Friday, July 25, 2014

Gravel Scoop

I was scanning Craig's List the other day and I found something I didn't know existed.  A gravel scoop.

Bessie has been an awesome tractor, especially considering it is only two years younger than me.  I've been using the manure bucket as a bulldozer blade of sorts to scrape gravel out of a stream bed for fill in the driveway.  One of the problems, of course, is that the gravel is wet and so very heavy.  This results in hydraulic fluid leaks.

A gravel scoop attaches to the aft end of the tractor to the three point hitch.  It can be pulled or pushed.

It has a spring loaded release lever so it can be dumped.

Since I'm still recovering from spinal surgery, I haven't attempted to mount it on Bessie yet.  But here is a video of how it works - 

It should make life a lot easier, especially digging dry gravel out of a gravely spot on our property.  It might also come in handy for digging drainage ditches, burying pipes,  and so on.   Another toy!

Starry Starry Night...

Tonight was crystal clear here in Bleecker.

Yep.  That's it for tonight.   Just the one photo.  But ain't it a nice one?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Health Update

I'm not one to prattle on and on about my aches and pains, mainly because I'm prone to whacking my head on stuff all the time and it would get tiresome for you all.  But I haven't updated the blog for a few days and I thought some of you might be wondering what's going on, which is not much.

I got whacked upside the head with a tree last August, a fight that I came out on the losing end.  I fractured C6 and C7 vertebrae, requiring a couple of days  in the hospital and the wearing of a neck brace for  a couple of months.  When my doctor back then recommended a nerve conductivity test, I asked if it could wait until after the 1st of the year because that's when I'd finally be covered by insurance.  His response was to get up and walk out of the room.

Well, everything was going along well until a couple of months ago when I lost 90% of the use of my right arm.  I had a slew of tests done and my new neurologist recommended an operation to clean things up in my neck and to fuse a couple of vertebrae together.  I had that done two weeks ago, but it was more than a couple of vertebrae, it was C2 through C7.  It was worse than he thought.

I have a fairly high tolerance for pain, having lived with lower back issues for most of my adult life, but this one is different.  The pain is getting worse over time, not better.  So yesterday Pam drove me to see the neurologist's PA.   She checked  out the incision and xrays.  She was amazed at all the work I had done, and at the low level of pain medication prescribed and upped them all, saying that I've been under-dosed.

Not a pretty sight, eh?

I was up until 4 AM last night, waiting for something to kick in so I could sleep.  I finally fell asleep, but back up at 7 AM to check Al Gore's internets and to re-dose.  I don't think these pills are doing much better than the old ones.

So, bottom line, I'm not doing much to blog about.  I can't drive, and Pam has extrapolated that to include Bessie the Tractor, even though the doctor did not include tractors in the written instructions.  I can't  lift more than five pounds, which covers the majority of our primary Bleecker crop.  Rocks.

So that's been Bleecker Mountain Life lately.  Eating (which is difficult because I can't swallow), sleeping (next to impossible), and correcting people's misguided political views on Facebook (which is surprisingly difficult).  But, on the bright side, this is now my breakfast.

I remember watching "the Jetsons" as a kid and thinking how cool it would be to simply take a pill for a meal.  Its finally come true

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Going Solar

When building a conventional home, the almost universal practice is to attach to the grid.  You get a pretty reliable source of electricity, albeit at a moderate price for the privilege.

Building in the mountains of upstate New York, the choice isn't always so apparent.  Downed power lines are fairly common after storms in the mountains, and seeing as how Bleecker has a population of about 550 people, we're about the last to get power restored.

We didn't buy an existing home.  We're building from scratch.  Combining my knowledge of 12 volt boat electric systems with my desire to be independent, our choice is fairly obvious.  Go solar, go off grid, and be independent.

I'm a fairly technical guy and somewhat mechanically savvy, but that doesn't translate into being an expert in solar electricity generation.  So like most things I do, I ease into it.  I read all I can, and then experiement.  First, I bought a 15 watt solar battery charger from to charge our RV's house batteries.  It didn't seem up to the task, and so I bought a second one which seemed to do better.  And then I received a flyer from Harbor Freight.  Where I paid $110 for each 15 watt solar panel from Amazon, I could buy 45 watts worth for $150 from Harbor Freight, complete with a flimsy PVC frame and solar regulator.  I went for it.

It wasn't easy to assemble, what with me having had spinal surgery and all, but I got it together.

The kit from Harbor Freight came with everything to stack three 15 watt panels together, which made things easier than figuring it all out on my own.

The instructions came with precise measurements to allow for one's latitude and angle to aim the panels towards the sun.  I figured just pointing things in the general direction would work just about as well...

and it  did.  Late in the afternoon, the panels were cranking 15 volts into the battery I snagged out of the dump truck.

The kit even came with a couple of 12 volt fluorescent lights, which I hung from nearby trees. This might be handy for barbecuing at night.

Pam worked on organizing our storage trailer today and in so doing found an LED anchor light from our friend Michael H of  BIBI Electronics in Fiji.  The amount of light that this produces is amazing.

Right now, I'm in the learning stages of solar power production.  The panels we have purchased so far are amorphous silicon and intended to maintain a charge on a starting battery.  This will be fine for lights in the outhouse, but not for powering a small home where deep cycle batteries will be necessary.  Amorphous works well in varied light conditions such as cloudy days though.  For full time residence in Bleecker, I may opt for a combination of amorphous and crystalline cells, which work best on clear days.   Time and testing will tell.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Our New Toys

There is nothing that I like better than the radiant heat of a wood stove.  So, I have become a sort of collector of wood burning stoves. When an old friend, a musician who played at our Friday Night Open Mic Nights at our coffee house announced that he had an old stove free for the taking, I was there.

Now, just to be clear, I am a fan of old stuff in general.  I love antiques.  I often wonder about the stories they could tell.  For example, at one point, this was a new stove, and the pride and joy of whomever originally bought it.  Wouldn't they be pleased that someone (that someone being me) wanted to make good use of it and enjoy it as they did?  

Sure, it is covered in rust, but things made in the old days were made to last.  A half hour with a wire brush on a drill and it will be ready for a new coat of paint, and as good as new.

So Pam and I hied ourselves to our friend Pete's house and wrangled it into the horse trailer, which took much wrangling.  Yesterday, knowing that I'm handicapacitated, Earl and buddy Bill used Earl's tractor to fetch it from the horse trailer and into our storage trailer.

  As you can see, it is a cooking stove.  It has griddles.  And it is all cast iron and very heavy.

 It is a "Quaker" model.  I'll have to google that.  To the left of the stove in the pic below is a frame that it sits on.  I'm guessing that the frame was nickel plated at some point.  Depending on how it cleans up, and whether it winds up in our house or in our barn, I may get that plated again.

 Since Earl and Bill were on a roll, I suggested that they fetch the Vermont Castings Resolute that we bought last year and stored in Earl's garage.  Vermont Castings made top notch wood stoves back in the day (1970s), melting down old engine blocks from automobiles for their castings.  Engine blocks were engineered to  withstand high temperatures.  Properly cared for, these stoves will last forever.

As you can see, Earl is waving "hello" as he passes by.

Our collection of "stuff" is growing.  If and when we ever actually get around to building a place to live, we're well equipped to at least stay warm.

Yesterday, I also assembled a 45 watt solar array.  What it will power, I'm not sure yet, but the new battery I bought for the dump truck last year is a likely candidate.  I love not only antiques, but new technology as well.  Who is to say that they're mutually incompatible?

And since we seem to have an abundance of rocks, we're thinking that many of our outbuildings will be made of rock, such as the pumphouse for the well, and certainly the foundation for the barn.  Why buy things like cinder blocks when rocks are free for the taking?

But... a lot depends on my health.  Last year, two months of the summer was spent in a neck brace from the man  versus tree fiasco.  The tree won.  This year, at least one month will be in a neck brace in a man versus broken neck one year late fiasco.  After my visit to the podiatrist yesterday, a couple of months may be spent in a foot cast in 2015.  

Seriously... how do these people expect me to get anything done here?

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Pam's New Toy

Before my accident last year, I used to clean up the weeds and brush on our property and the Unabomber Cabin with a hand scythe.  It took awhile, but I enjoyed the exercise.  Now that I'm laid up again, I can no longer do it.  Pam gave it a go but pronounced it too difficult.   So we hied ourselves off to our favorite store, Tractor Supply, and bought a Cub Cadet weed whacker/brush cutter.  It came with both a weed whacker head and a brush cutting blade, good for up to 1/2" brush.

They had this available in both 2 and 4 cycle models.  I opted for the 2 cycle, both because it was less expensive and lighter.  I have other devices that require mixing oil and gasoline so its no big deal to me.

Here's Pam first starting it...

and her first whack at weed whacking.   She liked it, so much that she did both sides of the 1/4 mile long driveway.

As I'm writing this, she put on the brush cutting head and is cutting all around the Unabomber Cabin, which I did when we first got here in mid-May and hasn't been done since.

What a gal.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

What To Read... So Little Time...

I'm laid up for a month, maybe more.  As an active guy, what do I do?  Too many books, too little time...