December 14, 2019

Winter Scenes: A Photo Essay

1Lets start with cattle. Our herd of Scottish Highlanders.Thats "T-bone," our yearling white calf.

This is a photo essay,   over 30 pictures intended to give a flavor of life here on the Land.
As the skys darken, and the winds grow brisk we set about the work of Winter.
The Land in repose, but we living here confirmed in the never ending rural cycle of the seasons.
Plan. Prepare. Repair. Make ready for the promise of the Sun's return!  Enjoy!

     Highlanders are a heritage breed and very different from modern cattle. They grow slowly, are very self-sufficient and produce very lean meat, almost like venison.
    Ours came to us in early 2018 and ever since we have been learning. Because what we knew about cattle raising would fit in a teacup! We purchased a bull summer of 2019 and we think we now have six pregnant heifers, lets hope!
     We began the learning process with fencing, as none of Four Quarters was fenced. And we are fencing to support "rotational grazing." Smaller paddocks that the cattle are rotated through during the grazing season. It stimulates pasture growth, but requires much more fence than conventional pasturage.
     Here we see a load of round bales purchased from a neighbor being unloaded. Part of our winter preparations.
     Food for cattle, food for us, food for thought.

3     Nothing so reinforces our ties to the seasons like heating with wood. As we say out here, "I'm making firewood today." Because it is a process, and it never ends. Summer, fall, winter... no opportunity is missed to cut, split and stack the winters wood.
     We are fortunate. After over two decades we have a fine collection of equipment and many hands to make the work go quickly. Here we see our crew in the Big Bottom, processing the last of our Emerald Ash Borer killed ash trees. Because this is a camping area, we will grind out the stumps and chip the branches, spreading it out on the forest floor. In the deep woods we leave the branches where they fall, home for all the critters that make good use of them.
     To me, personally, nothing says "Home" like a 10 degree February morning. The clock says 4:30AM, I put on the coffee and step out barefoot on the back porch for the first arm-load of that days firewood. It's cold inside the house too, but there are still glowing coals from last nights ashes. Soon the house will wake up, the stove will begin spreading its warmth. All is well for another winters day.


     The Monastery supports itself any way it can.
     While I quit my city based corporate engineering job way back in 1995 (to found Four Quarters), some of that work is still current and in demand. Here we see Mike machining an order of Lead calibration rounds for a German firm. As luck would have it, their orders tend to come in during the winter months, when we would really rather be inside the shop. This order will take Mike just over a week of full time work, and is worth the New Camp mortgage for most of the year.

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     We had a long neglected and heavily eroded section of fence line on our Eastern side, thickly overgrown with scrub that prevented any kind partial fix. Given that the next section of fence for our Highlander herd was to go through the area, a complete reworking was called for. The left-hand picture shows a small part of the area after five days of dozer work, carefully moving and grading earth to develop a gentle slope that will carry the rains. Here we have spread our seed mixture of orchard grass and red clover, and then "treaded it in." That is, walked the dozer treads all over the area to firmly set the seed for germination. The last step is to spread a chopped hay mulch over the area, and wait for all those tiny grass babies to poke their heads up come spring.
     To the right we see an "after" picture of Fairview Station, the old farmhouse on our Western border. What is not seen is the five foot high embankment of loose rock that previously came right up to the edge of the asphalt roadway. Our professional excavators, the Akers Family, did the heavy work of cutting back the embankment, creating a mound of subsoil for future road-building and a pile of topsoil that will be spread back down when the project is completed.
     Our neighbor Leroy Ruby asked if we could cut down his side of the embankment too, so with a smile we put Mz. Komatsu (the dozer) to work happily cutting through rock, spreading top soil and finish grading. Here we see the finished product, seeded and mulched, waiting for spring. Leroy was quite pleased.
     But not so, Mz. Komatsu!

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     Oppps!   My Lady sprained her ankle dancing over the rock, and it is a serious case!  That half inch gap in the master link should absolutely not be there. If that track comes apart anywhere other than in front of our shop, we are in for some very difficult work. We gingerly walked Mz. Komatsu back home and began the process of repair. (see above: fix it when it breaks) 
     We opened the track to find that three of our four link bolts had sheared off. There are two ways to fix the problem. $10,000 for a new set of tracks, or get those sheared bolts out. We opted for number two.

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     There is no easy way to remove sheared, rusted in bolt stubs. In our case we hosed down the stubs with penetrating solvent and then very carefully ground dimples in the exact center of the stubs with an air-powered carbide burr. The dimples are prep for the moment of truth... drilling out the stubs leaving just the threads and a bit of steel to get a grip on. These are Grade Eight, hardened and super-tough steel bolts. They ate three drill bit in the process. And any misalignment of the drilled holes will cut into the female threads, scrapping the part.
    As you can see, the operation was a success. After gentle application of heat from a cutting torch (known here-abouts as a Tennessee speed wrench) we were able to easy-out the broken stubs. An hour with grinder and file reshaped the bent teeth of the master link, and we were on our way. All's well that ends.
      But now I carry a wrench and mallet to tighten up those link bolts every time Mz. Komatsu goes out on a job!

     Sometimes we get to fix things before they break, or in this case rust.
      For early October's Lil' Dub this year we presented a Saturday back-yard feast for over 800 people. Pam, Paty and Tina prepared the mac-n-cheese, cole slaw, collards and corn. Iced Tea too, of course.
      But it was Mike McConnell who spent two days slow roasting 300 pounds of Pork. If you know Mike, you know that he takes the Art of Meat, very, very seriously. It was a supreme effort with extremely tasty results.And a very messy smoker.
      It had been a few years since the smoker was last properly maintained, so the week after Mike spent the better part of the day disassembling the smoker for a thorough cleaning and power-wash. Here we see the finished product, as Mike wipes down a coating of cooking oil on the fired up smoker, baking on the clean coating that will carry it through to next season.

     Better to fix it before it breaks, not like a certain dozer!

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     It's now the cusp of November and the air has a regular chill. The good days for working outside will be coming to a close soon and we are looking for those smaller outside jobs to finish up the season.
      We have good reason to believe that the roadway case is resolved, so now might be a good time to run the fence across the sedimentation sump. We were pleased that Luther and Lester Conrad approved, and they supervised the setting of stakes that would mark the new fence line.

     We have gotten very good at fence, having set over a mile for our Highlanders with much more to go. At that time we purchased a hydraulic drive for the dipper stick end of the 4x4 New Holland backhoe, which allows us to crawl almost anywhere and drill for our posts. It proved quite handy for this broken and wet ground.
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      With the chill wet November weather arriving we could now turn to long-planned projects in the shop.
      First on that list was a 1971 International Harvester Low-Boy tractor that we picked up from a neighbor. By way of background, this model has near legendary status among farmers as a prime example of old style American heavy industrial iron. Designed to be repaired and built to the highest standards, even though it is a small machine. It was sold to us as "having a bad clutch," but in fact had not moved in better than 15 years. We expected that a complete rebuild would be required.
     We "broke" the machine and the clutch components almost fell to the shop floor! Upper left you will see the pressure plate, with the ends of its three fingers almost eaten through by the throw-out bearing in the center. Why? Because there was no bearing in the bearing, its tiny, innocent steel balls having long since been ground to dust. The previous owner had tightened and tightened the clutch until there was literally nothing left of the parts., She must have been screamin' when he pushed the pedal.
     Going further we removed the trans-axle from the machine so the real fun could begin. That big, round part is the flywheel, heavily grooved. Unknown, unloved, seeing the light of day for the first time in many years.

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      The flywheel and transmission had been in blissful union for almost 50 years, and the flywheel objected to their separation after all that time. Respecting their age and not wanting to get brutal about it, we put away the gi-normous hammer and instead applied gentle warmth and persuasion. Pop!... And out popped the severely worn pilot bushing too. This part we would later lathe-turn from bronze bushing stock and reinstall.

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      Here we are turning a fresh, clean flywheel, removing the network of microscopic cracks from its working surface.
      The steering gear was severely worn too. This is the bell-crank, which connects the steering box to the front wheels. Originally it did not have a bushing, so we are re-boring it to take a custom bronze bush that we will fabricate.

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     We want the machine to drive straight, so the tie-rods were rebuilt using modern ball-ends. We turned presision spacers to maintain the steering geometry.
     Over in carburetor land we discovered a sad story. The monkeys had been at work on the carb! In some past life the carb had developed a pin hole leak in its gasket, causing it to run lean. Rather than replacing the gasket, Mr. Monkey simply tightened the screws connecting the two halves of the carb body. This worked at first, but every screw tightening warped the carb body, making the problem worse.
     In the picture you can see that the carb body is now warped evey bit of 1/16th of an inch. That sucks. Air!

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     First step is to develop a flat reference surface. In this case we sand the base of the carb against a surface plate.
     Then the carb body is mounted to the table of our mill. The idea here is to precisely bend back the flanges of the carb body, taking measurements as we go. If all works according to plan, we just might be able to seal up the leaks.
     The end result is that the carb runs better, but not perfect. Our next step would be to remount the carb on our mill's rotary table and actually take a skim cut of the mating surfaces, machining them flat. Or shell out $235 for a new carb. We will see.

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     There were many smaller jobs to be done too. Brake and brake linkage rebuild. Front axle kingpins, bushings and hubs. Remove, clean and adjust the throttle governor and ignition. All very doable because of the quality and durability built into the machine fifty years ago.
     But the mower deck was a mess, and to be expected as it spends its life banging into fence posts and rusting under layers of matted grass clippings. Here we see one of the skid plates, completely worn through. And again under repair as we weld new material into place.

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     After two weeks on on-again, off-again work we are nearing the finish. De-greasing and sanding the body panels, and then three coats of official IH yellow. Looks like candy!
     At this point we have $1,600 and our time invested in this machine. Spring will tell if a new carb ups the price, but we know a similar modern machine would be in the $12,000 range...  and would never be rebuildable in a shop.
     Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without. Old values for modern times.

     Next up is the Massey-Furgeson tractor which needs a very major overhaul of its brakes and a complete rebuild of it's steering system. We have at least another mile of fence to run before spring. If the calves come we will have all the work of getting them off to a firm start. We would love to begin setting the pasture water lines from the hilltop well we installed in 2017. The list goes on. The fire is warm, the larder and woodpile stocked.
     Winter is coming to The Land.