About

Rebuilding the Rust Belt, @RTRustBelt

By Patrick Miner

I live (car-free) in Camden, NJ.  In the evenings I advocate for making cities healthier, more prosperous environments for people.  During week days (sometimes weekends, too), I work as a structural engineer for Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA).  Opinions expressed on this blog are 100% my own.

Having also lived, worked and/or studied in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Bethlehem, Harrisburg (PA), Athens, Columbus (OH), Washington, D.C., and New York City, I gained a sense for post-industrial American cities, their challenges, inherent advantages, and efforts at rebuilding.

The purpose of this blog is to develop my ideas and contribute to public discussion towards Rebuilding the Rust Belt.

I am a licensed Professional Engineer in the state of Pennsylvania.

 

9 thoughts on “About

  1. Grateful for the energy your are giving to creative, safe transport. I have experienced the snarls of Bangkok, Nairobi and Manila. We need to make Harrisburg safe for foot-powered transport.

  2. Mon 12-19-16 10:49 a.m.

    Hi Patrick:

    I am a chemical engineer. As such, I am deeply committed to making something out of nothing – and i do this. I have spent 30 years changing from a consumer, to a recycler / repairer, to a manufacturer.
    This has not been an easy task. I needed to work through all kinds of obstacles: failure, fear, worry, depression, sickness, temperature extremes, exhaustion, health issues, too little money, too little time and too little knowledge. However, addressing those issues created strength beyond belief. The key was that I needed to master about 10 basic skills (for example, woodworking, soldering, welding, papercraft, drawing, machining, plastic fusion welding, auto mechanics, electrical work, sheet metal work, etc.) Basically, my success had everything to do with engineering education and everything to do with the crafts and technology. It was deprivation (necessity) which created the opportunities for success. In the last two years, something strange has been happening. I now have the capability to come up with an idea or concept, throw the design down on paper, go build something, and make it out of inexpensive materials. And the concepts are working over and over again.

    I am a bit warped. I have the deep-seated belief that everything can be rebuilt – including the rust belt. I also believe that everything is valuable – particularly people. Broadly / plant / paper and people are important to me.

    Ghandi created a path forward by going to the sea and making salt. Then he pushed for making cloth. He said that it would not be as good as English cloth, but we will have made it ourselves.

    I see great opportunities in the rust belt. It is simply a matter of making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. Soo wee!

    I have been reading a book AMERICA BY DESIGN (1987), It shows where we have come from in the past. I recommend that we use all ancient, near past and present technology to build a new future so that the “Rust Belt” can become “Renaissance Valley.” I believe this can be done.

    Regards,

    Mark

  3. Re: Where to Begin Rebuilding the Rust Belt
    For those of you who want to be an industrial giant … let’s start with something simple – packing tape. If you are a consumer and need some 2″ wide clear packing tape, you trot down to the local store and purchase a roll for few dollars – right? However, there are a few of us in the world (maybe 10%) who want to make something out of nothing by recycling and repairing – those of us who are on the road to becoming manufacturers of something. Several years ago, I was studying a package which came in to me. I looked at the packing tape on the package and noticed a barely visible seam. Hmm! This looks like two layers of tape. So I found a sharp knife and gently pushed it into the seam area, and a layer of tape came loose. Not a layer of tape with cardboard residue, but a layer of clear, sticky, reusable tape. Oh cool think as I hang the tape up on the frame around one of my doors. I bet you can’t do that again. Well I did. Pretty soon I folded over that last 1/4″ of tape to form a tab and wrapped the recovered tape around an empty orange juice container. Pardon me consumers, but I have not purchased packing tape in several years. Then I started looking at the tape left on the cardboard box. Hmm. Adhesives respond to heat. So I got out the hair dryer I used to use as a teenager and aimed it at the tape. Oh my, the warm tape can also be recovered and wrapped around the orange juice container. Now I have more tape than I can use, and every discarded cardboard box is a resource. Watch your fingers when using the heat gun, and make sure no loose tape is around which can be found by children or pets. By the way, many labels applied to plastic bottles/containers are also heat sensitive and can be recovered for reuse as tape.

  4. Re: Repairing Broken Plastic Items

    The modern world is made out of plastic – all kinds of plastic. Many of the plastic items have a triangle with a recycling number inside. This is called a clue. I purchased a used soldering gun from a pawn shop for $5 some time ago. It had no copper tip. Of course, you can act like a consumer and go down to the store and purchase a replacement soldering iron tip. However, I chose to strip the insulation off a discarded piece of 110 VAC Romex house wiring and fashion a replacement copper tip with about the same dimensions as the original using a pair of needle nose pliers. Next, I used a hammer and a bench vise to flatten the copper tip so that it was about 1/16 inch thick. The tip can be used to cut through plastic, melt / fuse plastic and build up or reinforce plastic where it is too thin. Plastic fusion welding is similar to metal welding. Next, I took a bunch of discarded soft drink cans and cut them in two using a single edge razor blade or a hobby knife to make little cups. Be careful and watch out for sharp edges. The ratty edges can be trimmed off with scissors so the edges of the cans are smooth. 24 of the little cups can be placed in a cardboard soft drink flat or beer flat. And 4 cardboard trays of cups will fit neatly into a copier paper box. The cups can be filled with scrap pieces of plastic of different composition and color. When a plastic item is broken, the appropriate piece of plastic can be taken from the cans and melted into the break area. The recycling triangle with the number inside offers a clue as to what type of plastic to use for the repair. However, I typically heat up the plastic with my soldering iron and determine by odor what type of plastic to use. This has some problems. The repair work needs to be done in a well ventilated area (for example, Delrin emits a rather pungent odor when heated and it makes me wheeze and makes my eyes water). However, I have repaired a ton of broken Delrin parts. Please be cautious about the fumes, the hot soldering iron, and globs of melted plastic which can cause burns. Also keep the hot soldering iron away from combustible paper, etc. Putting a repaired part under a stream of water from the sink helps to cool and stabilize the melted plastic quickly I like plastic fusion welding because it is inexpensive, uses recycled materials and does not require the use of glue or adhesives. Please be careful when doing this work around children or pets.

  5. Re: Repairing Flat Tires on Children’s Bicycles

    About ten years ago, I was acquiring children’s bicycles and refurbishing them as Christmas presents. One of the biggest difficulties I faced was flat tires and worn-out tire tubes. Some of the tires were badly worn. A few of the tubes I was able to patch. Unfortunately, a pair of replacement bicycle tire tubes started to become too expensive. And the new tubes would probably just go flat again. What to do. An inflated tire tube consists of rubber and air. What else is similar? Well, foam – specifically, polyethylene foam used as cradles in computer system unit boxes. Now comes the tough part. A tire tube is a torus (or a ring). According to my college-level freshman engineering book, a torus begins to look like a ring made out of trapezoids in one direction. In the other direction, the ring in cross-section looks like an octagon (or the same shape as a stop sign). So make up a bunch of trapezoidal sections out of the polyethylene foam and chamfer or cut the square edges off to form an octagon. The cuttings will look like little triangular wedges and may be discarded or used for something else. I found that a bare hacksaw blade does a nice job of cutting the foam. You may wish to wrap the blade with masking tape to protect your all-important hands. Break down the flat bicycle tire and remove the old tube. Next, take the pieces of foam and insert them into the inside of tire. Avoid leaving any spaces between the pieces of foam. Replace the tire on the bicycle rim and you are done. I weigh much more than a child, but I was able to ride around on the bicycle with somewhat spongy tires. It works better for a youngster. A concern is to make sure that the tires do not rub against the bicycle frame which could cause the bicycle to flip and injure the rider. Please use some common sense here and be cautious. Inspect your bicycle tires frequently. Also, two children on the same bicycle is too much of a load for the foam-filled tires. Watch out for loose pieces of rubber on the tires. Trim the loose pieces of rubber off if necessary. By the way, that discarded tire tube can be cut into sections. The rubber sections make very durable and sturdy rubber bands for use around the house or shop.

  6. Re: Small Electric Motor Repair

    Many tools and toys contain small electric motors. I used to read about slot car racers who rewound the armatures on small slot cars with very fine wire to make the motors in their cars run faster. Many direct current (DC) electric motors contain springs and graphite brushes. The brushes wear and become shorter and the springs get overheated and lose their ability to apply pressure on the graphite brushes. I have disassembled a wide variety of worn-out motors and extracted the graphite brushes and springs. Worn-out automobile alternators are also a source of graphite brushes. I have been able to re-use some of the brushes as is. In some cases, I have taken a hobby razor saw or a fine-tooth hacksaw blade for metal cutting and cut the graphite brushes down to the proper size. In other cases, I have used jewelers files to shape round brushes from used rectangular graphite brush stock. If a graphite brush is 5/8 inch long, I have experienced some success by filing the old brush flat, shaping a brush section which is 5/16 inch long with the same cross-sectional dimensions, and installing the brush section in the brush carrier tube below the worn brush. In other cases, I have used a short section of brass tubing or brass rod in between the remaining short brush and the spring inside the brush carrier. This works well, but special attention must be paid to the length of the remaining brush because it will eventually become even shorter. In some motors with very tiny brushes, I have found it necessary to replace the springs. It turns out that used cigarette lighters have small diameter springs which are approximately 1-1/2 inches long. I take spent cigarette lighters and make sure that there is no flammable liquid fuel left in them. If I have a concern about their being residual flammable liquid in the cigarette lighter, I have smashed the cases by running them over with my automobile and then picking up the pieces. In most cases, I disassemble the tops of the fuel-depleted (empty) lighters and remove the springs. If you are a chemistry buff, the metal spark-forming cylinders in the lighters are an alloy called Misch Metal which is composed of a mixture of rare earth elements. Look up rare earths on a Periodic Table of the Elements. If you are a hunter or camper, you may want to keep a supply of those cylinders and the cigarette lighter wheels around to help start fires on a wet or snowy day. As with all endeavors, don’t forget to wear your safety glasses or safety goggles to protect your eyes.

  7. Re: Repairing Rod Knocks in Automobile Engines

    Many years ago, I had a 4-cylinder engine which had a rod knock (that is, a worn bearing which provided too much clearance between the crankshaft journal and the piston rod). I was fed up with paying the automotive machine shop to machine the crankshaft and provide oversize bearings. After removing the oil pan, I found out which rod was loose and knocking by wiggling the rod end caps back and forth. Then I disassembled the defective rod, ground off 1/16 inch to 1/8 inch on the perimeter of the bearing (that is, on one half of the bearing) and put a piece of brass shim stock behind the bearing to make the over-all diameter of the bearing smaller. Of course, I had to use my micrometer to make a number of measurements and well as dressing the rough crankshaft journal with emery cloth. When I fired up the engine, the rod knock was gone. I told a friend about my experience. He smiled and told me that folks in the Great Depression did the same thing, except that they used tin can stock instead of brass shim stock because the former was cheap and readily available.

    As a youngster, I read about how the Pennsylvania farm boys built a steel industry which was the envy of the world. Perhaps those Pennsylvania farm boys knew something about using tin can stock too.

    Do what you can with what you have where you are ….. Teddy Roosevelt

    If you want to learn about what is impossible to accomplish and can still be accomplished, read about Robert Goddard and his experiments with rockets.

    Walt Disney said, “It all started with a mouse.”

    As Red Skelton said, “Good night and may God bless.”

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