Sunday, June 29, 2014

Uplifting thoughts and other Sunday photos

Here, waiting to be serviced and painted on saw horses in the dooryard, is my latest home enhancement project -- an automotive lift. 

When they see it, everyone will want one. It's the latest home decor accessory!

Our friends are all on FaceBook posting about their vacations and road trips and other expensive distractions. One friend in particular is pretty happy about her new secondhand sailboat, which I admit, is getting just a teensy weensy bit annoying. 

But I'm not jealous. No, not at all. I have my lift that I've always wanted!

(I expect I'm also considered a little weird, but never mind. You can take the man out of the servicing hangers and workshops, but you can't take the servicing hangers and workshops out of the man.)

This is the kind of lift they have in the regular workshops and dealerships. In fact it used to be in one of the "recon" bays at the main Toyota dealership in southern Maine.

We got it for me to work on vehicles more conveniently and safely.

It took a little matrimonial convincing, but Aimee went along with the notion after a while, mostly because she worries when I work on cars and trucks and farm equipment on jack stands in the yard, which is made of relatively soft gravel, and therefore not well suited to lifting equipment. I have to lay down plywood boards to make it safe, and even then it isn't great. I pay close attention to balancing the vehicles just right on the jack stands, and often add blocks or the spare wheel or leave the floor jack (AKA "trolley jack" in English-English) under the vehicle to give me some back-up or a minute of extra time while I exit the danger zone. But guys are killed or injured every year in Maine in this kind of operation. 

Aimee even came with me, seven month's pregnant, on the "Downeast Dickering"-style road trip all the way to southern Maine to pick it up. We made a day of it and had Thai food and shopped for secondhand baby stuff too. She did say that she wouldn't have come if it hadn't been for the baby stuff, but I was glad to have her there. 

A man needs his wife around when he is about to meets some huge lifetime goal, like owning his own automotive lift.

Seriously, this lift is a serious investment for us. It's also a lot easier to work on a vehicle when it's several feet up in the air. There are some jobs that can only safely be done with that kind of height and control. 

Proper rust protection is one such job. We now have four useful working vehicles that are currently not at all rusty. Three of them are even modern enough and safe enough for a kid to ride in. 

This is a Womerlippi family first, and largely due to the small inheritance I got this spring. In years gone by, we could only afford to have one really nice vehicle, which Aimee always drove, while I had a series of junkers going all the way back to my trusty 1975 VW van, the one with half a million miles on it that I drove from 1992 through about 2004 or 2005. Now we have nice vehicles, I want to protect that investment, without spending money at the dealership if I can possibly help it.

(The fourth vehicle is the Land Rover, which is in a special class of it's own, my survival truck. That vehicle will still be in functional condition when all the others are long gone to the scrapyard.)

Here are the lift arms that will extend under the vehicles.

And here, still under wraps and being kept wet so as to more properly cure the concrete, is the nineteen by twelve foot concrete pad I poured Wednesday, on which I'll place the lift later this week. Concrete takes a full week to achieve the kind of cure needed for drilling the solid anchor bolts that will secure the lift, and should be kept as wet as possible during that time. The small cement mixer standing there is a red herring. Not willing to compromise on safety, I ordered "proper" three-quarters stone, 3,500 PSI-rated concrete from a regular truck. I used five yards, which is a lot of carbon emissions, concrete being a major source of carbon, but expect to earn that back easily in lifecycle vehicle emissions through better rust protection. (The average vehicle requires twenty percent of lifecycle carbon emissions in manufacture.)

You can also see the new back door to the workshop that I put in Monday, preparatory for making a functional workspace out of the rear area. I didn't want to be always walking around the side of the shop, especially with heavy tools and parts.

The whole project, when all is said and done, will have cost about $1,500, including $500 in concrete and $750 for the lift. I think this is easily affordable compared to the cost of service at ships that have lifts and at dealerships, and also taking into account the loss of value we see in vehicles around here due to rust.

This will be an open-air workspace, at least for now. Any building large enough to cover the new lift will have to be at least eleven feet tall at the eaves, and would be pretty ugly in this spot, I think, making a crowded kind of compound. Aimee suggested we might build one one day, perhaps next summer, but I didn't much like the idea. I may change my mind one day, but I figured that three seasons of lift-use availability was fine by me, at least for now. I can plan out service schedules to avoid winter jobs. If we do get a need for an emergency repair, there's always my regular workshop, which has more space in any case now I tore out the wood furnace.

Talking of which, here is said furnace, now up for sale on Maine Craigslist and waiting in the dooryard for some lucky buyer to come get it. This is not the time of year to sell a furnace, so I expect we'll keep it there until fall. Always aware of appearances (not!), to make it prettier, I made it into Maine "yahd ahrt" by temporarily adding Aimee's house plant collection, also up for grabs since she is spring-cleaning our house, ready for house guests and the baby, and these no longer fit with her pans for decor. Call or email if you want them.

In other news, I finally found time yesterday morning to set out the tomato cages. Not a moment too soon, since some of the tomato plants are already two feet high. With so many projects ongoing, we haven't made much time for gardening, and in fact were forced to undertake a major weed eradication exercise the other day, to bring everything back under some semblance of horticultural control.

I weeded the tomato rows as I fitted the cages, listening to Weekend Edition on the radio. It went well enough, and I'm sure the plants liked listening to Scott Simon as much as I do.

Finally, Ginnie Guinea, who we now realize may be a male, is still hanging out, and still called Ginnie, despite her/his sex change.

He/she seems to be a fairly reliable soul, as birds go. He/she comes by the barn each morning to get a handout of layer pellets, then buggers off happily to peck for ticks and other bugs all around the dooryard. The dogs haven't had a tick on them since she arrived, but since they are covered in Top Spot chemical anyway, and since we no longer take them on walks in the woods because it's now too hot and buggy and because we are so busy, we really don't know if all Ginnie's work has actually made a difference.

Still it's good to know he/she is on the job. Fine by us if he/she stays, as long as she keeps pecking up ticks! Especially with a kid on the way, ticks are particularly unwelcome. Lyme disease is a killer.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

An elevating experience

Our regular hay supplier called late Sunday afternoon to ask if we were ready for the hay. We were. We'd been watching the weather and seeing the farmers out in the fields and knew that hay day would be coming.

The Day the Hay Comes has always been a big one around here, and indeed before we got a bit smarter about it, it used to take us several days of very hard work to fill the hay mow above our barn. That was back when we used to go pick it off the fields ourselves with the old Nissan pick-em-up truck. That old flatbed was designed in part for hay, but it could only take 42 bales.

But the farmer that sold us hay we had to pick ourselves would only give us a fifty cent-discount, and picking was a three-person, not a two person job. Our friend Alysa would come to help, in return for gleaning rights over our garden. We would probably have let Alysa glean all she wanted for free, especially after she and Anders had baby Nils, but she preferred to trade work if we had anything for her to do. Since we have a lot of surplus in season, these gleaning rights were not inconsequential, and the one thing we needed help with was the Hay Day. It was a pretty good trade.

But Alysa is long gone, back to Scandinavia, or at least Wisconsin.

The updated hay system is to have Amishman Simon S. deliver the hay from his Jackson fields, and he and I together heft it into the barn.

Simon operates a dairy in Thorndike, but rents a couple hay fields just up the road. Being an Amishman, he has to hay with horses, and truck hay with horses, unless he hires an outside helper with a vehicle. But that costs real money, which being an Amishman he'd prefer not to spend. So what he does is that he sells us the hay from the Jackson fields and uses the check to pay for his outside help, a neighbor that drives truck to help him get his whole hay mow in. This is probably a couple weeks work for the neighbor, plus gas and wear and tear on the truck, and we usually buy around a thousand dollars worth of hay, so it works out about right.

It was with this in mind that I bought and refurbished that old hay elevator. I don't mind pitching hay bales into the door of the hay mow. If the bale is a normal weight, I can even do it directly from the ground, even with a standing start. If the wagon or flatbed is nice and high, that makes it easier. Simon, who has a decade or more on me, can throw a hay bale accurately anywhere he wants up to about forty feet. Neither of us is any slouch when it comes to hay bales.

But after two or three hundred such throws, both of us are getting pretty tired, since each throw is essentially a thirty-forty pound shot putt-type of maneuver. The elevator sure takes the edge off this job.

Above is Aimee's movie of our hay operation this year. You can see how much easier it is for me. So I was pretty pleased with the whole business, and the elevator was a good investment.

That's neighbor Larry minding Simon's baby Benjamin. Larry is retired and doesn't heave hay, for medical reasons. No doubt Benjamin will, in another year or three.

You can hear Ginnie the Guinea cackling in the background.

The sheep are voting for the new elevator, with their mouths. They always like Simon's hay, and they like hay day too.

Simon, who prefers the inside job, stacking the hay, was less aided by the machine, but seemed pleased that it took less time overall. That allowed him to get back to his other hay fields in record time.

I think he likes to be inside to give him a break from the sun. Normally, without the elevator, inside is easier than out, but with the elevator, inside is harder.

One slight snag -- the elevator motor must be jump-started, but will jump-start in either direction, up or down. Occasionally a particularly heavy bale would send it into reverse and we'd have to stop the operation and jump it again in the right direction! This could be discombobulating. Good steady rhythm is everything with manual labor like this.

I don't know whether this is by design or by mechanical fault. If anyone reading this knows the answer, let me know in the comments or by email. It's a Snowco elevator, and I assume the motor is the original. But don't know for sure.

We've had great hay weather this year. It's been sunny and dry, not at all humid, for nearly two weeks. The whole first cut is nearly in, across the whole of mid-central Maine, and the landscape has changed accordingly. No longer do we see quite as many huge bright green fields of wavy grass. Now we see a more yellow patchwork.

I always enjoy these landscape changes, as I drive around the state.

Maine is a good state for growing grass, which makes it a good state for growing sheep.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Declaring victory and getting out

It was a US Senator and Vermont Governor, George Aiken, that was responsible for the famous misquote that the US should "declare victory" and bring the troops home from Vietnam. Misused ever since, the term "declare victory" nevertheless includes a key insight, that while some processes in life really never do end, ordinary humans also very badly need stories to come to some kind of relatively tidy end.

Construction work is one such process, especially in the final days of a building project.

Trimming out a building seems especially endless. The trim work on a buildings seems to take as long as framing. At least it seems that way. One reason may be that I'm just not good at it. I really hate trim work.

I especially hate painting trim, and have evolved a series of avoidance measures. I use rough cut cedar for most outdoor trim, fitting it with screws so that when it eventually deteriorates it can be replaced simply by unscrewing and fitting new.

I also use vinyl for soffet trim, which never needs to be painted as long as you like your soffets white. I love white soffets. White is the only color for soffets.

My buddy Mike B, who campaigns against toxic waste, would hate that I buy vinyl, because its production is very polluting. But so is paint. And painting soffets is especially toxic when the soffet painter is turning the air blue with appropriate ex-Royal Air Force curses, which is what always happens around here.

Commissioning -- the process of bringing the building to life and using it, usually with some final modification -- also seems endless. We still don't have all the furniture we need inside, and haven't yet spent even one night in our nice new bedroom.

And, of course, all construction work blends into maintenance work at some point. You're not quite done with the building work but using the building, and then you begin to have to maintain the building. This building is easy to maintain, but I've already had to futz with a broken CO alarm, and Aimee had me redo some of the indoor trim because it didn't meet wifely standards.

All this goes to show that you never really know when a building is "done."

Last year in the early fall I found myself "declaring victory" over the major construction work. This was an important milestone because of course my summer came to an end and I had to get back to my day job. The extension was at the "Tyvek" stage at the time, covered in white house wrap, and nowhere near finished, but I badly needed to get my head into a different game.

Today I'm declaring final victory. There's still about twenty feet of cedar trim as well as most of the soffet board to be fitted, one light fitting to shop for and connect, and a solar PV system to fit, all of which will happen in due course as I finish up my very long honey-do list, but Aimee and I have plans for a nice family day, so this will be official Victory over the Extension Day.

June 21st 2014, summer solstice and VE Day.

To prove it, I have pictures. Here's the finished building from the south with the new siding and deck.  All that hay in front covers the grass seed over the septic drain field extension. :

Here's the new deck, with Ernie dog inspecting. The tall side poles hold a trellis intended for grape vines, which will give some needed shade in summer, as well as some fresh home-grown fruit. The same trellis holds Aimee's laundry line.

Ernie, unfortunately, is standing on the newly seeded front lawn. but I don't think he can do any damage.

Here's a close-up of the deck showing a set of patio furniture that caused us a good deal of trouble. We wanted some decent outdoor chairs and a table, but were not willing to pay the hundreds of dollars for new. Unfortunately, there is very much of this kind of stuff available secondhand. I grew tired of reading the same old ads for overpriced second hand patio furniture every day on Maine Craigslist, and eventually gave up in frustration.

My shopping skills are not great unless it's for something mechanical like a car or a tractor, but Aimee took over at warp speed, quickly finding a set of Sears patio furniture deeply discounted at Mardens, Maine's discount and job lot chain. That was the same day she came back with all the groceries and a huge box of new and secondhand baby clothes for only $25.It took me about an hour to assemble the parts, but I was pleased with the effect and have a new place to eat breakfast on cool early summer mornings.

I guess that there are some jobs you do need a professional for!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

House guest? Meet Ginnie the Guinea

I was over at the Transfer Station Sunday, dropping off my trash and recycling like a Good Husband should, when I saw a loose Guinea hen race across the parking lot. At first I thought it was a wild turkey, but the color was all wrong, and the shape too rotund. Brent the Transfer Station guy tried to catch it, but I left and so never knew if he caught it or not.

I guess not, since a few hours later it showed up in my dooryard, and promptly decided this was Home.

It's been here now for three days, I keep trying to feed it but it runs away anytime I come close. Runs fast, too, like a road runner.

Noisy little bugger, too, cackles loudly like a demented cockerel in the mornings and at night. During the day it forages around, doesn't seem to eat seedlings form the garden or bother anyone. So I guess it can stay.

I did call the Town Office to see if they'd heard, and to report it to Animal Control.

Aimee was amused to hear about the visitor. She was away doing a few day's marine biology field research, on one of the myriad of Maine islands, and found out what was happening when she called in one night.

We are both somewhat bemused by Ginnie. 

But if anyone knows of a missing Guinea, call us or email.

In other doings -- other than deck-building and siding projects that is -- yesterday I went to meet Aimee's boat, a nice half-day husband-holiday from carpentry projects. I went early and had a scenic drive through backwoods Maine, followed by an early seafood dinner at the dockside at Port Clyde, featuring corned hake, a Maine traditional dinner, and very tasty too. Comfort food, for sure.

Then I watched the boat come in and helped the scientists heft the traps from the boat to my waiting van.

We live in a pretty place.

Here it is, the good ship Archangel, in the glistening sun across the anchorage at Port Clyde.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Hard very severe

A couple of lifetimes ago, when I was an RAF Mountain Rescue Rock Climbing Instructor, VS or "Very Severe" climbs like "Overhanging Bastion" at Castle Rock of Triermaine were the toughest climbs I was ever able to lead.

This is using the descriptive British rock climb rating scale.

My old buddy Geoff Abbot and I had some wicked hard days on Castle Rock. I couldn't get up there now.

But I wasn't aware at the time that I was in fact preparing for a future life of construction work.

But it is a good job that I do have a decent head for heights.

Here's our cheap and nasty twenty-foot extension ladder all set up to finish the siding job. This is the last bit of siding on the whole house, not just the extension. There remains about forty running feet of garage wall, but importantly the existing garage wall is not green. This particular milestone, The Covering of the Green, is important because when we bought this old farmhouse, in addition to being almost ready to fall into its cellar hole, it was a sickly shade of pale lime green. Here's an old photo:

But the Green is now Covered.


I was more than happy to finish this siding project, not least because, after adding the second coat of paint today, I can put that bloody awful ladder away for the rest of the summer! It's so flimsy that at full extension, when you're in the middle of the span, the thing flexes like a bow, moving nine or ten inches per flex. It's bad enough that it flexes this way when your hands are empty. When you're trying to carry siding boards, it's twice as bad. Really nerve-racking, knee-trembling stuff. Back in the day, we used to joke about "disco leg", when the rock climb is so hard and scary your leg starts to spasm uncontrollably, like John Travolta's in one of those horrible seventy's dancing flicks.

I definitely had a case of disco leg yesterday on that bloody ladder.

Here's the interior of the extension, which is starting to look more furnished following Aimee's dickering efforts, trying to get all we need and save money.

Now added to our collection are a second hand changing table, a second hand crib, and a glider chair (for nursing and comforting the baby). All of this, for less than $250. What a deal!

Finally, I raked, seeded, and covered with hay all of the bare patch where the new septic drain field is, as well as the scar left by the spoil pile from the extension's foundation hole (which Tim used for fill around the drain field).

This leaves us with a nice secure and private grassy dell in front of the new deck, where no doubt a swing set will have to be built, one fine day perhaps next summer.

Luckily, unless I get carried away, we'll only need a step ladder for that swing set, not that ricketty old extension ladder.

I may need to splurge on a better extension ladder when my next high-up job comes around. The good ones cost four or five hundred dollars, but that's a lot cheaper than a broken leg.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Skeptic tank

Big doings here on the Womerlippi Ranch!

Our friend Tim P. came over Wednesday with his John Deere tractor backhoe to put in the septic drainfield extension that was legally required for the new extension.

This was because we added a bedroom.

Here it is, all properly installed and ready for inspection, following which it will be covered with more sand and loam and then seeeded for a bit more lawn. Tim was skeptical about the level of the pipes after I had done all the raking to set them, but they were within an eighth of an inch on the transit.

The more level they are, the longer the drainfield will last.
I have about another month-and-a-half of must-do, honey-do work left to do before the baby comes, but the drainfield is a big milestone.

Another milestone is the new deck, which I was able to knock out in between helping Tim with the drainfield.

Here it is with our only item of deck furniture proudly positioned for a celebratory beer.

All of these doings required us to give up on the use of the driveway for a few days so we could stage gravel and stone and unload the tractor from the flatbed. Here's the entire Womerlippi Farm "motor pool" parked well out of the way.