Monday, August 27, 2012

Running Water in our Yurts!

Yes, today I finally hooked up our last length of pipe and a faucet to give us some much needed running water. 

Grandpa and I (mostly Grandpa) have been working on getting the pipe from the well to run at a shallow, consistent angle up to the yurts so that when the pump is not running the water runs back into the well. This should allow us to not worry about a danger of freezing and bursting the pipe in winter. Even though we aren't quite finished with this portion of the project I decided to hook up the hose to the faucet so that we could better access our well water.


Today I drilled a hole through the door frame between our two yurts. I then inserted the pipe through the hole and connected it to the faucet. To help keep the faucet from moving in and out as the water turned on and off I installed a pipe clamp on both the inside and outside of the door frame.


With fingers crossed I positioned a pail under the tap and plugged in the pump. I leaned down and listened carefully to the sound of the pump wheezing and gurgling. It took almost three minutes, before suddenly whoosh!


We had water, and it even seemed to have good pressure. Likely more than will be available when I set up a gravity fed system next year.


I filled up four, five gallon pails, and immediately used that water to do our day's worth of laundry. It was very satisfying to have done it so self-sufficiently.


Tomorrow I plan on running a bit of the water, then bottling it and taking it to the city lab for testing. Our first test was a failure but in the interim we have added the crushed rock and bleach to the well.


On Saturday I expanded our turnaround a fair bit in an effort to facilitate bringing our Echo up to the yurts. It certainly makes it more appealing to unload groceries when you don't have to walk through the bush with the bags. I also needed to fill in a spot where Grandpa and I had removed a large boulder. Unfortunately I took the turn too quickly and the wagon was nearly swallowed up! Of course, Donna ran for the camera first to ensure she documented another of my mishaps. This blog must be very gratifying to people who feel that they often bollocks things up; they must feel good compared to some of my blunders :). I look at it as a public service.


Yesterday, Sunday, we attended the Murillo Fall Fair. It was lots of fun witnessing the rodeo for the first time. Kenny really seemed to enjoy taking a crack at bull riding himself!


Later, he channeled the wing walkers of the past for half the afternoon. Luckily he was fueled by french fries, ice cream and Popsicles, so he was able to keep up his energy levels.


Tonight at the supper table, daddy was gratified to hear that running water placed high in our list of items to be thankful for. What more could anyone ask?


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Cutting in a Bush Trail

This past week Grandpa has been working me hard at getting a trail cut into the hundred acre wood. (Sorry for the lack of entries!)

It started with him pointing out a possible route to get the tractor from our main path back to the gully that marks the entrance to the wider, deeper ravine. Up until then I had assumed that I would follow the edge of a low-lying area that traced from our front driveway, north of all our constuctions, and into the gully that eventually leads to the ravine. Instead, this new plan is a more direct route from where we plan on putting in the cabin, through a higher and drier area, and then connecting to the gully right where it leads into the ravine.


With much trepidation, I slowly drove the tractor out onto pristine turf that Grandpa had already examined and declared suitable. He had gone ahead with his grub hoe and leveled off the worst of the lumps and bumps. He had also knocked down a few branches here and there to get the tractor through. I managed to get quite close to the gully, representing a real accomplishment. We used the tractor to skid out three large logs that had windfallen recently and looked to be great candidates for construction next spring. The remaining portions of the trees were piled carefully for future use in our stove, perhaps next winter, or this winter, if we burn through our woodshed supply too quickly.

Portions of the trail considered too difficult for the tractor at the moment are going to be easily passable once they are covered in a snow road, or so Grandpa assures me.

After we crossed the ravine, we slowly worked our way up the ridge that effectively divides the front and back portions of our property. After a number of days progressing north until we were close to the halfway mark, Grandpa turned left and we started to try to work our way up and to the west. Unfortunately, we came to what appears to be an insurmountable ledge, and had to rethink our plans.


Donna and Kenny came out to see how far we had gotten, and then they wandered off. One of their finds was a narrow valley that led from our trail up and onto the high ground! I examined it myself, and then showed it to Grandpa. He agreed that it was currently our best route west, even if the tractor wasn't able to traverse it without extra landscaping. We tunneled through some incredibly dense brush, coming upon a large "floater" left behind by the glaciers. After christening it "Kenny Rock", we continued cutting our way west. Grandpa announced that this trail was going to be a "destination" trail - leading to our lake! Very exciting - we hadn't travelled to the lake via our own property since last fall.


Grandpa and I have been hacking our way through the bush the past week now, using our noses and the GPS as a guide. Yesterday I came late with my chainsaw, which I used to cut larger logs and stumps that were on and across the path, until I ran out of petrol. In the silence that ensued I realized that Grandpa wasn't anywhere near where I had finished. I called out many times, and then pressed into service all my memories of books and movies about tracking. I followed upturned leaves, broken branches, and scuffed moss for almost a third of a kilometre before finally coming upon Grandpa - at the lake. He had decided to bushwhack to the lake, and work his way back from there. I helped him cut the trail from a nice location on the shore to another narrow valley that led down to the lake. We called it a day.


Today he sent me on ahead to the top of that valley to work my way back towards him, while he cut in from our original trail towards me. We hoped that being able to hear one another would best facilitate a straight-line connection between our trails. This worked surprisingly well. I would occasionally holler out and listen for his reply before continuing. Eventually I was able to hear the rythmic thumping of his axe, as he surely could hear my panting and groans as I pulled out tiny saplings on the trail, and flailed with my own axe against trees that appeared either made of iron, or alternately rubber.


We finally met up around the lunch hour, and declared today's work finished. We really only have two more short sections to clear to have a trail completely from the front entrance to the lake. One is in the short valley at the lake, and the other is from the base of that valley to the short trail Grandpa cut in from the lakeshore. Very exciting!


Thursday, August 16, 2012

Building a Vestibule for the Yurts (on the Cheap)

It has been a bit of a constant concern how to avoid tracking the bush into the yurts, especially when it is raining outside, and we would anticipate when it's snowy too. 

We talked a few times about building a vestibule or mud room outside the front entrance, but I have run my lumber yard dry at the moment, and didn't relish the thought of interrupting my other projects to take on this one.


But then divine intervention came along in the form of a wind gust. When I was struggling to get the stove pipe up, there was a looming threat of a strong thunderstorm. Grandpa even came over to warn us, just as I was mounting the storm flashing and weather sealing the double wall chimney to the flashing. A few moments after he left, the sky turned very dark, and a huge and sudden gust of wind blew through our area. The dining tent that my parents had donated in the spring was instantly lifted up, and transported with a crash into the bush.


At the time I retrieved our table, chairs and stove that had accompanied it, and simply set them up where the tent had once been. Bug season had ended, so we were more than comfortable to sit out in the great outdoors and enjoy the scenery. The tent I left in its forlorn state, while I puzzled out how to repair it, with the main supports either broken completely apart, or the poles bent beyond repair.


Yesterday as I puttered around the property doing odd jobs and cleaning up the accumulated clutter, I started to look at the notion of mounting our solar shower on the deck outside the yurts. This progressed to me looking at mounting the remaining panels of the gazebo I had retrieved from the dump on the deck, and creating a mud room with those and a tarp. This further progressed to me thinking perhaps the dining tent could be pressed into better service in this regard.


I drilled a 7/8" hole in each corner of the deck, straight down, about 5". The tent poles from the dining tent dropped into these holes and were well supported. I mixed and matched poles until I had reduced from the original six corners, to my four, with some poles longer than others. I criss-crossed these on top and connected them all together with my largest pipe clamp. Then I opened up one end of the tent, and was able to get it to (with seams popping) fit around the doorway to the yurts. I fastened it to the doorway with two C clamps at the top, and then pulled out the sides with some twine attached high up into two nearby trees. Finally I fastened another length of pipe as a door header at the far end to hold the entrance to the deck up and out, making it easier to get through.


It isn't the prettiest of sights, but we still anticipate that it only has to last us until we can move into the main cabin next year.


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Attending the CLE, Time at Camp and Canning.

Last week we filled with activities of a more recreational variety. The winter wood is nearly finished, in fact, I believe we have a fair bit of wood set aside already for next year even. Of course, we have little idea how much we will burn to get through this year, so it's perhaps counting my logs before they are burned.

Our first big activity was to head to the Canadian Lakehead Exhibition. As you can see, there was no shortage of traditional midway foods. Kenny is two-fisted, working on a candy apple and hot dog simultaneously. Technically, he chewed the candy coating off the apple, and then passed it on to Mama to finish off.

Next we checked out the agricultural building, complete with a petting zoo. Here Kenny got to experience goats, sheep, llamas, wallabies (who were sleeping, I suppose they were jet-lagged), pot-belly pigs, chickens, geese, buffalo and cattle.
Here he is checking out the business end of a Mama goat (nanny?). In the background you can see the piglets snuffling around for handouts.
We were all excited to see Maple, the official milking cow of the exhibition. Kenny even took a crack at milking her by hand - and won a ribbon for his efforts!
I can only assume he is imagining the ice cream that could be made from her milk.
After our adventures at the exhibition, we took Kenny into town for a last-minute trip to the dentist to re-attach his spacer, and then it was off to camp! A weekend of just swimming and sauna and relaxing with Mummu and Grandpa and Mama and Daddy.
Grandpa set Kenny up with a fishing rod, and he took another crack at casting. In spite of no bites, he still seemed to enjoy this, and I'm sure once he catches his first fish, he'll be hooked! (ha ha).
The mornings were quite misty, it made for a really interesting view across the lake. You felt like you were in a surreal world all of your own.
When we returned, I was feeling adventurous, so I actually brought our car right up to the yurts! It went fairly smoothly, I did grate over one exposed rock, but now that I know it is there, I have avoided it on subsequent trips.
Then I checked out the IBC water container I had purchased just before the fair - it is intended to be used as a bit of a cistern or storage tank, to ease pressure on the well and pump. I figure that I can pump it full over the span of a day or two, and then we can use the water in it from then on, relieving the well from having to supply larger quantities on short notice.
Finally, Kenny got to enjoy something from his parents' childhood - Merlin! He is quite adept at learning the games on it, and has already mastered tic-tac-toe, and loves to programme it to play his own little tunes.
As for Mama and Daddy, we spent yesterday and this morning canning up some chicken I bought in town at a good price. We both realized how convenient it was to be able to open up a jar of something pre-cooked, and only have to warm it and mix it with a few other items to have a delicious and nutritious meal. Of course, the savings also are a bonus, and the lack of a freezer makes this an even more attractive option to get alternative foods into our diets.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Putting in our Winter Wood.

Grandpa was up and at it early yesterday, so I wandered down to see what he was banging around at by the well. It turns out he was eager to continue with getting the wood shed filled, as well as preparing the wood for next winter already. I joined him in piling up some of the greener wood to dry for a year, as well as putting up the wood that was already dried, either by being cut last year, or because it was a windfall. 

After we sorted a bit of that wood, I emptied off the rack I had been using to dry my cut lumber, added a number of scrap pieces of two by two lumber, and hoisted it up onto my skidway beside the sawmill. This worked a real treat to cut up my slabs into stove lengths. I blasted through this pile for the rest of the day, and then all day today, thanks to Kenny and Donna helping me to load slabs, and then unload wood back at the woodshed. This has been a really reassuring exercise, as by the end of the day today, the woodshed is already 75% full, and that's mostly just with a windfall or two, and the slab pile!


There are still a few scraps at the slab pile that I can take care of in the next few days, and then I will start to venture forth to find one or two more windfalls that I can use as extra insurance. One thing that worries us a bit is that once again this morning we fired up the wood stove, as it was below ten degrees in the yurts, and hard to get out of bed. We're using the stove for warmth in August! That almost makes me think that except for June and July, we'd need to be prepared to have a stove going in the yurts the rest of the year - which isn't so bad, it heats up quickly so far, and likely more so when the pipes no longer smell and we can keep the windows shut.


We also noticed this morning that while the stove throws good heat after the initial lighting, it doesn't put out enough to boil water or toast our bread in a very timely manner. This will require further thought and investigation; perhaps we let the fire die down too quickly once the chill was out of the air.


Tomorrow we are planning on visiting the Canadian Lakehead Exhibition in Thunder Bay, weather permitting, and also the Thunder Bay Co-Op, which even Grandpa hasn't visited before!


Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Installing our Well Pump, Testing our Wood Stove

The other morning dawned just a bit too chilly for us, so I offered to fire up the wood stove for the first time as a test run. Donna didn't put up any significant argument, so I headed out to rustle up some dry wood. 

There were a few slabs just outside the yurts from the construction of the floor and support beams, so they were the first on my list - they had been drying out for the past couple of months in direct sun, and had been cut thinly enough that I was confident they were no longer green.


I also included a number of small cubes and off-cuts of lumber, as I felt they too would be in the same state. I bunched up some old papers, lit the match, and voila! Time for a second match... And then a third, but that was the magic number :). We had fire, we had heat!


Donna even pointed out that we had smoke, and it was coming from the stove pipe, not the stove itself! This was great news; the stove seemed to have really good draw.


As Donna perked her coffee, and I sat at the table basking in my warmth and reading up on cooking on a wood stove, I started to detect an off odour. Just as I stood up to investigate, Donna opened the door, revealing the inside of the yurts to be churning with smoke. Sigh. We opened up everything, and I was at a loss to understand - the stove pipes were drawing well, and no smoke could be seen coming from any part of the stove. After a few minutes of puzzling, I decided it must be the stove pipe itself that was smoking from the first application of heat. Some research on the Google revealed that this is so common as to be trivial. Second examination also showed that the stove pipe closest to the stove was no longer a shiny blue/black, and had instead faded to a dull grey/black. It still looked good, and it was nice to have the mystery solved in a way that required only patience and ventilation.


Grandpa dropped by to complete his wood shed. He really can take credit for the entire thing - I can't express enough my gratitude at his efforts! Kenny and I wanted to christen it right away, so we took the tractor out and loaded up almost two wagon loads of wood that Grandpa had declared burn-worthy this coming winter. He feels that if we fill the shed, that should be enough to get us through the winter. That's our ambition. I will also have to make some sort of crib and cut up my large (to me) slab pile at the sawmill.


After Grandpa left, I unloaded the equipment to pump water to the yurts. After some discussion at Maier Hardware, I opted to switch from a sand point attached to 1.25" pipe, with a large jet pump at the yurts, to a sump pump, attached to a 1" pump. Due to concerns about freezing, I would have had to install the jet pump inside the yurts, or at least carried it outside every time we wished to pump. Instead, with the sump pump, as long as the well doesn't freeze, we should be okay. Once it finishes pumping, I will try to have the line on a continuous slope so that the water simply drains back into the well. This solution also allowed me to use a smaller, less expensive pipe and pump, at the cost of having to run electricity down to the well. At first I thought that would be a dealbreaker but as it turns out, it wasn't.


I attached the fittings to the pipe and with Kenny's help created a 200' long extension cord from a nearly full reel of 12/2 outdoor grade wiring.


Grandpa returned and together we attached 100' of 1" poly pipe to the pump. I lowered the pump into the well, inside of a small rubbermaid tub. That was Grandpa's idea and it was awesome! I drilled holes all around the tub and that allowed us to isolate the pump from the rest of well, which still had some sand and mud in the bottom.

We plugged in to my power station which reported a 500 watt load as I guesstimated it should, and then, with a dramatic pause and lots of gurgling, water started gushing out at the 100' mark, not quite halfway to the yurts both horizontally or vertically.

Unplugging the pump, we connected up the next 100' hose and repeated our experiment. There was a longer pause, more gurgles, and then gushing water again! We were within a stone's throw of the yurts - only about 20' further. Then the final hurdle - could it pump high enough to fill an elevated cistern/ storage tank? I held the pipe up as high as I could, and it still was coming at a decent flow!

I had a celebratory ice cream at Mummu's, then returned with my masonry hammer and hammer drill to punch a hole between the tiles for a more permanent entry for my hose and wiring. It took a little more digging than I expected to reach the seam between the tiles, which was a good thing as it showed how much covering there was over the seam. The hammer drill worked very hard, and I think it did very little. It was my wailing with the hammer that made the fastest work of chipping through the crack.

We reinserted the wiring and the hose which I attached with a 90 degree adapter, and then I grudgingly returned to town to purchase some patching cement and another length of pipe to actually get water into the yurts. I plan on installing a faucet directly through the coupler so I don't have to come up through the more challenging floor. It also has the advantage of being able to directly support the faucet, and the hose can be mounted on more of an angle as it enters the coupling, rather than low if it comes up under the floor.

Kenny and I mixed up two small batches of concrete using his sandbox toys, and we applied patching on both the inside and outside of the well. I should also point out that I wrapped the hose and wiring in some aluminum flashing where it passed through the tiles to reduce worries about wear from the concrete.

While we waited for the concrete to set up a bit, Kenny and I headed up the road to a spot where we knew someone had dumped some crushed rock. We scooped up four pails full of the rock and returned home where it became a family project to transfer the rocks from the pails to our mesh wagon. This allowed us to winnow out the twigs and leaves that were mixed in with the stone.

As I monitored the water level, we pumped out the well again and Donna filled our pails with the effluent. Once the pails were full she rinsed the rocks over and over again. At last the well was empty and I sent Kenny running up the trail to tell Mama to unplug the pump.

With the well pumped down to about six inches of water I went back in, and with Donna and Kenny helping out we formed a bucket brigade to haul out a bit of the muck in the bottom. This is nasty business, let me assure you. It is cramped within those confines with a ladder, pump, wiring and hoses to contend with. Once my patience expired, we reorganized our brigade and started transferring our rock to the bottom of the well. That worked great! I could quickly feel the difference in the base of the well, and am very hopeful that this will help with the water quality. We failed our first test of our well water - too high a coliform count - which is apparently always the case and not cause to panic. I skimmed the top of the water to remove some remaining sticks and leaves, and called it a day.

Job one today will be to pump out the well again. I'll do this twice a day for the next few days to get the water clarity back up; after all the activity down there it gets really turbid. Then we will test it again, and I'll report the results!


Saturday, August 4, 2012

Installing the Battery Box for my Solar Power System

Yesterday was Friday - Sauna Day here! This is the day where we all make a push to do some dirty, sweaty work, knowing that at the end, we can traipse over to Mummu and Grandpa's to enjoy their sauna. 

Kenny took this opportunity to try out my masonry hammer on some of the more stubborn rocks that poke up through our pathways. He really enjoyed pounding them into dust, and after his first few swings, I insisted that he put on the face shield I used when I ran the table saw. He was tickled pink to knock off a few sheets of mica, thinking that perhaps he had discovered some gold leaf!


In the end, it appears that he was feeding his inner native - fashioning a rather impressive stone axe, sans bindings.


His father, on the other hand, decided to buckle down and get the solar power system upgraded. Earlier in the morning, the onset of the freezer compressor had been presaged by the inverter screeching out a low voltage alert again. We have had a number of overcast days, and so the batteries had again been drained down, in spite of the doubled solar panels. Luckily I had purchased two new batteries and cables, and they were fully charged and ready to step up.


I managed to lever the box onto my trailer, and, using the tractor, hauled it over to the collection of plastic totes and tubs that had been serving as my power centre up until now. I lowered it carefully to the ground, waddled it into position, and then set off searching for appropriate rocks to level it out. This was a fun process, rather like tetris. Finally, with Donna's assistance, we had it reasonably level, and I started setting in the components again, this time with double the batteries. The charger I opted to just store in the box, rather than hardwiring it in, as I had originally planned. I hope that I don't have to use the charger very often, so I'm thinking in a pinch I will charge up one of the vehicles if required, and this way I don't have to do a major operation to unwire it.


My meter suggested the panels were still putting out a little over five amps, which was okay, considering how overcast the day was. The batteries were up to around 12.5 volts - pretty low, but good for a day or two of powering just the freezer (fridge? - we still haven't gotten our head around what to call it...)


Donna and I muscled the roof into position, and that's when I discovered that it was slightly askew. I'm sure it was just because I had rolled it around so much while installing the insect screening and vinyl roofing. I weighed down opposite corners with some rocks, and already today I can see that it has tightened back up.


Today is also a bit of a blessing at the moment, as it started out with heavy rain and thunder on the yurts but now it is sunny and the panels are basking in it.


Two problems that I will have to address with the new setup - I can no longer easily monitor anything about the system. The electronics are all boxed up! I think I will just purchase a cheap multimeter and permanently wire it up to the batteries, so that I can monitor voltage more easily.


The second, more challenging issue, is that the box is close to the pole mount, and the roof is steep, so the bottom of my frame actually hits the roof when I rotate it to face the morning sun. I will likely saw off the bottom edge of the frame, which is unneeded anyway, and also perhaps raise the pole a few inches to accommodate the winter angle of the panels, which is steeper, and takes up more vertical space.


As an aside, today I purchased much of the materials to get water pumped from our well up to the yurts/cistern/sauna. Again, Dave at Maier hardware is the man! I can't speak enough to his knowledge and willingness to share it, as well as his patience at listening to my crazy ideas. I'm sure there will be much grist for a future blog post in how I eventually get water from our well.


Now it's almost time to start our bedtime routine here, as we are serenaded by Randy Bachman's Vinyl Tap.