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Hobbies to keep creative juices charged!

Employee Spotlight - Jeff Windmeyer

I try to push the limits on what I think I can actually accomplish. At work, I will try one new intricate detail per project to grow my library of “this can work here!” samples. At home, this usually involves home remodel or now that my kids are older, making their grown up toys better. More often than not, I bite off more than I can chew, but with everything in life – even failures can lead to lessons learned and future growth!

Through the years we have bought some children’s power wheels and 4-wheelers to play on. Immediately upon getting them all assembled, I had the thought of “why don’t they have working lights or horns?” I’d never worked with Low Voltage (12v) wiring before. It was completely foreign to me. But, if you’re going to work with moving objects, it has to be via batteries. A quick search on amazon turned up all the parts and pieces I would need. Was even able to do the math to figure out how big a battery I’d need to run everything as long as the stock battery could handle the operation of the ATV! Keep in mind… electricity scares me. Especially when the connections are just “push this here” or “clamp this on here”. Very loosie goosy. (which in hindsight after a lot of experience now, is a little comforting because it’s really hard to mess something up that doesn’t require a perfect connection!). So, after just going for it, I was able to wire up sets of lights, accent glow lights, and switches to control them all. Even set up the ability to just plug in a charger to charge this new battery! This was the end result of my last toy modification:

Fast forward a couple years to my son’s birthday party. We decided to host the party and turn the backyard into a Mario themed obstacle / ninja warrior course. (Yep. All out). Diana saw a video online of a family that used some pool noodles to create the rotating fire ball stick things from Super Mario Brothers (it was the dad moving his arms up and down holding the pool noodles…). To which I stated: I can make something that can do that without me holding them! Thus enters “the noodle machine”.

How do you get something to swing back and forth without going all the way around? Initial thought was maybe with Lego hydraulics? Could push an arm one way and then suck it back the other. But… I’d never done that before – and no way Legos could handle a full sized operation like this. Something triggered in my memory about how a car’s engine operated – with moving the pistons up and down while spinning in a circle…. So… again – quick google search and found some videos on how a Crank Shaft worked! And also, how that operation could cause arms to move one way and back without going all the way around (the noodles).

Now we’re in some truly unnerving territory… low voltage wiring AND motors… My first test resulted in spontaneous combustion of the lead wire running to the battery. Followed by my frantic opening of the basement window before the smoke alarm went off and throwing the whole thing in the shower as a precaution. After upgrading wires, and installing a much needed fuse with voltage control… I was able to power the motor up without issue. Building the actual crank shaft was a completely different issue. I had done a drawing for it, so I knew the parts and pieces:

After taking a day off to try and do something I believe had never been done… immediately upon plugging the machine on, I realized that the precision and strength of a car engine are far beyond my quickly cobbled together apparatus. It worked, but only so often. The arms would get caught, and it would spin wildly out of control, and I could clearly see that it was tearing itself apart from the force of this electrical motor. Originally, it was designed to swing three pool noodles back and forth – but that required just too much perfection in everything along the crankshaft to get it to work. Cutting it back to two arms helped… but only for so long. In the end the machine worked. We have video proof!!

It was definitely pushing the limits of what I could accomplish within the timeframe (it was the week before the party) and my level of expertise (I knew nothing about how cars work..). I don’t know if knowing how to build a noodle machine will ever come in handy, but if it ever comes up – I’ll have it in my bag of tricks!


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