All posts by kleucht

Watch some of Kurt’s NASA speaking events

Several of my talks or speaking events have been recorded and published online.  They are all different lengths.  They are all about different topics.  And they are all meant for different audience types and audience ages.

The list below should help organize the chaos and help you find the talk or presentation that’s right for you!

Thanks for your interest!  Please comment below if you found this helpful!

Here is a simple and shareable address for this page:  https://tinyurl.com/KurtsTalks

Kurt

How to make a custom license plate bracket for your car

If you’ve followed me for any length of time, you probably noticed that I like to make things myself if I can, rather than buy them.  Most of my projects are in wood, but occasionally I do some light metal-work out of necessity.

In today’s installment, I will show you how I was able to make a custom fitted metal bracket which allowed me to mount an old vanity plate to the front of my new-to-me car.  Hopefully, this information ends up being useful to someone out there in the Interwebs.

My new-to-me car is a 2010 Honda Civic SI.  She’s a beaut, isn’t she?  But when I tried to mount my vanity tag, which has my name on it, to the front of the car, the mounting holes were nowhere near where they needed to be.  Apparently, a mounting bracket is required here.  In my prior car, a 2004 Chrysler PT Cruiser, I just drilled holes right into the plastic bumper and screwed the plate right in.  But this car is quite a bit too new and much too nice for that technique.

I looked at my local auto parts stores for a bracket, assuming that it was some sort of common standard, but I came up empty.  So I looked around my woodworking shop to see what I had laying around.  Luckily, I had just the thing.  I had a couple unused pieces of thin steel perforated  angle iron from my new garage door opener.  If you don’t have any laying around, your local home improvement store sells this sort of material.  Just search for Metal Angles.

Notice in the photo above, the cardboard prototype on the bench.  Making a cardboard prototype of the final product was step one in this process.  It will save you a lot of time and frustration if you always start out by making a cardboard version first!  You can see in the cardboard design, that the bracket needs to swoop up, go straight across, and then swoop back down.  Easy peasy!

The second step was to fold over the angle iron to make it into a flat plate.  Mashing it between my hammer and my bench vise worked nicely.

Then I hammered it into a 90 degree angle by squeezing it in my bench vise and hammering it over and nicely flat.  The bench vise makes it easy to create sharp angles like this out of thin steel.

The curved section was a bit more work.  And it took some trial and error.  A round tip anvil might have been the right tool for this part, but sometimes you have to deal with the tools that are in your toolbox.

So here is the bracket compared to the cardboard prototype.  Not too shabby.

And a bit more sweat got it looking like so!  Yep, my cardboard prototype was from a Fruit Loops cereal box.  Don’t judge me!

After passing the side by side comparison test with the cardboard prototype, I hacked off the extra material with a … you guessed it … hacksaw.

Now a fit check to the actual license tag was in order.  Looking good!

Then the holes were marked and drilled.  By the way, if you work mostly with wood, like I do, don’t use your wood drill bits for steel!  If you don’t ruin the bits completely, you will at least dull them terribly.  Do yourself a favor and buy a set of hardened bits just for metal.

Here is a photo of the finished product!  It worked like a charm!  And it looks great!

I mean the bracket itself doesn’t look all that great.  But it’s completely hidden behind the vanity plate!  So why spend 20 bucks on a fancy tag bracket when nobody ever sees it!

Thanks for your interest!

If you have any comments or questions, feel free to leave a comment or click on the Email Us link at the bottom of the page!

Kurt

My Trip To Germany: Plauen (Part 2)

Plauen

A few weeks ago after speaking at a software developer conference in Berlin Germany, I had the opportunity to take several personal days while there and I got to see some of the countryside!  It was pretty great!

Plauen Germany is where my grandfather, Kurt William Leucht, lived from about the age of 4 until he left for America at age 18.  Here are some more sights from Plauen as I explored the area and walked in my grandfather’s footsteps.

Friedensbrücke (Peace Bridge)

The Peace Bridge (Friedensbrücke) is a stone arch bridge built in 1905.  The longest span is 90 meters which is nearly 300 feet.  It’s one of the largest stone arch bridges in the world!  There are no older bridges in the world containing this long of an arch span!

My grandfather was 9 years old when the bridge construction was finished, so I’m certain he would have marveled at this monster.  He lived less than one mile (1.6 km) from this bridge, so he must have at least walked across it and under it as a teenager.  Here’s what the bridge looked like in 1906.

And here are a few photos that I took of the bridge while I was there.  It’s really quite impressive.  Especially when you consider when it was constructed.

It’s quite difficult to get a photo of the entire bridge.  It’s really big and there are lots of trees in the area.

The bridge is quite beautiful.  The design is very organized and geometrical, but it also has some random elements mixed in.  The bridge was badly damaged during the war, but it was restored quickly, even though that took a lot of the limited resources that were available to Plauen after the war.

Alte Elsterbrücke (Old Magpie Bridge)

The Old Magpie Bridge (Alte Elsterbrücke) near downtown Plauen is the second oldest stone bridge in Saxony and one of the oldest in Central Europe.  It was first mentioned in documentation from 1244.  The bridge has gone through many restorations over these many years.  You can definitely pick out some sections that are more modern than others.

My grandfather lived about 2 miles (3.2 km) from this old bridge.

It’s a pretty neat bridge and it’s amazing how old it is and that it’s still standing.

Old Castle Looking Structure On Hill

Just one block from downtown Plauen and one block from both town squares, overlooking the entire town, sits this old fort or castle.  I’m not sure which.  It’s obviously under restoration right now.  But I didn’t see any signage and I can’t find any information on the Internet about it either.  Strange.

Whatever it is, it looks pretty awesome.  And some of it is buried in what appears to be a hillside.  But underneath that dirt, looks to be some really old walls and rooms.  This was all completely fenced off for construction, so I couldn’t explore.  I’m interested to find out the history of this structure and what exactly tourists in the future will be able to see and explore.

Spitzenmuseum (Lace Museum)

In my previous post, I mentioned Plauen’s textile and lace manufacturing revolution in the early 1900’s.  My grandfather wrote this in his journal:

After graduating [high school], I obtained a job with Otto-Baum & Son, who manufactured and exported lace.

I’m not exactly sure what type of work he did or how long he did it, though.  While I was in Plauen, I was unable to find any listings or address for this Otto-Baum & Son company, but I’m guessing that in 1913 or 1914, when my grandfather was 17 or 18 years old, small family run lace businesses were all the rage.  The population of Plauen actually peaked in 1912 due to the textile and lace industry there.

So it would have been an absolute crime for me to skip the official Lace Museum (Spitzenmuseum) in town!  The museum has on display, under glass, beautiful antique lace pieces such as these delicate gloves and scarf:

And some amazing clothing items too.

And also this incredible 1936 wedding dress.  Sorry, I didn’t catch the dates on any of the other clothing items.  I’m a dude.  That’s my excuse.  🙂

I’m guessing that this is a tablecloth.  Very cool.  And the display case is also quite impressive!

As a dude, and also as an engineer, I was most excited to gaze at the old antique lace making machinery, as opposed to looking at the actual antique lace samples on display.  But I believe that guys and gals alike can both appreciate this historical local museum.

So this machine apparently pumped out copy after copy of the same small lace pattern segment.

Here are some examples of the small lace pattern segments so you can see what the machine above produced.  These examples are about 6 inches tall or so.

This is the same example, but much closer so you can see the detail.  Basically this detail area contains two leaves with decorative honeycomb-like ribbing.  Each leaf is about 3/4 of an inch.  Pay close attention to the very short ribs on the right that are spanning between the two leaves.

This is the hand-drawn pattern that the operator used to “program” or to drive the giant machine.  The leaves which are actually less than an inch long in real life are about 8 or 10 inches long on this pattern.  And the tiny little, just a few millimeters long, ribs that span between the two leaves are an inch or more long on this pattern.

This display shows an example of how some of the lace products had to be stitched together by hand from numerous smaller sections, like a puzzle.

Here is a smaller and portable automated lace making machine.  You can see the “programming” of this machine was performed by the long roll of punched paper tape.  Surprisingly, this punched tape programming technique had been used on looms for over a hundred years.

The punched tape has holes in it that tell the machine which needles to move up and down and when to do so.

Here is a close up shot of the linear array of sewing needles on this portable machine that were programmed by the punched tape.

I thought this photo was cool so I took a picture of it.  This photo shows the prevalence of factories in Plauen at the height of the textile and lace manufacturing boom.

This display was pretty neat.  This particular lace example is very very textured and even three-dimensional.  Amazing.

And here is an example of an antique and automated embroidery machine.  From this angle, it looks basically like an old sewing machine.

But from this angle, you can clearly see the punched paper tape roll that is fed through the machine to move and control the stitching action.  I think the sewing machine stays stationary and the hoop with the fabric gets moved around.  Pretty cool.

And here is the final product from the automated embroidery machine.  Very nice.  Especially for the time period that this technology was invented and used.

Antique Store

I passed a nice looking local antique store on my way to the town square and I thought it would be fun to check it out and to look for some items that were from the time my grandfather was living in the area.

I considered buying a piece of lace from the early 1900’s, but they were all out of my price range.  This antique store had several beautiful samples, though.

I think they were from the worlds fair or something like that.  Check out the cool lead seal with the crown embedded in it.  That dates it before the first world war, I think the store owner told me.

There were some really cool items in this antique store, but I eventually landed on a vintage harmonica.  Apparently my grandfather came over to America with a harmonica in his pocket.  On July 22nd of 1914, my grandfather’s first day on the ship that took him to America, he wrote this in his journal:

We arrived at 9:00. We were invited to board the ship “Vaterland”. […] We noticed that hundreds of people were waving their handkerchiefs and shouting farewell greetings to us. We did the same.  […]  The German homeland disappeared in the distance. […]  At 3:00 the call to coffee came.  After that, there was more activity on deck. Music was made with an accordion, while some Bohemian country people were performing their dances.  […]  At 7:00, the bells chimed for the evening meal. It became stormier and the ship swayed a little. Despite the disturbance, there was still dancing on the deck. I added to the concert with my harmonica. I went to bed at 11:00.

So I thought it might be cool to own an authentic German harmonica from that time period.  Here’s the one that I purchased.  It’s not quite as old as my grandfather’s, but it’s still very cool.

The case says Liebchen’s Gruss which means Sweetie’s Greeting.  And it has a brightly colored sticker showing “sweetie” waving something in the air.  Possibly a harmonica.  The case also says Made In Germany and “Ges. gesch.” which means registered or patented.

The actual harmonica is pretty basic.  It’s in good shape, with just a couple spots of rust and no wear marks to be seen.  “Liebchen’s Gruss” is etched into both sides.  I’m happy with my purchase and I’m glad I noticed the antique store and decided to check it out.

But wait, there’s even more Plauen to explore!

You haven’t quite seen all of Plauen yet!  In my next post, we’ll explore some churches and we’ll also explore the neighborhood where my grandfather grew up!  So stay tuned!

Thanks for your interest!

Kurt

My Trip To Germany: Plauen

Plauen

A few weeks ago after speaking at a software developer conference in Berlin Germany, I had the opportunity to take several personal days while there and I got to see some of the countryside!  It was pretty great!

After visiting the tiny little village of Zaulsdorf Germany near the Czech border, I traveled about 30 minutes northwest to the town of Plauen Germany.  This is where my grandfather, Kurt William Leucht, lived from about the age of 4 until he left for America at age 18.

Coincidentally, driving from Zaulsdorf to Plauen is very much like driving from Allentown to Peoria, which is my old stomping grounds growing up.  Plauen actually reminds me of Peoria in several ways.  But it’s a smaller, less industrialized version of PeoriaPlauen has about 80% of the landmass of Peoria, but only has about 50% of the population of Peoria.  So it’s smaller and the population is way more spread out than Peoria.

In the early 1900’s Plauen actually peaked in its population.  In 1912, when my grandfather was living there at age 16, the population grew to 128,000 people, due to the peak of textile and lace manufacturing there.  That population of 128,000 in Plauen in 1912 was more than Peoria’s population is today!  Amazing!

Downtown

Plauen feels very safe and friendly.  The downtown area of Plauen has modern shops and malls.  There are many rolling hills in the area and the downtown strip, where cars are not allowed, is on quite a slope.  It gives this strip a unique character.

Here is the reverse angle, looking downhill.  I felt quite at home in this downtown strip.  I walked around for a while checking out all the stores and shops.  I imagined my grandfather walking around this same strip about a hundred years ago.  Several of the buildings appeared to be over a hundred years old, so they were in place when my grandfather lived here.

This cute little British phone booth stood out like a sore thumb.  It’s called Alice’s Book Box and it’s a free book exchange system.  The idea is that if you take a book, you replace it with a new book.  Very fun.

This photo is just a close up of some cool architecture detail that caught my eye downtown.  I tried to find a date plaque on this building but I came up empty.  The address is Rädelstraße 2, 08523 Plauen, Germany.

Town Squares

This unique old building is the Altes Rathaus or City Hall.  The building has been restored several times over the years, but it’s been around since the late 1300’s.  It overlooks a town square or market.

Here is one of the markets or squares in the middle of downtown.  They contain lots of small businesses and shops and outdoor eateries and cafes.  A very nice area to hang out.

This statue is pretty famous to the area.  It’s called Vater und Sohn or Father and Son.  This statue memorializes the local famous comic strip creator Kurt Erich Ohser, who created the popular Vater und Sohn comic strip in the 1930s under the pseudonym e. o. plauen.

Here is another market or square that actually had local vendors set up and selling goods when I walked through it.  You can see the old city hall at the far corner of this market.

Misc

This photo/camera store in downtown Plauen caught my eye because it claims to have been in business since 1856.  It also caught my eye because my grandfather was into photography and especially videography in his later years.  Did this photo shop in downtown Plauen get him started in that hobby, I wonder?

Sadly, this family owned photo business closed just a few months ago.  But apparently they ran from 1856 till 2017, which is quite an impressive run.  Especially for a small family run business.

The local theatre building in Plauen is pretty impressive.  It hosts musical theater, drama, ballet and symphonies.  It opened in 1898, right before my grandfather and his family moved to Plauen.

I wonder what shows or events my grandfather saw in this theatre while growing up here in Plauen.  My parents and my sister and I are all very much into musical theatre and I wonder if any of that interest started right here in this building way back in the early 1900s.

My grandfather was very artistic and also quite musical.  In his journal, he mentioned that he had become a good tenor singing in his church in Peoria.  At age 20 he took a job painting scenery at a theatre in Peoria.  His scenery painting gig also allowed him to act on stage occasionally for the troupe.  And he acted quite a bit for the Peoria Cinema Club that he became very active in later in life.  This Plauen theatre could have sparked some of that creativity and theatre interest in him.  Although I’ll never know details like these until I talk to my grandfather in heaven, it’s always fun to imagine and to speculate.

But wait, there’s more Plauen to explore!

You haven’t seen all of PlauenMy next post will focus on some pretty cool old stuff that I came across in my travels!  So stay tuned!

Thanks for your interest!

Kurt

My Trip To Germany: The Countryside

The Countryside

A couple weeks ago after speaking at a software developer conference in Berlin Germany, I had the opportunity to take several personal days while there and I got to see some of the countryside!  It was pretty great!

I rented a car and then drove south out of Berlin.  Sort of towards Munich but only about half that far.  My destination was a tiny little village called Zaulsdorf that is tucked into a tiny little valley of beautiful rolling hillsides.  This is where my grandfather, Kurt William Leucht, was born and where he lived till about the age of 4.  I grew up in a very rural area of Central Illinois, so seeing rural Germany was really fun for me.

Zaulsdorf

Here’s a photo that I took of Zaulsdorf from above.

It’s a very small farming community.  There are probably only 20 houses in total.  Zaulsdorf reminds me of the small unincorporated community of Allentown, Illinois that I grew up in.

The beautiful yellow flowering fields seen in this photo are very common in Germany and are growing rapeseed which is the 3rd largest source of vegetable oil in the world.

Zaulsdorf is just a couple miles off the nearest highway but is only accessible via a one lane road that is both steep and winding.

This photo shows the large rural land plots within the village and also some of the farmland on the hills in the distance.

There are only a couple of small one lane roads in Zaulsdorf.  I parked my rental car along the playground near the center of the village and walked around for a bit.

I was mainly looking for old structures and old houses that were likely in place back in 1900 when my grandfather was a pre-school child there in the village.  Like this old house.

This old barn was probably also there in 1900.  Look at that architecture!  They don’t make ’em like this anymore!  It’s a real work of art!

Here’s a close up view of the slate stone wall foundation.  Amazing.

This little stream was at the bottom of the valley, in a park or playground.  While looking at this stream it was easy to imagine my 4 year old grandfather playing in it back in 1900.  At least I know I would have played in it as a 4 year old!

This photo shows some of the properties and houses from the bottom of the valley looking up.  Some of the houses were cute little cottages, while some were larger modern looking structures.

This old barn has an old slate rock roof.  It’s beautiful.  These types of roofs can last for 200 years!

For many generations in Zaulsdorf, my grandfather’s family owned the village mill, which was a central focus of Zaulsdorf.  In 1902, they sold the mill to the Halbauer family.  The mill was a working centerpiece of Zaulsdorf until about 1986, when it was shut down and the mill building was turned into apartments or a duplex of sorts.

The white building in this photo is the old Zaulsdorf mill.

The old Zaulsdorf mill used water from a brook or stream on top of the hill which was guided in a pipeline to the mill. Inside the mill building, the water flowed through a turbine and then exited the building into the brook again.  So the entire mill drive ran inside the building and wasn’t visible from the outside at all.

Inside the mill, people ground grain into flour. There used to be a lot of mills like this in Germany because the farmers had only small pieces of land and couldn’t easily transport their grain across long distances.  But they are becoming more and more rare.

Here is a closer photo of the mill.  It was mid-morning on a weekday when I was there exploring the village.  Part of me wanted to walk up and knock on all the doors and ask if I could explore inside the old mill building.  But I don’t speak German at all.  And it looked like nobody was home anyways.  So I chickened out.

This large old barn next to the mill building looks like a fun place for a 4 year old to play in 1900.  I think it would be cool to explore inside today, just to see what my grandfather experienced back in 1900.  But it didn’t seem like anyone was around.  So I just imagined what it’s like inside.

What are the odds that there is something of my grandfather’s actually up in the attic of this old mill barn right now?  Like an old toy or an old book?  With his name scratched on it or written in it?  Wouldn’t that be cool to find!

Here is a close up of the old barn next to the mill building.  The sign says “at the mill”.  I’m assuming this barn was part of the mill property based on its location and also based on that sign.

I almost missed it, but in the small park or playground in the middle of the village was this memorial from World War I.  It’s about chest high and it’s towards the back of the property.

It says:

Our Heroes
1914-1918
Walter Flemmig
Emil Leucht
Paul Leucht
Paul Knoll
Max Bley

So who are these two Leucht guys who were from Zaulsdorf and died in WWI?  I’m not sure.  My immediate relatives moved out of Zaulsdorf in 1900, but maybe there were other Leucht families living there.  Leucht was a fairly common name in the area.

Leipzig

I popped into Leipzig quickly, which was about midway on my trip to Zaulsdorf.  The reason I wanted to get a look at Leipzig was that my grandfather stopped there when he was 18 years old and travelling to the northern coast of Germany for his overseas trip to America.  He wrote in his journal that he had a couple hour train layover in Leipzig and that he saw the Battle of the Nations Monument.

First I explored this big cemetery that was right next to the Battle of the Nations Monument.  It was pretty cool.

This photo is still inside the cemetery, but you can see the massive Battle of the Nations Monument in the background.

This huge monument was built in 1913 and my grandfather saw it in 1914.  If you look closely you can see two people at the base of the monument, which gives you a better feel for the size of this thing.  It’s really big!

Photos don’t quite do it justice.  This monument is immense.  It’s 300 feet tall!  The monument commemorates Napoleon’s defeat at Leipzig.  It is claimed to stand on the spot of some of the bloodiest fighting, from where Napoleon ordered the retreat of his army.

I didn’t have a lot of time in Leipzig, so I didn’t actually tour the monument or the museum or anything.  I just walked around it, took some photos, was amazed, and then got back on the road.

Misc

This is just some random stuff related to my travels through the countryside.

Here is the rental car that I got in Germany.  It’s an Opel Adam.  It’s just a bit bigger than a Mini Cooper.  And more streamlined.  I liked it.  It had all the bells and whistles.  And it ran great.  I ran at 105 mph (170 km/h) on the Autobahn for a while and this car didn’t even blink.  By the way, at that speed people were still zooming past me like I was standing still!

This car had a 5 speed manual transmission.  Now that I think about it, they didn’t even ask me if I could drive a manual transmission.  They just gave it to me.  Obviously, I can drive a manual.  I actually prefer a manual transmission.  Every car I’ve ever owned has been a manual.  The vast majority of all vehicles in Europe are manual and in some countries you even have to prove that you can drive a manual before they will even give you a licence.

On my way out of Zaulsdorf, I thought it might be interesting to visit a couple of local country cemeteries.  Here is one of them.  It was very small, less than one city block.  I wondered if any of my ancient relatives were buried in any of these small town cemeteries in this area.

I did find a Leucht couple buried at one of the cemeteries that I visited.  But I don’t think they are from my family.  At least not a part of the family tree that we have found and documented.

While driving from one small town cemetery to another, I passed by this building with Leucht painted real big on the side.  Obviously, I stopped to check it out!  It says: Curtains, Albert Leucht, Weaving

I stumbled across this planetary statue thingy while searching out a public restroom in a small village near one of the local country cemeteries.  Turns out there are 8 of these planet displays installed around Vogtland, which is basically the name of the county here.  Each display shows one of the planets in the solar system  And the distances between the displays is scaled to the  distances between the planets.  That’s kinda cool.  A person would need to travel all over the county in order to see them all.  And they would get a feel for the relative distances between the planets.

The main sign says:

Neptune is the eighth and outermost planet in the solar system, with an average distance of 4.5 billion kilometers (equivalent to about 25.8 kilometers in this model).  It was discovered in 1846 on the basis of Uranus orbit interferences.  With a diameter of almost 50,000 kilometers (here about 28 cm), just four times the diameter of the earth, it is the fourth largest planet in our solar system.  Together with Uranus, Neptune forms the subgroup of the “ice giants”.  Neptune dominates by its size the outer zone of the planetary system.  Neptune currently has 14 known moons.  The gas planet is named after Neptune, the Roman god of the sea and the flowing waters.

The gold plaque says:

Initiators Andreas Krauß – Olaf Graf
Planetary Trails Vogtland
A total of 8 paths lead from landmark points to the center – the observatory Rodewisch.  The lines between the starting points and the dome of the planetarium of the school observatory symbolize the distances between the planets of our solar system. Walk along the marked paths and experience a piece of wonderful (hiking) Vogtland.

Very cool.  I like that.  I wonder how many public schools shuttle their students all around the county to see all of these displays.  That’s a pretty cool learning experience.  Although it might make for a long day.

But wait, there’s more Germany to explore!

My next stop was Plauen, where my grandfather lived from age 4 to age 18, when he came to America!  Next time I’ll publish some details and photos from that part of my trip!

Thanks for your interest!

Kurt