Category Archives: Land

Good clamps are hard to find

We’ve been busy.  My company is getting ready to move so I have been pretty involved in that process.  Hopefully that will be done at the end of this week, though it ain’t over ’til it’s over.  Both kids also have strep throat so that’s been fun too.  I am at home with Abigail today, in fact.  She still has a fever and looks pitiful.  Anyhow, I didn’t get a chance to show our progress on the cabin from two weekends ago so I will post about that today.  Hopefully I can post pics from this weekend’s progress later this week.

We had great help…both Emily’s grandfather and her uncle came by to help on Saturday.  My brother tells a funny story about working on stuff with our Dad when we were kids.  He claims my Dad said, “I don’t know if you’ll ever amount to anything son, but at least you will make a good clamp.”  Both of my helpers were much better than clamps though that is all they would likely claim to have performed as during our work.


We fixed up some mistakes we made the previous week when we were framing the walls on the platform.  Once those were fixed, we got more walls set up and we installed some of the OSB on the walls.  Without our helpers, Emily and I could never have lifted and held the OSB on the high points of the “deluxe shed”.  The ladder was steep and the clay was slippery so someone had to hold the ladder while I screwed the sheets to the framing.



Uncle B. claimed that he was not handy but he seemed to be pretty good at hitting a nail and reading a tape measure.  I think he is holding out on Aunt P.  So, working all together, we made great progress.

Emily and I returned Sunday to see how far we could get.  Actually, we built a few more walls and were able to set them up ourselves.


Emily makes a great mule.  I think she has a similar term for me…

We got quite a bit done and we didn’t even brawl too much!  Like so many things, now that we are so far along, we are finally getting the hang of this whole thing.  Emily was a little hard on some of the tools though.  I am not exactly sure how I feel about the look on her face with the skeletons of my former glorious tools.

Anyhow, we went back out again last weekend so stay tuned for more pics of the progress we made.

See all of the progress on the cabin

Solved: The Case of the mystery prints

Awhile back, I mentioned that we discovered some large hoof prints in our field and we couldn’t figure out for sure what they were.  People have animals in our area but all of them are well fenced.  I had suspicions that we had a cow on the loose but there was no evidence beyond the prints.  If you know much about cows, you know that they leave evidence.

The mystery footprint

We went up to the property both Saturday and Sunday this weekend.  On Saturday, we found the evidence.  Only one marker turned up so I figured we had a single wild cow on the loose that was roaming the wilderness looking for greener grass to eat, living the life of a free bovine.


On Sunday morning, we pulled up and noticed a small herd of cows.  So much for the single renegade cow.  It was a herd that was on the loose!  I figure one got loose a few weeks ago and tasted the sweet grass over our way and finally, on Sunday, convinced all of her girlfriends to bust out and enjoy a wild day away from the field…on another field.  Anyhow, the group of them left many markers so I am certain that this was the first day they had all come.

The girls...

Tails in the air means big fun is about to erupt!

We drove up slowly thinking that the girls would spook but they were calm standing under our cabin-to-be.  Isaac wasn’t too interested in petting them but he was interested in figuring out how to claim them for his own.  He said, “why don’t we just build a fence around them?  Possession means everything, right?”  I suppose we could have rustled some cattle but I don’t think it would have lasted long.  Their owner came riding by on a 4-wheeler and tried to herd them home.  Having no luck, she ran back home for a bucket of feed and the ladies traded their freedom for the elusive pail-of-promises.

Until next time...

I am sure they will always remember fondly that day they all made a break for it and lived the life of care-free cows, not a care in the world, the wind on their udders and sun on their hairy backs.  Ah, yes, those were the days!

We were framed

We only got a chance to work on the cabin on Windday…I mean Sunday.  We framed a lot of the walls when my family was here last weekend so we started putting them in place this weekend.  Our plan was to attach the OSB sheeting and then set up the walls already covered.  We sized the walls so we could lift them with OSB already in place.  The wind, however, said differently.  We started to set up the first wall and nearly flew off the back of the platform.  I don’t know what the wind-speed was officially, but it was ridiculous-miles-per-hour by my reading.

So, Plan B…We decided to set up the walls sans OSB just so we can say we made progress.  There is a fair chance we will regret that later when we have to go back and hang the OSB, but doggone it, we have walls up!  Emily’s granddad came up to help us.  He’s been around the sun 86 times but you would never know it.  He was a huge help in getting these walls in place and we couldn’t have done it without him!

Poppaw...86 years old and we couldn't have gotten the walls up without him!

You may notice that these walls look a little different than most walls.  Good eye!  We are roughly following the Advanced Framing Technique.  What that means for us is that we are building with 2×6 boards rather than 2x4s.  We are also building on 24 inch centers (the space between boards) rather than the more typical 16 inch centers.  You can read the details on the link, but we are excited about the potential savings in materials costs and the potential for improved energy efficiency.  That and we like the weird looks people give us.  It sort of flies in the face of traditional house framing which makes it all the more appealing.


Building a wall…and the view out the front door!


Abigail surveying the scene…that’s as far as we got!

So, anyhow, we got the hardest walls set and plan to work more this weekend on getting the remaining walls up.  We will need to get the OSB started too.  I figure we will set up some elaborate pulley system to get the wood in place so we can start on the roof.  If we get wind again this weekend, I am going sailing.  Let’s see, I will need to get that old washtub and some sheets…what else do I need to build a sailboat?


See all of the progress on the cabin

Product placements

My parents and brother and sister-in-law came into town this weekend to watch the kids play soccer and to help us work some on the deluxe shed.  We pretty much finished up the sub-floor before the visit so my goal for this weekend was to get some walls built…and that we did!

As we always do, we loaded up the van with the generator and all of our tools, drove to our place and unload them once again (I can’t wait to be able to leave some stuff up there!)  I didn’t notice it at the time but in looking over the pics, many of which my Mom took, I noticed that we were like a product placement extravaganza!  See how many different brand name/logo shots you see in these pics…it is like we were setting it up!




Anyhow, my brother brought a propane framing nailer and it was amazing!  I have never used such a beast before, but basically, it is a cordless nail-driving machine.  With a regular hammer, it takes, I don’t know, 5 seconds to drive a nail, another few to get the next nail and set it, etc  Each nail and swing of a hammer takes a lot of energy so things go slower with each nail one drives.  This nailer drives maybe 5 nails a second and I never got tired.  Incredible!

So, we discovered another crazy thing as we all worked away.  It looks like a cow must have gotten loose in the neighborhood.  The prints were from a hooved animal but they were far too big to be a deer.  It looked more along the lines of what I expect an elk print would be, size-wise but I don’t think there are any elk around here.

In addition to getting a lot of work done, we got to goof around together which was nice too.  We talked about a little bit of everything and nothing is better than working on a common goal!    We also got to see, once again, just how beautiful our WV mountains really are.  The leaves are coming along nicely and will probably be at their peak next weekend.  I couldn’t take a picture that did it justice but it’s just amazing!

See all of the progress on the cabin

And there was mud

We went back out to the place today to work more on the cabin.  It rained…all day.  Since time off is limited, we pressed on and stirred up all of that mud that we made from the pier excavations.  Holy cow all of that mud was heavy!  This entire building process is exercise for sure and we definitely got our share today.  After awhile, we joked that we needed to scrape the mud off of our shoes so that we would have room for more mud.


We put a tent over the areas we worked and it wasn’t so bad I guess.  We made a lot of progress.  I won’t say much as the pictures show a lot of what we got done.  There is still a ton of cross-bracing to be done but we ran out of wood and, more importantly, nails.  We will be heading back tomorrow for more of the same minus the running out of nails part.


See all of the progress on the cabin

Building our cabin

We like going up to our land to hang out and enjoy mother nature on the weekends.  If you ask the kids, of course, all we do up there is slave away moving piles of dirt.  Emily and I finally decided to show the kids what it meant to move piles of dirt so we broke ground last weekend on a building to house a toilet.  That’s all that really matters to the kids – a bathroom.  Well, that and air conditioning.  Anyhow, as all ground-breaking parties go, it was more symbolic than anything.  The real work began on Thursday evening.  A buddy of mine came with us and we have abused him all weekend…you know, strong back, weak mind.  So, we mixed somewhere around 4500 pounds of concrete and filled 9 12-inch tubes (that’s just to brag, it isn’t meant to really have any real meaning to you, dear friends) on which to build this place.


This saves lives but also shortens lives. Post hole digging is faster and easier with this auger but it beat me to death!
Isaac hiding from work in one of our holes. We are building a post-and-pier foundation.


Post and pier foundation

Emily and I are building a house, really.  It will have more than a toilet.  Emily calls it our “deluxe shed” as it will be more of a small cabin than a house.   I have been fascinated by the small house movement (see Tumbleweed Houses for example) for a while now.  The idea is put forth as an alternative to the trend of increasingly larger houses over the last 30+ years.  I don’t care what size house people live in but the small house philosophy suits me.  In a way then, we are sort of participating in the small house movement…except it is going to be our second house.  I think that must somehow be against the point of the small house philosophy.  Still, we really like the idea of simplifying and someday, the first house will be sold and we will fit the bill.

It needs skin and lots of details, but this is the cabin we are planning to build

We are off from work Friday, Monday and Tuesday so we are plowing forward for 5 days straight to see how far we can get on this place.  I have been working on plans in Google Sketchup (you gotta learn to use this program).  My model is pretty rough but it allows me to know exactly how many boards I need and how everything needs to go together.  It will be around 400 sq ft and have one of the coolest views anywhere.

The view from the cabin spot

Emily took some pics today and they are just incredible.  Anyhow, I will keep posting as we make progress on this place.  Anyone else out there have a strong back and a weak mind?  Have I got a job for you!

See all of the progress on the cabin

Solar Powered Electric Fence

Part of moving the bees to our place in the country is so they can be out of town and away from people.  Of course, getting away from people means getting them closer to good old mother nature herself.  For anyone who has read Winnie the Pooh, you know that bears like honey when they get a rumbly in their tummies.

Bears don't read very well...

Not much will really stop a hungry bear, but the official recommendation is to enclose all “country bees” in an electric fence.  When a bear attacks a hive, the bees always come out in great number to ward off the attack.  Bear fur is typically too thick to present a problem.  The only sensitive place on a bear is apparently their nose/mouth area.  While my electric fence is a little more “juiced” than a bee sting, most folks agree that a bear has to learn about the fence with their mouth or nose.  I’ll talk more about that another time, but it makes sense that an electric fence properly set up should deter all the Poohs out there.

So, you may be wondering how solar power can deliver enough juice to make a bear even notice it was there.  It turns out that the people who make electric fence controllers make a version that runs on DC (i.e. deep cycle batteries, not house current which is AC).  The controller I bought is designed to power up to 25 miles of fence.  All told, I have maybe 1000 feet of wire strung on a few poles, so the charger will deliver a good shot when it fires.  I won’t bore you with the calculations about the capacity of the battery but it is roughly the size of a car battery just for perspective (a car’s starter battery would not work here though…this application needs a long continuous  draw on the battery rather than the quick hit when you start a car)

The battery, fence controller, and charge controller

The instructions show that the fence will run for 2 weeks on a fully charged battery of the proper specs but I do not want to have to worry about whether the battery is still charged if I don’t make it out there for a few weeks.  Instead, I bought a solar panel and a charge controller to keep the battery full.

See? It's pointed south

I pointed my solar panel south and angled it to the optimal angle to get direct sun.  Output wires from the panel go into the charge controller which regulates the power going into the battery.  The charge controller makes sure the power is the proper voltage and that the battery does not get over or under charged. The charge controller also has a “load” connection so I connected the fence controller to that connection and we’re off and running!  All of the charging/controlling/shocky-shocky stuff is inside a beehive surrounded by my other beehives as a sort of a theft deterrent.

Oh, by the way, without thinking I tried to use a regular household switch at the gate to turn the power on and off.  Of course, the fence controller pushes somewhere around 10,000 volts which didn’t even slow down for the switch rated for household current of 110 volts.  If you want a switch, make sure you get one rated properly…same with any wire you may need to use (I only used fencing wire which handles the charge nicely)

So, I hope some of that makes sense.  So far it is alive and well.  Let me know if you want more details…

Change of address

Etched in my back…er mind…is a picture of a bad interaction with the bees last year.  It was shortly after that episode that I decided that if I was to continue to have bees, they had to be away from people.  We bought property out in the country early this Spring and one of its main purposes was to be a bee yard.  After this weekend of labor, I am happy to report that the majority of the bees have been relocated to the new bee yard and seem to be doing quite well.

It sounds so simple, doesn’t it?  As you might have guessed, it was anything but.  Of course, any test of one’s mettle always makes for a good story if nothing else.  To ease the move, I decided we would mostly enclose the bees with screen and other stuff the night before.  To enclose the bees the morning of the move would only stir them up and make the process miserable.  Each hive got the screen treatment except for a small access ares for the bees to come and go.  The plan was to screen that final access point, throw the bees in a truck and go.

My father-in-law and I started before sunrise to carry the bees from his back hillside to the truck.  So, we grabbed ahold of 150 or so pounds of bees+hive+honey and prepared to stumble down the hill, guided solely by the sweet glow of the…yeah, it was dark.  We tried to carry a heavy bunch of bees down a hillside in the dark.  FAIL.  Oh don’t get me wrong, gravity works and we got the bees down the hill and into the truck but it wasn’t fun.  Luckily, the first one took us so long that it was daylight before we got to the next ones and they all went pretty smoothly.


We finished the electric fence of doom a week or so ago so hopefully any bears, raccoons, or bee-lovin’ dinosaurs will find that my bees are not on the menu.  I still have 4 more hives to move but it was such a relief to get the first batch moved to their new address in the country!

Getting plowed

It wasn’t too long ago where I was getting tanked.  Now I am getting plowed.  The underlying theme there makes me wonder if I have been working a bit too much lately (the answer is yes).  But really, I got plowed this week.

I acquired 2 old plows and I am trying to decide what to do with them.1  I have considered turning them into mailbox stands and/or planters for flowers out at the property.  That might clash with the bathtub and toilet planters I have in mind though.  Then it occurs to me that I might be able to restore them and use the kids to pull the plows to turn over some garden space.  I guess I could use the Subaru instead of the kids.  We’ll see.  Anyhow, I guess a third option is to paint them up and make them sort sort of decoration inside whatever building we eventually build on the property.

So what do you think?  Do you have any other ideas?  They are too cool to junk but I just do not know what to do with them.  Help!

Getting tanked

I got tanked on Monday…twice.  I remember most of it though so let me tell you about the adventure!  You see, our property is raw.  There are no amenities on the property…no water, no bathrooms, no air conditioned living rooms.  Just grass and trees and chiggers!  Oh my word are there chiggers.  Anyhow, on Monday, we took the first step towards making the place a little more comfortable.

Field lines

We called around and found a local guy who agreed to set us up with a licensed septic system and an in-ground cistern.  His crew started early Monday morning clearing the space where we wanted the septic field and went to work.

Our first toilet!

Over the course of the day,  they found rock here and there and had to adjust their plans several times.  Despite that, they were excellent and friendly, even in 95 degree humid air.  I know I drank over a gallon of water and I am certain that they each did too!

It’s hard to get excited about a septic system but there are a few things that just amazed me.  The guys dug significant holes for the septic tank and the cistern tank.  In each case, they adjusted and dug here and there and fussed, but both tanks laid in their holes were perfectly level.  I couldn’t believe it!  The installers checked it and so did the health inspector.  It’s a requirement but dang if they didn’t get it first time!

Bottom half of the cistern
That poor guy mixed cement with his hands and laid it in manually to seal between the cistern halves

Each tank came in in halves so the bottom half had to be placed and then a top half had to be fit just right into the sealant that was applied to the bottom.  These tanks were huge but those guys hit it just perfectly on both tanks.  It’s a requirement but dang if they didn’t get it first time!  If I heard them right, the cistern weighed over 13,000 pounds when it was all done.  It was no trivial thing to manipulate!

When it was all said and done, they graded the area very well and I think it actually looks better now than it did when they started.  That’s rare I know but I now have perfect spots to set up lawn chairs and watch the leaves flutter in the breeze.  That’s hard to beat!  Getting tanked (twice) was a great thing and really made my Monday!