If you have come around here for very long, you probably know that I get hair-brained ideas and jump before I think. Well, the other day, I posted this picture and caption to Instagram.
I didn’t tell Emily I was going to get chicks on that particular day but I thought I was justified. You see, we were out at the deer stand the other day and I happened upon a rabbit hunter walking in the woods who found a near-starved beagle while out in the field. We talked a little and he indicated he didn’t want the dog but didn’t want it to starve either. I didn’t think much of it but later told Emily. She loves beagles it turns out, so I said I am sure we could get that dog if she wanted it. We discussed a little and she finally declined saying, “we can’t have a beagle and chickens”. Since we didn’t get the beagle, I figured that meant I was green-light on chickens. Seems right, right?
Anyhow, I begged for forgiveness and was eventually granted neutrality. Emily doesn’t really have a lot to do with the chicks but I am not presently concerned with her smothering me in my sleep. Of course, that is always subject to change.
Anyhow, I got a mixed box of 8 chicks…4 from the dark pullets and 4 from the red pullets. That basically means I probably have female egg layers and they will probably be reddish or blackish in color. I may be able to better identify breeds once they get older, but being new to chicks, this could just remain a mystery.
One of the chicks, I noticed after I got home, had a goobered-up eye. It was crusty and swollen shut. I read online a good bit and tried cleaning it many times with a wet cloth. I could get it to clear but within a day, it got messed up again. We figured she would be blind in that eye so we named her Hook. We couldn’t remember if Captain Hook had an eye patch but Hook stuck as her name. Unfortunately, a few days ago, we discovered she had a broken or maybe dislocated leg. It was clear she wasn’t right in several ways…so RIP Hook.
We have named 2 of the remaining 7 birds…one is Hodor and one is Fezzik. Both birds appear to be big and dumb. We will name the others as their personalities become apparent. Ultimately they will be named Soup, but in the meantime, we intend to have a lot of fun with them and enjoy the eggs as well!
Once upon a time there was a mule called “Brother”. Brother was drafted into turning a cane mill for what seemed like hours on end. After becoming dirty and dizzy, he began to bray for help. Another mule called “Wife” heard his braying and decided to help. With Brother on one end and Wife on the other, the cane mill turned and turned under the hot sun. Then Wife became tired and brayed, “Why can’t I have a rope to pull this load, why do I have to push?” The farmer hooked up a rope to the cane mill. Brother pushed and Wife pulled the cane mill under the hot sun. Round and round the cane mill went while Brother and Wife became dizzy and tired. Finally, both Brother and Wife started braying so loudly that farmer had pity on them and hooked the rope to a tractor. Brother sat upon the tractor and the tractor turned the cane mill round and round under the hot sun. Wife went back and forth, carrying more cane to the farmer who sat upon the ground. The two mules said nothing to the farmer about not thinking of the tractor earlier. However, every time the farmer got hit in the head by the board attached to the mill’s roller, the sounds of “hee haw! hee haw!” were heard throughout the land.
I think her story is hilarious and pretty well summarizes how our day went…
The plan was to process the cane I described yesterday into sorghum syrup. Basically, the canes are full of liquid with natural sugars and other magical things that give it a distinct flavor. To extract the liquid, farmer Warren has to crush the cane using a cane mill. Farmers in the old days used to hitch up horses or mules to a long pole attached to the center roller in the mill. As the animals walked in circles, the rollers turned crushing cane fed into the mill a few pieces at a time.
We reassembled the mill and lagged it to a few sections of old railroad ties. Old timers used to attach the mill to a tree stump that was quite solid in the ground. You see, when the rollers are turned in the mill, a tremendous amount of torque can be generated. If the mill isn’t attached to something solid, it will be spun around…not something I wanted to deal with as a 600 pound block of iron in motion is slightly more than I can handle.
So, we got it assembled and rigged a board to the center shaft. I was the first draft animal to take a turn at the mill. It was slightly easier than I expected to turn the mill. It was frozen solid when I got it so nothing moved. I guess I had an idea that it would be only slightly easier to turn once it was cleaned up. I had not assembled it even once since restoring it so I had no idea! Luckily, it turned well so we decided to start crushing cane. We tried to run a single pieces of cane through it but it didn’t really work.
The rollers are supposed to be spaced at around 1/16th of an inch. On each end of each roller, there used to be bolts that could be used to adjust the spacing of the rollers. On my old mill, I was able to free the top bolts but I couldn’t replace them (not for this year anyhow). The bottom bolts remain frozen in place so I had some ability to adjust the tops of the rollers but the bottoms were set in iron…literally. We set up the mill under a spruce tree so I grabbed a few pine cones and jammed them into the top of the mill to force the rollers closer together. Surprisingly, it worked amazingly well! The spacing at the bottom of the rollers was a little too wide so I had to be careful feeding the cane so that it went mostly towards the top of the joint between the rollers. That worked just fine but was less than ideal.
So, as I said, I was the original draft animal but I had the vision on how to feed the cane too so my brother, who has a mind well suited for being a draft animal, took over turning the rollers (just kidding…he has a PhD in chemistry). Really, neither job was too glamorous. After a few turns, we were both dizzy (and I swear it had nothing to do with the liquid wheat we had nearby) and decided to hook it to the motorized draft animal. I remained on the ground to feed stalk while Isaac and my brother took turns riding the tractor. I suppose we ran cane through the cane mill for 3-4 hours slowly learning tricks and getting better at the process. We had to fight the mill a few times as I got impatient and fed too much cane. The torque increased and we spun the mill in circles…luckily we kept the mill low to the ground for safety. Next year, I will mount it higher and more substantially to make it easier to feed cane and to minimize rotation.
When sorghum juice flows, it is pea green. Truly, it doesn’t look appetizing and I think it smells like the guts of a pumpkin around Halloween. Still, we got juice flowing and I was so excited. The process was working! We pressed a bunch of cane and had a nice bunch of juice to cook down. You’ll have to wait until the next post to hear about that adventure (yeah, I lied yesterday…I have to write more than 2 parts)!
Earlier in the spring I bought a cane mill to press sorghum stalks into sorghum syrup. After that one, I bought another (click for “before” pics). When it was time, I planted sorghum seeds and proceeded to do nothing at all related to the cane mill until the last 2 weeks when I have been working furiously to break down the second cane mill (it’s smaller) and fix it up so it will actually be capable to pressing sorghum cane! I decided on John Deere green and yellow since this is ultimately a Deere-made mill…clever, eh? I also decided to paint the inside of the mill as well as the rollers. Some folks don’t do that but mine were already painted before I got it and modern paint, when dry, is inert so shouldn’t be a food hazard. I will probably do more research and, if necessary, sand blast the paint if I decide it is a problem.
Anyhow, you see, like everything, time flies and the sorghum was just doing what sorghum does…grow! It grew and grew and it seemed like I had plenty of time to get the mill ready. Here it is almost October and I am not yet ready! Sorghum is apparently ruined if the stalks are frozen so I have a fairly short window of time left to harvest. Fortunately, the mill is apart and I was able to run a grinder over a bunch on it to remove rust, dirt, etc.
All in all, I think it is shaping up very nicely. These pieces each weigh quite a bit (the entire piece weighing somewhere between 400 and 600 pounds…I don’t have a scale that big and there is little info on this model. I guess I could weight the individual pieces but it doesn’t really matter) so it takes a good bit of work to manipulate them and hold them just right while I run the grinder. Still, I think the pieces are turning out beautifully. Of course, I have inhaled a lot of the rust and grime. I was so excited to just get time to work on them that I forgot to wear a dust mask. I did wear ear and eye protection though!
So, I may try to harvest the sorghum this weekend or the next but the mill shouldn’t be the hold up. I’ll show some more pics when we get it back together and when we actually do harvest!
It seems like we have been caught up in stuff lately and we haven’t been able to make a lot of progress on the deluxe shed. Last weekend we spent all day Saturday doing stuff so I thought I would share an update.
The electrical installation passed inspection. It’s around a 3 week wait for the electric company to run the line from the pole to my meter but I am on the list now! That will make many things different and easier as we work on the place. Eventually we will add more solar and make a run at being off-grid or rather, grid tied but a net producer, but that will have to wait.
Now that the decks are mostly up (but there is still a lot to do…like hook them together and add a railing), we can finish a lot of the outside work we have been putting off. In particular, at the rear of the building, the floor is 9 feet off of the ground. Without a deck, installing the door and siding was going to be a real drag. I mean, I added the sheathing and built the walls, etc clear up to the peak (around 30 feet in the air) without a deck, but I decided I would not be doing that any more work on the back without a deck.
So, with the deck in place, we installed the back door and are about to finish the siding. It’s amazing how much nicer the siding makes the back of the place look. It was pretty well protected from the weather by the house wrap but its lifespan has officially passed even though it looks in good shape. A few more hours and we will finish the siding as well as the soffit and fascia.
You can notice from the pics that I still have to enclose the area under the house. That has to happen before winter as I now have pipes in place that will freeze without protection. Enclosing that space, adding a door into the “basement” and getting a heat source wired in place are the remaining things that must happen before snow flies. My brother is coming in a few weeks and I plan to take a few days off of work to see how much we can accomplish. I’d really like to get this place to a point that we could actually enjoy it some this winter even if it gets cold! We have the best sled riding hills around!
The big project we were working on last weekend when we met our anonymous friends was a ditch digging exercise to remind me why I am so thankful that I do manual labor as an option, not an occupation. A buddy of mine brought his excavator over to help dig a trench in which we buried conduit to get electrical service installed!
As you might guess, working without electric all this time has made our progress slow and difficult. I mean, we have a generator but it’s not quite the same as having a socket on every wall we can use. Having a way to cool drinks and pump water and turn fans would be really nice. So, this project is a huge step forward and one that I will be glad to finish.
An excavator definitely makes ditch digging easier but there is still a good bit of manual labor that goes into getting a proper ditch dug and conduit and wire installed. I guess I am sort of built for manual labor. I mean, I am well enough and strong enough to do it but golly am I glad it’s only now and then. Anyhow, we got the conduit in place and I installed the meter base, an outside disconnect and the panel inside the house.
Part of the requirements that the inspector will verify is that there is a proper pull-rope inside the conduit. The conduit is buried a little more than 3 feet deep so do-overs aren’t really an option. They require a poly rope be installed so they can yank the supply wire from the pole to the meter. In my case, that distance is around 50 feet and there are 3 ninety degree turns. You may be wondering, dear friends, how I got the pull-rope into the buried conduit…with a shop-vac of course!
I stood at one end and created a seal of sorts with my hands around the vacuum and the conduit pipe. On the other end, Emily fed in a thin string which was pulled by the suction. We flipped it all on and waited. Pretty quickly, the thin string popped out the other end. I attached my pull-cord to the thin string and pulled it back through…voilà! A pull-cord installed!
This coming weekend, the inspector will come review our work and give the go-ahead for the power company to make the hot connection…I can’t wait to get power in the place! I am not sure we will be ready for Christmas in the cabin but we should definitely be ready for the 4th of July!
I get wild hairs sometimes. It is usually not a big deal but when I get into something, sometimes I jump in with both feet. Honestly, most times I jump with both feet. Plans are nice for people who like to plan, but I often just go for it. I posted a few weeks ago about the Chattanooga Plow Company cane mill I got to make sorghum. In response to that post, a gentleman in Minnesota contacted me about a mill he had inherited from his grandfather…in Minnesota. That’s probably a little far north for sorghum and definitely too far north for sugar cane. He wasn’t sure why it ended up in his grandfather’s barn but he wanted to find it a new home where it would be used as it was intended.
We emailed back and forth for quite awhile. I considered driving to Minnesota to pick it up but that seemed like more than I wanted to bite off. I checked around for shipping costs but since it was so heavy and the weight was concentrated into such a small package, the prices were insane. The highest price I saw was $2300.
I really wanted this mill though. It is sort of cool to add to the collection because it was made by Deere & Mansur. That company became John Deere of course. What makes that fun in my book is that International Harvester which made the other mill (by buying Chattanooga Plow Company), got into the plow business when it appeared that Deere was going to branch from the plow business into the harvester business. I do not know the exact dates but these two cane mills would have been contemporaries and competitors.
Anyhow, awhile back I flipped the tv to watch Shipping Wars. It’s a program following small shippers who bid on parcels that need delivered. The idea is I put a bid request for delivery of my cane mill and small (and some large) shippers bid on it. Bids go lower of course so I make out better and can choose the lowest/best bidder. On the show, they follow a few very colorful shippers, most of whom have a van or small truck where they pick up several packages and bid on additional deliveries along their route.
So, I signed up and a nice couple from WV happened to be in Minnesota and were heading through WV on their way to FL (or something like that). They bid on my delivery and it worked out beautifully. They called me often with status updates and I could track their progress with the website that manages all of this. I guess not everyone has great luck but my shipping battle was a done deal! I received the mill and have plans to fix it up and use it along with the bigger mill. Honestly, I am at the edge of giddy about having these cool and historic pieces of farm equipment in my possession. Emily may be less excited but she surely is a tolerant and kind woman!
So my cane mill is around 105 years old. It has rust slightly younger than that, but that’s not saying much. Pretty much all un-restored mills have old rust to some degree. Some folks like the rust look and it technically will not harm you if it is otherwise clean. I don’t like the look though and the mills weren’t rusty when they were new so it’s not like I am changing its original state.
So, I was searching around for the best way to remove rust from old iron and there were tons of people using electrolysis. I had heard of electrolysis for hair removal (which is becoming increasingly more interesting as I age and my ears have started to sprout). Anyhow, it is a well known technique for rust removal too (Here is a great bit of info on it). I put my rusty iron into a plastic tub filled with water and laundry soda. I hooked up my battery charger and hee-haw if it didn’t start bubbling!
Cut the power on and wait a few hours and poof…science happens! Search around for more details on your own because, of course, this could kill you if you do it wrong (Just look at my de-rusting tank…those bars are electrified when it’s running). Abigail and I enjoyed our little experiment and I am here to report that it works pretty well. I will still touch it up with a sand blaster (or maybe a soda blaster) but I think it is going to turn into a really nice piece!
I spent a few hours this weekend working on tearing apart the cane mill in preparation of restoring it. Some folks like the old rusted iron look and, too a degree, I do too, but when it comes to something I am going to use to make food, I think I would rather have it cleaned up and protected. Plus, I got to buy a sand blaster so it’s legit. Anyhow, I used lots of PB Blaster, an amazing rust buster, and delicately tapped on various pieces until they loosened up and came apart. I was surprised to find out that pretty much all of the mill came apart which is fortunate because it weighs a ton!
So, to make sure it makes sense, I’ll describe how it works. Basically there are three rollers that are joined by large metal cogs at the top. The largest roller has an iron shaft that extends above the mill to which I will attach a long pole. In this case, The Chattanooga Plow Company numbered the mills according to how long the pole should be for proper leverage. In my case, I need a 14 foot poll to go with my Chattanooga #14 mill.
So, I will attach a mule (like my wife and kids) or a horse or even a 4 wheeler to the pole. The beast of burden will walk in circle turning the main shaft which will, in turn, rotate the other rollers as well. The rollers are spaced about 1/8th to 1/16th inch apart. Sorghum canes are fed into the gap. The rollers rotate and pull the canes into the mill and crush the stalks releasing the juice inside the canes.
So, luckily the mill comes apart which makes my restoration much easier. I was surprised to find out that the largest roller was completely hollow. It will still more than I could lift so luckily my main mule wife helped me get it off the mill’s base.
I bought a sand blaster this week and was surprised how cheap they actually are. Now that I have the mill apart, I plan to try my hand at sand blasting. I also have another plan in action to remove rust also. Abigail and I are doing a little science experiment to find a chemical method to remove rust also (more on that another day). Depending on how that works, we may go that route instead, mainly because…well…science! Hey, science has ways to make lifting heavy stuff easier too, doesn’t it?
So I mentioned a few weeks ago that I passed my technician class HAM radio test. It took me a few weeks to get my call sign and ticket (my paper license) but I am now on the air. While waiting on the FCC to issue my license, I researched radios and decided on getting a Handi-talkie (aka HT). Basically, it is a hand-held radio that is a typical beginner radio. I ordered a Wouxon KG-UVD1P which translates to the cheapest radio that had fairly good reviews (There is your Chinese lesson for the day).
That’s my new radio…yes, it’s on a new beehive
It took awhile to figure out what I was doing with this radio but a lot of that was really just learning how HAM radio in general works. I had to research PL tones and offsets and repeaters and then figure out how to translate that to my radio. Luckily Wouxon provides free software to assist in programming the radio from a computer…if you buy their $15 cable. It was a bargain I soon found out!
So, I have been talking to (and listening to) lots of local folks on the local repeater. A repeater is a system that “listens” on a particular frequency and re-broadcasts the signals it receives. My HT can only transmit over a fairly limited distance, especially in these WV hills. The frequency band in which I am licensed to transmit typically only works with 50 miles or so max. As I advance, I will get licensed to talk at the frequencies that people use when they communicate globally, but for now I must communicate through the repeater…mostly.
I was listening on the repeater the other night when “they” announced that the International Space Station would be passing overhead between 6:06 and 6:12 am today. My HT does ok with its stock antenna but I figured I would need to beef things up if I was going to hear the astronauts, many of whom are licensed HAMs. I searched around online and found plans to make a j-pole antenna tuned for the 2-meter radio band in which I am licensed and in which the ISS would possibly be communicating.
I bought copper and connectors and a candy bar and worked on my new antenna. I even used the metric system! Anyhow, late last night in the dark, I was outside soldering copper pipe to be ready. I hooked my radio to the new antenna and tested it last night and everything seemed to work well. I could hear locals talking loud and clear.
The alarm went off at 5:45 am so I hustled outside, plugged in to my new antenna and listened…and listened…and listened. Finally at 6:20 I gave up. I was pretty bummed…mainly because of all of the sleep I missed but I am still pleased that I was able to build a nice and portable j-pole antenna. So, if you see a handsome bald man wandering the streets of Charleston looking to the sky, calling out to spacemen, it is definitely not me…do not make eye contact…take shelter immediately!
We have busted it pretty hard and the place is finally looking like a house (or at least a deluxe shed)! I took Thursday off from work to frame in the gable ends and add collar ties at the top of the rafters. For the uninitiated, collar ties are boards that are added at the peak where each side’s rafters meet. The collar tie helps to ensure that the boards cannot separate and splay out causing the roof to fail. In typical trusses that most people have in new houses, all of the internal pieces are connected by several cross beams (which also make the attic area of most new houses almost unusable.
The open gable ends, about to be framed
Anyhow, I got the collar ties in and the gable ends framed including large windows in the front and the back. I had to run the generator to power the saws of course, but I shut it down whenever I could and it was so peaceful up there. I could just imagine standing in the top of the place looking out over the woods and hearing only the wind and water.
The collar ties are the horizontal boards near the peak of each set of rafters
It was in the 20s on Thursday morning so all of the rain that had fallen into the open shell was frozen on the floor. As I was working alone, it was pretty treacherous and kept me on my toes. It really highlighted how urgent a roof overhead is to keep things safe and intact.
Making progress on the gable ends
What made the collar ties and gable framing so urgent is that I have decided to hire a guy to put the actual roof on the place. I have no safety equipment and since the roof is a 10:12 pitch, it is far too steep to easily traverse without it. Without the work I finished up, however, it would not have been safe for him to be up there either. Hopefully the roof will be on this weekend so I can finish buttoning up the building for winter.
I got a big window framed into each end of the gable
A little cleaner…mind the gap!
So, after I finished up that work, I cleaned up the 25 pounds of sawdust that I had generated and sat and enjoyed the view. It was such a nice day and I started really seeing the place come together. There’s no shortage of work left to do but we are nearly to a point where I can start to really employ child labor to finish the inside…”Hey kids, momma and I are going to take a walk…don’t fight and hang some sheet rock, would you?”