Chapter 42: Time to rebuild the Vetter Streamliner

Pages from a designer's notebook May 8, 2011

To date, the Vetter-Liner has been covered with .035" yellow polyethylene which was originally made to be turned into children's 3 ring binders. The yellow vinyl plastic is beginning to deteriorate in the sun.

Reskin the Vetter Liner with what?

The qualities I am looking for are:


Light weight

Locally available to avoid shipping

Does not expand or get soft in normal "Barstow to Vegas" heat.

Durable in the sun and rain.

Able to withstand falling over.

Able to be cut with scissors

Accept a shiny color and graphics.

Ever since they removed the wax from milk cartons and replaced it with plastic, I have been watching for something to use the material for. (see my *Milk Carton Story of 1962, at the end of this page) I did a web search and discovered it is polyethylene coated paper. What is it called? "Milk Carton paper." Would Milk Carton Paper again solve my design problems? I found some 24" wide rolls locally and began testing.

Milk Carton Paper
Samples nailed to a board, exposed to heat from my stove

Here we have a sample of every possible material I can think of - mostly plastic - nailed to a piece of plywood. I wanted to see which material does not expand. I also have a piece of green pressure-sensitive vinyl applied to each sample to determine how it will stick.

It turned out that all the plastics expanded in heat. The aluminum expands a little while the milk carton paper expands the least. The sample vinyl (green squares) sticks to everything.

Weather testing:

There was no doubt that the Milk Carton Paper had potential. But what would happen to it in the weather? Assuming that water would soak into the edges and eventually make them ragged, I concocted some tests. In the test above, I coated the edges of 4" squares of milk carton paper with every type of sealer I could imagine. Lacquer, wax, shoe waterproofing, etc. I punched a hole in the center and let the samples set in the sun for a month, watering them daily with a spray bottle.

The result? Nothing bad happened. The unprotected edge samples of milk carton paper faired as well as those with the coating. Next, I totally immersed the same samples in water for another month. Again, nothing bad happened.

It looks like I have found my dream streamliner covering.

The Quail Challenge was coming up. This would be a good time to find out how it will stand up in real riding. I decided to re skin the tail in milk carton paper.

First step is to remove the yellow plastic which has been on since April 2009! This is easy since it has been held on with "Christmas Tree" fasteners. They just pry them out. However, the little "barbs" get damaged. Maybe there is something better.

Milk carton paper is clean and white. It cuts with scissors and or a razor blade. It is cheap, too. I have lots of it. Very satisfying stuff to work with. Also, I now use "Banana Tacks" instead of the Christmas Tree fasteners. They go in and out easier and since they are Nylon, they can be painted to match.

I decided to use the old tail structure to test the milk carton paper and Banana Tacks. When I make a new tail, it will have my new CAD-generated, water jet cut aluminum structure. It will be perfect. No wrinkles.

Banana Tack

Removing the old skin and replacing it with milk carton paper
May, 2011: Time to find out if milk carton paper will last in the sun, rain and speed.
I did not replace the bottom because it needs more structure to hold the skin in place. I need to make a "spit" or a rotisserie that will allow me to rotate the entire scooter so I can work on the bottom. Not much time before the upcoming Challenges.

It is not supposed to rain in California this time of the year, but it is. I took advantage of this to ride to Big Sur to see what rain will do to the milk carton paper. I anticipated that water would be sucked into the edges of the holes and cut lines and destroy the paper sandwiched between the plastic that coats both sides. It did not happen. California weather is not affecting milk carton paper.

The test green vinyl sticks well to the smooth side of the milk carton paper. I had some big, vinyl signs printed up to see how the vinyl will stick in actual use:

May, 2011: Ready for the Quail Fuel Economy Challenge. Son Zak approves

*1962: My first use of Milk Carton Paper
A reader asked how I discovered Milk Carton Paper. In college, I made the above design out of milk carton paper and filled it with plaster.

In 1962, I noticed that I could no longer scrape wax off the milk cartons with my fingernails. That had always been fun. The nice new shiny, non-waxy stuff impressed me. What could I use it for?

In one of my early design classes at the University of Illinois, we were supposed to make some kind of cast plaster structure. This milk carton paper seemed like a good source of mold-making material. And it would be free. I salvaged cartons from the Residence Hall cafeteria garbage, washed them and cut them into little sheets. I made molds from the milk carton paper.

To get the plaster to flow into all the cavity, I strapped the milk carton mold onto the luggage rack of my Vespa and started started the engine. As I poured the plaster in, the Vespa's vibration shook out the air bubbles and filled the cavities.

After it hardened, I peeled away the milk carton paper. It was fun. Fortunately, it worked the first time.

I have been waiting a half century for another use for milk carton paper.

Master Index to the Last Vetter Fairing Story

Page posted May 8, 2011

Updated Sep 9, 2011