Sunday, August 24, 2014

A different kind of dirt

Its been pissing rain every day everywhere in southwest Saskatchewan. But the effect of that rain depends entirely on where you happen to be.

Two days ago I was wandering around near Cabri, Shackleton and Rush Lake.  They have the snottiest slimiest mud known to man.  I could scarcely move – two wheel drive or four wheel drive – it made no difference.  At one point I didn’t trust taking the truck down the road so I got out to walk and the road – which appeared dry on the surface – was too slimy to even walk on.  Another time I got sideways on a sideroad and spent over 15 minutes jockeying around in 4WD to get headed back the way I had come from.  That time I thought I was done for but I persevered and finally got out.

Yesterday I was in the Lucky Lake, Riverhurst, Outlook area and it was night and day different.  I actually drove through standing water several times.  Roads which looked too slimy to travel were easily handled in 2WD.  It is remarkable how different soil can be – if anything its wetter over here than it was by Swift Current.

Tonight we’re going to visit Jorgito’s new grandparents.  We haven’t heard from Glen and Cathy so we don’t know how he’s doing.  Obviously we hope for the best but I expect the little furball turned into coyote food sometime over the last year.  They weren’t at the summer reunion so Marilyn has been worried about the little bugger ever since.  Me too a little bit.

Other than worrying about the furball, we’re having a kind of down day, enjoying several espressos and listening to CBC’s Sunday morning programming (which is about the only thing left worth listening to on government radio).  We’re missing the big rain in southern Saskatchewan but only barely – its been dreary and drizzling here since we got up. 

Monday, August 18, 2014

A new toy

It may appear that I am collecting a yard full of random machinery but there is a master plan.  When Jack Boxall started his sand and gravel business in Nipawin I thought it was inspired.  For a relatively small investment he had a business that he could spend as little or as much time on as he wanted to.  Jack had some bigger equipment than I want to mess with but his concept was to fill a niche that the big contractors wouldn’t bother with.  He had a couple of gravel trucks and a wheel loader but he also had smaller equipment.  I’m restricting myself to equipment that I can drag behind the big Ford.  Anything that needs an annual safety is automatically off the list.

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Clayton couldn’t resist trying it out – he’s a better operator than me but that’s setting the bar petty low.

Yesterday I picked up a little Kubota mini excavator.  I’ve been looking for something that will dig past 8 feet and that’s remarkable hard to find unless you want to spend big bucks.  Which I didn’t.  Eight feet is the magic number if you want to bury water lines below the frost line.  There was one came up in Saskatoon on Kijiji a couple of nights ago and it just happened that we were going to be in Saskatoon anyway.  Murray and I went to look at it and neither of us could see anything wrong with it.  Not that either of us is any expert on mini excavators.  Between the pair of us we maybe had half a clue. 

20140817_172318

Then as luck would have it Murray’s neighbour wanted some digging done in his pasture so I was able to try the machine out.  I’m a pretty rough operator but I think the machine performed OK.  There’s a remarkable amount of technique involved.  At first I thought I needed a bigger bucket but the more I ran it the more I thought maybe I just needed a better operator. 

My little excavator is what Kubota refers to as a gray market machine.  That means that when it was imported it bypassed Kubota’s dealer network.  They say that also means that the dealers won’t honour warranty on it.  Given that it was built in 1998 I think I can live with that.  I’d really like to find an operator’s manual for it because gray market also means that all the decals are in Japanese.  I’m not real good at Japanese.  I was trying to figure out what all the little pictographs mean but after a while it reminded me of a story father told me years ago.

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Farm tractors with mechanical gear shifts used to have numbers stamped into the transmission casting.  In theory the numbers allowed you to align the shift and thereby select a gear.  One of their neighbours on the farm at Kenaston had commented that he could tell more about what gear he was in by which direction he was going and how fast than he could by the little cast iron numbers.  I figured out what the controls did by moving the levers.  Some of them were a little tricky because there’s a diverter valve that you move and that way one lever does two different things, depending where you set the diverter.

Next item on the shopping list is a wood chipper for the little Fiat/Cockshutt/White.  That way we can charge for tree removal, chip the trees and then sell the chips.  And finally we’ll need some kind of a skid steer loader.  We’ll get a little coloured limestone inventory from the quarry at Limestone, Manitoba as well as some plain old crushed rock.  I’d really like to have some red shale inventory too but I haven’t figured out any economical way to get it to eastern Saskatchewan.   And shit.  We need a great big pile of good old rotten cowshit. 

A new toy

It may appear that I am collecting a yard full of random machinery but there is a master plan.  When Jack Boxall started his sand and gravel business in Nipawin I thought it was inspired.  For a relatively small investment he had a business that he could spend as little or as much time on as he wanted to.  Jack had some bigger equipment than I want to mess with but his concept was to fill a niche that the big contractors wouldn’t bother with.  He had a couple of gravel trucks and a wheel loader but he also had smaller equipment.  I’m restricting myself to equipment that I can drag behind the big Ford.  Anything that needs an annual safety is automatically off the list.

20140817_172313

Clayton couldn’t resist trying it out – he’s a better operator than me but that’s setting the bar petty low.

Yesterday I picked up a little Kubota mini excavator.  I’ve been looking for something that will dig past 8 feet and that’s remarkable hard to find unless you want to spend big bucks.  Which I didn’t.  Eight feet is the magic number if you want to bury water lines below the frost line.  There was one came up in Saskatoon on Kijiji a couple of nights ago and it just happened that we were going to be in Saskatoon anyway.  Murray and I went to look at it and neither of us could see anything wrong with it.  Not that either of us is any expert on mini excavators.  Between the pair of us we maybe had half a clue. 

20140817_172318

Then as luck would have it Murray’s neighbour wanted some digging done in his pasture so I was able to try the machine out.  I’m a pretty rough operator but I think the machine performed OK.  There’s a remarkable amount of technique involved.  At first I thought I needed a bigger bucket but the more I ran it the more I thought maybe I just needed a better operator. 

My little excavator is what Kubota refers to as a gray market machine.  That means that when it was imported it bypassed Kubota’s dealer network.  They say that also means that the dealers won’t honour warranty on it.  Given that it was built in 1998 I think I can live with that.  I’d really like to find an operator’s manual for it because gray market also means that all the decals are in Japanese.  I’m not real good at Japanese.  I was trying to figure out what all the little pictographs mean but after a while it reminded me of a story father told me years ago.

20140817_172321

Farm tractors with mechanical gear shifts used to have numbers stamped into the transmission casting.  In theory the numbers allowed you to align the shift and thereby select a gear.  One of their neighbours on the farm at Kenaston had commented that he could tell more about what gear he was in by which direction he was going and how fast than he could by the little cast iron numbers.  I figured out what the controls did by moving the levers.  Some of them were a little tricky because there’s a diverter valve that you move and that way one lever does two different things, depending where you set the diverter.

Next item on the shopping list is a wood chipper for the little Fiat/Cockshutt/White.  That way we can charge for tree removal, chip the trees and then sell the chips.  And finally we’ll need some kind of a skid steer loader.  We’ll get a little coloured limestone inventory from the quarry at Limestone, Manitoba as well as some plain old crushed rock.  I’d really like to have some red shale inventory too but I haven’t figured out any economical way to get it to eastern Saskatchewan.   And shit.  We need a great big pile of good old rotten cowshit. 

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Fixing tractors

Fixing tractors is my life.  I started the week by parking the 446 oil burner and firing up the 2nd of the two micro-Case tractors that I bought last fall.  That second one appeared superficially to be in worse condition but the engine is clearly in better shape.  It is a model 444 with a 14 or 16 HP single cylinder Kohler compared to the nominal 18 HP twin cylinder Onan in the 446 model but there is no comparison to the HP produced by the two tractors.  The little Kohler is pretty tired too but nowhere near as bad as the Onan.  We can actually mow grass with the Kohler and its not laying down an embarrassing oil fog while I mow.  I’ll leave the Onan hooked to the sprayer which it is more than capable of pulling but I don’t think I’ll ask it to do anything more strenuous than that.  My goal when I bought them was to restore one of them so it looks like the 446 with the Onan is the logical choice for that restoration.

Like I said a few weeks ago, my mistake was getting the 446 running and then thinking I could use it.  As I turns out, I think I actually can use the 444 so that may be the best possible outcome.  The 446 has a real 3-point hitch on it – the 444 just has a little piece of square tubing that fits into a C-section on the attachments.  I’m not sure what difference that makes but the 446 3-point looks like a real 3-point hitch.  The mechanism is pretty well identical.  The 446 also has slightly newer tin and its painted in newer Case colours.  If I’m doing a restoration I can choose whatever colours I want but all in all the 446 is the logical choice for a restoration so if I can use the 444 while I restore the 446 then that’s just a bonus.

There are enough of these little tractors still in existence that people have developed conversion kits specifically so you can install new engines in them.  I have to decide whether it is worthwhile buying a kit or whether I’ll just find a used engine and jam it into the tractor.  That’s a decision for another day.  At one point I considered some kind of a diesel conversion but right now that feels like too much work.

Once I got a lawnmower tractor working I started using the Fiat.  That let us get the yard at the little house cleaned up big time – we tore out the falling down fence at the back, cleaned up some dead trees, filled in some holes, hauled all the junk to the dump.  Fortunately I did all that before I noticed a big gap in the right hand rear rim.  I knew the rim was bad when I bought the tractor.  The tire was clearly leaking fluid and the calcium chloride had corroded hell out of the rim.  I didn’t think it was in imminent danger of rupturing the rim but that is in fact exactly what happened.  I think it happened before I pushed dirt at the little house.  If that is true then I got really lucky in that I was able to move the tractor back here and get it inside the garage before it collapsed in a messy heap in the road.  As soon as I noticed the broken rim I stopped using it but I think I had been using it for at least a day before I noticed the hole in the rim. 

20140810_153251When it comes to rims there’s good and there’s not good.  This is not good. 

I found a new rim online and the tire looks to be good enough to reuse so its not a great big deal.  The rim has a bolt in centre so all I need is the actual rim.  The centre needs paint but its otherwise in decent shape.  The rim on the left hand side looks really good but I’ll be dumping the fluid on that side as well.  There’s 200 pounds of cast iron weights on each side which should be more than enough for all I plan to do with the tractor.  If it isn’t I’ll find a few suitcase weights and hang them on the 3-point hitch.  Thirty years ago I changed the tires on my 70 John Deere with a lot less tools than I have at my disposal now so mounting the tire doesn’t seem like that big a deal.  The tire on the left hand side looks pretty rough – once I get the good one back on the right hand side I’ll see how I feel about changing another one.  At that time I may just go ahead and put a new tire on the left hand side while I’m draining the fluid anyway.  That way I’d start out with two dry tubes and I could paint the left hand rim to match the newly painted rim on the other side. 

I’ve also got some electrical clean up to do on the tractor.  Its got 30+ years of boogy farmer electrical “fixes”, most of which should just be ripped off and thrown in the dump.  At the same time as I do that I’ll rip out a lot of the original Fiat nonsense wiring.  Its a really simple tractor – a mechanical engine with mostly mechanical gauges so all it needs is a really spartan electrical system along the lines of what I did to the Onan generator on the bus.  That all can wait until fall and in the meantime the tractor is more than usable.  Well …….. right now its sitting on blocks so not that usable but once I get the tire and wheel thing sorted out it will be very usable.

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Farmer electrical – yes, that’s cigarette paper wrapped around those fuses.  And there’s a lot worse that I just can’t easily take pictures of.  Effing European engineers.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Little house on the prairie

We finally got home just about dark Friday night.  Mind you “just about dark” is a lot earlier now than it was even a month ago.  It felt good to get home so I guess it was time.  No more Ford incidents – so far.  That little 6.0 litre diesel may be a rolling grenade but ---- dayum is it ever fun to pull with.  So far I can’t see much difference in fuel economy pulling or empty.  That translates into relatively shitty mileage empty and really good mileage under load.  We regularly get 18-20 MPG (real, genuine Imperial gallons), towing or empty.  My old 7.3s used to get as high as 25 MPG empty but our last rig – the 2001 7.3 pulling our 30 foot Savanna used to average 11 MPG on our Mexican winter trips.  That combo was a little heavier and had more frontal area than this one but still – 7 to 9 MPG is a big difference.

No Ford incidents but the Case garden tractor is another matter.  When I bought them I intended that they would be projects – I’d spend some time tearing them apart, cleaning them up, fixing whatever problems I identified.  Yeah right.  My big mistake was getting one of them running.  Then I naturally thought I could use it.  But it really needs some serious TLC.  Putting it to work mowing the yard at the little house is not what it needs.  I think the real danger is that I will wear it out driving it back and forth to the other place.  Generally I drive it over there, something goes sideways, so I drive it back here and fix for a while and then I do it all over again.

They have a really stupid arrangement for the mower drive and of course this one is pretty well worn out.  I’ve cobbled it together a couple of times now and it sort of works but the first time I got it working, after about 30 minutes the transmission oil up and expanded.  Evidently I overfilled the transmission reservoir because it was burbling out the top, blowing back on the engine and smoking like a slow moving forest fire. 

That time I finally had to quit because a lot of the oil ran down on the mower deck and when the belt on the deck got slobbery enough it jumped off the pulleys.  I figured out what had happened when I noticed that I was only mowing about a 16 inch swath with my 42 inch deck.  It was smoking so badly that I was embarrassed to drive it home so I walked home while it cooled down.  After supper it had cooled down enough that it didn’t lay a smoke screen on the trip home.  However, on those brief occasions when it is mowing, it does a very good job of mowing. 

After I got the oil that was slobbering out of the hy-drive reservoir under control I discovered that it was also puking a bit of oil out of the crankcase.  There can’t be whole lot coming out of there because it’s not using a bunch of oil.  However, judging from the smoke screen it lays down, its puking enough crankcase oil as well.  There’s also a lot of blowby which is bad.  It means that the rings are worn out and letting too much compression into the crankcase from whence it escapes by pushing oil out every possible gap. At one point it built up enough pressure to blow the dip stick tube clean out of the block.  That gave my right foot a hot oil bath – not good considering that I was wearing sandals at the time.

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Sorry about the blurry shot - its pissing rain & I don’t want to get wet so I shot this through the screen.  It should be really clean because every time it takes an oil bath I pressure wash it and now its getting rinsed with rain water.

On another front, for some unknown reason, we seem to be attracting wasps.  Before we left 3 weeks ago I zapped a nest directly over the door on the little house.  For that one I used Brake Cleaner with the extension nozzle – it shoots a long way and evidently it was volatile enough to euthanize the wasps immediately.  There wasn’t a single one came out the hole after I blasted that nest. 

Saturday morning Marilyn spotted a wasp nest under the eaves on the east side of the new house and then almost immediately I spotted another one in the elm tree at the back porch door.  That one could have been really bad.  We’d both been working around it and the residents there were big black hornets.  They’d have really hurt.  I filled it with some kind of spraycan weasel piss that was close to hand and then lit it with the propane torch.  Then we had about an hour of mopping up with Raid and they were tough devils.  You pretty well had to score a direct hit from no more than 10 inches away in order to kill them with Raid.  That night I used the garden hose to flush the yellow jacket nest off the eaves.  They were pretty pissed but I also soaked the patch where their nest was attached with silicone spray.  That took away their enthusiasm for the eaves but they simply relocated to the remains of their abode which were lying on the ground under the eaves. 

Marilyn initially voted for lighting the nest under the eaves on fire and that’s absolutely the best way to deal with a wasp nest.  If you hold a torch under the hole at night then when they try to fly out their wings burn off and its all over really quick.  You want to do it at night and ideally while its raining because that will guarantee that everyone is home.  In this case it seemed to me that there was too much risk using a torch under the eaves so I vetoed that idea. 

Its a lot of work having a house – we had kind of forgotten how much and now we’ve jumped back in with two houses.  Between my smoke screen adventures and Marilyn’s efforts with the weed whacker we’ve kind of got both places looking presentable.  Our goal is to not look noticeably worse than the neighbours but some neighbours are harder to exceed than others.  We’ve got some pretty fastidious neighbours at both locations. 

Thursday, July 31, 2014

More Ford fixing

So this morning we didn’t get an early start out of Shaunavon.  Despite our best intentions it was close to 8:30 by the time we got the mighty Ford harnessed up and headed north.  When we turned right on #1 at Gull Lake I opened it up a bit and we had every expectation that we would hit Regina around noon, Buchanan tonight.  The turbo was pumping out 20 to 45 pounds of boost, the AC was blasting cold air, CBC’s “The Current” was on the air – life was good.

BANG  WHOOOOOOOSSSSHHH.  “What the fuck was that?”

We rolled to a stop on the next approach where everything once again seemed normal.  The engine wasn’t missing or running rough.  It would rev up just fine.  I was certain that the gawdawful noise we had just heard had in fact come from under the hood but when I popped the hood I could see nothing amiss.  Marilyn was convinced it was a flat tire but I never seriously considered that possibility.  The only other option was the transmission which I considered a seriously long shot.  Aside from the fact that the engine appeared to be running normally when we got stopped, I wouldn’t have been surprised to find a stray piston under the hood when I opened it.  It was really that loud and that alarming a noise. But there didn’t seem to be much else to do except continue continuing on.  So we did.  For a few minutes anyway.

As soon as we pulled off the approach and put my foot in it I knew what the problem was.  I could hear the turbo whistle from under the hood and see the soot rolling out of the exhaust.  My first thought was that a hose had ruptured somewhere  and that was where our boost was going so once again I pulled onto the next approach.  This time when I opened the hood I could see where the hose coming out of the turbo had popped loose and was sitting so close to the turbo that it wasn’t immediately evident that it had moved.  But of course it wouldn’t build any boost with the hose completely loose. 

I thought “That’s weird – why the hell would it come off?”.  I got out the tools – of course everything around the turbo was piping hot – but I managed to get the hose back on.  The clamp was lying in the valley between the heads so I put it back on and tightened everything up.  Maybe a total of 15 minutes from the first loud noise and we were pulling back onto the highway with me feeling pretty smug because everything seemed  to be working again.  We only went maybe half a mile and history repeated.  It wasn’t quite as alarming the second time but it was still a very bad noise.  That time I started looking for a farmyard and we ended up pulling off the highway on a sideroad and into the first yard we came to.  The very large dog in the yard aroused the very nice lady who told us it was OK to park “over there” so we did.

With the empty truck and a light foot we made the final 10 miles into Swift Current without calling on the turbo.  NAPA was completely useless so I went to the stealership.  $180 later I walked out with a 6 inch long piece of 2-1/2” silicon hose and 2 t-bolt clamps.  They were all nicely embossed with FoMoCo so it didn’t hurt nearly as bad.  The partsman assured me that this was a very common problem.  No doubt it is because the design of the turbo housing is just stupid.  The neck that is engages this hose has no mechanical advantage to keep the hose in place.  The other end of the hose is actually keyed into the aluminum downpipe running the intercooler but on the turbo only friction keeps everything together.  Every problem in this world can be traced back to either an engineer or a lawyer – this one belongs squarely to the engineers at Ford. 

Back we went to the nice lady’s farmyard, up with the hood, out with the old hose and in with the new, I got barked at severely, then I took the truck for a test run and finally we hooked up and were off and running again.  We probably lost a total of 2 hours for the entire adventure.  I discovered that I can build turbo boost by brake torquing – haven’t done that for years – in fact the last time I remember doing it was with my 1962 Olds Starfire.  Ken & I plus 2 women in the backseat and we still managed to lay parallel strips of rubber on 103rd street in Sutherland.  This morning I dug a pair of divots in the gravel lane which I subsequently went back and filled in – and got severely barked at while I was doing it.

Despite all our adventures, we could easily have made it home tonight but when I stopped to see my master at Assiniboia Farmland he said he wanted me to stick around tomorrow.  They’re going to teach me to fly a drone!!!  How cool is that?  I’m not sure why I will ever need to fly a drone but just having the opportunity to learn seemed like a great reason to spend the night in Regina so that is exactly what we are doing.

drone

It looks more or less like this one – maybe I’ll get some pictures of it tomorrow

Sunday, July 27, 2014

This is awkward

Coolest summer on record in the US.

90degreedaypercentage

As Kate is fond of saying “It’s probably nothing.”