Archive for February, 2013

The greatest loo, sir?

Friday, February 15th, 2013


Can there be a more annoying chronic DIY subject than the humble flush toilet. A seemingly simple device, it suffers from an amazing variety of degradative failures: flakey flaps, varicose valves, and the dreaded waxseal wipeout. Hardly the ideal environment for an extended repair session, I actually dread the sheer fiddliness of the thing more than I do the aesthetics.  It remains a rocky throne.

Across the course of my adult, and especially spousely life, I have pulled the ring tabs off of countless toilets, in several continents. While I hesitate to speculate on the source of wear (and I once inherited a suburban commode that could only be explained by a decade of corn cobs), it’s the equally mystifying question of alignment that finally brought matters to a head this week.

Most of the seemingly countless toilets that have fallen victim to my wrench have been blessed by a standard size and hole configuration. Once the inevitable happens, and a seat has reached its final bottom, the only factors leading into a choice of replacement are quality and color. The local home repair superstore has a choice of white seats priced for 10,000, 25,000, or 50,000 wipes. Inside of a few minutes, the deed is done, and you’re ready for a long-deserved sit down. Until our second rental house in England, which had seat alignment weaknesses in multiple dimensions, it never dawned on me that a nation could even survive without standardizing Returning to the USA, I looked forward to a more commodified approach.

Disappointingly, it turns out that ‘American Standard’ does not refer to the hole centers for the saddle mounts. Our latest high-tech loos add a ring wrinkle: a pair of adjustable pins attach to the top of the rim with stainless steel hex screws. The seat slides down over the retaining pins and locks into place. Removal of the seat, for those who are especially fastidious with the Lysol, or for those who anticipate frequent replacement, is a simple matter of pressing a single button, neatly releasing two internal clamps from the grooved pins.

The frustration with this model is two fold.  First, no matter how seemingly snug the results of a 5/32” hex key may be (and over torqueage would almost certainly lead to denial of service, if not an expensive replacement), physics always triumphs.  The forces of leverage ensures that the pin positions creep over time, with the front edge of the seat gradually, unsightily, and even uncomfortably, increasingly cantilevered over an unwilling tile floor. Second, its a pain in the ass to adjust the pins.  They not only have to be the exactly correct distance apart to fit into the base of the seat, they also need to be in the correct fore and aft position.  As is the case whenever taking aim, windage needs to be spot on, although at least elevation is fixed.

Such a high maintenance item, let alone 4 of them, could drive a person potty, and I find it no comfort station.


Wednesday, February 13th, 2013

Cabin in the Snow

Having long lost any significant enthusiasm for shoveling the stuff, my relationship to snow is somewhat conflicted. Yet, in my heart, there remains an inescapable excitement at the prospect that enough might fall to actually cover the grass.

Driving in winter weather is no longer as adventurous as it used to be, even with the assurance that comes from a Subaru.  Before setting out across the Continental Divide for a multi-week stay at the cabin, Elizabeth and I very carefully checked out the weather reports, timing our trip to arrive between Alberta Clippers.  The small amount of snow on the lane was no problem for all wheel drive.

After the First Plow

Our arrival was immediately followed by several cold, but very still, days of beautiful snow.  I’d attached the blade to the Kubota’s 3-point hitch during our last visit, and I was eager for an excuse to actually plow the snow off our long gravel drive. Tilting the blade sideways so that it would direct the snow to the edge of the drive, I gingerly backed down the edge of the drive, creating a very satisfying wave of snow, curling in front of the blade.  I used the blade backwords, so it wouldn’t dig into the gravel under the snow.  Its easy enough to reverse the blade, I decided to drive backwards so that I wouldn’t compact the snow with the tractor tires.

After about 30 minutes, I’d cleared a a turnaround area at the top of the meadow, I’d sort of cleared the newest part of the drive, leading up to the cabin, I’d cleared the longer and older part of the drive, and I’d used the front end loader and blade to clear the end of the drive at the street, and in front of the mail box.  That’s where I encountered one of the neighbors, plowing the township road with his ATV, so I helped him out, taking 2 high speed, and backwards, swipes all the way up to the paved road, and down to his driveway. By then it had become too dark to plow (maybe its time to repair the mice-eaten headlight wiring).

Overflow Pipe in pond.

Naive enough to think that FedEx might actually drive up our slippery slope to deliver my replacement iPhone, I got up early on Tuesday morning, and with new found plowing confidence, spent another 40 minutes perfecting my technique.  FedEx left the delivery in a plastic bag, tied around the mailbox. But I did end up with a nicely groomed driveway, with two relatively low lines of snow professionally and neatly piled along both sides of the lane.  I was able to enjoy that for about a week, until the last of the snow melted. It wasn’t exactly Nemo, but for me, it was a nice snow.

Bilingual Sign at Rhode's IGA