Thursday, November 2, 2017

2017 Projects #2

Sometime in March we attacked the erosion problems on the dam by having it re-groomed by a bulldozer, and promptly covering it with sod.  A great investment we should have made last year.

Unfortunately, the little tractor decided the pallets of sod were too much for the loader to lift, and expressed these feelings by overheating, blowing clouds of smoke, and losing power.  (We ended up moving most of this sod from the top of the hill to the dam in the golf cart.  Yes, equipment may be pushed to and beyond appropriate limits around here.)

And to be fair, the overheating may have been / was caused by the coolant leak that resulted when a tree branch cracked the radiator from below while I was pushing brush piles around.

Anyhoo, she barely made it back up the hill to the shop.

Where I reflected on all the things I have had to repair on her, (rear wheel seal, hydraulic system, loader pistons, failing safety switches, thermistor, tires, etc.) and decided to sell this heap and buy a new tractor.

After a visit to the Kubota dealership, I reconsidered that decision.  The rings were smoked, which on a normal engine requires pulling the pistons, possibly honing out the block or installing sleeves, and installing new pistons/rings.  I'd never done this, but how hard could it be?

It turned out it was about the same price to buy a full engine rebuild kit as it was to buy just the pistons and rings.  At this point I hadn't decided to do more than replace the rings, but being a sucker for a deal, I thought I might as well get all the spare parts the rebuild kit included.

With the little tractor in the middle of the workshop, I started to tear her down to get at the rings.  And at every turn was reminded why I dislike this company and their products.  They design them to be as user un-friendly as possible.  Perhaps to increase revenue from their maintenance arm, who knows, but it can trigger dark thoughts when you realize that the valve cover cannot be removed without removing the fuel tank.  And the fuel tank has been injection molded to allow the rod that all the pedals pivot on to run straight through the middle of it.  So all those have to be removed, hydraulics disconnected, so that the pivot rod can be pulled out, the dash can be unbolted and the center console torqued forward so the tank can come out.

And then one finds that the pistons can't be removed without cracking the entire tractor in half.  And if you're tackling this project in a shop that is not equipped for tractor engine removal, you will need to strip that engine all the way down simply to make it "light" enough to heave onto your workbench. 

Where you will decide that you might as well use all those extra parts that came with the engine rebuild kit, since you have the engine out, and you've never rebuilt an engine before, and learning!

For a time you get caught up in the intricacies of a three cylinder diesel engine, and enjoy replacing the bearings and seals and gooping everything back together again.

You even decide that if you are going to repair the engine, you might as well fix all the electrical issues you have been bypassing over the years as one safety switch after another fails.  And while you're at it you go ahead and solder the radiator, replace all the filters, and remove the remains of the cracked and crumbling plastic body panels. (Plastic body panels...)

You hoist the rebuilt engine back into position, reassemble the entire tractor because there is no bench testing this puppy, and the refill the many gallons of various fluids.

And then... She turns over.  Over and over again.  But she doesn't catch.

At which time I took a walk.  For a number of months.  I tried to sell her on Craigslist, received a bunch of lowball offers, and lost interest again.  Every once in a while an evening would find me in the shop tinkering, and getting blue, and leaving for several more weeks.

I put her up for sale again, online where a group of Mississippi farmers hang out.  Instead of offers to buy, I received a laundry list of things I should try to get her running.  It drove me bats, because of course I had to try everything.  I replaced the thermistor, tinkered with the fuel system, nothing...

Then a friendly gentleman called me from his truck, where he was pulled over looking at the plans for this tractor on his laptop.  He's a John Deere tech.  He pleasantly explained exactly what was wrong, and said to call him if I had any questions.

10 hours later... I had disassembled the front end of the engine again, rotated the gear of the fuel pump 3 teeth, and reassembled.  The timing of the fuel pump was off by those three teeth, something that takes 42 revolutions of the engine to reveal. 

My fault.  I refilled the fluids, and turned the key.  To nothing.  Not even a click.

I walked away.  

The next day I brought home a new battery.  And she started right up.  And purrs like a kitten.

I bought her a new seat, a new hood and console cover, and incidentally a new alternator to go with that new battery.  She still needs rear tires, and there's still a gremlin in the electrical system, but she's back to work on the farm.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Delivering a wedding present.

I was preparing to be away from home for 2 weeks, and not looking forward to that much time away from my family.  I might have stayed up late with the kids doing a puzzle on my last night home.

But bright and early the next morning, with the truck packed with an apartment-in-a-box, I started rolling towards DC.

Which turned out to be a mistake.  My desire to bring as many materials as possible to avoid being delayed during the project with having to source supplies maaaay have resulted in an overloaded truck.  So after driving all day, some time after 11 pm on a Saturday night, somewhere in Virginia a little over 100 miles short of my destination, one of the rear wheel bearings disintegrated.  If the grinding didn't alert me, the gear oil pouring into the brake drum and turning into bright white smoke did.  It was 12 degrees out. I limped her to the nearest exit, slept poorly in the only available motel, and early the next morning suited up and went looking for help. 

None of the shops were open on a Sunday morning, but in the diner I met some lovely folks, got to talking, and a friendly gentleman spent the next two hours driving me around the town and county looking for a mechanic who was willing to help out.  We didn't find one, but my latest incarnation of my guardian angel ferried me to the parts store to pick up what I needed to make the repairs myself, and I called AAA to bring me into DC.

Where I arrived, behind my mental schedule, with a bit of a side project to work into the timeline.

Eliza and Charlie are newlyweds, and new home owners. Having rental income, especially when you;re starting out, is a wonderful thing, so as they launch their life together, I thought it would be nice to give them a leg up.  Their new house had an unfinished basement.  The theory was, with a well thought out plan, and a sense of urgency, they could have a rentable apartment, and I could be headed back to my family, in under 2 weeks.

Well.  There was a little scope creep on the project, with lots of prep work for the upstairs required before a basement ceiling could be installed.  Think rewiring and a bit of copper plumbing.

Interior walls were put up for the bathroom, and the closet/pantry/ room where the furnace and hot water heater live.

The original game plan was to replace the garage door on the right with a permanent wall and turn the space into a bedroom.  The wall on the left also ended up needing to be replaced.

Too quickly we ran out of materials and needed to run to a lumber yard with the truck. Which had not moved since it came off the town truck.  There are no garages in the Gerogetown area for obvious reasons, so unless I wanted to move the truck again to some distant garage and hope for the best, the repair was up to me.  Naively I had not packed any mechanical tools.  Or a hydraulic shop press to fit pressed on bearings.  But with the tools I was able to scrounge from the nooks and crannies of the truck, and with a little creative use of the cold outdoor temperatures and the kitchen stove, after 4 hours the truck was back in one piece, with a new bearing and brakes, and tentatively ready to go back to work.

Which was good, because there was lots to do.

The walls came down, a concrete footing was poured on the right to prevent water issues in the garage area, and new walls went up. 

I added an exterior outlet and water spigot, because.

A little more scope creep, the interior wall on the left: turns out there was no interior wall before, just some paneling hanging on the back of the neighbor's wall.  That wasn't going to work, so a new one had to go up.

The newlyweds, painting the kitchen ceiling.

Once the upstairs wiring had all been reworked into the floor joists, the plumbing similarly bumped up where necessary, the recessed lighting installed, and the hvac coolant lines and power run, the ceiling was as flat as it was going to get, and ready for a new surface.  I may have bullied Eliza into 1x6 paneling, but I did it for the right reasons.  Sheetrock on basement ceilings never looks good for long.

Charlie stuck with me, doing the dusty, obnoxious work.  I don't imagine I was that much fun to work with, being on a tight deadline, working days that started at 12 hours and just got longer as we went along, and generally having tunnel vision.  Hopefully the homemade beef jerky I brought made up for the poor working environment.

A little more scope creep.  With a tenant moving in downstairs, the newlyweds, (at some point I'm not going to be able to say that anymore,) needed a laundry facility upstairs.  Water, drainage, and electrical hookups required.  And schlepping the old washer around the block and upstairs, since it was too big to come up the stairs.

However, by 3 pm on the intended final day, I was packing up my bedroom and getting ready to head home, with a nearly completed apartment, minus all the paint. The kitchen.  Counters made from 100+ year old Mississippi oak and heart pine.  Shelves made from the same oak.  (Light fixtures were delayed in arriving, nothing I could do about it.  ahem.)

Hallway facing in, bathroom on the left, bedroom on the right.


So many chases on the ceiling in here.  And we had to get a little funky with the angle of the tub, and still the wall bumps out around it to make for a code-compliant hallway.  Paneling behind the tub to avoid sheetrock deteriorating from shower proximity.  The drains for all these new things, kitchen, bathroom, and the upstairs washer/dryer, were a little tricky, but I think we got it to a point where it will all work and be easy to maintain.

Utility closet / pantry.  Rod installed for a canvas curtain to section off the furnace.

Living / dining room.  HVAC installed to the left, cabinet around the circuit panel, the radiator pipes could not be moved, but most everything else was tidied up and tucked into the ceiling.  Outlets everywhere, because I don't like extension cords.

Charlie and Eliza are painting right now, and I can't wait to see how this looks with a fresh whitewash.  I believe they are going to leave the wood ceiling unpainted. Washer/dryer hookup installed in the closet behind Charlie.

Bedroom, aka the original garage.  New wiring, lights, ceiling, hvac, chases, door, etc.

And 12 days after arriving I hopped in the truck and started rolling south.  The first few blocks between their house and the Key Bridge took an hour, but by 5 pm on Thursday the 19th of January I was headed home at a decent clip, not listening to the radio or thinking about what was happening behind me in DC.

I imagine Charlie and Eliza were a bit relieved to have the lunatic gone. No longer having to come down to the basement at 1 in the morning to remind me that there are neighbors on the other side of the walls, or wonder why the upstairs power isn't working right now because I'm unraveling a rat's nest of old wires and sorting them into four new properly loaded circuits.

Throughout my life I have had a guardian angel that has taken many forms, given me many legs up, and pulled me out of many fires.  Happy to be able to do a little something for these two.

Between Christmas and heading to D.C.

The chickens roam all over the place, and often when I walk into my shop I spook a few out, and others take to the rafters.  After experiencing a truly horrible smell in there, I asked Alexe to join me for an egg hunt.  We found over 50.  

Getting close to planting season in the hoop house, I went down to turn the soil over.

And disk it out.  Only to be reminded by Alexe that the soil would really benefit from some extra nutrition, and would I mind...

30 trips back and forth with the tractor, and we had most of the barn yard down in the hoop house.

With the barn yard mixed in, and new fencing running down the exterior sides to keep the horned animals from tearing up the plastic walls, Alexe decided it was adequately prepared for her.

We took off to Columbus to visit Claire, (and her parents.) We spent a few days exploring their neighborhood, visiting the library...

Going out to a lantern festival...

These two have been friends since their days together on the Vanderbilt rugby team. 

These three get along very well.  Only the smallest of third-wheel friction, which is a miracle considering the age ranges.

He loves them.

And sometimes, when they run off in a book store, he finds a book to keep him company until they come back.

Claire does an amazing job balancing the affection of our two smitten kiddoes.

We went to the movies, in a theater with recliners.  The luxuries afforded to densely populated areas, where the cost is spread around a giant customer base, are fun to visit.  The lines... a pleasant reminder of the trade off for those luxuries.

Our final evening, we were treated to a magic show / circus, where cameras were strictly forbidden by the performers.

Home again, Caspian returned to a project he had started during the pond-steps project.  He loves to cut down trees with my hatchet; this is the largest one he has ever taken on.

We had a father-son date, where I cashed in my Christmas present at Turnages, a $5 gift certificate courtesy of Caspian.

Slightly tricky on his part, giving away a milkshake to me and himself.

When you can't find Caspian, pause and listen.  If you hear rhythmic whacking he's out working on his tree; if you don;t he's curled up somewhere devouring a book.

Our little girl, on the other hand, is full of vim and vigor, and ready to turn 9.

She had an early birthday party with friends, including bowling and a pizza party.

Followed on the real day by a family party at home.  She requested sloppy joes for dinner, and her mama raced home from work to make that happen.  Alexe takes birthdays very seriously, and insists on making whatever dinner the birthday person requests, as well as whatever cake.  Possibly she does this to lead by example, but the result is some pretty great birthdays.

The go to choice for our family, Cora's chocolate buttermilk cake.

And our little girl was suddenly 9.  Early the next morning I was rolling towards DC.