May 27, 2018
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Glory angel glorifies machines-2008

By: Irene Hilsendager
February 2, 2018

Holding a robotic demonstration at the Penngrove Power and Implement Museum might seem anachronous at first, since robots emit neither fumes nor sounds of diesel engines. Yet as curator Steve Phillips watched the Tech High Phantom Robotics crew demonstrate their electric powered robot, he saw himself many years ago.

He, like the dozen or so crew members of Greg Weaver’s Robotics club, love to work. In fact, they worked so hard on this six week competition project that he plans to time limits next year, to avoid burnout. But if Steve Phillips is any example of the mechanical worker, they get so involved that they don’t want to quit until a problem is solved. This small minority still loves to take things apart, see how they function and put them back together in the most efficient way.

For the students, who start at Rohnert Park’s Tech High 9th graders in Weaver’s introductory class, the museum provides a perfect bridge from past to future. They were first sent on an extra credit assignment to last July’s annual Power-up, to observe and diagram an historic, yet still operating machine.

Most stayed all day, riding the restored Leslie Salt train and enjoying the booming sounds from their favorite machine, known as “The Bix Six.”

The experience allowed them to see how basic lever and pulleys operated. Then, when they needed the same devices on their robot’s crank shaft and chain pulley, the transfer of knowledge was seamless. “It’s a great place for us to make the connection and see the progression through time,” commented Mike Baker, a major problem-solver for the group. Baker’s popularity led to selecting his ailing sister Sara’s online screen name, “Lory Angel,” for the robot.

The robot kit was distributed by organizers for competitions in Davis and San Jose. The kit included a large red ball, which could be picked up, carried by two tucks, which they made of a cut rubber wheel and placed on a metal rack built by the crew. Total allowed budget was $3,500 and they are grateful to sponsors HSC, RHL, NS LRG. Brooks (robotics) animation and MRV Transportation made the largest contribution of $5,000 each. To pay for extra expenses, they’ve been holding fundraisers, such as the recent “power-up” at the Penngrove Museum.

The Phantom Robotics experience has had a major influence on students’ future plans. Team member Stephanie Pearlman is heading to UC Davis bioengineering, while James Hellfeir and Brian Melani have their sights on MIY’s School of Engineering. While Maker plans to study auto mechanics at UTI, he confesses the problem solving may cause him to expand his original goal.

Steve and Nancy Phillips, working with a support board and volunteer group, envisioned such an influence when they made their private museum a 501 (3) in 2005. Formerly open only to family, friends and small visitor groups, they are now interested in preserving it for posterity. This takes lots of money as well as labor and fuel to maintain, operate and catalog. Anyone interested in either contributing or attending future “power-ups” can check out their website at www.penngrovepower.org. 

Irene Hilsendager’s column each week touches on moments in the history of Cotati, Rohnert Park and Penngrove.