Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Some belated visuals

Here's another image of the big storm that knocked out power to about a quarter to a third of the state a few weeks ago. You can see why this particularly wet and sticky type of snow brought down so many trees.

Here's the Land Rover workhorse with the new snowplow safely attached and ready for the next big storm.

Here's the plow attachment. It was bolted right on to the two five-eighths frame-to-leaf spring bolts, one on each side, then welded directly to the bumper. Then we welded the adjustments on the hitch solid. The only way this is coming off is to cut it off with the welder or a gas torch, but the bumper can be ground back down to the original without too much damage. The bumper is slightly bent in any case, and already has the winch welded directly on, so it's not like I'm worried about maintaining that right-off-the assembly line kind of originality. Maybe one day I could afford to have that kind of Rover, but for right now, we need to get some work out of this one.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Last work week before Turkey Day

The fall weather has finally begun to turn to winter. Almost all the leaves are gone, the only ones remaining being those of the beeches, and some apples, whose leaves were seemingly frozen in place by the cold snap that came with the power outage.

We've had another small snowstorm, which underscored all the snow-related items on my pre-winter honey-do list.

Unfortunately for that list, baby-holding and baby-sitting duties were preventing me from getting to a lot of it. Aimee can't look after the baby 24/7, so I need to take over for several hours each day. These duties usually come in stints of an hour or so at a time, except on the days when Aimee must teach, in which cases I have Roo for up to four hours.

In either case, I now understand how impossible it is to do the kind of household and mechanical maintenance I do while holding or otherwise tending a baby. I do love my baby daughter and like being with her, and have even gotten used to the screaming, but I need long periods of uninterrupted time to solve mechanical or household problems properly. It can take several hours just to make a diagnosis, let along fix something. If you have to stop every half-hour to check on baby, your train of thought is naturally broken. This time of year we get only seven to eight hours useful daylight, compounding the problem.

So it was with some frustration that I found myself out in my workshop yesterday at 5am assembling a snowplow. This unit, which is now attached to the Land Rover, is supposed to save me from the long hours I spend with my butt frozen to the hard metal seat of the tractor. Not only will it shift snow faster, I'll be able to work in the warm. Once it had arrived by freight truck Thursday, I was determined to have it ready as soon as possible, certainly for the next big storm.

I was able to get the assembly completed by 7.30 am, then I raced off the Belfast to get the hitch receiver I needed to mount it to the front of the Rover, returning by 8.30, by which time Aimee was getting up with Roo. But that was all the time I could reasonable expect to have without interruptions, and indeed Aimee was planning to leave Roo with me all day to go shopping, essentially eliminating all thought of further progress.

Some difficult marital discussion ensued. Aimee is pretty worn down by breast-feeding and by the uncomfortable sleeping position Roo forces on her. She'll sleep most of the night, for which we're grateful, but needs to be attached to Aimee for a good part of the time to do so, making her stiff and sore. Aimee was naturally looking forward to a bit of a break while shopping, leaving me with "the package."

But, with the tractor also in need of a fan belt, we didn't have any reliable way to plow snow, and a small storm is due even by Monday. The greenhouse needed to be sealed up for the winter, and the banking needed fastened around the house to stop the pipes from freezing. A host of other winterization tasks remained undone that I normally would have done by this time of year. I was fairly frustrated by all these undone tasks and could also see that stuff would start to break soon, if most of it wasn't done.

The upshot was, Aimee decided to take Roo with her shopping. I then stayed by myself and was able to concentrate and plan. I completed the mounting of the snowplow by noon, which went easily enough once I got over the fact that I'd have to cut into a brand new $140 hitch receiver with the cut-off saw and weld it directly to the Rover's front bumper.

Then I replaced the fan belt in the tractor. Fan belts are usually easy, but the radiator had to come out for this one, taking around an hour and twenty.

Then the greenhouse, then the banking around the house. Then the yard still needed some things to be picked up. By 2.30 pm when the girls returned, happy enough despite the unplanned outing for Roo,  I'd been on my feet for 9 hours, racing through all this as quickly as I could, with only a cup of coffee and a pecan roll at 4.30 am to succor me.

Poor puss.

But I was able to declare victory over the list.

The only things I haven't done which I wanted to do was to spray underseal on Aimee's new car, and winterize the auto lift. There's also some de-icer cable I wanted to fit to the kitchen roof, but it's way too late for that and has been for some weeks. The car will have to do without underseal for a year. It's a Toyota, and essentially new, so it ought not rust right away. The auto lift needs a coat of Fluid Film to keep freeze-thaw action from causing damage. I expect I can find a moment to slap some on there today, between stints of baby-care duty. And of course we still only have the 3kW generator available to use in a power outage, not my 18kW Lister Petter "sleek green beauty", which is rebuilt but needs a fuel tank and perhaps some new injectors to start. But at least we have one to use.

It can snow two feet tomorrow if it wants, and the power could be out for a week if it likes. We'll still be fine.

For today, Aimee needs to have a rest. I can take Roo on my Sunday rounds, to get gas and local milk and cream for the week, and to a buddy's house to look at a wind turbine for him, to help diagnose some layout problems with the tower. She usually sleeps through that kind of thing.

Hopefully there'll be a Steeler's game to watch too. Maybe Roo will even let us watch it.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Update: fourth day without power

This is a Great Farm record. We get lots of outages, of course, but this has been the longest for many years. Apparently there were still 9,000 folks without power in our county, so we're not the only ones. We did talk to a CMP assessment crew last night. They were running lines in a van and on foot, using maps and a GPS to help strategize the use of the linesmen and tree crews. I expect that means we won't have to wait very much longer.

Our almost-brand new generator now has something like forty or fifty hours on the clock and has begun using oil! Not a great thing, considering it carries only 0.9 of a quart to begin. That's a very small amount of oil for such a lot of work. It's a good thing we rest it for several hours a day.

As a result of having the genny, all our food is still good, including the two freezers packed full of farm produce. It may be that the very hard frost we got on Monday night got quite a bit of the fall garden produce, though. We'll see when the snow melts. It's just possible that the snow cover kept the potatoes and carrots, still underground, from freezing hard.

We're hopeful for the power to be turned back on today. We can manage indefinitely, as long as the genny holds out. But our elderly neighbor is beginning to get tired of things, especially as she needs to use oxygen. Another neighbor had no heat for a while.

Luckily, we've been able to rearrange our schedules somewhat so I can be home more to run the generator. It takes several good pulls on the pull-cord to start it, and when cold it likes a spritz of starter fluid. Then there's the oil to check and the gas bottles to exchange. Aimee is not fond of this kind of futzing with heavy technology at the best of times -- stuff with engines and pull cords and wotnot seems to drive her up the wall if it is not "plug-and-play."

The most annoying thing, for both of us, has been the failure of both of our carbon monoxide and propane leak detectors. Apparently, neither one was designed for long outages. The batteries wear out very quickly without 110 volts, and then the units start squawking.

This is very annoying, since the time I'm most worried about carbon monoxide poisoning and propane leaks is when I'm running a propane generator for fifteen hours a day! The company, Kidde, is a very good brand, but they clearly didn't think this one through.

With a babe in arms, Aimee's even less fond of such nuisances and added dangers, and I'm not particularly happy about it all either. But, I expect she now sees the point of all my endless prepping and strategizing about power and other household back-up systems. Considering we do have a nine-week old, and that an awful lot of our neighbors are in similarly uncomfortable situations, we have nothing to complain about. We're warm and safe enough, and that's the main thing.

One outcome of this particular power emergency is that I've changed my plans for the big diesel generator. I'm going to refurbish it for use here, not as a WVO demo. The relative weakness of our small propane genny is now quite apparent. It's too small to run the whole house, noisy, runs out of fuel too quickly, and is hard to start. With the huge diesel one, we wouldn't have to worry about engine lubricating oil, or fuel supply, assuming a large-enough tank full of diesel, and we'd be able to run everything in the house including the dryer. It would probably be easier for Aimee to handle, too, since it would have an electrical starter.

Heck, if it were legal to do so, in a situation like this with the roadside breaker to our small hamlet of five homes popped, I could even feed back through the CMP transformers and lines to feed the other four Great Farm homes. If our one house can manage with 3.5kW, the larger generator, at 18 kW, would be enough capacity for all four houses, with some to spare. Unfortunately, I don't think it's legal to set up one's own ad-hoc micro grid like that. But it should be.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Snowed in and power out!

Welcome to winter in Maine. It's only the 2nd of November and we'll already snowed in and cut off from power. There's been no sign of the town plow, so the road is under a foot or so, and the power is out in ours and lots of other small towns all over the state.

No matter. We don't have to go anywhere, except to work tomorrow, and we may even get a snow day. And we have a brand new propane generator. Actually, it's three years old already, but this is only its second time of using and it has less than ten hours on the clock.

Here's the wifely car, under a good eight inches. She laughed at me for putting the snow tires on last week, said it was too early.

And here's the genny, throbbing away. It's just a little noisy in the house. Quieter than the Kitchen Aid mixer!

Who knows, maybe the white noise will help Roo sleep later.

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.