Thursday, August 8, 2013

Tidy up and regroup

After a brush with death on a hot tin roof (a few clichés with breakfast, anyone?), some very frustrating truck and yard machine problems (see recent posts), and two-and-a-half months of heavy labor and sweat, it's very nearly time to stop building, at least Monday-to-Friday, and go back to work.

I have about another week and a half of official summer left, and already my obligations to show up at the college for a meeting here or a planning session there are increasing. I'm not on contract officially until the middle of the week after next, but it's best to be ready.

While the cash flow available for materials for the new extension has temporarily dried up. Payday is Friday, so this is not a very long wait. But I think I'd still be knocking out the drywall, if I had money to buy any.

So. Transition time is here.

When the going changes, the tough get changing.

I can see my way clear to finishing the extension project. The remaining work -- insulation, drywall, plumbing, wiring, and a tiny bit of framing left to cover the temporary access door in the rear -- won't take that long. Probably, we'll be able to knock it all out easily enough on the weekends, evenings, and during the October and Thanksgiving Breaks.

What I probably won't have enough time for is other stuff -- mechanical work on our numerous and aging vehicles and equipment, harvesting the garden, the sheep care, the landscaping around the new extension, and so on. Snow will come soon enough. Everything will have to be ready.

So, in the absence of money for drywall, and the presence of a growing honey-do list of other things, I switched gears and started on those other things.

I began by tinkering a little with the truck, hoping for some miraculous reprieve with the transmission problems. I double checked the oil level, and took it for a test drive or two. Maybe the "snake oil" additive had gone to work on the clutches and bands and server piston seals. No such luck. The thing drives well enough and doesn't slip in first gear, and so can be used for very small trips, such as to our local builder's yard, or to the transfer station. But it still slips badly between second and third. Most automatic vehicles, unless they are moving very heavy loads, spend their road time transitioning between those two gears. This truck has probably made it's last trip to Bangor or anywhere like that, unless I rebuild this transmission, or get a replacement. Both are possible, as is just scrapping the thing or selling it on, but there's time to make that decision later this year.

For now, the Land Rover can fetch and carry cargo, and even act as our winter 4WD. I may look around for a larger trailer, to help in this new mission for the Rover.

Then I got the Bolens lawnmower running again. Regular readers may remember that I bent a pushrod on this important piece of Womerlippi Farm equipment earlier this year, and so had to do a partial engine rebuild to replace said pushrod. The machine ran well for a short while after that but then quit unexpectedly just as we were getting going with the extension. there wasn't time to diagnose it, so it was left to sit in the dooryard.

Any dead machine that has to sit in our dooryard eventually gets in the way of something. That space is where we repair vehicles, give baths to dogs, receive guests and visitors, get our mail and packages delivered, and even graze sheep. I was tired of having this otherwise useless bit of kit be so much in the way, so as soon as I ran out of drywall, repairing the lawnmower became a priority.

The sun was pretty hot Tuesday while I diagnosed the problem, so I worked slowly but deliberately. The problem was obviously in the fuel delivery. A series of tests eventually narrowed it down to a dead wire on the fuel shut-off solenoid. I sistered in a temporary wire with electrician's tape and it ran just fine. A new wire with proper connectors would have to wait for a trip to the hardware store, but we could now use the tractor.

Having the Bolens running again, with its very useful eight-foot trailer, meant we could more easily pick up all the gash siding and wood that littered my construction area behind the new extension. The waste wood was bagged up for kindling in old feed sacks and stacked to dry, adding significantly to our winter firewood resources. The siding was moved to the dooryard, preparatory to a trip to the dump.

Having the ground clear around the extension put me in mind of grass seed. You can only sprout grass seed in spring or fall in Maine. The rest of the year it's too hot or cold. So I raked and sowed. Which put me in mind of waste hay, to cover the seed, which led to me beginning the job of clearing out the barn.

Clearing out the barn reminded me that we'd need to be ready for breeding season. Our ram would need to go in with a selection of ewes. That meant the fence would need to be rebuilt behind the extension, where it was taken down earlier to facilitate access, and made ram-proof. So, I made fence, using some hemlock boards left over from framing, and our nice ram-proof welded wire cattle panels.

Making fence, and clearing the ground behind the extension, put me in view of the back wall to the shed, which had peeling paint and so needed to be repainted. So I got the pressure washer running and blasted the loose paint. Later we'll sand and rake up the paint chips and spray primer and color.

The sheep were hungry and needed to be grazed each morning while this was all going on, so we grazed them for an hour or so behind the garden where the grass had grown lush. They needed to be watched, though, because they now have long fleece and are more or less immune to hot wire. That gave me a chance to pull weeds and tidy up the garden too.

All of this was quite satisfying, as it was easy to do, made a big difference to the way things look, and required little of the truly sweaty, heavy labor that the building job needed. It all made a nice break.

And it's funny how one thing led to another, and another.

So, that's how we roll around here on a slack week when there's no building materials.

People I meet often say something like, "College professor, eh? Summers off, must be nice!"

Sure. Just a breeze.

The truth is, we work quite hard during the summer. Between our various research and farm projects, building work, and gardening, we don't really take a vacation.

We just work for ourselves, adding to our effective income by growing our own food, building our own buildings, fixing our own cars and so on.

We're self-employed in the summer, not unemployed.

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