Saturday, November 4, 2017

The Great Outage of 2017

Linesmen truck. At one point Sunday, we had four on the Great Farm

Monday the 30th of October started badly, with a huge wind and rain storm starting early, before light. This was a combination of a nor'easter and a tropical storm. It brought down trees on power lines all over New England, but particularly in the great State of Maine. In New England as a whole, there were a million electrical customers without power. In Maine, there were nearly 600,000. This is the record of what happened to the Womerlippis, for future reference.

We tried to get to work. Class wasn't cancelled. There were down trees blocking the roads all around the county and the windstorm was still in full force. Trees were still coming down. We both made it to work, but daycare was cancelled at 9am, although I didn't get the cancellation message until half an hour later. By prior arrangement, I was the one to pick up Edana. I cancelled my 11am class and went to get her. There was no power at daycare, and none at home when I got there.

I then began using our old propane Generac generator, and as usual it was hard to start, requiring a spritz of starter fluid. Once started, it ran well enough.

The full impact of the storm came out on the news by Monday afternoon and evening, and it was soon clear that we would be without power for a long time. Late Monday, I helped one neighbor with a temporary 220V generator hookup using a standard 30A twistlock receptacle box. I "sistered" wires to the 100 amp main household connections from an entry panel in the garage. I left instructions to connect the receptacle box to a dedicated 30A, 220V dipole breaker as soon as one could be sourced. One other neighbor had their own generator, leaving only one household without power on the Great Farm. (There are now only four households in the neighborhood, down one after the death of our elderly neighbor Jean Richards, earlier in the year.)

Late Monday I ordered one of the last available electric start generators in the Home Depot online catalog. Delivery was scheduled for Friday, which in normal circumstances would be after power was restored, but this was a large outage. I was also increasingly concerned that the Generac would poop out on us. The only thing available was a more or less unheard-of Chinese brand with no reviews, but the price was cheap enough, and the new unit would have dual propane/gas fuel capacity as well as electric start. The electric start feature would help with the starting chore in all seasons, but particularly winter, the dual fuel feature would help additionally in the dead of winter, when propane doesn't like to gasify, and sometimes will not start at all. I'd taken to leaving the propane generator on the porch to keep it warm.

On Tuesday, I went to get our older 5500W HomeLite 220V generator from the Bale House, leaving the Ryobi 110V, 3500W one we use for the camper. The occupants of the Bale House had been complaining about the HomeLite not starting, but since they were behind on the money they pay us to cover ground rent, tax, and insurance expenses on the house, I had been disinclined to help until now. They had then made a surprise payment, which arrived by mail a day or two earlier than the storm (not nearly catching up with arrears).

They had power, their home being off-grid, so this was no emergency for them. The genny is needed to charge the batteries when the sun doesn't shine, or for large power loads such as carpentry equipment. Before the storm, I had made tentative plans to switch out the generator with the help of their brother, a friend. The older one could then perhaps be repaired and used for back-up. The storm accelerated these plans. Edana accompanied me on the trip, and I got some help from the occupants to load and unload the heavy gennies.

Once home, the HomeLite started and ran seemingly fine after simply disconnecting the on/off-switch, which had a ground leak. On Wednesday morning, our truck's exhaust cross-over pipe went out. I fixed it with some muffler tape, then ordered the part.

Late Wednesday afternoon I contacted our last without-power neighbor on the Great Farm, saying we had a spare generator. She was content to do without. I then put out a bulletin on FaceBook and our work email, and had a taker for the genny within five or ten minutes from some colleagues at work, a family of two professors and two small kids. I delivered the HomeLite to their house Wednesday evening, with Edana "helping," and first set up a 110V "suicide" plug, there being no generator hook-up at this house, and no hardware available anywhere in the county to make one. This temporary measure allowed them TV, saved some food in freezers, and provided some lights, but did not run the water pump, which was 220V. The HomeLite was, however, not running well, delivering maybe 90V, and "hunting" or cycling rpms.

By Thursday morning it was clear from the occupants' reports that a combination of large loads and a too-innovative plug design (using plastic cam connectors) was causing wire heating problems and eventually a melted receptacle. The brownout was probably also contributing, adding to voltage drop and thus wire heating. I made plans to collect 220V hardware from various stores for a better, safer connection. By Thursday afternoon, parts were again available in the county, after new deliveries arrived -- although by all accounts multiple hardware stores sold out again, fast.

It was easy enough to make a 220V generator hookup for them that afternoon and evening, but it took a lot of fault diagnosis to figure out why it would not initially work. Eventually I realized I'd been trying to run the two poles to separate breakers on the same bus, instead of feeding both 110V buses separately. Duh. But this is what happens when you are tired. It didn't help that both my VOM meters seemingly refused to read correctly, one because of a bad battery. The other, an automatic, just never gave a stable readout. It should have simply read zero, but instead read wild. Later, at home, with test voltage, it would read wild then find the proper voltage, but the period of wild readouts while waiting for the automatic system to stabilize was too confusing. (Note: never take an automatic VOM to an emergency.) I eventually traced the mistake using a trouble light with stripped wires as a test light. The genny still ran badly, but provided perhaps 180V with a lot of rpm cycling. This gave them TV, dim lights, fridge, freezer and water, including hot water. With two little kids in the house, this was a welcome relief.

By Thursday night our Generac at home began to give problems running the water pump and microwave. This could be managed by reducing loads elsewhere, but was inconvenient, and threatened worse.

New generator, Wen model DF475

The new generator arrived Friday afternoon, was easy to set up and is running as I write. It seems to be a moderately well-engineered knock-off of the Generac, with a slightly larger engine and generator head. It manages the loads in the house better. It gives less than perfect sine power, and so makes the florescent and LED lights flicker, but everything else runs fine, and the microwave runs better than with the Generac. I published a review of the generator, a Wen model number DF475, on Home Depot's webpage. I figured I would have liked to have read a review before I bought one, so I could at least allow the next guy to do so. I gave it four stars, but after living with the florescent flickering for a bit longer, I'm down to three-and-a-half. Still, for only $470 after shipping, the price is good.

One thing for sure: Electric start is pretty sweet, after years of pull-cord starting.

Linesmen were seen in our neighborhood Friday, but left without doing any work. This is most likely because our line runs through the woods, and they would need regular ladders to fix it, not a boom arm. There are lots of other folks without power in Jackson, and I imagined they went off to help someone else closer to the road. This is reasonable, given the priorities. We have generators, and no longer have any elderly people living on our road -- although If I experience too many more weeks like this, I expect I shall age fast.

Today is Saturday. By family agreement, Saturday morning is set aside for me to do home and vehicle maintenance. I expect to have to spend much of the morning puttering, fixing wires and making broken and damaged equipment work again. We are not out of the woods yet, and then may need it all again soon enough. Winter is coming, and with it, more power outages.

Update: Sunday morning early and still no power. I talked to a linesman around 2pm Saturday and he made it sound like they would get here soon, but no joy so far. The HomeLite generator head is repaired where the receptacle melted. It needs a carburetor, which has been ordered. The Wen genny, apparently, likes to freeze its own propane connector, so the bottle, which is free standing, must be placed in the aircooling stream from the engine to keep it warm, or it shuts off long before all the gas is used up. Neither the Generac nor the Wen provide enough power to use the auto lift, a problem because the truck needs its pipe fitted. But you can't have everything.

Update #2: First one, then two, the three, then four Florida Power and Light boom arm trucks showed up on the Great Farm. The linesmen are all very Floridian, soft-spoken, chatty, southern accents. It took them most of the day, but they expect to have it all done by dinnertime tonight. The Wen is running better now the gas bottle is in the aircooling flow.

Update #3: Power was turned on at 4.00 pm Sunday.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Catching up with the blog

As you can probably tell from the two posts below, especially the one about my uncle's death, we have been busy this summer with foreseen and unforeseen events.

The first, and planned, event, was our family trip to the United Kingdom. My sister Carol was getting married, to the inestimable Mr. Wayne, and required the presence of her niece to help officiate, and this happy event further required a considerable work of logistics and child psychology to get said niece, all of two and two thirds years old, across the Atlantic. We used Icelandair for this, and recommend the airline, but the airport at Keflavik is sadly overcrowded and below par.

Here's the little flower girl on duty, wearing the new dress that mommy made especially for the wedding:

And here she is again with Aunt Carol and Uncle Wayne.

Unfortunately, while we were preparing to leave, another British relative, my cousin Barrie Lockwood, AKA "Uncle Barrie," suddenly died. Barrie was getting on and not well, having been living in a care home for nearly two years, so while the death was sudden, it wasn't unexpected, but it meant my sister and I had a funeral to arrange almost immediately after the wedding.

We stayed in the UK for about ten days and did a lot of tourist things when we were not busy with weddings and funerals. We stayed in vacation cottages in the Peak District National Park, one in Castleton, the other in Tideswell. Both were nice, and recommended.

Tideswell, which we only booked because we had to stay in the area for the funeral, was having its annual festival of Wakes Week and Well Dressings, also recommended. Our kid particularly liked the bumper cars and the tea-cups, below.

Once home, we had a marathon of work to do, and of course had used up much of the cooler early summer weather in which to do it. The garden was thick with weeds, we had a large number of vehicle problems to fix, and the hay to secure. We managed most of this, at some cost in skin and sweat.

Now it's hot and humid, and we're into our midsummer routine of trying only to do physical work when it's cooler. There are still a lot of projects to complete, but we're picking our battles. Stay tuned for more details on the garden and the Land Rover project when we get a chance.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Eulogy for Barrie

Delivered by his cousin Michael at Hutcliff Wood Chapel, Sheffield, June 23rd, 2017.

Good afternoon, and thank you for coming to this short service of remembrance for my cousin Barrie Lockwood. It falls to me as one of his few surviving relatives to say a few words for Barrie, and I hope to be worthy of that honour and to do justice to him.

As I said at my mother’s a few years ago, funerals are for the living, not the dead. They are for us to celebrate the life of the people we liked and loved. This one is for my sister, who was his primary family contact in these last few years and who visited him and gave him news and tried to keep him in the land of the living. It’s for the care home staff, who looked after him very well, and it’s for Aunty Eileen and Hazel and all the rest of us that knew him in happier times.

Barrie Lockwood was born to Harold, a Sheffield steelmaker, and Millicent, a homemaker and the daughter of a master gardener to the Leigh family whose head was at one time the master cutler. 

He was a Sheffield lad and proud of it to the day he died, and loved the industrial history and even the rough, coal-blackened and Victorian splendor of this industrial town. He loved trams and trains and British cars, he liked gritstone architecture, brown ale and brown trousers, and traditional Sheffield food. He lived a life based on Sheffield values of family and hard work and a little fun now and then.

Barry was a bright boy, won a scholarship to King Edwards when it was a grammar school, passed the civil service exam, and began a long career in government, which culminated in his job as Clerk of Sheffield Crown Court, a position that put him mentally and physically at the center of the city and the region and at the center of regional events, specially criminal ones. It was a fine career. Barrie was committed to British government and making it work, especially to old-fashioned British government based on values of reason and decency and plain common sense. Sometimes I think we could use a few more like him today, and a few less of what we have. He took civil service posts here after his father died to look after his mother, and retired early to do more of that, and so lived with Millie, looking after each other at High Storrs Close, until first she died and then he grew ill. Essentially, he lived seventy years of an eighty-year life or more in the same house.

I loved Barrie as my mother’s cousin and as one of the extended Watson clan, now dwindling, that once were much more common in the Mayfield valley. I also liked him. He was fun to be around, both when I was a small boy, and later when I would come home to visit him and Millie at High Storrs. He was also a shoulder to rely on, especially at two particular times, the first during the 1980s when he paid for my initial emigration to America and so gave me the push that would eventually lead to university and an academic career, to my wife Aimee and my daughter Edana whom some of you are meeting for the first time today, assuming she will sit still. The second time Barrie helped me greatly was when my parents had both begun to show signs of dementia, and I was racked with pain and upset at losing them, or at least losing them as I knew them, and Barrie helped me put it in perspective. I still can’t quite put into words what a relief it was to sit and talk to an elderly relative that still, almost to the end, had most of his marbles, when my Mum and Dad were so clearly off their rocker and going beyond my reach. I know Carol feels much the same way. Barrie was a kind and decent and helpful man.

Some particular memories of Barrie include he and my dad Gordon teaching me to play three-card Brag at family parties. I would get a little pocket money from dad, or earn money working for him in the chocolate shop, and Barrie and dad would then relieve me of that money in fairly short order, while I learned the intricacies of the game. It’s going to be hard to explain to the younger generation just how much good clean family fun can be had with just a pack of cards and a small stack of change and two close male relatives intent on relieving you of your cash and teaching you not to be a fool.

I’m not sure they succeeded, but we had fun trying.

Barrie and I were both in the RAF, as was Eileen’s husband Ron. Ron was a Mosquito navigator in World War Two, Barrie was national service in the fifties, and I was a regular in the late seventies and early eighties, so we had that in common. I served at some of the same Vale of York airfields that Barrie had seen twenty years earlier, and played three card brag in some of the same crew rooms.

Barrie liked to talk of his RAF days. He always liked British technology and those were the heydays of British jet flight. Barrie was a clerk in the HQ of a Javelin squadron. Javelins were some of the first truly modern jet fighters and well ahead of their time, and the squadron was led by seasoned veterans of the war. The Soviets were the bad guys by then, and the squadron was needed, and it must have been exciting to be a eighteen-year old lad around all that. Later in life he developed a taste for fast cars, probably related to this experience, and always had some souped-up British car parked outside his house, which was exciting for me as a young lad.

He could talk. Boy, could that man talk, he said. Lapsing into Americanisms. Conversations with Barrie were two, three, four hour affairs. He never seemed to tire of it. But it was always entertaining, and always witty, and always he’d kept up with the news and he knew what was going on and had an interesting opinion and point of view on it all.

I could go on, but this is the new Britain and this chapel and crematorium are run on what my American relatives call a tight schedule, which Barrie never was, and so we had better move on, or we’ll keep the staff from their Friday night relaxation. Barrie would most certainly NOT have wanted to do that.

Barrie Lockwood is gone from us physically, but I will always remember him as the bright and able and witty Sheffield lad he was, fun to be around and good to talk to. I hope you will too.

Monday, July 17, 2017

How to replace a series Land Rover rear cross member

After the fairly long-term success of my post on repairing outriggers (5,700 page views over four years and quite a few comments), here's another on the rear crossmember replacement job.

First, the preparatory work: This is a 1971 Series 2a 88 inch, LHD with the wheels removed. It's now on jackstands (placed forward of the rear springs). The floor, seats, seat box, and tub have all been removed. the rear spring shackles have been undone or cut off, and the differential gearbox and spring assembly rests on the floor jack (AKA "trolley jack" in the UK) or on blocks. The frame has been pressure-washed and brushed lightly with a wire wheel on a hand grinder to remove the worst of the dirt and any loose old finish.

Here we are measuring to record the distance between the front and rear outer tub brackets. We'll keep this measurement the same when we put on the new crossmember. Lots of people advise using the tub as a jig to set this measurement, but to my mind that runs the risk of shortening or lengthening the distance between the front spring mount and the rear upper shackle anchor, which helps set the rear wheel alignment. The tub is flexible, and could be squeezed into a different shape, throwing these measurements off.

As it stands, the passenger side is actually 1/4 inch longer than the other due to a slight driver-side fender-bender. We'll fix this when we fit the new crossmember. The final target measurement to square up the truck is is 48 and 3/8 inches.

We also measured the difference in height between the cross member and the flat top of the frame using a level as a straight edge. We'll keep this measurement the same too, at 1 and 3/8 of an inch.

Then it's time to cut your Rover up! Not for the faint of heart. I started with my 7 inch grinder. My new crossmember has 16 inch frame extensions with four inch welding tabs, so I cut the frame just shy of 12 inches from the old crossmember.

The heavy duty grinder proved too clumsy and in fact broke a cutting disc off, so we finished with the 4.5 inch hand grinder.

Once through about three quarters of the way, we position jack stands under the old crossmember to catch the weight. Leave these about a notch lower than the crossmember. After a while the old crossmember will bend down, or can be pushed down, to rest safely on the jack stands. This allows you to finish the cut with a hacksaw from the top, which is easier and safer than using a hand grinder from below.

Once  the old junky cross member is removed, it's easier to burn out any old shackle bushings. Use a gas torch to burn out the old rubber, and the inner bushing can then be pushed or pried out.

You then cut through the outer bushing metal with a hacksaw, being careful not to cut into the spring itself. The new crossmember comes with shackle bushings installed, so unless you plan to remove and/or service the spring or diff too, you only need to buy two new ones, but you may need some new bolts and nuts too, and perhaps new shackle irons. (Remember, only the inner shackle iron is threaded.)

You now have a once-in-a-Landy-lifetime opportunity to rust-proof the inside of the frame easily. Here I'm using Fluid Film, popular here in New England where we use a lot of winter salt on the roads, a proprietary Fluid Film air-powered product dispenser, and a long piece of hose which reaches forward all the way past the dumb irons, but you could use Waxoyl or similar.

First, test where you can see to make sure product is coming out in a suitable spray pattern. Start spraying with the hose fully inserted, then withdraw the hose an inch or two at a time. Repeat to be sure of getting enough product in there.

Now turn your attention to the new cross member. Bend the welding tabs out gently with a mallet and test fit it to the old frame. Using trial and error, get the best fit. Reproduce the old measurements above and clamp it in place, then tack weld it.

This is the bit where the old-timers say to fit the tub, and use the tub as the final jig to get the measurements right, but that ignores my objection above, and it requires that you put the tub on and take it off again to weld the top of the new frame extension. This is too much trouble for me, and indeed, my tub isn't square anyway.

Instead I relied on careful measurement. I then welded all around each side, and up and down the tab slots. You can easily tighten any gaps between the tabs and the old frame with a hammer once you start welding and get everything nice and hot.

Now, if you're brave, measure again! Mine was within a sixteenth of my target 48 and 3/8 inches, so I was pretty happy with that.

Having reconnected the shackles, my plan now is to spray everything I see except the transmission with POR 15 rust proof paint, and Fluid Film on top of that.

That should last a while. Enjoy.

Saturday, May 20, 2017


It was an exhausting semester, but we did finally got done, and a few days of relatively little to do, I find myself ready to write a farm blog post for the first time since lambs were born.

In the end I taught just shy of twenty-four credits, ran a committee to make a new degree, and served as Faculty Moderator. That all took more of my life, especially as the end-of-year deadlines loomed, than would leave time for very much farming, let alone blogging about farming. However, we also kept this place free of snow, of which there was quite a lot, a record year. We lambed seven fine lambs, butchered six roosters, and raised our own starts from seed.

Now I'm suffering from a surfeit of put-off chores and farm projects. When you're that busy, the tendency is to say, "OK, then, we'll do that bit after the end of the semester." But when the end of the semester comes, there can be a lot to do. I need a list just to keep track of my to-do lists.

But we are slowly forcing a system of reason upon all this unreasonableness.

There remains the small problem of getting the garden planted. The weather hasn't helped there, first too wet, the too hot. This weekend, forecast cool but dry, seems like it will be our best shot. The sheep got sheared. The piglets are to be collected today, and the first lambs delivered to their buyers.

But for every step forward, there's a slip back. The tractor is leaking coolant again. A farm truck is in advanced stages of dismemberment while we rebuild its front end after an accident earlier in the year. A dog fox seems to have taken the last hen from the clutch we hatched last year and may have taken others. We saw the culprit skulking around earlier, so we have some certainty who it was. The remainder are at risk. And a bad smell from the crawl space since the weather finally warmed may indicate what happened to Shenzhi cat, who went MIA during the height of the battle this spring. Or it may be some of the missing chickies. I'll have to find out, because the smell is coming up into the kitchen.

So, life is still a little crazy.

That may be all I can write for now. Photographs are a bit beyond my capabilities too. We'll recover, no doubt, after a week or too of working down those lists, and provide more details later in the summer.

In the meantime, it is late spring in Maine, the apple blossoms are out, and our kid can play on green grass. We can be happy, and that is what matters.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Lamb count

Lambing season started March 7th, a Tuesday. Tia gave birth to two healthy lambs around dinner time in the lambing pen. Next up was Ursa, a couple days later, followed quickly by Silvia on Saturday. Still to go is Vera, a newby. Since she will likely have only one, possibly two, we expect seven or eight lambs total, more than doubling our sheep population.

All mommies and lambs are doing well so far.

Edana was present in the barn for Tia's second lamb, which came out very quickly. She just kind of pooped her out, which set Edana to screaming. She thought the sheep had suffered an "owee."

One sheep indeed had suffered an owee, however. While all the fuss was happening over lambs, Garfunkel the ram, who's never been a good eater, decided to go off his feed. On inspection he was found to be anemic, and wormed. He didn't respond well and eventually went into a coma. I put him down yesterday. I was pretty upset to have to do this, since he was a very pleasant fellow, for a ram. More than likely his replacement will be less so. Rams are typically pretty knuckle-headed.

All's well that ends well, though. Here is Edana the day after she was scared of Tia's new lamb, happy again to see the babies.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Paints and stories

Mommy bought home watercolor paints!

What fun!

And we also have some Thomas the Tank Engine books. "Wanna read Thomas Train!"