Thursday, April 15, 2010

Thorndike's grassy ruins, vehicle shopping and carb cleaning

The sheep went out on pasture twice in the last three days, the first time this year. I'm monitoring the growth of our various paddocks carefully, and have also begun cutting brush on the New Paddock, or what we call the New Paddock, a half-acre square to the north of the North Paddock (this nomenclature gets complicated, doesn't it?) our neighbors don't use for anything and so are happy to let us use for sheep. There's a lot of sumac which has to go, and elms, apples, and bird cherries which have to stay.

This is an interesting field because it contains what must be the foundation of the original Great Farm mansion, Israel Thorndike's summer home, reputed to have been fairly palatial for these parts. The stone remnants are pretty extensive and the outline of the building seems kind of elaborate, not a plain rectangle, but we'll see more as we get the trees gone. It burned in 1880.

I expect when I get done with it it will look rather National-Trustish, a grassy ruin, like all those ruined castles in the UK, the second- and third-tier ones that just have a oak-leaf sign and an iron fence and a squeaky kissing gate and a bunch of sheep to keep the grass down, and are kept up primarily by local volunteers. I might even ask the neighbors if our college's tame archeologist can have a go. Never know what you might find. It would be enough to confirm that this was indeed the homeplace and not an outbuilding.

In other activities, we've been keeping the hens in the barn most of the day while we hope that the evil chicken hawk goes elsewhere for feed. I hope someone shoots him. If I see him, I will. I don't care if he does have a nest of chicks and a wifie-hawk to keep.

I've also been working on the smaller of our two tillers, doing the springtime chore of twiddling with the carb to make the float bowl and needle work. A post-Easter resurrection.

This tiller is a Troy-Bilt, by far the most indestructible of tillers as far as the gearbox and tines and chassis are concerned.

Motors, however, are another story.

Years ago I changed the drive motor on this beast from a worn-out Briggsy-Stratton to a recycled one off an old genny that used to power the Bale House. It now has a Tecumseh nine-horse, and these motors have the crappiest and least reliable carbs of any American small motor design. When I worked in the rental yard all those years ago (in San Fransisco's Mission District), we would just put on a new carb each time, but we can't afford that here at Womerlippi Finance Central, so I cannibalize and improvise and keep it limping along. This time the float bowl pin had rusted up, preventing the float from lifting with the fuel, causing flooding and a drippy air filter. I'll replace the pin with a bit of nail or wire and we'll be fixed up again for a year.

Then we're shopping for a small car for Aimee. Not too happy about this as we can't really afford it, but twice now her truck has experienced a mild misfire accompanied by the check-engine light flashing dire warnings. The light has been on permanently for years because we haven't changed the oxygen sensors as they've quit one by one, but when it flashes like this there's more going on. Each time I pulled and decipher the codes, ignoring all the oxygen sensor ones which stay on all the time, to get by a process of elimination to the code for "detected misfire on number four cylinder."

So you run the engine and pull the wires off the distributer cap one by one, and yes, there is no change in engine tone when you disconnect number four. So you pull the spark plug. Actually, the first time this happened I changed them all, thinking 200,000 miles was not too overdue for a change of plugs. Except for number six which needs a special tool, or a universal wrist joint and a second elbow between the wrist and the regular one.

But number four is the middle cylinder on the right hand bank as you're looking from the front, not too hard to reach on this V-six engine. That could be worse. But what I don't like is the smell of coolant on the plug when I pull it. About five thousand miles is how much driving it takes to foul the plug.

So this is the beginning of the long slow death of an otherwise friendly and helpful engine, and the first sign of passage of an otherwise gloriously reliable and hard-working farm truck, and we can pour money into it to get it fixed, or we can get a new engine, or we can sell it and get maybe $3,000, or we can accept the fact that the truck is rusting out anyway and just reduce it's usage to farm- and winter-use only and baby it for another two-three years, or maybe more if we get lucky.

We chose the latter. The truck is worn out but very useful around here.

Which means Aimee needs a new drive-to-work car. She puts $35 of gas in the truck each week, which at 25 mpg means if we can get 50 mpg out of a new car, we have $70 a month to pay for a newer car. This is doable if we put down a couple-three thousand. We've looked at a Prius, the only car that really gets up to 50 mpg. The only one we've had time to see is a high miler for six thousand dollars, a little over-priced on the blue book, but close by and convenient. But there are more Prius's to look at. We can get one eventually.

Problem is, we don't have time to car shop. So this project might take until midsummer to finish. And it's going to be a pain. We'll just have to be patient.

Where, oh where, is the mint 1960-70 diesel Land Rover pick-up of my dreams? The only car I'd ever need again for the rest of my life.

Aimee wants to take the Prius's to a dealer for checking out. She says she would trust my opinion on a 1970 Land Rover but not on a 2000's Prius.


I'll remember that one for the rest of my life too. She won't live it down.

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