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Green Machine Goes

December 1, 2019
by

For Sue and me, the week of Thanksgiving is typically two extremes… we either take a long vacation to someplace warm and sandy, or we spend the entire week busting our butts with projects at BAB. The first example of the latter is when Jim & Darcy also spent 2009 T-day week busting their butts helping us clear out all the crap and prepare for our Open House party.

Staying in St. Louis this year, we planned to take the entire week off and get the second floor ready for anticipated construction, on the hopes that the bank appraisal is in our favor and construction can start soon. We made a long list of big and small projects. But unfortunately, we both fell ill. I was sick for almost two weeks, rebounding back & forth and only started feeling up to BAB projects on Tuesday. Sue didn’t feel better until the day before Thanksgiving.

One of the bigger projects I planned was to remove a huge contraption we just refer to as “The Green Machine” (because it’s painted green). It was left behind by the previous owners, and it originally sat in the middle of everything on the second floor.

Photo from 2009 on our first walk-through of BAB.

We weren’t sure exactly what it was, but were confident it wasn’t functioning and was basically scrap. It had some kind of heat exchanger attached to some kind of bed with rollers, likely used to dry silk screened products. Back in 2009, Jim & I separated two large components and disconnected the natural gas line. I removed the two vents that went through the roof during our first phase of roof replacement. A couple of years ago, Sue & I de-constructed and tossed the heavy heater box.

Since then, I’ve researched and found that it’s the remnants of a “conveyor dryer” for screen printing. I couldn’t find any vintage photographs for our model, but if you look at a semi-recent version you can see the similarities. Ours just had a larger gas-fired heating component off to the side, and the extension beds into and out of the hot box are gone. And ours no longer has the top to keep the heat in.

A screen printing conveyor dryer; not sure how old.

I always liked the old bed structure; it’s enormous at 7′ x 14′, and I thought it could make a great base for a really cool industrial table or work surface. The feet are unique and adjustable. But Sue never really cared for it, though I’ve been able to dissuade her from pitching it, so it has remained off to the side on the second floor for many years.

With our design for the new second floor fairly firmed up, and needing to clear out everything for upcoming construction, I agreed that it didn’t really have a place in our current plans. So with a heavy heart (exaggerating), dismantling the green machine was on my project list for T-day week. My plan was to cut it up into manageable pieces that could be stacked up in the back alley, and likely a metal scrapper would come along and take it away. (For you readers that aren’t familiar with the city St. Louis, there are folks that regularly drive up and down the city alleys looking for metal objects that they can sell to the recycling centers.)

The conveyor bed remnants, ready to deconstruct.

I started by cutting out the rollers, and then a lot of sheet metal that formed the upper layer of an air barrier. Thinking ahead that all of these materials were to be stacked in the alley, I had to think of minimizing cutting (my labor) and maximizing manageable space available; i.e. nothing over 8′ long.

The main tool I used was a power screwdriver – if I could take it apart by removing fasteners, that was most efficient. The second tool was an angle grinder with a diamond-edge cut-off disc, which could cut through sheet metal extremely fast.

A diamond-edged cut off wheel – much better than aluminum oxide discs.

Just a sidebar here, if you’ve been using some kind of abrasive cut-off disc like aluminum oxide or any kind of disc that wears away as you cut, I recommend the diamond-edged disc! While they seem expensive at first (I think I paid $25 at Lowe’s), they pay off over time. I bought this one over a year ago and have made hundreds of cuts and I’ll be happy to never watch an abrasive disc just disappear while I’m using it. They also make fewer sparks, if that’s important. The diamond disc won’t dangerously break and fly apart either.

I don’t have a lot of photos of this early stage, because I didn’t think I’d be making a blog post. After a few hours of work, I’d removed the upper layer of sheet metal, grilles, miscellaneous bits and rollers.

Upper layer removed.

And THEN, I thought I should make this into a blog post. So more photos…

With the upper layer removed, that revealed a lot more sheet metal of ductwork that was either welded or seamed together. I tried grinding away at the welds, but that didn’t work, so I opted to make long cuts down the sides to kindof “unzip” the flat sheet metal.

Cutting the sides of a duct…

In the center of the last photo, you can see a cylinder (covered in a thick layer of dust) that makes the body of a “squirrel cage fan“, and you can see the circular blades of that fan. There are two of them, and they are connected with a long axle that was spun with an external motor, no longer present. I actually want to keep those fan blades for a future (undefined) project use. So further demolition has to take that into account.

I considered reaching into the fan blade housings and loosening the fasteners from the long axle and just slipping the axle out, but thought A) that still would leave the fan blades sitting inside their housing and B) the debris build-up on the axle over 14′ would likely make the pass-through difficult. So I opted for a method that could remove the entire axle intact with fan blades attached.

The next step was to cut away the exterior housing of the fans, mainly to make an opening large enough for the fans to come out, but it also gave me better access to any remaining axle connections.

Only the central fan housings left…

Another aspect of these fans that I like is their “pillow block bearings” – they could look pretty good repurposed in a future project. Bearings are really important in the efficiency of any blower system, and these are a bit unique in that they were lubricated externally by a system of copper lines and external fittings.

Close-up of pillow block bearing and lube tube (which I’ve cut).

In order for the axle to lift straight out, I had to cut a slot in each side of the fan housings. On the ends, I could make just one cut and bend away the metal, but there was a lot of extra metal in the middle so two cuts were needed.

Sides of housing cut to allow axle removal.

The pillow block bearings bolts were not rusted tight, but there was little room for wrenches so it took a while to remove them. But as soon as all five were off, the whole assembly lifted out though it weighed almost a hundred pounds.

Fan assembly out in one piece.

I’ll stash that in the basement for now.

Some cuts were tricky – and now with the fans removed, I could crawl inside the housing to get the grinder in a safer position.

Safety first!

I’ve now got all of the sheet metal removed but there a a lot of steel angles welded together. They are also 3/16″ and 1/4″ thick, and while the diamond disc works great in sheet metal, the sawzall with a metal cutting blade will cut the angles faster.

I hoped to keep the remaining housing sides attached to the beam while I separated them, but I couldn’t fit the sawzall blade under that angle near the floor, and the saw’s body made it impossible to cut from the top.

Oh well, I’ll just release the whole assembly, then flip it over to cut that last beam.

Just a couple of cuts between each, and they dropped noisily to the floor.

Finally – the green machine is stripped down to the bare structure without any ducts or air moving components. When I imagined using it as some kind of table, these are the parts I saw as its essence. (Some additional structure might be needed to help a table top span between the beams.) I took a few minutes to sweep the floor, just to be able to see it clearly and maybe consider one last time if we could use it at this size as a table, before I cut it apart.

That would be one HUGE table!

Oh another cool feature to this contraption – the roller bed was height adjustable by a few inches. Inside each corner was a screw mechanism that was raised & lowered by turning the square head at the top.

A steel channel down each side was bolted to the screws, and the channels had pegs that held the rollers that held up the bed. (I took those rollers off in the beginning of this deconstruction.) I hope there was some motorized way to turn all four screws at once – I can’t imagine how accurate it would be if a person had to manually adjust each corner. Unless there was some gauge or height indicator.

But back to the project… I decided (“agreed with Sue”) we couldn’t use it in our current second floor design. So more cutting…

I cut away one end completely while the other end held fast and kept it all from crashing down. But the final cuts would be trickier.

I cut the tops of the diagonals first, close to the beams. Then I placed wood blocking under the bottom angle just a few inches away from each leg. The purpose of the blocking was two-fold: 1) it would support the steel angles from falling when I was making the last cut (possibly throwing the whole thing into a twist) and 2) I could put my weight on the angle with my foot directly over the blocking while cutting, to minimize the vibrations from the saw blade, again to keep the beams from moving and falling. They were very top-heavy and precarious.

The plan worked great, the angles just rolled over slowly to the floor as the last cut was finishing. I was on the inside so I nudged it outward with my leg, rather than having it fall towards me.

Now there was just one round pipe connecting the two beams. If I stood on the outside at the corner, I could balance one beam between my arms and my legs while cutting the pipe, and as soon as the pipe was cut, I could grab the pipe still connected to the other beam with my left hand and hold the other beam standing up, lower the saw with my right hand, keep holding the closer beam with my body, then slowly lower the other beam using the pipe in my left hand.

Of course it didn’t go like that at all.

I underestimated the top-heaviness of the beams and what little vibration would tip them. I wasn’t watching the far end of the opposite beam, and it was starting to tip inward from the vibrations as I finished cutting the pipe. I tried to correct it by holding up the pipe as planned with my left hand, but the beam was so heavy that the pipe just folded where it was connected to the beam and it came crashing down. Unfortunately, my pushing on the pipe with my left hand was counteracted with my body that was holding up the close beam, and again this beam was so top-heavy that it went twisting down to the floor, but before crashing to the concrete, the top corner of it scraped along the top of my thigh giving me a lovely raspberry stripe and later became a bruise.

The beams re-arranged to make you think my plan worked perfectly.

With everything separated, I looked over at the huge pile of sheet metal I’ve built up and realized it was an enormous volume, too large to stack in the alley. And I’ve watched the scrappers at work – they’ll try to flatten everything into the smallest shapes possible, using just their feet and weight, so that they can hold more metal in their trucks. I knew they wouldn’t be able to stomp these shapes flatter, and I wanted a scrapper to take it, not leave it.

Need to break down the volume taken up by sheet metal.

If I made just a few cuts along the appropriate corners in these pieces, I could “unfold” them into flatter shapes. The diamond disc is fast at cutting sheet metal, particularly now that I can move the metal around for easy access. So I just imagined how each piece could be flattened with the minimal amount of cuts – I didn’t want to make more loose pieces either.

That trapezoid-ish shape now flattened into two pieces.

In about 20 minutes, I had it all broken down and it condensed quite well.

The sheet metal shapes are all flattened (in upper left corner of picture).

Now to permanently remove the remains of dismantled green machine from BAB. How? Chuck it out the window!

I stacked everything on a cart and rolled it over to the south end of the building. A few pieces were unwieldy to fit through the window along with my body. I threw half a dozen pieces down and then Sue dragged them over to the side of the alley to start a pile. Which then gave me a target! I got several large rectangular parts to land right on the stack, which saved Sue a little work. In about 10 minutes, it was all out the window and Sue had made a neat stack.

Several hundred pounds of steel free to good home!

After a short break, Sue & I moved on to another project, hanging a new Christmas wreath over our front entrance, but doing it through the second floor window. We were at the north end of the second floor and heard some heavy clanging and stopped to listen. A scrapper was in the alley!

Thank you sir.

So at the last minute, I decided to keep the beams. They have too much potential to melt down and they won’t take up a lot of room in the basement.

Another future project awaits.

So farewell Green Machine. Most of it anyways.

And with all of the sharp edges and heavy rusty metal, I’m glad that my only injury was a bruise.

One Comment leave one →
  1. MaryJo permalink
    December 2, 2019 8:30 am

    You two are crazy! And absolutely amazing! Can’t wait to see future posts!

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