Saturday, December 31, 2016

Heavy wet snow

Arriving back from Christmas with family in Virginia late on Thursday morning, having left a day early because of the forecast, we had a couple hours to spare before the snow storm hit. It snowed for a few hours then rained, then snowed again. Then at 3am Friday morning, the power went out.

This combination of rain and snow was hard to shift, whether by Rover, tractor, or hand. But despite the block heater having stopped with the power supply, the Rover did start, as did the tractor. It took about four hours to make our dooryard and turning circle safe for civilization.

Then we ran the genny and waited for the power to come back on, making frequent excursions up the hill in the direction of the golf course, where the three phase distribution line for the entire town was down on the side of the road.

We wanted to know when the trucks came to fix it. It isn't much fun to leave a loud genny running outside your house all night, so we preferred not to do that, but when you have a toddler, you need to make different arrangements for sleeping when the power is off and you have no noise maker, baby monitor, or nursery heater. We were hoping the power would come back on before all this had to happen.

In the end, the power stayed out even after the downed line was fixed, there being some other fault closer to us, so we put her to bed with extra blankets, left her door open to get the heat of the wood stove, brought the dogs into the living room and locked them behind the baby gate so they wouldn't go into her room, and made sure to stoke the fire in the middle of the night. She slept fine all night without a noise maker.

It was during the excursion to stoke the fire that I realized it was getting too cold out there for propane. Our genny runs on twenty-pound bottles of propane, and doesn't like the cold at all. Even in moderately cool temperatures around freezing, it wants starter fluid. Propane boils at -43 F, but it doesn't boil easily as well as it does at higher temperatures, when it essentially flashes from liquid to gas as soon as the pressure is relieved. It was 15 F outside already.

So, after some thumping and struggling at 2am, things going bump in the night, the genny spent the rest of the night in the kitchen. It did occur to me to turn off its propane for safety's sake. It started easy this morning.

Now we hope to see some linesmen soon. Much of Maine has been without power, about a quarter of the state, and we are obviously in better shape than most, but it would be a relief to shut off that noisy genny, and, at only 3,500 watts, there are some things it just can't run or doesn't much like to run, including the electrical heating and the sheep's water heater.

Friday, December 16, 2016

End times

Don't worry. I just mean the semester.

Although we have relatives who are waiting it out for the real thing.

Me, I'm glad of an easy day today, just one exam and pick up some grading and home for the weekend with my kid. Classes ended Tuesday.

Today, we're hunkered down. The weather outside is frightful, very cold and a nasty north wind, one of those Yorkshire "lazy" winds, the kind that's too lazy to go around you. We have six baby chicks under a heat lamp in the barn with their mommy hen, and they are doing OK, but it would be good for all concerned if the wind dropped a bit. It seems to be doing so, but you never know. As night falls, and a storm coming in tomorrow, it could easily start up again.

Edana is snoozing nicely in the nursery. She kept waking up last night. The wind caused multiple short power cuts that continually reset her digital noisemaker, switching it from "rain" to "heartbeat", which wakes her up. If it doesn't, the heater resets too, and that always wakes her up. She doesn't much like the cold and without her heater that room is drafty.

Anyway, we had hot milk and a story at midnight or thereabouts, and then she slept for a bit, then the power went out again and she woke again. All in all she woke four times. The last time she didn't really get into it, and the heater was still on, so we left her and she went down again of her own accord. So now she's catching up. I caught up some too. It was good to nap.

Here in our winterwonderland, we've broken out the Roverplow once and look to do it again tomorrow. The pipes in the bathroom have frozen briefly twice, the result of too much cold but, paradoxically, not enough snow to seal the perimeter of the house from the wind. There's plastic "banking" in place, but the snow weighs it down and adds insulation.

I set a heat lamp on the pipes and left the bathtub tap to run. It's supposed to be 40F Sunday, classic La Nina Maine weather. We can leave the tap run until then.

Other than the lack of snow on our banking, we're ready for winter. All the cars are sorted with snow tires and all repairs done, the oil tank is filled, and the new wood stove is running very well. We have a nice Christmas tree, which Edana loves, and our Christmas cards are arriving, much to her delight. She loves to tear them open and hang them up on the string in the living room. "My card," she croons in delight, in total ignorance of whoever sent it.

Late last month I finally cracked the fault diagnosis on the VW, which had eluded me all fall. I pulled the engine again and stripped it down to the case again, looking for a fault. If I had a hundred dollars for every time I've stripped that old engine down like this, I'd be a rich man.

I found I'd left out the head gaskets. In the VW engine, these are just tiny aluminum circles that sit between each cylinder and the cylinder heads. Older motors don't have them. I originally rebuilt that engine last winter, and was rushed and not working in the best of conditions, and must have left them out accidentally. At least, that's my excuse. I have no memory of doing so, but the proof of the pudding was right there in front of my eyes. With the gaskets in, and a tune up, the engine starts and runs easy now.

Before that, late October or early November, I'd been working on the seized brakes, and eventually traced the difficulty to a brand new Brazilian VW master cylinder. Apparently a bad batch of these had made it onto the American parts chain, all with over-zealous check valves. I bought a new German unit, fitted it, and the difficulty went away. Then I still had trouble bleeding it, until Henry Thompson noticed the bleed valve was at the bottom of the caliper on the left side. They're supposed to be universal, but to be so, they need two bleed valves, not one. I switched out that caliper for one with two bleed valves that I'd had lying around since early attempts to diagnose the stuck brakes, and all as well.

It's a good thing that all this work delayed the serviceability of the VW, because if it had been usable earlier, it would have been sold, and I really don't want to sell it. In September we had to pay $4,500 for our new trailer and that set me back a bit, using up my savings. I had planned to sell the VW to pay some bills and rebuild our savings, but we're so close to tax refund time, I won't need to do that now. Besides, it has no heat so no-one will buy it in the winter.

So I can keep my lovely old bus after all. I have too many happy memories of this bus, and would really like to take my kid fishing or camping in it one day.

After all, we do live in Maine, and it is nice here at least six months of the year.

Just not these ones.