Best Map of the USA

The quotes and links below tell the story well, but let me say that I still love printed, paper maps. We are all using computers right now, and they can be fun, terrific tools. And who would have imagined a GPS in a cell phone just ten years ago?

However, when I’m traveling in the backcountry I still primarily rely on my good sense of direction, traveling during daylight so I can see where I’m going, and paper maps. Paper doesn’t crash or need batteries, it just works.

I will buy one of these great maps, frame it, and put it in my shop, and another to use.

Created by one man in Oregon!

Imus Geographics, the creator’s site.

“This object—painstakingly sculpted by a lone, impractical fellow—is a triumph of indie over corporate. Of analog over digital. Of quirk and caprice over templates and algorithms. It is delightful to look at. Edifying to study. And it may be the last important paper map ever to depict our country.” Seth Stevenson, Jan 2, 2012

The BEST paper map of the USA story

The Essential Geography of The United States of America

Kelso Cartography Link


Copyright © 2012 James Langan

Garage Compressor Hose

I’ve been bent on Made-in-USA for the past several weeks. It’s not that I don’t or won’t buy things made elsewhere, it’s almost impossible not to. But when there is a choice, sometimes it’s simply a matter of paying attention to the labeling and choosing one product over another. Sometimes you will pay more for American made, but not always.

Recently I went to a local tool store because I needed a new hose for my shop compressor. We are lucky to still have a couple local, independent tool stores here in Reno, Nevada. Apex Saw Works has been a family owned business since 1968, their prices are competitive, and their service is good.

Cracked and leaking old compressor hose.

My compressor hose had been failing at the end for years, and finally split and started leaking when bent. The old 3/8″ hose was Made-in-USA (surprisingly), and at 100-feet long was longer than I need in my garage. My compressor is on wheels and can be moved, but 50-feet is a better length for most projects.

Contractor's Choice Air Pro 3/8" x 50'

There were a few hose options, one much more heavy-duty (and heavy) than I wanted, and probably not needed for my home shop. I decided on this 3/8″ x 50′ lightweight, kink & tangle resistant, polyurethane-reinforced AirPro product, marked “Made in the USA” and “Patent Pending”. Made by Contractor’s Choice which is based in Eugene, Oregon. I could have chosen blue, but of course I picked the red line for $37.00.

The reinforced end will help prevent cracking.

Our climate is dry, though I should still drain the moisture from the bottom of my compressor more often, but I took this opportunity to open the petcock. There was a surprising amount of water inside, though there was very little rust. Reading the instructions on the back of the packaging I was surprised to learn there was a break-in procedure to follow: Uncoil and straighten the hose to full length, attach an air nozzle or tool, charge with air to recommended working pressure, pull straight to remove any twists, and allow to sit under pressure for 30-minutes. The instructions also state to store the hose in loops, not to chain braid or coil into figure eights.

Draining moisture from the compressor tank.

After two days the tank has lost very little pressure while sitting fully charged, a nice upgrade. Should I swap some tires and wheels?

Copyright © 2012 James Langan

Solar Highways

Though I know little about the technology, I’ve long been intrigued by the possibilities with solar power. I’m not a fan of huge solar sites across our western deserts on public lands, but I do like the idea of solar panels on the roof of my house. We looked into adding solar during the construction of our home several years ago, but the cost vs. benefit wasn’t affordable at the time.

Even more interesting are solar, glass highways! I’m not sure how practical this is, but it sounds and looks great in the video. After a little web searching it seems that solar panels at the side of a freeway, not actually part of the road, is as far as the idea has progressed. Just like in my personal solar example, it seems the hurdle remains the price tag, not desire or feasibility.

This link tells the Oregon story well. (Click)

Oregon’s site. (click)

Copyright © 2012 James Langan

TDI Mileage Test

In the broad sense of the expression I’m a car guy. Though it’s much more accurate to say I’m a truck guy, or a motorcycle guy, as these machines have been the focus of my enthusiasm since my youth. But cars have their place, particularly when it comes to running errands, driving on-pavement, and hauling only people or small parcels. We have a car for these tasks, my wife’s 2000 Golf TDI.

The 1.9L TDI sips so few liters of diesel that I usually don’t drive it with a focus on fuel economy. This contrasts with how I typically drive my 4WDs, trying to squeeze all I can out of each gallon of fuel. The daily driving commuter fuel economy from the TDI is very close to 40 MPG. Sometimes a bit less, sometimes more, depending on the driving mix. Most car highway trips you will find us driving the TDI, and the fuel economy while driving 75+/– is usually around 45 MPG, depending on how many in-town miles we traveled and how hard I flog the little oil-burner.

This past weekend we took a short drive to enjoy a favorite restaurant in a nearby city. I decided we would also do a “mileage test”, the term is part of my vernacular. The trip included several miles of 65 MPH freeway, but most of the 78.4 miles were on rural highways with only a few stoplights and a 55 MPH speed limit. I accelerated moderately, drove the speed limit, and paid attention to the task at hand, driving, but there was no hypermiling silliness. We drove very few in-town miles. We returned to the same fuel pump, set it to the same setting, no topping off, etc. Our consumption was 1.392 gallons.

Copyright © 2012 James Langan

The Forgotten Pedal

Operating and working on vehicles can be both fun and hazardous. Like others, I’ve made stupid and dangerous mistakes, but I’ve been lucky, and never been seriously injured. Sometimes we needlessly tempt fate because of bad habits or a lack of training. Using tire chocks when working under a car is a great idea, but before chocks are used we should practice the most basic method of securing our vehicles.

Is your parking brake missing you?

The first step in parking.

 The Parking Brake

I have always practiced and taught that the parking brake should be regularly and properly used (with few exceptions, like ice). Unfortunately many otherwise knowledgeable and skilled drivers routinely do not use their parking brake, or use it incorrectly.

Properly means that the parking brake should be firmly applied to hold the vehicle’s weight, on level ground or on an incline. Then the vehicle’s weight should be allowed to rest on the brake before the transmission is put in gear or Park. Firmly apply the parking brake, shift into neutral, release the service (foot) brakes, and confirm the parking brake is holding the vehicle. Then shift into Park if your A/T has a Park detent–many large RVs, buses, and trucks do not—or release the clutch on a manual transmission with the gear selector in first or reverse, the lowest gears.

With routine and proper use of the parking brake, the parking brake mechanisms are exercised and continue to function.  The operator will know how well the brake is working, how firmly it should be applied, and when it needs adjustment.

There are other benefits to practicing this, like not routinely making the parking pawl on an automatic transmission hold the vehicle (wear), and shifting easily out of Park while on an incline. But surely the biggest benefit is assuring that your vehicle is safely and properly parked.

If you only have the habit of using the transmission or the  parking brake, and you forget to use that one method, a driverless-moving-vehicle can result. I’ve seen this many times, mostly recently a few weeks ago at my favorite coffee shop. A college kid parked his car and was walking into the store for his cup of morning medicine. Before he reached the door his car passed him, rolling into the back of another, which was parked in front of the glass wall where I was sitting. His car could have run him over, or come through the storefront, but bent bumpers were the only result of his negligence.

Does your parking brake footpad or handle lack signs of use?

Copyright © 2012 James Langan


Goodbye Bling Rings

Gen 2 Tundra 17-inch TRD Wheel

For 2007 and newer Tundras the only OE 17-inch wheel is the forged aluminum TRDs with fake beadlock rings, part of the Rock Warrior package. In my previous post I said I prefer my OE aluminum rims, and I do, but I do have a few gripes with these Toyota wheels.

With my original set I immediately noticed that adjusting the tire pressure is a pain. There’s a cutout in the aluminum ring to access the valve stem, but clearance is still poor. There is little room for fingers, a tire chuck, or a gauge when checking and adjusting the pressure. They also hold water, ice, and mud, helping unbalance the tire. Strike 1.

Built-in debris holder.

The bling ring is secured with twelve screws, and they must be removed to mount or dismount a tire. I don’t trust tire shops to do this carefully, not strip any threads, nor scratch anything. Even when doing this myself recently, I cross-threaded one stainless screw upon reinsertion. These things are a pain, particularly for The Tire Meister who plays with tires more than your average gearhead. I looked into removing the rings and filling the holes with shorter screws…the screws would be so short I’d have to have them custom made. Strike 2.

Though the beadlock rings are fake, I thought they might protect the lower edge of the rims from trail damage. After one recent remove & replace session I noticed damage to the powder coating under the ring. Seems that even on a newer truck with only a few thousand miles logged, which is washed and kept clean, debris between the ring and the wheel causes damage. Strike 3. Fired!

The 21,000-mile take-offs I just purchased had never been rebalanced, the original wheel weights were still attached, and I’m pretty sure the rings had never been removed. Look at the rim damage near the bead after 21k. My solution…no ring, no bling, bada-bing.

FAKE beadlock ring removed, wheel damage

Soap and a brush didn't help. Started to use brake clean. Nope, they're spares.

Copyright © 2012 James Langan

17-Inch Tundra Wheels & BFG A/T Tires

17" TRD 5-lug Tundra wheels with BFG AT LT285/70R17E tires.

Part of being The Tire Meister means that I need to have wheels on which to mount the treads I’m evaluating. Unless I want to constantly remove my proven, primary tires, extra wheels are desirable. Extra wheels make for better, more consistent tire testing, and back-to-back swaps of mounted tires is an easy process. Mounting & balancing tires and wheels is not easy, nor inexpensive. I’m not an aftermarket wheel aficionado—quite the contrary—I like perfectly fitting, relatively inexpensive, OEM aluminum wheels for my 4x4s, and using the same wheels eliminates a testing variable.

With the assistance of Craig’s List, finding take-offs from dudes who want “Lighter, Stronger, Faster” wheels, is relatively easy—as long as you have a current model truck that guys are actively modifying. (Are there actually lighter and stronger rims for the second generation Tundra than the 17-inch forged aluminum OE wheels?) This said, 17-inch 5-lug Tundra wheels are not that common, but the big wheel craze is a live-and-well, so with some patience take-offs can be found. Finding a set with worn tires, or no tires, seems to be the key to reasonable prices. Many want $1500 for their almost new take-off TRD 17-inch Rock Warrior wheels and BFG AT tires. I’m not a big fan of the BFG All-Terrain so there’s no way I’ll pay that kind of money.

The set pictured here was not located on Craig’s List, but on a Tundra forum. A guy posted a feeler several weeks before he planned to install 20-inch wheels and 35-inch tires on his Tundra after a 6-inch lift. He was in the same state so I sent him a PM. Turned out he was also in the same metro area, what are the odds? I made him an offer, he accepted, and we waited for his truck to be lifted. A couple weeks ago I purchased his TRD Rock Warrior 17-inch wheels, lug nuts, and locks, along with well used original BFG All-Terrain tires.

Copyright © 2012 James Langan