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!

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