Thursday, June 28, 2012

How to get your Truck out of the Mud.

Yesterday was a long day for me.

We were low on water for breakfast, so I hiked over to Mummu and Grandpa's to refill our supply. While there Grandpa assured me that the truck would navigate his roundabout. He told me it would be tight, but that it could do it.

Back at the yurts, over breakfast, I decided to give it a real try. Ugh. Commence pictorial story...

This is about as far into the roundabout as I got.


Looking a little soft here. Needs more spinning tires!


This isn't working.

This can't miss!


Was that tree always on such an angle?


Call in tha cavalry! Note the look of joy.

Yay! Back to high ground!


...or not...


Cavalry again! Fun factor evident from my expression.


Spiffy new dent and scratches courtesy of molested tree.


I won't hit that tree again!


Kenny brought up his bulldozer to help return the roundabout to its former condition.


But wait, there's more! Note large log jammed into undercarriage!


Don't ask.


Between the proverbial rock and a ... soft place?


Ahhh, now this is how to get around!

Yes, it was a long morning. I backed the truck down the entire trail from the yurts to our driveway, and, as there isn't a place to turn around yet, continued on down the driveway in reverse too. That's a long trip with your neck on wrong, especially if you are carrying lots of tension in your shoulders to begin with!

After the lunch hour, we followed Mummu and Grandpa to camp, where Kenny blew off huge amounts of energy running around and around the cabins. After begging canoe rides from me twice and Mama once, I gave in and away we went. He insisted that I could only steer, but he was to provide all the power. He was still full of beans enough that he made a great showing of himself! We didn't stay too long though, and when we got back, I returned to working on my solar panel stand. I fear it isn't going to work in its present configuration though; it's simply not stable enough. Time to try something new.

Donna made another great supper of boiled potatoes and our last home-canned soup. She's really stepped up to keeping us well fed here in the bush!

I did another Odjob laundry, and then we all were treated to apple pie at Mummu's house. After that, I was so beat up by the day, that it was only a few moments in bed before I was gone.


Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Finishing the Corduroy Driveway, Doing Laundry in an Odjob

Today started out typically for us - porridge breakfast, that amazingly, Kenny turned down! We mixed up some milk for him, and he dove into his Corn Pops cereal for a change. I headed off to try out the outhouse for the first time, and it worked great! There are still some finishing touches to do, but in the meantime, it is now functional.

I worked on the finishing touches for the morning, and around ten decided to call my driveway guy, as he hadn't arrived yet. Of course there was no answer, and moments later he arrived with an extra driver in tow.

Twenty-one loads of gravel. And I suppose I should also take into account the three loads that I pushed around (over the course of three weeks...) But we have a driveway! She's pretty rough in places. I have to make a point of walking to the road once or twice a day, taking the time to pick stones and maybe rake places smooth, but I hope over time she'll grow more and more easy on the suspension.

After finishing up, I asked him if he wanted to look over the spot we had been thinking of as a possible dug well site.

He was gracious enough to humour me, and came along to look. It was a valuable experience! He looked over the lay of the land, and pronounced our location to be sub-par. He looked around a little more, and I pointed out the location of the original well, which he felt was a much more promising locale. This doesn't really change our plans as far as a cabin location, but it definitely helps us to revise our thoughts on wells and grey-water.

I was also pleased with his estimate on costing for the well. Even accounting for the fact that his guess for how much gravel the road would require was fairly inaccurate, I figure we can still afford to have a well. That's a nice thought!

Kenny, typical of all little boys, and taking a page from my childhood (uninfluenced I may add), has been finding great pleasure in converting boxes and odds and ends into machines, especially robots! His favourite has been a club soda box that he has cut a slot for eyes in. As soon as it is on his head, he becomes his alter-ego - "Robo-Kenny". Complete with a robot voice, and very stilted movements. Yesterday he also added a Breton cracker box for a "Robo-arm". Robo-Kenny came down to watch the work on the driveway too, although he wasn't around when it was time for a robot that could pick rocks.

That was okay - in spite of the roughness of the road, I still drove up it with the truck and car!

Before supper, after an inordinately long thought process, I was able to put up a clothes line. I've been itching to attain laundry independence, if at all possible. It was a bit of a slog through some swampy stuff (actually, where we thought the well would go!), then up a sticky tree, with clouds of blackflies swarming all around.

I did get up the pulleys though, and was pretty pleased with the result. I had to trim down some alder shrubs, and cut off one sapling, but otherwise, I didn't have to slash through too much bush to have a clear path for clothes to hang.

Another great supper - this time a can of bottan soup (nod to my Garstin clan), mixed with a potato soup I had made and canned last year, and served up with lots of butter and pumpernickel bread. Donna is really coming through with good, nourishing meals in a difficult circumstance.

After supper, Mama went to the in-laws for a well-earned shower. This was my chance to try another experiment.

I had purchased an Odjob bucket not that long ago, and tonight was the night to put my plan into action. I dumped in a load of dirty clothes, some Borax and detergent, and two kettles of boiling water. I topped it up with cold water, put on the lid, and started rolling!

After a few rolls, I went back inside (was driven back by bugs, truth be told) and washed the dishes. After dishes, I went back outside and did a few more rolls, then back inside, where Kenny and I straightened up the felt on the yurts and vacuumed a bit. Then outside where I transferred the clothes to a rubbermaid tub and topped them off with some cold water. I swished them a few times as a rinse, and dumped out the Odjob. I refilled the Odjob with clean water, and put the clothes BACK into it for a final swishy rinse. After that, it was onto the line with them!

Now, all that remains is to see how long it takes hand-wrung clothes to dry on a line. Maybe a wringer is in our future, although I'm not sure where to source one, antique stores notwithstanding.


Monday, June 25, 2012

Great Progress on Our Driveway!

This morning dawned cold. Very, very cold! Donna and Mummu had agreed to return to camp today to finish preparing it for my parents' visit at the end of the week - we're all really excited to host them!

I was enjoying a few moments of quiet reflection outdoors, when I suddenly heard the sound of engine brakes out on the road - could it be? Was today the day to get our driveway done?!

I quickly finished up my paperwork, and, exiting the outhouse, saw Donna running towards me to make sure I had made the same deduction as she had.

Yes indeed, everything was coming up for us today - the driver pointed out that he was working alone, so that was going to slow him down, but otherwise, he was going to get to it.

I returned to working on the outhouse, enjoying the sound of him dumping and grading the gravel throughout the morning.

Close to lunch, Donna and Mummu and Kenny returned from their preliminary trip to town, and so I helped Mummu out by coming over to her house and eating up three different meals worth of leftovers.

Then it was time for Donna and Mummu to make their trip to camp. As Donna went to remove Kenny's car seat from Mummu's car, she realized that the strange strap under his seat was not actually part of the car seat at all - it was a decent sized garter snake!

Mummu ordered me out to get it out of her car - something I was more than willing to do, although to be honest, I have never caught a garter snake before in my life, even though I was more than familiar with them.

As I reached out to snatch it up, it darted off the rear seat, under the passenger seat, and up, under the front dash!

I spelunked under the dash, but didn't come to much success. I'm sure that Mummu started talking about calling in a mechanic or exterminator, and I'm equally sure that her next move would have been to sell the car, but Grandpa arrived, and, with me rattling a stick around on the passenger side, he managed to grab the snake from the driver's side and tossed it into the yard.

Mummu breathed a sigh of relief, and she and Donna were off to camp.

Kenny and I hiked out to the driveway to check it out, and then took off into our bush to do some exploring.

Next time, I'll take my GPS. We got totally lost, and ended up having to bushwhack our way out by listening to the traffic on the road and finally sighting the hydro lines on the road. We both agreed that our adventure rated a shower at Mummu's house, so we returned there to get cleaned up and recharge our batteries (metaphorical, not literal - the solar panel does great for that job!) While there, Mummu and Mama returned, so we all went out to look over the driveway. Bit by bit it was getting longer - but as we feared, it didn't quite get completed today. We are reasonably assured that it will be done tomorrow though. I was told that tomorrow there are two guys available to work on it.

After a lovely supper of beans and bread - prepared entirely by Donna - I added two shelves to the outhouse, and opened up the back of our thunder box to accept a different pail. We're still working out our system of composting, but things are falling into place.

Kenny took time out today to also do a bit of exploring of the poplar I felled last week. For being considered a soft wood down south, it sure was hard compared to the pine and spruce I have become accustomed to working with! I nearly stalled the sawmill trying to push through it at the same pace I was use to taking. And I find I have to pre-drill all my screw holes, lest it split!

Grandpa also dropped off some really interesting rocks he had retrieved from a discarded fireplace. Kenny amused himself greatly using them as a natural xylophone, and then stacking them up to make Inukshuks of various sizes and configurations.
Gosh, we are all looking forward to finally being able to drive up onto our property for the first time - and tomorrow sure looks to be the day! I'll keep you all informed!


Saturday, June 23, 2012

Building an Outhouse, Part Three

Progress on the outhouse has been steady, but broken up into chunks of time here and there. This has mostly been due to the weather.As some of you may be aware, Thunder Bay and this part of the world have been hit by above average rainfalls this past month. Duluth has been especially hard hit in the past week.

Thankfully, we are at a pretty high elevation here, and so the biggest inconvenience has been our gravel pit being turned into a pond for a day or two. Well, that, and having to open and close the yurts a few times a day to reflect the changing weather.

After the first wall of the outhouse went up, the other two walls went rather quickly. As always, after the prototype has been built and fleshed out, the remainder of a project goes more smoothly, especially with such eager help!

The door was a bit of a trick. As I will show in future posts, I didn't purchase a pre-made or pre-hung door, and instead opted to build mine from my own lumber. That has been a really satisfying part of this particular project - I have not used any lumber that I didn't mill myself. It's a really cool feeling - sure to make me spend extra time in there reflecting.

With the knowledge that the door was made with solid wood, at least an inch thick, I was really concerned with its weight. As such, I opted to hang it with four hinges. It took a little finagling to get them installed, but nothing I couldn't handle, and I was especially tickled that I was able to do it myself, so that Donna and Kenny were able to see it as a completed and finished door when they performed their daily inspection.

Actually, by the time they arrived, I was just finishing up the platform that the actual toilet seat would rest on. Kenny helped me to attach the seat to the platform, and then we carried it out to the outhouse to see how it fit together.

In order to make good use of space, I opted to place the seat in the corner of the outhouse, rather than the traditional bench centred on a wall. Can you guess what I forgot to account for?

It looked great, until I tried to lift the lid - rats. The lid couldn't lift up completely because it was too close to the walls! I didn't want to build a new platform, just to space the lid out further, so I opted for a more simplistic solution - I cut the lid off the seat altogether. With a handle screwed on, I won temporary approval from Donna for this idea.

Kenny liked it best, combined with his "sword" and he played at being a knight for some time - defending Mama from imaginary dragons :).

I tested out the bucket, which fit well, and then realized that not all five gallon buckets are created equal - they have different heights and diameters!

Luckily I have some flexibility. For the time being, I have two identical buckets that will work great, and that solution should last for a few years I hope. But, when the time comes to get a new bucket, I can either lay down some boards under the seat to raise the bucket up, or else just cut the top edge off of a bucket to make it fit. No great concern!

Next step, as far as useability is concerned, is to put in a few shelves. There can't be too many places to store things in the outhouse. Oh yes, there needs to be some mechanism to lock the door too. No one wants to surprise, or to be surprised by anyone out there.

There are still a number of steps to take before the outhouse is completed - I may begin my next project before it is totally finished, as there are a few things that are moving up the priority list, and I can think of one or two items I want to do to the outhouse that I can't perform for a week or so yet. Stay tuned, I'll be sure to post the completed outhouse as soon as possible, but I'll also try to keep everyone updated in the meantime. Until then I'll enjoy one of the benefits of the rainy/sunny weather we've been having of late - beautiful rainbows!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Building an Outhouse, Part Two

Last night we had a really powerful rain. It was so powerful, it somehow blasted water into the yurt from places we couldn't begin to identify! I mopped it up, and lifted up the felt where it was slightly damp, to give it a chance to air out, and decided that my next priority was to try to seal up any remaining leaks in the yurts. 

This morning, we enjoyed another porridge breakfast (when you don't have a refrigerator, porridge is a pretty popular breakfast), and discussed some plans, as well as compiled a bit of a shopping list. While finishing up our list, we were treated to a visit from Mummu, who was just checking in on us.

After she left, I headed over to my outhouse project again. It's progressing both faster than I expected, but slower than I think others expect. I'm taking my time with it, and I think that perhaps I'm overbuilding it. I suppose inch thick walls and roof, and two inch thick floor, are a bit overkill. On the floor, I forgot to make room for joists, so I just figured that two inch thick floor boards wouldn't sag noticeably over time anyway - and then I still did string some two by twos under that, and piled rocks up against them so everything is rock (pardon the pun) solid.

Today I worked a bit more on the first wall. I want it to be very bright and airy inside, not a dark, dingy place, full of cobwebs and mosquitoes. As such, I'm going to put in lots of windows.

Grandpa thought my roof pitch was a bit shallow, but acknowledged that it really only has to shed rain. It can handle any snow load one could imagine.

Kenny and Donna stopped by around lunch to do a short inspection, and I think they were pleased with the look. The next step was to put up that all important screen in the window openings. Unfortunately, I had no screen.

Grandpa offered to go with me to the dump after lunch, and we found loads and loads of treasures there! Including almost enough screen to complete the outhouse - but when I brought it home and started cutting it to size, I realized that one big reason people throw out screens, is because they have holes in them :(. I think I will have most of my windows covered, but I may need to get a bit more screen to complete the project. In the morning, I will cut up the remaining pieces and assess my needs from there.

At the dump, we also discovered the steel remains of someone's gazebo. I grabbed all the sections, in the hopes that I can use them to create a frame to mount my solar panels on. We also picked up some tea lights and copper wire for Grandpa, and I found a good plastic bin (maybe for sawdust?) and another nic-nac that may be revealed in a future post. Oh yeah, and some sort of medical "IV" type stand, that Grandpa thinks I could use for the solar panels, but we'll have to see; it's sturdy, but I don't want to risk a few hundred dollars worth of equipment on something unless I'm really sure of it.

When we got back, I got the whole family involved in running a few strips of duct tape around the bottom edge of both yurts. I wondered if somehow water was being wicked back up off the bottom edge of the canvas via the felt. It also was obvious that at the corners of the doors there was a definite airspace. Perhaps this will cut down on the random mosquitoes that appear after we are in bed?

Then it started to rain. I puttered in the dojo tent a bit, then headed to Mummu's for another delightful supper. The rain got worse and I ended up dozing until Kenny was out of his bath (Tuesdays are bath days for Grandpa and Kenny). The rain is now even worse, and I'm back at the yurts. There is still a bit of water coming in under one door, but it's far less than before. We'll have to do some more brainstorming on that one.

Kenny is running around the yurts, burning off the huge post-supper eating binge he embarked on after emerging from his bath, and then we're all ready to climb into bed for another evening of listening to the patter of the rain on the canvas.



Sunday, June 17, 2012

Building an Outhouse, Part One (of many)

Yesterday I buckled down and started some more serious work on my outhouse. Donna had suggested that guests wouldn't really feel comfortable with our "thunder box" just being in the large yurt. I saw her reasoning, and set to work on my next project - a nice and refined outhouse. I am still going to continue with my sawdust toilet experiment, so I don't need to worry much about having a hole.

I located it nice and close to where I am composting the bucket contents, so that helps, and it is only sixty paces to the yurts (Mummu's outhouse is fifty-one paces from her porch, so I think I'm competitive.)

I dug out the top layer of peat and lichen, right down to good old Canadian Shield. It looked great, and when I placed the floor on it, it was very level and stable. A sturdy outhouse is very comforting to me. Well, that, and a spare roll of toilet paper.

Today is Father's Day! I sure miss my Dad (and Mom too for sure) - I can't recall any job or project I've tackled here that I didn't imagine or wish for his help and presence on. Being apart from him for so long really makes me appreciate how much he has done for me (as well as how powerfully he has made me who I am).

We all woke up together this morning, and headed over to Mummu and Grandpa's for a special breakfast of french toast and scrambled eggs. As always, they were awesome!

Then Grandpa and I headed off to catch some delicious bass for supper. Sadly, we didn't even get a bite at either of the lakes we tested out. Grandpa agreed that the fishing has been really poor lately. Then it was off to the abandoned dump to retrieve some aluminum siding that he had scoped out in the past. I was hoping to use it to make a metal roof for my outhouse. After that, it was already noon, so we headed home.

After lunch, I strapped the floor of the outhouse on Kenny's wagon and pulled it to my clearing. It fit great, and, with Donna's help, I twisted it "tenkan" or 180 degrees to put its best face forward. Later, with Donna and Mummu's assistance, I attached the corner support posts, and raised everything into position. I'm happy with how the shell has turned out, now I just need walls, door, roof, shelf and toilet seat. It will be interesting to see how long it takes to get this one completed. I'm hoping to have it done by the end of the month, but I also realize that I'm on a different schedule nowadays - one that has to take minor emergencies into account.

I'm also a bit slowed with the sawmill - the piston that raises the mast seems to have died completely, so now I have to lift the entire weight of the mast by muscle power alone. It's no biggie, but it is a challenge to accurately lift that mass to exactly the height I wish to cut at. I'm told that they should be able to get a new piston around Thursday of this coming week.

One advantage of having a thunder box perched over a sawdust pail, is that when the pail is out for emptying and airing out, the thunder box apparently makes a great hideout for little boys. Donna returned from outside the yurts to find Kenny exploiting this discovery.

Tonight I took a few measurements for the roof of the outhouse, and, before I could proceed, Donna and Kenny came by to check up on me. I invited them for a walk back to the dump, where I showed Kenny the remains of a moose, and Donna the remains of someone's crushed stone. Hopefully we will be able to get back there and scoop up some of the stone once our driveway is complete and I can bring it right up to the yurts to use as a path to our porch.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Installing a ROPS, Fixing a Tractor, Building a Bed

Sorry I haven't written for a day or two - there have been a few trips that weren't really blogworthy, and we misplaced the camera and didn't want to post things without pictures, not that the pictures I'll be including tonight are all that spectacularly interesting anyway.

On Tuesday Donna and Mummu went to town for the day, leaving Kenny and myself to our own devices. Grandpa also was gone for much of the day, so we opted to try to get the yurts in a bit of a presentable state. I think we succeeded admirably - we no longer had bags and bins and crates EVERYWHERE! Now they were mostly unpacked, repacked, catalogued, and transferred to my dojo tent/workshop. Of course, that makes it more cluttered there. Some days it just feels like I'm pushing piles of stuff from one place to the next, with no destination arranged for them anytime soon.

I was scheduled to receive my rollover protection system (courtesy of Just Tractor Parts - a real pleasure to deal with! Very good, personable people!) for my tractor on Tuesday, according to the UPS website anyway. Of course, they never deliver this far north, so it didn't arrive. When I called UPS, they said it wasn't their problem, as they had passed my package off to Purolator on Monday night. Purolator doesn't have a listed phone number in Thunder Bay, and their national number only rings through to a call centre that was less than adequately prepared to tell me what was happening.

On Wednesday morning, I decided to take a chance, and drive straight to the Purolator depot and plead my case. I knew that my ROPS was just laying in the back somewhere, awaiting a destination. I was ready to provide one!

Everything went better than expected. I explained my situation, and the kind lady simply asked for my ID, and went in the back. She returned carrying my packages, and after paying an amazingly outrageous brokerage fee, I was on my way!

I stopped at Canadian Tire to pick up extra battery cables for my power system, and as I left, I was confounded to find that the truck had a flat tire. Sigh. I suppose I shouldn't have been fiddling with the plugs the day before. Back into Canadian Tire, where, surprisingly, the plugin compressors were the same price as the foot/hand pumps. I opted for a plugin compressor, as I had had great success with one on the Echo. It did work, but it took close to 20 minutes to reinflate my tire! Oh well, it worked, and gave me time to reply to emails using the iPhone's tiny onscreen keyboard.

When I told Mummu that I was taking along the iPad to download updates, she told me not to go to McDonald's, and instead loaded me up with coupons for A&W, which Donna assured me had free wifi as well. That was nice. Even though they put tomatoes on my hamburger(s), I was able to easily pick them off, and, after a slow start, the downloads began while I munched on my french fries. I was also happy that they substituted chocolate milk for pop without batting an eye. That doesn't always happen.

I was home in time for Donna and Mummu to run off together again, so I grabbed Kenny and we headed off to install the ROPS on my Yanmar. As we worked on this project, Grandpa opened up his MTD just around the corner from us, and tried to determine what was wrong with her. He had somehow rocked and rolled his tractor until it at least went into neutral, but even after that, he could not get the starter to turn over at all.

Kenny and I made good progress on installing the roll bar on the Yanmar. In spite of the bolts likely never having been removed in over thirty years, they came off quite nicely. Perhaps because I had spent the previous two days spraying them with WD-40 type products.

I had to adjust the seat forward, but I took that chance to tighten it up and straighten it out anyway - it had always been loose and crooked. There was also an issue with clearance between the plate that the seat rested on, and the rollover bar - I decided to just reef the rollover bar up against the plate, it wasn't tight against the original location, but it was still certainly solid against the tractor. A seatbelt attached, and things were looking pretty professional!

Meanwhile, Grandpa had disassembled his starter, and discovered that the main gear on the starter (made from plastic) was completely stripped! We hooked the unmounted starter up directly to the battery and it torqued right out of Grandpa's hands! That told us the starter was still good.

Today, Grandpa drove into the city, and returned with a new gear on the starter - $15 for the gear, and $15 to have it installed on his starter. After installation, his tractor roared to life! In fact, it started up much better than I've ever seen - I think the gear was deteriorating for some time up until now. I offered to pay for the starter, but he graciously refused.

As he was installing the gear, I spent my time working on a new bed for Kenny. During the move, his original bed was damaged, and I had planned on replacing it for some time. I opted to try to make good use of space here. He had lots of his books already stored in Staples milk-crate style containers. I sized them up as best I could to fit under his mattress, and think I did rather well.

Donna insisted on a wall on three sides, she didn't want him to fall off the ends, or roll between the wall and the bed. Hopefully he won't roll off the front, but, in case he does, we're going to put down some cushions for a few days to test the waters. He did fall off the bed in a similar configuration on the first night, but it didn't wake him up!

The bed was made from three main sources - the large support board was the original from his crib/bed - it was already perfectly sized for the mattress. The sides and back I just ripped from a leftover sheet of plywood. I fired up the generator and smoothed and rounded it down using my belt sander. The framework to keep it square and supported came from our property - extra lumber I had milled for my projects. That was the most satisfying to use of all!

Kenny's right now picking out a book from under his bed for his nighttime story, so I'll attach some photos from the past two days, and proofread/post this!