From the Vault: Franz and Kinematics

My good friend Jeff Mann, the true Yard Ramp Guy, has asked me to revisit some of my original contributions. And so: my From the Archives series. This week: A screw is basically an inclined plane. And that's no joke.


Simple machines are the basis of industry. Well, sorta.

No screw loose...but that basket's about to fall.

A simple machine is a device used to change the direction or power of a force applied to something in the simplest manner possible. There are six devices classically categorized as simple machines: axles and wheels, levers, pulleys, screws, wedges, and inclined planes (obviously the best).

The reason I said they're only sorta the basis for industry, though, is that the idea of simple machines is itself an oversimplification.

First off, take a look at wedges and screws. A screw is nothing more than an inclined plane wrapped around a cylinder. When you're turning a screw, picture it inside the material—climbing up or down the ramp—as the screw turns. Wedges are just two ramps hooked up to one another, bottom to bottom, for use in transferring force perpendicularly.

Ramps make up half of the classical simple machines. Ramps rule, but we already knew that.

Then you come to wheels and axles and pulleys. A pulley is just a wheel and axle with a rope attached. It's still super useful, of course.

One small step for man...and that's about all.

At first glance, our final classical simple machine, the lever, is pretty distinct from the others. A guy named Franz Reuleaux, however, realized that, like the wheel and pulley, the lever is just a body rotating about a hinge. Reuleaux was also the one who figured out that the screw, wedge, and inclined plane were the same. Really smart cookie.

So all in all, you've really got two simple machines and four variants on the original list. And that’s the first issue with describing the classical simple machines as the basis of mechanical industry.

The second issue? There are a lot more than six simple machines. You've got four-bar linkages and cranks, for example. Our good buddy Franz identified hundreds of simple machines using his self-invented science of Kinematics, which we still use today. Way to go, Franz. Not bad for a guy born in 1829.

Nowadays, thanks to Franz and Kinematics, we actually consider joints the basis of mechanics, but that's a story for another day.

The Yard Ramp Guy Blog: New Inventory - In Stock

This week, my friend The Yard Ramp Guy has launched a smart, strategic arm of his business: selling new yard ramps that are in stock and ready for delivery. I do admire his strategy.

Click HERE to read the smart details.

From the Archives: On Runaway Truck Ramps

My good friend Jeff Mann, the true Yard Ramp Guy, has asked me to revisit some of my original contributions. And so: my From the Archives series. This week: Honoring runaway truck ramps.


If you've ever taken I-70 through the Rockies, you've probably seen those steep gravel turnoffs leading up from the road, then abruptly dead-ending, as well as all the signs advertising them.

A Fields Inspection

Those are runaway truck ramps, and they're for semis whose brakes have blown.

The idea is pretty simple: an out-of-control truck can't stop, so the driver keeps his foot off the gas, waits for a truck ramp, then expends all the truck’s momentum going up it.

In practice, though, these ramps are pretty complicated.

First off, you've got to make sure the truck won't roll back down. One way to do that is to have a long flat stretch after an initial rise (though this obviously doesn't work in the Rockies).

Another version uses sand to absorb all the momentum: semi tires are big, but not big enough to take a semi through sand. The problem with sand ramps is that the semis have a tendency to flip on them.

A Glass of McCoy

Finally, there are the ones made of loose, ungraded gravel. They work great but rip up tires and undercarriages.

Steep gravel ramps—like the ones on I-70 are the most common. Moderate damage is better than overturning or rolling back onto the road. It's not an overly complicated issue, but the sheer force of a fast-moving semi complicates the solution, especially since they're nowhere near as durable as they are in movies.

All of that said: never, ever drive a non-semi vehicle up there. It will not survive.

The Yard Ramp Guy Blog: New Angles on Leasing Ramps

This week, my friend The Yard Ramp Guy emphasizes a simple⏤and often vital⏤way for your business to keep cash on hand. Especially in these troubled and troubling times.

Click HERE to read all about it.

Archives: The Incan Terraces

My good friend Jeff Mann, the true Yard Ramp Guy, has asked me to revisit some of my original contributions. And so: my From the Archives series. This week: Terraces⏤the opposite of ramps?


The Inca are surely one of my favorite ancient cultures. Much of this is due to the unusual amount of research available on their building techniques and architecture. The pieces of their engineering I've been reading about lately are their terraces.

Terraces might be something of an opposite of ramps, but that just makes them more fascinating. Living among some of the steepest mountains in the world, the Incans had to improvise heavily when it came to all sorts of facets of their life. Their terraces did a lot more than provide flat areas for food production (though don't get me wrong: that was just a little bit important); they also helped to control erosion and landslides.

In fact, much of Incan architecture was built to be earthquake resistant, and the terraces were no exception. They were so well built that, despite the Incan's comparatively low technological level, their terraces survived from Pizarro's conquest of their empire, totally forgotten, all the way up to the twentieth century, when they were rediscovered.

Do you think anything we build today would last that long without maintenance? Not likely. This workmanship stretched all the way through their construction, too.

The Incans by no means had a monopoly on agricultural terraces, of course. Terrace farming has arisen independently in dozens of cultures worldwide, with almost as many individual styles. It's almost certainly the most efficient method of farming in the mountains.

The most famous are almost certainly the rice terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras: they've actually been declared a UNESCO heritage site. You've almost certainly seen images of them before. They've been farmed continuously for something like 2000 years, which is absolutely crazy. That's not just architecture, it's a way of life.

The Yard Ramp Guy Blog: The Power of Powder

This week, my friend The Yard Ramp Guy writes his own cautionary tale of sorts: some seemingly sci-fi tale of producing a yard ramp with a 3-D printer.

Click HERE to read all about it.

The Greek Ramp Hybrid

My good friend Jeff Mann, the true Yard Ramp Guy, has asked me to revisit some of my original contributions. And so: my From the Archives series. This week: ancient Greeks multitasked in a most remarkable way.


Most of the historical ramps I research are generally of a pretty temporary nature: pyramid construction ramps, siege ramps, etc. They're built for a single purpose and then abandoned or destroyed. They're machines, and they don't have a long-term purpose.

I have found a few ramps that are different, though, and one of my favorites is the Diolkos.

The Diolkos, built by the ancient Greeks, was half ramp, half causeway. It was used to transport ships across the Ithmus of Corinth, saving them a dangerous sea voyage. The ancient Greeks actually dragged the ships overland on it. (You'd think a canal would be easier to use, but canals are a lot harder to build and maintain.) Huge teams of men and oxen would have pulled the boats and cargo across it in about three hours per trip.

No one is quite sure when the thing was built, but at best estimate it was in use from 600 BC to 100 AD, which is a pretty good lifespan for a project like that. It was mostly used for shipping but also served a pretty vital role for navies during war.

There isn't nearly as much information on the Diolkos as I would like out there. The ancient Greeks mostly wrote about their gods and heroes and wars and such, which is disappointing but not unexpected. Most people want entertainment; they're not looking to find out how the world works.

Today the site has been destroyed in parts by the Corinth Canal, and much of the excavated portions are falling apart due to lack of maintenance and boat traffic on the Canal. It's not exactly the Parthenon, but it represents a vital look at how the day-to-day functioning of an ancient society actually worked.

Maybe I can convince Maggie that we should go to Greece next vacation.

The Yard Ramp Guy: Ramps Rusting Gracefully

This week, my friend The Yard Ramp Guy pivots from writing about steel as the literal foundation of his business to take on the benefits and drawbacks of new technology. Of course, I always appreciate a cautionary tale.

Click HERE to explore how he goes from ramps to rusty sidewalks.

From the Archives: Ancient Ramp Construction

My good friend Jeff Mann, the true Yard Ramp Guy, has asked me to revisit some of my original contributions. And so: my From the Archives series. This week I explore the earliest civilizations that built with⏤ surprise ⏤ ramps.


Information on the Internet about the construction of the great cities and monuments of the Mesoamerican and South American cultures is surprisingly hard to find, it turns out.

McCoy Fields: Relatively Young Dude

Not So Ancient: Me

The Aztecs were real tricky to find stuff on. Almost every supposed "source" detailing its construction techniques immediately starts going on about how they sacrificed people during construction, then doesn't bother to actually discuss the techniques they used. I'm no trained historian, but that seems like sensationalism to me, and it sure doesn't answer my questions.

There are a few interesting tidbits out there, though. Teotihuacan, one of the major Aztec sites, was actually constructed over a thousand years before the Aztecs gained power, by someone else entirely.

The Inca and Mayan empires have a bit more out there to easily find. I had to dig through a lot of nonsense about Mayan prophecies and their mass disappearance, but there was a lot of good stuff. Like this: They actually used a primitive form of limestone-based concrete for much of their construction.

That First Step is a Doozy

One Small Step for a Spring Chicken

The Incans were the easiest to find information on, since most of the stuff on the Internet is about their construction techniques anyhow. Their buildings were famed for being constructed of huge stone blocks in irregular patterns that for together perfectly, without gaps. You can't even stick a knife between the stones.

People go crazy over that, some even going so far as to say that there were aliens helping the Incans. (Some nuts out there.) I think it says more about contractors today than it does about ancient construction. Tight seams just take good workmanship.

The stones in Incan constructions were placed by dragging them up huge earthen ramps on log rollers. Interestingly enough, they took the opposite approach to the ramps than the Egyptians, who just put together giant straight ramps. The reason they could do that when the Egyptians couldn't is pretty simple: the Incan Empire was huge. It was basically the Rome of South America. It could afford to just throw manpower at problems until they were solved.

They did save a little money by using locally quarried limestone or granite, but the empire was wealthy and powerful enough that it could have shipped them halfway across Peru on their excellent system of roads if the whim overtook them. We have tons of archaeological evidence for the Incan ramps, and a few—even still—partially exist.

The Yard Ramp Guy®: (Fork) Lifting Toward 2020

This week, my friend The Yard Ramp Guy begins his blog with a quotation from Oscar Wilde. That's all I really needed. And then his blog just got better and better.

Read his consistently fine perspective HERE.