Winter arrives, the motorhome leaves

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011

Mere words cannot express my disappointment at not sharing in the digging of the septic system, which was delayed at least a week because of mud. Besides the excitement of watching Sheldon and his excavator, I really want to know how all the systems function. Given that I’ll be maintaining this place for the rest of my life, and assuming that will be long enough for things to break, I’m very curious about where everything is, and how it is constructed. I’m afraid that the underground utilities will be a mystery to me–at least until one of them fails some day.

After a week’s vacation on the building site, we returned to Virginia on the heels of last weekend’s unusually harsh and early winter snow. At least we had a chance to meet with Sheldon last week, and discuss where we wanted to put culverts under the drive, and how we wanted to leave the earth contoured around the cabin and barn.  We had a visit from the phone company. We had a long visit from the electrical coop, and agreed with Sam where we’d put the meter and how where we’d run the power. We had a very long visit with Conrad the tile guy. Elizabeth had a longer visit at Artfind Tile, a surprisingly sophisticated store located just off the town square in Wooster (no web site–how funny is that?). We also had a long and entertaining visit with Ed Erb at Erb’s Stove Center near Berlin (he’s Amish–they usually don’t have web sites).  He sold us a small Dutchwest Cast Iron Non-Catalytic Wood Stove for the office.  Sam will pick up the stove and ensure that it is installed.

We had frost several mornings, along with heavy fog.  The leaves aren’t completely down, but they are getting there.  There were still a few brave, or late, crickets chirping at the beginning of the week, but within a couple days, nights were silent, save for the occasional hoot of an owl. The last week of October was probably the last one that Elizabeth and I will spend in my folks’ motor home.  For weather and utility reasons, my parents drove it out of the Hollow on Sunday. Not only was the well head not configured to provide water in freezing temperature.  Even if it was above freezing, the motorhome wouldn’t have water, because the well head needs to come off.  A ditch will be dug between the cabin and well, and the Yoder brothers will install a pitless well adaptorto the well casing below the frost line.

The report from Sheldon and Sam today is that ditches have been dug, conduit with power lines have been run to the cabin, and a water line now connects the new cabin to our 30-year old well. Weather permitting, Sheldon should be able to finish the septic system, some driveway work, and hopefully, recapture the spring, by Friday. Sam expects that the electricians, plumbers, and HVAC subs will be working in the cabin this week, and as soon as Sheldon finishes, Yoder Geothermal (a Yoder with a website) will be able to drill in support of the geothermal heatpump. Hopefully, the cabin exterior will be stained within the next two weeks, but that may be delayed until spring. As soon as Sam can get him pinned down, the mason should arrive to do fireplace and chimney.


[If you want to see all the entries for the cabin building project, they start here. The next Building the Cabin entry is The Original Log Cabin.]

Basement Walls

Thursday, August 4th, 2011

Last Thursday was probably the high point of activity for the entire project. The morning started quietly, albeit before 6am, with 2 people spending the morning putting the finishing touches on the wall forms. This involved capping off most of the openings, and ensuring that the walls were square and level. A series of diagonal braces (visible left in lower left corner) were staked into the dirt floor of the site, and then carefully twisted to adjust their length so that an entire wall form was equidistant from a string stretched between the corners. As the day went on, more and more people arrived, raising the noise and activity level.

The cement pump returned during my last business phone call of the day, just after 2pm, soon followed by a cement mixer. By the time I’d hung up the phone, and chatted with the cement pump and mixer drivers, both of whom worked on the footers, at least one more cement truck had arrived. In no time, the site had 2 big double-axle trucks from the foundation contractor, 3-4 cement mixers, the cement pump vehicle, at least 2 pickup trucks, along with my car, my folks’ motorhome, and the Kubota. It was pretty clear that the foundation crew, up to at least 6 people by now, was behind schedule.

Finishing the barn first, the wall crew and cement pump moved to the cabin, where they started with the ground level doors.  Filling up to the top of this part of the form, they carefully smoothed the top of the walls along the lower-level doors, and then clamping forms across the top to keep the cement from squishing out when the walls filled up with concrete.

The wall crew worked their way around the perimeter, pumping in a steady flow of concrete, which slowly flowed around the inside of the frame. A kid with a long 2×4 methodically walked around the top of the walls, pumping the stick up and down to ensure that there were no air pockets in the walls. Someone else came along behind with a board to smooth the top of the wall.  And after the forms were full, they carefully rechecked the plumb of all the walls, readjusting most of the diagonal braces (visible above in the interior).

I want to go on record and say that 4 hours of playing host to 10 truckloads of concrete, various other heavy diesel vehicles, and several dozen people is a hell of a lot more fun than my day job. It was a lot like having a birthday party.  Sadly, by 6:30, the walls were poured and straight, the concrete mixers had hosed themselves out all over our meadow, and most of the wall crew was gone forever.  The cement pump took the most time to cleanup, including the astounding trick of sucking a large plastic plug backwards all the way through the metal pipes on the lengthy boom.  While he sprayed leftover concrete into some of the big new ruts on our abused driveway (Diane’s visit seemed so long ago), I cranked up the tractor to start smoothing it back out–again.  I’ve learned a lot about picking up gravel in the bucket, and I’m conquering the mysteries of the blade.

I’m going to miss being woken up at 6:30 by the precision concrete guys. Friday morning turned out to be the noisiest day so far, as they enthusiastically attacked the forms with large metal mallets, stacking the pieces, and hoisting them back onto their truck. They must have thought it was pretty noisy too, because they were all wearing hearing protectors.

By mid-morning, they were gone, leaving in peace, and alone, with two slightly warm and slightly damp concrete boxes.

What will this place look like in another month, when the logs arrive and get stacked on top of these walls?

I wandered around for an hour, staring at the bare walls of the cabin and barn, trying to picture what it will be like when this is the family home, and what memories ours and future generations will store up here.  Having lived so far away from the Hollow for so many decades, I’d always found it painfully difficult to tear myself away.  At almost 3 weeks, this was probably my longest stay at the Hollow, and I knew that Elizabeth and I would be coming back soon. It just didn’t feel like my business there was complete.

Its  hard to leave a place where such a large piece of your heart lives, with so much yet to do, like photographing all the butterflies on the newly blossoming Joe Pye Weed. Reluctantly, I packed the last of my stuff,  locked the Kubota in the shed, took one last look around, and headed down the gravel driveway in my cement-spattered Subaru.

[The first entry for Building the Cabin was July 18, 2011.  The next entry is Waterproofing.]

Bulembu: Cutest kids’ craft ever

Sunday, November 15th, 2009

Bulembu-608The crafty ladies from ICC brought along a bunch of different craft projects for the kids at the Enduduzweni Care Centre.

Most of these crafts were in the nature of tabula rasa–blank tablets to be filled in by the kids. Besides the picture frames and wooden stick photo frames (in the previous blog post), they also brought along hats that the kids could paint.

The younger kids were given bright white floppy hats (think Gilligan’s Island), and they did an OK job of decorating them to taste.

The older kids were given white baseball caps, and most of them were loath to allow a drop of paint to touch their pristine new headgear.

Fortunately, the younger kids had no such concept of purity of form when it came to the toy elephants. Handed a stark white fabric elephant, a pallet of bright colored paint, and a couple of brushes (most of which were longer than the kid’s arms), they dug right into the task.

4 Crafts

This had to be one of the cutest things I’ve ever seen.  The inhibitions which maintained the integrity of the ballcaps were not a factor when it came to preschoolers, paint and plush pachyderms.  The intensity and enthusiasm of these little kids was just a joy to see. Paint flew, as the elephants sucked up color.

Bulembu-620My favorite was the little boy (above) in the (unpainted) ball cap with the heart on his chest. No matter what those kids were doing–crafts, hand washing, eating a snack or lunch–he could reliably be expected to have a totally worried look on his face.

Hollow Maintenance

Wednesday, July 15th, 2009


Kirk, my parents, and I, arrived at the Hollow on July 3–Elizabeth couldn’t make it this year.

We spent some time the first couple days doing some maintenance. Before setting up the tent on top of the dam, we used the tractor to yank the willow bushes from the front of the dam.

Between the chain saw, the tractor, a lot of sweat, and a bit of poison ivy, we managed to open up some of the trails that were blocked by fallen trees during last summer’s mini-nado and the big ice storm a few years earlier. The one we call the Ridge Trail, along the eastern edge of our property, had been blocked by a number of large birch branches for at least 4 years.

We cleared several downed maples between The Valley and the Ridge Trail (shown at left) and then tackled the big birch. After all those years, the branches had shrunk a bit, and were somewhat rotted, making it a lot easier to trim them and then push the logs out of the way with the tractor.

The trail on the western edge of The Hollow, leading up to the Upper Meadow, has been blocked for a number of years by a large tree, and its half-uprooted stump, that blocked the trail just before a very sharp hairpin. In the past, I’d been able to drive the tractor around that spot, but it was too wet last year, and I wasn’t able to mow the grass in the upper meadow, the highest spot in The Hollow.

It took about an hour to saw the end off this big log, and to attack the tree stump with a shovel, cleaning off much of the clay that was still stuck to the roots. Figuring we’d have to saw the trunk off right next to the stump, I dug a hole under it saw that we could saw it without dulling the blade. As it turned out, we were able to pop it right out of the ground with the tractor’s front end loader.

July09-213-2.jpgThe biggest project involved the felling of a 28-year old, 40 foot high pine tree. After the Northeast Blackout of 2003, the power companies have been a lot more aggressive in preventing trees from interfering with power lines. They finally reached The Hollow last year, spraying some sort of herbicide on everything within site of the incoming electric wires. Whether or not this pine tree would ever recover, it would always be horribly scarred by the loss of most of its branches, and it would always represent a threat to the power line, so we decided to take it out.

Felling a tree uphill is a bit of a trick, especially when it is bigger than a telephone pole. If we failed, the falling tree would take the power lines down with it, so I climbed up the side of the tree with a ladder, attached a chain to it, and attached the chain to a come along winch tied to the base of another tree. Taking a big notch out of the uphill side of the tree, Dad tightened up the winch, and the tree started to lean uphill. I finished sawing the other side of the trunk, while Dad continued to winch, and we managed to drop it exactly where we’d planned, without loss of human limb, or power.

Mechanical Orgy: The Great Dorset Steam Fair

Sunday, August 31st, 2008

Several traction engines haul their load up a hillThe English revere their industrial heritage and glory in their eccentricity, two traits that indulged to the nth degree at what is reputedly the largest event of its kind, The Great Dorset Steam Fair. I’ve been to steam fairs before, but nothing on this grand scale. where else can you go to see a couple dozen steam rollers, all merrily driving around a couple miles of pasture land? A veritable orgy of steam and rivets, the air thick with the acrid coal smoke of hundreds of fireboxes, the air rent with the shrill sound of steam whistles, the rattling of chains and gears, and the cloying sound of colliopes, the overall effect of the thing is beyond words. 200,000 people were expected to visit this year’s 40th anniversary event. [see my full photo gallery]


Central stage at GDSF is the Heavy Haulage Area. All day long, steam engines of various sorts, along with the occaisional Diesel interloper, circle around about a 2 mile loop, the far end of which is relatively steep. Although there are some steam rollers (see the two at the far left), the real stars are the transport engines, the road locomotives that hauled heavy wagons, or short trains of lighter wagons, on public roads. Loads being pulled in the Heavy Haulage Area included a large generator, a huge tree, and big bulldozer on a trailer. Shown coming up the steepest part of the hill in the picture at the top, a train of 3 traction engines, 2 in the front and 1 in the back, chuffed out huge clouds of dense black smoke hauling this load.


Other traction engines, although they could haul themselves and their attachments to the job site, were used primarily as stationary power, running threshers, balers, and saw mills. Steam rollers were demonstrated not only smoothing down a road being constructed at the site, but were also used to pull grader blades and tar wagons, and were demonstrated powering a rock crusher. The most powerful steam engines working at the fair were the plough engines. Even as late as the 1950s, traction machines were used to plow large fields in the UK. A matched set of engines, right handed and left handed, with huge winches located under the boiler, alternated pulling a multi-gang plow.


Most of the engines, and their owners, were eager to get their hands dirty, but one class of engines are in a class apart. A showman’s tractor has an electrical generator and is traditionally used to power the rides and calliopes at fairs, carnivals and other events. Decked out in gleaming paint, with ornate twisted brass brackets, they were also used as tractors to haul fairground equipment between events. Many of these were in evidence at Dorset, powering calliopes big and small, and fair ground rides.


Bass do have sex, after all

Friday, July 25th, 2008

Before they become truly amorous, fish need a certain amount of breathing room, so to speak, which varies by species. Common wisdom has it that Micropterus salmoides, otherwise known as the largemouth bass, needs more legroom than is offered by a 1/2 acre pond. I’d suspected that perhaps ours were becoming a bit less circumspect. For several years, I’d noticed some pretty small bass swimming around, which meant that the fingerlings we stocked were either not growing, or the bass were stocking themselves.

It was Elizabeth who figured it out. Before we’d even pitched our tent on the dam this summer, she’d identified a big fish and claimed first right of catch. It was the biggest largemouth I’ve ever seen in our pond, and I’ll bet it goes 2 pounds. Its got some meat on it, which is more than unusual for anything coming out of our little body of water.

Every time we saw old man bass, he seemed to be surrounded by a cloud of minnows. The funny thing was, he didn’t seem to be eating any of them. The first, and mistaken assumption, was that he was saving them for later. I dragged multiple lures right across his nose, but he evinced no interest in them at all.

He just cruised around in tight circles, always within a foot or two of the cloud of minnies. Most of them time, his territory was right around the large pipe that serves as the overflow, but sometimes he’d be 5 feet on one side, and maybe up to 15 feet on the other. His habits were predictable and he was easy to find.

It was Elizabeth who finally figured out that this was a parent, protecting its young. We did a little research and found out that the male is responsible for childcare.

Whenever the school of bass fry was disturbed, the fishlets would leap out of the water, making a series of popping sounds, like a handful of tiny pebbles landing in the water. Fun. We’d seen that effect for several years now, but never knew what kind of little minnow it was, and we thought maybe some new kind of aquatic critter had hitched a ride on a duck’s foot.

Certainly the pan fish have always bred in the pond. Within a few years of stocking it, there were fish nests all over the shallow parts. I don’t what the things are–blue gills and others. I think we had once stocked something called red eared sunfish, too, which Fenders now calls shellcracker. Maybe hybrid blue gills, too. All I know is that we’ve got more than enough of those. I don’t see any reason that our bass shouldn’t be well fed. The rule is, if you catch a pan fish, you do not throw it back.