Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Slow start on the travel trailer

Well I got a few things taken care of on the travel trailer, the operative word here is few.

I drug the porch out of the utility trailer and got it set up because those folding travel-trailer steps are death-traps!!! Especially when they are slightly caddywhompus, probably because they were left extended once and then whacked sharply against a passing pole or sign or something like that! (Since I'm 100% absolutely sure I'd never do something like that; it could happen. But in this case we're not the first owners and this was actually before my time.)

I didn't bother with a photo of the porch since it has already stared in previous posts.

Then I got started on the hose issue. The guy who moved the trailer for me couldn't get the hose unscrewed from the trailer so it arrived stuffed into a nearby compartment that was then duct-taped shut.

Got to looking at it and decided it was time for a replacement city-water port. In fact I'm going to have to get inside the wall there and dig out the rotted wood and install new blocking before the new one can be installed properly.

While I was at it I checked the cap on the waste tank dump station and found it dripping despite both waste valves being properly closed. This confirmed my suspicion that the valves could also stand replacing.

Amazon to the rescue, (and no I get no revenue from Amazon for mentioning them.) All three items, the water port and 3 &1.5 inch waste valves were in their in-house inventory at a decent price and eligible for free shipping.

Then it was time to get the jack stands working. No not fancy automatic electric or anything like that, just the plain old screw-jack kind that have been around since before I was a kid. These had been locked into place in the damp under the trailer, near the Gulf Coast for over 4 years so it was no surprise they were froze up. (It took the guy moving the trailer a few minutes to remember he could use the tongue jack to get the jack stands out from under there, in the mean time he tried so hard to get them to turn he bent a few if the handles up a little.)

Of course I could have just replaced the set of jack stands but these things cost almost $50 a set (I just bought a set for the greenhouse trailer.) so I retreated to the bench and with a little work which consisted of some serious wire brushing and, in one stubborn case in which I was actually twisting the screw trying to free up the nut, a lot of heating with a torch, I got them all freed up. A little crude hammer and anvil work more or less straightened the handles back out.

Hopefully the generous application of PTFE based lube will help keep them that way.

What you can't see in the quality of the photos above is that between the photo of the rusted and frozen screws laying on the butcher paper soaking up a bit of WD40 and the one of the clean and operable screws laying near the grinder with the wire wheel on it, is that for the 4th time in as many years I threw my camera on the floor. This time it was vibration from me working the screws against the wire brush on the grinder that walked it right off the edge of the workbench. I didn't even know it had happened until my wife walked by and asked if I was filming a bug or something. I looked at her like she was nuts and she asked why else would the camera be laying over there on the floor!

This Cannon SX50 is one tough bird! (No, no endorsement money from Cannon either, just the facts as I know them.) You would think the mechanism involved in zooming a lens from 24mm to 1200mm and keeping all the elements properly aligned and able to focus from 0 to infinity (Yes 0, check out the specs if you don't believe me!) would be pretty delicate, but each time I've thrown this camera on the ground it was on something hard, rocks, asphalt, gravel and this time concrete, and the thing keeps on going!

Though the lens cap finally decided it had had enough of my careless fumbling so it went, on strike this time, refusing to work another day if I couldn't guarantee better conditions, but I hadn't clicked the checkout button yet on the miscellaneous trailer parts and, you guessed it, Amazon had a replace cap, so now all those bits are on their way.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

The first of the wild black berries

OK, maybe not the first of the berries. I might have - well - eaten the first batch while still out in the field.

But in my defense; we share our harvest with other berry eating critters, so it's first come first served and I didn't have a container with me at the moment!

All washed and chilling for tonight's snack!

The travel trailer returns

Well the travel trailer made it back here to the property yesterday. Not without some drama but it's here.

This is the first time in something like 4 or 5 years it's been moved and apparently just in time since the campground it has been parked in was just sold and I'm not entirely sure it will stay a campground.

It arrived behind an F350 dully that I'm sure cost almost as much as my whole class-B motorhome. Taking over behind the wheel, I got it backed into the slightly tricky spot. (There's a big drop-off slightly less than a van length away out in front of the concrete pad.) One of those pieces of strapping laid out on the pad to guide me into the proper place with enough clearance to open the slide-out ended up just under the edge of the trailer tires so is just going to have to stay there until we move it again.

Now I should probably be out there getting the stabilizing jacks set, the slide-out slid out, the electric/water/sewer hooked up, the porch assembled, the fridge and water heater fired up and all that good stuff, but I just can't seem to get motivated. What the hell! I'm retired and there's always tomorrow.

I've always thought a travel trailer, especially the bumper-pulls, is a labor intensive way to travel, what with all the hitching and unhitching and jacking and stabilizing that goes with them. Sure am grateful I'm comfortable in my little van which requires all of 2 minutes worth of setup effort once I turn the key off, and it only takes that long if I drop one of the window shades as I'm putting it in place.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Short project, long post

I did a short project for the van this morning but the post turned out to be a little long winded (Big surprise!!).  Yes, it was a project but it was also for the van which has its own blog so rather than post it twice you can find details by clicking here

Thursday, April 24, 2014

A morning shuffle

If all goes according to plan, the 27' travel trailer my father-in-law uses down on the coast during the winter will be making it's way up here to the property over the weekend or early next week.

Problem is that I have the utility trailer sitting right were the travel trailer needs to go. That's it's normal spot and the van is usually backed in right in front of it, though the pad isn't quite long enough for the front wheels to make it up onto concrete, but the RV post, water spigot, and waste dump are right there behind the left corner of the utility trailer. Since it's pretty much a done deal that the travel trailer, which we will be using as our kitchen and bathroom during a remodel of our living quarters (Tucked into a corner of the steel barn there beside the trailer.) this summer, has to go here, so the other stuff - well - has to go.

This is the setup for moving the smaller trailers, and the greenhouse, around. The receiver clamps to the loader bucket on the tractor (and you have to clamp it really hard, and even then it tends to twist to one side or the other) and the proper hitch for the trailer to be moved is then pinned into the receiver. A three-point receiver for the lifting arms on the back of the tractor would make it easier to see to hook up (The upper edge of the bucket blocks the view and trying to stand up behind the wheel of the tractor and operate clutch, steering wheel, bucket and brakes all at the same time is a trick I have not yet completely mastered!) and maneuver (It's surprisingly difficult to master the knack of pulling and pushing a trailer from beyond the front edge of the bucket which swings wildly side to side as you steer, even though it seems like it should be easier since you're facing the right direction with this setup for backing the trailer in somewhere.), but I haven't spent the money for one yet. Besides, the chipper lives on the back of the tractor most the time and it weights 800 lbs. so isn't the easiest thing to wrestle on and off!

 After hooking up I made a stop at the main barn to load the various parts of a project that is completed and waiting for an opportune time to be installed into the small barn, into the trailer to get it off my workbench and table saw in the mean time (It's a big project in terms of size)

 This is going to be the temporary home of the utility trailer. It's hard to tell from the photo but the land surface over there on the right is anywhere from one to three feet higher than the barn slab. (We don't have any flat spots on our property!) I was in here with the tractor just a couple weeks ago cutting back the sandy-loam that had slumped down into the cleared space, something I have to do once every 4 or 5 years anyway, but I also took that opportunity to widen the cut by about 18 inches so there will be enough room to walk past the utility trailer when it is parked in here.

Then it was a matter of carefully shoving the trailer back into this tight spot,

 getting it up on blocks so the tires don't sink into the loam-gravel mix when it rains

Then rolling the relatively puny recycling trailer back into it's normal spot.

It's going to be a real pain to use the utility trailer from here. Since I'm reluctant to back my 7000 lb van into this cut which can be a little soft, especially if it's been raining, I'll have to pull the recycling trailer out of the way, walk down the hill to the fabric barn, fire up the tractor, drive it up to the main barn, install the receiver and hitch, drag the utility trailer out to the gravel drive, drop it, remove the receiver and hitch, put the tractor away, and finally back the van up and hookup. When everything is sitting on the pad I only have to do the last step! And I haven't yet talked about putting it all away again when I'm done!!!  Man I hope we finish up with the remodel quick and that travel trailer moves on to somewhere else before I get too frustrated!!!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Just because

It was a beautiful morning and I spent a couple minutes wandering with camera in hand. (Only a couple because the battery was almost dead and the light was changing too fast to run back to the barn for a spare.)

 The roses bloomed just in time for Easter and will keep on blooming now until November/December

 This is the second year for these deep red Dianthus

First year for these Giant Snowflakes (With a name like that obviously a patented variety, but they still look good mounding in a small container

This poor cedar got topped by an ice storm this year. Since it's about 30 feet tall it took my longest pole to get a saw up there to cut loose the toppled bit.

Even the dreaded yaupon can brighten things up in this light with its pretty berries.

And the first round of wildflowers; bluebonnets, Indian Paintbrush, Firewheels, etc.; are probably past their prime but we have plenty more coming, including these Queen Ann's Lace.

This is a twin to the topped cedar and is what they're supposed to look like.

Birdwatching: in the hill country

I spent a few days over in Pedernales Falls State Park and discovered they have a new (Since I was there last anyway.) bird watching area. It's really nicely set up and I got a few shots, mostly through the glass of the bird blinds.

Rather than repeat posts, here's a link to the entry in my other blog of the photos.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Gardening: the potato chronicles

You might remember that we had a batch of organic potatoes go soft and 'eye-out' before we could eat them all and I threw one into a container to see if it would grow.

It took a while but it looks like we might have liftoff!

Now I'll keep adding soil to the pot as the stems grow until the pot is full and the plant has a nice long root system for producing the good stuff. I'll either end up killing it or we might get a few actual potatoes later this season.

This guy was hanging around in the greenhouse today too. Technically he/she's a Phidippus audax but nobody can pronounce that! So we just call them jumping spiders. They don't build webs but rather hunt on the prowl and are quick little suckers.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

In the shop: new porch for the travel trailer: wrap-up, finally!

OK, after a hiatus from this project, one I'm going to claim was caused by a 4 day camping trip I took over to Pedernales Falls State Park and had nothing at all to do with the fact that when I bought the 5/16's bolts and the 5/16's washers I needed to actually assemble the porch, I also managed to buy 3/8 nuts.

I don't know what happened, I guess I just found the nuts I needed then proceeded to happily dip my hand into the next bin over. (I'll bet it's these damn bifocals!)

Anyway, got that sorted out and did a test assembly of the porch yesterday.

But before that; before taking a vacation from my vacation (If you don't understand that it tells me you didn't follow that link I left up there in the first sentence and I'm hurt! -  OK, not really, - but a little guilt is good for the soul. At least that's what they tell me.) I had gotten all the metal bits wire brushed, primed and painted.

I wasn't too keen on the open ends of some of the square tubing, those that would be exposed to hands, so before priming and painting I cut a few blocks out of scrap oak just the right size that I had to lightly, OK, moderately, hammer them into the offending tubing ends.

After the finish coat was dry enough to handle I carefully stacked the bits into the utility trailer to cure for a few days.

Once I got back from my trip and got that whole nut and bolt thing sorted out it only took a few minutes to assemble the steel parts

 The steps were put in place then lag-bolted through the vertical angle-irons which had been placed at the ends of the two center stringers. These lags don't actually hold anything up, the notches in the stringers sitting on a horizontal angle do that, the lags are just there to make sure the steps don't slide back and drop off the supporting angle. The lower upright of the step railing is bolted in two places through the outer stringer with the same 3 1/2 bolts that hold everything else together.

While I was working at it this guy dropped in to check the progress. He wasn't very friendly though and as soon as he saw I was moving into a better position to photograph him from he took off and left me all alone again.

The final step was to cut some hand grips into the bottom edge of the deck joists to make the deck easier to sling around.

To keep the deck where it belongs two more lags go up through the horizontal steel tubing and into the bottom of the joist.

After climbing up, jumping around, grabbing the railings and trying to flex them, All without falling off or bending anything, I declared the project a success.

Now the whole thing has been disassembled again and is waiting inside the utility trailer for the travel trailer to be delivered on site. Maybe in another week or so.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Critters in the garden!

Actually we have several gardens. One is the eatin' garden and the only critters that can get in there are small ones. The garden I'm talking about today is the one outside our back door.

It's nothing very fancy but I could have at least put the hose away before taking this photo!


This poor turtle was abandoned underneath my father-in-law's travel trailer for many years before being rediscovered this spring. Hopefully he likes it better here perched just above the water container.


The glass lady nestled there beneath the palm-fronds used to sit in a little arched nook just inside the front door to my grandmother's house, a house my grandfather and father, a boy still in school back then, built themselves with hand tools. She used to sit in a bowl of water and cut flowers would be inserted into the holes in her base.

I haven't been as kind to her and she's been sitting out in the weather for many years now, so many the top of her head is etched from the effects, but I don't think she minds.

This little pig lost his tail some time ago but I don't think that's much of an excuse for him letting the seeds from the bird feeder lay there and sprout right in front of his nose like that!!


I'm not sure where Sol came from but he seems at home stabbed into the dirt there in the roses.


And since the roses are showing signs of blooming soon I guess they're all getting along.

The ornamental cabbage experiment continues. I'm keeping an eye on the long, thin seeds that have replaced the spent flowers with the hopes of harvesting a few of them to see if they'll start new cabbages.

One of these days I'll get a water feature of some sort put together and hook up the little pipe that terminates in this guy's mouth, but for now he frolics without the water.

This guy usually hangs out around the cactus but they are a bit sickly right now and waiting on me to tend to them. In the mean time the lizard has decided to frequent another part of the neighborhood.

This guy is another refugee from the travel trailer. For a long time a little solar panel attached to his butt  provided power which he used to light up the tiny porch, but the sun finally killed his lighty bits and now he seems content to hang out near the water container.
And not to be left out, as I was photographing the other critters in the garden this dung beetle insisted I capture his handsome face and armored day-wear as well.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The fire pump

We live way out past - well - lets just say the post office doesn't deliver to our gate, which also means we are not close to any emergency services out here either so, in the spirit of personal responsibility, we have a 250 gallon water tank on a wagon and a proper fire pump which puts out a hundred pounds of pressure without even straining and uses the same hoses and nozzle that Forest Service crews use.

Yes, it was a bit pricey, but then watching a barn burn down because you couldn't control a grass fire is expensive too. We do get a break on our home-owners insurance for having the pump, the same deduction as if there was a fire hydrant within 100 feet of the property. So I figured out the fire pump will pay for itself in - oh - a century or so. . . .

As is our normal strategy, the fire pump is only one line of defense against fire.

First and foremost is prevention!!

We start with a rock solid electrical installation and careful maintenance of it. Electricity is one of the prime fire starters so we make special efforts to keep those nasty little electrons inside the wires where they belong.

There were no banks or other interested parties involved when we built this place with our own hands and the only inspection required by the county is for septic system installations so we had no inspectors to worry about but we were careful to build to at least national electrical codes and often beyond that (For instance we have no 14 gauge wiring at all, even though it is allowed by code for many circuits, instead our minimum is 12 gauge.)

We are especially careful with hot work, hot stoves, burning, and anything else along those lines as well.

But if we do end up with a fire, inside or out, our next line of defense is smoke detectors and/or cell phones.

After a disturbing incident during which I filled the place with smoke by making charcoal out of a slice of apple pie and yet the smoke detector never went off even though it tested fine with the button, the smoke detectors now get tested with actual smoke once a month.

Of course knowing there is a fire isn't going to do us much good unless we can do something about it other than get the marshmallows out. We can use the cell phones to call out the volunteer fire department but they are 20 to 40 minutes away even if the volunteers are sitting right there in the fire house. So we have 12 fire extinguishers, most of them big commercial type units, spread out among the various barns, tractor, 4-wheeler, generator cart, and vehicles.

Then finally we have the fire pump.

We can feed the pump with either the water tank or the pond, but it's not going to do much good if, like so many things expected to be used only during emergencies, it's thrown into a corner somewhere under all the other junk and then won't start when we need it, or if it does start we find mice have chewed up the hoses. Which is why, along with the generator, the fire pump is pulled out, hooked up and run once a month.

We have printed up and laminated detailed, step by step instructions on how to hook up the pump and get it running. This is stored right there in with the hoses where you can't miss it. Since we do this every month we don't really need the instructions but in the panic of the moment they could come in handy if we need the pump for real some day.

In the picture below, the black hose going into the top of the tank is attached to the pressure valve and recycles water from the pump back to the tank when the nozzle is closed. The white hose feeds water from the tank to the pump, or the end currently attached to the tank can be tossed into the pond if we need a larger water source. The 1" yellow fabric hose, which roles up flat and fits into the bag on the fire cart, obviously feeds the nozzle but what you can't see is that we have 2 of these 50 foot hoses that can be hooked end to end. We usually only hook one of them up during the monthly test and alternate the hose we use every month. (Keeping track by the order they are placed into the storage pouch. The one in the front is the one to use and it's then put away behind the other.) Not visible here is a garden hose coming from a hose bib attached to the well that we use to top the tank back up right after each test session.


 The nozzle is a standard fire-fighting nozzle and can be adjusted from a wide mist to a pin-point stream.

With the pump running at 100 pounds pressure the stream will reach out about 150 feet or so and still dig a hole in the ground!

You start the spray by pulling the black handle back towards the hose, but you better be hanging on tight because this thing has quite a kick!