Saturday, February 27, 2016


The Rover only just fits in my shop with the plow on!

The Land Rover starter has been giving trouble all winter, and I've been trouble-shooting it as we went along.

She always did start hard when cold, and often needed a jump and even a block heater when the mercury was below zero. This year the old girl was starting just fine up through the fall, but when the temperatures dropped below 10 F, we began to have the same kind of trouble and then yet more trouble. A jump start would almost always work in moderate cold, but once when we were well below zero, even a jump wouldn't turn the very tight, newly rebuilt engine block over, even after the block heater had been on for several hours.

Naturally, I suspected the starter. The battery was comparatively new, only three years old, while the starter was forty-five years old, and the engine was of course very tight after the otherwise very successful rebuild. But the new part was expensive so I waited. Eventually I had a a little extra cash left after paying the bills and shelled out nearly $300 for the replacement I needed.

Unlike most other spares for the series Rover, starters are expensive. On the recommendation of my Rover parts guy, a jovial Brit called Trevor who lives in Arkansas but used to live in Maine and operates the "Rovah Farm" parts house, I went for a brand new replacement "gear" starter. These are devices designed to give more and faster turns of the engine, especially in cold weather, which would probably make life a lot easier in winter. A sun-and-planet gear is used along with a modern motor to provide high rpm and greater turning power. A new old stock or reconditioned original Lucas-type starter was equally expensive, so it would be silly to opt for inferior but original equipment.

The new one is the shiny bright thing on the left. The nasty old black Lucas starter is on the right.

Unfortunately, once installed and despite the shine, the new starter wouldn't work. I pulled it out again and bench-tested it with our spare shop battery, a brand new truck-size unit, and it worked fine, so I put it back and tested the cables one-by-one.

It was while testing the cables that I finally noticed my multi-meter was over-reading. There was one point that the voltage available at one particular connection was 17 volts. This is essentially impossible for a nominal twelve volt lead-acid battery using six two-volt cells to provide. The battery voltage all along, since the fall, had been reading 15 volts, which is very high but not completely impossible, the kind of reading you might get with an exceptionally good twelve volt battery, and perhaps a voltmeter that was a little "off" but not completely unserviceable. This was why I hadn't suspected the battery. I immediately tested the voltmeter with a known voltage, a new AAA battery.

A new AAA should read around 1.6 V, and this one read 2.25 V.

Here's the key shot of this particular experiment.

My meter well and truly faulted, I ran to the parts store to get a new one. Then I compared the two against the AAA. Actually, it read 22.5 V, and I had missed the fact all along that the decimal point was in the wrong place.

That 15 V reading that made me think I had such a great battery? It was actually reading 150 V, but my mind had inserted a decimal point in the "right place". (Later, after moving the meter inside and warming it up, the point went back to the right place, which makes me suspect the 9 volt battery in the multi-meter. But that's another story.)

This led me back immediately to fault the battery, which I switched out for the good new one I had in the shop. I also replaced the cables for good measure.

Now everything works just fine and my Rover is a lot happier starting. It should be, because almost every component in the starter circuit is brand new!

In other news, we're sneaking up on lambing season, and at least four sheep appear to be "showing". We aren't so very sure about how many lambs we'll get this year, because our new ram "Garfunkel" is such a baby still. He had five to breed, so if he managed four, we'll be well pleased. In the fall the ewes had to encourage him a great deal to get his job done. The lambs should come in about a month.

Finally, our kid is doing well, growing like a weed and learning new words all the time. She loves to visit the barn and feed the sheep and chickens, which is good because we all have to spend a lot of time in there during lambing season.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

More snow and very cold

It's cold. The high today may have been as much as 10 F here on the farm. The low last night was -7 F.

That's too cold for hens, dogs, and babies, so the hens have a heat lamp, the dogs only go out for short spells, and the baby doesn't go out at all except to a car that is already warmed up thoroughly.

The sheep just get an extra bale of hay and are fine with that. They don't even come in the barn at night, although they have an entrance and can do just that. They don't seem to mind how cold it gets. They do come in the barn for snow sometimes, and always for rain.

The Rover, which is supposed to plow the snow, is giving starter trouble. Part of the problem is the newly rebuilt and "tight" engine, which is hard to turn over when cold even with a good starter motor. I'm looking into getting a new one, but the replacements for the old Lucas "Prince of Darkness" motors are expensive, probably around $300.

Given that it will warm up to 40 F on Tuesday, and give rain, I'm not too worried. No new big snowstorms are forecast. Indeed, we haven't had a real nor'easter all winter, a typical El Nino year. Yesterday it snowed all day but only managed a few inches. I eventually got the Rover started and running today with a heat lamp, a magnetic block heater, and a jump from the Nissan, and plowed this small snowfall in a few minutes.

Inside all possible sources of heat are on, electric baseboards, the oil furnace, and the wood stove. It's nice and cosy. I don't like burning oil, and indeed try to burn very little of it under most circumstances, but I like frozen pipes even less than I like burning oil. I'm letting the old bathroom sink run a little to protect against freezing, and keep checking the temperature in the new crawl space under the extension, but that is steady at around 44 F.

Postscript: The well pump did eventually freeze during this cold spell, because the bulb that is supposed to keep it warm popped. That night it was -17 F, according to Aimee's car's dashboard temperature read-out. The well pump thawed after a half hour of an electrical heater. I'm going to fit a second bulb holder in there.

Here's your "moment of Zen", little Edana trying to make a phone call.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Making omelets

We like cheesy omelets for breakfast. And we like being given the bowl of eggs to whisk, so we can help make omelets.

But we can't say "omelet" yet.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Sled head

Our kid loves to sled, it turns out. As long as she doesn't fall in the cold, cold snow, in which case she cries like a, well, like a baby. The solution is for mommy or daddy to pull her along on the easy ground. No falling, no screaming, no worries. Fun for all the family.

Of course, there wasn't any easy ground earlier in the day, what with a good eight or nine inches drifting up in the dooryard.

The landy needs a starter solenoid, and so needs to be jumped constantly if it's cold. Luckily, she's not prone to stalling out. The solenoid is ordered, from the yUKe, but it must be on the slow boat. Maybe sailings are off for the winter.

Once started, she does as good a job as ever. So much nicer being able to sit in the warm cab than on the back of the cold tractor. We still need the tractor for a couple hard-to-reach spots, like just in front of the garage and in front of the barn, but ninety percent of the work can now be done with the Land Rover plow.

Happy man.

And then there were lots of places to pull a sled without depositing our darling daughter in the snow.