Thursday, December 20, 2012

A Bush Trail no Longer Needed

Grandpa and I were on a mission yesterday. With the success of Monday and especially Tuesday under our belts, we were determined to skid out the last of the logs from near the property lines.

I was up early, restarting the generator (again!) to charge up the batteries, with the side benefit of giving Donna a chance to pump some water and do some laundry. Grandpa and I also got cracking on starting up the tractor. It is a bit of a chore with the cold weather to start a diesel engine, I can attest to that. But it is certainly still easier than pulling the manual recoil of either generator. Even the small generator can take 15-20 pulls when it is cold, but they are much easier than the larger one, and obviously more effective. I should also add that it is even easier on petrol than I expected, running over four hours and still showing fuel in the tank.

In any case, after the tractor started, Grandpa set off for the remote log pile while I got the generator hooked up and brought some more wood for Donna to burn. I then followed him into the woods.

The first few loads went uneventfully, but as the morning turned to afternoon, we really struggled to climb one particularly steep spot where the underlying trail was just rock. Increasingly exposed, greasy rock. At last the tractor could no longer get up there, even unladen. We ended up resorting to hooking up Grandpa's hand-cranked winch and pulling the tractor up there, three times. By the final load, we were both very pleased that we didn't have to make that trip again.

But it did pay dividends. We now have emptied out that particular section, and there really is no reason to have to use that trail again, except perhaps if my larger tractor is ever required in Grandpa's bush for something. I'm a little sad to see it go I must say. I was quite comfortable driving it, in fact, truth be told, the ruts from the tires had made it a self-driving trail. More than once I crossed it and then realized that I had really only been resting my hands on the steering wheel, and that the tractor had steered itself as far back as I could recall.

Back at the sawmill, I had to create two piles of logs to accommodate the influx. It is nice to see, but I sure hope they translate into a good supply of beams after they are on the mill!

Next up - the original bush trail we cut that currently leads to the lake. Although we know that the tractor cannot climb the ridge, it does travel along it quite a distance on higher ground, and on our way there, we did cut up a good number of logs - Grandpa thinks almost another dozen, although I'm a little more conservative in my memory.

Our first order of business will be to head out there and see if we think that the unladen tractor can make it. After that, we'll see.


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

More Firewood Cut and Split Just in Time

Yesterday I wasn't sure if the weather was going to be up to Grandpa's standards for any work in the bush. Apparently it was! Grandpa arrived just as I was pulling on my boots, and suggested that he was game to try to get both the tractor, and the trailer up onto the far side of the ravine. This was something exciting and new!

We hooked up our new ski-trailer, and I graciously suggested Grandpa could have dibs on being the first person up the hill. I took that opportunity to level off the new generator and start it up for Donna to do more laundry, and charge up our batteries again. It seems like we haven't had a sunny day here in Thunder Bay for two months now. I think that perhaps they need to let go of their title as one of the sunniest places in Canada.

When I caught up with Grandpa, he was already across the ravine, but couldn't climb the hill on the far side. The very first incline was the worst, and he was spinning all four tires madly with no effect. We disconnected the load (something that was to become familiar as the day progressed) and only then could the unladen tractor get past this sticking point. We hooked up the chain from the tractor to the trailer, and in this configuration were able to drag the trailer up afterwards. At the top of the hill we had piled the stove length deadwood from two days previous, so we disconnected the trailer, manhandled it upside down, sideways, and around to rest in the nearby trees, as Grandpa continued up the trail to a suitable turnaround for the tractor.

With the tractor now pointing downhill, it was just a matter of grunt work to hook up the trailer again and reload it. This time we opted only for a half load, knowing that there was also a slope on the far side of the ravine for the tractor to climb, this time with an even heavier load. Of course, we needn't have worried, with just a little bit of finessing it, Grandpa got the tractor back up on (mostly) high ground, and turned the keys over to me. I returned with that load to the yurts, quickly offloaded it, and checked the generator.

I thought it had died - no power was reading on the battery bank. I asked Donna to plug in a light so that she would be able to monitor the generator better, and surprisingly, a light came on - how could that be?

I actually walked to the generator, and realized that it was indeed still running. The battery charger plug had just slightly vibrated out. I bent the prongs a bit tighter, and reinserted it to great effect. That was certainly a relief.

As Donna loaded the generator with the washing machine, it was interesting to see the amperage rise and fall in rapid pulses in time with the washing machine agitation. But everything worked!

I returned to the ravine, where we once again had to disconnect the trailer and haul it up by chain from a more advantageous position.

Two loads of firewood was judged to be enough to get us into January and hopefully deeper, more frozen snow.

It was still early, but Grandpa retired for lunch. I hit up the woodpile, and with great satisfaction dispatched the larger logs using my new and improved tanren uchi. Protip: bolt the tires together rather than just stacking them or trying to rope them together. Only two opposing bolts are required. It is so easy to split wood in this fashion. I can carry two pieces of wood and it feels like I just throw one of them in the direction of the tanren and the tires guide it upright onto the stump below. Splitting goes like a charm, without having to chase down any pieces at all.

During lunch I configured our laser printer to have its own email address, so that we can email documents to be printed to it, and then, within 24 hours, plug it in and have them automatically print. That's cool. It will have to be seen if it works to our satisfaction. I noticed that the jobs can be rather delayed while the printer tries to connect to our proxy server. Our proxy is the biggest fly in our internet ointment, but I suppose I shouldn't complain; we are very, very fortunate to not have to rely on dialup or expensive broadband options.

Grandpa returned and wanted to get the big logs off the property line.

It's funny how relative things really can be. Compared to travelling on my (somewhat) groomed trails, driving through the field was a really fearsome event. But then it all was stepped up a huge notch by crossing the ravine and climbing the ridge at the back of it. With this experience fresh in my mind, suddenly going back to just driving through a rocky field was a breeze. I found myself whistling Christmas carols and wishing (as I often do) that my brother was here to participate in these sorts of adventures. I think he'd be able to appreciate them.

Grandpa and I hooked up the largest log we could easily reach, and I started back. This time we had much greater success - I was able to skid it completely off of his property and back onto ours, and didn't get stuck until we were halfway to the yurts. But were we ever stuck! The tractor dug deep, and suddenly even with the four wheel drive engaged, I couldn't climb forwards or backwards. And this was with the log set free!

Luckily I had reattached the winch, so we hooked up my spare battery, and used the winch to drag the tractor back out of the hole it had dug.

Grandpa used his axe and shovel to fill in the wheel pits I had dug, while I silently supervised. Then, abandoning the log for the time being, I climbed across this hazard, and extended a chain to drag the log across it. We chained up the log, and I dragged it a bit further so that it too cleared the soft spot. I backed up, we reattached the log to my three point hitch, and I proceeded another few feet before becoming trapped again.

This time, simply disconnecting the log was enough to let me climb over that problem. When we reconnected the chain, I just dragged the log back to the location of our future sauna. It was there that I had to climb a slight incline, and the tractor just wasn't up for that, especially with the log digging itself down into the snow in the valley. We worked in reverse; I backed up the tractor and attached the log in tight this time. With this arrangement, the extra weight on the tractor's back wheels worked in our favour, and I dragged this monster all the way back to the mill.

Grandpa felt we had time and need to try to get more out, so I put the tractor in high gear and headed back over the hills and through the woods to our log pile. While Grandpa shoveled more snow into the deepest wheel ruts, I managed to hook up another monster log and have it dragged almost back to the property line before he arrived. I was pretty proud of myself, but his expression didn't betray any exceptional look of approval. I suppose that's likely the fate of most son-in-laws, so I generally don't take a lack of praise too hard :).

This one went much better. I engaged the four wheel drive far in advance of any obstacles, using it almost the entire trip across the rocky field. I didn't need to do any finagling to get the log to the sawmill, where Grandpa decided to call it a day. This log was about 17-18 feet long, so I brought up my chainsaw and cut off a seven foot section where there was a bend in it. This will still be a great addition to my log pile, providing me with beams for the cabin finally. So far I have only been able to mill out smaller beams for the sauna.

Before leaving, Grandpa reminded me that he won't be helping out today, and that he was expecting that I'd spend my time skidding more logs out of the bush. I'm not too worried about it, but I have a feeling it will be slow going if I start getting stuck again. I'll just have to be patient, and we'll see where I get.


Monday, December 17, 2012

Thawing a Frozen Water Line (Part Three of... let's not go there.)

So, earlier in the week as I set off through virgin turf to get the logs near the property line, I started up the generator and got Donna started on pumping water for a load of laundry. As I passed by on the tractor, she began to frantically flash me some hand signals. At first it was double V for victory - I was impressed with her enthusiasm for laundry, but her facial expression didn't match her hand signs. Then she turned them both upside down.

I've never seen an upside down V for victory, but logic would say it would have to mean defeat, right? And double defeat in this case?

The look on MY face brought her out of the yurts to inform me that it was obvious she was signing W - M... Washing Machine. I guess I am a little slow sometimes.

Of course, further interpretation was in order. As it turns out, the washing machine worked fine. It was the well that didn't work. She should have said her sign language was indicating "Well Malfunction", that would have perhaps met me halfway.

I continued on the journey, and hauled home a few logs. Some others we have had to leave in the bush, as the tractor couldn't budge them. Grandpa has informed me that he took out his come-along and staggered them out a bit, which should help. As my faithful readers will recall though, there are a few "monsters" dating back to confederation that may be a bit much for the tractor to pull up some of the slopes, or across some of the rough terrain between my sawmill and where they currently are lying.

Next up was to look down the well. As always, try the simple stuff first.

Looking down the well revealed no surprise - a layer of ice, not TOO thick, but clearly still water in the well.

Donna plugged in the pump, and I could hear it trying to work against whatever blockage existed.

Halfheartedly I poured a warm stockpot of water onto the ice, deducing that the blockage had to be in the pipe where it passed through ice. Surely ice outside a pipe would mean ice inside?

Anyway, my wimpy warm water didn't have any effect. I closed it up, and added a 100' fishtape to our shopping list. That, and a tiny 800 watt Chinese generator I had seen at Tool Town. The previous attempt to start our generator had me pulling the starter cord 120 times. Not good for the generator, and certainly not good for my shoulders (well, maybe it would be good for them, if I considered it exercise, which I didn't...). I knew that my charger only drew about 600 watts at the beginning of the charge, tapering down quickly after that. As long as Donna didn't try to start the well pump or washing machine right after I started the small generator, things would be fine.

Donna and Mummu delayed their trip to town by one day, which was fine, and on sauna night I waited patiently for their return to retrieve my goodies.

It was too late to do anything that night, so we enjoyed family steam, Mummu's pastries, Coronation Street, and then snuggled to bed.

The next morning, I retrieved the fishtape and generator, and, with Grandpa's timely arrival, set to work. This time I think I accurately applied the V for victory sign, or maybe it reflected my second attempt at opening up the water line?

First I disconnected the water line 100' up from the well. I was confident that the water line was frozen below this point. I was able to blow hard uphill, and Kenny reported that he heard and saw the small spray that came out inside the yurts.

I began feeding the fish tape down the water line towards the well. Talk about something ELSE not easy on the arms and shoulders... In any case, I managed to unwind about 97' of the fishtape before encountering an obstacle. I guessed it was the elbow in the pipe, inside the well, and that the blockage was indeed where the pipe passed through the layer of ice.

Madly rattling the fishtape, I had Grandpa stationed at the open well, and he confirmed that to his ear, the end of the tape was at the elbow.

I returned to the yurts, grabbed two steaming kettles from the stove, and poured them carefully around the pipe. This is more difficult to do than you would suspect. The instant the first bit of boiling water hits the ice, the entire well fills with steam, and I have to just guess where to most efficiently pour the remainder.

I emptied the kettles, and then, using my genius system of yelling uphill through the well hose, screamed "O - N" into the pipe.

Nothing happened.

"O - N".

Nothing happened.

"O! - N!".

Nothing happened.

"O!!!!! - N!!!!! (gasp, gasp)

I heard the pump kick in, and listened carefully to the hose coming up from the well. I could hear ice tinkling inside, which was exciting. Then I heard water gurgling inside, which was more exciting. At this point, I realized that it was probably better to be patient and just watch the end of the hose, rather than holding it to my ear, current situation considered.

After a moment, a trickle, and then a flow of water! Yeah!

I reconnected, closed everything up, and Donna was back in the laundry business! I'm sure she was beside herself with joy. It was double joy too - she had brought back more than just a fishtape and generator - she also returned with another clean bill of health for our well. The second one! One more clean test and we are confident that we can drink our water! It would have been too cruel an irony that we get our clean test just when we can't pump anymore.

I hooked up the generator, and it worked a treat for us. It finished off charging our batteries and was able to run most of the household appliances. We didn't test the big one - the washing machine. That's likely for today. Cross your fingers for us on that count. It was much quieter than the big one and much smaller (so I can just carry it to shelter when not in use, or even inside the yurts to briefly warm up if required...) It also is a smaller, two stroke engine (!) and thus can use the same petrol/oil mix that the chainsaw uses. I hope it's a bit easier on fuel, being a smaller displacement and all.

Things have cooled off slightly overnight here, but it will remain to be seen if Grandpa says it is cold enough to return to the bush for firewood. We are back to burning slabs from the sawmill, so that means I need to cut more big trees so we can have longer lasting fires. I have been researching rocket mass heaters a bit lately, but am still not sure. They sound great, but there are also some reservations about burning softwoods in them, which puts me on the outs with the concept. If anyone has any experience or thoughts on the matter, I'd be all ears. We're still in the design stages of the cabin, so it is a good time to incorporate things of that nature if desired.


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A Cold, Clear, Happy Day

Yesterday was (not surprisingly) a cold one again here. I managed to sleep in until about 6:30 or so, which doesn't happen all that often. (This morning it is currently 4:30 as I type this. I would have thought I would have been a bit young for getting up through the night to go to the bathroom, but then again, it had been over five hours so I suppose I shouldn't complain.) It seems Grandpa always catches me before I'm out of the yurts and in action, which makes me feel pretty self conscious. In this case it was a laundry day so I spent 65 pulls getting the generator going before I could pile the chain saw, axe and loppers into the sled and head into the bush myself.

I came to the end of the trail, and, not seeing Grandpa anywhere, felt pretty smug as I began picking up tools and making my way into the bush. Imagine my disappointment at suddenly hearing another chainsaw from futher ahead. Normally Grandpa heads up our trail, via our property. Yesterday though, I think he set off to our secondary bush trail via his property. This is sensible, because the newest trail we are cutting in goes right up to his property line. Sigh, beaten again.

I proceeded to snip, cut and drag bush out of the way, making my way along what was still clearly an old logging road. It's humbling to work so hard to just clean up something that someone else must have done the real, initial labour at putting in. It's also satisfying work to think I'm somehow honouring those efforts by reviving them and acknowledging that their choice in pathway was the right one.

Then again, the truth of the matter may be that they used a big skidder and were motivated purely by profit. I just prefer to think about it more romantically, picturing some tough Finns and even tougher draught horses breaking through virgin forest.

After a few hours work, in which I abandoned my jacket in favour of my fleece, suddenly Grandpa burst through the forest to my left. He had come in around a high ridge that ran along the west side of our ravine. Apparently there was a good stand of large jackpine there, making it an area worth accessing by the tractor.

We exchanged greetings and observed how close to finishing the trail we were. A few moments later, we were standing side by side in the snow, with an open path extending off in both directions. It was a very satisfying feeling.

Grandpa declared that after lunch he wanted to level off sections of the trail he had just come through, but he didn't need any help doing that. With that, we headed back down my path towards the yurts, Grandpa leaving me nearly literally eating his snow/dust. By the time I got to the solar panels, he was already nowhere in sight. He sure is fast moving in his element!

After a lovely lunch with Donna and Kenny, I shut down the generator and watched with a bit of annoyance as my meter continued to show less than 60% charge. Of course, there was a little sun on the solar panels, causing them to be putting out a very slight current. It seems that the meter needs to see the batteries rest a bit before it can re-assess their condition. The sun continued to shine ever so slightly all afternoon, with the voltage reading over 12.8 and the meter stubbornly resting on 57% charge. Finally, with the sun below the horizon shortly before five, the meter suddenly shot up to 90%. Such is the way of things, and I suppose it simply means that I have to learn to adjust my expectations.

I got a warm bottle of water to take up to the sawmill. The blade on the mill uses a steady trickle of water to lubricate things while it cuts. Of course, this water froze in the hose, as a trickle of water isn't enough to overcome the air temperature.

Moments after starting up the mill, a loud bang had me jumping for the off switch! I hadn't even begun to cut!

Opening up the blade guard, it was easy to see that the blade had jumped off of the wheels.

With some effort, I managed to get it back on, and gave it a second try.

Bang, same thing.

This time I tried to look things over to see what the problem was. Lucky for me, my first guess and solution was the correct one. I noticed that the rubber grip on the unpowered wheel was looking really ratty, being covered in frozen, bumpy sawdust. I removed the belt from it, and twisted it up in my hands, causing the detritus to flake off in a very satisfying manner.

Replacing the rubber belt and blade made all the difference in the world, and I milled up two more beams for the sauna. I was a little disappointed that I was unable to mill a beam for the cabin, but I suppose my first logs were a bit small in diameter to hope for the larger beams we plan on using in the cabin (four by five, while for the sauna I am going to try to work with four by three).

I leveled off three skids near the yurts, and piled on my three beams. Even with one of the beams being a bit out of square, it still looked great, and I just had to change my expectations ;). I'm sure when I router a corner (to shed water), it will hide slight imperfections like that. And if it doesn't, well, that just adds this mysterious "character" that carpenters seem to talk about, I think...

Looking out from this vantage point lets me get a general idea of the view we will have from our cabin. It was so beautiful yesterday, with the sun low in the sky; the trees heavy with snow. I called Kenny to come out from the yurts to see, and he was all smiles and agreed with me about how wonderful a sight it was. He was amazed at the size of the snowflakes, able to easily see their six pointed shapes, and marveling at how complex they could be. It was such a great feeling, not just the immediacy of that emotion, but knowing that this place had the power to affect me so. Knowing that I can have ups and downs, and that the ups are there, if I just am patient for them, is likely one of the more important things to keep in mind on a project like this. Probably it's important to think that for any important venture in life.

Last night we all hit the sack early. This morning as I said, I am up early and as I fired up the stove, I had to laugh silently to myself about how things change in your head as you get use to them. I use to be terrified of the stove. Perhaps rightly so, as we were burning wood that was either excessively dry or excessively pitchy. Lately the wood has been much better quality, and so its burn characteristics are much more predictable. Predictable to the sense that now I'm actively seeking a hot fire to start the day! A few slabs from the summer's work with the sawmill does a great job of rapidly raising the temperature in the yurts and on the stove.

Only a few weeks ago I would have been scrambling to assemble my firefighting equipment and prepare evacuation routes if I had seen the chimney temperature approaching the red zone. Now I pour myself a tea and settle down to calmly enter a blog post. If I were so inclined, I likely wouldn't be against returning to bed, secure in the knowledge that my equipment has been tested far more sorely than this, and that all is well with the world. Besides, our stove can't maintain this heat for more than a few minutes anyway, generally to our chagrin.


Sunday, December 9, 2012

A Frozen Hose Indoors

Yesterday we pretty much finished our Christmas shopping. We hit up three different craft fairs, one McDonald's, Wal-Mart, Chapters and the public library. I'll leave it to my family's imagination to see what gifts they can foresee based on that itinerary.It was a nice sunny day for once, but very cold. I made sure my solar panels were pointed in a generally favourable direction before we left, and when we returned, I could see I was running around 13.8 volts and 6-7 amps of charge. Doubling the charge (because my monitor seems to report half the charge at a time...) I came up with 12-14 amps of charge. Not too shabby in my opinion. I checked with my multimeter, and it agreed with my guess - 15 amps of charge was its best guess.

In spite of that, I still fired up the generator (twenty six pulls - maybe I should have a new ripcord set aside for the premature failure of this one?) so that Donna could do a few loads of laundry. Friday night being sauna night, we decided it was a good time to also strip the bedding and have a fresh start to the weekend.

After the last incident where the laundry drain hose had frozen, I had cut about two thirds of it off, allowing just about ten feet of hose to drain the water away from the yurts. On a whim, I decided to check it. It appeared frozen solid, and I was a little chagrined. Later, Donna confirmed my fears when she reported that the wash machine was not draining the first load of water.

I poured a stock pot of hot water along the length, to no avail.

I poured a kettle of steaming hot water along the length, to no avail.

I took a break to relieve myself on a nearby tree, observing the steam arising from my own contribution, but decided that I still had other options.

Using my draw saw, I cut the hose down to about five feet. It had no spot left where it water could possibly collect, at least in future pumpings - where I cut I noted it was still solid ice inside.

Another kettle of water removed that, but still it refused to pump.

I removed the hose altogether, and blew through it - no resistance! The hose was fine. This made me more nervous yet. Returning inside, I got behind the wash machine and started to manipulate the rubber hose inside. Clearly I could feel and hear ice cracking. This was unexpected. I knew that the yurts get cold, but freezing up a hose like that was new. I suppose it doesn't get much air circulation, and is against an outside wall, and the back yurt IS generally much cooler than the main one, but to freeze a hose solid?

We pulled out the wash machine to get better access to the hose. This is where I appreciate that we had purchased an apartment unit, already on casters and smaller than normal.

I manipulated the hose while Kenny stood outside calling the play by play. "Trickle of water! Now lots! Now a trickle again!"

At last we got "Now lots!" consistently, and with Donna setting the machine to a final spin and drain cycle, were satisfied that the problem was solved, at least for the time being.

Now we have a much shorter hose outside, that can't possibly freeze (?) and a future plan to pull the wash machine out from the wall the mornings we are planning on doing any laundry. Hopefully that will thaw the indoor hose, which is never completely free of water.

It will be interesting to see if we can keep the future sauna warm enough to generally prevent this from happening again. Donna feels that it is more a case of the floor needing more insulation, than the trapped airspace being cold - she may be right - we only put in the prescribed 4" of insulation, rather than the 6" that we would have had space for. Next time...


Friday, December 7, 2012

Planning a Sauna

A few days ago the temperature came up to around zero. This, combined with some rain, made for a rather ugly day. One of those times where if it was just a bit colder, it would feel much warmer, as the air wouldn't be so clammy.

Not much outdoor work looked very appealing, so I marked off a rope into one foot sections to use as an oversize measuring tape, and sketched a few diagrams to reflect some of the thoughts I had on our future sauna.

I always want to keep things small, figuring that it is easier to build, heat, clean, and pay for the supplies I cannot make myself. I started out with a twelve by twelve square.

Dividing it into quadrants, I then placed a change room in one corner, the actual steam room adjacent to it, and the washing up/laundry room in the remaining half. Kenny and Donna offered lots of input, as did Mummu and Grandpa when we later asked them for any other tips.

Here's a sketch I did between setting the supper table and supper making it to the table.

We decided that we would feed the sauna stove from the outdoors, and inside the steam room the stove would then be located opposite the door, with the bench running along the north wall.

In the washing up room, we would have the wash machine and sink/laundry tub also on the north wall, then a door leading outside in the north-west corner, a long counter on the west side, a sitting bench on the south side, and then the door leading to the change room facing east.

Finally the change room, in the south east corner of the building, would have a bench on the south side as well, with the doorway leading outside (and facing our eventual cabin) on the east side.

As additions to this plan, we want to have a high, open ceiling in the washing room, except the sauna, where a low one will help keep in the steam, and above the change room, where we can use the space for storage. Then, centred above the junction of the interior walls, is the place where I'm thinking we would locate our 1000 litre water tank. I think this is the strongest place that can handle that sort of weight.

Having the water tank in the sauna should give it a reasonably warm location so that it doesn't freeze in winter. It is also located directly uphill from the well, and can drain down towards our possible garden plots.

Having it up in the roof peak will have the added benefit of providing natural gravity flow, and I imagine the ability to run a water line from it, across the space between the sauna and cabin, and into the cabin, so that we could have running water there as well.

Yesterday, after spending the morning clearing a bit more of a new logging road into our bush with Grandpa, I returned to the sawmill and checked and rechecked to ensure it was straight and level. Then I fired her up to cut the first beam for construction. I was really cautious, and it took me a good twenty to twenty-five minutes, but here's our start!


Sunday, December 2, 2012

Converting my Wheeled Trailer to a Sled

The other day we had a slight accident in the yurts. While rushing to answer the cellphone, one of us knocked over a five gallon pail of water. Sigh. While mopping up the water and hanging the sopping mats, we were amused to notice that behind one of the beds the metal fittings on the inside of the northwest wall were showing that cold spots still existed indoors.


The last time my trailer lost a wheel, I opted for the most direct solution - I purchased a generic, solid rubber wheelbarrow wheel from Canadian Tire and installed it on the axle with some spacer bushings to prevent it from wobbling too much.

The side effect of this was that the new tire was about half as wide as the one on the other side, which actually was oversized from the first tire blow-out. First it was a blow out, then next the bearing disintegrated.

Now that I am moving through snow, the narrow tire was a bit of a liability, sinking in really deep, and making it hard for me to haul firewood. The last trip I actually had to unload some of my firewood in order to climb the incline out of the gulley in the back of our property, in spite of putting the tractor into four wheel drive. I did manage to get two loads back though, and they are already split and keeping us warm (even if they don't get crazy hot enough to make cooking any easier). I wonder what my sensei thinks of my form for my tanren uchi practise.

So yesterday, as I was puttering in the dojo tent, Grandpa dropped by and suggested I build some skis for the trailer, and replace the wheels with them. Together, we got right on it!

I had two surplus poplar logs on the skidway, that were earmarked for random projects, so I fueled up the mill, checked the oil, and started pulling the starter cord. I expected it to take a number of pulls before starting up, and so it was a bit sheepishly that on the 24th pull, I realized that I hadn't yet turned the switch to the "on" position. It started perfectly on the 25th pull.

We slowly cut up the poplar into two 5" by 5" logs. I was surprised at how hard it was to clamp and cut. I think frozen logs must be significantly tougher than in summer, so I will ask my sawmill expert about perhaps purchasing one of his special winter blades. In any case, with patience, I was able to cut them up.

I used the chainsaw to cut a 45 degree angle on the front of each ski, and Grandpa beveled the edges with my hatchet.

Pressing the chainsaw into service again, I slowly and carefully cut slots into the top of each ski. After some fine chiseling, I inserted short lengths of 2" by 6" boards into these slots. I screwed them in place, added another 2" by 6" plate to the sides of the first ones, screwed these together, and then drilled some 1" holes through the doubled up layers.

I manhandled the skis up to the trailer, and with Kenny pounding away on the uprights, we were able to insert the axles into the 1" holes on the ski uprights.

To help tie it all together, I cut up another board I had milled just for so, and used two pieces of it in two places on the skis to ensure they were locked together. One on the uprights, and one laying flat on the skis themselves (hopefully laying flat, it won't collect too much snow).

I flipped the trailer back upright, and I must say it looks rather smart on its new feet. Not having any more firewood cut up, I haven't had a chance to test it, and I knew if I hooked it up and just drove around, it would be hard to claim anything other than just joyriding. It's already bad enough with my grader blade being considered a "toy".

This actually proved a good time to hook up my "toy" grader blade, and as I headed off to clear a trail down to the well I came across my beautiful wife trying to get the smell of diesel out of my clothes. That's true love for you!

Last trip to town, I pumped my own diesel for the tractor, and unfortunately, forgot to tighten the vent cap on the can as I hefted it into the back of the truck. Sigh. Diesel gushed onto my coat, and I stank for the rest of the day. Donna could smell it on everything I wore that day, so all of it was relegated to staying outdoors. Yesterday she was kind enough to hit it all up with snow, baking soda, dish soap, and vinegar. Right now it is still airing out on our outdoor clothes line. No telling when it will be allowed back in the yurts.

After finishing with my clothes, Kenny and Donna headed over to Mummu's to get a bit more drinking water. Talk about riding in style!

I finished the day up by skidding some logs from around the well back to the sawmill. I think there are two or three more out there under the snow, and perhaps today I will go off to seek them out.


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Thawing a Frozen Water Line (Part Two of Two [or Two of to be continued...?])

So yesterday I was at Mummu's at 8:30 for water. She thought I was up pretty early - or maybe just out of the yurts early? In any case, I was psyched up for a long day of fritzing with the water line, and it seems the universe wasn't out to disappoint me. I returned with the water and Donna fired up the woodstove and put the kettles and stock pot on. Kind of like a midwife preparing for labour in the old days, I knew we were going to need lots of hot water, I just didn't really know why.

While waiting for the water to heat up, I decided to tackle a side project at the power station. I had found an inexpensive amp hour type of battery meter on ebay, and decided to purchase it and install it so that I could have a better idea of my state of charge without having to open up the box and take various measurements from here and there throughout the system.

It involved a shunt - which if you aren't up on your solar power, is basically a bar of copper with what I suspect is a wire or wires or toroid wrapped around it to measure the magnetic field and deduce the power passing through the bar. You ensure that all your power passes across this bar by wiring the negative pole of your battery bank to one side, and all loads and chargers to the other side. Then attach up your meter, and you're all done. Well, aside from programming the meter with your overall battery capacity.

Magically, your meter can approximate the charge in your batteries (I hope it did that...) and then it watches current in and current out and state of voltage and deduces how much gas is in your tank, so to speak.

At first it thought I was about 75%, which at 12.5 volts seemed about right.

Then, as I was closing it up, Grandpa showed up, gracious enough to offer to help with the water line situation. I was ready to start on that, so his presence was welcomed not quite profusely enough. I don't think I can really ever express my appreciation for everything he has done to help this venture. It would surely not be able to succeed without the assistance of either him or Mummu. I cannot fathom how pioneers could break into the bush and survive without the help of friends and neighbours. I really want to remember to pay this forward someday.

So first we played at doing actual work. Walking up and down the line, tapping here, prodding there, sweeping off snow and vaguely hoping that the sun would melt something when it came to shine on the black hose. Of course, the sun doesn't get high enough to see the hose until after lunch, and then only shines on the line for about a half hour before it is behind another group of trees, and it was still well below zero all day anyway.

Finally we opted to work at things logically/lazily. That is to say, start with the easy stuff first. Assuming I had put in a 200 foot long hose for the first section, we found the coupling between it and the "last mile" so to speak. The next, short length bridged the final distance to the yurts, about 25 feet away. It was really unlikely that a blockage existed there as we could tap the hose and it really felt and sounded empty.

I opened up the hose, and blew into it towards the yurts. Easy work, and the yells of Donna from inside the yurts when a small blast of air and water droplets came out of the faucet confirmed my fears. The blockage was elsewhere...

Next easiest was to look down the well. Grandpa and I headed down, and I took off the cover. It was nice to see that we had about two feet of water in there; it was interesting to see that it was covered by a thin skin of ice. I postulated that perhaps some ice was inside the hose at the water level, and so we brought down two kettles and poured them in. That produces quite a bit of steam, let me assure you. By the time I finished, I could barely see inside.

Plugging in the pump, we could see the water and ice moving ever so slightly, so we assumed that the pump was still running, but alas, still no water.

Now the job was going to start getting real. Bearing in mind that I had no couplings, cutting my water line was not high on my list of options. Instead, I retrieved my ladder and actually went down the well to see what I could see. (I was very careful to make sure that the well pump was unplugged and unpowered up at the yurts, and at the power station, to be certain that I wasn't going to be poached.)

I disconnected the water line at a ninety degree coupling just inside the well wall, where it enters the well horizontally, and then climbed out and had Donna plug the pump back in. Voila! Water came out the top of my 3-4 foot section of hose - the pump was fine, and the blockage was now narrowed down to somewhere in the remaining 200 feet of hose! I had eliminated the easy 25-30 feet of possibilities.

Next up - I grabbed the tent pole that my friend Jeff and his family had left behind on their visit. It was broken, but still had lots of life yet in other capacities. Breaking it down into 2 foot sections, I was able to take it down in to the well and begin to feed it up the water line from inside the well towards the outside. I was a bit happy to realize that it was blocked only a few inches into the line - I had found my first (only?) blockage!

I returned to the yurts for more kettles, and on the walk there, realized that my electrical fishtape would be an even better probe than the tent pole, so I fetched it as well, and returned to the well with kettles and the fishtape.

I poured hot water over the foot or two of water line inside the well casing, and also directly into the hose itself. Then I even blew HARD into the hose, but still the blockage persisted. Finally with a really surprising blast, four big chunks of ice flew back out into the well, exciting me tremendously!

Alas, the tale of the tape (fishline?) was different. It went in a few more feet before being blocked.

By this time Grandpa had fetched Mummu's hair dryer, and noted where he heard the fishline rattling. We plugged it in for about a minute (while I watched the battery bank capacity plummet) before I turned on the generator and gave him permission to proceed.

While he was heating the water line, I returned for more hot water, and also to check on the battery meter as it charged up. I was a bit disappointed to see that it was dramatically underreporting the charge amps. It seems like it reports the charging amps as being about half of what they actually are. I'm not sure why this would be. As my charger went from 45 amps to 20, the meter reported 22 to 10. It predicted 13 hours to charge, and this number only INCREASED the longer the generator ran. I was getting very disappointed, but no time to dwell on that just yet.

We moved and removed blockage after blockage, feeding the fish tape further and further up the line until it ran out at about the 25-30 foot mark. Grandpa said he thought it sounded like I was actually pushing ice along with the tape, and I agreed that it felt that way too.

By this time we were well into the afternoon, and Grandpa took his leave. We were thinking that I would try to buy a longer fishline and some couplings on a trip to town today.

I had two kettles left, and decided to just dump them where we left off. As I walked down the water line with the two kettles, I noticed a previously unnoticed coupling in the line - I didn't have a 200 foot hose - I had 2, 100 foot hoses - of course! I forgot!

I returned the kettles to the stove, and came back with the fishtape. I disconnected the coupling, and again blew towards the yurts - no problem! I fed the fishtape down the other direction and hit a blockage. With Donna and Kenny rattling the fishtape, I poured out my last two kettles on the section of hose from the blockage down towards where Grandpa and I had left off with our previous kettles and hair dryer work. Donna pushed the entire fishtape down the hose; I emptied the final drops of the kettle and asked her to return to the yurts to plug in the pump one last time.

Suddenly, slowly, the fishtape began to back out of the hose on its own volition! Inch after slow inch snaked out, until finally the tip fell. And then - nothing!

I looked into the hose cautiously, and saw ice, right there! I stuck in my finger, but couldn't do anything. I started to twist and tap the end of the hose, and then, just like delivering quadruplets, four compact small pieces of ice slowly exuded from the hose, and then a stream of water! Yay!

I directed Donna to turn off the pump, reconnected the couplings, and then told her to pump everything in the yurts full of water - even the washing machine! She wisely decided to do a load of laundry right then and there.

As she was working at the laundry, Kenny and I added multiple tie wraps to the water line, and with the help of another set of tent poles, smoothed out the final few feet of the water line and proved it to be on a constant downward slope with the help of my level.

Using a long-handled cultivator, I wedged the butt of the cultivator under the lid of the well, and the claw end pushing down on the ninety degree coupling inside the well, so that water shouldn't (couldn't, wouldn't?) settle inside the well hose either.



I closed everything up, and then returned victorious to the yurts, where Donna and I agreed I should still head back to Mummu's for some drinking water. Yes, we still haven't had the requisite three clear tests of our water for us to feel safe drinking it. I'm sure with all my activity down there yesterday, I also stirred up some turbidity as well. Coming back from Mummu's, I was happy to see that after the generator had been shut off, the meter somehow recovered from its faulty interpretation of events, and was now showing my batteries at 90% charge, which made sense, with my ammeter saying that the generator was down to less than 5 amps of input.

Then, with the sun setting quickly, I entertained Kenny by pulling him up and down the driveway on the sled, until I grew tired and pointed him in the direction of a small hill instead.