Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Scrap Iron Will

"The law of the soul is eternal endeavour 
That bears a man onward and upward for ever"

I've been toiling over the last two months  at sorting out the junk. The plastic has been bagged, the wood burned and the asbestos cement piled up. The only "good junk" is the scrap metal because it pays to collect it - now 17p a kilo. It is however the hardest junk to collect. Its heavy, its sharp and its often hard to get out.

As a result it requires the most effort physically and mentally to remove but has the greatest  reward although not just financially. It is satisfying to know that it is entirely recyclable and can be reused almost indefinitely if recycled before it becomes rust .The metal is "saved" rather than lost forever, a  a mini-metaphor for saving  the farm itself. So by selling a small part of the farm, it helps preserve both the thing sold and the farm itself. 

All thanks to my effort, which relates to my "will" to suceed in saving the place as best I can.

Thinking about this "will" aspect  attracted my attention to an audio book available (free) this week from  .By author Orison Swett Marden, it is called "Iron Will" and led to the choice of blog title and opening quote. (Clever pun eh !). Some of the quotes may be attributed to other authors within the book.

I'm quite a fan of self- motivational books like this one - they've been around for longer than most people would suspect. Some of the examples are a bit dated, the book is over 100 years old , yet the message is eternal. I've added a few quotes from the book  to this post in bold since they helped keep me going this week as I was toiling away.

The week  started with shifting quite a bit of wood - the final remnants of that massive shed , some saved for future projects, some destined for the fire . It would have been easier with two people but I managed...just !

It felt a little like I was carrying my own unfinished cross at this point !

But luckily the van counts as my extra pair of hands usually !

Later in the week I started a major push on metal collection. I got a bit of assistance from Sam to help unbolt some of the seven metal grain silos / bins. It made that days work much easier - after that I couldn't be on the inside and outside of silo at same time to undo the bolts (unless my arms were like Mr Tickle!)


The other problem was the rust, many of the bolts couldnt be unbolted with a power tool, so they had to be taken off with an open ended spanner - one sixth of a turn at a time .

"1,2,3,4,5,6. Great thats one millimeter further out. 
  1,2,3,4,5,6. Great thats another one.....     "

Slow, slow slow !

Orison Swett Marden (OSM) suggestion for success was as follows ...

" The quality of persistance is never absent from a successful man.
 No matter what opposition he meets or what discouragement overtakes him,
drudgery cannot disgust him, obstacles not discourage him, labour cannot weary him"

So I had to grind them off one at a time instead. And there were lots !

Its not very nice working in the silo all day, really dusty and noisy.

The view on the other side wasnt that inspiring either although the pile of heavy panels (about 50kg each) was getting bigger and bigger.

After a few days "in the bin" another of OSM's quotes  seemed appropriate.

"Success is the child of drudgery and perserverance and cannot be coaxed or bribed, pay the the price and it is yours"

Success. The bins would have been down today - unfortunately I managed to break the Hilti drill right at the end so decided to take the remainder of the day to sell some of the scrap at the local yard

These are my piles of scrap ! Awaiting their next  re-incarnation.

The yard is far more impressive with BIG tools that dont break !

My silo panels can be seen in the foreground  - they got there along with a small delivery the day before.

The obvious reward was the £0.17 a kilo  multiplied by 980 kilos ! Thats just the first two van loads as well !

The less obvious reward was the pleasure of knowing that through application of will power and perservering  the farm is a small step closer to being sorted out and the environment a little better as a result.

(Well maybe apart from increasing my carbon footprint tonight- can burning wood REALLY be carbon neutral?)

"Go on sir, go on!  
 The difficulties you meet will resolve themselves as you advance. 
 Proceed, and light will dawn, and shine with increasing clearness on your path.”

(quote within "Iron Will" attributed to Jim Rohn )

We will succeed !

Monday, 15 November 2010

Getting safer, drier and warmer

My high priorities at the moment are  to get the place safe, dry, and warm so  the battle this week was mainly  on three fronts.

1) Aim - Safety.   Problem -Mice.   Solution -KILL THEM !

After hearing some (rather terrifying) sounds coming from the walls late at night recently I wasn't then surprised to find some midnight kitchen feasting going on. When our daughter wanted to know why the lovely seed picture she made yesterday was now just paper with holes in, I had to admit
"Willow , we've got MICE !" (and hopefully not RATS !)

Every night it/they  got braver and last night it decided to attempt to eat two apples right off the table presumably to rehydrate after eating into 3 packets of flour the night before ! Mouse , thats one small step too far !

This all sounded like a great excuse to buy our first "animals" for the farm.
So along we went to the Lothian Cat Rescue to find our new team members responsible for mouse eradication  and here they are...   please welcome... "Bonkers & Monkers Marmalade"
At the moment they have managed to almost catch one fly between them.

Not bad for £130 plus 60p a day

2a) Aim - Keep Dry.   Problem -Water leaking out .   Solution -Rip it up!

Had to tackle this quickly - the radiators lost all pressure overnight having already topped them up once already when we moved in.  Obviously a leak . Luckily I found it straight away - the living room carpet had soaked up most of it !
The radiator had been installed rather inaccurately and the pipe had slightly detatched. To fix it I had to lift the wet carpet and the flooring underneath to bend the pipes below.  While up it gave me a good chance to look at the state of the floor joists in that area. Not very good - half the ends seem to have rotted off on that side from rising damp over the years! Urk!

So while the living room was being dehumidified I though I might as well rip up the hall floor to trace the existing pipework and see what other horrors I could find. The pipes were all fine...(phew!)

however the insulation seems to have been EATEN in many places under the floor. I then found two rat skeletons and half a small cat . Presumably the rats ate the cat rather than the other way round which doesnt bode well for Bonkers & Monkers.

That now brings the total to 4 different cat skeletons I've found here... nice ! Hopefully its not as a result of rat poison, of which I have found a few tins lying about.

2b) Aim - Keep Dry.   Problem -Water leaking in!   Solution -Rip it out!

The rest of the damp has taken up most of the week to start fixing, though luckily I have had some labouring assistance from my brother Sam for a couple of days (which made it far more pleasant.). 

The joints between the roof slates and gable ends (known as  "skews") have cracked in three of four places so they all had to be chopped out and rebuilt in lime mortar (rather than cement which had been used incorrectly previously).

 It was really nice weather on Day 1, which is why Sam is smiling. Or maybe it was the good company!

You can see the crack running along the middle of this "skew" - one of the better ones ! Driving rain has got in over the years and this makes the loft damp which is a problem , especially now its well insulated - wet rot doesnt hang about and one rafter end has already completely rotted away (which is where the wasps had got in and built their nest)

The trouble with chopping out the "skews" is that a number of slates were (already) broken or loose so rebuilding also involved some re-slating  . Less fun on Day 2 when it rained most of the day and I got one skew done since so many slates were needing attention.

Day 3 , on my own, and I just managed to get the last skew done - its hard going without a labourer to lug stuff up and down the first ladder as well as doing the work on the roof.

While up on the roof (great view when not raining !), I also found several other instances of poor installation of the lead work as well as  cracked slates - which probably explains why the roof has at least seven places that leak ! Sam also spotted a major crack in one of the hidden  wall head gutters which might explain why the kids bedroom smells damp. Other parts have sagged badly (poor construction again) and will probably leak during heavy snow I suspect. All a bit tedious to say the least. Its irritating things like this that reinforce my attitude to doing building jobs - DO THEM PROPERLY ! Some poor shmuck has to sort it out further down the line !

Mind you you should see some of the people that get employed as builders...

3) Aim - Stay warm.   Problem -I'm cold!  Solution -Eat more food! 

Despite the cold we have managed to grow and harvest our first crop which have been grown inside from scratch (unlike the tomato plants which came with us during move).

Cue the fanfare....

 Our B&Q "Grow your own mushroom kit" produced the grand total of five mushrooms after watching patiently every night for a month. Willow, Lundy and Piglet were all very impressed.

£5.98 for five mushrooms....!

The frosts have appeared in earnest today so I'm pleased that I concentrated on the right things this week. I'm sure the winter will bring plenty more "entertaining" challenges!

Monday, 8 November 2010

Still in one piece

I'm trying to get the blog caught "up to date" so heres a quick rundown of some of the minor other jobs that have been done in the last 6 weeks or so. I've concentrated here on the ones that had the capacity to cause injury though there have been other ones as well.

My initial plan of attack - (and full frontal assault is sometimes what it needed !) was to focus on making the place safe for the kids, then keeping it warm and dry, then tidied up so April and I can enjoy it and eventually a Big Plan can be developed. Its sort of a practical application of  Maslows hierarchy of needs.

In the build up to our housewarming party I picked up an enormous amount of glass shards, literally thousands, scattered absolutely everywhere. There was also a plentiful supply of extremely dodgy electrics (some still live and at 450 Volts), old lightbulbs, rat poison, a few loose sheep syringes, a couple of hidden pitchforks, rusty propane gas cylinders and LOTS of broken asbestos cement .

This picture viewed from the glasshouse probably has most of the hazards demonstrated somewhere!

This has all been mixed with the most incredible amount of plastic rubbish - much of it mixed with well composted chicken shit, sheep shit and probably rat shit. Or just "MORE SHIT !" as I like to shout intemperately now and again.

The first pile took three days to shift, including stuffing thousands of old plastic bread bags into old plastic fertilizer bags that were buried alongside them! Almost exactly the right amount as well bizarrely. Now why didn't the bags go in the other bags 20 years ago ? I'll never know !

But this was all easy work really. The electrics were pretty scary by comparison,  I had to modify the main breaker and fuse board substantially including working on the 3 phase 450volts whilst live at one point- lucky I had my new 1000V insulated screwdriver and rubber pants on ! Once I'd disconnected that the other electric jobs were safer.... well sort of safer. Good thing I still have a head for heights

Nothing to a man with nerves of steel....

But by far the scariest thing that needed doing was insulating the roof of the house. Now thats not scary you say, however this one had two big wasp nests right at the back in a position that prevented me spraying them. I have vague recollections of my brother getting very badly stung by wasps so I was a bit concerned to say the least .I'd watched the wasps flying in and out for a few days so knew that one was still very active.
I decided to face my fears and surprise them early in the morning while it was still cold. The plan was to get all dressed up and hack out the nest with a handsaw, bag it and then spray insecticide into the bag which was then sealed.

OK, here I go...

It turned out to be a complete anti-climax, I didnt even see a wasp ! Not one ! Thats often the way with things you're afraid of. Once you confront them it turns out not so bad as feared !

The next day I emptied the bag out out and was tempted to keep the nest since it looked so beautiful...

Luckily I decided to set fire to it to be safe - turned out it still had a good few dozen groggy wasps still in it !

Another job I'd put off was the emptying the large chest freezer in the barn. Nothing wrong with that surely ! Well this one was probably more dangerous than the rubbish, electrics and wasps combined. It had defrosted about ten years ago apparently- half full of pig or venison  "or something". It had got so bad that no-one in the previous family dared open it - and it now smelled so bad since it was starting to rot its way out of the freezer. A major biological health hazard !

First of all I moved it away from the house with tractor and drained it on its side- thinking that would be OK after a month or so outside with the flies and maggots. The stench was unbelievable - enough to cause immediate vomiting at a dozen paces !

When I went back a month later the smell was just as bad . I got a respirator on and went for a proper look...

I can confirm now that if anyone out there is planning on disposing of any bodies, that hiding them in a freezer will not reduce them to a smell free pile of compost. Especially if they are wrapped in ....plastic bags. They would look a bit like this...

 And the smell Oh My God!!! I have never smelt anything as bad as that. NOT  EVER !

I buried it all in a shallow grave nearby after hand picking the leaking bags out of the "soup".

The smell from the freezer was so bad even after a few more weeks of rain that I eventually filled it with sawdust and  5 litres of petrol and torched it completely. And it still smelled awful! Incredible !

Apart from that I've done a lot of strimming to uncover more dumped rubbish , insulated the roof with 340mm deep of extra insulation, removed the inner big barn hanging ceiling (with my brother Sam) and got the tractor steering stripped down so it doesnt kill me when I next drive it. April, has had her hands full with the kids mainly, but has managed to clear out a load of weeds from the glasshouse (and, of course, loads of glass!).

Ironically the only near serious injury so far has been to Lundy (aged 18 months) who managed to stick three of her fingers into the kitchen door (hinge side) just as I was slowly closing it while fixing it the other side. I think I'd rather have had my own hand in there than see that again. Luckily for her they all still work. I havent felt that awful since I saw Willow trap her hand in the paper shredder (at about the same age as well)

"That which does not kill us makes us stronger"

 I wonder if Fredrich Nietzsche ever cleared up a farm, his quote certainly summed these last few weeks up accurately!

Lets hope it stays that way !

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Sheds and time.

Time has a funny habit of slipping away from you... and me ... without anything apparently changing quickly. We've been here nearly six weeks already and I find myself saying "What have I been doing.... nothing !" . I suppose that I have  "been doing something" but theres so much going on that its easy to forget that the farm has not always looked exactly as it does today.

The first big job when we got here was the "collapsed shed" next to the house. It had been built by the former farmer to house his sheep, I dont know how long it took him to build singlehandedly but it must have been quite a while. I seemed fitting that it should be singlehandedly dismantled by the new owner (with help from both the ravages of time and the weather !)

I initially said... "its about 20 meters long by 7 wide " - after checking on Google Earth as I write this - its actually 45meters by about 10 meters!  That would explain where the month has disappeared then ! - not fully appreciating the time it would take ! Sometimes it helps just to dive in and get  through the worst of it in a wave of naive enthusiasm. Disastrous policy if you're quoting for a job though! 450 square meters of metal roofed shed -oops I thought it was 140.

However armed with my trusty awesome Hilti  screwdriver I set to work on this mess, most of it was quite straightforward but towards the end the shed roof was very overgrown so the screws could not be seen or reached . The clump of ivy in photo is about 8 meters long, as high as me and came off the roof in one piece ! I had to demolish quite a lot of the holly hedge behing just to get at it as well (Ouch!). I'll be very happy to torch that "holly and ivy" at Christmas when its dried out !

I was most pleased  with my new battery drill - it can effortlessly take out 300, 4 inch screws on one battery charge - a classic example of the right tool for the job saves time. In fact it was almost a pleasure - even after I'd taken out almost 2000 screws . Heres one days worth !

The other thing that has crashed to the ground is one side of the shed. The two hundred year old wall that also supports the field behind had been undermined below its foundations  by the previous farmer to gain an extra 40 cm of height inside the shed (Rather than build the wall 40 cm higher in wood ).

Predictable result... its destabilised maybe 20m of wall , half of which has already collapsed, the rest will need to be demolished eventually. It was quite depressing to see his shortcut to save time many years ago has destroyed a large amount of work of the original historic build  and will require to be redone at far greater cost of my time.

The upside of all this demolition is that I've reclaimed literally tons of timber, lots of it reusable and a substantial quantity  for a few massive fires . Theres also been a load of metal roofing , destined for the scrapyard (£150 a tonne !)

The last fire was particulary satisfying - I burnt all the receipts and paperwork that relates to the last house and extension builds, as well as the remains of shed. Not only did it clear the site and my "office desk" it felt symbolic of calling time on the last project and consigning it to the ashes of history.

The receipts varied from 7 to 2 years ago and every one of them had involved me purchasing something to build the house (often on my own).  Ten percent of my "three score years and ten" used up building something that one day someone will be recycling, knocking down or burning.

The irony of it wasnt lost on me. I could have asked the previous resident of the shed for advice but time has a funny habit of slipping away and they were silent on the matter.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Appearances can be deceptive

I was thinking about the appearance of things today. The main task  for the day was to start getting the tractor serviceable. I've been avoiding the issue for about seven weeks  from the first day of being given (very generously) the tractor along with the farm.

Its a Massey Fergusson 35 (MF35) - almost 50 years old. It originally looked red, shiny, and was probably the first owners pride and joy the week he bought it from the dealer. It would have looked like this...
I have used the tractor once or twice already but with that deep sense that I really shouldnt be , fun as it was.
Rather like playing on a sunny summer evening as a child ,but not enjoying it because you haven't done your homework and know that you're going to pay heavily tomorrow.

Basically I couldnt bear to face up to the reality that my tractor looks awful. These photos of the engine block and rear end give an idea...

As a former engineer it was painful to look at, everything coated in a layer of thick stinking grease. It was also dangerous, the last time I drove it, I sheared off two wheel bolts and the front nearly collapsed. The brakes dont really work and bits appeared to be missing... important bits like the pins that stop the big bolts falling out of the front loader and decapitating the driver. A sorry state of affairs for a tractor to get into.

And thats why I started thinking about the appearance of things because I realised that of course the tractor was no different to the house and the entire farm itself - (understandable since all were previously owned by the same person.) However it was also somewhat like myself after a long days work. Tired , worn out, in need of some attention.
 Of course it doesnt really matter what the tractor looks like at the moment but rather does the tractor still possess the abilities which are required of it now and in the future.  Reflecting on this I realised that I'd probably be a lot more enthused about fixing the tractor if only I cleaned it, that way my previous engineering interests could then kick in and restoring the tractor could be another thing to look forward to doing rather than avoiding.  

I changed my perspective on the issue and before you could say "Where did that come from !"  I'd wired up a 3 phase extension lead, rushed into town and borrowed a steam cleaner and got to work.

After an hour I realised that the tractor was in quite good condition after all. It needs a few tweaks to the fuel lines and theres a tiny bit of oil leakage. Half the muck was stuck to the tractor because the previous owner had run out of energy or enthusiasm for it - a few loose bolts and crossthreaded unions and after a few years the whole thing was buried in diesel flavoured mud. The tractor certainly doesnt look new even now but I bet that someone will still be driving it in 50 years if I look after it and appreciate it for what it really is not what it looks like on the surface.

I'll start ordering the parts tomorrow, until then I think I need steam cleaning myself...