Saturday, July 26, 2014


Photo: Some rotten bottom plate and the tail end of a rotten stud from the rear wall of our barn.

There was a short pause in progress on the pre-baby honey-do list while our house guests, my mother-in-law Judy and her sister Donna, came to visit. 

They duly arrived, delivered mountains of baby stuff, visited, toured around Maine, and drove off back to Virginia with no ill effects on either Aimee, baby, or in-laws, as far as I could see. They all seemed to enjoy themselves.

That was a "win" for Aimee, who had spent at least a month in preparation, mostly besoming. She had a nice back-up justification for doing all this work while heavily pregnant, though, saying that we "wouldn't want to bring a baby home from the hospital to a dirty house."

Sounds a bit like my mother, actually, who always wanted me and my sister to go out wearing clean underwear, in case we were "hit by a car and taken to hospital."

The visit marked a milestone in my extension-building project, because it was to provide extra bedrooms for my many, many, many in-laws, in addition to a nursery for the baby, that Aimee had me build the extension in the first place.

Once they were gone, though, I needed to get back to work. The garden looked great, mostly because Judy and Aimee had spent part of a day in mother/daughter bonding over weed-pulling. But the barn was in poor shape. 

As part of our preparations for the visit, I had already cleaned it out pretty well. This was a couple weeks ago, in another short hiatus while waiting for vehicle parts to arrive. As I was cleaning, I noticed that the rear wall had parted company from its sill, threatening to collapse the rear of the barn. This wall had been damaged over and over by both tractor hits and from rot from the mountains of pig and sheep manure that get piled up right there, both inside and out. There was a lot of hay above, and the combination of weak wall and weight had taken a toll.

Not particularly liking what I saw, but lacking the time to fix it properly, I had propped up the damaged part for the duration with a strategically placed 4 by 4 inch pressure-treated post, which you can see in the center of this photo here. This single post, left over from building the deck earlier, would now make sure the barn wouldn't collapse. The second floor had already dropped about an inch in the spot where I put the post, but I made the post long enough to take up that inch, carefully pounding it into place with the sledgehammer. That saved the building. I then drove to the lumber yard to pick up what I needed for the repair. 

But that was as far as I got. Once back to a regular schedule, I needed to make a more formal, lasting repair.

I generally enjoy the puzzle involved in repairing old wooden buildings. There's a nice logic to a wooden structure, and the engineering and load-bearing calculations that go along with repairing it. In this case we needed to "sister" in new studs alongside the old, whose ends had all been cribbed by pigs and rotted by manure. In some places we needed a new bottom plate. This is the name given to the horizontal stud that, with the top plate, hold a stud frame section together. Ours, as you can see from the photo at the top of the page, were completely rotten in places. But the sills were fine.

Sometimes, however, logic isn't enough. Here's what happened to my miter saw when foolishly I tried to cut a couple of small nailer blocks at the same time, one on top of the other. The saw blade is embedded in the guard.


You can cut through two two-by-fours at a time with this particular miter saw, a cheap Ryobi, unless they're very short, in which case the saw will take the topmost block and spin it right out of your hand. I knew this already, of course, but you sometimes need to learn a lesson over again, and sometimes you even need to learn it over again the hard way 

I was overdue a new blade for the saw in any case, and so the drive to the hardware store to get one wasn't completely wasted. The new blade was great and cut through the remaining sister studs like butter. Very sexy.

Here's the final repair, with new studs sistered in alongside all of the old. I've removed the bottom plate entirely and the new studs now bear down on the original sill and reach up to the top plate. Each one is over-sized and hammered in forcefully, to take up the strain and remove the kink in the building's roof line, then screwed to the old stud with stainless deck screws.

That ought to hold 'er.


Then, to prevent a repeat of this performance in five or ten year's time, I attached interior sheathing of pressure treated plywood, bring it right down to the concrete floor.

Of course, if we'd used pressure treated wood when we first built this barn, none of this would have happened, but back then we couldn't afford such luxuries. The barn was knocked together using the cheapest of local lumber. The wall studs for the lower wall are in fact reject apple ladder sides, from the apple ladder mill in Brooks. They are big tooth aspen, which is a sturdy enough wood that it makes fine apple ladders, but it doesn't resist rot well.

And, apparently, it's very tasty to pigs. Who knew?

I spent a couple days on this project, enough for me to reacquaint myself with the daily habits of chickens, who own the the barn during the day. They need to lay eggs more or less daily, of course, that being a priority occupation of chickens, and so they compete in a mild sisterly kind of way a little for the best egg-laying spots. 

Here's a golden-laced Wyandotte crowing loudly, having just laid an egg. Happy hen? Or does it hurt, to lay an egg, and so they crow to get over it?

More puzzles.

And here are a couple of this year's lambs, fat and sassy, grazing happily on some particularly abundant weeds that have grown up in the old ram pen. Not full sisters. but half ones.

These weeds have become available thanks to the purchase of a nice new electric fence charger. Until I shelled out the $131 for the new charger, I had no way to make a safe-enough hot wire enclosure around this area, so the weeds grew and grew. We had been harvesting them by hand for the ram, but having the sheep weed-whack them more directly is much, much better.

Here's skinny Nellie, the lead ewe. She never smoothes out over the ribs and pelvis like the rest of the sheep do, mostly because she's such a good mom, allowing her lambs to nurse into their third and fourth months, long after the other ewes have chased them off. 

Lucky sisters.

Here's the whole flock. Click on the link to enlarge and you'll see the new charger hanging on the garden gate-post, zapping away. I've tested it accidentally, and can confirm that it gives out a serious belt. My wrist was numb for a couple of seconds. I don't want to do that again, if I can help it.

But the sheep, paradoxically, are much better off with the strong new fencer than they were with the old, since they can now be grazed securely in more spots, and stay out for longer. With the old fencer, they'd run out of easy pickings, or get tired of bugs, and some particularly bright ovine spark (usually that minx Quetzal), would jump or just walk through the fence to the greener, bug-free grass that is always on the other side of any fence, as far as sheep are concerned. Five seconds after that, all the sheepish sisterhood would be out. You had to watch them like hawks.

Now they can be left out for much longer with confidence.

The we had a visit from Dianne, whom I've known now for nearly thirty years. My oldest friend in the US, she was the one who collected me at the San Fransisco airport all those years ago when I first came here. She may as well be my sister. She sat on our new deck and chatted and drank beer and ate cheese and crackers and gave baby and birthing advice to Aimee. Dianne has two kids, sisters Mariah and Gaelin. She may also take an adjunct position at Unity, which would be nice. 

It was also nice to have a deck that we could sit on like that.

Then in final sister news, my own has now sent fully three baby packages, including some very nice knitted baby clothes. 

The mail lady is impressed. She hasn't seen that many UK stamps since Crimble.

Thanks, sis!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Belfast's Ironic Highland Fling

Photo: The hammer toss. The day's record was about 100 foot.

Aimee planned a third day out, or should I say "oot",  for her mom and aunt.

Yesterday's excursion was to the Belfast (Maine) Celtic Festival, a small local jamboree that is a sort of cross between an actual Scottish Highland Games, an English village fete, and a small Celtic folk music festival.

I was happy enough to be there, but I didn't get any homesick goosebumps. I long ago got over my romantic associations with the various Celtic homelands.

And, I'm afraid, were I back in Scotland, I wouldn't be voting for independence this fall.

Celtic identity, as currently construed by the mainstream of advocates in the British Isles (emphasis intended), is, I'm afraid, a bit of a biological, cultural, historical and political fraud. It took me about thirty years to admit this to myself. But it's true.

It was a dangerous fraud in the days of the Battle of the Boyne or the '45 rebellion.

More recently, in the case of the IRA and PIRA and RIRA terror attacks, it's been an horrific and wasteful fraud.

If you're a biological scientist and have any familiarity with the subject, you do eventually begin to wonder how many of the vengeful perpetrators of such things as kneecappings and car-bombings have good old, ironic Anglo-Saxon or Anglo-Norse Y-chromosomes.

Most, if the latest science is anything to go by. Idiots. Murderous idiots, at that.

The genomes and cultures of the British Isles are all mixed up and have been for hundreds of generations. The entire archipelago shares one large messy culture that these days owes about as much to Darjeeling or Gujarat as it does to La Tène.

If it ever did owe anything to La Tène.

We should fess up and admit that most of the more strident Celtic advocates don't even know what they're supposed to owe in the way of homage to cultural "hearths" like La Tène.

Ignorance breeds stridency.

Being a good loyal grandson of a fine full-sailed Welsh grandmother, with what presumably must be a pretty standard full-on Welsh mitochondrial genome, as well as being a minor-but-published historian of the Highlands and Islands, you'd think I'd have more sympathy, but I've read way too much Celtic history.

There's always been a fine line between nationalism and fascism. I'm a better fan of Orwell than Yeates.

This intellectualizing still only goes so far with me, though. I do have some more mixed feelings, and did walk around the fest with some cultural antennae out, especially when I encountered an exhibit or person that obviously was more completely in possession of the historical and cultural facts.

I was pleased to see, for instance, that the organizers did recognize one or two of the English Celtic homelands, Cornwall and Man in particular, as well as the French Celtic remnant of Brittany. They left Cumbria and the Borders out completely, though, and for some strange reason also omitted New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. But I was pleased for the Manx and the Kernow.

Come to think of it, there are probably more bona fide Celts in Southie, aren't there? Why isn't that an official Celtic homeland, for the purposes of the festival? It's clearly the closest one. That or St. Andrews, NB.

One bagpipe maker I talked to did know something about Northumbrian pipes. But he didn't make them or sell them. I also got a kick out of seeing a very well-armed reenactor couple, the male of the species in a Victorian kilt, carrying a Star Wars-themed broadsword replica and a more modest dirk, with not one but two yap dogs, total mass of couple and accoutrements about 600 pounds.

And I also had some moderately authentic fish and chips, and bought a new D-whistle that has a decent sound. My old one was getting battered.

And all these Americans trying to be Celtic were kind of cute, if you could just get over yourself, Womersley.

Here's what for me was the best view of the festival, that from the beer tent, where, in homage to our fine joint Anglo-Irish military history, I drank an actual, and nicely ironic, Black-and-Tan, to the sound of a Nova Scotian band that, surprise of surprises, covered an actual Dougie MacLean song.

So someone knew something about modern, updated Celtic identity.

Here's the Weight for Height in full throw. The winner made about 16 feet.

And here's the teenage men's cheese roll.

Cheese-rolling, for the record, is English. Full on English, actually, from Dorset. But I guess the organizers don't mind.

No fell or guide's races, though. That, I could get nostalgic for.

But then, there's no fells in Belfast, Maine.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Break from the summer grind

Photo: A very pregnant lady on vacation in Maine

After much prelude in the way of building (essentially a whole year for me to build the extension to ensure we would have adequate bedrooms), and buckets of besoming (Aimee mercilessly beating our old house into a suitable state of cleanliness), our first baby-related house guests, (and indeed, our first-ever house guests) have arrived, Aimee's mom Judy and her aunt Donna.

As befits a grannie and great-aunt to-be they came laden with baby gifts, including mounds of baby clothes, the fruit of Judy's garage sale expeditions, as well as heirlooms from Aimee's own baby days.

Aimee, more under the influence of nerves than for any other reason, and not yet completely exhausted from all her besoming, has planned a series of staycation days, in which we are all to explore some of Maine's beauty spots and summer events. 

(This all would be a staycation for us, but vacation for Donna and Judy. Enjoy the precise terminology. Hard to find, anymore. You're welcome.)

My suspicion is that Donna and Judy would be just as happy to hang around the farmhouse, sit on the deck or in the living room, and chat and knit -- Donna has bought her knitting and is keeping up a steady output of baby booties and other tiny swag -- take little walks, visit with the chooks and sheep and so on, but when my wife has a plan, we must all stick to said plan.

No deviation. No shirking. Or you'll be shot at dawn for refusing to go "over the top."

Our first expedition was to Unity College itself, where Donna and Judy toured the school and met those of our colleagues that happened to be at work. This was clearly just a warm-up.

The second day we had a much more prolonged exercise, a drive up to Moosehead Lake for a lake tour and picnic on the good ship Katahdin.

I was of course on this boat, so lacked the ability to take a good picture of the boat in the water, but here is one stolen from the Internet.

It's a fun outing, and recommended. The atmosphere is relaxed and down-home, a family business hosting families, and the boat was full of kids and old people and so on. They have card games and a snack bar they call The Galley. Children get invited to the wheelhouse and allowed to hold the wheel. I was given a great tour of the engine room, where two massive, ancient General Motors diesels thrust the boat forward at a stately ten knots, which pleased me greatly. The sunshine lasted most of the day, and the lake was very scenic. 
It was a nice day out.

Here's the wheelhouse, with the boat "Captain."

Here we all are under the shade on the afterdeck, with our giant picnic cooler. Aimee and I went exploring, but Judy and Donna, obviously not experienced mariners, parked themselves firmly in this one spot and stayed put, more or less, for the duration.

This is not one engine, but two, linked in the center with a special transfer case.

The main shaft and hull seal. The mechanic explained that they need to see a slight drip, to be sure the seal and bearing doesn't dry out. That's what the bucket is for. The keel was laid by Bath Iron Works right here in Maine.

Here's the instrument panel in the engine room.

On a clear day you'd see Katahdin in this image, but the humidity has crept back up again.

Here's Kineo. This was a close as we got before turning around. This was the scene of a major SAR call-out for us a few years ago.

I enjoyed being on the boat on the lake in the sun all afternoon, with soothing engine noise and vibration and glinting water all around. 

Moosehead Lake has a fair amount of British history too, and even some RAF history. Just across the border in Quebec was a Bomber Command training base for pilots and navigators. They flew Avro Ansons, and a couple of them crashed in the local mountains. The lake itself was also a wartime training area for US Navy seaplane aviation, and hosts considerable floatplane and seaplane activity even today, including the Maine Warden's Service floatplane base.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014


Here's the bum-end of the Rover up on my "new" secondhand auto lift, in a tropical downpour. We've been trying for over a week to complete a brake job on this venerable vehicle prior to the annual state safety inspection, and to fix a couple of nagging difficulties with the Camry, but neither weather, parts availability, nor deliveries have been helping very much.

It all started when I got done with the same chore on the Camry. This other Womerlippi stalwart passed state inspection happily last Thursday, the ABS system and check engine light problem being insufficient to fail a 1997 vehicle. I've heard that on newer vehicles an ABS light or an airbag light can result in a fail, subject to the inspector's discretion, but not a check engine light.

Of course, all these "idiot" lights come on for benign reasons, and that was the case with the Camry. The ABS system has a wonky sensor which doesn't line up properly with the hub rotor. The check engine light comes on because the vapor pressure sensor, or VAP sensor, is similarly wonky, having an intermittent fault. Neither one is an easy diagnosis, and both are expensive, so until now I've let them be, for several years in the case of the ABS system. 

Last weekend, newly resolved and bouyed up by passing inspection so nicely, I tried again to fix the ABS, to no avail. A new sensor was ordered and duly arrived, but the new device could be made to align only slightly better with the rotor that the old one. The light goes out for longer, but still comes back on from time to time.

Likewise, I looked again through all the online parts catalogs, but harder, for a VAP sensor, at what I hoped was a reasonable price, again to no avail.

Eventually I found a automobile salvage yard in Orrington, Maine that could sell me both the replacement steering knuckle I need to properly align the ABS sensor/rotor pair, and a secondhand VAP sensor. 

Here's the steering knuckle, awaiting a good wire-brushing and some phospho.

And here's the VAP sensor, a otherwise ridiculously expensive little piece of plastic ($200!) that I got for free with the steering knuckle. 

Such a deal! 

The Land Rover, on the other hand, lacking even a single modern "idiot" light, succumbs to simpler and more old-fashioned as well as cheaper technique. The brakes were not working well, and I suspected the master cylinder. I also faulted the power brake servo. New parts took a week to arrive, despite being ordered for 3-day UPS delivery, simply because my Rover parts guy didn't read his email. 

Still, it didn't hurt to get on with a few other things. 

I cleaned out the barn instead, a seriously heavy chore, then spent a day more or less recovering from cleaning out the barn!

Once the servo and master cylinder were fitted though, drastically increasing the brake line hydraulic pressure, leaks appeared in both rear brake lines. 

This kind of thing is not unexpected. Vehicles are systems, much like ecosystems or weather systems or other systems that I study, with lots of internal interactions, and "you can't just do one thing."

Brake lines can be bought whole or fabricated from tube and new or re-used brake nuts.

I had tube on hand and was able to reuse all the old nuts, which was good because I really didn't care to wait for another delivery if I could help it, although I suppose they might have had some that would fit at the regular parts store in Belfast.

Above you see the flaring tool used to make the "olive" on the end of the tube.

(At least, British mechanics and engineers call them "olives". I've never figured out what the American term is. But this is a Land Rover, so we'll use the British-ism.)

Here's the cutting tool being used to cut the nut off the old rusty brake line, for reuse.

The completed new brake line, with the old for comparison. 

As I said, I'd like to get the Rover job done before Aimee's mom and her sister arrive for a visit tomorrow, but the torrential rain isn't helping any. I have it all back together, more or less, but need to bleed the lines then test the system.

I'm just distracting myself by hammering out this blog post right now. 

I need to go back out there and see if I can't get any "forrarder."

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Using the lift for the first time

Here's our venerable 1997 Toyota Camry on my new automotive lift for a servicing prior to its annual state inspection.

And here's the photo that shows the desired effect of the new lift -- total and unimpeded access to the undercarriage and underside of the car. 

This new piece of equipment will allow me to do nearly all of the remaining routine service and repair jobs that we normally have to have done at an auto repair shop, saving us an awful lot of money.

I've been working on cars for something like thirty years, since I was about 21 or 22. I've been a trained engineering technician for even longer, since I graduated the RAF's Number One School or Technical Training, RAF College Halton, in 1979 with the four-bladed propeller badge of an RAF Junior Technician (or JT) on my shoulder. To begin with I was trained on jet engines, but went back to Halton in early 1980 for the piston engine course. 

As a result of this training and then an awful lot of practical experience in mechanical shops and servicing hangers from Scotland to San Fransisco, there really isn't very much in the way of engineering repair and maintenance work that I don't know how to do. I can save my family and friends an awful lot of money of vehicles by using these skills. But cars are heavy, dangerous, and dirty bits of kit. You have to have the proper tools to do automotive work easily and well. So for years now, I've pulled my punches. I do about 70 to 80 percent of the repair work, and take the remainder to some shop where they have the proper tools and equipment. 

Primarily, when I'm finally forced to go to a shop, the thing I'm paying for is for the use of an automotive lift. I'm certainly not paying for the skills of the mechanic. In most cases they have to pry the keys out of my hands. I hate to turn my vehicles over to some other technician. And for good reason. More often that not, they screw it up. Here is an example (with links to more at the end of the piece).

So it was with very great pleasure that I used my new lift for the first time today. I can't easily describe how it felt. It was a bit like getting to the top of a great mountain that you've been wanting to climb for years. I certainly savored the experience, at least for the first few hours.

The job I needed to do was to ready the Camry for 1) state inspection and 2) winter driving. The state inspection sticker expired at the end of last month, so the Camry has been off the road. I was busy finishing up the exterior siding and insulation and fitting the doors to the inside of the house, then I decided I could get the lift installed first, making the Camry job, when I finally got around to it, a lot easier.

To begin I put the Camry on the lift and raised at as high as it would go, then blasted the remaining winter salt and dirt off the underside of the car with the pressure washer. I can't tell you how much pleasure it gave me to do this job so thoroughly. This simple new ability, to properly clean the underside of our vehicles, to actually see that they're clean, to scrub off rust with a wire wheel on the angle grinder and phosphoric acid, and to then use good proprietary rust prevention products like POR 15 or Fluid Film, the ones that actually work, to stop new rust from starting, will be the one thing that saves the most money for us. 

I've been using Fluid Film, and before that became widely available a year or two ago, other rust treatments, on the Camry more or less since we got it, and prior to that it was garaged and not driven in the winter, so it's in great shape for a '97. Now I can keep it that way.

The other problem with the Camry that might cause it to fail inspection was the wonky ABS system. These braking safety systems, found on many if not most vehicles over twenty years old, prevent skidding on wet or icy roads by over-riding the driver's instinct to over-brake when going into a skid. Most people haven't had the kind of defensive driving training or hard experience that teaches you to use the brakes sparingly in a skid, so the ABS system does it for you by pulsing the brake fluid pressure, and thus pulsing the brake pads against the rotors or drums. Undoubtedly these systems save lives, but at the expense of making a more complicated, harder-to-repair vehicle.

Our Camry has had an intermittent ABS fault for some time now. The ABS warning light comes and goes. It all started when we bought the vehicle, years ago. It came with a bad front right ABS sensor, so I went to change it out several years ago, but the bolt was seized with rust and snapped. I used a cutting disk on the angle grinder to remove what was left of the bolt, drilled out the hole, tapped it for an oversize stud, put in a new sensor to which I'd drilled an oversized mounting hole, and hoped that would fix it. It didn't. The ABS light kept coming on and going off. 

I knew what was wrong. Without a lift, working on my back on the ground, unable to properly see what I was doing, I'd ground off too much of the "flesh" of the steering knuckle where it makes an attachment point for the sensor, and made too large a hole in the replacement sensor, and as a result the new sensor wasn't aligned properly with the castellated rotor on the end of the drive shaft that provides the signal. 

Here's the back of the hub. The sensor is the small black doohicky on the end of the black cable. You can see there's a stud holding it on, where there should be a bolt.

The rotor is ferrous, and the sensor magnetic, so the signal is a simple electromagnetic pulse. The end of the sensor has to point properly to the rotor for everything to work. 

With the vehicle on the lift I could easily see this alignment and fix it. I was even able to measure the proper distance using the working example on the driver side. The sensor body had to be fourteen millimeters from a certain spot on the steering knuckle and was in fact much less than that. I tinkered with spacer washers, finding the right fit, and made a collar to more tightly align the oversized sensor hole to the stud. All this was very pleasant work, with an almost Zen-like level of safety and calm. I have rarely been happier in my work.

But all good things must come to an end and the job was done soon enough. I buttoned everything back together, lowered the car off the lift and took it for a test drive. The light was out.

Just for back-up, I ordered a new sensor, which I'll use if the current fix doesn't stick, but now the Camry is ready for inspection.

Then it was the Land Rover's turn. The Rover's brakes needed attention if it was to pass inspection, which it must do by the end of the month. The brakes hadn't been great lately, and needed a lot of travel on the pedal to actuate them, and I wanted to find out why.

So this time I put the Rover on the trusty lift and raised it up and blasted it too with the pressure washer. Again, this gave me very great pleasure. The I pulled the wheels and drums and inspected all four sets of brake shoes and wheel cylinders.

After a few moments it occurred to me that wheel cylinders were far too new for the vehicle. These units are made of thick steel and get surface rust after a few years use. The rubber dust caps on the two ends of each cylinder also get worn and deformed. Our cylinders were still bright, albeit under a layer of brake dust, and the caps looked brand new. It's hardly likely that these are the originals considering the vehicle is forty-three years old this year.

The specifications for the thickness of braking material on the shoe were 3/16ths of an inch new, replace when 1/32nd remains. Ours were between an eighth of an inch and 3/16ths, so nearly new. All the wheel cylinders were working, none seemed to be leaking. The explanation for the weak brakes had to be elsewhere.

I adjusted the drums to the shoes carefully, and replaced the wheels, then sprayed Fluid Film rust preventative all over the ferrous components on the underside.

Land Rover bodies may be made of aluminum, but their frames are steel, and must be protected if the Rover is to survive Maine winter weather. The lift makes this job easier.

I also treated a little rust on the inner doors and door-posts with phosphoric acid. Phosphoric acid or "phospho" converts rust to ferric phosphate, which is slightly rust-resistant. Later, I'll paint over the converted rust.

Today I will need to investigate the Rover's master cylinder and power brake booster. That's the next step in the diagnostic chain. I don't need the lift for that, but the concrete pad in the new work bay will make the job safer, since it will be firmer under foot than the driveway gravel.

So that's the round-up of current vehicle work using the new lift. Before the winter I'll also need to pull the Camry, Matrix and Frontier in for rust-proofing. 

I'm looking forward to it. 

Vehicle maintenance is going to be so much more pleasant now we have a safe, well-equipped work space.

I'll need a couple more gallons of Fluid Film.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Queen Ginnie and a change of plans

Ginnie the Guinea has been here now for two weeks, and settled in quite nicely. She/he likes it here and has decided it's his/her farm now, but we, the original owners may stay to look after him/her if we feed him/her twice daily and keep clean water on hand.

Still no authoritative word on whether she's the new Queen or King of the Farm, but based on behavior I'm beginning to suspect "King."

Here she/he is right up on the roof, cackling to his/her heart's content. And very noisy cackling it is too. I'm thinking no female would be so self-aggrandizing as to have to get up on the roof if all she wanted was a good loud cackle.

Still, as good scientists we shouldn't jump to conclusions, so we'll keep splitting his/her pronoun until we have harder evidence.

Aimee tried to unload him/her to a couple of different friends' farms, and did actually find a place for him/her to go, but I sort of like having him/her around. When you feed him/her, she/he cackles her thanks very appreciatively. I like having appreciative animals around. It helps make up for Aimee, who is rarely appreciative.

Aimee is either completely indifferent to what I do, or feigns indifference, or, when she actually wants me to do something, orders me around. I rarely get a word of thanks.

Don't get me wrong. My wife is a unique personality and I love her dearly and even hope that some of her character traits are passed on to our kid, soon due. And I do believe she loves me. But it's nice to be made to feel wanted every once in a while.

So Ginnie is kind of nice to have around in that respect.

In other news about ingratitude, I've decided to sell the bloody old Bolens. Regular Great Farm Diary readers long familiar with this great beast of a lawn tractor will know that while on the one hand, it's given me no end of trouble over the years, on the other it's been tremendously useful, and I've gotten an awful lot of very hard work out of it over the years too.

But it's spent about as much time sitting in the shop waiting to be repaired as it has sitting out in the dooryard ready to use.

Most of the early trouble I had with it was with the mower deck and clutch, which in my view was poorly designed in the first place. There's an electromagnetic clutch that requires a positive flow of power from the battery to keep the mower blades spinning. For years this device would cut out after half an hour of mowing, until I realized that the thin wire to the clutch was heating up to the point where the power supply actually reaching the clutch was very low. When after years of this trouble I replaced the wire with a heavier one and got the clutch working properly, I though I was home free, but then broke one of the three mower deck spindles.

Antique Bolens spindles are rarer than the proverbial "rocking horse shit." It took weeks of searching and calling around to locate one in an equipment repair yard in Topsham, two hours away. I duly drove down there and back, then stripped and rebuilt the deck with the new spindle, and again thought I was home free, but the bloody thing still shaved the grass bare anytime it hit a bump. This was primarily because the mechanism that raises and lowers the deck is based on a cable, not rigid mechanical arms, and so this design ensures that the deck wobbles on uneven ground or if it takes even a slight hit. Our lawn is full of slowly healing scars as a result.

Then there was a period during which three of the Bolens's tires all went flat one after another, and so multiple tire repairs were needed, until I finally replaced the front wheels with ones from some other mower, solving the problem.

Then one mud season I went out to start the beast after it had sat out under a tarp all winter, and promptly flooded a cylinder with gas, or possibly water, to the point where it "hydraulicked", temporarily seizing the cylinder, which just as promptly bent a push rod. I didn't know it had only bent a pushrod at the time, so, with the engine running on only one cylinder, this meant a partial engine rebuild to diagnose the problem. I got the engine back together and running on both "pots", only to find the carburetor then out-of-adjustment. The engine has been racing ever since. I could fix it easily enough with some tinkering and probably a new return spring, but by this point, late last summer, we'd bought our new push mower, which does a great job of mowing the "easy" ground in front of the house, and so we needed the Bolens far less. When you have sheep, you only really need a riding mower for weed control once or twice a year.

Other than the front lawn, the rest of our ground is very rough. Because of the loose deck attachment, the Bolens has never been a great rough ground mower, so it was on the cards that eventually I would buy a new riding mower, which happened last week when I purchased a new Ariens gear mower with a solid deck attachment. Meanwhile, we were left with only one use for the Bolens, which was hauling the yard trailer. Then early this spring it sprung a leak from the front main seal on the hydrostatic transmission. I replaced the seal, of course, taking several weeks to do the job because of other more important projects. Hurricane Arthur finally gave me a reason to finish up, in the form of a very wet Saturday in which I could get very little else done around here. But as I put the tranny back together I noticed that the main shaft was loose, meaning the bearing was gone, meaning the new seal would leak just like the old one, which of course it promptly did. A secondhand transmission for this beast will run $300 or $400.

A day, and a hurricane, earlier, I had dug out an old trailer hitch attachment for the Kubota tractor instead, something the Kubota came with, but that I had never used because it was broken, and because I had the Bolens. I repaired it with a bit of pipe and some welding, and used it and the yard trailer yesterday to pick up the remaining pile of gash wood from our recent construction job and truck it to the place behind the barn where we keep piles of fence posts and lumber and other large useful things. This was a big heavy-lifting job I'd delayed doing, waiting for the Bolens to be repaired, but the fact that I managed to get it done easily enough with the Kubota was more than enough to convince me it wasn't worth three hundred bucks to fix the Bolens.

I put it on Maine Craigslist for only $150. Other Bolens tractors with similar problems are on there for upwards of several hundred dollars more, so this is a steal, but I want it gone.

This seems a little ungrateful, like culling a good lead ewe, or some other seemingly ruthless stroke, but as with lead ewes, if you keep pieces of aging farm and yard machinery around past their useful natural life, you finish up with more grief, not less. I surely hate to do this, since in some ways it negates my pride in my own mechanical abilities, but enough is enough.

I'll put the Bolens out of its misery, and end mine, by selling it,  and someone will get enough spare parts to keep theirs running a little longer.

Here if you're interested and have absolutely nothing better to do, is the link to all the GFD posts with the word "Bolens" in over the years.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Installing the lift

How do you move a four-hundred pound automotive lift with a tiny, forty-one year-old twelve-horsepower Kubota tractor?

The answer I came up with was to attach the hand truck or "dolly" to the light end of each post, and then trundle them in low range, reverse gear very, very slowly to the concrete pad. That worked well.

Before I did this I used phosphoric acid to convert the rust on the underside of each post, and then painted POR-15 rust-proofing on there.

I had placed one post on sawhorses to do this job, the other on blocks on the ground. I like to have things at waist height when I work on them because I have arthritic knees, the result of an old occupational injury from my RAFMRS days. Saves bending or kneeling, both of which are unpleasant for me sometimes.

But it turned out that blocks were the better solution in this case...

...for here is what happened when I went to lower the second post from the sawhorses to the ground.

The chain is too snug and the post has torqued on the tractor's loader, tilting the left rear wheel off the ground.

I called Aimee so she could take a picture for her proposed twelve-month calendar of husbandly tractor disasters, but on inspection she said this wasn't disastrous enough!

I had hoped that the posts could be tilted close enough to their final position with the bucket loader, then manhandled into place, and indeed this procedure might have worked for me had I even one strong helper, but in the end the loader could only get a post to about 60 degrees from horizontal, and at that angle there was still too much weight in the post for me to lift, and no failsafe if something went wrong. Instead I used the floor jack, cribwork, a series of wooden props and bipods, guy lines for fail-safes and the Land Rover winch for the last few feet. Bit-by-bit, I was able to slowly work each post to within a couple feet of vertical, all under control, all without too much exertion. At that point there was only a few pounds of push needed to tilt the column the final distance onto the grout pad.

I meant to take pictures of this operation, but I was so absorbed in solving the problem, and the weather was so hot and humid, I never took the time out. I wanted to be done with the heavy work.

I had hired a rental hammer drill for the anchor bolts. The drill made short work of the holes. I added a layer of hard polyurethane construction cement under the posts, for a final grout, and as a seal to keep out water, to prevent freeze-thaw action. Later today, if the rain holds off, I'll put a skim coat of sand-topping mortar for a final screed over the grout pads, extending this to the edges of the concrete pad, looking to make a slight tilt so the pad sheds water into the new extension's perimeter drainage gully. Before it sets completely, I'll brush the screed with a hard broom for a non-slip surface.

I'll also use the tractor loader to fill in the front of the pad with gravel to make an access ramp so that cars that have relatively low ground clearance, like the Camry or Matrix, don't get damaged just driving into the new work bay.

But that's all today's job. Yesterday, before I could take that fairly irrevocable step of screeding the pad, which would cover all the foundation work for the remaining life of the unit, more or less, I needed to finalize the assembly and test to see if the machine would work properly.

I assembled the wire rope and pulley system that keeps both sides level and ensures an even lift, then finalized the electrical supply, running a 20 amp, 230 volt wire from the breaker box to the back door. The final connection uses a 20 amp twist-lock receptacle, meaning that it's easy to disconnect the entire apparatus, another safety feature. I also modified the wiring to make it all waterproof.

I used the Land Rover for the first test, reasoning that if any of our vehicles could survive being dropped off a lift, this one could.

The Rover frame was essentially designed during WWII as the famous Willys Jeep, and later modified. But even a 1971 Series IIa like mine lacks proper lifting pads on the underside, a feature most modern cars have, and the officially-recommended jacking points, the plates that attach the leaf springs to the axles, are not accessible to a four-arm automotive lift. I improvised, finding spots on the frame that seemed like they should work, then lifting only slowly in case something went wrong.

Here is the result of the first lift, with the Rover suitable airborne, and no undesired effects.

To double check the hydraulic system safety, I disabled the ratchet-type safety locking mechanism, then used this length of strapping as a ruler. You can see the pencil mark. I then dis something else for an hour before checking to see if the vehicle had dropped at all. I repeated this experiment three times at different heights, with no movement at all. That means that the hydraulic posts are still in good working condition.

I also double checked the columns for plumb several times with a magnetic "torpedo" level.

Finally I lifted the Rover as high as I was willing to go, given the lack of proper lifting points, which was about five feet off the ground and parked her there for several hours, coming out to check the posts and pencil marks again and again. There was no movement at all.

Here is what we wanted for a final affect -- complete, almost unimpeded access to the underside of the vehicle. 

Now that's what I call a Very Nice Picture of my Rover. A work of art, in my book.

Mission accomplished. I'm so glad I decided to get this machine. It will save us all kinds of money, and it will save me a lot of unnecessary danger and arthritis pain.

In other news, the Womerlippis finally bit the bullet on two counts. First we fitted doors to the inside rooms of the old house, in preparation for pre-natal family visiting. We've never bothered with doors, since we don't particularly need any more privacy than we already have here at the end of our road. I took most of the original ones out when I first rebuilt the house. But I doubted very much that this situation would be very comfortable for house guests, and Aimee agreed, and so three new pine doors were fitted, two to the old living room, which will become a nursery and eventually the kid's bedroom, and one to the upstairs bedroom.

We also finally got a new lawn tractor. Our ancient Bolens Model 1669 is in the shop again, awaiting reassembly after a transmission job. Although I want this sturdy beast fixed and back to work, it's likely to remain there for some time because of the length of my honey-do list.

I'm doing fairly well with the list this summer, but still have four vehicles to rust-proof and winterize, two of which require further work to repair and sticker them, as well as a major fencing project, several days of remaining finish carpentry, and a lot of animal and garden husbandry to do. 

My new joke is that they call it "finish" carpentry because " never gets finished". 

Aimee doesn't like this joke very much. Truer words in jest and all that. I hate finish work. It took tow days to do the doors and their associated trim, and I hated every minute of it.

However, not having to repair the Bolens, at least until the fall or winter, is going to save me quite a few days, a welcome change of plans.

The Bolens never mowed that well in any case. Its mower deck is not particularly well-designed, attached with cables rather than rigid metal arms, and on our uneven ground it always tore up the grass badly. Being able to mow our big lawns nicely with the new riding mower now, instead of the push mower, saves considerable time and sweat. I liked the Bolens machine for towing the big yard trailer, and want to return it to that purpose. But I can do that job with the Kubota for now. I just have to be willing to switch out implements more often than I'd like, since you can't tow the yard trailer when the tiller or rock rake are attached.

Of course, it's better if the sheep do the mowing around here, but with all the heat and humidity they're off their feed a little and much prefer to lounge in the shade of the barn. With so much other work still to do, I tend to indulge them. They're apt to break out of their temporary paddocks if they get overheated or if it gets buggy or both, so as to make it back to the barn or to some other shady, relatively bug-free spot. I don't much like chasing sheep in the heat, so they and I agree on this point. Still, the grass was getting shaggy and the weeds were bad in places.

Here's the new machine, an Ariens 17.5 horse, gear-drive model. Nowhere near as sturdy as the Bolens, but economical, made in the USA, and fairly well-made to boot.

And here's the honey-do list again, so readers can evaluate my progress so far.

1) Help wife keep up with doctor's visits and other preventative health measures
2) Maintain and prepare four vehicles for Maine's winter, emphasis on safety, including rust prevention for all four, two safety stickers, one timing chain, one (more) brake job and servicings and oil changes
3) Maintain aging stock of tools and equipment to achieve what follows with less hand labor. Includes

  • transmission job on Bolens tractor
  • new engine for wheeled weed whacker
  • annual service for 41 year old Kubota
4) Extend septic tank drain field by 300 square feet
5) Put siding on the extension and the back of the main house and paint said siding. The extension currently has none
6)Build 300 square foot deck, with safety fence suitable for toddler, and various bells and whistles. Aimee is particularly looking forward to this, and planning out the bells and whistles for me
7) Build new better-looking sheep fence around the deck
8) Put up two-three cords of firewood
9) Keep sixteen sheep, including six lambs, healthy and strong
10) Put up at least three hundred bales of good hay and enough oats and other feed to last winter
11) Towards end of summer: Cull said sheep by selling live or as meat, get down to five or six for the winter
12) Breed remaining sheep in the fall. Sell or cull ram thereafter
13) Grow garden, harvest, put up usual amounts of healthy, non-pesticide sprayed, no chemical-containing food for wife, baby and me. Shift priorities somewhat to foods suitable for toddlers: Apple sauce, carrots, etc
14) Maintain four and a half acres of woodlot and pasture.
  • Remove weeds weekly, don't let them get established and set seed
  • Clear dangerous snags and drops
  • Top off firewood pile
  • Fight sumac grove for (yet) another year -- the Thirty Years War
15) Clean out barn for winter, compost bedding, a three-day job made harder by no pigs this year
16) Tidy up dangerous piles of tools and parts in the shed, make safer for eventual toddler
17) Last of all: get house ready for onslaught of family visitors. That's why we built that spare room
As you can see, items 1), 13) and 14) are of course more or less endless, but I've checked off 4), 5), 8) 10), 16) and 17). Item 3) was handled partially by the purchase of the new mower. The lift project was of course partially preparatory to # 2, which is my next priority, the sticker having actually expired on the Camry and coming due this month for the Rover.

Anyway. Enough pontificating. I can see by my list that I have to get back to work on this Fourth of July holiday.

(But every day is a holiday when you're doing what you want to do, working on your own stuff, on your own house and land.)