Hannah and I rode in around 2:30 on this unseasonably warm 60° day. Originally, I wanted to come up much earlier this morning and spend the day mowing and mulching, but I ended up getting a lot of errands run at home instead. I brought the ATV and plow back, so I got them unloaded quickly and set my sights on the keep.
I also brought up two six-gallon jugs of drinkable Oshkosh water which I set on the bathroom counter. My goals for today are all Puckanet-related. I want to increase the 4G signal to the router and set up my weather station.
The first thing I had to do was figure out mounting for the sensor module. The higher up, the better, but it needs to be within 300 feet of the base station (and probably closer than that, with the aluminum walls of the keep serving to block the signal) to function. I decided to put it on the top of the bird feeder post. Should get plenty of sun and there’s no canopy overhead to mess with the rainfall gauge.
The boys have been getting cabin fever lately. It’s been in the 40s and almost all the snow has melted, so we decided to make a day trip to Puckaway. The five of us (Hannah needs to get out of the house, too) piled in the truck and made it to Aunt Judy’s by 11:15 for a late breakfast. The boys drew some pictures for Judy to hang up, then made short work of a pair of adult-sized omelets. Shortly after we sat down, Danny and his wife came in, too. They both remarked on how much Jacob’s grin reminds them of Richie.
We made it to Puckaway around noon. Hannah started her strafing runs and the boys headed straight to the pole barn to get out some of their trucks. I unloaded the day’s project: major Puckanet upgrades.
It’s been quite a week. The wild swings in temperature have brought on a lot of snowmelt over still-frozen ground. Back in Oshkosh, this resulted in a lot of water pooling near the back of the house. The catch basin and 40 feet of buried 4″ PVC drain pipe that I put in to combat just this situation were rendered useless as they were plugged solid with ice. Water started leaking into the basement because the utility pump I bought out of desperation just couldn’t keep up with the melt rate. To top things off, something was wrong with the water heater from the keep. It would shut itself off after only lighting the burners for a few seconds, which prevented me from using it to flush my drain line with hot water. I felt defeated as a homeowner because my drain solution had failed, discouraged at the prospect of no more hot water at Puckaway, and sick thinking about the freezing rain in the forecast and how it would affect my basement.
My wonderful wife helped me put these (still mostly managed) problems in perspective and suggested that what I needed was some time to recharge and reflect. She would take the boys down by her folks for the weekend and said I should head to Puckaway with the pooch. An overnight stay in February would be an unprecedented event, but probably just what the doctor ordered. Just the idea of a Puckaway trip got me in a better headspace, and by Thursday I had come up with a solution for my frozen pipe problem.
The Devil Makes Three – Do Wrong Right
It’s hard to believe, but I’ve been making these log entries for three years already. The events of the first two years are well chronicled. More sweeping changes came to the landscape in 2017, so let’s review!
Our first trip of the year introduced a new member of the family, our dog Hannah. She bears a striking resemblance to, and shares a name with, a wonderful pooch I had growing up. And she shares her namesake’s love for Puckaway. It was a blast to watch our shelter rescue learn how to be a dog and have fun by tearing around the grounds. Outside of that, similar to years prior, there wasn’t much more winter activity save for a quick supply run.
Just like last year, mid-April marked the first family day trip where we opened up the keep. Peter, in a bid for Neighbor of the Year, came through and ground 14 stumps in the yard just because he had a grinder for a day and is a great guy. We also saw our first unpaid brick-removal team as my “free bricks” craigslist post paid its first dividends. A later April trip came with a major HD upgrade to the bird feeder camera, more brick laborers, the first bonfire of the year, and a trailer load of scrap tires getting hauled off the property. The groundskeeping projects got off to a great start this year.
Rolled in with Hannah around 3:30 to some light snowfall. Time to collect the blue ATV and plow for the driveway back home. Hannah was sure happy to be here and got right to work making high-speed laps of the yard. This came with some pretty spectacular wipeouts, though. Thanks to the quick freeze-thaw-freeze cycle over the last few days, the yard is full of glare ice patches hidden beneath the fresh snow. Hannah, for the most part, was unfazed by this and just wanted to keep running.
I went to fire up the blue ATV and the dials went completely dead. What the hell. I’ve had this on the trickle charger, just like the green ATV and the mowers, and none of them are any worse for wear. Then again, I think this battery is at least six or seven years old and probably due for replacement. It’s a shame these require their electronics to function. Even with a pull rope, there’s no way of getting this to run without a battery.
Pulled in at 1:00 pm and noticed a welcome change right away. The truck box is gone! Peter hauled it over to Danny’s. Sure, it’s only moved a few hundred feet, but at least it’s out of the driveway and off of the property.
Ding dong, the box is gone.
I parked by the pole barn and started layering up. I brought my Carhartt bibs and jacket, balaclava, and warm gloves and hat since it’s just below 10° F out (sadly, this is the warmest day we’ve had in a week) and I’ll be spending this entire trip outdoors. A few days ago, I saw Peter’s truck on the pole barn camera. When Dad asked him what he was checking out, Peter mentioned he would have free use of a Skytrak (large, all-terrain boom lift) for a few days and wanted to know if we were still thinking of trimming the trees leaning over the pole barn. I jumped at the chance, which is why I took a half day off of work to meet him here today.
While waiting for Peter to show up, I carried my propane heater over to the keep and fired it up. So far, the little UPS heater seems to be doing its job admirably, but it’s been so consistently cold this past week that it has never turned off. I want to make sure the thermostatic switch does its thing when the temps rise above 30° F. This will serve as a test of the switch as well as give me a nice warm place to change out of my winter gear when we’re done today.
Flying trip! Took advantage of this unseasonably warm (nearly 60° F) day and stopped up a little before 3:00 pm to drop off the summer tires from Lyssa’s car. While I was here and it was so nice out, I took a minute to collect most of the logs and branches from the tree that fell during deer camp. It wasn’t long before there was a pretty big stack in the pit.
There was one more reason for the visit today. I picked up another smartplug, but this one can also measure and report power consumption. I’ll be able to tell remotely whether or not the UPS heater is running. I plugged this in just behind the thermostatic switch and got it connected to Wi-Fi. Once I had the app running on my phone, I plugged the heater into it directly to verify the readings. 68.5 watts. Even if this thing ran 24/7, it would only add $5 to a monthly power bill. We’re supposed to be in for some cold weather, so we’ll find out soon enough. I closed everything back up and was on my way out by 3:45.
Pulled in at 3:30. No pooch; don’t want to risk someone mistaking her for a deer. Temperatures were hovering just above freezing with on-and-off rain and I was looking forward to heading into a nice, pre-warmed keep. It was not to be. Apparently, there was a power outage between Tuesday and today; microwave clock was reset and the heater wasn’t running. Lovely. I went to the pole barn to get my propane sunflower heater to kickstart the keep thawing process, but it was nowhere to be found. Frustrated, I headed into the big trailer and saw Dad was using it in the living room. He, Steve, and Sam were already plenty warm and had electric heaters going anyway, so I grumbled, stole my propane gear back, and headed out to the keep again.
With the sunflower heater blasting warmth, I finally unloaded the truck. I carried the water jugs over to the big trailer and had a drink with the guys while the keep warmed up. I didn’t stick around long, though. The big trailer reeks. Pretty sure mice have made some kind of home in the oven. The whole place smells like boiled rodent urine. Not sure how the three of them can stand it. I wandered back to the keep and threw on a movie while I started to rebuild the Puckanet. I replaced the router with a Unifi gateway to give me some more remote control and data. And hopefully, if I ever find a way around Verizon’s NAT mess, I can use the gateway for VPN connections to my home network instead of relying on the Pi. The Puckanet is constantly evolving.
Pulled in at 1:30 with Hannah, who was glad to be back again so soon. She tore a few laps around the yard while I went into the keep to check out the Puckanet. It never reconnected to my VPN after the power was restored yesterday so I wanted to see what was going on. Turns out something got corrupted on the Pi and it wouldn’t boot at all. I’ll have to take it home and restore it from backup. Looks like the cameras will be down for a few days. I headed outside and saw Danny and Buck walking in to say hi. Hannah’s come around on Buck. She used to be really territorial and tried keeping him off the property, but now they’re perfectly happy chasing each other around the yard.
I’m sick of fighting this busted thing.
My main reason for coming up was mowing/leaf collection, so I got right to it. I hooked up the blower and the NASCAR trailer and started collecting leaves along the driveway. It was slow going as the trailer filled quickly. After three loads, I decided to change tactics and unhooked the collection equipment. I went around the yard between the keep and the pole barn and just mulched, progressively blowing the piles inward. Twice I was stopped by the front tie rod assembly coming apart at one of the wheels. I’ve had a redneck fix applied to this for the past year where it’s just held in place with a metal hose clamp, but it won’t hold anymore. The mount is just too worn out. I was forced to give up mowing around 4:15 with a lot of yard left to handle.
Quick note: I stopped in back on October 25 to put away the pop-up camper, but that was such a flying trip that it didn’t seem to merit a log entry.
Drove up with Hannah a little after 10:00 am with all sorts of electrical goodies in the back of the truck. Dad was already here with Jake, who had slept over at their house last night. Also with them was Dad’s brother Cal, a professional electrician. He was here to supervise and give me a hand as I made some much-needed upgrades to power supply here.
Our main outdoor service panel is in rough shape. It’s an ancient 60A “Pushmatic” affair with very reluctant breakers and it’s mounted to a rotten plywood board on an equally rotten 4×4 post. I think the only reason it still (mostly) works is that it can’t decide whether to fall over or catch on fire. Especially since the strange electrical problems we experienced last year at deer camp, I’ve been getting after Dad to talk to an electrician about upgrading the panel. Well, he talked to two of them. His friend Nick helped us pick out proper replacement parts, and now Uncle Cal was going to help me make the swap.