Wednesday, November 28, 2012
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.
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!
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!
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.
Tuesday, November 27, 2012
There are three areas where it approaches horizontal, but I was pretty sure it still had a slope. Today I will likely have to bring out my level and check them - decide which is most horizontal, and attack it with more hot water. One annoyance - without water, it's going to be hard to get stock pots full of boiling liquid to pour out!
I suppose a number of trips to Mummu and Grandpa's with our pails are in order.
Stay tuned for further developments on this front.
On another note, I now have low-power wifi in our yurts! I'm so happy - the modem/router combination only requires USB to charge, and also has a four hour backup battery! I just had to spend a few hours with it flashing the firmware, then flashing it again, then bricking it, then flashing it five times in a row and editing some XML to get it back to working, but not just working - working properly! Yay!
If only I could log into it this morning to check on its status - but at least it is working.
Sunday, November 25, 2012
Afortek Tractors just south of Thunder Bay had a heavy duty blade in stock, regular price was $510.00, but they were willing to sell it to me for 10% off, so about $460.00 if I purchased before the end of next week. They would have regular blades in the spring, but they were still over $400.00, and a few months too late for me to clear snow with!
Thunder Bay Co-Op, on the other hand, had a regular duty blade in stock, regular price of $329.00 - which is less expensive than almost every used blade I had looked at! The caveat - it was only a 60 inch blade, not the (seeming) standard 72 inch. As always, I prefer smaller to larger anyway, so I was quite happy to brush the snow off the truck, and with Grandpa as my co-pilot headed down Highway 61 towards Neebing Township. Of course, I also loaded up the back of the truck with a few cinder blocks to help with my traction down the driveway.
After assuring me that the Kubota orange coloured blade at least "looked" faster than the standard grey, I selected the fancy blade and had it loaded into the back of the truck. They were even kind enough to throw in the pallet for free!
Back home, as I was removing my winch and skidder assembly from the tractor, I was chagrined to notice that at some point the three point hitch had somehow pinched the power cables, nearly severing them. Sigh, another thing to add to my to-do list. I guess I won't be skidding logs today at least.
With the winch removed, I had to improvise a bit to get the grader attached to my three point hitch. The two lower bars were easy enough, but getting the top bar in place proved difficult with a 150-200 pound weight to lift into place. I ended up wedging a crate under the blade and then inserting the pin - awkward, but tenable.
The blade worked really well! I lowered it right down to the ground, as the Yanmar hitch does not have down pressure, but rather just relies on gravity for down pressure. This way the grader "floats" over the surface a bit, relying only on its own weight to hold it against the surface (or so I surmise because I am able to lift the hitch myself if I need to - oh my sore back!). It was a rough trip the first pass - knocking the points off of frozen gravel. I did get stuck in one or two places, but a combination of engaging the four wheel drive and raising the blade ensured that nothing too serious occurred.
One thing I noticed that I will have to watch for is that as the snow banks grew larger on the outside of the laneway, it seemed to push the rear end of the tractor and blade into the centre of the drive, rather than the weight of the tractor being enough to push the snow further out. I hope that my driveway doesn't become progressively narrower as winter proceeds! I suppose I can try to use the front end loader to scoop up any trouble spots and just drop them further out. I also could likely turn the grader blade 180 degrees (tenkan for my Aikido readers), and push the snow off the surfaces in question.
She returned to the yurts, and I did a bit more grading. I returned to the truck, drove it about a foot or two, and bam! Stuck again.
I didn't have room in my stomach to swallow any more pride, so this time I hooked up the come-along and chain and pulled the truck back into its original position. I had graded it with the tractor a few times, so of course now the truck would be fine from there.
As soon as I put it in reverse, it slid into EXACTLY the same ruts as I was originally stuck in, and then just spun there. Three times stuck in the same day? I was reliving my mud adventure of the summer just a few feet from the original - this time with snow.
Now I was CERTAINLY too sheepish to ask Donna to come back and help me get the truck out of the spot she had found it in earlier, so I moved to the back of the truck with the come-along, and proceeded to winch it about eight feet back, past where she had left it, until I was confident that it was on high enough, flat enough ground that it couldn't possibly slide anywhere.
Imagine my surprise when I was right! I parked the truck easily, and then worked into the twilight with the grader, practicing my techniques and widening our drive. At last, I returned to the yurts to find the thunder box full and awaiting emptying. A nice finish to my working day.
You may think I'm being a bit sarcastic about emptying a bucket full of Kenny's deuces, but I assure you I'm not - at least this one was still warm, and its contents simply slid out and into the larger compost bin without fuss. The bucket from the Tardis, on the other hand, is still sitting upside down by the compost area - frozen solid and with its contents tenaciously holding fast to their blue plastic home. I have a bad feeling that we are either going to have to give up on the Tardis for the winter, or else bring its buckets into the yurts to thaw before emptying - not really my favourite choice.
Saturday, November 24, 2012
All through the night we could hear the patter on the yurt roof, and feel the wind lifting the canvas. I was rather concerned about our solar panels!
It was with some relief that I woke to discover them pointed north, but still safe.
The generator was in better shape than I expected. I had a large plastic lid over it to keep the rain off, and it worked equally well with the snow, although there was a little that had blown in onto some spots.
The dojo tent was in good shape, and now I know to close the door flaps on a night when snow is expected. Snow had blown in and onto the items adjacent to either side of the doors.
I walked out to the main road, and saw that only the far, northbound lane had been ploughed.
Returning to the yurts, I bumped into Grandpa, who had come over to see how we made out, and offer me a shovel in case I didn't have one. I don't have a snow shovel (yet), but I didn't see a need for one at that moment.
After he left I started up the tractor and used the bucket to pack down the snow where we park the car. The night before, we had simply left the car parked just past the dojo tent. Once a path was cleared, I tried to get the car into its assigned place, but no go. There seemed to be a bit of ice under the snow, I suppose from the rain that had started all this.
But, I was really pleased as punch when the job was finished, and the car backed right up to our parking lot. Sadly, that's when the party ended - there is a slight rise in front of the parking spot, and the car just couldn't climb that ice. I eventually shovelled it right down to our driveway, and then was able to get in.
I then decided to try attaching the blade to the back, at the three point hitch. The maple board worked great for about three feet, then split.
A grader blade is now definitely on my shopping list. I think it will also be useful in the summer for levelling the driveway.
I did a few more passes with the tractor and bare bucket, which seems to have the snow fairly packed down. Perhaps today I will take the car and/or truck up and down the driveway a few times to see how it goes. I should also chip up some more brush and perhaps the chips can be used in places for more traction? It will also be interesting to get back to the brush trail we made two days ago and see how it held up.
Friday, November 23, 2012
Dividing our property into two or three natural areas of high ground is an ancient riverbed, now a ravine with steep sides (cliffs in places). It makes for some really interesting and nice scenery as we hike our land, but it also proves to be a real challenge when we think about getting my tractor into the back 100 acres to harvest timber for our building projects.
As I described earlier, we planned on waiting for the snow to cross this ravine, when the swamp would be frozen and we could pack down the drifts into a snow road for the tractor to cross the hairier sections. Of course, as it seems, snow is later coming in Canada every year. With this in mind, we took the opportunity of another clear day yesterday to begin creating a path across the ravine to our original trail.
It was with some trepidation that I loaded up my tractor and wagon full of brush and branches and headed to the gulley in back that leads to the ravine. Brush and branches were resources I had quite a bit of around the yurts thanks to my recent obsession with cutting down the trees blocking my sun.
I do admit, I had the tractor in positions that made me somewhat uncomfortable. At one point I was clearly stuck, but I removed the trailer and backed carefully out of the hole I had dug for myself.
Grandpa also brought into service his MTD garden tractor and trailer, and deftly maneuvered it right to the edge of the ravine. It certainly is a nimble little thing! I imagine it has a bit lower centre of gravity than my Yanmar.
By lunch we were halfway across with our brush mat. Grandpa finished up for the day, and I took a short break for lunch. Then, back at it. Unfortunately, after my first load, the wheel literally fell off my cart!
Kenny and Donna of course rushed over for pictures. Kenny was a fabulous help - he took over the operation as soon as we fetched the socket wrenches. Apparently Papa had already taught him the ins and outs of using a socket set, so he was an expert. He expounded on how much he really loved to help Papa do chores. I wish I knew what the secret was! Oh well, I knew better than to look a gift horse in the mouth - it was awesome to have him helping me get the wheel back on and back to work.
We were scheduled to head to town for an information session on some future idea we are mulling over, so I finished up after the next load of brush. I was pretty much completely across the ravine by the time I put away the wagon and tractor and got dressed for town.
Next up will likely be throwing down bags of wood chips. My chipper was in the shop being repaired for a dirty carburetor, but I got it back so it's ready to stand service there again.
Of course, it snowed hard all last night, so the schedule for today will almost certainly need to accommodate something in the department of finding our snowshoes, or shoveling (hmmm, I knew I should have bought a shovel yesterday!), or ploughing the driveway, or putting the snow tires on the car (finally!), or marking the logs that are surely buried under the snow now, or things of that nature. I'll try to keep you posted!
Wednesday, November 21, 2012
Monday, November 19, 2012
So with that in mind, I decided to tackle the most basic of maintenance - the oil change. I hit up the great boards at TractorByNet.com. After a bit of backing and forthing, I had a recommendation to add almost seven quarts of oil, and another recommendation for what sort of oil filter I needed. After a bit of head scratching at Canadian Tire, I simply googled Napa 1064 to get a FRAM 8393A. I also picked up ten litres of diesel motor oil.
After the oil stopped dripping, I replaced the drain plug (directly underneath the engine, facing straight down, starboard side of the tractor - under the dipstick), I opened up the oil cap on top of the engine, and poured in my first five litres bottle. On a whim, I pulled the dipstick and was surprised to see oil right up to the collar on the dipstick! I replaced it and came back to the yurts to consult the service manual for the tractor. After much squinting at the small print, I found an entry that suggested two litres of oil - I suppose I should have read the manual before asking well-meaning strangers for advice :). Mea culpa.
I returned to the tractor and was able to messily pull the plug again, but I drained this oil back into the jug for future use. I think because it was just in the engine and right back out again it shouldn't be in bad shape.
After checking it over a bunch with the dipstick and plug, I finally got the oil down to "totally full" and called it a successful venture.
Replacing the oil filter on the port side of the tractor did involve me having to remove a small screen with three, ten millimetre bolts. It was too tight to turn off by hand, and with the screen there I couldn't get my filter wrench any purchase. The gasket from the filter was left behind; I had to take it off with my fingernail. I lightly greased the gasket on the new filter and hand tightened it down. I check with my filter wrench, and it seems that the Fram filter is marginally smaller than the previous Kubota one, so I'm not sure if my wrench can get good purchase on it to remove it - hopefully I didn't screw it down too hard.
I turned the engine over and let it idle a few minutes. The oil pressure gauge read about 60psi - I don't know if that's good or not, but I know oil is in there, so that's my baseline. It's also what it has always read.
I then started looking at the rats nest of wiring on the machine. I removed a bunch of wiring relating to two sets of lights (non functioning). I then removed the varied switches that related to those lights. I don't plan on running the tractor after dark if I can help it. If I find I need to, I'll add lights back on at that time.
I also realized that the one idiot light that had stopped working was simply due to a dead bulb - I removed the bulb from the oil pressure gauge as a previous owner had simply cut the wires to it. This caused both my idiot lights to come on, as I was use to. After a bit more fiddling, the OTHER idiot light went out. I'm not sure what that says about my abilities. Following the wires around, I can see that the first light only seems to go to the ignition, so that's not very useful - I suppose it can remind me if the key is turned but the engine is not running. The second light goes to a sensor on the upper, front, port side of the tractor. I suppose it is either a temperature or oil pressure gauge, but I don't know which yet. I'll consult the service manual and see if perhaps it can shed some light on that. Looking in the radiator, I can see the fluid is high, and cloudy. At fifteen below it looked fine, so I'm not sure if I need to change it promptly or not.
Sadly the tachometer stopped working a month or two ago. I wiggled the cable, but it didn't make a difference. That's something else to look at if I want it fixed I guess.
Sunday, November 18, 2012
With temperatures like that, I knew it was going to be a little more difficult to get myself, and things moving.
It was agreed that Donna would again do a load of laundry, which would allow me to also punch up the batteries a bit. I had re-wired them so that instead of having my Interstates in series and my Trojans in series, then combined in parallel, I have the Interstates in parallel, and the Trojans in parallel (each brand giving me 6 volts at 400Ah), and then the two banks in series to give me 12 volts. Clear as mud? Maybe to someone who has tried to cipher out the same situation. In any case, I want to see if there is a difference in performance with this new wiring arrangement. It made for shorter cable runs in my battery box, which can never hurt.
Just for so, I decided to count pulls on the starter cord of the generator on a morning like that. It was exactly 80. At around 60-70 I wasn't sure if it would ever start, but I reminded myself that pulls 1-3 felt much heavier than the subsequent ones, so I must have been making a small difference.
After a moment of swaying in the correct direction, she slowly reversed course and started to come back towards my side of the line. I exited stage right, and watched with some bemusement at the carnage that ensued. Tie wraps (zip ties?) popped along the length of my water line as the tree came to rest. As soon as it stopped moving I rushed back in to cut the tree away from the line, relieving the downward pressure on it.
I still have a number of trees to cut - perhaps today will be their day - but it sure goes faster, easier, and more fun when I have Donna around to help out! For once I found myself on the other side of the camera, so I can record a fraction of the work that she does to help this venture succeed!