Progress

November 7, 2016

As I had mentioned in the last post, despite trying everything to keep the current configuration and just building a reclining seat, it was clear that it just wasn’t going to work and allow me to drive the car comfortably. I agonized over this because the last thing I want to do is insult Brian and change the chassis he put a ton of effort into. I will always appreciate the role he’s had in this – he said yes when every other chassis builder we talked to had said no. That will always mean the world to me.

But looking at it in sheer terms of engineering solutions for me driving it, the cold reality is I’ve got to be able to get in and out of the car comfortably, and placement of the controls need to be dictated by what is within natural reach for me, rather than having to work around the layout of the cockpit to make something work. So in talking at length with Mike and Robert, it was decided that the easiest and most direct solution was for the rear end to come back 8 1/2″, and the engine 3 1/2.”

There are a couple of added bonuses to this:

1.) With 8 1/2″ added to the wheelbase, we’ll crack the magic 140″ wheelbase mark. Quite a few drivers I’ve spoken to  have said that once you have at least 140″ of wheelbase to work with, the car becomes easier to drive. Without looking it up again, I believe the car was originally at 136″ so this will make it 144 1/2″.

2.) Loading it on a trailer will be easier. With the old configuration, if you lifted the front wheels off the ground 5″, the bottom rail of the chassis scraped. So loading it on a trailer always involved a combination of taking the plate off my floor jack so I could get it under the frame rail, and then lifting the rear end high enough to muscle it on, or in the case of transporting it up to Don’s on his tractor trailer before I got the trailer from Rocky, getting the dragster to a stopping point up the ramp, ratcheting it down to hold it in place and then grabbing every scrap 4×4 chunk of wood to continue jacking the car high enough to get it to clear the deck to be able to push it all the way on. Even with the dragster trailer I have for it, a floor jack was involved with getting loaded up. Loading and unloading will certainly be less of an ordeal now.

The good news as well is the integrity of the car will remain, and the goal is to still have it look like a car from 1963, with the 5 point cage being the only giveaway. It will still have the vintage stance as well.

Here are the photos of where things are at. At this point we’re waiting for a motor plate and the next phase can begin.

The Jig Is Up

April 20, 2016

Where to start?

If you go way back to when Rocinante was at my pal Michael Edick’s shop and we cut the bar under the seat out and put strap in – done because the car sits so low it was impossible to load it on a trailer, or get a jack under it and so forth, that even picking up a couple inches of clearance made a huge difference. Well, making that modification rendered the aluminum bucket useless. At first I cut the bottom out to see if there was a way to just rework it, but that didn’t really work. It was going to be something I had to deal with down the road.

Fast forward a bit and through one of my other hobbies, vintage kart racing, I met Robert Morris III and his life-long buddy Mike Smith. Robert builds hot rods, and a super-bitchin’ repop of the Beebe Bros, Vinson and Sixt mid-60’s fueler for fun, while holding down what seems like 10 other jobs. Meanwhile, Mike owns California Hot Rods and builds cool cars for a living (and V-drive boats for fun) – including the restoration of the 60’s Cracklin Rose jr. fueler of the O’Kane family. Here’s a shot of both cars together at the CHRR:

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Robert Morris’ scratchbuilt  Beebe Bros, Vinson and Sixt reproduction in the foreground and the O’Kane’s “Cracklin’ Rose” Jr. Fueler that Mike restored in the background.

In short, they possess all the skills that I don’t. While in the things I do, I’m a jack-of all-trades/master of none, from what I can tell these guys are masters-of-all-trades, jacks of none. Whatever that means. But you get the idea. I only half joke that my fabrication skills are probably on par with India circa 1974, and that just won’t do.

There are certain things one attempts that give you the sense that if you worked at it you could get pretty good. But with me and fabrication, anytime I try anything like that I just feel like I’m waging war with multiple generations of my entire gene pool. The struggle is that deep. Wrenching and doing some painting are more my deal.

Anyway, through hanging out at the kart track I got to know them a little better, and thankfully I’ve been able to use my nerd skills to help them out a bit with IDing old karts and sourcing parts and such. I eventually screwed up the courage to ask Mike if he was open to building a new aluminum seat for Rocinante and he was down with that once there was an opening at the shop, and I kinda got my act together a little better.

One thing led to another, and it has gone from just the seat to also fabbing up the cockpit controls.

So the day finally came where the stars align. I finally got a trailer for the dragster, he’s finally got room in the shop. Good buddy Keith CoBen and I head up to other good buddy Don London’s place where the dragster is stored, and we bolt the powerglide in, load her in the trailer and head over the hill from Don’s place to Mike’s shop in Sonora.

Were that it was that easy.

I actually was up working on the dragster the weekend before, swapping out the stock Chevy oil pan for the zooty new cut down jobbie, (see previous post, “Panorama”) and I had intended on putting the powerglide in then, but quickly realized that it was going to be a two person job, and I was only a one person. Anyway, like everything done the first time, it took Keith and I longer than anticipated – thanks partially to some stubborn bell housing guide pins that were being difficult to remove so I could put the longer Moroso items in there to compensate for the thickness of the mid plate and make installing the trans easier.

All the while Mike is patiently waiting for us as we are now running late.

We get there mid afternoon and the shop is a sight to behold. Really, really cool stuff.

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Cool stuff going on at California Hot Rods

Mike shows us around, we all take turns gawking at his stuff, and unload the dragster since we have already eaten up half of his day making him wait around for us.

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Mike giving his best Mike look.

This is the first time Mike has seen the car in person and he’s impressed with the build quality.

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Rocinante tucked into its temporary home.

The only elephant in the room with the car is the seating position. Brian built the chassis the way I wanted it with the roll bar layback the way I wanted, and the low stance. For those that know of such animals, my car could easily have been a legs under car in the 1960’s. For those who don’t know, there was a period of time, where in order to get the cars even lower, the rear end sat up high enough in the chassis that the driver slid his legs under the rear axle, so he basically had the 3rd member in his lap.

I once had the chance to sit in a legs under car, and even just for kicks I sat in Rocinante legs under style – which is actually worked great, and would be easy to hang pedals and controls that way. While sitting there though, it became clear that during this era all those drivers were 21- 22 years old because you needed to feel immortal and have a healthy dose of “what could possibly go wrong?” coursing through your veins in order to strap yourself into that deal.

Me being a dumpy, middle-aged Dad-type, I sat in there and imagined everything that could go wrong. The rear axle seizes up or grenades, you are going to be walking funny for the rest of your life, and if you ever wanted kids you hopefully got that taken care of in advance, because it would be “zing!” and you’re an instant Eunuch. Nevermind if you ended up upside down, or on fire, and needed to make a hasty retreat. Just sliding out of that seating position I’m reminded that I don’t have the legs of a Flamingo.

But to have this period look and have the required 5 point cage in order to pass tech so I can run it, it meant adding extra length of chassis behind the rear axle, which means instead of the rear axle resting under my knees the way it would be in a typical slingshot dragster, my calves rest on the rear end. Coupled with the low seat, it gives a seating position like this:

This isn’t a typical driving position, and they outlawed the legs under deal years ago.

So for the last 5 years, figuring out this deal for pedals and controls and everything has been constantly percolating in the back of my mind. Even when Mark was alive and was head of fabrication on our deal, we talked about this an awful lot.

The original thought when talking to Mike was to just make the seat with more tilt, which would effectively bring the front of the seat (and therefore my butt) closer to the rear end and get my knees where they should be.

But after we roll her out of the trailer, Mike studies the car and hops in to get ideas, and it seems like the reclining seat thing isn’t going to be the best solution. The obvious idea is probably the most direct: move the rear end back rather than the seat forward. It’s not 100% that this is the route that will be taken, because it would involve some re-engineering of things like engine dump, because the rear axle can’t really sit higher in the frame – the bottom rail of the frame already sits so low to the ground that we can’t drop it another inch.

But the goal is to still have the car look the way it does and to not disturb the integrity of Brian’s build. The last thing I would want to do is bum Brian out. But the reality is, I’ve gotta be comfortable when sitting in the car so I can concentrate on driving it. Everything is still in the thought process at this point. But I’m really excited that it is at a turning point, and I know the car is in good hands to do all this work.

A week or so later, Mike posted this photo and it made me super stoked.

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Car is now on the jig!

Stay tuned…

Panorama!

April 20, 2016

Working a little backwards on this – this actually happened in mid-March, but I want to update in order.

Another puzzle piece to the dragster taken care of.

Because I’m building it as close to 1963 specs that I can and still run it, the chassis has built into it what they call “engine dump” – which basically means the engine tilts down as was the norm with the dragsters of the era.

The only problem is, by tilting the motor down, a stock oil pan drags on the ground. Because engine dump hasn’t been used in dragsters for 45 + years, no one makes an aftermarket pan for this. So I went old school and bought a new stock Chevy pan, took measurements and modified it to suit. I’m not that great of a welder, so I had my good friend Eddie Stein do the welding.

If the weather holds and I don’t get snowed out, I’ll head up this weekend to work on the dragster – swap this out with the pan that drags, bolt up the transmission and get the dragster ready to go to my friend Mike Smith’s shop so he can work his magic in the cockpit. Baby steps, but stoked to make some progress.

Still Here!

February 24, 2016

I know that the blog hasn’t been updated in a really long time, but I wanted to check in and let folks know I still have the dragster, even though progress on it has been glacial. But it plugs along. I’ve picked up the Schnieder cam and lifters, had Hilborn rebuild the 150-A fuel pump, and a few other do-dads.

Also since I last posted, the dragster came home from Michael’s shop for awhile, but it was just counterproductive to make much progress on it when it’s stuffed in a 1 car garage with a bunch of other mechanical stuff. If I had an hour or two to work on it, I’d spend a half hour unloading the contents of the garage out on to the driveway to make space to work on the dragster, knowing that I’d have to load it all back in. Nevermind, advertising to the world the stuff  I had in my garage, which made me uncomfortable.

So last fall I was able to set the car up permanently in friend and de facto dragster partner Don’s shop. Don was the one who helped me get the engine, and has been a big supporter of me plugging along on this after Mark died. He lives a ways from me, but it means that when I go to work on the car I’m getting a full day in.

I was also able to pick up two key components to the whole combo:

vintage dragster trailer made for 150" wheelbase or shorter digger

vintage dragster trailer made for 150″ wheelbase or shorter digger

 

First was a trailer for the dragster. In the previous times we’d moved the dragster on borrowed or rented trailers, it was an ordeal. The car just sits too low. Getting it up to the shop this last time involved my jack and every spare chunk of wood laying around my house to get it up onto the bed of the trailer my friend Don uses to move his tractor around, and I still managed to ding up the bottom of the side plates of the aluminum body. This just wasn’t going to work.

I’d known about this trailer for awhile, but when it was first up for sale, I didn’t have the funds. Then when I did have the funds, owner Rocky Phillips (of Eagle Field Drags and Evil Twin dragster fame) wasn’t sure if he wanted to sell after all. After a couple of months thinking about it, he contacted me and said it was mine if I wanted it. The perfect thing is, it’s made for a slingshot dragster so the ramp angle is very shallow, and it’s made for a short car – which I think is a big reason it didn’t sell when he had it for sale the first time. A dragster with a 150″ wheel base is the longest it will take. Rocinante has a 136″ wheelbase. Perfect! My pal Keith and I drove down to Fresno a few Saturdays ago to pick it up, and then drop it off up at Don’s. So the dragster and trailer are stored on the same premises. At some point, I will need to take the siding off and replace the wood underneath, but that’s perhaps for later this year, or next year.

The other key component I picked up is this:

1961 Studebaker Lark Regal wagon, V8 3 speed with overdrive

1961 Studebaker Lark Regal wagon, V8 3 speed with overdrive

I’ve only had a ’87 Toyota pickup with a 22r 4-banger in it as my only 4 wheeled vehicle. It has been a great truck and I will still keep it, but it’s not made for towing a dragster. I decided a few years ago that I wanted a Studebaker wagon. The problem is, they aren’t all that common with the V8 in it, which is what I needed in order to justify owning one. If I bought the one with the 6 cylinder in it, I’d have two vehicles that couldn’t tow a dragster with. So this one fell outta the sky, and I had to move on it. I’m in the process of sourcing a hitch setup for it, then it will be good to go.

Early next month the dragster will get towed to my buddy Mike Smith’s shop California Hot Rods to have a new aluminum seat and cockpit controls fabricated, so there will be real progress on the dragster. Between now and then I need to box and shorten a stock SBC oil pan so the front doesn’t drag and get hung up while trying to load/unload and run down the track. I’ll post photos when that is done.

Thanks for tuning in! Overall this should shape up to be a good year for progress on the dragster!

 

Let’s Get Itchy!

May 17, 2014

Made progress on the dragster by fiberglassing the two tail section halves back into one piece. This was my first time working with fiberglass. My friend Eddie Stein has experience so he came over to help out and walk me through the process. 

Mark and I had purchased this King Chassis tail from Roger Lee who originally bought it for his Masters and Richter dragster recreation. He had narrowed it, and then riveted the two sections together with aluminum strip on the backside providing support. In time he decided to have a tail section made from aluminum and passed this one on to us for a great deal. So I drilled out the rivets and mocked it up on our dragster by clamping the halves onto the frame. Cut a few braces from 1/8″ strap to keep the two halves spaced correctly and then waited until I could line the stars up to do the fiberglass work.

Still more work to do- I need to raise the sides with new glass, and then extend the floor where it had been trimmed, but it’s progress. Lots of sanding, filling, and finish work to do to make it pretty and get it ready for paint, but onward and upward!

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Get Shorty!

March 14, 2014

After scoring a screaming deal at the Sacramento Raceway Swap Meet in November on a powerglide that came out of an altered that made almost double the horsepower the dragster will be putting out, the fly in the ointment was that it was a stock length, which was too long to fit in the dragster. At the time I didn’t know how involved the conversion would be- you have to disassemble the trans to swap the part out, and if this were a street car I was goofing around with as a toy on the side, (and if I had more than a single car garage) I might have attempted it myself. But with so much to learn about driving a dragster, and not wanting to second guess my first trans rebuild job while I’m strapped in and whistling towards the top end at 140 MPH, I figured it’s a job best left to someone with experience. I was able to score another screaming deal on a clean used short planetary and bearing plate, and my good friend Keith knows the owner of a trans shop that among other things, builds racing powerglides.

So now the previously too-long transmission, has been converted to a short powerglide. (the parts laying behind the trans are what needed to be replaced.) The owner, who is a drag racer himself, did the work and gave me the good guy deal, thanks to Keith. Said everything checks out inside so the trans is good to go!

Jim Rodarmel also donated the B&M shifter from his front engine dragster, which is cool on a lot of different levels. His car was one of the very small handful that made me believe that running a dragster that looks as close to period correct was possible. So now Rocinante has the original headers from Brian Fox’s Zorba’s Ghost, and the shifter from Nitro Jim Rodarmel’s digger. It carries the DNA of the two biggest inspirations for the entire project.

This means that parts-wise all the big chunks needed are accounted for! I’d say that I’ve got probably 80-85% of the actual total parts I need, with the 15-20% being a lot of small stuff. The vast majority of it is now labor and fabrication. Onward!

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A little chassis work

February 17, 2014
Hung out at Michael Edick’s today and got some bonafide work done on the dragster. (thanks for the welding and fab work Michael!)When the frame was built, I had mentioned to Brian Fox that I wanted the front hoop of the roll cage to lay back at the same angle that they did in the 1960’s. The only problem was in the ’60s the roll cages only had one hoop, and today’s rules require two.

To find the space to do what we wanted in order to have “the look” I had Brian add about 4″ to the frame behind the center axle. Mission accomplished on the cage, but it created two challenges I hadn’t taken into account. 1.) with the longer overhang in the back, it meant that the front wheels only had to come up a foot or so before it started scraping the rail under the seat. This also meant it made it more difficult to roll the car onto a trailer. 2.) sitting farther away from the rear axle also meant that rather than the axle resting under the crook of my knees, my calves were resting on them. This would make pedal placement a little tricky.

There is no way I wanted to shorten the back section at all, and it turns out the rules allow 1 1/2″ x .125″ flat bar stock to be used under the seat as well as tubing. So I decided that even buying a couple extra inches of clearance would help. So today we got that job done and welded it flush with the frame rail. We also had to cut the seat bottom out, because we’ll have to shorten the seat. There is still plenty of clearance in the roll cage area with the helmet on. I have no intention on changing Brian’s work – the chassis is everything we wanted. It’s more of making a practical adjustment to make the car more comfortable and usable. But that will be the only change to it as-delivered. From here on it will be adding things like the belt anchor points, and the chute bracket and cockpit controls.

I’m still going to have to “hide” a caster wheel that will be mounted at the back of the chassis and placed in a position to protect the bottom frame rail, but tucked under the body work and not readily apparent, unless you look at the car from a low angle.

At this point I’m going to look into pushing the bottom of the seat forward 3-4″ inches in order to get my legs in the position to put the axle under my knees. Even though this will put me in more of a reclining position than the original design, with the seat bottom up higher a couple extra inches it should not be an issue. This will allow us to mount the pedals lower in the cockpit and not run into clearance issues. I just need to check to make sure there are no rules that state the seat back needs to be flush with the frame rails.

Here’s photos of  the day’s proceedings.

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Touching Base

December 22, 2013

It has been a long time since I’ve updated the blog. This year has seen me distracted with another major project involving music. I wrapped that up and it’s time to get back on the dragster after the holidays. I was able to pick up a powerglide with all the shields, and an 8″ converter for a good price at the race car swap meet at Sacramento Raceway in early November. The only bug is that it’s a full length and I didn’t realize how involved it would be to convert it to a shorty. Not impossible, but more work than I anticipated. I will have to call on the talents of my friend Will Rogers to machine and install a new short output shaft on the planetary. But that will happen in Jan/Feb.

The dragster has been stored at a friend’s shop an hour or so away since late summer and will be come back in February some time to have some progress made. The goal by the end of 2014 is to have the glassing done, and tail section mounted, the rear end gears and brake setup completed, the trans modified and installed, the cockpit controls fabricated, the new cam/lifters/valve springs installed and the oil pan and pickup modified.

It’s a lot to do, and I would hope that I could find a way to have the car track-worthy by this time next year, but I’ll have to wait and see. Even with the big chunks done, there are a ton of nickel and dime jobs and parts – the fuel injection setup needs to be checked and gone through, it needs to be plumbed and wired, a fire bottle setup bought and mounted, and so on and so forth. I still may do a Kickstarter campaign in order to get the financial horsepower to totally complete her and get the driving gear I need in order to make a pass.

Before I go, I need to mention the savior of this project – my good friend Don London. His contribution is what allowed me to get the trans and some of the other parts that are on my shopping list. He is a full partner in the dragster now, so it will be “Havery, London, & Seavers”

Watch this space in the upcoming months for regular updates once Roc is back in my garage.

Thanks for all the interest.

Dean

Torn…

March 26, 2013

I have no idea how many regular readers I have out there, but I’m going through a little bit of existential angst when it comes to the dragster.

Some issues in my personal life have surfaced that brought other feelings to light – just about priorities, self-imposed pressure, simplifying life in order to have some peace of mind.

Since Mark’s passing I can look at myself in the mirror and say I’ve done my level best to move the build forward on sweat, creative bush- beating, and no budget.

But after much soul searching and feelings of intense self-imposed pressure, I have come to the conclusion that I have taken the dragster as far as I can on my own. I am at a crossroads. For the first time since it started, I’ve seriously contemplated letting the project go. Some folks I’ve talked to who are rooting for this to succeed have encouraged me to stick with it and try to find an alternate source of funding.

So after doing some research, I’ve looked into the possibility of a Kickstarter campaign to see if I could “crowdfund” the project. For those who don’t know, Kickstarter provides a platform for a large group of people to make small donations to endeavors that appeal to them—often art, film, design, or music projects—and those who donate get something from the person doing the project that is related to it, in exchange for their financial support. Say, if you help fund a film, depending on how much you donate you’ll get things ranging from private web links giving you access to outtakes, to a DVD copy of the film, to your name in the credits.

I could come up with some pretty cool things related to a dragster kickstarter campaign if it’s viable to go that route. Any small donation would get buttons and vinyl decals, next step up would get hand silk-screened t-shirts and posters  – I’ve already talked to Jeff Norwell about a potential T-shirt design. For those in my area, finding ways to involve them with the car somehow – having a BBQ the day it’s ready to fire up for the first time, allowing folks to have a seat in it while it’s fired up, all the way to pit crew for a day and even their name painted on the car in a “thanks to” section.

BUT my apprehension to it is how a Kickstarter campaign might be received by those who would have an interest in such a thing. Part of me feels like “hey, people fund their own hot rods, and they would feel that if you can’t afford it on your own, you have no buisness doing it.” Worse yet, I’d hate for people to think “he’s got a lot of nerve for even thinking of asking for financial help.” I’d be mortified if folks who saw the Kickstarter campaign thought that was that I was some clueless mooch just trying to con other people and get a free ride by having other people pay for my car.

For those of you who don’t know me that well, I’m a divorced Dad of a teenager, and I’m still dealing with the economic ramifications of the divorce, and will be for the foreseeable future. I rent. If I was in better shape financially and owned a home I would take out a second to finish this, it’s that important to me. But I can’t. I’m usually scrambling to scare up side jobs, or selling things in order to make ends meet each month. I’m not trying to paint a sob story; it’s a reality that I know many of us face. I fully understand that a dragster—especially one that is much more of an art project than an actual race car— is a luxury, and that no-one is “entitled” to such a thing.

These feelings of angst all surfaced a couple of months ago when some big challenges hit hard, and ever since I’ve just been constantly turning it over in my mind, trying to come to some kind of resolution that I can be at peace with. I think about it constantly, which is why I finally need to write about it, hoping I’ll get some kind of clarity and feedback.

In the process of thinking of all of this, another truth has come to light just in the last few days that I hadn’t realized: doing this without Mark specifially, but in general terms without a true partner, has made the dragster project a terribly lonely pursuit.

By nature I’m a pretty introverted guy, but with something this big, sharing that dream – and working as a team with Mark- was a huge part of the enjoyment and made it all seem feasible. We had a plan, we had our roles in the project, we would feed off of each other’s enthusiasm – especially during the down times when we had to wait to be able to afford the next step.

Also from a pragmatic sense, two guys can run a dragster, one can’t. Mark had the truck and trailer, and we would have taken the car out to the track together with equal amounts of enthusiasm. He’d tune, I’d drive, and we’d both get equal enjoyment from our car.

As it is now, I would have to bug one of a couple of friends who have trucks and trailers to do me a favor and either let me borrow their rig or give me a tow. I’d have to bug other friends to help crew out at the track, and when it’s not their project or main interest, my worry is just this feeling that I’d be imposing. I don’t know how often you can ask folks for that kind of help when it’s not really their deal. None of the close friends I have who I would typically ask are drag racing guys. They can appreciate it on some level, but it’s not an enthusiasm they own. So that adds some seeds of doubt and stress as well.

I really, really love the car, and just about the time I make the decision that it probably would be best if I sold it, I’ll look at an old drag racing video or see a photo of a cool 1960’s digger and I’ll go 180 degrees out and think “no, I’ve got to find a way to finish the car” and get all jazzed abut it again. But in time, I’ll think about the magnitude of the project compared to my resources and I feel that kind of depressed stress again. It just goes back and forth, and frankly it’s driving me a little nuts.

So dear reader, if you are so inclined I would be interested in your opinion. Just another voice that is not my own, because I’m not doing a very good job at coming to my own conclusion. What would you do if you were in my shoes? How would you feel about the Kickstarter idea?

Thanks for bearing with me- I know you are looking at this to find out about a dragster project, not read a soap opera.

Where it stands

November 27, 2012

Here’s a couple photos of where the car is at now. The money tree is exhausted, and I will probably be storing the digger at a friend’s place for the winter and spring to give me the space to do some side jobs that will hopefully generate some cash for Roc. Still on the lookout for a super cheap shorty powerglide and 9 or 10″ converter with a 4500 stall speed. I don’t need a trans brake and I’m only putting out an estimated 425 HP, so it doesn’t need to be a zooty high horsepower deal. If you hear of anything, please keep me in mind. Thanks for reading!