Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Life is...Interesting

The cycle of life was starkly illustrated the past week through a series of ambulance calls that demonstrated both ends of the spectrum. At one end, we have a man dying of cancer who a friend and I have been helping in a small way by holding him while sheets are changed and doing other small things to help he and his wife in his last days. They both want him to die at home and I understand that completely. At the other end was an ambulance call a few days ago at 0200 in the morning for a woman in labor way out in the country..when we arrived she had given birth in the front seat of a pickup. All we had to do was a quick check to ensure there wasnt bleeding, a vitals check, and keep mom and baby warm until the transport ambulance arrived. The baby was healthy, mom and dad (who was driving the pickup when the birth happened) were a very nice young couple who did everything right, and the birth clearly brought home to me the delicate balance that nature has between life and death...we are all born and we all die and its all part of life.

And when it rains it pours.....we are awaiting the delivery of all the parts for the Ranger so we can get that back on the road and yesterday I noticed a rust spot on the front bumper of the GMC had dramatically gotten worse. I poked and proded a little and my finger went right through the bumper so it has to be replaced. Ordered that from the same place we ordered the Ranger parts ( ) and I cant say enough good things about that company. I have used them for several things and highly recommend them. But wait you ask, is that it? when we were driving the car the dreaded yellow wrench symbol idiot light came on for awhile and though it ultimately went off that means a fault with the transmission or electronic throttle control. It drives fine right now but thats not something to ignore so I am starting by taking the throttle body off and cleaning it along with the MAF sensor. The dealer charges between $350 - $425 to clean a throttle body but anyone with just a smidge of basic mechanical saavy can do it in about 30 minutes for free. I will take pictures when I tackle these projects to try and illustrate what I am doing in the hope it encourages someone else to dive in with their own maintenance or repairs.

I dont usually look at sales flyers other than with a cursory glance and we use them mostly to light the wood boiler but the othr day Tractor Supply Company had a sale on Air Compressors and since we needed a new one we decided to take the plunge. I had been looking at several higher end machines and I really wanted to avoid anything Chinese but good luck with that. Even the higher end compressors (in my price range)  were mostly made in China and they ranged in price from abou $300 and up. TSC had a Job Smart 26 gallon oil lubricated vertical compressor with a cast iron cylinder for $180 and I got a 2 year warranty so...what the heck. It puts out 4CFM @ 90 PSI with a 125 PSI Max so it should work fine for my needs. Like most pieces of equipment now days I re-torqued all of the bolts, tightened screws, put high end compressor oil in it instead of the junk it came with, and I will probably end up replacing the rubber feet with hocky pucks like we did with the Chinese generator (that we are actually quite happy with by the way). We will let you know if the Zhejiang Hongyou Air Compressor Manufacturing Co LTD puts out a decent product as we use it over the next year. So far I have been pleased.

This is the rock shop and eventually this will go up to the pole barn shop but it should be big enough to run an impact wrench, shears, nailer, and various airing tools. I also plan on using it to power a small air sprayer.

I was actually surprized by the quality of the thing. Dont get me wrong, this is for the home handyman and in no way equates to a heavy duty belt driven job but overall it was fairly well done.

I am not a fan of in line oilers so I doubt I will use this. To me they just get oil I dont want in air lines and I would rather oil my air tools manually.

I did a leak down test with no loss of air pressure over 48 hours...I am pretty happy with that.

For another $20 I got a 5 gallon air pig which if you live on a farm or rural property is invaluable. Everything worked right out of the box...hmmm

The compressor oil that came with the machine was probably fine but Chinese petroleum products are not known for quality so I used a quality compressor oil to fill it. And for some reason I see a lot of compressors overfilled with oil as if more is better...its not.

The diet and exercise routine continues though my running program has had to come to a halt. I am full of enthusiasm, the lungs are still there, but the knees are shot and after several couple mile runs I have come to the conclusion that running is part of my past history...I am a bit bummed. We did get a new mattress as our old one started to have indents of our bodies on both sides and no amount of turning and flipping the mattress was helping.

Its hard to see in the photo but this queen sized matress has no stains and looks like new even though its about 10 years just has lost its support and we were feeling it.

Our new matress is firm, has a 10 year warranty and ......wasnt cheap as you can imagine but its already helped both of us get more sleep with less pain.

Lots of folks have asked about living so far out and home protection. To be honest, we dont worry much about it because we are always armed and have weapons with us constantly...I mean if I am in the shower I can reach a weapon. What am I afraid of you may ask? which I would reply absolutely nothing. I have carried a weapon since I turned 17 and joined the USMC and its just habbit. We dont brandish weapons, we both have concealed carry credentials, we shoot often, and though nothing we own is worth a life and we live in a low crime area.....we are prepared.

Jeese....just a small carbine magazine is all you have?

Umm, no. We keep a fairly large amount of ammo on hand because we shoot so much and we have lots of magazines for our various weapons. The AR-15 is a favorite because its close to what I carried for most of my career and using it is instinctive. We dont load all of the magazines and rotate them so as not to stress the springs and we clean weapons and magazines as part of farm chores.

And speaking of farm chores, we have a routine each day that includes feeding and watering, putting out hay, feeding the birds, loading the wood boiler, and at least once per day checking the fence line. This has to be done rain or shine, when your sick or feeling great, and there are no "off " days. We like the routine but its not for everyone and owning livestock is a huge comitment of time and money.

Wiiiillllllbbbbbeeeeerrrr......not satisfied with hay Opal wanted carrots or apples too.

Unlike cattle, you cant feed them together as they all fight and need their own little flake to keep the peace.

The black and white pony is just pure evil and will try and bite and bully everyone man or horse. He thinks the hay doesnt taste as good unless it comes from anothers pile.

On this day it was raining and cold and poor Maybelle looked pitiful.

For the cows we can put out hay in a pile and they will go at it but they do get picky and wont eat dirty or wet hay.

We have gone through a couple cords so far but have stayed warm. We load the wood fired boiler twice a day...mornings when we get up and right before bed.

Mud, cow manure, horse manure, and hay...yup this is a farm ATV and is a valuable tool around the place.

We have two different types of wood peckers that hang out at our place and we feed them suet. Our house is stone and concrete, the siding is hardyplank, and we havent had any issue with them pecking at the house so we encourage them. Sometimes we will have 7 or 8 flitting around jockeying for position at the suet feeders.

Its basically grease and peanut butter etc in a brick and they love it.

We go through 2 a week.

And finally, yesterday Judy went for a walk around the property and when she was in the cattle pasture she was followed by the girls like she was the pied piper. Its hilarious, when you stop they stop, when you start again they start again.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Anger Management

Yesterday I woke to a nice day, made coffee, and went to clean my $650.00 flex frame tri-focal progressive lenses Titanium glasses that are about 6 months old and "tink"....they broke right at the nose bridge. These glasses had zero trauma, I dont bend them at all and other than cleaning them I dont even handle them much. Luckily they were under warranty but unluckily we are so far out in the boonies that it will be a couple weeks before they can be ordered and arrive. So they will be replaced free...and in a stroke of genius, I decided to order another set of frames and when I mentioned it to the girl at the eyeball office she said, "Well only one pair of frames will be covered under warranty"...I said, "I understand that", ...she said "and that means you will have to pay for the other pair of frames",...I retorted with a "thanks Sherlock I am aware of that but if I am buying a pair of frames how come I dont get two?";..."two what?" she says...."two keep saying I am buying a pair of frames which to me implies I get two and that I have the option of just buying a frame..." at this point Holly stepped in to rescue the situation and kept me from probably getting dropped as a patient.

And then later that same morning....Chris called from Springfield to inform us he had been in a minor fender bender in Springfield in our Ford Ranger. The minor fender bender turned out to have been a totalling of this truck in an accident that hit so hard it bent the frame and destroyed the front clip of the truck, jammed the drivers door closed and knocked the front hood sideways by 2 inches. This is the truck we have kept as a backup, we replaced the head gasket less than a year ago and it was the only transportation for Judy and Chris and now thanks to Chris' carelessness they are without a vehicle to use.

I know it was an accident but at some point accidents cross the line into blatant disregard for other people and this is probably his 5th accident and I am almost as mad at myself for even letting him drive any of our vehicles in the first place. I have never liked to loan out vehicles, tools, or equipment and if I can impart any lessons learned from this to others its go with your gut and stick to your more will we be in the transportation business.

Luckily I am a pretty fair mechanic and body and fender man gleaned from a lifetime of liking old vehicles but being too cheap to pay anyone to keep them running so we will most likely be able to get it back on the road at least in good enough shape to use as a commuter for work.

This is actually taken after we took the body panels off and pulled the front end over with a chain hooked to the GMC. The bumper and inner fender panel shown here were pushed almost to midline but it pulled out pretty good. The frame is still tweeked a bit and I may take it and have the frame straightened but it actually drives okay and tracks good.

I got the hood realigned and it now latches and sits pretty good. I will have some body work to do on the hood but we arent going for a show truck here....we just need something safe that will pass State inspection.

We made a lot of progress today and even got the drivers door unjammed and working fairly well...its just a little sticky now.

The headlight header is made out of fibreglass on these rigs and this one was destroyed as you can see. The drivers side headlight naucelle was pushed behind the grill and the front bumper was pushed up almost to the license plate until we pulled it out. Today we went to one of the largest junk yards in the Midwest thinking we could buy some parts....nope. It seems other working families like us have kids who shouldnt be behind the wheel and beat us to the parts we needed...and I am not joking. The junk yard foreman said the week before an angry dad much like myself had come in with a parts list almost identical to mine and high graded the parts we needed.

We were going to try and save this panel since I am pretty good with Bondo and we arent looking for perfection but it was just too far gone. We ordered an OEM replacement and I will salvage the fender flare and Ranger badge. We also ordered a new headlight header, some air deflectors that are important parts of the grill assembly but that you cant see, and a new drivers side turn signal assembly.

I did a mechanical check on the engine and transmission and surprisingly no major issues were found and as you can see in this picture we have been able to hammer, pull, and jimmy almost everything back into place. We just want to be able to drive this thing down to the store if we need to and unfortunately our plates are up for renewal which means we have to put this through State inspection.

This is the only piece that we decided to not pull out any further. Its part of the radiator support and I should cut the whole thing out and replace it (and may yet have to) but I think we have the brackets in place to re-mount the headlight header, the grill, and the drivers side front quarter panel. We will need to do a little welding and it wont be perfect but I was starting to tear the support which is otherwise in pretty good shape and frankly we are trying to go cheap here. I do cheap real well and I can almost guarantee I can fix this and make it useful and pass inspection.

So there you have it. If your going to live rural things like this will happen and unlike in the city you cant just put things off and walk or bike for awhile. This truck is a 2000 and had a blue book value of about 1800 - 2500 even though it was in pretty good shape so the damage effectively totaled it. I figure that we will be about $600-$800 into it for parts (which Chris will pay for) when all is said and done but if we couldnt do the work ourselves we would be looking at a couple thousand...and no body shop will agree to only do just enough to pass inspection.

Monday, January 16, 2012

A Touch of Winter

Our weather here has been rather mild this winter but we finally got enough of a dusting of snow to use our new sleds. Last Thursday we had snow and highs in the low 20s, today its sunny and 65 while our family and friends still in Alaska are burried under record breaking snow. I like sunny and 65 a whole lot better thank you.

Today is also a Federal holiday in honor of Dr Martin Luther King and I think sometimes the meaning of this gets lost through focusing on MLK the man instead of MLK the symbol. He was a fascinating person with many flaws like most men but he came to represent something that grew out of the times when he lived and the fact that I was alive myself during those times makes MLK as a symbol more real to me. I mean, when I was in school there were still segregated schools (though I did not attend one) and other aspects of Jim Crow were alive and well...its kind of hard to comprehend in light of the progress we have made today but these things were not that long ago and at least for me, this holiday makes sense as part of our national history and development.

We are also continuing our quest to improve our health through targeted exercise, healthy eating and stopping or reducing some bad habits. We both started with blood work from the clinic and for Holly a breast x-ray and it will conclude with a colonoscopy for both of us (I shudder even typing that word). Holly turns 50 in a few months and I am going to turn 52 and though we have always been physically active injuries have dragged both of us down for about 3 years now. I have been given a green light from the neurosurgeon to return to running, lifting weights and other strenuous activities and Holly is starting a conditioning walking program and will return to weight lifting herself soon. We are sharing this personal information for those who have reached a point like we have where you just dont feel as healthy as you could and dont know where to start to change things. We are starting with blood work to get a baseline and then targeting diet and exercise towards specific goals. We have both been athletic our whole lives and already have the knowledge and experience with our training regimes so for us this is just returning to a life style we previously enjoyed; if your not a gym rat or prior gym rat I would encourage you to get some professional training advice from a local gym or community center before embarking on a vigorous training program....bad technique can get you injured in a hurry and you just get discouraged.

Here is our baseline test results:

                                           Andy                             Holly

  • Weight                          207                          Yea Right
  • BP at Clinic                120/80                       107/65
  • Pulse                              82                                  72
  • Total Cholesterol          189                               100
  • Blood Glucose                99                                 71
  • TriGlycerides                216                                 97
  • PSAs                               2.1                                 --

As you can see we are starting from a pretty good point and since neither of us take any medications at all these are not bad (particularly for Holly) but my Triglycerides are higher than I want, my blood glucose is at the high end of normal and accompanying that were slightly elevated liver enzymes .......for me personally that can be attributed almost wholly to my nightly happy hour. I do not have a sweet tooth and eat little refined sugar and I also dont drink much in the way of soda pop but I do have 2 or 3 mixed drinks of an evening. Changing this one habit will likely have a significant impact on those areas I am targeting; Holly stopped her personal happy hour a while ago and the results are likely showing in her great test results. I have returned to running 3 times a week and am beginning a lifting program with a friend from the Sheriffs Dept and feel great...I missed the runners high in particular. Oh...and I stopped chewing tobacco by using a Nicoderm patch for 2 days then I just said to heck with it and even stopped using the patch.

We will keep posting updates on the low fat diet, the exercise and the blood test results scheduled for 3 months to see if our modest efforts to feel better, lose some weight, and improve our heart health pay off. For us some of this is a bit harder to do here on the farm than it was in the city where we both belonged to a nice club and literally hit the gym everyday but in some ways its even more important. Trying to stay healthy and fit not only allows us to work the farm more efficiently it just has to become part of your financial planning in todays sky rocketing medical costs/dwindling insurance benefits environment. Physical health is part of financial planning?...Absolutely.

Our big snow storm...about an inch and temps to the high teens.

I actually enjoy running in this kind of weather but one of my 2 mile routes involves driving to our small town and then running along some township streets (the population is 109) and I can only imagine what some of the locals think. Folks just dont run for pleasure or health much around here and I can imagine them watching me run by and saying things like "that boy from Alaska is a bit touched" or "he was in the war you know" or "he runs pretty good for a big fella"

I always enjoy a bit of snow each year because its so peaceful and serene....but now that we have had it I'm ready for spring!

Holly spoils the cows. She puts out hay bales and then if they dont see it right away she will walk to the back pasture and call them in...they follow her like she is the pied piper.

Its not that cold and the snow isnt really keeping the girls from grazing but cows are generally lazy and will seek the easiest tastiest feed just like we would. We have been putting our 1 bale of our first cut hay about every other day and they really go at it. We also give them grain in the evening and that is a choice we consciously made; some folks see more benefits in a purely pasture raised beef than we do and we wont try to convence them our way is better. But we like things the way they are and you would be amazed how some people (many who dont even have cattle) feel compelled to criticise us for using grain.

Now this is what I would call "The Good Wife".

We have burned about a cord and a half so far this year but we keep our house warm so we dont think thats too bad.

This was a high for this day but compared to winters past we dont complain.

This is our view from our kitchen dining are in the bay window (you can see the screen) and I posted it to show how peaceful it looks with a little snow. The girls tend to stay close to the barn when its cold and windy, we have a ton of birds in the feeders, and mornings are quiet and with the sun rising in the back of the pasture (this view faces East) so breakfasts generally have some great visages.

Not a lot of snow but since we paid $9.98 for a couple of plastic sleds we are determined to use them.

Chris had some fun anyway. We know winter isnt over, we know there will likely be a lot more cold weather and snow but togay as I write this its 66 degrees outside and I am heading out in shirt sleeves to do some chores....we are ready for spring.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Running the New Tractor and the New Brush Hog

Well it has been a busy couple weeks; I have gotten lots of hours at the Sheriffs Dept (yes the money is nice but its a trying job), we have tackled a few projects around the farmstead in prep for a supposed winter storm on the way, I helped a neighbor install 140' of septic waste line, and last week I fought an angry and persistent brush fire all day on my only actual day off that week.

But we have found some time to have a good time as well and Holly is back on her low fat cooking bent and man is she producing some good eats. She is losing weight while I work like a dog and dont lose a pound. We have also been watching some great shows on PBS including Downton Abbey (it matches the hype and is a great series), the 2 part series on Martin Luther (the Catholic church reformer), Billy the Kid, and a NOVA special on the WWII dam busters where they back spun barrel shaped bombs that skipped over the water and then crawled down the face of German dams before exploding. And of course we have been enjoying the NFL playoffs. We dont watch much TV at anytime except winter so these shows are coming at a good time. Most of what I find on network TV is mindless and anoying drivel to me though the ridiculous show Wipeout is a guilty pleasure.

We picked up the new (old) brushhog we got with the 424 and have done some work on the IH which in fact was used to trench the neighbors waste line. So far everything works as it should and we are pretty happy with it. Some friends of ours are giving up farming and selling out (we bought our heifers from them) and we are going to go take a look at some of the equipment they have for sale later this week and hopefully we can pick up an old baler and hay rake and a disk harrow. He also has a ton of welding equipment....might be an expensive visit.

This is an old early 60s John Deere tow behind PTO driven rotary cutter and despite the surface rust it works great. I will need to blast it and then prime and paint it but it needs little mechanical repair other than a thorough lube and a changing of the gear oil. It was too wide to fit on the trailer directly so we loaded it and unloaded it sideways with the FEL.

It had a flat that I fixed with slime and I need to replace a couple of studs that are broken.

You change the blade height with the crank in the top whick raises and lowers the axels.

These work well enough but you can get nailed in the back of the head by flying rocks and debris so I plan on welding a chain mail guard over the front. All you do is connect the hitch to the tractor draw bar, connect the long and narrow PTO shaft (kind of scary looking really) and it works fine. I plan on using this for the bigger pastures or brush hogging jobs over the flatter ground; it will be a nice compliment to the Kubota brush hog.

We have put about 25 hours on the new tractor so far and I am almost used to it.

It doesnt have power steering which doesnt bother me but it will be a handfull for Holly. It isnt a real big tractor at about 40hp but it is a lot heavier and different than the Kubota and you really notice it.

We are also finding that having two useful tractors on the farmstead is not overkill, it becomes very handy not having to change implements all the time.

It just has a classic sound and look that is very pleasing to me and I am very happy with this purchase. Doesnt mean I wont end up with another tractor down the line to add to the collection but this one satisfies right now.

In High School I had a beautiful and blindingly fast 67 candy apple red Firebird with a 400 big block and an M-21 4 speed transmission that I used to drag race. I then moved on to the late 70s KZ series UJMs (KZ 400, 2 KZ 650s, a KZ 900 Police Special), I had a CB-650, and old Yamaha tripple, a 72 Harley Sporster chopper, and my late lamented 2002 1200 XLC drag bike. I dont know why or how but I survived all that and now in middle age I find I get my mechanical kicks from tractors.....who would have imagined that?