Saturday, March 19, 2011

Driving Drafts

  Thursday and Friday, I had the chance to chase a dream I've been carrying around for a long time.  I took the horse driving class offered at Turner Farms.  The thing that was most interesting to me was that it leaned more heavily toward the farm equipment aspect than driving wagons.  The farm has four beautiful Belgians and the instructor, Tim, was very good at explaining how everything worked.  He wasn't afraid to let us jump right in and get dirty.   

  We started out with harnessing Ruby up as a single and Phred and Sam up as a team.

This was my view for the last couple of days.  After ground driving for a while, we hitched up to a forecart.  This is a two wheeled rubber tired cart that has a hitch on the back so that you can hook light tractor type implements up behind the horses.  The first implement I got to pull was a rotary hoe.  We ran it through a muddy field to wear the horses out a little bit because they were so full of energy.  I was amazed that they could pull as well as they did.  I would have never taken a tractor into that field.  We then hitched up to a four gang disc and started discing up a field full of last year's turnips to help it dry up some.  We broke for lunch and the four of us students and the instructor got to know each other better.  I noticed that the four of us had something very interesting in common.  We're all pursuing as independent and self sufficient lives as possible and have a love of old traditional farming.  After lunch we hooked up to the manure spreader.  This is a wagon that has a conveyor belt on the floor that is ground driven by the wheels.  The belt leads back to a set of beaters that chop the manure up and fling it backwards in a huge rooster tail.

I pushed the spreader up to a fast trot, which in reflection was a little too quick since I felt a few little crumbs fly forward and hit me in the back of the neck!  Important lesson there!!  Last thing for the day was the walking plow.  This is the old timey walk behind plow that seems so easy when you see an experienced person working it but is a real bear to get a handle on for a rookie.

I took three turns down and back and have a new respect for how farmers used to plow their whole farm with these things.  It absolutely wiped me out!  I was able to keep a fairly straight line going down hill because I was able to see a landmark to aim for.  When we were going uphill, all I could see was horses' rears.  I plowed beautiful zig zag patterns all the way up the slope.  I'm thinking that it takes a lot of time to develop the touch on the handles to get the share digging the correct way.

  The second day, we harnessed up Ruby, Phred and Sam three abreast.  We hooked up to the disc again and finished the turnip field.

Two horse were impressive but three were absolutely amazing.  You had to take a break at the end of each row to let the horses rest.  It was really nice to sit and listen to the farm sounds and the horses and just enjoy the warm day.  Definitely a change from working a tractor.  When the field was done, we hooked all three horses up in a unicorn hitch.  This is two horses side-by-side with a single horse hitched in front of them as a lead.  We hitched them to a grain wagon and drove into town to have lunch at the pub.  The wagon was about 16 feet long and sat up pretty high.  It was a little hair raising because it took up most of the lane and we were sharing the road with a lot of cars.  It's tricky because the lead horse and the pair each have their own independent sets of lines to control them.  I wish I had taken a picture but the whole thing took so much of my attention that I forgot.  It was impressive!  I'd say that the whole rig was around 30 feet long.

  If you're ever in the Cincinnati area and you even have a remote interest in draft horses, I can't recommend this course enough.  Both Tim and the horses were very patient and all the folks on the farm were terrific.  Turner farm also offers all kinds of other courses in traditional farming, husbandry and homemaking.  All in all, I would have to say that this was about the most worthwhile $150 I've ever spent!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Bread Day

  Today was a cold and rainy day here in Cinci.  *J* had a day off of school due to end of trimester testing so we decided to make some bread.  He likes to help around the house and this is an activity that's right up his alley.  We broke out our stash of wheat and our Country Living grinder and set to work.

*J* struggles with turning the grinder so I ended up jumping in and helping out when he started to look pooped.  The grinder is nice but it can be a little bit of a bear to turn.  When we first bought it, we didn't get the extension handle on the crank.  I was the only one in the house that could turn it and it would just about kill me.  Life is so much nicer with the extension.  We used one of the honey whole wheat recipes from the King Arthur Flour website.  It makes a pretty heavy loaf of bread so my DW isn't wild about it.  The boys and I end up eating it up though.  It goes without saying that the smell in the house this afternoon was awesome!  It was kind of chilly in the kitchen so I ended up heating the oven up a little and putting a boiling kettle in with the dough to help it rise.  It worked really slick.

I haven't baked bread for almost a year.  Even being out of practice, I was pretty happy with the results.  It just hasn't been worth it to bake bread since we've been picking up "day old" at Kroeger's for 45 cents.  Our freezer was absolutely loaded.  It seems to me that the shelves haven't had too many cheap loaves lately but my DW says I'm imagining things.  Anyhow, our freezer is almost out of bread and I have the sneaking suspicion that with the recently increasing food prices, it may just be worth it to start up again.

  Now that I'm retired, one of my newly acquired "Cabana Boy" duties is to take care of our stocked up food.  This mostly means keeping the rotation straight so that we're always using the oldest items first.  I also pass the word to my DW when we're getting low on something since she is the coupon queen and can squeeze a penny until it screams.  I do most of the cooking so I have my finger on the pulse of what we need.  It's a pretty good system that we have worked out between ourselves.  I was getting tired of trying to make heads or tails out of our canned goods and discovered that you can only stack soup cans so high before you get a catastrophic failure and the mighty tower falls.  I looked online for rotation systems and almost gagged when I saw how expensive they were.  I figured that I would take a shot at building one.  I whipped one up from scrap in the basement, using pics from the web and a soda can rotater in our fridge.  The end result holds 10 soup cans just fine in about the same area that a like number would stack.

I'm sure that there are plenty of decent plans out on the internet.  I tend to do a lot of re-inventing of the wheel but I like to discover the thought process behind an item like this.  Who knows?  I may have an Edison moment and come up with a truly unique innovation on a simple idea.  I learned a lot from this exercise.  First, I didn't angle the rails that the cans roll on enough so they tend to move too slow and sometimes stop from friction against the sidewalls.  The next can pushes them along so it's not a show stopper.  Secondly, I built it with very close tolerances for a soup can.  If I had gone a little bigger it would have easily handled multiple sized cans.  Lastly, I kind of looked at a modular design but missed numerous opportunities to make it so.  I'll know where these are next time.  All in all, I'm pretty happy with it and the scrap I used was infinitely cheaper then the commercial models.  It'll serve just fine and with the experience I've gained, version 2.0 will be much better!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Sharpening Saws

  *E* and I spent the morning checking out a gooseneck trailer that was for sale down south of here.  It was a twenty footer and would have been just big enough for what we need.  Sadly, another guy showed up at the same time and made an offer without really even checking it out.  I wasn't willing to take a chance like that  so ended up missing out.  The trailer did end up being worth the asking price.  Oh well, we have a couple more months before the situation gets critical for the first round of the move to the farm.

  We had a couple of old oak pallets leaning up against the house so I decided to saw them up before the home owners association started pulling their Nazi garbage.  I was originally going to do it with the Sawzall but got the bright idea to do it with my big crosscut saw.  I had cut a few pressure treated 4x4s last summer but had never tried it out on hardwood.

I got it in my head last summer that it would be a neat old-timey skill to learn how to sharpen saws.  For information sources, I used and a US  Forest Service manual.  The first one was better for smaller saws while the second was better for the big crosscut saws like the one shown above.  I spent around $15 for a saw vise, a jointer, a nice file, and a saw set (mostly from ebay, I'm an addict) and set to work on one of my smaller 12 TPI crosscuts.  The saw wasn't very dull to start with so it was really easy too sharpen it up.  I ended up putting too much set in the teeth but otherwise, it came out really nice.  My next try was the big crosscut.  I bought it off of, you guessed it, ebay for less than $10 with shipping.  I wish that I had taken a picture as a "before" shot.  It was a REAL wreck but I just wanted something to mess with and practice a restoration on.  The handle was cracked in two so I ended up gluing some dowels into it.  It took me days to get the rust off the blade with fine grit wet/dry sand paper.  The saw had seen some hard use in the past and whoever had sharpened it last did it by eye and obviously never jointed it.  Jointing is the term for filing all the teeth level before you even start to sharpen the saw.  It doesn't do much good if some of the teeth are taller than others.  It took a lot of work to undo most of the damage but strangely I found it very peaceful and relaxing doing the repetitive file strokes on each tooth.
  How did she go on the oak pallets? Well, it cut just fine but about halfway through the thick pieces it would bind up really badly.  I took it down to my shop and threw a little bit more set into the teeth and the saw cut like a dream.  Set is the term for how far the alternating teeth bend outward from each other.

In the end, we got a nice pile of oak pallet wood to burn in the firepit...maybe this weekend if the weather holds.

  We had a small farming mishap in our living room this morning.  It was the dreaded tractor rollover!

*E* was sitting on his tractor and I guess he lost track of what was going on and over he went.  He's pretty good at not crying when he falls so it wasn't a big deal.  Hopefully he gets the tractor daredevil stunts out of his system before he's old enough to drive the big ones out at the farm!