Saturday, February 27, 2010

our five thousand pound delusion

By mid-afternoon Thursday we had turned our attention toward assembly of the mechanism. The weather was considerably colder than the previous two days. Unfortunately this made the ice more brittle, and we had trouble with fusing. The upper axle (the one that connects to the rotor) broke clean through in two places while Lars bonded it to the cams! Lars had to turn a replacement on the lathe. While he was doing that I worked on adding suckers to the rotor and shaping it, and I broke it! Twice!

We wasted a lot of time repairing or replacing broken parts when we were already short on time, but we were able to get everything back together.

After Lars finished the replacement axle and carved out the remaining bits of the broken one, we were ready for re-assembly. We had it all glued together and ready for a critical step: cutting out the intermediate (between the cams) section of the two main axles in order to provide clearance for the linkage. Lars hesitated and suggested that maybe we should just assemble the sculpture as a static piece and not try to make it work. He thought that the weather conditions and time constraint made it very unlikely that the machine would work correctly, and we both feared that any failure could be catastrophic, destroying several parts at once. I held the opinion that we should try to make it work regardless. Since we disagreed and needed to make a decision quickly, Lars suggested that we flip a coin. At about 8:15 PM (45 minutes remaining) the coin dictated that we would try to make the thing work.

After a little more work preparing various components, Lars sliced through the axles with a saw. The mechanism held together, so we attempted a gentle rotation. Failure! One of the cam/axle joints cracked, and the two halves of the upper axle tipped toward each other by a few degrees. We both instantly came to the conclusion that the mechanism could not be salvaged in time, so we started applying slush to critical points in order to freeze the machine in place. We were lucky that the failure was relatively invisible and not catastrophic, so we froze everything to prevent damage caused by additional movement.

With only a few minutes remaining, we attached the final few components. The front wheel failed near the center (I had removed too much ice from the back side trying to reduce its weight), so we chiseled out the rest of the axle connector and tacked it onto the front face of the sculpture by the the tips of its tentacles as the horn sounded. It stayed!

During the clean-up period I made a sign with the inscription:

"Though ye flourish more arms than the giant Briareus, ye have to reckon with me." - Don Quixote

We were disappointed that the mechanism didn't work but pleased that the sculpture came together as a whole. It was very fortunate that the cam/axle failure did not result in collapse and breakage of the entire linkage assembly. Unfortunately the time we spent making up for various damaged parts meant that we didn't have enough time for much texturing and finishing work. Some of the parts even had snow caked on them. We felt satisfied nonetheless, and I was reminded of something Lars said some years ago when it seemed unlikely that some mechanism would function: "Art may break out at any moment!"

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Cool adventure - can't wait to hear more when you return.