Friday, October 13, 2006

Olympic barrel wrestling...

I am happy to announce that actual progress was made on the farm house. We now have almost fully functional heat, which is a good thing in October. Shortly after moving in, I fired up the boiler to see if it worked at all. The boiler itself came on when the thermostat called for heat, so that was a good sign, but the heat didn’t seem to make it out to the hot water baseboards. So I shut it down and left it, heat not being a critical issue in July.

By October of course, it had moved up many rungs on the list. I was afraid it would take major surgery and big bucks to get it back online, but the fix was pretty easy. The pipes were at least half full of air. This may have been due to neglect, which would have fit right in with the PO’s (previous owner’s) style. Or it could have been a technical difficulty. All boilers have some provision for make-up water. For various reasons like the solubility of air in cold water vs hot water, they all tend to get a bit of air in the system. Ours has some kind of valve for adding water, but either it’s broken, or I don’t understand how it works.

Work-arounds are my specialty. I found a spigot on one of the lines, and two bleeder valves upstairs. I made up a special chunk of garden hose that was female on both ends that allowed me to hook a garden hose up to the spigot and add water to the system that way. After several iterations of filling and bleeding air, the system took off like gangbusters and we now have heat in most rooms.

For reasons that are obscure to me, one of the upstairs bedrooms has no baseboard radiators (they are really convectors, but nobody uses that word which is a pity). Maybe the kids liked it a bit chilly in the winter. It's also the room that's painted electric orange with butterflies and it had a lock on the outside of the door. We may never really know what went on in that room, hopefully.

I invented a new Olympic sport while moving stuff in and out of the basement. Well, maybe it’s not quite Olympic caliber. Perhaps it is more like one of those goofy strongman competition sports. OK, being totally honest, it’s more like a “sport” you would end up seeing on Worlds Funniest Home Videos. By now you should be realizing that I tried a stupid stunt and almost broke my neck in the process. I am happy to report I was unsuccessful in that respect.

It all started innocently enough. I was moving possessions from the trailer into the basement. I got the idea that, hey, every trip out I could remove some junk/crap that needs throwing away. You know, efficiency and all that. One of the things that had to go was the “wood stove” that was in the basement. By wood stove, I mean the 55 gallon steel drum that had a primitive door and a primitive flue pipe bolted on. Primitive is really a kindness when describing this contraption.

It was still about 1/3 full of ashes, and the remaining space crammed with beer cans, jetsam and insulation scraps. I strapped it to my nice two wheeled dolly and determined to heave it up the stairs myself. I am moderately stout, and it wasn’t that heavy right? So I’m working my way up the stairs slowly and carefully. About 2/3 of the way up, I notice that somehow, every time I jerk it up one more stair, it drops a nice little pile of ashes on the stair.

I was pretty sure I had strapped the door shut, so I was puzzled by this. While carefully balancing the monster, I craned my head around to get a better look. To my horror, I realized that those corrosive ashes had destroyed about half of the joint where the bottom attaches to the drum and could fail catastrophically with one more good jolt, dumping ashes everywhere.

What to do, what to do? I decided that if I very gently raised it up the last three stairs, it would hold. And since I’m so athletic and coordinated and lucky, this should be no problem. In hindsight, I realized that this assumption was like the young innocent girl who decides to find out what that scary noise was down in the basement of a B-class horror flick. "DON’T DO IT!!", you should be yelling about now.

Essentially, I tried to raise it over each stair in slow motion, using exquisite control, avoiding the sudden jolting that would cause the whole precarious mess to fall apart and come crashing down. The first stair went well. The second stair, I hesitated just a fraction of a second, and it slipped back down and hit the stair with a jolt. This surprised me and pulled me off balance. In a tiny fraction of a second several things happened.

1. I discovered that a healthy slug of adrenaline takes 20 years off of a 46 year old male in terms of physical strength and agility.

2. The drum, the dolly and I ended up just a hair’s breadth away from tumbling down the stairs.

3. The base of the drum came off the dolly and hung up on the edge of the stair by the hair of its chiny chin chin.

I was prepared to let the whole thing fly down the stairs to prevent the breaking of my own neck or other major bones, but that turned out to be unnecessary. With heroic effort, I got the drum wiggled back on the base of the dolly, got it tied on tighter and successfully negotiated those last couple of stairs without further excitement. Thankfully, no video cams were about to record my prowess for posterity.

The other progress is that I got the north room in the basement cleaned out. I removed the old pressure tank and the crusty dirty rotten shelves. When they put the new well in, they just abandoned the old galvanized pressure tank and pushed it over to the side, still full of water. It was a heavy pig, and I couldn’t get any of the rusty plugs out, so I ended up drilling a hole and draining the water that way. I also removed all the old nasty shelving from that room. It has been reduced to kindling now. I felt a little bad cutting it up with the circular saw, as they were made out of who-knows how old 1” x 18” boards. Next time you go down to the lumber yard, ask for some twelve foot one by eighteens and see what they say.

The rarity of lumber like that is due to the loss of old growth big trees. Now, most of the 2 x 4’s and whatnot come from managed plots of rapid growth softwood. On the whole, this is a good thing as they are theoretically renewable and sustainable, but nobody wants to wait for the trees to get big enough to make two by twenties, or one by twentyfours. Plywood is a more efficient way to make wide boards these days.

We caught a second rat in the new sump pit. I guess they jump in for a drink because they are thirsty from eating the rat poison and starting to hemorrhage inside. Then they can’t crawl back out and can only tread water for so long. I feel zero sympathy.

After asking my wife if she wanted to remove the soggy carcass this time, we determined that this is man-work, which I don’t really mind. In truth, it was a squirrel, but they are just rats with fluffy tails, and every bit as destructive.

Finest regards, and see you next time.


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