Hey! Where ya been?

Fair question. Back in July I had been making plans for a winter move to the coast of North Carolina and by the end of August it was actually happening. It was a quick move and there were many complex and interesting problems as I needed to get my kids enrolled in a new school before it started and pack up our entire lives in only 2-3 weeks. To make matters even more difficult the move happened during Tropical Storm Hermine. 75 mile an hour winds and sideways rain, no power and darkness took its toll on the whole family.

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The Catfish was 80% done and I was closing in on the really fun parts of the build. It runs and it drives, the steering and brakes work as well, but none of it has been adjusted. Seats and harnesses were in too. I had done some additional cooling work and now had a puke tank and expansion tank as well as an oil breather. A new NACA duct and two new aluminum vents had been installed in the hood for both looks and much needed engine compartment venting. The engine idled well and was fairly smooth, far from tuned but able to take a nice rough and loud ride.

 

I purchased a new enclosed car trailer which I was using for the move first, but would be used as the vessel for my Catfish later when I returned to Connecticut. To this day I have not yet returned. In the mean time my project needed a temporary home. My Friend Peter of Lombardo Motorcars, Inc. came through for me in a big way. He gave the Catfish a great home next to the other amazing cars in his inventory, Italian vintage classics, modern racers and ultra rare cars. I love going to his shop, you never know what you will find there. I highly recommend stopping by if you ever find yourself in Berlin, CT. I am hoping to retrieve the Catfish and bring it to NC in the next few months or as soon as we get completely settled and I purchase a new tow vehicle.

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I still have a ton of tuning and adjustments to make and the car needs paint and a few missing items. I will be posting the work and updates hopefully in the next few months. I appreciate all of the comments and questions. I miss the work so I hope it does not take too long to get back to it!

Quest for Fire

I had been slowly sorting out the wiring and I had reached a point where I had a pretty good stripped down harness constructed from the remains of the OEM unit. Many calls to DIYAutotune, the place where I purchased my  MegaSquirtPNP G2 MM9900 engine management and Innovative LC-2 wideband O2, and hours of web searches now had me at the point where I could attempt a first fire up. I would still need to balance the throttles and calibrate the sensors first however.

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Balancing the throttles is a two part process. I needed to first set the opening of the throttle to at least get the air flow close to identical at idle and while the butterflies were opening. I came across a good .pdf file that really helped out in getting the basic settings built into the throttles before I attempted a start (Toyota ITB EFI) . I would need to balance them later at idle with a syncometer to make sure all the throttles pulled the same air.

The next step was to make sure I set the calibration for both the engine sensors and the Innovative wideband O2. The O2 was very straight forward, leave the O2 out of the pipe, disconnect it from the included harness, keyed power on, wait for red light to appear on the Innovative box, key off, connect the O2, key on, wait for solid green light then you are set to install the O2. You need to be careful with the O2 as it gets very hot during the calibration, just a warning. As for the MegaSquirtPNP, that was a little more complicated as the install and the calibration takes a bit of research. I was planning on using ITB Mode which comes with the MegaSquirtPNP and makes life a bit easier when starting out. I would still need future tuning but its a great place to start. Basically ITB mode blends Speed Density and Alpha-N to make driving ITB powered cars smoother. Its dependent on a few things but most importantly it needs a good working and properly wired TPS (Thottle Position Sensor), more on that in a bit.

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Here was my initial set up and the results after a full day of messing around in TunerStudio. I calibrated my TPS, but noticed the range for the ADC count was short and seems to be very high in numbers. I calibrated the IAT (Intake Air Temperature, GM), which I also purchased from DIY. Then the Coolant temp sensor and a few others. I found this document helpful in getting started (Gant_Semester_Project). This is actually a very simplified explanation of what I did for the set-up. I spent many hours with a meter checking wires and resistance in preparation for the start-up and I believe in having everything worked out before an issue can occur. Even with this approach a gremlin slipped in.

I pushed the Catfish into the driveway and took out my fire extinguisher, just in case the first fire up was my last. Safety first. I turned the key to on and made sure that all of the appropriate lights on the Megasquirt and the Innovative O2 box lit up and looked at the gauge ion the fuel rail to make sure the fuel pump was primed. I stopped at this point to go over the fuel lines from from to back and looked for a leak or even the smell of raw fuel. So far so good. I moved back to the key and got ready to see what would happen. Fire on the first turn! It actually kind of scared me a bit. After a few revolutions it died so I tried again. This time the same issue presented itself so I manually opened the  throttles a bit and tried again. This time I was able to get a mildly rough idle but the engine still wanted to die. I noticed the coolant temperature climbing as I made adjustments in Tuner Studio and fiddled with the throttles. About the time I was able to balance out the air going into the throttles with a syncometer coolant temp hit 200 degrees. Things seems to settle out and sounded much smoother. The idle settled down to around 1100 rpm’s and everything seemed ok on the outside, I looked back at Tuner Studio and found the AFM was way out of wack and the engine was running very lean. I decided to give it some throttle and wanted to see if it would add more fuel and if the engine would rev evenly. This is where I discovered the issue with the TPS. The throttle response was erratic and I noticed that even though my O2 AFM gauge read lean the exhaust looked very rich, I also smelled fuel in the exhaust, not good. I checked the oil for fuel after shutting down and decided it might be smart to change it just in case, which I did the following morning.  After a few emails back and forth with DIY I pulled the TPS and rechecked the wires from the stock wiring harness and the resistance of the pins on the Toyota TPS. For anyone looking for the test here it is:

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The resistance between the VREF (IDL) and ground pins will remain constant.
The resistance between the ground and signal pins will be low with the throttle closed and high with the throttle wide open.
The resistance between the VREF and signal pins will be high with the throttle closed and low with the throttle wide open.

What I found was my issues were two fold. First during my initial wiring of the Miata OEM harness to the Toyota TPS I had switched the VTA and VREF wires, that was easy to remedy. The second issue was that the Toyota TPS (89452-22080), that came with my used throttles, was bad. The VTA signal would just erratically or sometimes show nothing at all. I went out and purchased a new TPS and prepared for my next attempt the following day. Before doing so I re-calibrated the O2 and reset the tune back to the base tune in Tuner Studio. I always like to reset at the base and start again.

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This time was much different. The engine fired quickly again and with a very little help it held idle and was fairly steady during warmup. I knew there was still weeks if not months of tuning to get the most from the engine, but I finally had a base tune for the ITB’s. The revs were steady and the engine sounded powerful and even. The idle was still a bit high at 1100 rpm again and I was seeing an AFM way to far to the lean side but most of the major items seem to have been sorted. I shut it down and decided to take a week long break before additional tuning and messing about.

Second ITB Set-up and Test Day

I will have more soon, I am now deep into tuning and getting ready to do the body work and modifications. See you next time.

Taking shape

The Catfish is finally looking like something that might actually be able to drive finally. Its been a busy few months again and I did not have time to post and very little time to work on the project. The things I did get done have moved the project very close to being able to drive and stop however.

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Back in May I managed to get the brakes bleed and working as well as some of the simpler items that had been plaguing me since the winter. The cooling system was finally finished up and I now had a high mounted fill tank made by Canton and an overflow puke tank as well. I now had three hurtles to get over before I could consider even attempting to get the engine fired up. First I would need a custom exhaust pipe built to connect the header to the side pipe, Second I would need to get the parking brake developed and working and third I would need to sort out the wiring harness and fuel management.

I had completed the engine harness strip down in the beginning of May and it was a fairly easy process to get everything attached and reconnected. I had replaced all of the old sensors; cam, crank, knock and others, which made life much easier. I still had the much bigger task of sorting the OEM harness for the dash and interior. I was going to remove many of the unneeded circuits for things like the A/C etc. A task I found to be very daunting and one that got pushed to the back of the list within a few days. I was also unsure of if I wanted to go with a new fuse and relay box, one designed for an open air vehicle. I have a full body harness made by Bauer that would make a lot of the work easier but it would still need to be integrated into the other wiring. There was also the long main power cable back to the battery which I had decided to remove. A new very light weight battery was now in order after reading of Cord Bauer’s very light battery made by Alien Motion. Just under 4 pounds and very compact. Either way, wiring was going to be last.

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I turned my attention to the parking brake. The Catfish kit does come with a bracket for mounting the OEM Miata parking brake, but I am using a complete Wilwood brake kit. The parking brake for the Wilwoods takes a lot of pressure to hold the vehicle compared to the OEM rear brakes. The catfish bracket gets fiber-glassed into the tunnel and I was concerned with the pressure exerted on the fiberglass. I decided to build a floor mount parking brake using a universal hand brake. I found a great one with a steel mount for about $60.00 online and adapted it to the OEM Miata pull cable. After cutting a few holes to  reduce the weight of the mounting bracket I went to work trying to figure out an acceptable pull for the cables that could be mounted to the back interior wall. It would have to be adjustable and easy to work on so I set off designing a two part bracket for the mount. I also needed a solid mount for the brake handle bracket to the floor. There is a 1.5 inch gap between the floor foot panel and the bottom panel. This would need strengthening so I ordered a couple of 12″ aluminum square 1.5 x 1.5 tubes. When they arrived I added two sections across the floor under between the two  panels and riveted them into place. I now had a solid mount for the bracket. I spent the better parts of two days designing cutting and shaping the too other brackets. the rear bracket was fabricated using a cut down version of the aluminum cable pull bracket supplied with the Catfish kit.

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After everything was mounted and the cables secured I realized I had an 8 inch gap from the handle to the cable pull at the rear of the passenger side tunnel. I used tow left over clevis brackets I had from another project to construct a pull rod from 1/4 aluminum dowel. I threaded it at bot ends making the adjustment a breeze. After a test fit the floor bracket went out to powder coat and was back by the end of the week. the finished system works great and has a nice vintage race car look.

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I was still buried in thought about the wiring issue. It was a constant nagging issue as I hate wiring but it’s a must do. I decided to put it off yet again in order to get the exhaust done and to give me an excuse to ignore it for the time being.

I asked a friend of mine if he knew of any shops doing custom exhausts in stainless steel. I had already tried the local big box shops and either the price was ridiculous or they did not have anyone in house that could do stainless. My friend suggested a great shop in Berlin Connecticut called Raceworks. I made a call and discussed my project with the owner Ed. Ed, knows his stuff and walked me through a few different approaches and also pointed me to previous completed jobs that the shop had done. Very impressive. They would need the roller Catfish for a few days and would hand make and weld bends to complete a very smooth pipe to connect the header to the beautiful Catfish stainless side pipe.

I went over to another friends house and picked up a trailer donated to him and I by a good friend of ours who owns Lombardo Motorcars here in Connecticut. If you are ever in the area and looking for a unique car or exotic I highly recommend stopping by. I loaded up the Catfish……,it was actually not that easy as I was doing it myself,  and headed of to Raceworks.

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I spent at least an hour going over what I wanted and getting suggestions and insight from Ed. After we rolled the Catfish off the trailer and into the shop it occurred to me that this is the first time I would be without the project and had at least a week of idle time or just plain real work! It was a very slow few days. It was during this time I mapped out the electrical plan and ordered a new fuse and relay box from Concours Specialties to tie into the ignition, fuel injection, body harness and the ECU. This box along with the Megasquirt would take up little space and could be mounted neatly up behind the dash panel along with the Alien Motion battery. All the parts arrived a couple days later and are still waiting for install.

I got the call I had been waiting for, the exhaust was done! I hooked up the trailer that had graced my backyard for  a week. It was a great obstacle to mow around and had been both killing some grass and letting other grass grow out of control. Didn’t matter to me though, it was time to get the Catfish back home. I could not believe the quality of the work when Ed first showed me the pipe. It was excellent and beyond what I expected! The entire engine bay now looked like it was developed in a high tech skunk-works garage by a large corporation. I paid the man and made sure I told him I would be back for more work in the future.

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Well, that is where I am at today. The electrical is being held off once again by business but I am making attempts at clearing the schedule.  Thanks for reading.

Fill’er Up!

So over the past few weeks I have been thinking about how I wanted to approach the fuel filler for the Catfish. Remember I am going for a cross between modern sports car and nostalgic old Italian racer. I had ordered a flip-top fuel filler a while back and was going to simply bolt it to the center rear deck lid or build up the underside of the deck lid and pass it through the hole. That way I can screw it down from underneath and you would not see the screws. It hit me about a week ago that bolting the filler directly on to the deck lid from the top or the bottom would probably not work out the way I envisioned and also added the issue of having to remove the filler hose if I needed to remove the deck lid at the track for repairs or the like. I knew that some of the 50’s and 60’s race cars had bodywork that had a cut out for a filler that was bolted to the frame or fuel cell and this allowed the panels to be removed without issue. The picture below is what I found and wanted to engineer.
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The first thing I would need is to figure out how the filler was to be supported and where I could accomplish this. After a lot of measuring and checking the fit of the rear deck lid I decided to use the roll bar cross member above the rear of the fuel tank for the job. I knew I would need a solid piece of aluminum to make the mount and it would have to be braced at the sides to handle lateral movement during hard cornering. I also realized that the filler would need to be able to catch spillage and bleed off rain water that would enter through the pass though for the filler cap. I happened, by chance, to find the perfect piece of aluminum sitting in my basement. It was part of an old water treatment system bracket and just happened to be almost 100% to the shape and size I needed to build the mount. It took a good three hours of more measuring, drilling and tapping before I had it in place with the filler hanging through the hole in the top. Next I would need the hole to allow the filler to pass through the body work. From underneath the Catfish I drilled a very small 1/8 inch exploratory hole up through the mount hole into the bottom of the rear deck lid to mark the spot I would have to use the hole saw to cut the main hole for the flip-top.Again, more measuring and making sure the hole would be exactly in the middle of the rear deck lid and directly over my new filler mount. A few minutes with a hole saw and cuts with a Dremel tool and the basic work was complete.

At this point I still had some energy left and started searching around the house for anything I could use as a splash pan for under the filler. My wife started to look at me funny as I pulled out the old stainless and aluminum cake pans from the cup-boards. I couldn’t find anything close to what I needed. I went back in the garage and just as I passed my work bench I spotted my old stainless magnetic bowl I bought from Craftsmen 20 years ago. The magnet was no longer attached to the bowl, but everything was in good shape. It was a perfect fit! It was the exact height and shape I needed. Some more quick work with a hole saw and a drill and it was in. It was at this point I decided that while I was on a roll I would keep pressing on. I grabbed one of my old stainless fuel pipes I had lying around and in an hour I had two very strong side supports for each side of the filler mounting. I was very happy with the result. I still need to fuel and water proof the bowl area and will probably just use some type of sealer. I will also order some bulb type rubber molding for the edges of the bowl to seal it to the underside of the deck lid. I am still looking into the fueler hose which will have to make a few turns to get to the tank and a vent line which I will need to make provision for in the filler pipe under the flip-top. All in all a good way to spend a Saturday.

It turned out fantastic and now has that nostalgic look I wanted. Sure its a pain to fuel, but its all worth it!

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More parts coming this week and I will be starting the interior very soon!

ITB or Not to Be?

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O.k. well being crafty with titles might not be one of my skills, but if it gets your attention its worth it. Its been cold again lately and I have not been doing what I should in my freezing cold garage….getting my Catfish done. As luck would have it my T3 intake came back from the shop after being port matched to the odd shape of the Toyota 4A-GE Black-Top ITB’s on a perfect warm day.

Now I am still a novice at this ITB business. There are a lot of parts and many different choices and ways to tune. Getting your head around the set-up can be daunting if you build this set-up from scratch, but from what I have read, seen and heard it is one of the most magical and visually appealing mods one can make to there Miata based build. I started here: Clubroadster.net – IRTB (Individual Runner Throttle Bodies)  . It is a wealth of information and a great place to start.

I actually started actively gathering the needed parts and information more than a year ago. I purchased the T3 intake adapter first and then went on the hunt for either a set of Toyota Silvertop 20V throttles or Blacktop 20V throttles. Silvertops would bolt right up, have a little smaller bore of 42mm as measured at the butterfly throttle plate, the Blacktops would need to be port matched due to the odd diamond shape of the bore where it meets the intake. Blacktops are a little larger at 45mm and easier to find. After a few weeks I found a set of used AE111 Blacktop throttles on Ebay and decided that those would work. They arrived after a few weeks coming all the way from Malaysia. To say they needed a cleaning was an understatement. It took a week to carefully disassemble, clean and paint them. The good thing was that all of the parts from the original AE111 Corolla intake had been included making my parts hunt that much less of a hassle. After they had all been refinished they graced the shelf above my desk for the next year sitting right next to the “I still need to be port matched” T3 intake. I continued to gather parts, never getting any free time or decent weather to put a real effort forward on the engine work. Three weeks ago I decided enough was enough so I gave the T3 intake to a friend of mine to have it port matched to the throttles along with his Alfa Romeo engine work he was sending out.

It was a great warm and rarely sunny day went the intake came back. I dropped everything I was doing and set to adding the throttles to the intake, making basic adjustments and making sure the butterflies opened correctly, at least visually for now. They would have to be set later with a meter. Next two things to work out were the throttle cable and the position of the cable bracket so the rotation of the bell crank would work correctly. This is the subject of much experimentation and approach. The different throttle set ups, intakes, bell cranks and even Miata engine sizes and years have implications on how this is to be done. As far as I know I am the first to do this with a Catfish making it an interesting feat. I took the OEM Miata throttle cable and up the cable end on the throttle pedal side and began looking at the amount of cable left out after the stop on the intake side. It was apparent that the cable mount end would have to be moved from the 3rd throttle to the 4th throttle like I had seen done on a few of the Miata set-ups. However this set of Blacktops did not have a mounting area on the 4th like I had seen before. I did some more reading and found another person with the same issue that had constructed a bracket which used the 3rd throttle mount. After a lot of measuring and adding make shift spacers to pull on the cable I knew I needed to make up approximately 2 3/4 inches of distance toward the 4th throttle so I set off to designing a proper bracket that would use the Toyota cable bracket. Turned out perfect and does the job it was meant to do and even leave a good amount of cable adjustment.

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There is still a long way to go. I have barely scratched the surface on this piece of the project. I have other parts to complete soon as well; dual feed fuel rail, injectors, vacuum block and the big bad Megasquirt engine management system. That doesn’t include the basics either, like the cooling system, fuel system or the electrical harness. Some times feels like it will never get done lol.

I had been away from the 16th through the 20th at the 12 Hours of Sebring race down in Florida. We had been there the second half of the week helping out with a friends Alfa Romeo he was running in the HSR support races. It was a great time and it gave me time to look at some really nice old race cars and get ideas. It also gave me a kick in the ass as I need to get the lead out and start finishing the Catfish or at least get it running before open track sessions started here in New England.

Before I had left I installed a new starter and alternator on the engine. I had the old alternator bracket and parts powder coated and ordered new bolts to make everything shiny and clean. The engine also received new plug wires, plugs and a new cam angle sensor. When I returned from the trip I got right to again. This time I wanted to finish the fuel system, at least on the engine. I had the old injectors cleaned and tested a while back and they were sitting in the box next to the new Flyin Miata fuel rail kit along with new braided AN hoses and fittings. I knew I wanted a pressure gauge on the fuel rail so I ordered a Marshal unit when I was on the trip, it was there when I got home. I took all of the various parts and laid them out trying to figure out the best order to assemble them. After a test fit I had a small issue of the braided hose from the fuel rail laying on the alternator, bad JuJu. After a few readjustments and use of some padded hose clamps it all came together.

I am now sorting the old wiring harness for the injectors and removing the useless circuits from the other harnesses that I will be using. That and the Megasquirt system are the last two items holding me up from at least a test firing. I am still a long way from driving but a lot closer to the end than the beginning.

 

Leaps and Bounds….lots of work completed over the last few days

On Friday afternoon 3 separate deliveries came to my house.  Now it wasn’t planned this way, it just happened that way, so I took it as a sign from the universe I should spend the weekend getting things done. It was nice to start opening some of the things I had really been waiting for. One set of parts, the taillights I wanted, came all the way from England as I could not get them in the U.S. I also had the old style gas filler and a few small odds and ends like stainless brake line clamps. The real winner was the full set of NiCopp brake and clutch lines I ordered from agscompany.com.  Nickel-copper brake lines are fantastic. They are very easy to form, they do not corrode and they look great. I was able to buy line in various length with the correct ends and unions for what I consider to be a very reasonable price.

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Before I got started on the brake lines though there was one thing that had been driving me crazy. The top of the engine was still open from the cam change and it had been wrapped in a plastic bag to keep dirt and other contaminants out, but it was time to get it finished. In order to do that I would need to finally put on the timing belt and in order to do that I would have to set everything up correctly. I have studied this process over the past few months and I finally found and article that really laid it out and made it seem a lot easier. Here it is, I am sure many are already familiar with it Wiki.Miata.Net – Timing Belt Steps. It took me about 30 minutes, but then I double and triple checked after that. Then I decided that while I was already at it I might as well do the accessory pulley which I had powder coated last year and the new harmonic balancer.  After that the red powder coated valve cover finally went on the engine. I had also decided it would be nice to give it a little bling and broke out some stainless hex heads and anodized red washers. Everything was coming together nicely, but I was out of time for the evening. I would get up early the next morning and start on the brake and clutch lines.

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On Saturday I woke up early and headed out to the garage as soon as I was able. Looking at the box of brake lines I figured it might be a good idea to do the easiest line first, the clutch line. I had never used NiCopp before and I could tell right away it was definitely softer than other types of line. Bending it was very easy, but care needs to be taken when curving the line to quickly or to tight so as to not kink it. I love the look I will say that, its exotic looking and knowing it does not corrode is a huge bonus. I terminated the clutch line at at a hose bracket connecting to a soft lien to the clutch. I made my connections simple to get too and work on as I was planning on tracking the car and did not want to have to fight to get to fittings.

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By the end of Saturday I had the front brakes, clutch and the start of the rear brake lines completed. I was in good shape for Sunday when I planned to run the rear brake proportioning valve and lines. This required some thought though as to just where I wanted the adjuster in the cockpit and how I was going to mount it.

I woke up late on Sunday, but still wanting to get as far as I could with the build. I took the transmission tunnel out of the basement and set it in place to try and find a good spot for the brake adjuster that would also allow me to secure it in a way that would let me remove the transmission tunnel with out disturbing it or the brake lines. I want the car to be serviceable from the top or the bottom when at the track. The first thing I did was to make a bracket that was long enough that I would be able to cut it down later after I found where I want to place the valve. With the tunnel in place I got under the car and pushed the valve on the bracket up until I saw it touch the bottom of the tunnel. Then I started looking for solid mounting points on the PPF. I marked everything including the area where I would need to cut a hole for the valve to pass though. I removed the tunnel and then cut a hole from the bottom up where I had marked the top of the adjuster knob. The only thing left was to try and position the bracket so the adjuster would be the correct height and be centered. This was accomplished by getting back under the car and placing the adjuster up though the hole. Then I clamped the bracket to the PPF, removed the tunnel and drilled the required mounting holes. Turned out pretty well, although it does sit off to the passenger side. I ran the brake line from the bottom of the engine bay with a union to the new valve and called it a day.

I am actually very excited about the next few additions to the project. I am hoping I will have time though as the holidays, kids and the job might make it a bit difficult. See you next time.