You made a what out of a what?

I bought this Tonka Winnebago at a flea market a few years ago for $5. I’d found out about these things after running across a thread where someone made it into an R/C car/tool box/tow vehicle for his other R/C cars. I really liked the battered look of this one, but didn’t know what to do with it, so it went into storage.

After moving it twice, I was looking at it again and decided I needed to either do something with it, or get rid of it. I’ve wanted to display it, but it takes up so much room, and the lid was broken. I then had a brain wave and decided to turn it into a planter for my g/f’s ever-increasing plant collection.


After measuring the roof opening, I was able to locate an appropriately sized planter, and went to work. With the header over the windshield unscrewed, the entire interior comes out easily. Without it, I understood why that guy had turned it into a toolbox, there is a ton of room inside.


Next I sawed off the front of the interior, I needed the back gone to fit the planter, but this way I still had the front seats. I’m keeping an eye out for some appropriate action figures to put here. I also measured & cut down the roof as well.


A sheet metal screw was added to hold the partial interior in place, and glue for the roof bit. Lastly I bent & cut the old roof prop-rod to serve as a brake for the wheels. It wedges into the spokes inside the wheels and keeps it from rolling around and dumping itself an a bunch of plants on the floor.


All that was left then was to drop the planter tub in place and call it done. I got lucky and found one at Home Depot that was exactly the right width. The planter isn’t secured in as I wanted it to be removable for watering or repotting. It should be ok supported on the edges, but if it looks like it is sagging when filled with dirt I’ll add some wood blocks inside the winne to support the bottom.

All told it was a quick fun little project that let me do something useful and fun with something that was otherwise sitting in storage collecting dust. Plus now our living room looks that extra bit sillier.



Vertical Matchbox Storage

I have a small collection of 1/64th scale diecast cars. Matchbox, Hot Wheels, Johnny Lightnings and such. They are a random combination of stuff left over from my childhood, and neat stuff I have found since. Storing & displaying them has always been a bit of a pain as I didn’t want them cluttering up bureau or desk space, and I didn’t want to shell out for a storage cabinet as they were fun toys to me, not collector or art objects to be locked away behind glass.



I also love old enameled signs, though they are an expensive enough collectors item now that I only have one real one, the rest are reproductions, which are much more reasonable.

It occurred to me one day that I could combine both me matchbox storage problem and my love of old signs into one solution.




I purchased a few hundred neodymium magnets on ebay to give my idea a try.



I’ve experimented with a few different sorts of glue, only to find that simple hot glue works best, especially in that if it fails I can easily pull off the old glue and add new without having to worry about residue like with silicon or epoxy.




The easiest way to do this is to stick the magnet on a piece of steel, add a drop of glue, and press the car down onto it. The steel keeps the magnet from shifting until the glue has dried.


The magnets were supposed to be strong enough to hold a car with one magnet, but they tended to both let the car slide down the sign, and the car would rotate around so the heaviest bit pointed down. So I used two magnets per car, one at each end to keep it pointing however I wanted.







The end result is easily reconfigure-able and makes for a fun 3-d wall decoration.









It wouldn’t work well for a child’s room, as the magnets mean the cars no longer roll. However if decoration & display is the primary goal, it works really well.






I like to build these little wood boxes studded with vacuum tubes lit by blinking LEDs. I call them “BlinkenBoxes” and they delight me for the simple fact that when you flip the switch they light up and blink, and that is all they do.

A friend has been going through a bunch of difficult stuff recently, and were were going to be getting together with her on a Saturday. That morning I decided to build her a BlinkenBox. So with about three hours before we had to leave, that is what I did. With the time frame I was limited to only things I had on hand, fortunately I keep a lot of random stuff on hand, so I wasn’t lacking for options.

This is what I started with, a simple cheap balsa wood box from a craft store. I bought a few of these a while back with a plan to build a Useless Machine for exactly the same reason I love my BlinkenBoxes, but I never got around to it.


Next up was rooting through my box of vacuum tubes for a few that had the right look. Like many people into steampunk & dieselpunk I love the look of old tubes. I bought this box when I was building Templebot as a huge box full cost only a little more than the few I needed for that project(this same fluke of costs is why I have hundreds of LEDS for a project that needed less than two dozen).



I decided to have one huge tube sprouting up out of the top of the box, and a window on the front with a few smaller tubes behind it. So out came the hole saw and I attacked the box. I decided to make everything off-center both to make it more interesting, and to make at least part of the inside of the box usable to store stuff. As soon as I’d gotten the holes made, I wiped the box down with some cherry stain left over from restoring the floors in our house. Which went a long way to making the box look fancier than it actually was.


As you can see from how I was holding the tube in the picture above, I needed something to space it up so it would protrude how I wanted it to. Using some scrap balsa I built a small platform that could hold the tube up, and hide most of the wiring as well. Once it was built it was sprayed flat black to keep it from standing out. I also added a divider between the blinky stuff side and the storage side.

Next up a screen was added to the front “window”, and the switch was mounted. For me the switch is the best part of these, so I use real heavy-duty switches so they have a proper “clunk” feel when thrown. This particular switch was salvaged from my old artcar “Scar” before it was scrapped.


I wired up the tubes using these excellent LEDs I found on ebay a few years ago. They are RGBs and blink semi-randomly through all three colors on their own. I used the same ones for the tubes in Templebot’s head. The LEDs for the two smaller tubes are actually a bit below the tubes so they would light the whole front of the box, not just the tubes.

Since I was in a hurry and it was a simple circuit, I use some speaker wire and soldered it together and used hot-glue to insulate the connections. It is ugly, but hidden so it doesn’t matter. Amusingly the only thing I didn’t have on hand for this project was a 9-volt battery. I had to steal one out of a smoke-detector to test the thing, and buy one on the way up to give it to her.

Once it was wired some final tweaks were done (painting the inside of the compartment black, painting the grill from silver to black to make the tubes more visible, adding a divider so the battery wasn’t visible from the front) and it was done.

And when given to our friend, it got exactly the gleeful response I had been hoping for.

TempleBot 2012

What you are looking at was my excuse to play more with wiring, circuits & LEDs. I’ve done a little before but back this last August I wanted to get into it more. Conveniently I’d gotten involved with the Templecon retrofuturist/gaming convention here in RI. We were talking about interesting ways to promote the convention and the 2012 theme of “1950’s post-apocalypse”, and it occurred to me to build a ‘robot’ to bring to other conventions and hold signs/flyers. So off to my favorite toy store(Home Depot) I went.

I spent a good long time wandering around looking for something with the right aerodynamic shape. I knew if I had to sculpt something it would take forever, however I ended up getting lucky. The main body is made from, of all things, an upside down flowerpot. Not only that but a cheap one at $2.79 each, so I could hack them up without fear. A few more stops for plumbing bits, drop ceiling support wire, wire loom, MDF board & plexiglass and I was ready to start building.

I started with the head, two bases for the flowerpot stacked together gave me the height I needed. The original plan was to ring it with vacuum tubes, but that didn’t look right so found a junk camera for $10 at a flea market and raided it for it’s lens. I mounted the lens to a piece of PVC pipe, and mounted a red LED I’d scavenged from a Nerf gun inside pointing out. The neat part is the iris of the lens still works, so you can adjust the width of the light beam. Three random vacuum tubes became his “brain”, I mounted some LEDs in them I had left over from another project, they blink randomly between three colors and do a good job of looking really complicated for not much effort.

Some more building got me a torso and two arms capable of bending wherever I need them. The photo at right shows black plastic clamp ‘hands’, but this kept breaking so they were swapped out for metal ones. Now came the hard part. I wanted the bot to appear to be hovering, and to that end the plan was to have several plexiglass rings light up in sequence. I did a lot of reasearch and was frankly daunted by trying to figure out how to make it happen. Then I stopped by  “You-do-it” Electronics outside Boston. There I found a $7 solder-it-yourself kit that let you light up to 8 LEDs in sequence. Perfect.

A lot of soldering, and a fair amount of trial and error got me four rings with either 4 or 2 LEDs per ring that all blink in sequence and light to the same brightness.

Once everything was working I carefully assembled the lower half, testing each section before epoxying it to the base(this would bite me in the ass later when one of the rings stopped working). Some final wiring and everything worked well off two 9-volt batteries hidden inside.

Next I found an appropriately military looking flat green paint and painted it up. A base was welded up out of threaded rod & some flat stock.


After I finished it I dropped it off with my friend Grant, who runs Templecon for a custom post-apocalyptic makeover. After working his magic, the newly christened TempleBot was born.

Click on this pic for a whole set of pics

Soon he was pimping Templcon at various events around the northeast. At Templcon itself TempleBot had a place of honor next to the registration booth. Now that it is over he’s going to decorate my living room.

Last-minute idea, successful.

Like I promised at the beginning, this blog is going to be about more than just cars, and here is the first example.

I am a big fan of the game Minecraft, a retro-styled open world game. Among the enemies is a creature called a “creeper“. It is essentially an ambulatory shrub that sneaks up behind you, hisses & explodes(killing you if you don’t react fast enough). The game is particularly popular among geeks, who would also be in large attendance at the Arisia science fiction convention in Boston this past weekend. Well this past Friday at 8:30 in the morning I decided I wanted to build a creeper to bring to the convention, that afternoon. What followed was a frantic couple of hours of searching for images online and trying to figure out the proportions of the creeper.

This image was incredibly helpful, and allowed me to have a reference for relative sizes of the various pieces. I ended up settling on 1.5″ per color pixel, this gave the creeper an overall size of 3′ 3″, which was a decent compromise between size & portability.

Next I went parts shopping. I made a list of local sign shops, but ended up scoring at the first one. The owner of Cornerstone Signs was incredibly helpful and generous, He sold me a bunch of Chloroplast and chunks of various shades of green vinyl.

I’ve worked with Chloroplast before, it is a corrugated plastic often used for those disposable “Make money from home” or “We buy gold” signs that crop up in medians and at the end of exit ramps(if I’d had more time I’d have just grabbed those and re-purposed them).  It is strong & durable but easy to cut and bend(as long as you are doing straight bends). I measured and cut the various pieces, & shot them with krylon fusion green. As soon as the pieces were dry to the touch they and all our other costumes & props were loaded in the car and we drove up to Boston.

Once in our hotel room at Arisia, I unpacked and got to work with assembly. I’d also picked up a cheap $30 R/C car, and cut the truck body off it. All the bends were scored with a closed utility knife and a pile of zip-ties were employed to put everything together. Halfway through I realized I’d left two of the panels for his head at home, fortunately I had brought the leftover chloroplast, so I was able to piece together enough for the two panels, and use some of the vinyl to cover them. It wasn’t a very good match, but was close enough for what I needed.


Next up was the R/C base, I hadn’t had time to design or plan anything so I was simply winging it. As it turned out the Starbucks cups that came with the complementary coffee were just the right size. Another couple zip ties and a bit more tweaking and it was assembled. Next came cutting a pile of 1.5″ x 1.5″ stickers & sticking them all over the creeper. All total it took about 6 hours of work to put it together from idea to its first outing.

Driving it around the lobby it was quickly apparent that the little R/C car was hopelessly outmatched by the weight of the creeper, & the battery would last for about one lap of the (large) hotel lobby. but those laps were long enough to get all sorts of positive reactions, and once the battery was dead I left it parked near the escalators where even more people were snapping pictures.

By the end of the weekend I’d burned out the motor on the R/C car, but proved that the idea was a good one. Version two will have a more correct paint job(lighter green), a beefier R/C chassis, and a sound system to allow it to hiss like the real creepers. Hopefully with more than few hours to work on it I can make it even better.