Destruction on the homestead

Coming home to the farm is (almost) always such a pleasure. I say almost because yesterday was not such a pleasure. As we took in the beauty along our road we approached our driveway and immediately something seemed wrong. Your eyes get used to familiar sights and when those sights are missing it can take a few moments to realize it. That’s just what we encountered.

20160720_173926~2The image stored in my mind of our front drive was missing something, then I realized what it was. Wait, where’s the big stone mailbox? It wasn’t there! As we pulled into our driveway we discovered the remnants of our once proud, stone postal pedestal. The pieces were strewn all across the drainage ditch and not a note of regret anywhere to be found.

There are, of course, a great many other catastrophes that can strike fear or anger into the heart of a homesteader, but this is not one I thought would be realistic. We know all-too-well the habits of bat-wielding fiends on a joyride to destroy mailboxes so we purposely had ours made from the same stone our home was built with. Surely nothing would be able to topple it.

That is of course unless you happen to live right across the street from another home being constructed. The large contractor vehicles that come in and out of that driveway already smashed down one side of our driveway culvert and now it appears they have managed to obliterate our mailbox.

Naturally nobody is assuming the credit for the calamity and the silly general contractor claims there was nobody working on the house that day. I say silly because it was noted by neighbors and even the sheriff deputy who drove by earlier saw workers on site.

I know I’ll get over it and we WILL rebuild. It strikes me as ironic though that we moved to the country for a little more peace and so far this construction site has be somewhat of a distraction from that goal. They’ve been building that house for much longer than it took ours to complete and as far as I know none of our contractors or sub-contractors caused damage to anyone else’s property. If they had I know our builder would have made it right, unlike this character who is covering for somebody.

Oh well, just another day in the country 🙂

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Winter 2015 Update

Although we’ve been somewhat disappointed in our hopes of living on the farm by the end of 2015, things are continuing to move forward and it looks like 2016 may actually be our year to do so. In the meantime, we’ve slowly been progressing towards that goal.

The Barn

We’ve put some more finishing touches and updates on the barn. Because of the drought we really had very little idea what to expect in wetter weather and discovered that our barn location is a little wetter under heavy rain than we had anticipated. Because of that we’ve had to shore up the base of the barn some as well as add some drainage around it, but we think we’re getting it just about right.

Tractor

Our little riding lawn mower took a beating this summer. We knew it wasn’t meant for keeping up with the demands of our farm, but we tried to hold off as long as possible. After replacing blades and several sets of bearings and belts we decided enough was enough. In October we bought a 1981 Massey Ferguson 205 Compact Tractor that came with a brush hog and a grading blade. It’s a small 20 HP diesel, but the first time we plowed through some very tall weeds with it I knew it would be the answer to a lot of our problems. Unfortunately it didn’t take long for trouble to show up. At the end of November I tried to start it and it wouldn’t even turn over.

I went to the helpful folks at TractorByNet.com and they graciously helped me diagnose the problem. Water had gotten into the cylinders causing a condition known as hydrolock. The potential causes were a blown head gasket or a cracked cylinder head. I ended up tearing half the motor apart and the cylinder head looked to be in good shape. I replaced the head gasket, put it back together and Lil’ Red is up and running again.

House

We finally got all the paperwork done to build our house in the middle of October…then the rains came. It was proving impossible for the construction crews to get concrete trucks onto the property to get the foundation poured. We had no idea this would be an issue considering the years of drought we had been in, but when the rain does come it doesn’t take much to make a muddy mess of everything. Last week they were finally able to get enough stable road in and the foundation has finally been poured!

Pole Barn Walls Going Up

The pole barn construction continues! The clear and vented ridge went in thus completing roof construction. Just to make certain I hadn’t really goofed on a few dimensions, our son and I put the sliding door together. While the boys were finishing up that chore, my great and talented wife cut and hung the remaining wall girts. To my relief, the sliding door matched up exactly how it was supposed to. Before putting up the walls, it was time for lunch and a nap for some.

We installed the J-Channel trim at the eave and measured the proper distance to allow 1/4″ below the bottom of the wall panels and installed the base trim. The placement and alignment of the first wall panel is crucial. If it is set at any angle other than true plumb, the entire wall will head either uphill or downhill. With great care we set the first panel in position and hoped for the best. Once the second and third panels were installed, it was wonderful to see the constant level line of steel along both the top and bottom of the panels.

Once the third panel was installed, the sun and rain began to fall so it was time to pack up and head back to “real life.”

A new year and a new barn

A new year and a new barn

We decided to start 2015 off on the right foot and have already begun our transition to life on the farm. The first order of business is to put up a 20×20 barn for storage and eventual housing of livestock. I spent many hours in December trying to figure out what type of structure to build, and decided a pole barn was the right choice for us. I’m no construction engineer or designer and after several attempts to decide for myself what I needed to buy, the decision was made to order a building kit from Hansen Pole Buildings. Their staff was friendly and helpful in guiding us to the right choice of style and materials.

Perhaps I was a bit naive to think I could put this thing up almost exclusively by myself in just a week. I didn’t achieve that goal, but here is a recap of the first week of construction:

DAY ONE:

Stuck before the work begins! I drove through the gate and made it about 100 feet onto the property when suddenly my truck sank into the rain saturated mud. I tried to dig it out and  put blocks under the tires, but everything I did seemed to make the situation even worse. I ended up swallowing my pride and paid a tow service to come out and winch my truck to safety.

DAY TWO:

I had set up the batter boards on a previous weekend, so all I had to do was verify that everything was still square and I began digging the holes for the 4×6 columns. The hand auger, which is a dream to use in dry conditions, struggled more than I expected in the saturated earth. I could get down about 2 feet quite easily, but when I hit the wet clay layer, it became much more difficult. Because my hand auger only cuts a 7 inch hole, I had to widen each one by ten inches with a shovel after the depth was reached.

This process was only supposed to take a little more than half the day, but it pretty much consumed the entire 39 degree day. I’m thankful for the cooler weather because those holes gave me a workout! Once all the holes were dug, I filled them 6 inches deep with hand-mixed concrete.

There were a few work delays throughout the day as trucks began to arrive with our building supplies. All but the steel shipment arrived on time, but more on that later.

DAY THREE:

Welcomed by another cold morning, I set to work setting the column posts in position. It was no easy task as each pole weighed around 100 pounds. Getting them upright, plumb and level was a chore that took the entire day. Our dog enjoyed watching me struggle all day and as much as I wanted his help, he was content to roll around in the grass and look at me.

DAY FOUR:

The morning was spent pouring concrete into the holes and making sure everything remained plumb. Because my truck had sunk in the mud on the first day, I had to unload it half way between the gate and the barn. I had planned to use our garden tractor to truck the concrete to the barn, but was hit with another setback…flat tires on the tractor. This meant loading an 80 pound bag of cement into the wheelbarrow and carting it to the barn, then mixing it there. I did this over a dozen times that day and was glad when it was over. The poles were set just before the sun began to sink below the horizon. I had really had enough sleeping in the cold, so I went home for the night to kiss my wife and youngest son…after a hot shower of course!

DAY FIVE:

I recruited our oldest son to come out with me and we got right to work putting soil back into the holes over the concrete and tamping it down. The next step was to get the skirting boards on straight, level and even. With my primitive set of tools this proved near impossible. I ended up buying a laser level and it helped tremendously in getting the boards to come out right. Following that it was time to notch the columns so we could install the trusses.

Now, back to that late steel delivery…I had lined up several friends for Monday or Tuesday to help me unload nearly a ton of steel, but the truck never came. It was on day five that I got a call the truck would be there about 2:30pm. I called all my friends and they had gotten busy over the course of the week and couldn’t make it out. Here I was at 2:15 and only me and my son to unload all that metal. My anxiety was getting pretty high…then…my son said, “Look, a tractor.” I told him it was quite normal to see a tractor come down our road now and then. But then he said, “Why is he trying to get into our gate?” I turned and saw a local farmer who a month previously I had struck a deal with to mow down our pasture so he could grow hay on our land. He just happened to show up 15 minutes before the steel arrived driving a tractor with forklifts! God is good, ALL THE TIME!

DAY SIX:

On day six, I had two wonderful friends come out to help with the trusses as I knew this was not a job I could tackle alone. Thankfully one of them has a great deal of construction background and he was instrumental in figuring out how to get those 20 foot wide, 3 foot tall trusses into the skinny notches 9 feet in the air. We got all of them into place and braced everything off for the night.

DAY SEVEN:

The sun shined down upon us as we spent the day installing the roof purlins. It was here I discovered a grand error on my part. Mainly due to the fact that I do not come from a construction background and am not used to reading drawings, I realized that the end trusses were level with the center truss. This was a big mistake as the purlins were supposed to install flush with the top of the center truss and extend over the end trusses for a 12 inch overhang. My mental gears began to grind trying to figure a way out of this mess. Finally I decided I would just install the purlins from truss to truss and then build out the 12 inch overhang on the external side of the end trusses. It will remain to be seen how well this does or does not work, but it was the only solution I could come up with. I doubt anything could go wrong though as our youngest son was a great supervisor. He even picked up a tool or two to help.

While I installed all the purlins, my wonderful wife cut and fit the first half of the side girts. At the end of the day it was time to clean up and return to the real world. We’ll be back to finish it up soon!