Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Carbon chemistry and honey-do's and computerized trucks

Here's our kitchen stove heating the house nicely and making my breakfast oatmeal today. Hot stoves make me happy.

After about three-four days of sog and fog, it's turned cooler out there, but another rainstorm is coming before the weekend, to be followed by snow. None of which has yet stuck, but it will, soon, and that will be all she wrote for several large categories of work until May.

All this inclement weather is turning my attention back to the woodpile. Despite a poor start because of a last minute community wind job out on the islands, I thought I'd checked the boxes on my honey-do list pretty well over the nine-day Thanksgiving break. Taking narry a day off, I caught up pretty well, including a none-too-soon resurrection of my mechanical training, a tune-up job which turned a somewhat recalcitrant wifely truck into a much better-behaved one.

I particularly impressed myself with the work on the truck. Normally that truck and indeed any up-to-date vehicle terrifies me. Vehicles have become far too computerized and complicated for backyard mechanics and the probability of a mistake turning a hundred-dollar backyard job into a two thousand-dollar dealer-only nightmare is very high. But with careful reading of the Chilton's manual and repeated "pulling" of electronic codes, I was able to run through the diagnostics, fix the rough running, and get it running a lot better.

This will become more of a necessity as this truck ages. We can't afford to throw good money after bad in any vehicle, and our 200,000 mile pick-up will have to be written off completely one day soon. Between now and then, it's best if I save some money by doing as much of the work as I can myself.

Still, I thought I was doing fairly good, as husbandry goes.

Probably I was, but if that pile of wood runs out before May, my husband name will be poop around here.

Firewood has been a problem for us every year on the Great Farm. Not availability: we're surrounded by wood: we own or lease about 14 acres of prime New England woodlot, capable, by the traditional estimate, of delivering the same number of cords of wood each year. Far more than we use. But finding the work time to cut, buck, split, stack and dry the four or five cords or more we should really have piled up each year, that has often defeated me. This year I gave up on making wood during the wet spring when the tractor couldn't move in the woodlot, and instead did a huge insulation project.

So now I have to buy in some more "outside" wood. This means money, which is tight, and work time, which is also tight. One place I know will deliver. I can just have wood delivered to the dooryard in a three-cord dump load for about $600, but that wood generally isn't dry enough. Most sellers also sell stuff that's way too green.

The one place I know of where the firewood sold is actually dry has a fair price too, but I have to pick it up myself in that same tired, woefully small-bed, rice-burner Nissan pick-em-up truck.

It requires three round trips to get a cord. Half a day.

Oy. But it has to be done.

It's right about this time that I realize why I should have had kids earlier in life. When I was a strapping teenager my old man took full advantage of my inherent capacity for labor, and I had any number of chores to perform, both for our house and for our family business (a chocolate shop in downtown Broomhill, Sheffield). I could really put my teenage self to good use around here. Or some newer model Womerlippi.

I could also use a pick-em-up truck that takes a full cord of wood. But not a thirty-thousand dollar new model nightmare. An old two-wheel drive three-quarter ton Ford in good nick would be ideal, circa 1972, no computer, all points and spark plugs and carbs. I could keep that baby running for forty years if I could keep the salt off it.

Or a nice long-wheely Land Rover pick-up. Still a short bed truck, but my, how you can keep those things running. And get a trailer to go with. A trailer that could take a full cord and carry three little piggies to market would be nice and save me some grief.

When we were in the UK service and Land Rovers were ten-a-penny we used to bowdlerize the old Irish folk song, The Wild Rover:

And it's no, nay, never,
No nay never no more,
Will I drive a Land Rover,
No never, no more.

But I wish I had one now.

And a new chainsaw. My two old ones, never the most powerful of saws in the first place, are getting tired and one quit on me last week, possibly for good. The two I have are identical, which was deliberate, so the dead one will become spares for the other, but they're only lightweight saws and so not very quick at making wood.

My favorite farm blogs are also wittering on about firewood. Colour it Green Diary in SW England wants a woodlot. She could borrow ours if she were closer. We'd share, or trade for knitted goods. Throwback at Trapper Creek in Oregon has one, but coniferous. I liked the picture of the deep Oregon woods and the easily split softwood logs because it reminded me of Montana. Although we have conifers in Maine and in fact our woodlot has huge spruces and hemlocks, we think of them as sawlogs, not firewood. We use oak, maple, cherry, beech and ash for firewood. Ash predominates in our own woodlot, one of the best New England firewood trees because it can be burned while still wet.

Our woodlot grows a thirty-foot tall, six inch DBH ash in about seven years. Takes a few of those to make a cord, but it makes for perfect stove wood.

Aberdeenshire's Stonehead and Paul on Raasay both have new snow.

Beautiful, but cold. And makes it hard to shift firewood, especially with a tiny Nipponese pick up. I'd better get moving this weekend, and get those extra two cords in.


  1. Well, WordPress has only just realised you've linked to me so I popped over to see what's being said. Thanks for the mention and link.

    We're fortunate to have both a Land Rover Defender Dual-Cab pick-up and a 12ft livestock trailer. Small pigs and small amounts of wood/bagged barley/stones/water tanks/children can be thrown in the pick-up bed (600-700kg is ideal). Larger amounts, up to two tonnes, go in the trailer. The Defender/trailer combination was a serious investment for us, even if both are older and bought for bargain prices, but are well worth it.

    I'd love to see our planted ash make 30 feet in seven years. Some of ours have been in for five years and have barely made six feet. I'm was planning to crop them at 10 years, but I'm starting to wonder.

    On the firewood front, I'm old-fashioned and use a variety of axes, a crosscut saw, sledgehammer and steel wedges, and a brush saw. An hour a day keeps me looking like my teenage self—or so I try to persuade the Other Half.

    We had snow up to my neck for a while, but it's now down to two feet or so. The ground remains frozen and covered in ice, though, which makes life interesting.

    Thanks again for the mention,

  2. You're welcome. I go around the same four blogs every morning, yours is one. A good start to the day.

    I never did get the firewood in, until just recently. See http://womerlippi.blogspot.com/2010/01/firewood-fellers.html


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