Failure to Fire has ridden off into the sunset. I’m gonna’ miss it. I respect that that the author deliberately wrapped it up and said “adiós” on the way out. Well done sir.
Posting will be light for a few days. Winter will arrive soon. If you’re in the north, you know what I’m talking about. If you’re in the south, sip a Mint Julep on the porch and pity my suffering foolish self for living where humans ought not live.
Mother nature is only few months away from coming out it’s corner swinging for the KO. I like to be ready. Further, summer didn’t go according to plan so I’m hopelessly behind in my winter preparations. I’ve been running around Curmudgeon Compound like a squirrel on amphetamines trying to make last minute preparations for the “killing season”. It’s not going to work. I’m almost never as well prepared as I’d like and this season will be more of the same. Homesteading is like that. Life is like that.
Despite frosty mornings and leaves dropping, the climate is just right for getting things done. The mosquitoes are dead, the air smells fresh, and neither engines nor Curmudgeons overheat in the cool air. Hunting season will come soon. Fall is the best of all seasons.
Other residents of the household have already shifted into January mode. Books are being read, television is being watched, cats are being cuddled, couches are being occupied. “NOT YET!” Screams the Curmudgeon, “You can read a book when it’s -30! We need to fix the broken barn door. And the snowblower is toast. Plus I need a hand cleaning the chimney. Who’s going to help?” The answer, of course, is that it’s up to me. Even if we all read the story of the ant and the grasshopper… it sucks being the ant. Also, just to make it feel like winter came early, Mrs. Curmudgeon is sicker than a dog. (And she’s already sick of Ebola jokes so don’t try ‘em.) What a bummer. The dog, for it’s part, is not sick at all. It’s happily barking at every dry leaf. If we’re ever attacked by a leaf blower she’ll tear the house down. (Note: I don’t own a leaf blower.)
Today was fun. I got to use one of my favorite toys; my “bespoke detachable fuel tank“. This is a 70 gallon tank to which I’ve had a “locking base” welded. The base pins to the gooseneck hitch of my truck. That holds it down good and tight. I love it when a plan comes together. I meant to paint it this summer. I didn’t.
Last week I popped in at most of the local truck stops pricing “off road” diesel. (“Off road” diesel is the same as “on road” diesel except it’s free of road tax and died red. It’s died red so that, should you put it in your truck, the cops can find out and fine your ass until your teeth fall out. It’s meant for powering tractors, generators, logging equipment, bulldozers, and furnaces.) The difference between the highest price and lowest was $0.33 and it clocks in at about $.50 cheaper than the stuff that legally goes in your truck. (Remember that boys and girls. The same government that talks about “green initiatives” and bitches about pipelines is hammering a truck driver for a buck on every two gallons. Can you say “conflicting goals”?)
I never came up with an ideal way to lift the tank into the truck. It’s too heavy for one man and I’m only one man. Every year I apply that biologically expensive over-evolved monkey brain of mine and try a new way to lift it. Every year it’s a crapshoot. This year I chained it to a front end loader on an old tractor. The combination of roaring tractor engine, slipping chains, questionable hydraulic lines, and heavy weight had “crushed Curmdugeon” written all over it. Yet somehow I got it placed and pinned down in only a half hour of terror. (No trucks were injured in the making of this movie.) (Someday I’m gonna’ build a hoist arrangement.)
I went to town and bought 67 gallons of “off road” (it’s a 70 gallon tank but I didn’t want to top it off). While I was there I bought 30 gallons of “on road” for my truck. The price was… ouch! I forgot my checkbook and I’m pretty sure my debit card started smoking.
Back at the fort I pumped it in the furnace tank with a lot less drama than I usually experience in winter. No frostbite, no standing in a snowdrift, no working in the dark. Sometimes one does things right.
The pump had a minor malfunction. It’s out of warranty but I think it’ll be a cheap repair. The dog, thinking the house was being invaded by fuel oil fairies, never stopped barking.
By my calculations (and a five minute google search) a cord of oak (the source of most of my fuel wood) has 22.7 million BTUs. This is equivalent to 135 gallons of #2 fuel oil. So I pumped exactly half a cord of heat into the basement. Who thinks like that? I do!
It’ll take a couple paychecks before I can get more oil. I heat 80-90% with wood but the furnace is nice too. It does amazing things like run when I’m gone and turn on at 2:00 am and operate if I’m feeling sick. I’d like to have a full 250 gallon tank squirrelled away before Thanksgiving.
While I was pumping the fuel (and whining about the cost) I thought about Natural Gas and Electricity. Both come to your house in infinite quantity. However, it is more or less impossible to pre-pay either. Everyone acts like you’re a loon for filling a furnace on a 50 degree day but they think it’s totally reasonable to pay a furnace bill in January. This has got to be a new-ish way of thinking.
So there you have the boring news from Crumudgeon Compound. While everyone was fretting about Ebola and dipshits in suits stuffed my mailbox with negative campaign materials, I was out there prepping for January.
Last year my wood stove started acting hinky. Because I’m a blogger and not bound by logic (unless I wish to be) I blamed it on Carter and the EPA. I whined about the complexity of my stove:
“Modern wood stoves house intricate systems of baffles and heat exchanges by law. This isn’t all bad; they’re better at squeezing heat from wood and smoke considerably less. On the other hand who gives a shit? I don’t exactly live in Phoenix. If I don’t mow my lawn it’ll eventually run rampant with Pine and Aspen. Is it really a key value to conserve wood in an environment where it grows en masse? Didn’t the EPA go to great lengths to conserve the one material that literally ‘grows on trees’? Should I care about conserving something I can acquire in great quantities without spending a single dime?”
Living in a cold house sucks so I sought a remedy.
Secretary: “I talked to the guys on the sales floor…”
Secretary: “Well this is embarrassing but they said the stoves do sometimes break…”
Secretary: “Apparently the salesmen have a solution. They all blame the last guy who sold the stove, hope it’s out of warranty, and then sell you a new stove.”
Me: “They said this?”
Secretary: “Yeah, I’m supposed to try and sell you a new stove.”
Finally I found a repair guy who fixed the secret secondary reburn chamber of mystery:
“Finally he broke it free and slid it out. It was a cube with all sorts of pathways for flammable gas… my non-catalytic reburn chamber was a work of technological prowess! Who knew? I wouldn’t have been more surprised if he’d extracted… say, a penguin. I was in awe.”
“When he was done he handed me the bill. Predictably I had a coronary. Mrs. Curmudgeon stepped over my twitching corpse and handed him a well earned check.”
That was last year. This is this year. (To insert a tautology.)
I always clean the chimney before winter. I hate doing it. It’s like climbing on the roof to give a proctology exam to a building. It’s a miserable job. It’s physically draining, cold, windy, and vertigo inducing. A thankless slog where I shove a brush on a pole up and down a long friction inducing chimney like I’m chained to the butter churn of Satan. Yeah, it just sucks.
I procrastinated. Some fuel oil may have been consumed that I should have conserved. Life sucks enough without seeking avenues of misery. But I finally cleaned the chimney today.
Surprise, surprise, the chimney was as clean as a whistle! No shit! I stuffed the brush in the orifice (yeah, it’s just as gross as that) and gave a mighty shove expecting resistance. Instead… schooop… the brush practically flew the whole length of the pipe. Had I put on the wrong diameter brush? I yanked the whole thing back out… schooop… and checked. Nope it was the right brush. I fiddled around with the flashlight (it’s not easy looking down a 30′ pipe) and once the dust cleared (mostly by settling in my lungs) I realized it was the cleanest I’d seen the chimney in a good long time. Wow!
I scrubbed a few more times (because once you’re on the roof you might as well) but frankly it didn’t need cleaning at all. Happy happy joy joy!
I’m so used to bad luck that I’m shocked when fortune smiles on me. I’d have done a little dance but I was on a roof and would have fallen to my death. Was it clean because I’ve recently serviced the stove? Was it clean because I was extra careful to keep the chimney clean last season? Was it clean because I’m always careful about burning super dry hardwood? Was it clean because I’m a studly dude with my own Batmobile? At least three of four are true. I’m takin’ credit for doing whatever made it perfect this time. I’m basking in the moment.
Also I’m currently sitting by a warm fire feeling smug and contented. The cat’s sitting with me looking identically smug… except it’s a cat and that’s just their natural state. A clean chimney is a redneck lottery win. I hope you all have great day too. Enjoy!
…it is incredibly easy to make a total mess out of your driveway with a tractor mounted front end loader. I was doing other things (TM) when I noticed a mud puddle that was just asking for a beatdown. As with all things homesteading, things went awry; especially because I was in a hurry. “I’m just gonna’ smooth it a bit” turned into “Fuck this, I’m shutting down the tractor and calling it done.” This weekend I’ll hitch up the back blade and undo what I have wrought.
In the meantime Curmudgeon Compound has a speedbump. I’m not sure if Mrs. Curmudgeon’s car is going to bottom out when she gets home but I intend to make some excuse like “it’s part of the settling process” and hope for the best.
I’ve been tuning in every so often to Sippican Cottage for a dose of home schooled excellence. (And a much needed reprieve from bad music!) Every time I see a new Unorganized Hancock video it makes my day. I encourage you to kick back and listen:
I resolved that my pig(s), when sold for food, would be marketed entirely without drama. I would assign a value that was inclusive of butchering and processing, I would deliver (so nobody needs to deal with Bill), and I’d sell it whole or half in single transactions. Why? Because I found it a stone cold PITA to buy livestock for food and I’m convinced the uncertainty drives people out of the market. Also, greedy fellow I am, I’m convinced a pig that’s sold “easily” will fetch a better price than one that requires infiltrating the hidden farm economy.
Try this simple test: Which is more expensive “half a pig at $4 hanging weight plus butchering fees to be picked up at Bill’s place and Bill ‘aint open today” or “$400 I’ll bring it to your house”? If you can answer this, it’s because you raised your own pig. If you can’t, congratulations; you’re (statistically at least) a normal human being.
All I needed to know was what the market would bear. You’d think it was easy. It wasn’t.
I started by querying the Foxinator (my “bacon pusher” who’s sold more pigs than I). “How much are you selling your pigs for?” I asked.
“Hmmm… good question. Why not drop by my place Saturday and we’ll talk about it? Bring Mrs. Curmudgeon. I’ve got a dead tree you could take for free firewood.”
“Cool!” I love free firewood!
“Also bring your fold up chicken butchering table, and the big propane burner and pot.”
This didn’t sound good. “Why not bring my chainsaw?”
“Sure, bring a chainsaw if you want. See ya’ then.”
I’d been had. Chickens were about to be butchered and butchering is very hard work and I was going to be doing it. Shit!
It turns out Mrs. Curmudgeon already knew about this. I never get the memo.
That Saturday, in the shadow of the dead oak that I wasn’t cutting into firewood, we butchered a few dozen birds. Several other folks arrived. It was a social event. As social events go, chatting and laughing while slashing with sharp knives and tackling squawking poultry is superior to a dinner party with professors. As with all homestead activities, it was chaos, some parts were gruesome, and it was hard work but it was also fun in it’s own way. The chickens were free range. Children were dispatched to catch them; much happy screaming and a few skinned knees ensued. We borrowed a machine called a “chicken plucker”. I am not mature enough to say “chicken plucker” without giggling.
I’d brought beer. There’s no reason to be sober while butchering.
With complex jobs like this, everyone eventually finds a job at which they specialize. Mrs. Curmudgeon eviscerates with skill and minimal mess. (When I do the same thing I make a total mess.) Others (especially kids) are good at catching terrified fowl. Others get adept at operating the “plucker” which tends to bang my knuckles.
I, for no apparent reason, have settled on two duties. The easiest of the two is managing the dipping pot (prior to plucking you need to dip chickens in hot water to loosen the feathers). This is a finicky job. You have to continually mess with the burner (which keeps going out because some jackoff insisted they all be manufactured with “Nader Alarms” for safety… thus the &&^% shuts off randomly). When you dip chickens the water spills, when you add more water the pot gets too cold, too much flame and the pot gets too hot. There’s an art to keeping the water hot but not too hot.
My main duty is “Dirty Harry”. Someone has to do the killing. That’s me. I don’t know if this makes me macho and useful or a bloodthirsty psycho; suffice to say, someone’s got to do it and nobody else wants to. (I get a lot of jobs like that.) Though the Foxinator deserves credit as she helped with many of them.
One could write a book on the best way to kill a chicken. Several people probably have. I’m still learning but I can proudly say no chicken has come back to life so from that point of view it’s just a matter of improving technique. Sometimes it goes down with a minimum of fuss. Other times my grip will slip and suddenly there’s a fountain of blood and squawking and knives dropped in the dirt and I get covered in blood. It’s best if things go smooth… especially if you’re selling the bird and want the finished product to look nice. Like everything, it’s harder than it looks. And no, I don’t use an axe.
Somewhere around chicken 20, I broached the subject of pig pricing. “So about the sale price for pigs…”
“Did you know I’m rolling the chickens in with the pigs?” Foxinator enthused.
“I traded 2 1/2 pigs and 20 chickens toward the price of that.” She nodded at a nice used truck parked on the lawn. Damn! That seemed like the deal of the century.
“I threw in a lot of cash.” She added. This brought things back to reality. If you could really trade 2 1/2 pigs and 20 chickens for a whole truck, homesteaders would be rich.
“But the other pigs?” I was still looking for a price.
“Traded 1/2 pig for driveway plowing all winter.” The Foxinator beamed.
Damn! She knows how to strike a deal! “And the rest?”
“Sold at the fair. It was a part of the setup. So much a pound hanging weight. I didn’t have to pay butchering. They picked ‘em up right there. Pretty handy really.”
No shit! So I’m going to have to navigate Bill’s butchering confusion and she just signed some paperwork at the fair and walked away. I have so much to learn.
Later that week (at the coffee shop) one of the customers wandered up to me and started a conversation; “I hear you’re selling pigs?” It was like a flashback to several years ago.
“Yes I am selling pigs. Do you want one?”
“Yes! Yes I do! How much?”
“I have no idea whatsoever.”
“Look, I’ll get back to you with a number. I apologize. You don’t plow driveways do you?”
“Er, I drive a Prius.”
“Damn! Well let me write down your cell number and I’ll call you back with a price.”
“You don’t know the price?” He looked crestfallen.
“Sorry, it gets complicated.”
“Um, so you’ll call?” The guy looked hopeless. He kept looking out the window to my truck. I had the decency to drive a truck but it was filled with split oak with nary a pig in sight. Poor guy.
“Don’t worry. I have the best bacon there is. You’ll be happy. Just be patient.”
“OK.” He shuffled off looking sad and bewildered. I’ve been there too. He has my sympathies.
I still don’t know the price I’m going to charge.