Art of Proprietation

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Winter has arrived here also

Looking around at blogs, a lot of people are talking about winter having arrived. It is here too. -10 F this morning at 7:30, no idea how cold it got. We have more than two feet of fresh snow over the weekend. And tonight there might be freezing rain to top it off.

I like to leave the snow on the stock panel structures as insulation. But with the recent fiasco with the garden green house, I didn't risk it. I cleared the snow off each with a push broom. Which is not hard, but it can get deep on the backside.

But the wood is all stacked and dry. What a difference from last year. Last year we were burning birch that I cut from standing dead trees late last year. I was hoping the standing dead would be a little drier than green wood. And I am sure it was, but not enough. Those birch logs were frozen and we tried all winter to have them warmed up and dried out a little before we put them in the stove. This years wood is mostly oak that I cut early last spring. Some of it was standing dead, others were nuisance trees that would threaten the new fence. But more than anything, they have been under cover all summer and are dry dry, ready to go in the firebox. If the fire dies down, you can just stick these logs in and they catch. Not like last year, trying to nurse a fire back up with tomorrow mornings kindling. A little preparation prevents poor performance as I have been told.

Certainly glad I fixed the snow blower prior to this weekend. I did clear a lot of snow. I have been known to put things off on occasion. Just lucky on this one, I guess.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Snowblower repair

That's a new friction wheel on my snow blower. The snow blower has been struggling along with the old friction wheel for the end of last year and the first snowstorm of this year. Considering how worn the old one was, it was doing pretty good.

The friction wheel sits against a spinning plate and that is what delivers power to the wheels. The plate moves in and out to effect a clutch. The friction wheel slides on it's axel. As the friction wheel slides further from the center of the plate, the friction wheel spins faster. This gives the snowblower an infinitely variable transmission. It's a neat and effective even if inherently wearing. The closer the friction wheel is to the center, the smaller the radius it is spinning on, the more the rubber wheel is stressed and eventually torn.

This is the old friction wheel. About a 1/4 inch of rubber is worn off all the way around. It was only sticking out past the metal rim in places. Like I said, I was impressed it did as well as it did. There were little bits of rubber everywhere inside the "transmission" housing. This is the original friction wheel and has lasted since May of 1997. I am not unhappy with it. Simple maintence like this can be rewarding. No manuals involved. Just look at it, take an educated guess and start removing bolts. Stop when it is fixed and reverse. Shade tree mechanics version of lather, rinse and repeat.

This is a 12 or 13 year old 9 horse power 2 stage snowblower sold under the name White. It's really made by MTD, one of the few remaining manufactures of snow blowers. I am really happy that it has lasted as long as it has. It is not a premium machine. But, it saves me a lot of shoveling and means I don't need to do any plowing. It is a great machine for the use I put it to. I don't really have a lot of area to clear. Our driveway has parking for seven cars but is only one car length deep off the narrow town road. We need a path around the barn to the milking shed, over to the goat house, past the woodshed and to the backdoor. The path is probably 300 feet. And the path has to squeezes through gates, past gardens, etc. Bigger equipment would be tough. The tecumseh engine is like new even if the sheet metal looks old. The fact that a little maintenance keeps it going strong is gratifying.

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Monday, December 15, 2008

A woodstove warms you three times

One of my son's great loves is apples. He is 2-1/2 and says "aaple?" sweetly and innocently. As if he can't remember what an awful mess we find in his diaper after a day of too much aaple.
But dried apples seem to help the problem. At least they slow him down enough that he doesn't end up eating a whole apple. Or two.
And the apples from our tree are getting soft. Drying apples is yet another thing our glenwood does well. There's something really pretty about a string of apples drying over the stove.

My wife cooked us a pork dinner on the stove the other night. It's tricky getting the stove top hot enough to boil the potatoes without overheating the oven and burning the roast, but she did a great job. It was a Loin End Roast and it is one of the best roasts we have done. It was tender and flavorful with a little crispiness on the outside that we like so much.
We were also happy about how close to home the food was. The potatoes were from our garden, same with the leeks and carrots. Milk for the potatoes from our goats. Pork from a local farm where we buy whole pigs. I think the only thing that came from away was the mushrooms.

A man said a fire warms you twice, once when you cut the wood and once when you burn it. I think I would add to that a cook stove warms you three times, for the hot meal that comes off it. and if you really want to get into it, again for the leftovers a day later.

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Sunday, December 14, 2008

A fella, Just a fella, a regular fella

I saw a fuel oil truck get stuck this morning. He was at the top of a hill on a dead end road trying to back into a drive way. The driveway is a Y with the road and tilts down the hill too. There was a lot of ice on the road and driveway and the truck driver went in slow. When he went to give it gas (actually diesel) to back up off the the road, his traction didn't hold and the back end slid sideways downhill along the road, off the driveway and into the snowbank. Meanwhile, the front end slid also leaving him perpendicular to the road with his front wheels off the road on the opposite side. It's a narrow road and he was completely straddling it. When I saw him, he was trying to "rock it" and get some traction. I walked up there and found him with all rear wheels (duallies) maybe 12" deep in the snow, about a third of the way up the tire.

I had thought I was going to be able to say "I'll just go get my tractor and pull you out". It certainly seemed like the easy way out. But when I got up there, I looked at things and did not like what I saw. I wouldn't be able to get uphill of him and I didn't like the idea of pulling him down hill on top of me. I also thought about the fuel truck that went off the road a while ago that poisoned a bunch of peoples wells with MBTE. I wouldn't want to be connected with something like that. Further more, he was stuck really good and I don't know if my 3k lb tractor was going to pull out a truck filled with maybe 10k gallons of fuel oil.

I don't like to leave a fella stranded though. The driver and I looked at things and I offered to get a shovel. I was pretty sure I wasn't going to get him out, but I was willing to work with him. From the barn I got a shovel. Since I didn't locate a second shovel immediately, I brought a heavy bar instead. And I also grabbed a pair of old 3" thick 12" wide boards about 36" long. I've tried using boards to get under a mired tired. Usually, they just spit out the back at 40 miles per hour. But, who knows and I couldn't think of anything else to do.

So we dug with the shovel, jammed the boards under the wheels and he climbed back in the truck. And it didn't do it. The truck broke one board but couldn't climb onto either. it was too deep.

The driver tried backing up (gently, we didn't want to get stuck worse), but it was too deep to go back either.

We hemmed and hawed. Looked at it from more angels. He tried rocking the truck again. The tires smoked. But he only got deeper. Part of me said don't do anything to make this worse. He has fuel oil in there, if it spills, it could get on my land, into my well. I certainly don't want to have to explain to somebodies wife what happened to her husband that cold day. And I definitely don't want someone to have a similar conversation with my wife.

I don't know whether it is because I like a challenge, that I don't want to leave a fella stranded. Or maybe I am just a nosy neighbor who gets into other peoples business, but I kept trying new ideas.

The only thing I could think of was if we couldn't raise the truck out of the hole, dig a ramp out of the hole for the tires. But we are talking about the edge of a frozen gravel road, it was not easy digging. All we could do was chip at it with the pry bar. Maybe we managed to chip down 4" or so, not a lot. We did that on both sides. The driver got back in and tried rocking it again. And low and behold, he got it out. He was still perpendicular to the road pointed down the embankment on the other side, but he was out of the ditch.

I spotted him as he eased it back to the rim of the ditch cutting the wheel back. And then the other way going forward. He didn't have more than 18" back and forth to work with. We even got to use those boards, in the hole as a bridge. After the second or third try, though, he couldn't get enough steering traction to turn further up the hill. When he tried to go forward I could see the front end lift up and then skip straight forward regardless of of the direction the wheels were pointed. He tried that a couple of times, but even though he wasn't in the ditch, he was still stuck.

Finally, he did what had gotten him trouble in the first place. He revved the engine, cut the wheels up hill and let out the clutch. The rear tires spun, losing traction and sliding to the side downhill and the whole truck pivoted around that front left tire. In short order the truck was close to parallel to the road. He was able to roll back down the hill and straighten out the rest of the way. From there he was able to get enough momentum to racing up the hill and launch into the driveway.

At about this point, the able bodied young man from the house the driver was trying to deliver to came out, walked the dog and went back inside without saying a word.

At no point before the truck's tires cleared the ditch did I think we were going to be able to get that truck un-stuck. Before he left, the driver thanked me for my help and the tools and expressed how happy he was that he would not be on the wall of shame at work.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Greenhouse CatAsTrophe

We've been having a tough time in the greenhouse. These are some leeks from the greenhouse. Yes, those are teethmarks on them. Somebody, probably several somebodies are using our greenhouse as their own winter larder. Probably voles or mice. They have wiped out the greens and other starts. It's been discouraging. We're not sure what to do different for next year. I don't really want to do a foundation. Maybe we had the plastic on too soon, we should have let the ground freeze. It will take some thought for next year.

The rodents aren't all. If we were too far ahead putting on the plastic, we were too late with the bracing cords. On Thursday night we got a small snow storm and then heavy rain. Freezing rain. We were luckier than people north and south of us, there 25,000 power customers without it and we only lost it briefly overnight. But the waterlogged snow was too much weight for the inadequately braced greenhouse.
In the past we have braced the greenhouse with cords that act like spokes, maintaining the curve of the greenhouse. If there are enough of these cords, the strength of the 1/4" steel that makes up the cattle panel will hold the shape of the greenhouse under extraordinary snow loads. I have gone out and cleared 3 feet off the greenhouses in the past that did not collapse them. We didn't have near enough bracing in the greenhouse this year, though and this relatively small storm took us down.

The lucky thing is that the snow didn't entirely crush the greenhouse or kink the wire. If it had been kinked, straightening it without totally disassembling the greenhouse would have been next to impossible.
As it is, the wire is bent, which dramatically decreases the greenhouse's strength. The design depends on the flat panel in a stressed arch. It is curved, but not beyond it's plastic deformation point. So it is trying to return to a flat panel. The internal cords prevent it from returning to a flat panel and transfer the load further down the structure.

Since the greenhouse was not completely crushed and we could still crawl inside, we we're able to lift it back into shape. As we lifted, we tied new cords. After the initial round, we went back and tied more to correct where we were still out of shape. Then again, often untying the first ones. It's a process like tuning a bicycle wheel. You work slowly, making small corrections in many places.
Since the wire had been bent, though, just getting the arch back wasn't enough. We'll have to also need a vertical brace because the wire is no longer straight and won't carry the vertical load. That's the 2x4 on the end. It carries another 2x4 that goes the length of the greenhouse and another post on this end.
We still have work to do, and we won't be starting any new plants in the cold weather. But at least we'll get a jump on spring in the greenhouse.


Ferris' Favorite Spot by Far

That's Ferris' favorite sport by far. in the heat behind the wood stove.

It's not uncommon for the oven to get to 500 if we don't open the door. Ferris likes it hot. And it appears to be good for her. For years she had dread lock tangles in her hair (she is not an overly clean cat). But since we have added the wood stove to our kitchen, the dread locks have disappeared and her coat and cleanliness have much improved. She'll spend hours behind or under the stove. I would imagine the temp under there is over 100 F if not higher.


Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Is it cold in here?

I turned on the heat in the bathroom today. It's starting to get cold in there, and we do bathe the boy in there...

Like a lot of old buildings, we have a kind of cobbled heating system. The main house has a steam radiator system in seven of the rooms. That's the primary system for the cooperative household. I added a heat exchanger to the boiler and there is now baseboard hot water for the back badrooms and the upstairs bath in the main house, also. For the Elle, we have a suspended slab in the bathroom with radiant floor tubing, also off the boiler heat exchanger. The rest of the elle has no heat except when we build a fire in the glenwood cookstove. It actually heats the kitchen nicely and takes the edge off in our living area and bedroom upstairs.

It has been below zero a couple of mornings lately, a little early in the season for that according to me. So, today I turn on the radiant floor in the bathroom. Its really nice to walk in there and be able to stand on a warm floor.


Monday, December 08, 2008

A borrowed buck

A fella once said neither a borrower nor lender be. I was thinking about that while I drove home with a borrowed buck in the back of my van. I wonder if William meant the borrowed buck might poop in the back of your wagon. Probably not, old William would have been smart enough to tether goat behind the wagon. Or better yet, pull the wagon.

We've been trying to get our little doe goat bred. She's a kid from this spring. She'll be in heat two, maybe three days in 21. The trick is to spot that heat early in the season and be able to predict the date of the next one. Arrange with some one who owns a buck for the next one. Watch for the next heat. And hustle over there the next time you see her in heat. Then you let nature take it's course... Problem is, it's late in the season and I haven't spotted a heat yet. Thought I did once. But I think she had me fooled.

The lady who's bucks we usually breed with suggested maybe we take a little buck home with us and have him tell us when the little doe is in heat. I don't really like the idea. Bucks can get expensive, depending on their lineage. They can be hard to contain, particularly if they think there is a doe in heat over there. And they might leave more than their genetics behind.

But we're getting nervous about getting the little doe bred. If we don't get her bred, that means she isn't freshend in the spring and we are down a milker. That makes us that more dependant on a successfull kidding from the other doe we bred. It means less cheese next summer. And it means we are that much slower getting to a critical mass of herd members on our little farm.

It also raises the ugly spectar of what if something goes wrong. If we only had the one doe bred and something went wrong, then we'd be in trouble. We would have lost half our genetic pool, we would have no milk, no prodigany and no prospects. The idea can get overwhelming.

But it makes me glad we have goats instead of cows. If it were cows, I could only afford one cow. And then there is no redundancy. If anything goes wrong, all is lost. And when there is milk, there is a lot of milk. When there is not a lot, there is none at all. And you can't put a bull into the your van to bring him over for breeding. Not that I am bashing cows, they just are not the right solution for us.

So we hemmed and hawed over bringing a borrowed buck onto our farm. We don't like it, but sometimes you have to do something you don't want to in order to go somewhere you need to.

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Saturday, December 06, 2008

Someone Else's Tractor

I got someone else's tractor stuck. A nice grandmother's tractor. I got it stuck. While she let me use it to get a load of manure. And I got it stuck.

It was a heart rending moment. I was using her tractor to load my trailer full of manure from her farm. It's been cold enough that there was a crust frozen on the manure. Her tractor is a geared transmission, a tricck to drive and not familiar to me. I was doing OK with it at first. My biggest problem was that with the manure pile frozen, I had to break the crust into small enough pieces this tractor could lift. This is an 870 tractor, I am not sure what it's lift capacity is.

So there I was, peacefully minding my own business, when the front wheels slipped off the frozen crust into the soft muck that I had exposed. The manure pile is out behind the barn, down a slope in a kind of marshy area. Looking down, I knew it wasn't going to be good. The criust was at about the half way point on the wheel. I tried backing up, but the crust just broke off and the wheel sank further. I wasn't up to the fram yet, but I knew that if I would be if I kept going like this.

I was a little surprised, I couldn't find a differential lock on this tractor. With that, I probably could have backed out with out much problem. I jiggled around a little more, getting myself in deeper, thinking about the conversation with the grandmother. "Uhm, I think I got the tractor stuck." What would I expect her to do? She doesn't even drive it, her grandson does that for her. She's not going to push it out. And I would be surprized if she had something to pull it out.

It's not like I was even stuck all that bad. Yet. The problem was I was only getting deeper.

The obvious had not occured to me yet. A lot of tractors, the loader can pickup the front end of the tractor. Mine can. I have seen many pictures of tractors for sale demonstrating their continued vigor but pickeing themselves up. But when I planted the bucket flat and tried the down circuit, this tractor could not. I boosted up the throttle and tried again. But htis only proved that more throttle does not equal more hydraulic pressure, just faster flow. Luckily, the lift arms are not a fellas last resort. After maxing out the lift arms, I used the curl to give a little more push. That was enough to get the tire almost out of the mud.

I used a some blocking from the trailer to push a bunch of mud under the tire and set it down. Doing this a couple of times I was able to get the wheel high enough off the mud to get some blocking under the tire and crib it out. And then I was able to back out of the hole.

I was really happy I didn;t need to go tell that grandmother I got her tractor stuck. I finidhed loading the trailer, staying away from any soft areas. About half of it I loaded into the bucket by hand with a fork to avoid taking any chances. I thanked the grandmother for the use of her tractor and the manure, alluded that there were some soft spots out there and took my load of goat poo home before anything really bad could happen.

This is the third load of poo we have brought home with the new trailer. Each time it has been a full trailer load, about six yeards. I'd estimate that each load was close to 2500 lbs. But it is pretty amazing how the pile shrinks. After the first two weeks, the first load shrank by at least a third. That's because it is working, I know. But it is a little disconcerting. All that work, and the pile keeps getting smaller.

Since this is the last laod we'll do this year, we should cove the pile to keep it warmer (hold in the heat). Some of this is pretty fresh and it would be nice if we could get it active enough to use it next spring. The field really needs a lot of amendment.

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