Tuesday, November 25, 2014

With a great roar...

... and a rather volcanic outburst of black smoke and soot and even solid fragments of carbon that had been lodged in the muffler, my massive Lister-Petter TS3 genset came to life Saturday. It took about half a bottle of starter fluid -- note to self, buy more starter fluid -- but after a short while the injectors bled through and were primed and then it ran just fine all on its own, putting out 117 volts at each pole of the three-wire connector.

Well within the tolerances to run this old house the next time we get a four-day power cut.

Here's the home movie I took of the second start-up. This one lacked some of the drama, but I wasn't going to be futzing around with a camera if it exploded during the first attempt.

All said and done, I was fairly pleased with this result. It's been a while since I got this deep into an engine project, and it was fun to dust off mt skills.

There remains a little work to do on the Lister. It clearly needs a new muffler, for which we'll adapt a cheap bit of car muffler from the parts store. There's the small matter of a new oil pressure switch to replace the one I managed to burn out while trying to sort out the electrics the other week. And I ordered a large external fuel tank, one that comes on wheels, so we can take just the tank and not the whole genset to the gas station to fill up. And it needs wiring and connectors to connect it to our power distribution panel the next time we get a big outage. 

I haven't decided where to put it yet, either. It really needs it's own permanent shed, some distance away from the main house in case of fire, but I may also just find a good solid secondhand trailer and fit it to that, after which it will be possible to move it to other places around here that may need power.

As the most recent power emergency showed, there just aren't enough generators in the county when the power goes out. Most of our public buildings were closed, and eleven public schools were completely dark, and even some of those that had standby-generators couldn't get them running, because some key experienced people had recently retired. If I fit this big genset to a trailer, it may one day be of some help at someone else's house or for some other useful purpose.

In other mechanical news, our big "new" Nissan four-door pick-em up truck needs a starter motor. At least, I think it does, and will have to change out the starter motor before I know for sure. It has the dreaded no-crank, no start condition on cold mornings, until I hit it with the 200 amp starter, then it goes just fine. The rest of the day, it takes one or more turns of the key. This beast has the same Nippon Denso starter that the Camry had, the one where the copper contacts wear out after a while, producing these kinds of symptoms. But a bad neutral safety switch will do pretty much the same. I ordered a reconditioned starter, and will soon find out which one of the two possible causes it is.

I'm just hoping the starter arrives before the next snowstorm, but it's not looking good.

As for baby Roo, things are pretty swell there most of the time. Aimee is still very sore from sleeping with her own personal parasite more or less firmly attached all night, but Roo is getting better and better at entertaining herself and us. She has begun to "talk", by which we mean coo repeatedly, having "conversations" with us. She also now likes her baby gym, and can entertain herself there for anything up to a half-hour.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Some belated visuals

Here's another image of the big storm that knocked out power to about a quarter to a third of the state a few weeks ago. You can see why this particularly wet and sticky type of snow brought down so many trees.

Here's the Land Rover workhorse with the new snowplow safely attached and ready for the next big storm.

Here's the plow attachment. It was bolted right on to the two five-eighths frame-to-leaf spring bolts, one on each side, then welded directly to the bumper. Then we welded the adjustments on the hitch solid. The only way this is coming off is to cut it off with the welder or a gas torch, but the bumper can be ground back down to the original without too much damage. The bumper is slightly bent in any case, and already has the winch welded directly on, so it's not like I'm worried about maintaining that right-off-the assembly line kind of originality. Maybe one day I could afford to have that kind of Rover, but for right now, we need to get some work out of this one.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Last work week before Turkey Day

The fall weather has finally begun to turn to winter. Almost all the leaves are gone, the only ones remaining being those of the beeches, and some apples, whose leaves were seemingly frozen in place by the cold snap that came with the power outage.

We've had another small snowstorm, which underscored all the snow-related items on my pre-winter honey-do list.

Unfortunately for that list, baby-holding and baby-sitting duties were preventing me from getting to a lot of it. Aimee can't look after the baby 24/7, so I need to take over for several hours each day. These duties usually come in stints of an hour or so at a time, except on the days when Aimee must teach, in which cases I have Roo for up to four hours.

In either case, I now understand how impossible it is to do the kind of household and mechanical maintenance I do while holding or otherwise tending a baby. I do love my baby daughter and like being with her, and have even gotten used to the screaming, but I need long periods of uninterrupted time to solve mechanical or household problems properly. It can take several hours just to make a diagnosis, let along fix something. If you have to stop every half-hour to check on baby, your train of thought is naturally broken. This time of year we get only seven to eight hours useful daylight, compounding the problem.

So it was with some frustration that I found myself out in my workshop yesterday at 5am assembling a snowplow. This unit, which is now attached to the Land Rover, is supposed to save me from the long hours I spend with my butt frozen to the hard metal seat of the tractor. Not only will it shift snow faster, I'll be able to work in the warm. Once it had arrived by freight truck Thursday, I was determined to have it ready as soon as possible, certainly for the next big storm.

I was able to get the assembly completed by 7.30 am, then I raced off the Belfast to get the hitch receiver I needed to mount it to the front of the Rover, returning by 8.30, by which time Aimee was getting up with Roo. But that was all the time I could reasonable expect to have without interruptions, and indeed Aimee was planning to leave Roo with me all day to go shopping, essentially eliminating all thought of further progress.

Some difficult marital discussion ensued. Aimee is pretty worn down by breast-feeding and by the uncomfortable sleeping position Roo forces on her. She'll sleep most of the night, for which we're grateful, but needs to be attached to Aimee for a good part of the time to do so, making her stiff and sore. Aimee was naturally looking forward to a bit of a break while shopping, leaving me with "the package."

But, with the tractor also in need of a fan belt, we didn't have any reliable way to plow snow, and a small storm is due even by Monday. The greenhouse needed to be sealed up for the winter, and the banking needed fastened around the house to stop the pipes from freezing. A host of other winterization tasks remained undone that I normally would have done by this time of year. I was fairly frustrated by all these undone tasks and could also see that stuff would start to break soon, if most of it wasn't done.

The upshot was, Aimee decided to take Roo with her shopping. I then stayed by myself and was able to concentrate and plan. I completed the mounting of the snowplow by noon, which went easily enough once I got over the fact that I'd have to cut into a brand new $140 hitch receiver with the cut-off saw and weld it directly to the Rover's front bumper.

Then I replaced the fan belt in the tractor. Fan belts are usually easy, but the radiator had to come out for this one, taking around an hour and twenty.

Then the greenhouse, then the banking around the house. Then the yard still needed some things to be picked up. By 2.30 pm when the girls returned, happy enough despite the unplanned outing for Roo,  I'd been on my feet for 9 hours, racing through all this as quickly as I could, with only a cup of coffee and a pecan roll at 4.30 am to succor me.

Poor puss.

But I was able to declare victory over the list.

The only things I haven't done which I wanted to do was to spray underseal on Aimee's new car, and winterize the auto lift. There's also some de-icer cable I wanted to fit to the kitchen roof, but it's way too late for that and has been for some weeks. The car will have to do without underseal for a year. It's a Toyota, and essentially new, so it ought not rust right away. The auto lift needs a coat of Fluid Film to keep freeze-thaw action from causing damage. I expect I can find a moment to slap some on there today, between stints of baby-care duty. And of course we still only have the 3kW generator available to use in a power outage, not my 18kW Lister Petter "sleek green beauty", which is rebuilt but needs a fuel tank and perhaps some new injectors to start. But at least we have one to use.

It can snow two feet tomorrow if it wants, and the power could be out for a week if it likes. We'll still be fine.

For today, Aimee needs to have a rest. I can take Roo on my Sunday rounds, to get gas and local milk and cream for the week, and to a buddy's house to look at a wind turbine for him, to help diagnose some layout problems with the tower. She usually sleeps through that kind of thing.

Hopefully there'll be a Steeler's game to watch too. Maybe Roo will even let us watch it.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Update: fourth day without power

This is a Great Farm record. We get lots of outages, of course, but this has been the longest for many years. Apparently there were still 9,000 folks without power in our county, so we're not the only ones. We did talk to a CMP assessment crew last night. They were running lines in a van and on foot, using maps and a GPS to help strategize the use of the linesmen and tree crews. I expect that means we won't have to wait very much longer.

Our almost-brand new generator now has something like forty or fifty hours on the clock and has begun using oil! Not a great thing, considering it carries only 0.9 of a quart to begin. That's a very small amount of oil for such a lot of work. It's a good thing we rest it for several hours a day.

As a result of having the genny, all our food is still good, including the two freezers packed full of farm produce. It may be that the very hard frost we got on Monday night got quite a bit of the fall garden produce, though. We'll see when the snow melts. It's just possible that the snow cover kept the potatoes and carrots, still underground, from freezing hard.

We're hopeful for the power to be turned back on today. We can manage indefinitely, as long as the genny holds out. But our elderly neighbor is beginning to get tired of things, especially as she needs to use oxygen. Another neighbor had no heat for a while.

Luckily, we've been able to rearrange our schedules somewhat so I can be home more to run the generator. It takes several good pulls on the pull-cord to start it, and when cold it likes a spritz of starter fluid. Then there's the oil to check and the gas bottles to exchange. Aimee is not fond of this kind of futzing with heavy technology at the best of times -- stuff with engines and pull cords and wotnot seems to drive her up the wall if it is not "plug-and-play."

The most annoying thing, for both of us, has been the failure of both of our carbon monoxide and propane leak detectors. Apparently, neither one was designed for long outages. The batteries wear out very quickly without 110 volts, and then the units start squawking.

This is very annoying, since the time I'm most worried about carbon monoxide poisoning and propane leaks is when I'm running a propane generator for fifteen hours a day! The company, Kidde, is a very good brand, but they clearly didn't think this one through.

With a babe in arms, Aimee's even less fond of such nuisances and added dangers, and I'm not particularly happy about it all either. But, I expect she now sees the point of all my endless prepping and strategizing about power and other household back-up systems. Considering we do have a nine-week old, and that an awful lot of our neighbors are in similarly uncomfortable situations, we have nothing to complain about. We're warm and safe enough, and that's the main thing.

One outcome of this particular power emergency is that I've changed my plans for the big diesel generator. I'm going to refurbish it for use here, not as a WVO demo. The relative weakness of our small propane genny is now quite apparent. It's too small to run the whole house, noisy, runs out of fuel too quickly, and is hard to start. With the huge diesel one, we wouldn't have to worry about engine lubricating oil, or fuel supply, assuming a large-enough tank full of diesel, and we'd be able to run everything in the house including the dryer. It would probably be easier for Aimee to handle, too, since it would have an electrical starter.

Heck, if it were legal to do so, in a situation like this with the roadside breaker to our small hamlet of five homes popped, I could even feed back through the CMP transformers and lines to feed the other four Great Farm homes. If our one house can manage with 3.5kW, the larger generator, at 18 kW, would be enough capacity for all four houses, with some to spare. Unfortunately, I don't think it's legal to set up one's own ad-hoc micro grid like that. But it should be.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Snowed in and power out!

Welcome to winter in Maine. It's only the 2nd of November and we'll already snowed in and cut off from power. There's been no sign of the town plow, so the road is under a foot or so, and the power is out in ours and lots of other small towns all over the state.

No matter. We don't have to go anywhere, except to work tomorrow, and we may even get a snow day. And we have a brand new propane generator. Actually, it's three years old already, but this is only its second time of using and it has less than ten hours on the clock.

Here's the wifely car, under a good eight inches. She laughed at me for putting the snow tires on last week, said it was too early.

And here's the genny, throbbing away. It's just a little noisy in the house. Quieter than the Kitchen Aid mixer!

Who knows, maybe the white noise will help Roo sleep later.