Friday, January 28, 2011

Horses And Stone

  Haven't written for a while since I've been stuck in something of a rut.  School was out for the boys twice last week due to snow and it kind of put a crimp in my work around the house.  Things are back to normal now and I'm moving forward on my projects (in between playing with *E*).
  The big thing that happened today is that I was confirmed for a horse driving/farming class in March.  I've wanted to do this for years and I finally have the time and opportunity.  Ultimately, I'd like to use work horses on our farmstead since they should dovetail nicely with our old tractors.  I'm looking into volunteering at Carriage Hill farm up in Dayton as well.  It recreates Ohio farm life from the 1880's and should give me even more opportunity to build time with work horses and old equipment.  I've been looking for a dapple gray Percheron and feel like I'm close to making the leap if the right deal comes along.  I bought a cart this fall in Maryland but have to get new main leaves in the spring packs fabricated.  The people I bought it from had two inch extensions welded in to raise the height.  Welding leaf springs isn't exactly the safest move and of course one broke when we were strapping it down to the back of my truck.

  I also received a set of old stone masonry tools today that I bought from Ebay.  I have a couple of others that I've collected over the years but this group included some stone drills, which is what really caught my eye.  I like the stone architecture that I saw during my visits to Europe and would like to try my hand at it, maybe on a small shed or fireplace.

I'm in the homestretch on the stationary motor cart.  It's coming out much better than I had hoped and I can't wait to see the whole thing come together!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Tilting At Windmills

Today was pretty quiet around here.  Got a little bit more done on the stationary engine cart but figured out that in all my recent moves, I seem to have lost one of the oak pieces.  I'll take one more look around but I'm not too worried about it.  It was one of two identical pieces and I still have the other.

  On slow days like this, I thought I would start to document my plans for getting Fiddler's Green up on its feet and running.  I figure that if I get it all down in writing before I really get going, it will be interesting to go back to see which of my plans were workable and which were "pie in the sky".  I'll start today with the water system.  As it stands right now, the house has a working cistern connected to rain catchment through the roof and gutters.  I'd never seen a working cistern before and the whole thing is quite interesting and worth keeping.  I'll probably just connect it to a hand pump in the yard as something of a working novelty.  Who knows?  It might be useful for watering plants or animals.  The cistern has a dedicated 110V electric pump and is still connected to the house system.  The house also has a well on the souteast side that runs through a 220V pump in the basement.  I couldn't even imagine how to run this monster with off-grid power generation so I looked to the past for answers.  Prior to rural electrification, homes had a windmill with an elevated stand alone water tank to generate water pressure or they had a tank incorprated into the tower.

I don't really want to mess around with elevated tanks in 20 or 30 degree below zero North Dakota winters so I thought I would site a windmill over the actual well itself and top it with a Dempster handpump that we bought this summer.  We'll build a small shed over the whole setup and possibly pipe enough heat to it to keep everything moving.  There is a pipe fitting on the back of the pump that we can plumb to the existing buried pipe running into the basement.  In place of the 220V pump, we'll incorporate a 200-300 gallon water holding tank with a DC booster pump and a 30 gallon pressure tank to pressurize the house.  The system would take very little power since the windmill is doing most of the work in lifting the water and the holding tank would suffice for the rare times when it's not windy.  We bought a rebuilt 10' B-702 Aermotor windmill with a 60' tower just before Christmas.  It was a real nightmare transporting it from Punxatawney, PA to Cinci.  Our F-350 was happy as can be hauling what I estimated to be right around a ton of steel and cast iron.  The real problem was in my homebrewed wooden ladder rack.  It was BARELY up to the task.  I had to drive under 50 mph the whole way to keep from overstressing it.

I've looked at a lot of off-grid set ups on the Internet and in Home Power magazine but I have never seen anybody use this solution.  It seems like a natural to replace the water tank with a low amperage pressure pump.  Simple and elegant and not much of a leap from tried and true set ups from the turn of the century.  I think it's the fear of old tech!  The barn has its own dedicated well with a pumpjack but it will probably have our old stationary motor pumping up to a tank in the hay mow as needed.
  If anybody is using a water pumping windmill/in-house holding tank/pressure boost pump combo I'd sure like to hear from you.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Frugality In Quality

  Made a huge (to me) improvement in my quality of life yesterday.  I've been shaving with a straight razor on and off for the last seven years or so.  I bought the razor and strop in Stuttgart, Germany, thinking that it would eventually pay for itself.  Have you seen the price of razors lately?  It was pretty expensive but I've always believed in the fact that you get what you pay for.  There were some pretty dicey moments when I first started, especially since it took me a while to figure out how to sharpen it correctly.  There's nothing like dragging a semi-sharp razor across your Jugular!  I've been doing this for years now and my eyes have been getting worse and worse.  It's been a real challenge to see what I'm doing; so I finally broke down and bought an old accordion type shaving mirror off Ebay.  What a joy to see what I'm doing again!

  As I mentioned before, this razor was pretty expensive.  We're talking a "return on investment" measured in years.  I've always had a huge fascination with the way things were built prior to the 1970's and especially pre-WWII.  Somewhere along the line, some ingenious businessman figured out that if you build things to last, you won't get return customers and thus less profits.  Somehow, sadly, this grew into the industry standard.  They all had to do it or else the market would lean toward the quality item and make the whole thing come crashing down.  When it comes time to buy a hard consumer good, I always look for something old or at the very least, an old technology.  I scratch my head when I hear a couple of "gadget guys" bragging about their latest purchase, all the while knowing that they're probably going to replace it or get bored with it in just a couple of years (or sooner).  I read a book years ago called Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Repair that made quite an impression on me.  The main character is a college professor that assigns his students to come up with a definition for "Quality" (try's not as easy as it sounds).  He becomes so consumed with this concept that it drives him to insanity and finally leads him to an understanding of what's important in his life.  It's an interesting read and really speaks to what we are willing to find acceptable when it comes to our money; or more importantly our lives.  So anyway, the straight razor is one of my little refusals to participate in the the philosophy of "Planned Obsolescence".
  I had a question asking what a railroad station platform cart was.  Here's a picture from when I brought it home.

You see them a lot in the background of train stations in old black and white movies.  This one was pretty much a basketcase but had awesome cast iron running gear and some of the old oak parts are refinishing beautifully.  It'll look really nice under our stationary motor.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Sock It To Me

  Spent a long day with a teething baby.  *E* was really cranky with his two teeth coming in but with a little Oragel he made it through OK.  He actually said "I love you" when I changed him after lunch.  He only said it once and I couldn't get him to do it again.

  Today I messed with *A*'s circular sock knitting machine.  She's been thinking hard about some kind of cottage industry to start in our impending move to North Dakota and thought she would like to try knitting some different items with pure wool.  I picked this up for her for Christmas.

I'd never heard of them before until she showed me some on the Internet.  It seems that these were pretty common in households and co-ops early last century .  This one is a Legare 47 and it's amazing to me after reading the manual (and trying my hand at it) that women would sit cranking socks out on these things for their families and for income.  I started trying to figure it out right after we got it and was totally befuzzled.  After playing with it and realizing that there actually is no magic involved, I'm starting to crank out things that are looking remotely sock-like.  This is the progression of my attempts so far from left to right.

This is the view looking down the maw of the beast.  Once you figure out what's happening inside, it's not that bad.  There is some definite art involved with the weights you add to the bottom to keep even pressure.

You may be asking yourself why am I messing with this thing instead of *A*.  When we got it, it was in its original crate with wrappings soaked in what I think was something like cosmoline.  It took a while to clean and oil, especially the 100 or so individual hooks.  It also has a few different adjustments that can be very finicky and *A* can be a little short on patience with things like this.  Mostly, I just couldn't resist bringing an old machine like this back to life!  We found two other folks in the area that are working these things as well and *A* is arranging a date with them to have a "crank in".  There's no substitute for working next to someone who knows the ins and outs of lost skills.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Big Day For Little Man *E*

  Whew! The boys actually went back to school after their two snow days off and I was able to catch up around here.   *E* actually napped long enough for me to get a bunch done on the stationary engine cart.  I can't wait until it's all together and I can move onto another project.  The picture above is *E* and I swinging at the park at the top of the road when he was about three months old.  I love being home with him and I am so thankful every day that I retired from the Navy at 20 years instead of pursuing it further.  I would be missing so much, especially if I was still flying.  It is such an absolute miracle to be given a child in my 45th year and to have the opportunity to be there for all of his firsts; instead of slogging away in the eternal Rat Race.  He is such a blessing.  Today, I was helping *J* with his homework and *E* was sitting on my lap, chewing on my thumb.  I noticed that it actually hurt a little bit so I had him open up and what do you know?  Two brand new chompers are poking up in front on the bottom.  We suspected that it would be happening soon but it was still a pleasant surprise.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Snow Day

  Well today is another snow day for the boys from school.  It was absolutely beautiful outside this morning while we were shovelling out.  The air was dry and cold and there wasn't a breath of wind.  It was the exact kind of day that makes me love winter so much.  Didn't want *J* to get rusty so we worked on math problems and his writing skills all day.

  The rest of my day was spent playing with little *E*.  While he was napping, I worked on refinishing the running gear from an old train station platform cart.  When finished, I'll be mounting our old 1926 horse and a half IH motor on it.  She's REALLY awkward to move around on the oak skids.  As of right now, I'm planning on hooking it to the pumpjack for the barn's well but things may change if I see a better use for it.  Ultimately I'd like to set it up on a line shaft to drive some of my old carpentry tools...but that's a way down the road.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Why I'm Here.

  Twenty years went by in a flash.  Along the way, I made a lot of friends and probably won't see most of them again.  That's just the way a career in the Navy works I guess and this is an attempt to let those I care about follow the off-beat path I've decided to travel in my retirement.
  Fiddler's Green is the name for the place sailors go when their time has come and this is to be the name for our little farm in the middle of nowhere, North Dakota.  Our intention is to make it as self-sufficient as possible, hopefully without giving up too many creature comforts.  We have no illusions that we can be totally independent but it's a goal to work towards while applying a little common sense.  I think the key is going to be a blending of very old technology and cutting edge developments.  My family says that I inherited my father's weakness for old and archaic machinery...and I suppose that's true.  There's nothing like working with an item that was designed and built before industry came up with "Planned Obsolescence".  Sometimes I feel like I was born 100 years too late.  On the other hand, I'm grateful to Naval Aviation for the twenty years of highly technical training that should help apply today's solutions to the inevitable challenges.
  My intention is to pass along our struggles in the attainment of this dream.  Along the way I'm sure you'll see the farm getting on its feet, our family's adventures in learning society's forgotten skills and probably my opinions on current events (I can rarely keep my mouth shut when it comes to this).  Stay tuned!