Halfmoon's journal

Where are you and where are you going?
halfmoon
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Re: Halfmoon's journal

Post by halfmoon » Fri Feb 10, 2017 8:25 pm

THE HOMESTEAD/ACCUMULATION YEARS

To someone from the eastern US, seeing cattle roaming the forest or walking sedately across a public road was a revelation. Our newly adopted county was legally open range, which meant that any land not in an incorporated city was freely available to grazing cattle. If landowners didn’t want other people’s cattle on their property, the burden was on them to fence the animals out. Since DH and I definitely didn’t want cattle on our land,* fencing was the first order of business. Because we were on a budget, we bought most of our fencing (and later building) supplies in the Seattle area and hauled them across the mountains in our ‘64 Chevy pickup. We also had a lot of supplies and tools already, so it made sense.

*I know that cheap grazing is a tradition of the west and contributes to ranchers’ ability to stay in business. We wanted the land to recover from logging and support wildlife, though. Logged land in an arid climate is particularly fragile and vulnerable to invasive plants carried by cattle.

As soon as the snow was gone, we hauled an old 17’ travel trailer stocked with clothes and supplies over to our new property to serve as base camp. At this point, we had reduced our work hours to 3 nights/week so we could have more time to make the 12-hour round trip drive and work on the retirement place.

On our next days off, we headed over with a heavily-loaded truck. In the cab: DH and I, plus two large dogs. Anyone who hasn't driven for 6 hours sharing a truck cab with 2 big dogs just hasn't lived. ;) In the truck bed, in order of layers with railroad ties on the bottom (pay attention, because this is important):

8 railroad ties (weighed over 100lbs each)
An untold number of used bricks
10 4x4 pressure-treated posts
Buckets of fencing hardware
3 full 5-gallon propane tanks
3 full 5-gallon gas cans
Numerous rolls of barbed wire, 2-liter bottles of soda, tools, gloves, food, etc.

We drove over the mountain pass and headed into Eastern Washington. About 10 miles into the east side, we were surprised to hear a car horn blaring. The car passed us, driver gesturing wildly at the back of our truck. We looked out the rear window and saw smoke pouring from the truck bed.

DH quickly pulled across the highway onto an opportunely-placed gravel road, and we piled out. We looked under the truck and saw that the old wooden bed had sagged under the heavy load and made contact with the hot exhaust pipe. The bed was on fire. Due to some sort of brain damage, we had everything in the truck bed except…oh…WATER. Plenty of combustibles, though. DH grabbed several soda bottles and crawled under the truck. His parting words: “If those propane tanks blow, all my troubles are over.”

Meanwhile, I was offloading propane tanks and gas cans like a riot looter. DH managed to put out the active flames under the truck bed, but the creosote-soaked railroad tires were still smoldering. We ended up having to unload every damn thing from the truck so we could get to the railroad ties, pulling them off onto the ground and soaking them with diet 7-Up. I knew that stuff was good for you!

When all the fires were out cold, we loaded everything back onto the truck (bricks on the bottom this time) and drove on with fingers crossed.

halfmoon
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Re: Halfmoon's journal

Post by halfmoon » Sat Feb 11, 2017 6:01 pm

THE HOMESTEAD/ACCUMULATION YEARS

(TL;DR: excessive discussion of fencing details and bragging about hard work)

We managed to complete our trip without setting the truck on fire again. Now began the real fun.

It’s odd how there are any number of things that DH and I wouldn’t do for money because they’re miserably hard or nasty, but we’ve done them for ourselves to avoid paying someone else. So I guess we are in a sense doing them for money. ;) High on that list would be digging out a clogged septic line (check), clearing blackberry bushes (yep) and fencing.

Our land was square-shaped with a state road running through it and cattle guards where the road intersected property boundaries. Each side was ¼ mile long, and the fence needed a minimum of 4 barbed-wire runs to reliably keep out cattle. That’s 4 miles of barbed wire, metal posts every 11 feet, railroad ties at each corner and on either side of the cattle guards, 4x4 posts on either side of the RR ties with cross-bracing, approximately 2000 fence clips and a bunch of fence staples for the posts. With no handy mules, ATVs or teenage children, we had to carry everything ourselves. This would be a daunting task on flat, open land. Ours was on a mountainside (quite steep in places) and covered a mix of trees and logging slash.

Before we could do anything else, we needed to set the corners. The property was surveyed and had a monument on each corner, so we knew exactly where to bury the railroad ties. Those old creosote-soaked timbers were incredibly dense. We were able to drive to one corner and the sides of the cattle guards, but three of the railroad ties had to be hand-carried: one downhill and two sharply up. We’re pretty small people, so it took one of us on each end, huffing and puffing for about 20 feet at a time and stopping to recover in between. Breaks were punctuated by gasps of “Damn, this thing is heavy!” That observation never got old.

After the railroad ties, the 4x4 posts seemed almost trivial. We used a (manual) post hole digger to bury the RR ties and posts 3’ deep, then braced them with rebar-pegged cross posts and diagonal wires.

Next we had to lay out the fence line. Because DH is German, this had to run arrow-straight from each corner to the next. Starting with one side at a time, we took a thin string and stretched it the ¼-mile length between two corners. There were lots of bushes, saplings and downed trees in the path, so it was a slow process of running the line as best we could, cutting everything in the assumed path and clearing it away, adjusting the line, cutting/clearing again ad infinitum until the line hung free the entire length. There are certainly easier ways to do this with current technology or more money, but we were working with what we had: our backs, legs and beady eyes.

Once one line was established, we began the spine-jarring process of pounding 120 metal posts into the ground with a hand-held post driver. We traded off between being the post holder and the post banger, with DH taking probably 75% of the latter position. Around that time, DH went to the doctor and said that his back hurt. The doctor asked what he’d been doing lately. DH said “Driving fence posts.” The doctor said “Then of course your back hurts. Stop it.”

All this was good for several weeks of entertainment punctuated by weekends at the restaurant job and the long drive back and forth. Finally we were ready to run the first line of barbed wire, starting with the top wire to avoid tangling. Barbed wire rolls are conveniently sized to run ¼ mile, so we needed 16 rolls at about 80 pounds apiece. We threaded the first roll onto a sturdy stick (again: I’m sure there’s an easier/more expensive way to do this), then carried it between us and let it unroll as we ascended. Felt kind of like holding an angry 80-pound wolverine on a stick while climbing a mountain. We tried to keep it balanced as we stumbled along, because letting the stick slope either way meant one of us would suddenly get a handful of twisting barbed wire. This is not conducive to marital harmony.

When we reached the other corner without killing each other, we stretched the wire with a come-along and stapled it to the railroad tie. After that, the walk back down placing clips was a piece of cake. Where dips in the land made the metal posts want to pull up under the wire’s pressure, we hung big rocks from the posts with barbed wire to weigh them down. Then it was back up with the second roll of wire, lather, rinse, repeat until we had ¼ mile of straight, gleaming fenceline. Wow! :D Only three more sides to go. :evil:

Farm_or
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Re: Halfmoon's journal

Post by Farm_or » Sun Feb 12, 2017 8:04 am

Pretty good fence building skills! It's not easy.

I told my wife to be alert stringing the barb wire because it knows Kung Fu. You relax for a second and it will jump and bite you.

Her least favorite part was packing rocks for the rock jacks that we built for the corners. Those are really hard to build to blm spec, it takes so many smaller rocks; we fudged on those a little bit.

halfmoon
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Re: Halfmoon's journal

Post by halfmoon » Sun Feb 12, 2017 9:10 am

Farm_or wrote:I told my wife to be alert stringing the barb wire because it knows Kung Fu. You relax for a second and it will jump and bite you.
This. Hold onto said wife, because a spouse who will fence with you (other than verbally) is gold. 8-)

Why do you have to fence to BLM spec? My experience is only with state/national forest permittees, and I haven't known them to have fence-building requirements. Is your county not open range?

Farm_or
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Re: Halfmoon's journal

Post by Farm_or » Mon Feb 13, 2017 6:35 pm

Touche!

When I was a kid, my dad leased pasture from blm and forest service. We built and rode a lot of fence. I guess it's my own anal retentive notions to keep my fences to that high standard? I especially like using smooth wire on the bottom strand. Saves a lot of baby deers and antelopes from injury.

We spend an all day in the the spring fixing blm fence for our allotment. Strange, but we actually look forward forward to doing it. We pack a picnic and make an event of it. It's six + miles of fence. Every year, I say, "okay, we fixed a lot last year, so this year will be better." But somehow, it's always just as bad.

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Eureka
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Re: Halfmoon's journal

Post by Eureka » Mon Feb 13, 2017 7:42 pm

No comments, just enjoyed reading through it all.

halfmoon
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Re: Halfmoon's journal

Post by halfmoon » Mon Feb 13, 2017 9:33 pm

Farm_or wrote: I especially like using smooth wire on the bottom strand. Saves a lot of baby deers and antelopes from injury.
What a great idea. We used to remove a few rows of fence clips after the grazing season and drop the fence in spots where deer habitually crossed. It was tough for them to jump in deep, soft snow. Of course, the predators counted on those snow-challenged deer. Hard to know whom to root for. We (sort of) tried to adhere to the Starfleet Prime Directive of no interference with alien civilizations/wildlife. Does feeding deer in the winter count? :oops:
Eureka wrote:No comments, just enjoyed reading through it all.
Well, that's a perfect comment. I always hope that people are enjoying the story, and I thrive on feedback. Thank you! :D

EMJ
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Re: Halfmoon's journal

Post by EMJ » Tue Feb 14, 2017 2:05 am

Always interesting to read you journal Halfmoon!

halfmoon
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Re: Halfmoon's journal

Post by halfmoon » Tue Feb 14, 2017 8:57 am

Thank you for responding to my shameless solicitation of feedback, EMJ! Do you have a journal? I'd like to read your story.

halfmoon
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Re: Halfmoon's journal

Post by halfmoon » Mon Feb 20, 2017 11:20 pm

THE HOMESTEAD/ACCUMULATION YEARS

When the fence was complete, we turned our attention to the most important part of any homestead: the outhouse! Our future water supply was still in question, and we were fully prepared to haul and store water as part of living in this spot. We still hoped to develop a well in the future, but either way, an outhouse was critical.

Of course, this outhouse (because German) needed to be built like a bunker, sealed against flies and odor free. Our first task was to dig a 4’ wide x 4’ long x 8’deep hole. It couldn’t be dug by a hired backhoe because DH wanted the walls of the hole to be strictly vertical…I’ll explain why shortly.

We excavated the 256 cubic feet by hand, prying the numerous rocks out with a large crowbar. We were able to heave the dirt and rocks up and out at first, but as we descended this became impossible. If the rocks were small enough, we could load them into a bucket along with loose dirt and lift them to ground level with a rope. The larger rocks had to be secured with chains and lifted with the trusty tripod/come-along setup.

Finally we had a big fat hole with vertical walls and lots of rocks lying around the rim. Next step was to lay railroad ties around the perimeter, digging them into the dirt a bit. This sealed the hole against flies and illustrates why we had to hand-dig it. If a backhoe had dug the hole, the sides would be sloped. Since the top was ringed with railroad ties to seal it, the actual dimensions of the hole depths would be far less than the top if the sides were sloped. We would either have to build a huge outhouse or have a tiny composting reservoir. :shock: Trust me: you never want a tiny composting reservoir.

We then lay a sheet of marine plywood on top of the railroad ties. We framed the outhouse on top of the plywood just like a very tiny house, complete with view of the opposing mountain. The inside was lined with an apocalypse-level toilet paper supply for insulation. We installed a big vent pipe from the hole up and out the ceiling (a la US Forest Service vault toilets), screened the rafters and decorated the inside with artwork, a framed mirror and a kerosene lamp. There were also deep shelves and coat hooks in case one intended to stay while. It’s hard to believe, but this outhouse Did Not Smell and had no flies. We were pretty darn proud of it. 8-) (Photo is before we painted it to all to match the house.)

Image

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Dragline
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Re: Halfmoon's journal

Post by Dragline » Tue Feb 21, 2017 12:05 am

Poopus Maximus! Impressive! Thanks for relaying your life-story is such vivid detail.

halfmoon
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Re: Halfmoon's journal

Post by halfmoon » Tue Feb 21, 2017 10:26 am

Thanks for reading my life story, Dragline! ...But where were you when we built this? I can see now that our outhouse needed a Poopus Maximus plaque over the door. :cry:

Farm_or
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Re: Halfmoon's journal

Post by Farm_or » Tue Feb 21, 2017 3:40 pm

Good stuff as usual. But I can't help, my eye is drawn to the impressive wood pile in the background! You guys must have used a lot of firewood? Looks to be stacked in perfect order and cut to precise lengths

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bryan
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Re: Halfmoon's journal

Post by bryan » Tue Feb 21, 2017 3:48 pm

Wow, that's a serious outhouse! I don't know too much about outhouses (until I started googling..).. did it ever get full? Now I want to build an outhouse (w/ my own version of Hedonic Inflation built-in) :lol:

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Re: Halfmoon's journal

Post by Jason » Tue Feb 21, 2017 5:29 pm

At first I thought, wow, that's nice, they built an outhouse for their dog. He can go in there, take a shit, lick his balls, whatever.

Then I realized it was for people.

Based on the reflection of the window, is that the view when you're doing your business? Cause that does look relaxing. I could see John Denver in there, taking an inspired dump and coming up with "Annie Song."

halfmoon
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Re: Halfmoon's journal

Post by halfmoon » Tue Feb 21, 2017 8:44 pm

@bryan, it is a serious outhouse. It never got full, though during extreme cold spells in the winter, the contents would sometimes pile up into a tiny Matterhorn of poop way down in the darkness. Don't ask me how I know this because I absolutely did not shine a flashlight down there to monitor things. Nope, no sirree. In spring, water seeping from the mountainside made it all disappear in any case.

I enjoyed the outhouse photo site to a ridiculous degree, by the way. One of those internet rabbit holes that sucked me in. Thanks for eating up an hour of my life! :twisted:

@Jason, that is indeed the outhouse user's view reflected in the window. I only wish I could have convinced our dogs to use an outhouse. Would have avoided a lot of picking dog poop out of the snow.
Farm_or wrote:Good stuff as usual. But I can't help, my eye is drawn to the impressive wood pile in the background! You guys must have used a lot of firewood? Looks to be stacked in perfect order and cut to precise lengths
Yes, we used a lot of firewood. Our house was well-insulated, but wood was our only source of heat. With temperatures falling well below zero Fahrenheit several times each winter, a lot of firewood was money (survival) in the bank. We also cooked primarily with wood, though we did have a propane stove.

As far as the "stacked in perfect order and cut to precise lengths" part: you did get that my DH is German? :D This piling of wood between trees was just a stopgap method, though, while we built and finished the house. It works well until the wood dries out and shrinks in ways that undermine the stack's precision. Then come the windstorms, the trees sway...we did a lot of re-stacking. Finally, we built a woodshed.

Image

This was our first log pole building. We milled 2 sides of each side beam and all 4 sides of the center beam with an Alaskan chainsaw mill. The roof was made with purchased lumber, OSB sheathing and metal. The firewood sits on surplus pallets.

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Riggerjack
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Re: Halfmoon's journal

Post by Riggerjack » Tue Feb 21, 2017 8:57 pm

OK, as long as we are talking details of outhouses, a few thoughts.

If you are going for the deep, long term hole, (4x4x8 the hard way by hand!?! OMG!) Think backhoe, 2wx8lx8d. With a 2' span, the floor is stiffer, you have the same volume, and you can have the building as wide as you want.

Windows are good, full light doors better, and a transparent roof best. Well, all 3 would be best, really. Whatever form of light you use at night should be mounted. Candlestick, lantern, led, whatever. As halfmoon pointed out, venting and sealing are good things.

Weatherstripping and caulk are your friends, or spiders are.

Many people dig lesser holes, use the outhouse for a time, move the outhouse, dig a new hole, using the spoil to cover the previous hole, put the outhouse over the new hole. Bioactivity happens faster near the surface of soil. Disclaimer, this may not be so true where the freezing is serious, Mountains and Minnesota.

I do not in any way advocate outhouses, but I have used many, and thought I'd share what I have learned. If you have water available on site, a septic system is not much more difficult, and better for water quality. The water you save may be your own.

halfmoon
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Re: Halfmoon's journal

Post by halfmoon » Tue Feb 21, 2017 9:46 pm

@Riggerjack: interesting idea about the narrow, long trench. In that case, it would make sense to construct several seats and move sideways when one section fills. I wonder if this was commonly done in the past (minus a backhoe), because a number of old outhouses have multiple seats. I could never figure out why outhouse use would be a group activity.

Agreed about mounting the light source. It reminds me of how far we've come, because now a battery-powered LED lamp would be far more practical than a kerosene lamp.

Our eventual water supply was 500' uphill of the outhouse. Though we put in conventional plumbing down the road, I'm a fan of outhouses when intelligently sited. For one thing: they keep the filthy boots outside for breaks in the work day. They also conserve water, provide wonderful privacy...and sometimes even have a view.

One of the best and worst aspects for me? It forces you to go outside in the dark. That can be really annoying when it's bitter cold or you're half asleep, but then you look up at a sky awash with stars and the dark shadow of mountains beneath, and you really feel where you live.

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Re: Halfmoon's journal

Post by Jason » Wed Feb 22, 2017 6:25 am

This is some real pioneering shit right here, pardon the pun. I remember watching a Disneyesque movie when I was a kid and the family was in the wilderness, snowed in and starving and I look over and there's this girl balling her eyes out and I'm like take it easy its fucking Disney, some benevolent wolf or some shit will come along and dig them out. Sure enough, they lived. I don't remember exactly how. I wonder where that girl is now. Probably married to a Hedge Fund guy.

As nice as that view is, I'd still rather shit inside staring at a shower curtain than outside staring at the magnificence of nature.

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Riggerjack
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Re: Halfmoon's journal

Post by Riggerjack » Wed Feb 22, 2017 8:43 am

Yeah, I was still thinking single seat, but more room to take off raingear, light lamp, what have you. No reason to feel claustrophobic.

Speaking of going outside in the dark...

I was surprised, when I moved out in the sticks, just how dark the dark is. In the burbs, it never really gets dark, and when camping, there's usually clear skies. I have excellent night vision, and even starlight is enough to wander thru a clearing without worry. But when you go out in the drizzle in the night, it is really dark out there. A drizzle at night in the woods, and I'm stumbling around hoping not to find a branch with my eye.

But it is hard to beat a mountain view of the stars...

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Re: Halfmoon's journal

Post by Farm_or » Wed Feb 22, 2017 5:50 pm

16x8x5= 5 cords? Do you know what mix of woods? Looks like lodgepole was aplenty?

halfmoon
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Re: Halfmoon's journal

Post by halfmoon » Wed Feb 22, 2017 7:13 pm

Good deduction on the volume just from a photo, Farm_or! There might be a tiny bit of lodgepole pine in there because our property had one lodgepole in the 40 acres -- which remarkably managed to die all alone from pine beetle. The bulk of it is fir and larch. (It was a luxury not to split every single log no matter the size; in Western Washington, we burn alder and have to split even the small stuff or it'll rot before it dries.) There are a few skinny ponderosa pine in there; the big ponderosas are miserably hard to split and generally healthy anyway.

We never went out and cut down healthy trees for firewood; just trying to clean up the slash and thin unhealthy stands produced more firewood than we could possibly use. We did launch a project to clean out diseased trees that involved DH climbing a number of the larger ones to cut off branches infested with dwarf mistletoe (this not the stuff you kiss under).

https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DO ... 025978.pdf

Larch are harder to climb than fir, and we ended up cutting a number of larch to save the young trees. It absolutely pained us; if there were a church that worshipped trees, we would sing in the choir. Turning these beautifully straight larch into firewood just seemed wrong, so we decided to peel them and build a log-walled shop. That's a story for another day, though. 8-)

halfmoon
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Re: Halfmoon's journal

Post by halfmoon » Wed Feb 22, 2017 7:28 pm

Riggerjack wrote:But it is hard to beat a mountain view of the stars...
We knew people who lived on the mountain part-time (between jobs) who cross-country skied under the full moon. The snow reflected light, but we were never brazen enough to do that.

halfmoon
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Re: Halfmoon's journal

Post by halfmoon » Wed Feb 22, 2017 7:32 pm

Jason wrote:As nice as that view is, I'd still rather shit inside staring at a shower curtain than outside staring at the magnificence of nature.
But you're not outside in an outhouse; note the 'house' part. You could always hang a shower curtain in the window if it makes you feel better. :lol:

George the original one
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Re: Halfmoon's journal

Post by George the original one » Wed Feb 22, 2017 8:31 pm

halfmoon wrote: we burn alder and have to split even the small stuff or it'll rot before it dries.
Here in the wet rot-land coast range where I prefer alder (easy to split, burns clean & hot, no spitting), I fast-track the drying by splitting the alder in spring/summer and then stacking it criss-cross in the summer sun. Air flows through the stack better and the wood actually dries in about a month, so then I can stack in the polebarn for use in the upcoming winter season. None of this nonsense of leaving a downed log to dry for a year because, as you note, it is attacked by all manner of fungus and just rots!

Here are some huge rounds I split before wife helped carry them out of the dry channel to a sunnier location, temporarily stacked because they were too heavy to carry as rounds.

Image

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