Rolling (Over) On The River

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DSC_0505.jpgOklahoma City’s Canadian River. The weather is supposed to be sunny and mild, but it is cloudy, windy, and cold. OU is hosting the ACSE regional conference, where industry professionals gather to discuss the latest technologies, advance the profession, and see how many engineering students want to measure water temperature the hard way. The S&T Concrete Canoe Team gathers each year to see how creatively they build very heavy boat. While there are inspections, displays, engineering papers and presentations, it’s the sprints and endurance races that bring out the spectators.
The Miners built Ice Breaker, whose name, a parody of Washington crossing the Delaware, was nearly prophetic. The morning was chilly for the women’s races but then the wind began to blow. And really blow. White caps on a small river in a big city? You bet!
The endurance races, combining slalom and distance paddling, started out in somewhat organized fashion, and it quickly became obvious which teams had yet to christen their boat or learn to paddle, and which boats suffered serious damage en route to Norman.
The womens’ races featured a three-paddler crew from Manhattan, KS which exchanged one paddle for a bailing bucket, because their “Red Baron” had a growing hole in the bottom. S&T’s men and women did well in the early race, but it was powerful OU that dominated. The wind began to play havoc with the boats that launched late in the morning, and by lunch time things got real interesting.
These craft are not seen on “The Deadliest Catch”, and don’t tolerate waves crashing over the bow. Or stern. Or midship. The sprint races were measured two ways: how fast could you go downriver and back, and would your boat fill with water before you made it back there ? Waves played havoc with many boats, and spectators had plenty of time to guess when certain teams would abandon ship.
The Miner men took 2nd in the sprint, right behind OU and S&T’s best race in years. They followed that with a dazzling coed crew that also won 2nd, and who topped it off by giddily sinking right after they crossed the finish line. At that point judges and teams alike agreed that racing is fun, but river-front wind tunnels are not, and called off the finals. ASCE officials haven’t released the final standings but the Miners are pleased with their strong showing.
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It’s clear that Eddie Noonan and Arch Creasy did a great job of training the team, because S&T’s paddlers were much more synchronized, tough and disciplined. The crew realizes how close they came to the podium and are already focused on improving their system for next year. Who knows, maybe they’ll draft an old Boy Scout as a coach?
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Lastly, what would the event be without an Arkansas submersible? Their boat didn’t start out that way, but perhaps as an homage to HOGTANIC of yore, they reverently slipped the surly bonds of the water’s surface.

Down To The Sea In Ships.

DSC_0001_3.jpgThe S&T Concrete Canoe Team’s 2010 gestation came to a successful conclusion over the weekend under the watchful eye of Rubber Ducky. The little character spent nearly a month floating inside the canoe in water designed to slow the curing process. Keeping him company were several concrete test samples manufactured at the same time the boat was poured. These cubes, which will be used as competition test material, remained floating during their long immersion, proof that the concrete mix is lighter than the water volume it’ll displace.
That’s a good thing, because it means the boat should easily pass the dreaded swamp test at April’s contest in Oklahoma.
DSC_0032B.jpgOnce the Miners drained the boat and (hopefully) cleaned up the mess they made in the shop, it was off to nearby Little Prairie Lake for the maiden voyage, and that’s when the heavy lifting started. This craft weighs well north of 150 pounds so moving it can be quite a challenge. As sturdy as it appears it is brittle so dropping it could be disastrous; neither time nor budget would allow S&T to start from scratch again.
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Once the intrepid engineers slid the boat into the shallows, they ALL breathed a sigh of relief, but then the next step was “OK, who’s gonna get IN this thing?” Since no volunteer offered to take one for the team, Team Leader Arch Creasy was quickly nominated. DSC_5514Arch.jpg Arch had such great confidence in the group’s design, material, and construction that he immediately did three things: demand a life DSC_5530.jpgpreserver, hand his cell phone to someone staying on shore, and wish that he’d worn warmer clothes. He apparently settled down once team mate Rachel Kautz agreed to take the stern, and eventually got over the “leadership jitters”. The two of them did a short loop around the cove, and the team unanimously decided to store the boat back in the trailer and get down to the real reason the went to the lake: grilling burgers.
DSC_0092burgers.jpg There’s still a lot more work to do before the team heads to the regional competition. They have to polish the boat, their paddling techniques and their oral and written presentations, and touch up their flashy Missouri S&T display stands.
Stay tuned, and stay dry.

2010 Winter Olympics Continue In Rolla

Just when you think you’re done with pairs skating, half-pipe and the skeleton (huh?), you find out that NBC hasn’t bothered to cover the Olympic synchronized canoe paddling finals.
Tucked away in the decidedly unfrozen S&T pool is a dedicated group of STUDENT-athletes practicing the exquisite moves of coed canoe racing. The Miner Concrete Canoe Team is about halfway through the month-long curing process for their 2010 boat, and they aren’t just sitting back watching cement dry. Each Sunday this crew adjourns to the S&T pool for an hour of upper-body workouts to build the strength and style they’ll need to push their heavy craft through the regional ASCE competition’s slalom and endurance races.
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Team Leader Arch Creasy coordinates this exercise that includes three-member male and female contingents, as well as a 4-member combined team of two men and two women. Their April event is not a race in the normal sense, but a way of proving that the end product of a sophisticated educational challenge actually works as designed. Each engineering team designs and builds a boat of unorthodox material, which for 2010 includes recycled glass and plastic beads. They present their engineering designs to industry professionals for evaluation and feedback, much like they will do in their careers. Each team also gets to study their opponents’ boats to see if maybe there isn’t another concept that they overlooked, and that, too, is a learning opportunity.
The actual races, while largely serious to the participants, DO have a high fun element. Some teams are highly disciplined, some paddle so furiously that they swamp their own boats (think Black and Gold), and some schools (specifically the state just south of Missouri) seem to think they can earn extra points for high comedy.
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So, You Wanna Build A Concrete Boat , Eh? And Race It? Yeah, Right!

That’s a challenge that S&T’s Concrete Canoe team takes on each spring. The intrepid civil engineering students spend the fall semester raising money, buying materials and building a massive form from which a surprisingly delicate boat will eventually emerge, and if you think it can’t be done, you’re wrong.
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Under the watchful eye of “Lucky”, S&T’s 2008 boat, a pumped-up group of students carefully mixed, sprayed, dumped, and otherwise hand massaged layer-upon-layer of what looked like thick pancake batter on the sides and bottom of the mold, but kinda like building a dam, once you start you have to keep going.
Saturday’s pour had to factor in a new design element because event organizers decided to go “green” for 2010. Teams qualify for extra points by replacing gravel with recycled glass beads and plastic chips for the critical aggregate. Great idea, except for one tiny detail; the angular plastic pieces caused havoc with the critical spray system. No sooner than uberorganizer Matt Struemph made sure everyone synchronized their measuring, mixing, weighing and cleaning motions, the first spray gun (Plan A) jammed. No worries, have someone clean it and use the backup gun (Plan B). Same result. Repeat the process for an hour until stress-induced sweat becomes part of the slurry ,and then dust off long-forgotten Plan C*. Canoe2DSC_0153_2_2.jpg“Pitch the spray guns! Dump the stuff in there and start smoothing!” became the order of the day. It soon looked like a pizza joint on Super Bowl weekend as shoulder-to-shoulder workers applied the first

Design Teams Full Steam Ahead on Manufacturing, Testing

The Concrete Canoe Team’s new construction method seems to be earning great dividends at a time when very few other investments are. The boat “hatched” from the mold in great shape, and the dual innovation methods of lining the mold with foil tape and spraying the concrete into the mold have really paid off when a smooth-sided boat emerged that should speed through the water. The Miners planned a concrete mixture that is about 10% lighter by volume than water, so floating should be a breeze. Before the boat was hauled to S&T’s secret research lake for the all important swamp* IR1235637.jpg test a few crew members had to grind down the rough concrete gunwales, otherwise climbing into the boat would be a bit uncomfortable.
We don’t yet have pictures of the inaugural boat launch. It is spring break right now, so most students are gleefully ignoring email messages requesting photos. We do know that the boat floated very nicely, even popping back to the surface when pushed under the waves, so now only light sanding and a bit of decorating is needed to get the boat ready for April’s regional races. Oh, yeah, and practice, practice, practice**. The Miners still have to build display stands and a representative cross section and prepare their engineering data and oral reports. There is even discussion underway to recycle an old steel bridge frame as a wheeled support structure. That’s a good thing, because anyone who has carried one of these canoes will tell you, it may be able to float, but it is still concrete.
*The swamp is not where they take the boat, it’s what they do. At ASCE-sponsored competitions each team must prove that if its the boat rolls over it will remain buoyant enough that it can be recovered. If a canoe doesn’t pop back to the surface the team is assessed penalty points and must add some floatation chambers. That’s a whole lot easier from trying to recover what would essentially be an eighteen-foot-long rock from the bottom of a lake.
** Most canoes have a keel that runs the length of the boat, making it easy to paddle in a straight line. The stone boats aren’t so lucky and it takes a lot of body english and well-coordinated paddling to do well in the slalom and endurance races. And that, of course, is where the fun begins.

A Typical (?) Weekend with the Design Teams

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On weekends S&T’s campus usually gets pretty quiet, but that certainly doesn’t apply to the Miners’ vaunted student design teams. This weekend started with SAE uber-judge Steven Fox giving a fascinating, insightful and humorous 3-hour seminar about race car vehicle dynamics, design approaches, strategy, and the evolution of rule-making at major SAE competitions. With Steve’s decades in the auto manufacturing you might think he’d concentrate on an engineering design that might save the industry. Instead he focused on the design process; how a team accomplishes its goals, the best way to stay focused on the design challenge at hand, and the importance of bringing in new team members at the early stages of design so the team’s entire knowledge base doesn’t suddenly disappear on graduation day. He stressed the old saying that “those who ignore the past are doomed to repeat it”, emphasizing that design teams must know the history of design so that the mistakes of the past are not repeated at great cost in time, materials, performance and money. Another old saying that crept into his talk was KISS, and if you don’t know what that means, well……………..
DSC_8217_2.jpgAfter dinner at world-famous Alex’s Pizza, the Miners hosted a shop tour and turned the table on Steve by presenting the design approach that recently earned S&T Racing world-ranked recognition. Team members showed Steve their plans for a wheel mounting system that will reduce the component count by 40% and save considerable weight at the corners. This after-pizza was an excellent rehearsal for the design presentations that are a critical part of most student design events; you might win all the races, but if you can’t explain how or why you did it you probably won’t win the event. If you were in industry you won’t be able to get the financial backing to put your project into production, and you might not have a job any longer so it pays to do your calculations and test and verify at each benchmark. DSC_8233.jpg Steve frequently praised the S&T FSAE group for its commitment to growth and innovation, their strong emphasis on pre-race testing, and their ability to stay ahead of schedule.
FSAE wasn’t the only student taking advantage of the class-free time. The Concrete Canoe Team went into full-scale production Saturday with a new and far less labor-intensive method for building the unlikely craft. Mark Ezzell, Patrick Tilk and a few others were the mix-preparation squad, keeping a soup-like concrete slurry ready for Matthew Struemph’s spray gun. DSC_8254.jpg Their new system, the results of which haven’t yet been tested in water, should strengthen the boat because it will eliminate seams that can lead to cracking. The actual (proprietary?) mix includes fine glass beads to help reduce weight and make the craft more buouyant, and anyone who has tried to carry a concrete boat will agree that’s a great idea.
Mixing the material in finely-measured small batches had another advantage. A group of very bright engineering students from Atlanta happened to be visiting campus and when told they’d see a boat made of concrete they were quite incredulous. The boat builders took a few breaks to host the potential transfer students, explain how the Miners often work in open-ended design challenges, and show their guests the fun and appeal of a S&T education.
DSC_8249_2.jpgLastly, S&T’S baja and solar car teams both were toiling away in the background. Casey Boyer stayed busy producing car parts on the SDELC shop lathe, while Dan Welty and several new team members toiled away on plans for Solar Miner VII. The spring semester is when the teams, who typically design the systems in the fall, get into full production.

Project Work Ramps Up At Semester’s End

Final exams are occupying the thoughts of S&T’s design team members, but that doesn’t stop the Miners from working on their design projects. The fall semester is typically when the teams begin work on their various land, air and water craft, and construction gets in full gear right after semester break.
The Concrete Canoe Team has already undertaken some testing and training for their new design. New members got a chance to practice the team’s traditional concrete application methods, and for those who haven’t seen the hectic assembly-line process imagine a dozen or more students mixing concrete and rolling it out like pizza dough then placing each gooey slab in the form like a mosaic.
Canoespray2.jpgFor 2009 the crew is trying something new. First they’ve lined the canoe mold with foil tape to get a smoother surface finish and make it easier to remove the boat from the form. They are also using a new (to them) spray-on process known as “shot-crete” to apply the mix. Compressed air powers a hopper gun and sprays the slurry onto the form much like heavy spray paint. It will take layer after thin layer, interspersed with reinforcing mesh, to keep the canoe strong. The Miners feel that this will provide a more uniform structure, improve air entrapment, and strengthen the boat by eliminating the patchwork seams of years past. Taking a break from final exams is mix designer Matthew Struemph spraying the first test batch, Patrick Tilk placing the mesh and team leader Mark Ezzell evaluating the process.
One hush-hush feature of the new process is the hope that the boat will be significantly lighter. Anyone who has tried to move these boats on land OR water will greatly appreciate that feature.

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Sink and swim

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Canoe pics


OK, in case you can’t tell, the splashing on the left is NOT geese diving for food. It is an unidentified Miner coming to the surface using a kick-stroke. Word is that our bow paddler was swinging the paddle so frantically that he didn’t realize he was splashing water INTO the boat. The faster he went, the deeper the boat settled. Wonder what the rear admiral was doing all this time?

And now after he jettisoned his bow-buddy, the rear admiral begins his solo slog to the finish……..

This may turn out to be a struggle between pride and hypothermia………..

………and to the cheers (or laughter) of the other contestants, nears completion of the race. At least he didn’t go down with the ship.
While no one can say the guys didn’t finish the race, maybe they can take some lessons from the women, who clearly seem to know that you keep the water UNDER the boat……….


Maybe that’s why Miner women tend to take more leadership positions on campus, have higher GPAs, and stay drier.

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A nice day for a brisk swim

Missouri S&T took on water and had to abandon canoe during the first outing today on Lake Fayetteville. It took a heroic effort, but the canoe ("Shamrock") was saved and even pulled across the finish line (to huge applause) by a determined (and cold) S&T swimmer. We got video of this (maybe) and will post it Monday. If we were to make a feature film, we’re sure it would be a lot like that movie Rudy. We’ve also got some photos (hopefully) of some S&T women paddlers who tried to give it another go later but kept getting sideways in the water (at least they didn’t sink). It doesn’t look good for S&T, in terms of winning the 2008 concrete canoe regional. But we can report that the weather is nice and team members are having a great time anyway and keeping their heads high and mostly above water. Apparently, their presentation to the judges yesterday was a big hit — because they were informative, funny and entertaining. We’ll follow-up on all of this and post whatever video and photos we have by Monday afternoon. For now, it’s back to Missouri.