Those of you who have been following my blog may recall that I bought a power chair last year as part of my plan to go to Six Flags Magic Mountain and ride the gnarliest and scariest thrill rides that could accommodate an 81 year old above knee amputee like me, having bad vision and stage 4 prostate cancer besides. That plan never worked out due to my wife developing her own mobility issues with hip bursitis thus turning our ‘one power chair family’ into something that needed more than our home and our family budget could conveniently handle. Rather than turning our place into an ADA ramp, handrail infested monstrosity, I opted to just use my chair for sightseeing and adventure trips around the neighborhood. I had originally paid $300 extra to get the second battery for my chair which is neatly and conveniently mounted to the frame underneath the scooter alongside the first battery. Problem was I could never really use the second battery because to do so required getting down on my knees with a flashlight undoing the power connector and reconnecting it to the second battery. Imagine an 81 year old guy who can’t see and can’t move very well out on the sidewalk with a flashlight trying to undo and re-attach the power connector at the rear of and underneath my scooter. Meanwhile there are cars and bicycles whizzing by on Kanan Road, cars coming to a screeching halt and bike riders stopping to ask if I am OK and needing assistance. I said to myself, “Enough of that, I can’t be doing this stuff alongside a busy thoroughfare. People are just going to have a huge car/bicycle accident and I’ll end up on the front page of our local newspaper, ‘The Acorn.’” Rather than face interminable lawsuits for the rest of my life, I planned instead to simply modify my ‘made in China, bought on Amazon’ scooter with an add-on battery switch which would finally enable me to deploy the second battery thus extending my scooter’s useful operating range from about five miles to ten. The last time I ran out of battery on one of my neighborhood forays, I ended up having to get out and push the scooter manually, which is no easy task for a ‘crip,’ especially when trying to cross Kanan Road at a traffic intersection. I got enough horns and middle fingers during that episode to realize this was not a good thing to ever do again. Meanwhile I’m thinking, “Hey, I am an electrical engineer, I know how to do all this shit.” As any self respecting electrical engineer would do, I searched for a proper battery switch on Amazon, together with the electrical connectors that, based on my measurements of the pin spacing and whatnot, appeared to be identical to the ones used in my scooter. I then proceeded to design a wiring harness that would enable me to incorporate the switch and the new battery connectors without modifying any of the existing wiring connections in my scooter. This way, if my project was unsuccessful I could simply throw it away and revert back to the one battery setup. Meanwhile I made a cardboard mockup of the switch I’d selected (one that was actually designed for a boat) and its convenient placement at the end of the scooter’s left armrest.
For a perfectionist like me, it is not enough to simply design an electrical apparatus that will do the job; it must be both ergonomically and aesthetically correct insofar as the utility and appearance of the original scooter.
In the meantime, my wife happened to come into my den one day trying to clean it up before some guests arrived and asked what the little cardboard box thingy was and whether it could be put away or thrown away. At that point I said to myself, “No more delays. I may not have that much time yet to live. It’s time to actually build my project!” So I ordered the switch and the connectors from Amazon. I went to Home Depot to buy a ⅝” Forstner drill bit for the wood dowel mechanically connecting everything together plus the cable for the wiring harness and other hardware that would enable me to mount the switch on this nifty block of wood that I would need to custom saw and drill on my garage workbench. I’d like to say “in my workshop” but at age 81 I never actually got to the workshop phase of my life. Both my father and my grandfather before him had nice workshops full of proper tools that any self respecting workshop should have. Meanwhile here I am, age 81 still building stuff without even having a proper workshop. And the same goes for my tools. I’ve never owned a complete set of proper tools because I’ve never had a proper place to use them or sufficient justification for buying them. The closest I ever got was a set of Craftsman tool chests and matching workbench bought when we moved into our current home about 21 years ago. 81 years of improvising, building precision stuff without having the proper tools to do anything. That’s been the story of my life.
So anyway, using my cheesy, thirty dollar benchtop drill press attached by a hose clamp to my worn out ⅜” drill, I managed, with my wife’s assistance, to drill the necessary holes in the wood block that forms the base of the battery switch and attaches to the scooter via a ⅝ inch hardwood dowel through the metal tubing that forms the left armrest of my scooter. Since my gimcrack drill press setup requires both hands simply to operate the drill, leaving no hands for doing anything else, like adjusting the position of the workpiece, etc. I needed to recruit my wife to help me. As partial compensation for me never having a workshop or a proper set of tools, my wife is always available with a second pair of hands when needed. For that I am very grateful. Meanwhile I decided to paint the wood block a bright yellow color to try and match the scooter color which my wife suggested would make everything look really spiffy, like it came from the China factory that way.
Then finally, about a week later, after all the mechanical work, painting and fitting had been completed, it was time to do the actual wiring. This proved to be no easy task! One of the very first things I learned how to do in my lifetime of electronics work, starting in about 6th grade, was soldering electrical connections. Before the age of microcircuitry, transistors and whatnot electronic circuitry was typically connected by insulated copper wires soldered by hand using a soldering iron to melt the lead used in the solder so the copper wire circuitry would be permanently bonded at the various circuit joints thus enabling the equipment to remain working in the presence of shock and vibration. Pretty much all the electronic equipment used in WW2 by all sides in the conflict was soldered by hand. Needless to say this is one of the earliest and most important skills I learned as a youngster. I recall in 1954 building my first HeathKit shortwave radio receiver and having it actually work!
But now here I am, this 81 year old guy who can’t see worth shit due to macular degeneration, down on my nice hardwood den floor with a flashlight and a soldering iron trying to put the final touches on my scooter’s new wiring harness. Only I can’t even see well enough to put the damn toothpaste on my toothbrush most of the time, let alone solder an electronic connection. Meanwhile my wife is shining a flashlight trying to help me solder a few simple joints, all requiring 3D depth perception when I only have about two remaining. And that’s only on a good day if the lighting is just right! I just remember there was a lot of ‘Honey please shine the flashlight on the connection, not in my eyes!’ countless ‘Oh shits’ ‘fucks,’ burned fingers, minor dings and hot solder drippings on my nice hardwood floor before I finally got the damn thing actually completed. Then after trying out the switch and seeing it all work perfectly, I breathed a sigh of relief and said what I always say upon reaching such milestones, ‘I’m too old for this shit!’