Re-purposing in SE Asia

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One aspect of life in developing countries that never ceases to amaze me is the inventiveness of the people in taking cast-off or under-utilized items and devising better ways to use them. From small to large you see it everywhere.

Plastic drink bottles turned into floats for fishing nets or liter petrol dispensers at roadside stands. At least this use is much better than the tons of plastic that seems to litter every town and village.

Add a bracket and hitch to a scooter, attach a 2-wheeled cart and you can haul supplies or swap out the cart for another and you can haul people.

Cargo hauling tuk-tuk

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The smaller tuk-tuks haul 4 people but in Phnom Penh they had lashed boards to the larger cargo carts and could haul up to 20 passengers as shown at the top of the page.
Standard tuk-tuk:

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What’s particularly cool is the materials used. Above is a 3 month old tuk-tuk built in Phnom Penh and selling for about $1500. Instead of reinforced bike wheels as I see often this one uses cast moto wheels and heavy duty tires so it should be durable. Interestingly the axles are almost always rebar and in this case more heavy duty than I usually see.

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The thing that interests me as a product development engineer is the creativity in adapting materials and especially seeing products used in ways the original developers never could have foreseen. Certainly the wear and tear on a 110 cc scooter must be many times worse than expected when it’s pressed into service hauling 2 to 5 times the expected load. I wonder if some Japanese engineer has ‘use as a tuk-tuk’ as a line on a DFMEA spreadsheet somewhere.

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Of course, many of you are familiar with long tail boats as seen for many years in Thailand and which I first saw in 1991. Then, most seemed to be large motors from trucks or busses adopted to the task. Since gear drives as seen in traditional American outboard motors were likely very expensive and hard to get these inventive mechanics bolted a prop shaft directly to the crankshaft (sometimes with chain drive reduction) and pivoted the motor to direct the prop. Clearly a bit more dangerous with a prop a couple meters behind the boat but very cost effective.
On this trip I see that Honda and others now make a standard motor for small boats that is widely used as in the pictures below.

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Lash a couple boats together with a platform and you have a ferry as below.

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Something I never saw when we traveled here 20+ years ago is the now ubiquitous 2-wheeled tractor/tiller. I assumed some smart product development team realized that a conventional tractor was too expensive and likely not versatile enough for the Asian market and developed this tool that could till the field then be hooked to a cart to take goods or people to market. I had to wonder if some creative shade-tree (probably a palm tree) mechanic created the first version of this tractor and others copied it. According to this article in Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Two-wheel_tractor I read that the variation I’m seeing is a ‘long-handled’ tractor developed in Thailand for this market.
Here’s one hauling a large load

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And another acting as a bus

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What do you do when a train track but no train runs by your house? You build your own train! Now chiefly a tourist attraction in Battambang, the Bamboo Train hauled people and goods before the tourists found it.

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The tracks were pretty wavy and the bed had settled unevenly. Max speed according to Google My Tracks app was just over 30kph which seemed plenty fast

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Since it’s a single track they had to figure out what to do when the cars encountered each other going in opposing directions. Simple solution – take it off the track.

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The axle and wheel combination is heavy – maybe 40kg –  but manageable. The wheels are small which makes for a jarring ride where the rail joints aren’t so good but the small diameter means the cost and weight are lower. The platform is bamboo so easy for 2 people to lift and the only other part is the v-belt which slips around the sheaves and the operator provides tension with a meter long lever applied to the petrol motor to engage the drive wheel.

The wheels, bearings, drive sheaves

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No fancy Woodruff or similar key to hold the sheave in place? Just pound in a nail and bend it over.

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The platform has wooden cradles that capture the bearing so once you drop the platform on and attach the drive belt you’re ready to go again after a 2 minute delay taking the thing apart.

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Our driver was happy to oblige my photos and questions

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If I lived close to some unused tracks I’d be tempted to build my own.

There’s mention in our guidebook of restoring ‘regular’ train service so the bamboo train might not be around much longer but considering the narrow gauge and poor condition of the tracks I bet it might not happen for some time.

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