Sunday, October 26, 2014

Lister engine rebuild, part 1

I tore down the top end this morning, between stints on baby care duty. This is what I found:

This is what the number two cylinder head looked like (above)...

... while this is the number one cylinder head. Notice the difference in carbon deposits in the (smaller) exhaust valve holes.

I think this genset was overdue for its thousand hour decoke, is all. Everything else checks out. The cylinder walls don't have a single score on them, and you can still see the factory-made honing marks.

So, assuming we can hack this, and I'm sure I can, we just bought a generator worth several thousand dollars for only $400.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Eight weeks tomorrow!

Here's Ernie the English Shepherd doing his shepherd-dog thing, guarding the house and watching for Roo. He loves her like she was his own baby. I'm sure he would get a pretty good bite of anyone that laid a hand to her.

Our precious wee mite will be eight weeks old tomorrow, and we seem to be settling into the role of parents well enough. Aimee is having it harder than I, mostly because breastfeeding is time-consuming and keeps you in one spot. She's off to do the shopping and get a massage, a new treat for her, although probably also a necessity.

One important trick we discovered early on is that Roo falls asleep to the sound of white noise, especially machinery. The Kitchen Aid mixer is the best, but lots of other things have worked, from cars and trucks, through the drill press, to the new 3D printer in my workshop at college.

Accordingly, I recorded the mixer to my Mac laptop and play it in a loop whenever and wherever we need her to "go down." Here's the set-up, Roo in the rocker and the computer playing the mixer noise. Brings new meaning to the old phrase "mix tape."

Although there's way too much to do still, it's hard to get much done around here with weekends pretty much solid child care from front to back. We essentially have to plan out household and farm chores ahead of time, taking each others' plans and needs into account, and prioritizing. Even so, I've managed to find time to run the fat lambs to the butchers, deliver the meat, winterize the cars, clean up the yard, and put about half of the garden to bed. I'm waiting for a good solid hard frost for the potato harvest, then the rest can go to bed too.

Here's the underside of the Nissan pick-em up truck, getting what will be an annual coat of fluid film.

And her's a new investment, a diesel generator set built on an old British Lister Petter TS3 diesel. This cost $400 off Maine Craigslist. I got up at four this morning to drive up to Greenville to get it, leaving Aimee to look after Roo by herself for a short while. Turns out, when you have a baby and want to go dickering, you have to go early if you can, so you can get back to do your share of baby watching.

I'm looking forward to getting this beast running. It's 18KW, which is too much really for this house, but if we ever decide to build again, especially if we build off-grid, this will be ideal for running heavy duty farm machinery and shop tools. It can also be run off biodiesel and waste vegetable oil, like the grease cars the students use to build at the college in the early 2000s. I've been wanting to try a Lister grease-generator conversion for years.

The garden is still pretty to look at in places. The marigolds we planted to keep the flea beetles off the brassicas have done their work and then some, then decided to give us one final show.

Even Roo likes a walk in the veggie patch. Daddy is lousy at baby-selfies, though. Don't drop her!

Finally, here's Shawn doing his thing. The two at the front are breed ewes. Shawn is at the back, trying to keep up.

All in all, a very active late fall.

Snow will come soon, though, and I'm not ready yet. I need a few good days.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Six weeks old!

It's been hard to write for the blog lately. For one, there isn't as much time. In particular, we're up all hours of the night, and so my previously much-cherished and peaceful early mornings from 4am to sheep-feeding time are now more likely to be spent in bed trying to get another hour in, or at least enough sleep that I can get through the workday without sleeping at my desk or, worse, on my feet in front of a class.

We've been lucky, though. Our little bundle of joy does actually sleep through the night already. Not all the way through the night, but enough of it. The only problem is that she has to be latched on to Mom to do so. This makes Aimee achy from not being able to turn over, and of course she's missing out on REM sleep.

Even so, farm life goes on, and if these days aren't all to be a blur, some record must be kept. I find myself going back over the blog several times a year to find out when it was that we did such-and-such a thing, or which sheep gave birth to which lamb, and so on. The value of having a diary has been well-proven over the years. And, of course, family members and friends all over the world want to know what is happening here in Maine.

So what has happened around here, other than our daughter is now six weeks old and beginning to grab Mommy's hair and make "social smiles", all earth-shaking news in itself, at least to the proud and sleep-deprived parents?

Well, we sold three breed ewes to an island farm Saturday. The farmers came with a nice big livestock trailer. They were pleasant and sensible, and the photos on their webpage and FaceBook page show some pretty good husbandry, and so we feel that these sheep will go to good homes.

The island farmers seem surprised at the large size of our sheep, given that they also keep Romneys.

It isn't the Corriedale blood. Corriedales are no larger than Romneys. Both are multi-purpose breeds, and look so similar they can be hard to tell apart. But since we grain our sheep daily all year, they grow out to the full potential of the breed.

They may have a ram for us next year, which would be nice. Little Roo might be old enough by then to enjoy a trip to an island. All in all we were pretty pleased with the deal.

Then yesterday the three fat lambs went to the butchers. By the end of the week they'll be lamb chops. Aimee was asked to help with the trailer-loading chore. This is a job she has avoided every year, mostly after giving up on me in frustration when I've struggled to load pigs, but I know she also feels sorry for the poor doomed critters.

This time she was so shocked at how difficult it can be to load multiple animals into our small home-made livestock trailer, she immediately acquiesced to our purchase of a "proper" one, much like the one the island farmers brought. This was a great day for me, because I've struggled for so many years. But the money we could set aside for farming has always been tight, and so we can't just spend it willy-nilly. I believed that if we could get by with a little home-made trailer, then we probably should.

A larger, purpose-built livestock trailer would transform my year, taking the two hardest jobs and making them easy. And the "new" (eleven years old) Nissan pick-em up truck will be able to draw such a trailer easily. One day, if we can find some more land around here, I'd like to have a proper piggery and more sheep, and so a bigger trailer would be needed.

Finally, Shaun the ram is also sold, the deposit in hand, and he will leave soon after he has completed his tupping rounds. He began yesterday and got off to a bad start. His notion was simply to run down the ewes when they wouldn't at first stand for him, a real "rough wooing." This of course will not work for him. He'll have to learn to be nicer. But he soon got tired, so this is the sort of behavior that is likely self-correcting.

All this sheep-selling leaves us with only seven ewes, of which five can and are being be bred to Shaun. (The remaining two are his sister and daughter, now seperated.) That's the fewest sheep we've had since our first sheep purchase all those years ago, and reflects our desire to have an easy winter, this first winter that we're a family of three.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Sheep studies

The 2014 Captive Wildlife Care and Education first years came out to Womerlippi Acres yesterday, along with instructors Tom Aversa, Cheryl Frederick, and Meg Anderson, to learn all about sheep wrangling and sheep care. Watching from the sidelines and taking these pictures were baby Rhubarb and Aimee.

It was a fairly hectic day, but a good time was had by all, except possibly the sheep, who, however, are now all set for the winter, having had their hooves and dung tags trimmed, their FAMACHA® checks done, and their spiffy new USDA scrapie prevention ID tags attached.

All this made for a fast-moving day of college-level instruction and praxis in animal care.

I've written elsewhere in the blog about how important a set of lessons this is for these young students. Go check out the older pages for those ideas, here and here and here.

Here are the photos Aimee took:

First up, here's a fat Englishman telling Americans how to wrangle a sheep.


Learning the safety hold and how to trim the hooves


 A slightly insecure lamb. Need to get that lamb-butt on the ground.

Meg shows them how to trim.

 Not the textbook safety hold, but this was a well-behaved lamb.

 That one would make a nice Corriedale show lamb.

It's hard work. A lot of bending and grasping.

Meg has it all under control.

This one got away, and was only recaught after she went through the swampy puddle next to the compost heap. One student said that she nearly lost her cookies, the poor lambie was so gross after that. But that was in some ways what the instructors wanted out of the day -- all romantic notions of the world of animal care evaporated in one swell foop.

A very tolerant lamb.

This is the kind of concentration we want to see.

The full-on sheep service team in action.

 Getting down to details.


A brief moment of pain and then it's all over.

And again. All fourteen sheep needed this procedure.

A full-court press on a ram lamb.

Tom gives a lesson.

The safety hold is extremely effective. One relatively small person can hold a very large sheep in this position long enough to get a lot of work done.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Birth announcement.

Here is little Edana Quinn "Rhubarb" Womersley, aged less than one hour old, the photo taken in the recovery room of Operating Theatre # 1 at Waldo County General Hospital, Belfast, Maine, United States of America, around 4.00 pm on Sunday 31st August, 2014. The time of birth was 3.15pm. 

Little "Roo" was 8 lbs, 2 ounces, 20.5 inches long, and is already a very well-behaved baby.


This is a special baby to me of course, since I'm her daddy, but she's also a special baby because she's a survivor, on both her father's and mother's sides, of two particular families that have not recently been adequately fecund for their genes to proliferate, yet who, in my humble opinion, did far more than their fair share to protect British and American liberty and justice in the 20th and 21st centuries.

(I'm doing a lot of driving back and forth from the hospital and so I have time to think on who she is and why she very nearly didn't make it. It's a miracle of sorts.)

She is the daughter of Dr. Aimee Lynn Phillippi, who herself is the daughter of Richard "Dick" Phillippi, a Vietnam veteran who loves his family deeply and no doubt will love his grand-daughter just as much, but who has chronic lymphocytic leukemia as a result of Agent Orange exposure during the Vietnam War. Her grandmother on her mom's side is Judy Phillippi, who was one of six brothers and sisters, but this is Judy's only precious granddaughter. Her great grandmother Miriam Summy is still alive, although ailing. She is by all accounts pleased as Punch and has told everyone in the retirement home. She had better live for a bit yet because she has stories to tell Roo, stories about farming and preaching and about being part of the Church of the Brethren, an important German-American Peace Church community. Miriam has written a book with all these stories, a copy of which will one day belong to little Roo.

Her father, writing this, is Dr. Michael William "Mick" Womersley, himself a six years veteran of the Royal Air Force, especially the RAF Mountain Rescue Service, of whom more than a dozen veterans have already sent their best wishes. She will one day meet some of them, and will always know that any of them will do just about anything for her if she ever had to ask.

She is the grand-daughter of Mary Jean (Watson) Womersley and Gordon Womersley, chocolate makers of Sheffield, England. Both died of Alzheimer's disease a couple of years ago, so neither lived quite long enough to see her, something her father will regret as long as he lives, but that couldn't be helped, mostly because of his own military service and chosen career, which meant that he would marry and father a child only very late in life, at 42 and 52 years' old, respectively.

There are three blood aunts and uncles, uncle Matthew and aunt Erin Phillippi and aunt Carol Womersley, as well as auntie Dee, a proper "Sheffield auntie", not a blood relative, but a real friend in need, who looked after her farm while she was busy being born. And there are quite a few great aunts and great uncles, especially great uncle Stanley Womersley and great aunt Barbara (Womersley) Laxton, the son and daughter of the Kinder Trespass veteran George William Womersley, and the brother of Hexam Abbey musician Ronald Womersley.

Her paternal grandfather Gordon was bombed out and evacuated during the Sheffield blitz in WWII. He served in the British military during the Korean War period, but was luckily not sent overseas. Her paternal grandmother also survived the Sheffield blitz. Grandma Jean did so almost as a single child, since her father, this little mite's paternal great grandfather, was serving in the British Army, first doing heavy rescue in London, then in D-Day preparations on Salisbury Plain. These were long years, but they came after Arthur's earlier three years WWI service in the trenches, as well as several more years Army service just to have a job during the Great Depression. Her paternal great grandfather was thus lucky to have survived WWI, and his wife Leticia (Jones) Watson, a Welsh farm girl from Pennal, near Machynlleth, only managed to have one child, another having died in childbirth during the emergency years. This meant, of course, that her grandma Jean and father Michael were lucky to ever live too. Her other paternal great grand-father was sent to Iraq, and was a Kinder Trespasser and amateur writer and artist, while her paternal great grandmother was a nurse for wounded WWI veterans.

There were also uncles and great uncles and various cousins in the RAF, and in the British Army. 

Grandma Jean's only living cousin Barrie Lockwood, himself an RAF veteran, survives and knows all these stories, and even has the pictures to prove it, pictures and stories that will one day belong to little Roo, since she's all that is left.


There are people all over the world who already know her and where she comes from and what her family has collectively managed to survive and do to get her to this point. She already has birthright citizenship of two of the greatest democracies on the planet, never mind the right of residence in any EU country.

And she has her very own farm to come home to soon, and live in while she grows and whenever she wants when she's grown up, and to inherit one day.

So she's already a lucky wee mite, isn't she.

Update, 9/2/2014 at 8pm. She's home! Wee Roo is in her pouch.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Killing time...

... waiting for Edana "Rhubarb" Quinn Womersley to arrive. Today we have sheep to tend and tomatoes to can. That should keep us busy enough.

Here, also to pass the time pleasantly, are some photos I was sent by an old friend this week.

This is a Norwegian mountain hut called the Hytte på Bandet, or the "hut on the saddle." We stayed there in 1984 while on an official UK military Joint Services Adventurous Training expedition called NORPED 1984, climbing the mountains all around. 

I'd lost my slides of this adventure after I loaned them to the expedition's organizers and they never returned them, but I was able to find my main climbing partner on the trip, former cadet David Balharry, through FaceBook, and he sent me some 35 mm slides to scan in. I'm pretty pleased to have them. 

This is the Hurrangane mountaiin range, somewhere high on the west ridge of Store Midtmaradalstind, looking north to Store Skagastølstind, AKA Storen for short, looking north and east.  

Store Skagastølstind is the main mountain we climbed, the second highest peak in Norway. It's called "Storen" or "the big one" for short. We climbed it using the ridge to the right, and descended via the face you see here, a series of scary abseils.

The rest of the slideshow is here on FaceBook.

And here's one I found in my den, my old passport picture from around the same era:

What a long face! I'm looking very sad because this was around the time of my demob. That was a tough time for me.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

How to can a big batch of peaches efficiently

Today was not a day I was scheduled to work, and Aimee had earlier been to the Belfast Cooperative to bring home two of Peter Baldwin's pre-ordered bushel boxes of peaches which were now ripe enough for me to can, so I got on with it.

Most people new to canning would be nervous about doing quite so many at once, and worried about how much time it would take, but if you want to be self reliant it really is better to put up good solid quantities of staple and storage foods. It's surprising how much people can eat. Think in bushels, not pounds and quarts.

Although I started out rusty and slow, I quickly remembered all the tricks to getting it done efficiently. I should think that by far the most efficient technique would be some kind of assembly line in a larger community kitchen, with several people working at once. There are about eight distinct steps, so eight people would be best, and they could probably do as many as thirty bushels in a day if they had everything on hand.

First, put a large saucepan or kettle on to boil the hot water needed to peel peaches. A three gallon soup pan with about two gallons of water in it would be perfect. Then, while that heats up, gather up your peaches, which have to be ripe but still firm, and your other stuff: clean canning jars, lids and bands, sugar, and citric acid. 

Two cups of sugar in six cups of water with a teaspoon and a half of citric acid makes a good light syrup. I'm told you can use grape juice instead of sugar but I never do. You have to use the citric acid (or lemon juice) to stop the peaches from turning brown.


By now your pan of plain water should be boiling. Drop as many peaches in there as will fit, leave them in until the skin discolors just slightly and goes just a bit wrinkly, about thirty seconds if the water is properly hot. Even discolored or bruised fruit like the one above can go in. You'll cut the bruised part off later.

Pull the peaches out and drop them in a large bowl next to a cutting board. Now comes the trick or "knack." Take one and cut it in half, rolling the knife around the stone. With the skin still on, take one half in each hand and twist gently, slipping your thumbs between the two halves to pry them apart if need be. If you haven't under- or overheated them, the fruit should fall into two clean, even halves with the stone in one of the two. Pick the stone out by working your thumb or fingers underneath it. In about one in four or five pieces of fruit the stone will be broken in two. It may even be discolored or moldy. As long as you can clean it all out, don't worry about it. Be sure to scoop out or cut away any mold or fragments of stone.

You can now turn your attention to the skin. It should slough off easily in one or two large pieces. If it doesn't, pop all the fruit back in the hot water for a few seconds more until it does. Experiment using trial and error to find out the exact right amount of time it takes to slough the skin off each peach nicely. With the peaches we usually get, I notice that red skinned peaches peel more easily than yellow, but I suppose it depends on the variety of peach you have.

The whole process of skinning and stoning takes only a few seconds if you do it this way, stoning first, then skinning. The two halves will be much easier to grab with the skin on than off. There's also something about the twisting motion that is required to separate the two halves that also works most of the skin loose more easily than if you tackle a whole peach. Make sure you get all the skin off.

As you get each peach half clean and skinned, drop it in a clean canning jar. If your peaches are large, you will need wide mouth jars for peach halves, while peach quarters and slices can go in regular jars. I always use quart jars. Smaller ones just don't work that well. Peaches are too bulky.

Just stone, skin and pack a few jars at a time, unless you have help. Don't get ahead of the job. You don't want to leave too many open jars with uncovered peaches lying around for too long. Today I did batches of four jars at a time, just enough to use up a batch of syrup.

Add your sugar syrup/citric acid mixture to bring the total of peaches and syrup up to within one half-inch of the top of each jar. Wipe the top clean with a bit of kitchen towel so there is nothing to prevent the vacuum seal from forming and fit a clean lid and ring band.

Some books on home canning tell you to sterilize lids and ring bands, but I can't see how this makes the slightest bit of difference when the next thing that happens is that they are going to be in 212 degree F water for half an hour. Likewise, I don't sterilize jars. I just make sure they are washed thoroughly in hot water and rinsed.

Our water bath canner takes nine quart jars at a time. The water needs to be deep enough to cover the top of each jar, and it needs to be at a rolling boil before you put the jars in. You'll need to experiment with your stove to find the right gas or electric setting to maintain the boil without wasting energy. With our stove, which runs on propane, it takes the two middle-sized burners going full blast to heat the canner up to boiling, but once it is boiling, you can turn them both down a little. Once the jars are all in, wait for the water to start boiling again, which will take a while, then time the boil for thirty minutes.

These tips assume you are within a thousand feet of altitude above sea level. If you're higher up than this, consult the official USDA guide, which is available online these days. In fact, you should read the general sections of this guide, which is the authoritative manual, before you do anything.

Once the thirty minutes are up, pull the first nine jars out with tongs, or using the rack that came with the water bath canner, set them aside to cool, and replace them with nine more. Wait for this new batch to begin to boil, then time them for thirty minutes after that. After the time is up, let all the cans cool completely, then check the lids for a seal. The little domed top of each lid should be sucked down into the canning jar by a vacuum inside. It should feel taught if you tap it with a finger, not elastic or springy. As you set them aside too cool, space them widely apart so the air can circulate. Don't set them right next to one another, or they'll take much longer to cool down.

If the cans are sealed you can the remove the ring band, which is not required for storage once everything is sealed, and wash any sticky canning water off carefully, making sure not to disturb the lid, then put them in a dark cupboard or on a dark shelf. Any that are not sealed will keep for quite a while in the fridge.

If you go traveling with cans, say to deliver some to relatives or friends, you might like to put ring bands back on to protect the seal. But on the shelf at home they're not needed.

If you happen to have a lonely old ram, or a pig, they like to eat bruised peaches and peach fragments, while pigs and chickens love peach skins. Notice the peach juice dripping from Shawn's mouth, the silly old ram.

Here's the kitchen in full production. When we rebuilt this old farmhouse, we deliberately made a large kitchen so we could do this kind of thing more easily.

Here's about two thirds of what we made today. Summer sunshine in a jar to brighten up your winter!