Pete's random thoughts

Friday, March 30, 2007

Mobile Chicken Coop

I just got bit by a chicken.

There is maybe a dozen chickens that hatched out last summer in an old rabbit hutch that we were raising up as broilers. The other chickens would come around and harrass them, sort of taunting them about being in a pen when the rest of the flock free-ranged. We ended up letting them out to run with the others, which was the end of them being broilers. They hang around the front of the place most of the day and roost up in the hemlocks at night. Since they are mixed breeds, some of thme are pretty funky looking.

Now it's spring, and we are starting to find a few eggs a day in the hen house.

I just went out to my truck, which I had planned on taking to town to do some errands this afternoon, and asorted chickens hopped out of the back. Since one of the things I wanted to do in town was to go to the dump, there are several bags of trash in the back of my truck. I decided to check to see if the girls had deposited any eggs there, so I moved a feed bag out of the way. Out of nowhere, a little white head with angry red eyes sprung up and bit me on the webbing of my thumb.

It seems that this particular little white hen had decided it was a good place to build a nest and was busying herself with arranging hay in the corner, right behind the cab. She's pretty mad at me for disturbing her nest, so I think I'll let her calm down a bit, then try to move the whole nest, eggs and all, to a safer location that doesn't move every week or so.

The lesson learned here is that when it gets warm this summer, I better not leave my windows open or else I'll start to find eggs under the driver's seat!

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

I'm NEVER going in the attic again!!!

OK, I'm DONE in the attic!!!

I spent much of yesterday and today rolling around in fiberglass removing weird wiring and adding proper wiring to relocate some ceiling fixtures in the house.

Fiberglass is a drag enough all by itself, but it's even worse when there is pretty much no headroom so you are literally rolling around in it. The only way it would have been worse is if it were hot up there because when you sweat, your pores open up and let in more fibers than when you are cold. (I used to work with fiberglass covered high-temperature wiring at BTU Engineering in a previous lifetime and am all too familiar with it's properties - Wendy's Dad worked there at the same time, but we never met)

The attic is really more of a crawlspace than an attic. If you get up on your hands and knees, you get skewered by the roofing nails sticking down through the sheathing.

The wiring done by the previous owner of the property is fascinating. At some point, they had even rigged up a 3-wire, 8 gauge cable that ran from the main breaker in the house up through the wall into the attic crawlspace, then through the outside wall and attached it to the electrical service upstream of the meter to steal electricity. They did this by standing on the roof and connecting the wires to the live ones coming from the pole with radiator hose clamps. Not smart or honest, but pretty daring!

There were all sorts of live wires laying around in the attic from various aborted wiring projects they had done, but I only got zapped once. Ironically, I got zapped by a white wire, which is connected to ground in the real world, but they had used the white as the "hot" conductor here. There was one jury-rigged setup that involved two ratty old extension cords that were tied and wirenutted together up inside the ceiling.

In one of the junction boxes was a connection made with a white porcelien wire nut. In case you don't know what a wire nut is, it's one of those things that electricians use inside junction boxes that looks like a cap from a magic marker. There is a little spring inside, you twist it over your wire ends and it makes the connection for you. (I remember my shop teacher stressing that the connection must be "electrically and mechanically secure without solder" per the 1978 National Electrical Code Book, my formal training is as an electrician) These are made of plastic today, the porcelin on I found is probably from before WW2.

Tomorrow the insulation guys are coming to blow in 14" of cellulose into the crawlspace to improve upon the 6" of pink fiberglass that is up there, which should radically increase the efficienacy of the house. To do this, they need to install a 14" high dam around the trapdoor that leads to the attic. The good news is that all of my wiring is done and I will never need to go up there again!

Thankfully, it is all torn out now

Monday, March 26, 2007

Muck boots and a bathrobe

So there I was, 11PM and I'm outside in a pair of muck boots with ice creepers on the bottom and a bathrobe...

The day began early for us as the Millers were coming to work at 7AM, and a construction crew was coming to make a few repairs in preparation for blowing in more insulation into the attic crawl space. I took care of business here in the shop until lunch time, without really having my breakfast until noon. I had spent the afternoon and evening crawling around in the attic crawlspace running new wires and removing bizzare old ones (a topic for a whole 'nother post) and couldn't wait to get in the shower.

After the shower (10PM), I couldn't wait to cook my dinner and relax. I seldom actually get to relax, as there is always something pressing to do. In this case, I had orders from Wendy to come back down here to my desk and place an order with one of our vendors for more matchlocks. OK, so my dinner and relaxation gets put off.

I had shined the big flashlight out into the back yard to check on all the quacking, and saw that half a dozen big, stupid white Pekin ducks were out of the pen, and reminded myself to be sure to chase thme back into the pen before I went up to start my dinner. After placing the order, I put on my muck boots to go chase ducks.

So there I was, in my muck boots with ice creepers on them and a bathrobe. Chasing ducks. Here, there, everywhere. Quack-quack-quack!

I herded them toward the door of the pen. They ran the other way. I opened the door in anticipation of chasing thme back that way again, and who should decide to go out for a stroll? Rocky the ox. (he's in training, and technically a steer at the moment, but he's approaching 1/2 a ton and I call him an ox) Does he walk out, turn around and walk back in? Nope. He runs for it. Nearly 1000 pounds of beef running for the woods at top speed. So much for my dinner.

I wasn't about to go chasing a steer around the woods in the middle of the night as I was sore from my crawlspace ordeal, and just wanted my dinner. So I decided to think like a yearling steer...what is the most important thing in the world? FOOD! So I went inside and came out with a scoop of goat feed. Goat feed is covered in molasses and is sort of like crack to bovines, they would do ANYTHING to get it.

By now, Rocky is scaling the pile of boulders that leads up to the hill on the north side of the house. I shook the scoop to make the "food sound" and got his attention. He came back down off of the rocks towards me at full gallop, and crammed his nose into the scoop. I backed away and led him into the pen.

Then I began chasing ducks again. In the process, I wiped out on the ice and fell on my side. So much for my being nice-and-clean-shower-fresh. Still no dinner.

Now it's after midnight, and in the midst of all of this, I had to delay my dinner further as Wendy needed me to replace the ink tanks in her printer. I finally got to bed around 2AM, a 19 hour day.

This is a typical day. Between the weatherization guys and the water filtration contractor, the next three days should be pretty much the same too.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

The sweet smell of spring...

You can tell it is getting to be spring for real. All of the cow, goat, poultry and pig poop that froze all winter long thaws all at once, creating a quagmire of poopy mud. Not a bad smell, but unmistakeable.

Another sign of spring...

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

New models planned for 2007

We just got back from our annual meeting with our biggest supplier. I'm exhausted. Not so much from the meeting that ran until after 3AM, but from the weeks of preparation for the meeting. It's like studying for an important test in school, you spend weeks of late nights getting ready for it.

At this meeting, which is held every March at a hotel in Connecticut, we go over chages and revisions to the existing models that we'd like to see and present the designs for new models. It seems to be an awkward time to have a meeting of this sort as it is several months into the calendar year, but it actually works out pretty good as it allows us to have at least a prototype of any new models by the start of reenacting season here in the Northeast.

I presented two typewritten pages of revisions to 18 different models, some minor reminders about little details, others some major new revisons based on hours of painstaking research. After that, we discussed the new ones. I'll keep you in suspense as to the details for now, but here's what is coming down the pike for this season:

English Fusil - based on an original in my collection, the original being a light gun made by Ketland

French Fusil de Chasse - based on a series of identified individual guns, we picked what we felt were the most common traits of a fusil de chasse (as opposed tot he mix of de chasse and fusil fin features seen on most repros)

Double barrel flintlock pistol - since the double caplock worked out so well, we refined the design a little and backdated it to the 18th century. The reproduction will be French styled since the barrels are side-by-side (British double pistols of the era tended to by over-and-under)

Spanish Espcopeta musket - Why? Because I always wanted one, and there have been a number of requests for one in the recent months. I got my hands on a proper miqulet lock, an original Spanish gun to copy the furntiure from, and found some great photos of an original stock in one of my books.

I'll tease you with these descriptions for now, photos will come as prototypes show up.

Wait until tomorrow night when I post pics of the new cannon lighter pistol...

Friday, March 16, 2007

Firewood got the best of me

Tonight we are getting snow again, supposed to be 15" before it is over.

That's OK, the critters are all fed, and I'm working inside. Today's project is to wire the phones in to the new office. In between that, I was ordered by Wendy to get a few days worth of firewood. I like free firewood, it usually comes in the form of pallets. I could digress and talk all about the stuff we have built using free pallets around here, but I won't.

So my mission was to go outside next to the pile of empty musket crates and drag in some pallets to cut up using my table saw. First I drag them into the garage bay where my saw is. In doing so, I managed to trip and catch my kneecap on the edge of a pallet, the spot that would be your funnybone if it were your really funny at all.

The first step in making firewood out of pallets is to cut the stringers up into three sections using a sawzall. The sawzall was sitting on a crate, and when I bent over to pick up the end of the extention cord to plug it in, I managed to nail myself in the forehead, right at the scalp line with the tip of the saw blade. Pallets 2, Pete 0

After the pallets are cut into sections, I lift them up onto my table saw to slice the stringer sections away from the planking. To do this, you need to remove the chip-shield and anti-kick device...see where I'm going with this? Witihn minutes, I had chips in both eyes and got whacked in the groin with a piece of the planking that got kicked back at me. Pallets 5, Pete 0

In the end, the wood is all stacked up in the garage, ready to be stuffed into paper feed bags for transport upstairs to the house and dumped into the woodbin. Even though I'm down 5-0 at the moment, I'll win tonight as the dry oak wood from the dismembered pallets heat me house.

So far this winter, our heating bill here is something like a third of what it would have been at our drafty old Victorian house in Massachusetts. Modern insulation, double-pane windows, a southern exposure with lots of glass and auxilliary wood heat go a long way towards saving on the energy bill.

We are always looking for little ways to cut back on the utilities. Last month, our light bill was down by $40, mostly from switching to the energy efficient flourescent light bulbs that screw into a regular incandesent socket (the kind that are corkscrew shaped). Little stuff like turning off the computer monitor and printer when not in use helps out too. With the land we are clearing, we expect to have a lot of firewood stacked up by next winter, which will basically be free heat.

Sure, you get whacked in the groin by the table saw now and again, but it beats getting kicked in the groin by the gas company in Massachusetts every winter when the bill is sometimes upwards of a grand a month!

Saturday, March 10, 2007

There's a new kid in town!


Last night Bumper the lady goat went into labor. After a long night of contractions, maaaaa-ing and pushing, she managed to push out a healthy little buckling, who is marked pretty much like his father, Chris-Billy.

It was pretty cool, we were nervous about it because goat breeding last year was a complete failure, with Bumper going into labor prematurely and losing both kids, then Chocolate (the other doe) suddenly dying from bloat the next day.

She stood up and pushed, she laid down to push, she walked around. Eventually her water broke, then a little hoof stuck out (pointing the right way, so we knew it was in the right position and we wouldn't have to get involved), followed by a second one a few minutes later, then a nose! She laid down to rest, then pushed some more and out came a little brown head and shoulders. At that point the big pushing was over, and she laid down with the baby half hanging out of her and began to lick him. It was 3AM, at least I think it was because the roosters started crowing not long after, and they usually kick in around 3.

We got to bed around 5AM.

I've got some pretty cool pictures of the event, but haven't cropped them or uploaded them yet. For now, here's a pic of the happy goat family, click on it to see a larger sized one:

Friday, March 02, 2007

UPS is at it again!

More UPS stupidity.

We haven't quite settled the four damage claims from last month, and now we need to add two more to the list.

Today's reports include a German Dragoon smashed on the way to Florida and a Long Land smashed through the wrist and left outside in the pouring rain so that the packaging soaked through.

As much as I hate the idea of using them because of problems we've had in the past, I'm going to look into using FedEx to ship instead of UPS. Six damage claims in two months is just unacceptable.