We vanquished the problems with the van yesterday morning, the boys and I. Replaced both belts successfully. One bolt on the power steering pump was in a very awkward place, but by combining forces, or rather everyone’s tool boxes, we found a combination of adapters that helped us get the ratchet where it needed to go. Total time for the repair, including some adjustment of belt tension afterwards, was about four hours.
A mechanic warned me about a manufacturing defect – he called it a “wart” – on one of the belts last year, but quoted me hundreds of dollars in labor to replace them. I assumed that the job would require moving more large components out of the way than could reasonably be accomplished with hand tools in our garage. If I’d known it would be this easy, I would’ve tried to head it off months ago.
Starting the air conditioner no longer causes 30 seconds of monstrously annoying whining from the aging belt. I had assumed that would be another repair job inaccessible to mere mortals like me, but turns out it was the same warty old belt, now vanquished. Double win!
As we were working with the van, Mrs. D. walked into the garage holding none other than my missing gray cat, Ume, assumed to have run off during Monday’s storm. Mrs. D. had put some bales of fiberglass in a box trailer Monday morning to get them out of the way for me. Ume had apparently crept into the trailer unnoticed, and gotten shut in. She was hungry but otherwise in fine health. And I no longer have to wonder about her fate.
It has been pedal-to-the-metal around here on so many projects that I’m having trouble finding time to write. Many of these are just general housekeeping things that need to happen, rather than stuff to do with growing food or growing our soil.
The boys and I have been busy with partially burying a hard plastic pond liner at the top of the hill to be our new duck pond, to replace the baby pool that is currently filling that role. The final step will be to bore a perfectly round hole in the bottom near one end, that we will be able to plug with a bathtub stopper. When we need to drain the duck-fouled water (which is usually every other day, if not every day), we will be able to pull the plug, and let loose the fertilizer and irrigation on the hillside. A set of microswales to better direct the water is also on the boys’ drawing board.
The tricky part is boring a round hole in the plastic without cracking it or just making a misshapen hole that a bathtub stopper won’t stop. I’ve got a few ideas. Watch this space.
We’ve been uprooting knapweed (aka Russian Thistle) around the yard a lot, and messing with sprinklers (2 in series) and soaker hoses.
Another imminent problem is that we have some hens that aren’t laying, and others that are pecking and eating eggs. I’ve added some pillows made of feed sacks and newspapers to some nesting boxes out of which they like to scratch all the bedding, in hopes of preventing initial breakage. Several suspects have been identified, but nobody has been outright convicted except for a pair of aging bantams that I caught red-handed, or, really yellow-beaked, side by side, when I opened the nesting box flap the other day.
The oldest batch of White Chanteclers is probably just hitting their first molt. There are a few others who we know to be laying due to having positively matched egg size, color, and shell texture to specific birds. More of the flock is rather a gray area, though. We need to take turns sitting out to watch the laying activity to gather better data. Did this for a day last week with some useful results, but more is needed, when we can tear ourselves away from other projects.
In other poultry news, the puppy unleashed her inaugural murderous ferocity on one of the young Icelandic roosters. We still have about 3 left. At least it wasn’t one of the pullets.
A thunderstorm that I can only really describe as vicious whipped through the valley yesterday while we were out. We had to dodge downed willow and cottonwood branches, not to mention downed power lines, on our drive. A nearby city was hammered with category-1 hurricane-force winds and I think many there are still without power. We came home to one window screen off, the curtain hanging out the window, a few things blown around the yard, and that was about it. The smaller of my two gray cats went missing, and I’m very upset.
The biggest project consuming our time is getting the office bathroom up and running. We will have quite a few visitors later this month, and the extra plumbing should be ready just in time. We’re still finishing the drains and the foundation. The boys are harvesting a lot of stray concrete chunks from under the house to incorporate in the footings to finish the floor under the shower and toilet. I am slowly recovering from my cracked sternum/ribs, and Mrs. D. is still the unstoppable Wonder Woman. When we started mixing concrete, she said, “I used to help my dad with this all the time when he was building houses.” She taught me a trick or two about finishing the surface presentably. I have to wonder what skills and experience she’ll pull out of her sleeve next.
Said wondrous woman headed out with the kids to a class a half-hour away this afternoon, and before she was five minutes down the road, ALL of the warning lights on the dashboard came on, and various systems began to die. She called me as she was getting it turned around, and barely got it off the road not far from our house before it died completely. I jumped on one of my kids’ bicycles, only to find the air in the tires were low. Tried another bike. Same problem. The third had barely enough air that I felt the tires might get me to the ailing van, so I took it.
Battery measured less than 8 volts, and the electrical system was suffering accordingly. I assumed the presence of a short that was draining the battery and short-circuiting the whole electrical system. Called some friends. First one who answered got going in our direction to attempt a jump-start. While waiting, I poked around some more, and before long noticed that the belt connecting the crankshaft to the alternator and AC compressor was shredded like a giant spider. Enderman lurking in the left side of the engine compartment.
Our friend arrived after having gone out of his way to get gas for his own van. We verified that the water pump was not affected by the broken belt, and then charged our battery from his van with jumper cables for a while. This enabled us to start the van and drive it home. Another friend gave me a lift to the auto parts store in town. Having a minivan as one’s sole vehicle on a homestead is a poor idea – a truck would solve a lot of problems and is on the to-be-budgeted-for list.
There’s a second belt that it makes sense to replace along with the one that broke, so I picked them both up. Youtube and my Chilton’s guide offer much encouragement that this will be an easy repair project. Will probably have to remove one wheel to access the bolts to loosen the pulleys, but hopefully that will be the extent of tomorrow morning’s drama, before I return to brainstorming interlocking systems and infrastructure in the office bathroom-to-be.
Also, having picked up a used front-loading washer and dryer for a song the other day, to replace our aging machines, we got around to installing them this morning. Cleaned out a lot of dirt under the old ones that predated our arrival here. Cleaned out and tightened up the dryer vent hose. Decided to forego replacing the dryer for now since the new one is gas and we want to hire someone qualified to extend our gas line for it. Front loading washer works great. All parts, and a stud finder (to minimize cussing), are now on hand to construct a lot of much-needed shelves in the laundry room. Another day, soon.
For the small-scale homesteader, a digging fork is almost as vital a tool as a shovel. Our forks see constant use, particularly because of our rocky soil. They’re great for breaking up dry, caked manure, where a regular pitchfork would bend.
I am a big fan of Harbor Freight Tools, since I frequently find myself in need of specific tools that will see only occasional, light use. So long as I pay attention to product reviews on the website to weed out the real lemons (I look them up on my phone in the store), I find that their cheap tools do the job 80-90% of the time. Here’s an example of one that didn’t. Last year we bought two D-handle digging forks there, for under $20 a piece.
I probably didn’t read the reviews before buying them. One of ours just gave up the ghost. I wasn’t even putting much pressure on it, when the middle two tines just bent right off. Judging by how the exposed metal on the broken surfaces looks, the head was cast, not forged. Not good.
I did check with the store, to see if they had any kind of guarantee or replacement program, but apparently that doesn’t go past 90 days for tools that don’t have the lifetime warranty. So it’s a clear case of caveat emptor, although I will say that the broken fork’s twin is still going strong. We knew these were a bit of a gamble when we got them, but we needed two, and funds were tight.
So, where can one get a real digging fork that’s made for real work? When I was growing up, my mother had a digging fork she’d gotten along with a matching D-handle spade from Bountiful Gardens, if memory serves. I used it to double-dig at least a couple of large beds, and for sundry tasks over the years. As far as I know, she still has it and it’s still as useful as the day she got it 20+ years ago.
I did some digging online (figurative digging), and discovered that English forged spades and forks are still manufactured by Bentley, Spear & Jackson, and Clarington Forge. Flexrake makes a fork that appears similar, but it gets very poor reviews at Amazon, mainly due to the poor quality of the metal.
It turns out that Bountiful Gardens now carries three different brands of forged digging forks, and has an extremely useful page that details the specs and differences between the different models. (I should point out that I am in no way affiliated with Bountiful Gardens, although I have always been happy with books and seeds I’ve ordered from them.) The stainless Bentleys look like particularly nice tools, although I’ve read some very mixed reviews elsewhere on the web.
It is possible that some types of work simply demand too much of the humble digging fork, and would be better left to a tool such as a spud bar. Lee Valley & Veritas‘ site says of the Clarington Forge tools they carry, “…these are the strongest gardening tools we offer, with a strength rating far in excess of the British standard (which specifies that digging tools bear at least 121 lb of force at the end of the handle, and border tools bear 88 lb, without breakage). Though robust, they are not indestructible, so we do not recommend them for uprooting saplings or prying boulders.”