Day 10508

On a very short two day weekend (how do people live like this?) I spent a morning with the pooch up at the land. While we were down in the city, I got the 444 tractor's front wheels gooped up so the tires would hold air, and had a braided hydraulic line made to replace the solid steel line that had broken. I also had the bushings for the lift piston (the piston's holes are 3/4", and the pins and mount holes are 1/2".) The bushings would take the space between the lift cylinder mounts and the tractor's hardpoints, so that the mounting pins won't be deformed over time. I installed these parts (the hydraulic line was a small struggle) and cranked the machine over.

Not having a good way of disposing of oil, and knowing the hydraulic fluid I drained out is relatively fresh, and also knowing that a '70's tractor is mostly indestructible, I zip-tied a scrap of t-shirt to the drip pan and returned the hydraulic fluid to the tractor. It's not a helicopter, I can do this and not even feel guilty. Cheap, maybe.

Running again, I used the tractor to pull the mower deck and the reclaimed trailer out of the field, and back into the treeline.

I have designs for this trailer frame...

Zeke and I brought leftovers up for the day, which we heated on the bus's woodstove. To do dishes, we heated water on the stove in the coffee percolator. The compost pile gets the scraps, and Zeke does the pre-cleaning. Dirty dishes and pots get a cup of hot water and a dash of dish soap. I clean the dishes with the scrubby pad, then rinse off the suds with the last of the hot water. It would be nice to do this inside of the bus! I'll have to figure out a woodstove-powered hot water delivery system for the sink... copper pipe around the chimney, then down into the pump? We shall see.

I stacked up some more split wood, and used some of the old plastic sheet pulled from the woods to cover the outdoor piles. The southern side of the wood piles was left exposed, in an attempt to optimize heat coming in, and keeping rain water out.

The bus has a pair of succulents from John & Robyn's wedding, which are both doing well just sitting in the cockpit, in coffee mugs filled with North country soil. 

I accomplished a lot of small projects in the North Country on day 10507. One of these days maybe I'll go up just to chill out. A novel idea.

Back down in the city, Iain and Darcy offered me their small flock of laying hens, and all the infrastructure to support them. A very generous offer, which I accepted. I'm familiar with these chickens from house-sitting this spring. This isn't the first donation from Iain and Darcy, either; the astute reader will recall that I also got the couch in the bus from them! Thanks again!

The morning of Day 10508, trying to stay ahead of the weather, we took the run and the coop apart, and loaded them into the trailer for the drive down the road. This is actually the second time these chickens have gone for a truck ride with me, the first being almost a year ago, helping Iain and Darcy move just down the road to their present location. Hopefully the next road trip for these hens is up to the North country!

Kia helped me unload the run, which was on the edge of falling apart after multiple moves and lots of twisting of wet wood. As it continued to rain, I sloppily screwed the loose corners back together, and stapled the chicken wire back to the frame. It will hold... maybe... for a bit longer.

Working alone, I used a ratchet strap and the tractor to gently lift the coop off the trailer, drove the trailed out from under it, then drove the tractor as smoothly as I could over to the corner of the barn. The hens didn't seem to mind!

With everything back together, I let the patient ladies out of their house. They took in the change of scenery, curious dogs, and fresh selection of bugs and worms. Elsa and Anna are the black & white Plymouth Rocks, or Barred Rocks, and Sofia is the (currently molting) gray/brown Ameraucana.

I want to make that trailer up North into a chicken tractor.

Day 10502

Like the 18th century colonials before us, I am typing this blog post using wifi from my cell phone's hotspot, and light from a candle to see the keyboard, as the power is out down here in the City. A warm, windy front is moving through, bringing some needed rain. It also brought down a power line.

I was in the midst of cooking dinner when the lights flicked off, so I was a little annoyed (crunchy rice soup, anyone?) but I improvised, adapted, and overcame, and cooked most of my food on the grill outside with the waning twilight. Holding the flashlight to see if my Vermont-raised hipster chicken cooked through, I was wishing I had the bus and all of it's amenities. I could have cooked my rice and potatoes over the woodstove. I would have had bright lights for days, even with cloud cover, running off the batteries. Cell phones and computers could be charged with converted or inverted DC power. My resilient mobile homestead is designed to operate on it's own, and this is the first outage where I haven't had the ability to use it.

Not having the bus has really made me think about how dependent we all are on "the grid." One tree goes down across an open, exposed power line in a wind storm, and at least dozens, maybe hundreds, maybe thousands of people are without light, and unable to cook their dinner. So the lights are out; now what? Many went into town for food. Some cranked over a loud, gas-powered generator to get their house running again (or not, because it has a dead battery and watery gasoline.) Some settle in and spend time with their family, eating cold leftovers, rooms illuminated with candles, the one flashlight that wasn't dead, and iPad screens. My family went with the latter.

A friend of mine in school grew up in an off-grid house. When the power went out in her town, she had no idea! She'd come into school the next day wondering why everyone was complaining about not having a hot shower, or not having internet to finish their homework. At her house, there was no change! They weathered the power outage just fine, because they weren't connected to it. They weren't reliant on that power coming in off the pole. I didn't realize that an off-grid house wouldn't lose power in a storm until an embarrassingly late age.

How much of what we pay in our electric bill goes to supporting the infrastructure? How resilient is our community, how vulnerable are we, when a single tree can disrupt the evenings of hundreds of people? Now imagine with me, that instead of our grid tied system, with thousands of power poles and thousands of miles of electrical wire, "gracefully" connecting all of our homes to a series of single-point failures... we have a community of off-grid homes. For electricity, these homes have solar panels up on the roof, a battery bank in the garage. A wood stove may provide the heat for the home, or maybe a geothermal system. Let's go the extra mile and assume they have a small garden, and a few weeks of food stored... is there anything that this house, and that family, can't endure from Mother Nature's wrath in New England? How much stronger is the community, when a tree going down across the road doesn't take out power to hundreds of homes? How much stronger would our nation be if more people lived like this?

Imagine all the people, living with no electric bill... and no power outages.

Meanwhile, back in cold, harsh, oil-burning reality, I'm continuing work on tractors. I went up North on Day 10502 to finish "winterizing" the bus. I closed up all the windows, which had been letting it breath in the heat, and laid down some fresh sand in between the bricks under the woodstove.

I cranked up the woodstove for some heat. When I got up North it was early, and still in the 40's. The bus warms up quick once the fire is going; it also cools down quick once it goes out! I have firebrick added to my to-do list; I'd like to put a layer in the firebox to take some of the heat, and dissipate it gradually. Otherwise, this thin sheetmetal stove takes all the heat it makes in the burn and radiates out from the hot steel, or sends the hot exhaust smoke up the chimney. I can slow down the burn with the damper and the air inlet... but the restricted airflow just makes for a dirty burn, which could load my chimney with creosote if I don't burn good dry wood. Can you tell I'm in the middle of a book about masonry woodstoves? Learning is happening.

I wanted to fix the cracked driveline on the 444 tractor, so I needed to lift it up to get under it. I also realized the front tires were flat. My dad had borrowed my farm-jack... what to do?

A solution presents itself. With the tractor elevated, and the front axle properly shored with firewood (what can't be done with a backhoe, a chain, and firewood?) I began disconnecting the hydraulic lines. My intent was to replace the 444's forward and reverse hydraulic lines, from the control valve to the drive motor, with the lines and reducer from the 442 I parted out. The reducer on this machine ought to keep it from "running away" when it's in gear going down a hill, which is a "nice feature."

One of the B-nuts was rusted tight, and the crack opened up and severed the line as I tried to loosen it.

With the line removed, I needed to pull the two 90 degree fittings off the start motor so that I could install the reducer. I found that I couldn't remove the upper 90 degree fitting, because it wouldn't clear the tractor's frame. Hmmm... I don't think I'll be doing much more on this machine today. I'll have to take the axle off, which requires major disassembly off the whole backside of the tractor, in order to do what I wanted. I elected to do a quick fix, and get a braided hydraulic line made up. This way I can use the machine until I have some time to do the major surgery, though it isn't as resilient (or as expensive and hard to find!) as a new steel line.

So the tractor will remain on firewood jackstands until I can get back up with a new line. Good thing the neighbors can't see... how embarassing.

Back down in the city, Gavin and Mark came over to try to start Gavin's Massey Ferguson. We had replaced the battery, spark plugs, spark plug leads, checked the distributor, cleaned the carburetor, then drained the tank and put in a few cups of fresh gasoline. Online we found the cylinder firing order of the 2.5L Perkins motor (1-2-3) and we looked at the rotation of the distributor to see which order the plugs fired in. We didn't know one thing; where the cylinders were in the motor, and which spark plug lead should go where. But hey, we knew there was only three possible combinations, and it wouldn't run on two of them, so we labeled the plugs A, B and C, and started cranking. The carburetor was dripping gasoline from a stuck float and needle valve; I'll have to pull that back off and tweak it. Jokingly, we set a fire extinguisher out on the floor next to us, and made a plan for who would fight the fire, who would jump in the truck, and who would connect the chain to pull the thing out and let it burn in the yard, if it came to that.

Spraying ether into the open port of the carburetor, we got it going on 1-2-3/B-A-C, but it wouldn't stay running. We tried the other combinations. On C-B-A, we got a big coughing backfire out of the carburetor, which ignited the fuel vapors from the leak. The tractor now had a small fire burning around the dripping carburetor. Gavin stopped cranking.

"It'll go out" said Mark.

A few seconds go by.

"It's not going out" said Mark.

I pulled the pin on the fire extinguisher, and hit the base with a two-second burst of powder.

Hero of the day; ABC fire extinguisher.

Coughing through a cloud of monoammonium phosphate, we went outside and decided to call it a night. We elected to get the carburetor fixed, and go back to the B-A-C firing order.

Day 10492

Zeke and I spent a much-needed cool morning up at the bus. The fall foliage is past peak on the land, and the wind has taken most of the leaves from the trees on the edge of the pastures. The goldenrod, which was bright yellow at last visit, is now brown and dropping seeds.

Hopping out of the truck after a foggy drive North, we opened up the bus. I grabbed my water bottle and rifle (I haven't forgotten about that bear!) and we set off through the woods. Most all the leaves are down, really opening up the space. We checked a few spots to see if they were still wet, or if they're just seasonally damp spots. The stream was down a bit. Not much wildlife, though we did see a bald eagle soaring above us. 

Made a new firewood pile at the back door, where these oak limbs can catch some sun. I'd like to get some clear plastic sheet to keep the water off of the firewood stacks.

Snack time.

Today's tasks mostly revolved around winter and angles. The first project was the solar panels. I climbed up on the bus roof with a wrench, a small level, and a speed square to change the angles. Two bolts hold the mount to the perforated angled rail; I removed these, brought the panels up to a higher angle... and realized I didn't know what angle I was setting them too!

I whipped out the phone, searched for this blog, found the post where I talked about the panels, and found my answer; line of latitude plus axial tilt of the Earth. So I needed these panels to be ~68 degrees from horizontal. Putting them five holes back from the furthest "up" position gave me 67 degrees. I threw the bolts back in, and snugged the nuts down. With this adjustment, the panels will receive more sunlight over the next six months as the sun travels on a lower arc around the southern horizon. Some call this winter.

Next I took a 4x4 post, a square, and my long level, and started measuring the ground. I want to find the average slope of the land, so that over the winter I can work out a barn design to build to. I set the 4x4 on the ground, with the level on top, and raised the downslope end of the post until it was level. I measured the elevation with the square. After taking half a dozen samples, I averaged them together, and found that the field around the bus drops off about 5.5' vertically, every 100' horizontally. This is a 5.5% slope, or about 3.15 degrees.

My final project is a very specific guesstimation. I want to know about how far the trees on the southern edge of the fields cast their shadows, and how tall the trees are. To find out how tall my trees are I used my pace count from basic training, and the internet.

From the base of the trees, I paced 75' to the edge of shadows. This was at 11:50am, 13 October 2017, at latitude 44.3 degrees North, 71.8 degrees West. I plugged this information in at a calculator found after a quick Google search; Sustainable by Design's solar angle calculator. The angle of the sun was about 37.53 degrees above the horizon.

I drew out a picture, and plugged in what angles I knew. The tree to the field is 90 + 3.15 degrees. The sun coming off the top of the tree is 90 - 37.53 degrees. The distance from the base of the tree is 75'. With these three pieces I can find the other pieces of my triangle. Instead of doing it out by hand and cell phone, I found another calculator through a Google search,

I found that my trees are mostly 53' high. I have a few that are around 64' high, but it's mostly hardwoods that won't have light-blocking leaves in winter. After playing with the calculator, and using the 21 degrees of the winter sun, I found that these trees will cast shadows 161' back from their bases at noon on December 21st (winter solstice, when the day is shortest, and the sun is lowest.) So if I want a reliable passive solar house design, I can't have my solar heating design elements in that shadow range, or I need to cut down some trees!

Winterization will likely continue with the next visit. I'd like to add some mortar to the bricks under the fireplace, to keep errant sparks out, and get the side windows all closed up (right now they're all one latch down from the top so heat can escape.) Bus and backhoe started right up today, despite the cool temperatures overnight.