The Best Birthday Present EVER!

And the story behind it…

Let us first introduce to you, Richard Dalton, shop and safety operations manager at S&T’s Student Design and Experiential Learning Center.

Richard has a slightly mellow personality, but he shoulders tremendous responsibility at the center. He teaches dozens of technical and safety classes, oversees OrgSync and all the sophisticated software needed to design student projects, buys (or steals) and maintains a barn full of lathes, mills, grinders, welders, and composite layup equipment, machines that well-meaning (but inexperienced) students seem to trash as fast as he can fix it.

Richard also teaches truck/trailer drivers’ education classes after normal(?) duty hours. It’s a wonder he hasn’t burst a blood vessel trying to show students how to back up a 28-foot trailer, or park a big dually pickup truck. Stressful at best…

He’s a master mechanic, superb machinist and even built his own home. A computer/IT wizard, YouTube aficionado, and has been deployed to Afganistan with the Army Reserve.

DSC_7810His office is his inner sanctum, his personal retreat where few are welcome. It’s home to several video monitors, his personal tool set, and the occasional canoe when things get too crowded in the shop. It’s even been known to house a few hundred plastic Easter eggs lovingly placed where it’ll take him months to find them.


DSC_3246Many months ago, Richard’s very expensive and custom-fitted office chair went missing. He was very “close” to that chair and distraught when it disappeared, as similar chairs just wouldn’t “fit.” There were rumors it rolled away DSC_6536 (1) on its own, to go “find itself” and travel the world. Sightings were reported all over the western U.S., often in the vicinity of traveling S&T design teams it was said.
But it never resurfaced.

Fast forward to Irvine, California with the Solar House Design Team and their Nest Home at the Solar Decathlon; high-energy house reassembly under strict time constraints. Richard absolutely WOWED the students with his skills, enthusiasm and experience, and with his birthday on the horizon the students were desperate to show their appreciation to “’Mater,” as he’s known on campus. What to do?

The house has to be furnished, right? What if, just IF, they could find the errant furniture, wouldn’t it be great to bring it “home”? If they COULD recover it, how could they possibly sneak it into the Nest Home as a proper surprise? What on-hand equipment could they use?

Well, there IS that big crane sitting right outside, and since Richard (that’s him on the left) was busy talking……….

And THAT is the story of the best birthday present EVER!

P.S. Too bad the crane operator wouldn’t haul him up about 100 ft. Stupid OSHA rules…..

Mud Hole to Dust Bowl In 24 Hours.

There’s something primal about mud. Did we rise from the mire? To dust shall we return? Don’t know, but mud-caked cars and their grim drivers seem more dramatic than a dust-obscured hunk of pasture.
The Kansas rains held off all day, but when roughly four score and seven Baja prototypes mobbed the circuit trackworkers were soon searching the skies for moisture of any kind. Anything to keep the choking dust down. Mild breezes kept the southern part of the track mostly visible to spectators, but when the mayhem headed into the woods sight lines became all but useless. Race lanes that doubled back on each other reduced the need for more acreage but churned the dirt into an angry cloud from which cars would appear without warning. The three massive mud holes quickly dried up and didn’t slow cars down at all. Knowing when your car might charge into view? Fuggedaboutit!
Mud excelentDSC_1287
Before the first lap was done several cars had crashed or flipped over. Twenty minutes into the four-hour chaos most drivers figured out the course and picked up speed, and that’s about the time that ATV wreckers got real busy. Broken ball joints and sheared steering components, often from collisions, sent teams back to the paddock for repairs and most made game efforts to return to the fray. Component failures forced
Missouri S&T’s #26 off the course at least three times for frantic repairs, but it didn’t take the Miners long to return. With about 20 minutes left in the race the Miners were in 34th place in the endurance race, but another suspension break probably dropped then a few more slots as the race wrapped up.

Jump1SUN_4909The big question was the custom transmission, but it never missed a beat. Ever. Just flawless! Wayward jumps or off-balance landings might crush the suspension, but that’s what the welder and spare parts are for.

Yes, we know, everyone comes for the race, but this is a design event. Design, build, test. It’s that simple, but one team’s t-shirt summed up the nonpolitically-correct reality with the motto. Design. Race. Wreck. Repeat.
However you say it, a better product eventually comes out of the exercise.

Provided you don’t run out of money and patience first.

#26 is #26 in Design, #27 in Suspension!

This morning’s rain and oppressive humidity took a toll on participants, spectators and team strategies alike, but it did keep the dust down for a while.

Each team gets scored on every performance criteria you can imagine. The first half of the four-day design event cover static (standing around talking) events while the weekend dynamic evaluations focus on bajarainDSC_0592backing up your talk. Today covered individual sled pull, maneuverability, braking, suspension and acceleration. Tomorrow? Combine all of those things with nearly 100 of your closest gear-head friends, each determined to squeeze into the same 40mph space that your car happens to occupy while mud is flung at you from every direction. Repeat for four hours, pack up and go home. If anyone asks, it’s an engineering study to prove which cars are best suited for the weekend break-it-if-you-can market.

The reality? Teeth-jarring fun in the name of education.

BajaleftDSC_0827 - Version 2Individual static event are first-come, first served so teams often scurry to get in line early. That wasn’t the best sled-pull strategy, as most cars struggled to get moving in the early-morning slop. Good for flinging mud, not for forward progress, and the only weak spot in an otherwise outstanding day for S&T. Brendan Espy’s crew kept most of their dynamic scores in the top third of the field and are poised to earn the best performance in the Miners’ nine-year BAJA! history. They wowed the judges in design presentation and cost, both good for 26th place, the same number that adorns the car. Their real success was reversing a pattern of weak organization and teamwork the team struggled against in recent years.
Oh, yeah, the car……..Car and Driver flew through the air with the greatest of ease, even conquering the brutal pile of concrete slabs (suspension test) which stymied teams that got in line early. Better yet #26 was BajaDSC_0910very reliable, devoid of any odd noises that might indicate trouble. Best of all the Miners’ transmission is working great! It’s an in-house design and manufacture that they’d been working on for several competition cycles. Rather than squeeze a salvaged ATV gearbox into the chassis or fall back on the popular but low-torque continually variable transmission (CVT), they wanted a lighter tranny that would respond to the driver’s whim and situation. In short, better engineering.

A Recipe for Mud?

Memorial Day weekend. 100+ international collegiate Baja SAE teams in Southeast Kansas for an all-out dirt race. Moisture from the Gulf of Mexico is flowing northward. We’re betting that dust won’t be a problem.

Miner BAJA!, our friends from São Paulo, Brazil, and hordes of other foaming-at-the-mouth dirt drivers swarmed into the Kansas Technology Center yesterday for two days of safety inspections, standing around, design presentations, standing around, driver egress testing, standing around, ad infinitum……. The dynamic events of hill climb, log pull, maneuverability, acceleration and braking kick off tomorrow, and rainstorms are in the forecast.

Sunday is the four-hour attrition/endurance race, and the weather isn’t looking much better.

It’s a good thing new SAE rules require large 3-D numbers on each car, because when the mud starts flying all the cars look so much the same that the drivers’ own mothers couldn’t tell them apart.

As if they’d (ugh!) want to…………

Media Day at the Student Design Center

MediadayDSC_0499The University of São Paulo-Brazil left for Pittsburg, Kansas and the SAE Baja design competition this morning, but not before stopping traffic on 10th Street. Team members, local gawkers, and all kinds of passers-by stopped to take photos of our guests in a Super Bowl-like media frenzy.

Tonight S&T’s BAJA! crew heads to a Joplin stopover before moving onto the Kansas Technology Center early tomorrow. They’ll stay in the Hotel Gooseneck, towed conveniently behind the center’s pickup truck. The all-in-one workshop/rain shield/bedding area lacks showers, plumbing, and air conditioning, but the price is right. And price counts.


Last night S&T landscape supervisor and all-round superhero Jim Duncan pitched in to let BAJA! use his mulch and dirt fields for last-minute testing and driver training. It’s an ideal facility. Far from irritable neighbors, lots of dirt to tear up, hills to climb, everything needed to get the Miners psyched for a weekend of kidney-rattling, mud-covered fun, er, design validation.

Exams Are Over!

Many design team members have graduated and parlayed their team experience into graduate school opportunities or well-paying jobs, but the competition season rumbles on.

Next week Steel Bridge heads to Akron, Ohio for the SB Nationals. Jermy Jamison’s crew has been practicing, practicing and practicing, and we’re told they’ve trimmed more than a minute from their assembly time and that translates into higher scores.

Tomorrow afternoon the S&T Baja! Team packs up and heads to Pittsburg, Kansas for the first of two off-road design competitions. Joining them is the team from the University of São Paulo (USP), Brazil which set up a temporary home at S&T last week. In 2011 Paulo Yamagata’s USP crew helped christen the new Kummer Center so this year is a reunion of old friends and fellow gear-heads.

While the rest of campus is quiet the SDELC shop is humming. And snoring.
The week before completion is full of sleepless nights, and it’s beginning to take a toll on Miners and guests alike. Team camaraderie and cars are tested to the limit as a year’s worth of effort begins to produce results. Sleep deprivation can produce bizarre behaviors; tempers can flare or the silly season takes over. Both are part and parcel of managing people and morale.

At the same time the Mars Rover Design Team hauls Phoenix to Hanksville, Utah for their second crack at desert operations. Mechanical lead Ian Lee’s group has produced a masterpiece of form and function, but it’s not been without a cost in physical exhaustion (above).

Some people believe that taking advantage of another when the victim is at their most vulnerable is unfair, classless and humiliating. Others fully understand that making fun of the ones you respect and admire builds camaraderie, that making your buddy’s life hell is like saying “We Love You!”
We’ll let you be the judge of which is the case here.

The Phoenix Rises From……………….The SNOW??

Yes, it did, though it was mostly sleet that blanketed Rolla yesterday.
S&T’s Baja SAE Team is rising from the ashes of a couple of disappointing competition seasons, and rising high!
Team leader Wes Englund, along with project manager Kevin Scheier and Karl Hansen have resurrected the Baja! team and given it new direction. They want a prepared and professional crew to represent S&T and show what their teammates can do, individually and as a team. They’ve even taken the Phoenix as the car’s name, their mascot, and inspiration.
Wes’ crew recognizes that S&T Baja! usually produces good vehicles, but for 2013 they’ve decided to re-invent themselves, not the car. That means they are sticking with the base 2012 platform and double-checking all the engineering. Finishing last year’s systems, changing what needs to be changed, and coming back strong on behalf of Missouri S&T.
Design teams are not just about race standings or seeing how much mud and snow they can churn up. They are learning the critical organizational process which takes a design scrawled on a napkin and turns it into a marketable product.
Does that mean they don’t go outside and play in the dirt/mud/rain/snow? Of course not! We wouldn’t even put it past them to take a few laps around the golf course late at night. Let’s just hope they stay off the greens.

Midnight Mayhem/S&T’s Resurgent BAJA! Team

S&T’s off-road races suffered through a difficult design year in 2011-2012, attending only of three planned events and struggling mightily in the endurance race. But that is changing, starting NOW. BajamayhemIMG_1604.jpg
Last week the S&T mud-bugs turned it around with an outstanding performance at Midnight Mayhem IV, the University of Louisville’s almost annual four-hour, middle-of-the-night endurance race*.
Just a few days later, when leader Wes Englund and PR chief Karl Hansen made the team’s annual presentation to S&T’s Academy of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, it was clear there was a “new sheriff in town.”
Karl and Wes, dresses in decidedly non Baja-type suits, took the bull by the horns in admitting past failures, and personally guaranteed this august group of S&T grads that things would be different. And things are already different!
Wes laid out a heavy focus on project management, documentation and training new team members to be professional, dirt-under-the-fingernails engineers while outlining a new organizational approach. They’ll re-engineer their current vehicle to compete in the spring, while starting the 2014 design nearly a year early.
And promised the vehicle will be competiton-ready by Christmas.
Mayhem2IMG_1862.jpgBack to the chilly event, 40 collegiate teams showed up for valuable dynamic testing and practice cleverly disguised as good ol’ fashioned FUN! While the FB site makes it look as if inmates were running the asylum it wasn’t just a joyride.
BajaIMG_1622.jpgGood organization, proper track, and real sponsorship mimicked the “real” Baja SAE design competitions. S&T’s chassis and drivetrain modifications paid off with 6th overall; 5th in endurance, 6th in acceleration and 13th in maneuverability. They confirmed design changes that need to be made, got the new members all excited, and now have great confidence in their ability to improve. A lot.
*Any similarity of this photo to quitting time on the S&T campus is strictly coincidental…….

Miner SAE Baja Closes Their Racing Season

BAjaDSC_5930.jpgS&T’s SAE Baja Team started the year with an ambitious plan, to compete in all three SAE off-road events in 2012.
Those three events, held in Alabama, Oregon and Wisconsin, pretty much covered the length and breadth of the land. And that means a ton of driving and some pretty high fuel bills.
The Miners ran a very light car at the Alabama event, just half the weight of their 2006 monster “Overkill” back when the team was first established. Light weight means better handling, speed, and fuel economy, but does risk sacrificing durability.
At the season-opening Alabama event their sleek #25 car broke a steering part that put them back in the pits for repairs, but they kept on working and managed to get back out to the four-hour endurance race.
Event #2, outside of Portland, Oregon coincided with final exams, so once you add 2+ days of travel each way (and lots of fuel!), they made the correct decision to stay home to take care of their grades. And it also kept the team from bankrupting themselves for next year.
Late May into June was time to return to the shop to ‘toughen up’ the #25 car for the Wisconsin finale, but by that time graduation and summer jobs put a severe dent in their rebuild schedule. Rather than send an undermanned team to Packerland, they showed a lot of maturity by admitting that it’d be better to focus on next year than to send a team that might struggle to do the best they could do.
This should be a great example to new team members about knowing when to hold ’em, and when to fold ’em.

The Unsung Heroes Of The Design Teams

Each of the ten SDELC teams pretty much marches to the beat of their own drum. Students elect their own leaders, develop designs and strategy, and head off to competition on their own.
RandallP5050239blog.jpg But what happens when a team has the proverbial (and common) “Oh, Crap!” moment? They run screaming to their faculty advisor and beg for technical help. Yes, each team has an official staff or faculty advisor who provides the professional evaluations that tell the team “No, that’ll be fine”, “Have you considered this?”, or “Yep, you guys are REALLY up a creek this time!” Advisors are like outside technical consultants who have the authority to take a team member’s access away, or worse yet, rescind a team’s credit cards.
Right now we’d like to recognize Randall Lewis, BAJA!!! SAE team advisor, who has just been named the Miner Alumni Association’s 2011 Outstanding Student Advisor!
Randall’s had his hands full with this bunch, who only got into action in 2006. Getting a team off the ground is much harder than keeping an eye on a decade-old group that has smoothed out its operations. BAJA!!! is finally past their teething period and coalescing into a smooth-running operation, so we look for great things from them this year. And a lot of that credit goes to Randall.
Randall was feted for sacrificing his own time, helping with sophisticated CNC programming, and otherwise riding herd on the group. Students say “Randall is always busy in his shop teaching or preparing labs or helping students or running machines, but always makes time to help us. He really sacrifices a lot us, including many late nights.”
Did we mention that team advisors are strictly volunteers? Typically no reward but for the eternal gratitude of the students who drive them nuts. And that’s why we’re tickled to see that several BAJA!!! students took the time to nominate Randall for this award.
Richly deserved!