Sunday, December 30, 2012

Land Rover field trial and Bale House visit

Th main reason I went to such trouble to find, purchase, rebuild, and restore a forty-two year-old Land Rover truck this year was to have a bomb-proof yet basic farm utility vehicle that would last as long as I would into the twenty-first century. Four-wheel drive was part of the necessary package. Our Rover's transfer case is of course as ancient as the vehicle itself, as are the swivel joints and driveshafts, and the only servicing I gave them, while rebuilding the frame and restoring the engine tune and wiring this summer, was to grease the universal joints on the two drive-shafts and to check the brakes.

I admit, I did take a long hard look at the very complex maintenance manual detail on rebuilding the transfer case and servicing the swivel joints. My conclusion was that "if it ain't broke, don't fix it", and that this particular procedure could certainly wait for a year or two until bad symptoms showed themselves, or even be avoided entirely by simply replacing the whole shebang with bench-serviced, second-hand units bought expressly for the purpose.

So it was with a little trepidation that I took the Rover out Saturday for its first serious 4WD test. So far all we had was about eight inches of snow. Another nor'easter would arrive overnight. It was now or never, if I wanted to go check on our Bale House this winter, which is empty for the winter since the occupant, a work colleague, has moved to another regional town. The Bale House has a half-mile long driveway in the form of a forest access road, a public right-of-way that leads to three different residential properties including ours, but one that the town of Monroe leaves unplowed. The other two units are summer camps, and so there's only our building that is normally occupied through the winter.

The occupant generally pays privately for the road to be plowed, or snowshoes in.

It doesn't help that the road is steep and that there's a place where a seasonal seep actually comes out of the road and freezes solid, leaving a sheet of solid ice under the snow. We've had all kinds of adventures with this road. This would be an excellent way to make sure the Rover's 4WD system was up to snuff.

At the junction with the main road (itself a bad dirt road, but plowed), I pulled off, stopped, and put the car in neutral, then pulled backwards the classic Land Rover "red knob" gearshift lever that works both the 4WD and the low range. She snicked in beautifully. (That satisfying little snick as the transfer case shifter is worked is an aesthetic peculiar to Land Rovers -- you have to be there to appreciate it.) I gave her a little gas and we surged forward through the snow and up the steep, icy, snow-covered slope quite happily.

You don't race anywhere in a Land Rover in low range. It's more of a kind of slow grind. The vehicle will churn through mud, snow, rocks and even deep water. In this case we went up this very bad road with no trouble at all, making me more than happy with the Rover.

At the Bale House I was pleased to see that everything was in great shape and the house left cleaner than it probably was when the occupant took over. The only problem was that the water system hadn't been fully drained, and a window damaged by the previous (and very trashy) occupant family hadn't been sealed shut, indeed it couldn't be sealed shut because of the damage, and so the house had grown cold and the internal water reservoirs had frozen solid.

I'll have to go back with tools and seal that window shut, then in the spring we can drain the water and check for frozen pipes. I saw at least two that had been shattered by the frost -- these are just PVC pipes in this building and they will shatter very easily if left filled with water.

There's no furniture in this building now, and it may be time to finish the repairs and enhancements started a couple years ago, just before the most recent occupant moved in. These were cut short when the building was needed for use, and I didn't want to disturb our occupants privacy by finishing them with her living there.

We've been thinking about what improvements we might make that would allow us the rent the building out, even as a rustic summer camp. We've never charged any rent for this unit because of the poor facilities. Right now the very ad-hoc home-built composting toilet is simply too disgusting to operate -- you empty a reservoir tub onto a compost heap and mix it with straw and sawdust to make a decent compost. No-one really wants to be that familiar with their own effluent!

At the very least we'd need a proper commercially-produced composting toilet. It may be time, too, to rip out the water pipes and fall back to a basic two-galvanized bucket Jack-and Jill hand-well system. The solar system too could use either an upgrade, or perhaps a downgrade, to be replaced with propane lamps that never require batteries to be replaced. Those batteries never last long enough, and cost too much money. Propane would be more reliable, and there already is propane supply to the fridge and a small back-up heater. It would be an easy matter to plumb in a few lamps here and there.

Some paint and plaster wouldn't go amiss either, nor some "camp-style" furniture. At which point we'd have a decent vacation camp for friends and family, and possibly even paying guests in the summer and in hunting season.

It would make a great ski lodge too. As you can see from the photo, there's tons of snow and lots of forest tracks for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, while the right-of-way is a listed snowmobile trail. The wood stove is quite efficient and heats the whole building. Perhaps skiers and snowmobilers would be willing to pay to stay there in the winter. We'll see.

Fo now, I'm just pleased that it's in such decent shape, and that the recent occupant did such a great job of cleaning.

I'm also pleased that the Land Rover did such a great job of driving up that bad road in so much snow. The second nor'easter has dumped another eight inches so far, so there's now about sixteen inches on the ground and I'll need to move snow again today.

I wonder if the Rover would make it up that road a second time?


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