Monday, June 28, 2010

Anything you can do....

Aimee is a much better photographer than I am. I tend to just snap away, hoping to get what I want to portray in the frame. Aimee waits for the moment she wants to capture.

These are her latest. Very cute shots of the young animals we have on the farm right now.

And I spoke too soon about getting no help with firewood! She must have been reading the blog, which she says she never reads. I got some very good help yesterday splitting a load of popple I got from a down tree at the Bale House.

Later that evening she stated that I kept trying to take the ax away from her, which was true -- I was worried she wasn't pacing herself, and wanted a turn, and that this meant I was afraid of being supplanted in my male role as provider of firewood.

Not true, I said, and to prove it I would get her another big load of logs to split all by herself. She could split as many as she wanted.

Less work for me!

Popple, to give it it's local name, has a nice clean odor to it once split, and I'm liking how our dooryard smells right now. This is a New England dialect name for the tree called poplar in Britain, but this particular species is actually the western or quaking aspen, not the tall Lombardy poplars we know in the yUKe. It gets precarious when it gets big, and tends to rot from the inside out and fall down, although once sawed into boards, the timber doesn't rot that quickly. It isn't great firewood for BTU content, but if properly dried burns easily enough. The Forest Trees of Maine, our bible in these respects, recommends leaving it for wildlife habitat since it provides nesting habitat for mammals in the rotted interiors, and this particular tree did indeed have a great nest inside, full of giant grubs, so huge they had to be luna moths.

But once they fall on your driveway, their nest-providing days are over.

Better smelling than the maggoty dead chicken Haggis got into the other night. That smell is now fully departed, thank you.

I'll know that the sex equality policy at the Womerlippi Farm Enterprise is complete and successful when all members of the employee pool are willing to handle the various dead maggoty items (and live maggoty sheep) that occur from time to time.

However, the one remaining luna moth grub that did survive the trip was picked up (using appropriate distancing tools) and fed to a chicken.

Happy chicken!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Ashes to ashes

All of my automotive repairs, plus the traveling, have put me behind on the firewood chore. We need four cords, cut, split and stacked by the end of July if it's to be properly dried by later October.

So today I sharpened up the blade on the new chainsaw, which was dulled on the old elm in our yard last time I used it, and cut some more wood in our woods.

I cut ash, the gray ash and the brown, both of which we grow in abundance. The new saw makes a much straighter cut than the old, which makes it easier to split, and it cuts a good deal faster as long as the blade is sharp. I trim the smaller branches and twigs with a machete, which I keep sharp on the grinding wheel. Sharp tools are the key to an easy job of wood cutting. I have two new Oregon blades on order for this saw; they should arrive soon.

The logs are loaded in this old trailer, which takes about 1/3 of a cord, and ferried the hundred yards up to the dooryard using the Bolens 16 horse lawn tractor, which is plenty traction and can handle the heaviest load and steepest hills we have. Once in the dooryard, they are spit if need be and stacked to dry. Ash splits easily when wet, but it's still a fair old work-out. A couple-three hours of wood cutting and splitting is enough for me in any one day. More, and I can't easily repeat the process the next day.

Old man.

We use old pallets, of which we have a fair collection, to keep the logs off the ground while they dry, and old plastic sheeting to keep the rain off and let the sun in.

The sheep love to munch on ash leaves, and so I let them back into this enclosure where the trees grow once I was done cutting, and they happily stripped the branches and twigs for an hour or two.

If you cut while the sheep are in there, they get in the way and may get brained by a falling tree. Sheep are silly like that. Aimee, on the other hand, is nowhere to be seen while wood is being cut. I deduce from this that Aimee is smarter than a sheep, especially where work is concerned.

Today's haul was about 1/3 of a cord. I will need another nine or ten just like it before I'm done with the firewood chore for the year. The largest tree I cut was nine inches DBH, and 22 years old by its rings. That's about the age and size of most of our hardwoods. It's only along the hedgerow that we have bigger, older trees on our own lot. It will be many more years before we exhaust the supply on our three point five acre plot, even though we are cutting them faster than they grow to open up space for sheep. Once we get done with the home lot, we'll have our leased land to go at. That supply will never be exhausted since we can't possibly cut and burn trees faster than they can grow on twelve acres of well-watered Maine woodland.

Eventually the leased land will have much larger trees and be full canopy, primarily ash woods with small patches of light where cutting has occurred recently, while the home lot will be a kind of grassy parkland with widely spaced apples, bird cherries, birches, spruces, tamaracks (larch) and Great Farm elms.

Parts of it already look like this now since I've been cutting and clearing for several years already. It's a pleasant place to work.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Various voracious eaters

Today was piglet-picking day. Haggis and I motored in the "new" flatbed Nissan to go get our feeder pigs. We chose three "gilts" (or young sows). Gilts are less trouble than barrows (young boars that have been castrated), but they don't grow out quite as fast or as economically.

For a small outfit like ours, less trouble is more important than fast growth. And these Yorkshire/Landrace/Canadian types will grow plenty fast. They'll eat a pound of food each a day and double in size in the next two-three weeks.

The same farm that operates our slaughterhouse also gets in feeder pigs and sells them on at a small profit. Smallholders like us will always bring the grown pigs back to butcher, so this is a form of "vertical integration."

Good business sense on the part of the farm family.

The new flatbed is performing well. After some trial and error, I have the tailgate set just so, and although it's held together by regular hardware: strap hinges and barrel bolts, it doesn't rattle as you go down the road. The next project is removable stock-sides, so we can transport lambs and small to medium pigs without a trailer.

Full grown, 280-300 pound pigs will still need a trailer. I can't lift a pig that big, even if the pig would let me lift it. Four guys could do it, but there's only two of us. The butchers say that they won't be able to loan us a trailer in the fall, so I'll have to start looking out for one.

The preferred way to grab a squealing piglet is by the hind feet. This doesn't hurt them and they can't struggle much. But that doesn't mean to say they enjoy it.

However, since their destination after this unpleasant carnival ride is a nice well bedded pen with a full dish of food and clean water, they should just shut up and let me get on with it.

Haggis is rather nonplussed by piglets these days. They don't respond to his herding abilities quite like chickens do, so he's learned to avoid them, as he so often does with sheep. What a sorry mutt he is, such a poor excuse for a shepherd dog. So called. But he does love to go for a ride in the truck. Here he is, still sat there even though the doors been open for ten minutes. He's still out there as I write this, hoping for another ride, even though he must be quite hot since it's muggy today.

I've been on weed and bug patrol every morning. Today is too moist to weed. the weeds don't die unless they can be dried out after you pull them. But the potato bugs were out.

Here's a potato bug larva, a couple of mating adults, and a larva being squished between two leaves.

I either squish them or pick them. If I pick them I drown them in a pail of water we keep handy. If I squish them I get nasty potato bug juice on my hands.

Don't ask what the brown stains are on the sides of my dungarees.

We can keep the potatoes sufficiently free of bugs this way that they continue to thrive. It helps that the soil is fertile and that the summer has been nicely watered. Hearty plants better survive the onslaught.

But Colorado potato beetles, to give them their "proper name," are voracious and they multiply quickly. I've seen them eat a whole patch of three-feet high potato plants down to two-inch stumps in less than ten days. This was in our college's garden, and the student gardeners were picky about picking, so they lost their crop.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Rainy day pictures

I keep telling blog readers about how fertile the gardens seems, but I don't produce any proof. Too busy pulling weeds to take pictures.

Here it is.

#1) From left to right: spuds, basils, onions, peas, brassicas

#2) Peppers, tomatoes, spuds

#3) Gratuitous shot of our barn and much beloved Kubota 12 horse

#4) Aimee's chicken tractor with peeps now almost grown birds. My how the months have flown...

Monday, June 21, 2010

Portland to Portland and home to stay

I'm done with travel for a while, hopefully for the summer. Thank heavens for that.

I don't particularly enjoy the part of my job that requires me to go to conferences and meetings. I never have. Other Unity College faculty, including my lovely wife, and most other professors I know, do often enjoy it. But I don't. I'm a serious homebody, and frankly if left to my own devices I probably wouldn't feel much like going anywhere except perhaps in the dead of winter.

The reason is, what place could be better than here?

All this "the grass is greener" stuff: I got over that long ago. As a young man I traveled an awful lot. Now I've settled down, I'm pretty glad to have this farm and this life and rarely wish to leave it.

The best aspect of this recent trip was not the conference, although it was fine as conferences go. It was the view out of the airplane window. Living in Maine and rarely visiting the lower 47, I'd forgotten how huge and well endowed with natural resources the American continent is. To get to where I was going, I flew from Portland, Maine to Chicago to Portland, Oregon. I couldn't see much on the first flight since I was in an aisle seat on an aircraft with six seats per row. But from Chicago to Oregon I had a window seat and likewise had one all the way back to Maine.

For those of you who've never seen it, the interior of the US is a wonder of human ecology. The first part of the Midwest, once the Chicago suburbs were past, is marked by rich flatland farms on a mile square, two or four or six farmhouses per section. The grid is completely regular. But but by bit, the central plains, where prior to white settlement, long-grass prairie was the dominant ecosystem, give way to the high plains and the short grass prairie. Yields decline too. the eastern Midwest is massively productive, with deep soils and enough water for corn and soy. The far western plains can barely grow grass, and bit by bit become a desert, except where bottomland glows green.

If we were on the ground, we'd smell the sagebrush and walk over bare rock and hear the western meadowlark and the red-winged blackbird.

Over the Dakotas and Nebraska the rich fat farmhouses thin out until eventually there's less than one per section, less plowland and fewer outbuildings, and the land becomes more and more penetrated by irregular natural features, unplowed ridge lines and tree-lined streams, slickrock and eventually patches of forest on the northern slopes of the higher ridges as the ground rises to meet the Rockies.

On this trip, we crossed the Missouri in northern Iowa or Dakota, I couldn't tell, and then followed a tributary up into the Badlands. The tributary was so heavy with silt as to be coffee-colored, and not black coffee, either, but more of a cappuccino or
café au lait tint. I thought it seemed polluted, but it may have been natural: "too thin to plow and too thick to drink" was first said of the Platte, but it's true of many western streams.

We saw the Black Hills and then the coal basins of Wyoming or eastern Montana with obvious strip mines, and then various "island in the sky" mountain ranges leapt out of the dry prairie. I was able to identify the I-90 freeway from Sheridan, Wyoming to Billings, Montana, and the Yellowstone River and then thickening cloud forced a loss of my bearings. The Rockies in this part of the world, as Lewis and Clark discovered, are several hundred miles wide, and one range after another would show itself beneath the cloud. I know the country pretty well, having lived there for ten years, but I couldn't figure out a single landmark after the Yellowstone. Still it was gorgeous. Thick forest on all but the steeper southernmost slopes, and plenty of snow.

I'd forgotten how late the snow lingers into the summer on the high ranges of the Rockies.
That winter snowpack is the water supply for all those ranches on the high and the Oregon plains.

The best view of the whole trip was Mt. Hood, a giant ice-cream sundae, which, at this point in our flight, towered above the aircraft itself, as we had begun our descent. Trapped in my window seat and unable to make it to my backpack for the camera, I just stared in awe, eventually getting a crick in my neck as the mountain was left in our rear. I never climbed Mount Hood, although I've been on Mt. Shasta to the south, a similar volcanic peak. The Williamette valley was rich with truck farms (market gardens to the Brits who read this) and orchards, and then we were landing in the Portland suburbs.

Flying back, from Portland, Oregon to Newark, New Jersey, to Portland, Maine, the cloud was thick much of the way. I was able to identify the Columbia River Gorge though one small gap, and saw the last ranges of the Rockies and glimpses of the high plains. Then nothing until Lake Michigan. Lake Erie was free of cloud, and I clearly identified Erie, Pennsylvania and what might have been the southernmost parts of western Quebec, with the classic finger-thin fields of the habitants. I thought I could make out the Adirondack region. The Catskills were obvious, as was the meadowlands where Newark airport is located. On the last flight home we saw the Hudson River, the Connecticut River and southern New Hampshire before landing in Portland.

It's strange to me that the rest of the folks on an airplane don't stare out of the window the way I do. It seems to me that there's something wrong here. When given a window seat on the panorama of creation, how can you choose TV or a book instead? I can't understand it. And is this deficiency in attention to the vital details of landscape also somehow kin to the wasteful urge we all have to travel too frequently from our homes in the first place? Aren't these too attitudes part and parcel of the same consumer conceit, that the world is made to serve us, not for its own purposes, and so we don't have to pay attention to it whether we're at home or abroad?

I'm not trying to claim any moral superiority here. I just don't understand why people don't pay attention to sights as stunning and fascinating as these.

Enough, though. Time to get some breakfast and feed the sheep and look at the state of the weeds in the garden. The sheep are definitely in the here-and-now, as are the vegetables, and I suppose with their help so am I.

Fetch wood, carry water. No more travel for me this year, I hope.

But mother is still very sick and in hospital, so I can't say that, can I?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The land of the living

Back at home for a very short while -- my father's death interrupted a planned "conference season" schedule including two trips for which the college had already paid airfare, so I must soon travel again soon, but first I need to get things in order around here.

Once I got out of my own bed for the first time in days, there was much to do, so I got on and did it.

The bills all needed to be paid. Lots of bills. First things first. Everything that takes place on this farm would come to a halt soon enough if this chore didn't happen.

The lawn needed mowed. Our land grows grass in profusion, which is great most years, since we feed sheep on it all summer. But this year the weather has been perfect for grass -- a good soaking shower every few days and temperatures warm but not too warm. All the paddocks have gone to seed. I can live with that -- if a paddock goes to seed it can be mowed in the fall before the winter dormancy period sets in.

Paddocks need to be mowed only once a year, if at all. Usually the sheep keep them down.

But although we graze sheep and poultry on the front lawn and the "island" of our school bus turnaround, we also sit on them ourselves or with guests and occasionally have a cook-out and eat outside on them and play with dogs and cats on them and generally use them as lawn.

And when a lawn goes to seed it just looks crap.

So it was with reluctance that I fired up our ancient decrepit Bolens landscape tractor and kicked the ancient decrepit mower deck into life and mowed the entire area. I hate mowing, and usually work hard with electric fencing to get the sheep to do it. But this year the poor sheep just can't keep up.

Then it was on to the garden. It was a perfect day for hoeing weeds -- hot and dry with a drying breeze. The weeds once hoed would die nicely in the sun. I was a happy hoer. I didn't need to hoe the entire garden, only about half. The rest was fine.

I'll have to go back today and hand-weed between the onion plants.

Then lunch and a nap. Jet-lagged.

Then the growing tomatoes needed tomato cages. We use wire cages instead of stakes for our tomato plants. These cages are cheap and widely available, and we've made a collection over the years from hardware stores and garage sales. It takes a few hours to provide each plant with a cage, and because it's fiddly and repetitive, it's not a chore I especially enjoy. This year I was able to get into it, though, and did it all in one go.

It was as I was caging the tomatoes that I thought again about my dad, who also loved to grow tomatoes. Although he and mum visited me in the states several times, dad never saw one of my gardens, at least not that I can remember. This despite the fact that I grew my first American garden in 1988 and have grown one almost every year since.

They always came in the off-season, to save money, see.

My sister and I have of course been conducting the usual fiscal autopsy on their papers, and I discovered that towards the end of dad's life they could probably have afforded to come anytime of the year, but by then the Alzheimers had set in for both of them. Flying in from America and thus more able to see the changes than those around them, I first detected memory loss in my parents many, many years before it was diagnosed by the doctors.

It didn't help that both parents but especially my dad hated to go to the doctors.

And the result was that the disease progressed without treatment. One side-effect was that they stopped traveling. Even though both of them swore that their memories were fine, mother's innate conservatism kept them at home, until, she kept saying, they'd "saved up." "Maybe next year we'll come and see you," she said. But when I saw how bad they were getting I hoped not.

And so they didn't come. I expect Mother knew, subconsciously, if not consciously that something was wrong and they couldn't come. She worked hard to keep her husband safe at home as long as she was able despite her own failing faculties. This was instinctive on her part, especially towards the end. It was after she herself broke her hip that dad started wandering and then of course the authorities began to require treatment. After mother broke her hip again, after she herself was made to go in a home, everything fell apart with dad, and eventually he was put in the psych ward where he quickly died.

And so my parents never saw the farm. In retrospect I think that they were probably too far gone even the first year we got it, which was 2005. The last year in which they traveled to the states, if I remember right, was 1996-1997. They came in the winter to the place I was care-taking, an old farmhouse in the Quaker village of Sandy Spring, just outside of DC. I grew gardens there, but nothing was growing that winter.

Now mother will very likely never leave her hospital bed again. Sister Carol has lots of farm pictures to show her, but she can only keep her appreciation up for one or two pictures at a time, and forgets right away what she's seen.

Still, dad would have loved to see these long beds of tomatoes growing so well.

No blight so far, no thrips or aphids. Everything is growing too fast for the pests. Even the potato beetles seem subdued by the pace of this season. The whole farm is vastly fertile. Our garden is rampant, while our grazings are simply out-of-control. Everything is lush greenery. It's looking like a bumper crop.

Mum and dad would have loved it.

But if we do it for anyone other than ourselves, we do it for them. I don't believe in spirits or ghosts, but I must admit I've often felt the presence of my grandad while gardening. I think this is really just my own subconscious at work, remembering him in the garden, which was really where he spent his life except for the years in and between the wars when he was a British soldier. As a very young kid I spent my summers there with him. So when I'm in the garden it often feels to me like he's there.

My dad will be there now too, I expect, for the rest of my life.

In the tomatoes.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Eulogy for Gordon

Given by his son Michael at Coychurch Crematorium Chapel, Thursday, June 10th, 2010.

Eulogy for Gordon

We are gathered here to bear Christian witness to the memory of my father Gordon Womersley. Gordon wasn’t from this area, and so there aren’t very many of us and indeed most of the folks who would want to be here have passed away themselves, or like Gordon’s wife Jean or sister Barbara are too ill themselves to make the journey.

But I tend to think funerals are perhaps as much to cherish the living as the dead, and if this funeral is for Gordon, it is also for my sister Carol and Gordon’s brother Stan and his wife Rita, and even my mother who is in her own hospital bed, although she can’t be here and is perhaps too far gone to even properly know that her beloved husband is dead.

Which as Thelma said yesterday and I knew she was right, is in fact a blessing of sorts.

So what can a son say about his father at a funeral that will do justice to a man’s life and make any living sense whatsoever? Especially in the face of the tragedy of his long illness and mental confusion, all the fuss and bother, tears and worry, and then the eventual but inevitable passing?

Certainly not much, and definitely never enough.

But we all have to do our best.

Even though mother can’t be here, and that is truly tragic, I don’t have good enough words to describe how grateful Carol and I are, though, to have our family here, especially Rita and Stan and David and Beverly. And how brilliant and fitting it is that our own cousin can serve as the minister and that Beverly will sing for us and that I can say these few words on my father’s behalf. Carol and I are deeply grateful.
The entire affair, this part of it at least, will be in the control of the family, which is exactly what Dad, who we all know was a bloody-minded "my home is my castle" Englishman to the core, would have appreciated.

Other than bloody mindedness and Englishness, what else must we who are left always remember of Gordon? I don’t have time to cover it all, so I have to pick some features and leave others.

I want to remind you of his creativity.

My father was an exceptionally creative man, somewhat to the concern of his much more stable but devoted wife Jean.

You see, he would have these ideas.

Nothing too dangerous, is it, just an idea? But then he would make the ideas actually happen. That was the dodgy part. And life would get terribly exciting and interesting, and perhaps for mother just a little disconcerting.

I’ll always remember the time he decided to make butter. That was an idea. He collected all the cream off the milk for a week, put it in a jar, and on Sunday morning put the racy jazz tune “Peanut Vendor” on the radiogram and danced up and down our living room, us kids dancing too, until he had it, and there it was, real butter.
Tasted right, too.

Or the time he had the idea to take the family to Switzerland. Our first foreign holiday. I’ve had quite a few since. But not to fly, or go on the train like normal people. To drive, all the way, with our own van and caravan to live in. We all piled in our Toyota van with a caravan attached. Mother filled the spaces under the seats with good British tinned food, because, well you never know with foreigners. And she checked twice to make sure she’d turned off the gas.

And we drove all the way through England and France to Switzerland and even somehow arrived and, then, miracle of miracles, even came safely back. There was the small problem of blowing a valve somewhere in France that tested my schoolboy French and mother’s supplies of canned food. But we made it. This was a lot more exciting holiday than most of the other kids at Tapton School could talk about, and thanks to Dad’s photography, we had the pictures to prove it.

One idea that he had that also worked was that he and indeed my mother and eventually Stan and Rita too could make a living selling hand-made chocolates.

Now that was an idea that caused us all no end of trouble. But, I think we would all have to admit, it also provided a decent living for quite a long time. And how many people can say that, that they came up with their own personal, independent way of making a living and made it work, not just for themselves, but for two entire families.

There are other unique aspects of his character I’d like to celebrate, his love for music, his love for the British landscape, his creativity with film and video and photography. His love of railways, real and modeled. How many of us remember the Sheffield Model Railway exhibitions he used to help organize? How big and grand they were, in the Cutlers Hall, thousands upon thousands of attendees. And we must remember how much he loved jazz and the musicals.

We don’t have very long, so we must move on, but with the exhibitions and the chocolate and the jazz festivals and the like, and with just being an interesting, lively and creative fellow, we must always remember that Gordon Womersley brightened the lives of many, many people.

Although I’m sad, I'm somewhat settled with the thought of Dad's passing. He had been very ill for what seemed like a very long time, with very little quality of life left to him, and my sister's life was turned upside down by having to first care for him and mother and then having to visit both of them in hospital, different hospitals thirty-five minutes away from each other on busy roads. My sister has been brilliant throughout all of this, and indeed that’s the only way my wife and I have been able to keep our good jobs and our precious beautiful farm in America, because Carol has simply done it all. Without her I’d have lost it all to come home and do what she’s done these years. Thank you, Carol from all of us.

Mother is now bedridden and can speak little and breathes only slowly. Her hands are often cold. She can still brighten and share a laugh or a memory for an instant or two. But she fades fast. And she must too pass, one day soon. We have to face that and do our best for her while she lives.

Then my sister will be free to get on with her life.

So at least one person I care about is better off as a result. And through the tears, I’m honestly grateful for that.

And I can't honestly say that Dad isn't also better off at this point than he was these last few weeks. Or that mother won't be. At least Dad’s terrible struggles with memory loss and confusion are over, while Mother is being visited almost daily by walking, talking images, seemingly crystal clear memories of her parents, which are to her perhaps more real and present than the visitors at the bedside are.

As a scientist I’m not supposed to believe in ghosts or spirits but it is terribly comforting to think of mother being with her own mother and father and husband again.

Knowing my grandfather Arthur and grandmother Lettie, as long as I don’t think about it, as long as I don’t engage the scientist part of me, it seems natural that in the time of crisis mother talks with her parents again, whom she and I and my sister loved very deeply, and it seems natural that at times like she is almost with them already. I’m sure that Dad has or will soon join them.

And the circle of life goes on.

Gordon will be cremated here today. Eventually, in a few days or months but probably not years, my sister will scatter his and mother's ashes in Whiteley Woods, Sheffield, close to the cottage the Watson family occupied from the mid 1800s until the late 1990s. This is the old "fulwood" or folk-wood, centuries past a public woodlot for firewood and lumber, but now a park. It's been a community-owned and -operated landscape feature for perhaps over 800 years. Dad will be part of that landscape, part of the bluebells in spring and the holly in winter. We can go see him there. As a farmer and a forester I appreciate that deeply.

And the circle of life goes on.

We the living have to get back to our lives, and live them as well as we can in honor of the dead.

So that’s all I have to say here, and I think it’s enough, except to say thank you all for coming to help us bear witness to the life of Gordon Womersley, my father.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


I'm in the UK with my sister to bury my father, who passed away last weekend.

Here's the obituary we wrote for the local paper.

Mr. Gordon Womersley, Chocolatier of Sheffield, passed away on Sunday in hospital in Rhondha Cynon Taff, South Wales, where he had retired in 1997. Gordon lived an eventful and unusual life that reflected the changing face of Sheffield over many decades, but also the native creativity of this industrial city.

Born August 16th, 1936, Gordon was the son of William Womersley, haberdasher of Sheffield, a Sheffield personality in his own right, a leading member of the radical 1930s Clarion Rambler’s club and one of the original Kinder Trespassers. Gordon was one of a strong family of three brothers and one sister. Growing up in wartime Sheffield, their family home on Carterknowle Road was badly damaged by German bombs, and the children were at one point evacuated to countryside relatives. Father William served in industrial work in Iraq during the war and was absent for several years. The three brothers were choirboys together at St. Johns, Ranmoor during the 1940s. William returned from the war to continue in local activism and was instrumental in building the council estate in Dronfield, where the family moved during the 1950s.

After National Service in the Royal Signals Regiment, Gordon married Jean Watson of Fullwood. The Watsons, another well-known Sheffield family, occupied the last of the Ivy Cottages at Forge Dam for over a hundred years until the late 1990s. Gordon and Jean had two children together and celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary in 2009.

In the early 1960s, Gordon went into the sweets and tobacco business, working first for Palmer and Harvey wholesaling company. In his spare time he contributed energy to the Sheffield Model Railway Enthusiasts club, and for many years helped organize their popular annual exhibitions at the Cutler’s Hall and other venues. His excellent scale model of Sheffield Midland Station was a permanent feature of the exhibitions during the 1960s. Later in life he would organize other local and regional events, including an important summer jazz festival at Chatsworth in the early 1990s.

In 1973 Gordon and has wife Jean became the well-known proprietors of The Chocolate Soldier, a confectioners, sweets and tobacco shop in Broomhill. Facing competition from larger businesses for boxed chocolate collections, Gordon had the idea of making his own luxury brand. Visiting Switzerland and other centers of chocolate manufacture and experimenting in the kitchen of the family home on Sandygate Road, he taught himself the production side of the business and opened a small factory in the back of the shop. Gordon and Jean ran the business in the Broomhill shop with other family members during the 1970s and 1980s. A particular event of note at The Chocolate Soldier was the annual “Guess the Weight” competition, where customers would guess the weight of a giant chocolate Easter egg, proceeds in excess of several hundred pounds each year going to the Children’s Hospital. Queues for chocolates were often long at Christmas and Easter, and for many Sheffield families the delicious handmade chocolates and Easter Eggs were an important feature of seasonal festivities over the years.

During the 1980s, working with Gordon’s brother Stanley and his wife Rita, they opened Personally Yours chocolates in Ridgeway Craft Center, Ridgeway village, where the business still flourishes today. Gordon’s modeling skills were put to good use carving intricate detailed moulds for chocolate novelties. The business was successful and supported both families into retirement. Personalized moulded chocolates were sold to hotels, pubs, catering services and the like. Gordon was especially proud of an account with Highgrove House, the London residence of the Prince of Wales.

Many Star readers will remember one or the other business, both of which were featured in this newspaper several times.

Gordon is survived by brother Stanley and sister Barbara, both still residents of South Yorkshire, his loving wife Mary Jean, living in South Wales, and children Michael and Carol Ann.

Services will be held at Coychurch Crematorium, Coychurch, Bridgend, South Wales, 2.15 pm, June 10, 2010. The family asks that no flowers be sent. Donations may be made instead to the UK Parkinsons Disease Society or the Salvation Army.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Flatbed finalization

Well, here's the results of my labors these last few days.

I took a break from summer wind research to repair that old Nissan truck. Not a moment too soon, given I found big holes in the frame that would have caused it to collapse after another winter or two. I had plenty of time, so I went through it carefully, wrecking out the old bed, cleaning off all the rust, fixing one seized brake component, building the new bed, fitting new rear shocks, and painting the new bed and the underside of the entire truck.

Despite all this work, this vehicle wouldn't last very much longer if we drove it a lot, especially in winter.

The truck is sound enough now, with metal patches or new metal welded into all the holes and the rust all chipped off and the bare metal painted with primer and rust-proof black enamel. But that new paint will have to be maintained to keep the rust at bay every winter from here on out.

They just don't make them like they used to. The frame on this vehicle is just 1/8 inch or less pressed and folded steel, made into box sections. Any strength there is at all is in the shape of the cross-section, not in the mass of steel. When you have steel that thin, the rust will do for it fairly easily.

By comparison, the steel frame I welded on to make the bed is considerably stronger. I used 3/16 thickness rectangular section material for the beams, while the stringers are still 1/8th, but there's a lot more of them than there are in the original frame. This is not necessarily safer. If somebody sideswipes or rear-ends this new flatbed, there won't be much of a crumple zone. The force will be transmitted the length of the vehicle, and on to the occupants.

But it will last longer than the truck will. I can imagine salvaging this flatbed to make a trailer or similar one day, when the truck's engine finally dies. It would be a shame to send that much good material to the junkyard.

In the meantime, I have to puzzle out what I want to do about truck sides and a tailgate. I need some ideas for how to make the sides detachable, and I need to think about hardware for a tailgate hinge and latches. I have one 1 1/2 inch square steel stringer left, which could be cut up easily enough to make sockets for the sides, and I imagine that heavy duty farm gate hinges will hold a wooden tailgate together well enough. If I make it all removable, but also in sections so we can have tall sides when needed, or regular height ones for normal use, that would be most useful to us.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

What's going on?

Summer came early to Maine this year. The potatoes are a foot tall already, as are several other garden plants, not just the "earlies": the peas and onions are tall, for sure, but the tomatoes are too. The warm weather no doubt contributed to the various sheep diseases we encountered too, all of which were the kind of critters that might prefer warmth and damp.

So it was with some relief that our sheep shearer came.

You may ask, when we do all our own sheep doctoring and car maintenance and house building, etc, &c, why do we hire a shearer?

The answer is that I know when I'm outclassed. Rob, our shearer, is impressively good at the job. He is extremely gentle and confident, and makes few nicks or cuts. He and his partner Michelle, farmers themselves, also seem to genuinely enjoy our small farm, so there's usually an exchange of ideas too, information and goods, as well as the expected trade of money for shearing.

The sheep of course complained violently about being shorn, but they'll feel better and be far less likely to get sick as a result. In fact we're relying on a dry day today to finalize Tootsie's flystrike treatment. Her fleece was so thick, it was impossible to find all the maggots. I kept spraying, but the flies just seemed to come back. Of course, there was a second smaller packet of infestation on her back, which we only found as we sheared her. Now without that fleece and with both patches well sprayed with hydrogen peroxide, and with a dry sunny day coming up, the nasty critters should finally leave her be.

First photo is post-shearing. I can't recognize them, they look so different.

I thought more of the ewes were fat, but only Toots and Molly were overweight. Doesn't matter so much for Tootsie, who's retired, but that would be why we had to pull Molly's lamb. She'll need to be skinnier next year.

Next up is my latest project, making a flatbed for the Nissan pick-em-up truck. There's the pressure treated boards for the decking, drying in the sun. There's the truck itself, with the bed cut off and the rust chiseled, hammered, and wire-brushed away. Now I'm welding new steel to the old frame to make a beam-and-stringer arrangement, to which I'll bolt that decking.

This has been a great truck for us, but its constant use as Aimee's daily driver has made it hard to maintain, especially with the salt on Maine's roads in winter. I've been anticipating for some time this great day when, as a direct result of purchasing the Camry, I can take the truck off the road for several weeks and work through it carefully, stripping off all the rust and changing out whatever parts need to be changed out.

Not a moment too soon. As you can see from the close-up, the rust was almost fatal. What the shot shows is the hole the air chisel made. As I was chiseling rust away, it went straight through the frame in two places.

But it was just a couple of spots and so it's patched now with new steel. The old truck frame and the new flatbed will get sprayed several times with red oxide primer and new gloss black. The flatbed will act to stiffen and strengthen the frame. The overall result should be a vehicle that can pass inspection for several more years.

Unfortunately we won't be able to drive it much. Since I know it has a slight leak on the head gasket at number 4 cylinder, and since it blows a wisp of black smoke on start-up each morning, most likely the result of leaking valve guides, we will have to baby it.

But baby it we can. That won't be hard. We probably only need a truck for two or three thousand miles a year. Most of the time Aimee was driving this thing, she was using it as a car, to transport herself to work or the shops. She can use the Camry for that.

This last shot of Charlie-cat is funny to me, and typical of Charlie. He's a very laid-back cat, and loves to find new places to sleep, some of which seem precarious to non-feline people. It's even funnier when he falls off, which often happens. Here he is perched on top of the cushion on the chair in my den.

This time he didn't fall off, but he did take off when I sat down beside him. He could have stayed. I wouldn't have minded. But he decided not.

You can please some of the people some of the time.

Cats, you can't please at all. They please themselves.