Monday, September 7, 2015

Yes, I'm alive

I've been suffering from blog withdrawal, and folk have contacted to make sure I'm still alive. So, I thought I'd at least write a bit about what I've been doing recently.

I've been doing things that aren't of a technical nature. I've dug some trenches and holes with the new (to me) tractor, and put a lot of money into my other tractor to get it running again. Here's a picture of my agricultural fleet:

I got the little tractor when I first moved out here and have been fixing things on it over time. It died recently because the fuel pump wore out. If you're familiar with diesel engines, you just cringed a bit. Diesel engine fuel pumps are expensive, and some of them are a real pain to replace because they set flow with shims and timing with various techniques. Fortunately, this is a three piston pump with each piston supplying an injector so there's no timing needed. I did have to set the flow with shims, but I guessed right the first time.

The pump cost me $535 and then I had to replace other stuff as well since messing with the old hoses and things broke stuff. All in all I have another $650 or so invested in it, but I need the little tractor to fit in places that the yellow monster can't get to. When I was all done, it started when the first cylinder hit the compression cycle; perfect.

Now the little tractor is off the to-do list, the trench is good enough to keep the flood waters from getting to the house, so I'm moving the big tractor into the garage for some work. Someone before me decided to fix the dashboard on it and got in over their head. None of the gauges work, and I want to know the oil pressure and temperature at an absolute minimum. I couldn't care less about the total hours, but it would be nice to know the battery is charging. I guess I get to learn all about monitoring tractor vital statistics next.

And yes, i can fit the tractor into the garage. I have an empty RV garage that I built with the house, but then couldn't actually afford to keep the RV on the road because fuel prices went totally out of sight. I sold the RV and use the space to set up tools for various projects. It's really nice to be able to set a table saw beside a band saw and move from one to the other as I build something.

A man can't ever have a big enough garage.

I really haven't done squat on the technical aspects of the house. Yes, I keep experimenting with MQTT to understand more about it and I'm very slowly converting the various devices to use the toolset, but progress is slow because I keep thinking about hydraulic pressures and depth of culvert openings to handle water flow.

I'm easily distracted.

Speaking of culverts: The driveway to my place kept getting a deep rut dug into it by the monsoons here. See, we don't get much rain, but when it does rain, sometimes it comes down in a real torrent. We sometimes get three inches in twenty or so minutes and that causes flash flooding. I'm well away from the most dangerous areas for this, but as last year would attest, I'm not invulnerable to water coming down a hill and making a mess:

You should be able to see how high the water got on the house in the picture. When I realized I couldn't keep the water out of the house, I just opened the doors on the other side and let it out. That left me with about a half inch of water in the house and my wet vacuum was able to clean up the mess in a couple of days. I have tile floors, so all I had to do was mop up and everything was fine. It took about three weeks to clean out the pool though. I got seven wheel barrows of mud out of it before I was done.

Anyway, back to the culvert. When I did some digging around the rut in the road, I found caliche near the surface. That limited the size of culvert pipe I could put in, so I used three 10" pipes instead of a single 18" pipe. Metal culverts need some sand in the bottom and then a covering with something that didn't have rocks and could be compacted. The sand I had in abundance, but I had to get 30 ton of aggregate to fill it back in. It turned out nice and the 16" rut is gone from the drive. The driveway services four houses, so I did a good deed for the neighbors as well.

I want to admit to something though; I didn't use my yellow tractor to dig the culvert channel. The big yellow tractor was brand new to me and I didn't have a clue how to use it. I begged a neighbor for a favor and got him to bring his big ol' Cat backhoe over and help out.

Then another neighbor from down the road came up to watch and brought his skip loader with him. I had an entire crew of folk out there messing around with the road. I totally love my neighbors! It took all day because we dug up a telephone line (mine) and had to wait for them to show up to advise us. Yes, they were responsible for it because I called in advance and had the lines marked and they missed it. It really does pay to follow the rules when your digging with a machine; if I hadn't had it marked, they would have made me pay for fixing the line.

The before picture:

It's hard to tell from the picture, but the right hand side of the rut is over 16 inches deep. It made for an interesting drive for people with normal cars; they had to pull way over to the side and go very slow. The paint marks are where they marked the various lines for power and phone. They missed.

That gray thing in the hole is what's left of the conduit and MY phone line. It was a good eight feet from where they marked it should have been. The picture below is just before I was finally able to cover the pipe. It took them over a week to decide who was going to come out and fix it. I finally got them to do something when I told them it was just a matter of time before someone drove into the hole and decided to sue because of the damage to their vehicle. I think the idea of lawyers was enough for them to actually do something.

Just before I was finally able to cover it:

The folk among you that have done something like this are wondering what I did with the dirt and rock I dug out of the hole since I refilled it from other sources. I used that dirt to fill in the channels on my lot that were carved by the rain. I still need some more, but that will have to wait until I have some more money. With the new trench to divert the water, I don't mind buying some fill material to spruce thing up a bit and cover some of the rocks. Yes, I used my own tractor for this with a little help from the skip loader neighbor; I can work a front loader just fine, it was the backhoe that I needed to learn about.

Looks like a normal road now:

The rocks on the right are to keep people from driving into the intake hole, there will be more rocks moved in to define the road better when I get around to it. I didn't want someone trying to cut the corner driving into the hole there. Now, they'll slam into the rock and have only themselves to blame.

Folk in apartments in town wonder why people like me live out here and put up with this kind of thing. Frankly, from time to time I wonder myself. Me and Barkley, my dog, have killed three rattlesnakes so far this year; the desert toads have been going through their breeding season and the screams they make actually hurt your ears; there have been several weather alerts for sand storms; only one scorpion sting so far; and I had to clean the septic filter yesterday. But, sometimes you get something like this:



and think, "Maybe this isn't so bad after all."

Remember back in school when the teacher wanted an essay about "What I did last vacation?" Well this is mine.