Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Seven Fat Cows 3.9.5: Big Boy comes to the rescue Part II

Milo’s background installing sea-walls was all about moving heavy items on soft, shifting soils...quick sand, sometimes...aligning them and welding them together. 12,000 pounds is not that heavy when you know what you are doing and have the proper tools.

Milo dug shallow trenches beneath the combine. He took great pains to scrape the bottoms of the trenches flat with the shovel. He used Kelly’s long carpenter’s bubble level to ensure it was square to gravity. Not satisfied, he scraped another inch of soil out of the far end of the trench beneath the body of the combine.

Then he dragged a pair of railroad ties into each trench and rechecked with the level. Satisfied, he shoveled loose dirt into the space between the sides of the trench and the sides of the railroad ties. He used the end of a spud to tamp it down hard, securing the ties in place.

Then Milo dug around in the lumber on the trailer until he found a couple of rough sawn oak. The planks were short...only three feet long...but they were a full three inches thick and ten inches wide. They were also shot through with dozens of pin-knots. He laid one across each set of double railroad ties.

After setting up the ties, Milo took a couple of hydraulic jacks out Kelly’s truck and placed them on top of the oak planks. As Milo pumped them up, Kelly could see that Milo had placed the ties beneath the places where reinforcing plates had been welded in the construction of the combine.

As one of the jacks got close to the reinforced clevis plate, Milo stopped and looked it over. He “Tsk, tsk, tsk.” clearly not liking what he saw.

“Mind if I temporarily modify the top of this jack?” Milo asked.

Kelly nodded his assent.

Milo cut a notch in one edge of a three inch angle iron with the cutting grinder. Then he cut a notch through the right angle. Finally, he chopped the three inch piece off the end of the length of angle iron.

“Mind holding this?” Milo asked.

Kelly could see that Milo had the short piece of angle iron positioned on top of the jack. As Milo unwound the cable for the MIG welder, Kelly deduced that Milo was going to weld the piece to make a “moose antler” on top of the jack to securely engage the clevis protruding from the combine. The notch in the edge was to engage the clevis on the combine and Milo planned to weld through the notch in the angle to secure the detail to the top of the jack.

After the welds cooled, Milo moved the jack back to the railroad ties and ran it back up. This time he grunted in satisfaction.

Going back and forth between the two jacks, Milo gently lifted the ass end of the fifteen thousand pound, fully loaded combine.

Once it was up in the air, Milo set about stuffing railroad ties and lumber pieces beneath it to ensure that it would stay up if one of the jacks shifted. Kelly figured out what Milo was doing pretty quickly and jumped to help him.

“Now what?” Kelly asked.

“Oh, that was the hard part.” Milo said. Pointing to the buckled struts. “They failed because they were bending and in compression. Alls we gotta do is cut out the worst of the bent flanges out and use a length of stout angle and C clamps and hammers to straighten out the piece. Then we weld the angle ‘splints’ into place.”

Put that way, it sounded easy.

When it was all done, Milo and Kelly pulled out the railroad ties and lumber and Milo bled out the valves on the jacks. The combine unceremoniously eased to the ground.

“How do you know it will hold?” Kelly asked.

“Oh, it will hold.” Milo assured him. "It is stronger than the day it left the factory, and judging by the chalky paint, it ran good for thirty years. Ought to be good for another thirty if he doesn't hit a pot-hole with the other side."

“Prove it. You might as well unload it.” Kelly said, pointing at the nearly empty semi parked beside the road. “And then fill it up again.”

“I never drove a combine before.” Milo said.

“But you have driven heavy equipment, right?” Kelly asked. “Just take it slow and figure it out as you go. Can’t be too hard. They hire high school kids to run these things.”

As a matter of fact, the hardest thing about driving the combine was the limited vision in certain direction. With a lot of fiddling back and forth, Milo figured out the mirrors and got the boom over the center of the semi trailer and then dumped his load.

Then he started harvesting wheat at midnight. What the hell, Nyssa wasn’t waiting up.

Farmer Don was disheartened to see the combine was where he had left it the night before and Kelly’s truck was no where in sight.

It took him a minute to realize that two-thirds of his field was harvested and the semi trailer was full.

The engine of the combine was idling.

Farmer Don got on his wife on the phone. “Honey, hook a gravity wagon up to the tractor and drive out to the combine. We are back in business.”

Monday, February 18, 2019

Some more tresspassin'

Today's adventure was to go tresspassin' with the Captain.

First we went over to his dad's. He plowed snow and I shoveled.

Then we went over to a place he used to hunt when he was a young man.

The drainage patterns changed due to land-use issues and construction. This area is very, very flat and six inch clod in a drainage ditch will cause ten acres of land to flood.

Consequently, there were many, many dead trees.

I am not being judgemental. Nature is always in a flux. The ten acres of drowned trees are counter-balanced by the fact that somewhere there are ten acres now dry enough to grow trees.

The fact that disturbances like flooding and fire create a mosaic that is actually GOOD for biodiversity is lost on most people. But then, most people are "feelers" rather than "observe and thinkers".

I think those newly flooded areas might be a good place to sneak some Nyssa aquatic seedlings.

Buck rub. 3-1/2 diameter Basswood. He sure fuzzed that one up. Generally, local bucks prefer 1"-to-2" diameter White Pine, aspen, willow or sumac in roughly that order. They seem to prefer "springy" sparring partners. Maybe that makes them feel like winners.

What is a native species?
If climate wobbles, then why would anybody expect the "range" of any species to stay constant?

Rottweil, Germany was a desert several million years ago and before that it was warm shallow seas. Would a purist demand that all currently native, temperate mesic habitat species be destroyed because they were not consistent with what once grew there at arbitrary points in time? Would those purists be willing to move back to western Kenya?

More trees
Later, the Captain and I toured a plot closer to home.

This was also very low land.

What was notable about this parcel was the tamarack (larch) and its fine timber form. The tree that is on the left side of the photo and is leaning is one of those trees. It has a very nice stem, for the species.

Also notable was the abundance of Yellow Birch (Betula alleghaniensis). Southern Michigan is close to the southern limit of this species. It reaches farther south along the Appalachian Mountains but that is a special circumstance

There was an west-to-east streak where the majority of the trees were Yellow Birch and the Captain commented on the rarity of the tree and the oddness of the streak.

It is rare that I can contribute to the Captain's knowledge of the out-of-doors.

Birch is a pioneer species that is very intolerant of shade, especially as a seedling. The seeds are small and don't have much get-up-and-go. Consequently, they depend on fire to wipe out taller plants that would shade them or prevent the seeds from coming in contact with the soil.

That is the competitive advantage of small seeded trees. They produce brazillions of seeds that the wind carries long distances. When a burn occurs, whether by the hand of man or by lightening, those species can reach out and colonize those burned areas.

I suggested to the Captain that the west-to-east orientation of the stand was evidence of a fire that started and the prevailing westward winds created a long, slender burn. I also stripped a twig from a low branch and was able to detect the faint odor of wintergreen, i.e. methyl-salicate. This is the first time I had been able to smell the wintergreen.

As I get older I see that humans get trapped by their narrow sense of "normality". They think that their experiences are the "correct" boundaries for what is right.

The conundrum is that nature resents running-in-place. How do you trap a pioneer species in amber? Pioneer species are totally dependent on disturbance.

In the spectrum between control freak who worship an arbitrary snapshot of succession and Laissez-faire management philosophies, I lean past Fairly-Lazy and support the active injection of disruption and intelligent chaos.

Seven Fat Cows 3.9: Big Boy comes to the rescue

Kelly got the call from Farmer Don at 10:30 at night. Farmer Don was a little bit frantic. He had a record breaking crop of wheat waiting to be harvested. He figured he had been harvesting ninety, maybe ninety-five bushel to the acre.

It had been a perfect year for growing wheat. He got the seed in late enough to avoid Hessian Fly, then got a warm period that gave him good germination. The spring started out rainy and then warmed up. An inch-and-a-half of rain came through every week until mid May. Then there was a real ground soaking, 24 hour rain.

Since then, mid-Michigan had seen nothing but sunny weather and mild breezes with the occasional, clement warm rain.

The wheat mined the moisture stored in the soil and the stalks rose tall and the heads grew heavy with grain.

A wide swath of nasty weather was bearing down on Michigan. The storm system stretched from South Dakota to central Texas and was marked by storm cells, wind shears, hail and tornadoes. Farmer Don had less than twenty-four hours to get the 200 acres of his wheat crop off the field or it would be battered into the ground.

He was combining like gang-busters when he hit the woodchuck hole. He did not see it because he was blinded as he rounded a corner and turned into the setting sun. The rear, outside wheel dropped into the hole and the struts that supported it crumpled. The combine was nearly full and the back end of it dropped down and dragged a groove through the sandy soil, lurching to a stop twelve feet past where the wheel had collapsed.

Farmer Don knew that Kelly was a machinist and hoped that maybe, miraculously, Kelly could fix his rig.

Kelly made no promises.

Thinking a minute, Kelly called Milo.

“You busy?” Kelly asked.

As a matter of fact, Milo was. He was watching a romantic comedy with Nyssa and had plans for the evening.

“Whatchya need?” Milo asked, keeping the irritation out of his voice.

“Farmer Don has a crisis on his hands. He wants me to look it over. I could use a second set of eyes and maybe a hand.” Kelly said.

Milo knew that working in the dark is inherently dangerous and, depending on the crisis, might require a second strong back. “Yeah, I will be right over.” Milo reluctantly agreed to Kelly's suggestion.

Milo hopped into Kelly’s truck and Kelly drove the mile-and-a-quarter to Farmer Don’s field. Seeing the lights of the crippled farm equipment lurched sideways out in the field, Kelly drove across the wheat stubble.

Kelly parked the truck so his lights were shining on the destroyed rear suspension.

Milo and Kelly took a walk around the combine.

“Whaddya think?” Kelly asked. As far as he was concerned the rig was going to need at least a week in a shop, somewhere, to get it functional again.

“I can fix that.” Milo said.

“Be obliged if you tried.” Farmer Don said as he slapped his seed cap against his thigh to knock the dust off it. “I am heading up to the house. I’ll be callin’ shops to see if they can take it, just in case you can’t fix it.”

Frankly, Farmer Don hoped he could have it back working when he needed to run corn and beans. He was looking at losing $90,000 worth of wheat, but maybe the worst of the storm might miss his field and maybe he could rent a combine and salvage some of it. Might...maybe...salvage, thin reeds of hope.

“Well, Big Boy, why don’t you show me what you got.” Kelly said. “Let’s drive back to my shop and load up what you think we will need to fix it.”

Milo did not hear that Kelly had just handed the reins to him. Milo thought Kelly was just being polite. “Sure.” Milo said.

Back at Kelly’s shop Milo loaded up a generator, klieg lights, angle iron, cold drawn steel tubing, 3/8” and 11 gauge steel plates, grinders, angle cut-off wheels, cutting torches, a MIG welder and a cylinder of 75%-25% Argon-CO2 and a dozen other odds-and-ends. Looking at the full truck, Milo asked “Do you have a trailer.”

Of course Kelly had a trailer. He hooked up the car hauler and then Milo proceeded to fill it with dozens of railroad ties and lumber scraps.

“OK. That looks like a good start.” Milo said.

“Mind if I just watch. I wanna see how you do this. Just give a holler when you need another set of hands.” Kelly said.

Milo assumed that Kelly was pulling seniority.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Punchlines for 700

"Page (fill in the number of years you have been married) of our copy of the Kama Sutra has a misprint."


There I was, minding my own business when I noticed that my left elbow felt funny. Or rather, I could not feel anything at all.

If you know anything about heart attack symptoms and left arms then you know that guys on the "seasoned" side of fifty need to pay attention.

A quick inspection revealed...an anomaly. I had a big bump hanging off my elbow.

I quickly consulted with my sister (a nurse) and my brother (a doctor) and they suggested that I had suffered some trauma to my elbow.

I said, "Golly, I don't think so. I would have remembered."

They threw around some fancy words, lipomas and hematomas and such. They sagely nodded their heads. "Trauma."

Well, I figured out the source of the trauma.


It is beyond gauche to talk about what happens in bedrooms, but in this case it is necessary to understand what happened.

I ALWAYS go to bed before Mrs ERJ. Except the last few nights. Entering our bedroom, the straightest path to my side of the bed that did not involve climbing over my peacefully slumbering spouse was to climb over the foot of the bed.

And then I skated across the kivvers with the grace of an Olympic figure skater, spinning and arcing through space. And do you want to guess what I was skating on?

Yes! My left elbow!

Alas, I can no longer claim it was because page 31 of our copy of the Kama Sutra had a misprint. Sigh!

A great time of year to walk in the woods

Black Walnut leaves are a distinctive spring-green. The clump of trees in the lower left corner of the image are black walnut.
Technically, I am trespassing since I don't have explicit permission to be on the property.

I wear an orange hat and do not carry a firearm. I am not hunting, I am walking. That defuses tension. I am not going to shoot holes in houses, cars or livestock.

The ground is frozen so I can go places that are normally inaccessible. There are no mosquitoes and my heavy coat easily sheds thorns.

My original reason for walking was to look for superior specimens of cottonwood. I was not successful.

Black Walnut
What I found was an eight acre woods where 40% of the trees are mature Black Walnuts.

The tall weeds are Giant Ragweed, a common plant in low, peaty places. Some anthropologists claim Amer-Indians used giant ragweed as a grain before maize migrated from Mexico.

Poor timber form. Probably makes lots of nuts, though.
Root pattern common in marshy areas.

A black walnut blow-down.

A couple of images of the "soil" the blow-down was growing in. Yes, Virginia, the dirt burns if you dry it out and put a match to it. It is pre-coal.

Another image of the "soil".

Friday, February 15, 2019

Knives cut both ways

Imagine toxic waste being securely stored in Conex containers stacked three-or-four-high on a concrete pad fifty feet from the southern border of the United States.

Considering the amount of toxic waste generated in the US, the stack would be approximately 1954.6 miles long before November 3, 2020.

In 2016 the EPA budget was $8.6 Billion. The beautiful thing about Conex containers is that private enterprise will gladly fill and park those containers wherever Trump wants them as long as it gets the EPA off their back.

Don't screw with the EPA, baby. There is no profit in it.