Mission Awesomeness: A Trip to the Car Factory

Posted: December 15, 2011 in Uncategorized

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to have the time of your life for a year in Ulyanovsk, Russia. The dangers you may encounter are:

-Improperly installed windows, which may result in frozen juice or sour cream if the products are left in front of the window on extremely cold days
-Neighbors obsessed with house and trance music
-Waking up to find that you have no hot water for no apparent reason
-Waking up to find that you have no water at all for no apparent reason
-Being woken up by scary repair men and the smell of burning metal
-Riding on marshrutki and being accosted by drunk people

However, the positive results of the mission far outweigh the dangers, such as:

-Finding and befriending some of the coolest people in the world
-Getting to see two of your favorite bands extremely up-close in concert
-Avoiding the real world for another year whilst going on non-stop adventures

So yeah, I’m going home for Christmas and New Year’s, but I’ll return to Ulyanovsk just in time for Orthodox Christmas (yay, I get two Christmases). My last week, for now, in Ulyanovsk has been awesome. I got to hang out with George, Julia, and Irene a lot. At one point some drunk Russians came up to us. One of them asked if he could take a photo with me. I agreed. He asked me about American in Russian and then he started to speak to me in German.

A friendly drunk.

I gave up waiting for the marshrutka the other night, so I got a taxi back to the dorm. This was exciting as it was my first ride in a Lada Zhiguli, which was the Soviet modification of the Fiat-124. Despite the fact that the original Fiat-124 is about fifty years old, the Zhiguli wasn’t as bad as I expected it to be. I would totally drive one for fun.

This evening, I went to see the new Mission Impossible film with a couple of the girls from the university. Part of the joy of this film was that it was set in Russia and had the typical Hollywood Russian bad guys, which was good for a few laughs. A few minutes into the movie there was a scene with a prison break. One girl leaned over and said, “Susan, don’t believe this. It is not this easy to break out of Russian prison. We don’t have computer technology that you can hack into, it’s all done by hand.” My response, “Wait, why are you warning me about attempting to break out of Russian prison?”

Today I got to do one of the coolest things ever, and I get to cross something off of my list of Russia related goals. I went to the UAZ factory. A history professor from the university, who comes to my casual English club, arranged the trip. I thought we were going to the factory museum, which we did get to see, but we also got to walk along the main assembly conveyor. Sadly, photos were not allowed inside the factory, but it was absolutely awesome. The only other car factory I’ve been to was the Mercedes passenger car factory in Sindelfingen, outside of Stuttgart, in 1998. Now I’m into cars and could actually appreciate what was going on. The UAZ conveyor is the shortest assembly line in all of Europe. It has at least three different vertical levels of assembly, and everything comes together on the main floor. The factory is fairly low tech. All of the parts are put on by hand. Also interestingly absent from the factory was health and safety standards. None of the workers had helmets, safety glasses, or earplugs. Generally, I don’t really enjoy those sorts of restrictions, but the lack of earplugs was interesting as the noise was understandably extremely loud.

In all, it takes 2 hours and 20 minutes to assemble a UAZ vehicle. After the cars are assembled, on one of the two lines, they roll off inside the same factory building to a series of rolling roads for testing of various components such as the brakes. These rolling roads can’t even come close in comparison to the test tracks that Mercedes has (nothing like the Wall of Death), but it’s nice to know that they have attempts at quality control.

After viewing the factory floor, we went off to a museum, which was a giant hall filled with about 20 UAZ vehicles. Two of them were really ZIS (Factory in the name of Stalin)/GAZ (Gorky Auto Factory) trucks, which were actually Ford trucks that the Soviets bought the rights and technology to produce. During the Second World War, the ZIS production was moved from Moscow to Ulyanovsk, and that’s how UAZ came to exist. I got to sit in the ZIS 5 again. I told the guy who ran the exhibit that I wanted it and asked how much it would cost. Sadly, he was unwilling to negotiate a price.

Sitting in a ZIS-5 from WWII, no big deal.

The hall mostly contained experimental and prototype vehicles. One of the coolest of these was an amphibious truck.

More cars should come with propellers and warnings about flooding the engine.

Another cool vehicle was the prototype for the UAZ 452, the Буханка (loaf of bread). The engine compartment was specially designed so that the passenger could repair the engine while the vehicle was in motion.

Probably very loud, but I bet it would keep your coffee warm.

I’ve seriously been thinking of purchasing an old 469 and trying to import it to the US. It would be the best souvenir ever. It seems like this will not happen, though. I’m sure that the 469 will not comply with the US safety standards. Upon brining it to the country I would probably have to change the bumpers and all of the glass. Furthermore, I highly doubt that the car would pass the EPA standards. Once again the EPA makes my love of automobiles difficult. Ghostbusters was correct to portray the EPA as the bad guys in the first film. I’m still angry about their laws on the control of the refrigerant R-12, which is the type that the air-conditioner in my car uses. I refuse to renovate my system for R-132. R-132 is not as efficient as R-12 and requires twice the volume to achieve the same cooling capacity. As the EPA banned production of R-12 in 1995, the price of it now fluctuates daily.

Dear EPA, these cars are awesome. Please let me import one to America.

Tomorrow, I will venture to the train station on my way home. The people at the university are absolutely awesome and I get to ride to the train station in an UAZ. The university owns a few UAZ vehicles and they arranged for me to be dropped off in one that is either a 469 or similar to a 469. The person who arranged it for me said that the people at the university motor pool were very confused. They told her that they have regular vehicles and were flabbergasted when Katya said that I really wanted to go in that specific model. In other super awesome news, I may be able to drive one of them around the campus when I return. At lunch today, I called shotgun when I found out that Katya was going to the train station with me. I then had to explain the concept of calling shotgun. She response was of indifference and then she told me that we will probably be very cold and uncomfortable. My reaction is to have a huge grin on my face and to bounce with glee. I will take so many photos on the ride to the station.

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