Monday, August 31, 2015

Meeting The Dragon

Last Saturday I took a trip about three hours North of my new home in Cumming, GA, to some of the best driving roads anywhere - routes 19 in North GA, and route 129 in NC/TN. The route 19/129/180/60 loop makes for a perfect 1/2 day run for me, but for a long time I have wanted to run the section of 129 known as "The Tail of the Dragon".

I must admit that the thought of living this close to these roads played a part in my decision to move up from Florida. With the fall colors on the way I might be able to talk my wife into making a run with me!

Yes, 129 is kind of famous - the Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort sits right at the beginning of The Dragon and serves as a launching pad for all types of cycles. Above is the photo-op dragon at the resort, and below is the "Tree of Shame" - loaded up with salvaged motorcycle parts from those who have been bitten...

Across the road is the Killboy headquarters, where some outrageous Hondas and Toyotas are based. Oh, and they also have their own dragon...

Along the way through The Dragon several photographers set up to take photos which you can buy as downloads, or order prints, shirts, etc. - it's quite the industry, and I felt compelled to lend support...

The 6 ran great on the trip, and this was the first time I felt like I could really put the cane to it and let loose. Note the brake dust on the front rims - they were clean when I started! I drove all the way home with a grin, and I can't wait to do it again!


Sunday, August 30, 2015

Long Links

As I mentioned in a previous post, I was not able to adjust the John Deere QA5 cutting units to a "full flat" bedknife attitude and still adjust the groomer down far enough to engage the turf. I joked then about getting a link stretcher, but a 4" long 3/8" bolt was the answer.

Once the bolt head was cut off I welded the parts together and tacked a flat washer on for a spring stop. Once the parts were assembled we were able to lower the front roller all the way, reset the HOC to .400", and set the groomer to .350". 

8 degrees on the knife, and...

9 degrees on the rollers, for a net of -1 degree. I  was going for zero - "flat" - and would probably be there if the reels were fresh, but this will give me an idea if we are going in the right direction. 

The whole point of this adjustment is to take aggressiveness out of the cutting unit and help to achieve better after cut appearance. We are cutting zoysia and getting terrible overlap marks. As luck would have it, the weather hasn't allowed for follow up yet but I will post the results.


Sunday, August 23, 2015

Rotary Wrap-up / Drive Time

We were able to get the first ten Pro Flex decks up on the table for inspection and adjustment this past week. The results: at an indicated setting of 1-3/4", the average was closer to 1-7/8" but more importantly we found a total deviation of 5/8" from deck to deck, and some units had the rear cutting lower than the front by over 1/4". The spec is for the rear to measure 1/8" higher than the front - this means that a small amount of distortion in the spindle mount from striking debris can make a large error at the tip of a 27" blade. We were able to get all the units within 1/8" of HOC by either moving the HOC adjustment, or by straightening out the spindle mounts. This required the decks to be lifted onto the table several times in some cases, so I will be mounting the table on casters so I can roll it under the chain hoist for future inspections. The decks weigh around 150 pounds each.

We had quite a bit of rain this week so not much mowing was done, but I could tell we are getting a much more uniform cut. Once we can get cought up with the grass I will get some photos for comparison. It will be interesting to see if we will wind up needing to raise the bench setting back up to 2" - note that the Pro Flex decks are wheel suspended and without a full-width roller will tend to scalp on mounding and undulations - I much prefer a rear roller for consistent after cut appearance.

Saturday was a fun day. I had finished installing my new seat covers on Friday, and Saturday morning I took the opportunity to give them a test drive. The covers came with the car three years ago and I just now took the time to tear in to the project. The covers are so-so quality, but much better than the old ones which were splitting at almost every seam. Of course I forgot to take pictures of the seats, but you can at least see the head rests in these photos...

It turns out that I now live about an hour south of some terrific driving roads; I took route 9 up through Dawsonville and Dahlonega, then 19 up to Turners Corner Cafe at the 19/129 intersection. From there I ran North on 129 to 180, down through Suches to route 60 to make a loop back to 19. This wound up being a fantastic three-hour cruise, and I'm sure I will do it again soon and as often as I can. The infamous "Tail of the Dragon" in Deals Gap NC (something like 300 curves in 11 miles) is two hours further North on 129, so the next day off with good weather I will be making that trip too.

I saw many quality vehicles on the trip, but there were also many streches where it was just me, the TR6, and the road - brilliant!


Sunday, August 16, 2015

Ground Planes

Here's that surface plate in use:

In the absence of a Peerless reel grinder (AAC has a different brand temporarily) we need to perform a secondary post-grind cutting unit leveling process on the surface plate in order to ensure accuracy and consistency of adjustments. With the reel resting on a precision ground steel bar, the rollers are adjusted to within .001" of parallel. 

I've been looking for a way to bring this concept to rotary mowers for some time, and it occurred to me that a welding platen would be an ideal surface to use, as we could measure up through the holes in the surface to the blade tips at several points and shim or adjust the decks to precisely dial in the cut. There are a couple of problems with welding platens - they are big, heavy pieces of cast iron, milled flat in huge surfacing machines, and they are expensive to buy and ship.

Northern Tool just started carrying the Stronghand brand of welding tables and after checking it out I purchased one right away; at $2,600 it wasn't cheap, but less than half the price of quality cast iron.

The table is 36" X 48", and the surface is 36" higih. It has a fabricated heavy wall tube base with the surface plates bolted to it. The legs are heavy wall pipe, and it is rated to hold 4,000 lb. Granted, it's not as precise as a milled piece of cast iron, but it is plenty accurate for the jobs I have planned for it. We will invest in the clamps, risers, and other tooling as needed over time, but we will be putting all of our rotary decks on it over the next week and dialing them in with new blades. It will be a snap to measure up through the slots and sight across to the tape.

I have also begun looking at how to organize the facilities at AAC for better safety and efficiency. I recieved permission to install Draftsight CAD software (free and highly recommended) on the work PC, and spent some time walking around with a measuring wheel. Here is the layout of the 90' X 110' "Upper Shop" at AAC, which contains the service area:

In the upper right is my office, complete with it's own half bath and coat closet. To the left is the restroom and locker area, and then two storage rooms for landscape tools. The shop area is below and is 50' X 70', or 3500 sq. ft. The four small rooms below are storage for parts, tools and lubricants. The rooms in the lower left are irrigation parts storage and a disused old office which we will brobably remove in order to free up storage space for walk mowers. I will be trying out different ideas and then we will reorganize the facility over the winter months.

The "Lower Shop" at AAC is basically just a storage barn, 110' X 120', with a 10' overhang on the South side:

Not much to look at, but if you imagine you are standing on top of the small tool storage room shown at the bottom of the drawing (@5:45am)...

What's really nice about CAD is that I can make block drawings to represent all the different types of equipment and then drag and drop them around the floorplan drawings until we come up with the best compromise between convenience and practicality.


Friday, August 7, 2015

One Month In - Precision

Over the last two weeks we went through the 20 Deere QA5 fairway cutting units, and we found all but one to be out of parallel by up to .120". (They are the early "pre-pinned" variety.) The average error was over .060", on a height setting of .350". That's 18% to over 30% error in the setup, which is orders of magnatude out of tolerance. With today's tools and techniques, there's no reason why a tolerance of +/- .002" can't be maintained (but getting there takes work - that's the rub).

Checking for parallel is a crucial step in the maintenance plan because cutting units tend to get knocked out of adjustment during use. When I first got here I didn't think there was a surface plate on site, but eventually found it behind an old tool box in the parts room. It's one of those aluminum plate jobs, with many rubber feet to support it off the bench top. Sweet. The first cutting unit I put on it had been paralleled on the Peerless 7000 grinder that Mark Pilger from SIP had brought in for the job. Clunk! Clunk! There was a significant "rock" - perhaps .030". I suspected the plate was bent, so I didn't readjust the rollers - I just set the plate aside until I got the new Starrett granite plate in.

Now that's more like it. It's a "B" grade stone, flat to within .0002" corner-to-corner. The flats are ground and hardened tool steel, .500" X 1-1/2" and .250" X 1". Total investment: a little over $3,000, which I feel is reasonable to have a reference standard we can rely on for assembling and inspecting cutting units which are expected to cut fine turf to below .100".

Oh, and the bargain aluminum job?

Yep; bent over .060", and destined for the recycling bin. Sometimes knowledge and skill can't make up for junk tools.

Fairway after cut appearance has been much better with the new setup, though we are still recovering from aerification on the Riverside course, so we have had to regrind those two sets twice this week. Hopefully the latest rains have washed the debris into the canopy so we cab focus on the next major task: greens reel replacements!


Saturday, August 1, 2015

JD QA5 Setup

For the initial setup I wanted to reduce overlap marking and take some aggressiveness out of the cut by flattening out the bedknives as much as possible without inhibiting groomer operation. I went with the #5 front roller setting and set HOC to .350", and the groomer to .350". This setup resulted in a bedknife attack angle of 3 deg. The limiting factor in the setup is the length of the support links:

Note the possible front roller adjustment left on the table and the adjuster nut already at the end of the link rod - why couldn't the manufacturer enable the full range of adjustment by making the link 3/4" longer? I guess I'll need to invent a link stretcher...

Overall I'm pleased with this setup to start: Reels spun true, then relief ground to 80% matching the factory angle ("four turns down" to my fellow Peerless 7000 fans). New JD ET11066 knives (yes, they're expensive at ~$110 each, but so worth it for edge retention in tough turf)  ground true at 12 degrees top and front on the Ideal 6000. I use a .001" feeler gauge when setting up the QA 5s because I've found it to be faster and more accurate than going by feel and sound. Buy the gauge by the roll from Grainger.

Mark Pilger stopped by yesterday on his return trip from the Northeast, and we went through another ten reels and knives which I will set up over the weekend for Monday's cut on Riverside.