vegetable Oil (WVO)

As many of you may know, I drive a Grease Car. More specifically, the bulk of my fuel used in my daily 125 mile commute to and from KAXE comes from vegetable oil discarded from deep fat fryers. Thru information gathered from the Net, I've converted a 1991 VW Jetta diesel to burn any type of vegetable oil. A conversions consists of creating an entirely separate heated fuel system in addition to keeping the original fuel system as the car must be started and shut down on diesel otherwise the vegetable oil will congeal in the fuel lines.

Burning waste vegetable oil is a renewable, true carbon neutral fuel source and does not take productivity out of the food supply. Additionally, since it is a waste product, it is the ultimate in re-use of a high energy source destined for lesser use or landfills. The emissions from vegetable oil are lower in particulates than diesel and is 100% domestically produced.

For those that are into this stuff, I'll detail my layout with the hopes it will inspire others.

Tank: welded 14ga. mild steel, interior unpainted, exterior painted with galvanizing paint with a Krylon clear overcoat. This is the perfect excuse to buy that MIG welder you've always wanted.

Tank Heater: triple wall copper heated fuel pickup. This took a while to scrounge the pieces together but it works very well and threads into the steel tank.

Fuel Pump: Facet brand 4-6 psi pump.

Fuel Lines: HIH (Hose In Hose) for fuel delivery, HOH (Hose On Hose) for fuel return.

Temp Booster: diesel glowplug installed in a brass Tee.

Heated Fuel Filter: VW filter head from early diesels with a 120v silicone battery warmer wrapped around the filter and insulated. This requires a 120v inverter obviously but you've always wanted 120v power in your car anyway, right?

Fuel Switching Valves: 2 - 6 port Pollak valves, independently actuated to enable choice of fuel return to either the diesel or veg tank. This allows one to purge the system of veg oil before returning fuel to the diesel tank to prevent contamination. Beware when buying these on eBay as there as some counterfit valves that look identical but do not have the quality of the Pollak brand.

Injector Line Heaters: fiberglass wrapped nicrochrome wires. These are held onto the steel injection lines with self-fusing silicone tape.

Instrumentation: Veg Oil fuel gauge, oil temp, fuel pressure

To date, I've driven about 4,000 miles on vegetable oil and have been impressed with how well the system works. Cold weather performance has exceeded my expectations with being able to run at -30F on veg oil once the oil is warmed up. Fuel mileage is equivalent to diesel and at an average of 45 mpg for either fuel type. With diesel at $4 per gallon, I'm saving about $50 per week with the miles that I put on.

Common Questions:

Where do I get my oil from?
ARAMARK Food Services provides dining service to Bemidji State University and is providing me their oil. They have been very accomodating in this venture and I can't say enough good about the ARAMARK staff with their willingness to take some extra effort. It should be noted that ARAMARK is currently using Frymax Sun Supreme which is a non-hydrogenated sunflower oil that was specifically selected for healthier frying. Since it is non-hydrogenated, it also has wonderful low temperature characteristics for cold weather fuel use!

Does the exhaust smell like french fries?
Yes and no. There is a hint of delicious, peppery fried food in the exhaust but for the most part it smells like burning vegetable oil as you might have when drips fall on the stove.

How much did the conversion cost?
I've kept all my receipts and have been afraid to add them all up! However, I estimate that I have around $1000 in parts and equipment for filtering. So, my payback should be in far less than a year.

What do I have to do to the oil before I use it?
Only filter it. I use a 4 stage filtration process that starts with a paper filter used by restaraunts to coarse filter fryer oil. This gets the chunks out. From there I pump the oil thru a 20 micron whole house filter and then finish it by going thru polyester filtration socks at the 5 and 1 micron level. It take me about 4 hours to filter 50 gallons of oil. That works out to around $50 per hour for my labor!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Power to the Tower

Hopefully, you've heard about our "Power to the Tower" campaign to bring 3 phase power to our transmitter site. Here's the inside scoop on what that's all about.

KAXE's transmitter requires 3 phase power to operate. At the time the transmitter was installed, Lake Country Power did not have 3 phase power available within several miles. Now, they will be bringing 3 phase power to the base of our tower hill and if we want to use this power, we must pay to run new lines up the 1/2 mile road to our transmitter. This is expensive and we estimate the project will cost up to $19,000.

So how does our transmitter operate if we don't have 3 phase power? We *make* 3 phase power with an electromechanical device called a Phase Converter-- pictured here. It takes single phase power and uses that to run a large motor that generate 3 phase power. This works, but it has some disadvantages. First it is a mechanical device that has bearings and is prone to failure. It also has banks of capacitors that fail over time and require replacement. KAXE has had to replace the phase converter once already and they are significant in cost.

What will obtaining 3 phase power from the utility company do for us? Right off the bat, there is an electrical savings as phase converters lose about 10% of the power they generate. Given an electrical bill of about $1,500 per month to operate our 100,000 watt station, we save money over the long run. Additionally, the phase converter will need to be replaced at some point due to age or a lightning strike. Transmitters require power that is electrically clean and have balanced voltages between each phase, something our phase converter is lacking.

So your contribution to this campaign is a deep infrastructure improvement that will make us electrically more efficient and better positioned for long term stability. As KAXE's engineer responsible for keeping us on the air, I truly appreciate you contribution for this unseen but very necessary improvement.