Hannah and I drove in around 5:30 pm with a truck bed loaded with tools and Puckaweekend goodies. The whole Thelen clan just spent a long weekend up in Presque Isle, but the boys have school tomorrow and Lyssa works. I, however, have Columbus Day off. As soon as we got back to Oshkosh, I quickly unpacked from PI and loaded up for Puckaway.
Lynn needs more hats.
Both Red and my dad were here waiting for me. Red and I work in the same office, so he’s got tomorrow off as well. He’s been here since 2:00 pm and has been busy mulching leaves all afternoon in the surprisingly high mid-70s temperatures. My dad got here shortly before me as he came straight down from PI. I helped Dad unload a snowblower from the back of his truck and rode with him to our neighbor Lynn’s property to store the pontoon boat for the winter. I’m glad that Dad was the one backing it in. While my trailering skills aren’t bad, there’s only about 3 inches of clearance on either side of the garage door when backing that big boat in, and I sure wouldn’t want to be the guy to scrape up our helpful neighbor’s garage. Lynn was there and I got to finally meet him. We hung out and talked for a bit, but Dad wanted to get back to Oshkosh and was on the road by 6:00.
It’s a scorcher today. Almost 90°—way too hot for late September. I usually check in on the cameras up here throughout my work day, but I lost my connection to the Puckanet around noon without any warning that the battery backup kicked in. I was worried something bad might have happened with my equipment, so I left work early, stopped home to grab the pooch and a few items I had planned to bring anyway, and headed up. Got here a little before 2:00 pm and quickly determined the issue was with Verizon, not my gear. The modem had no data signal. Same story with my phone. At least I was able to make calls; Verizon support confirmed that there was a data outage and that they had already dispatched a repair crew.
Satisfied that the battery backup hadn’t melted and started the keep on fire, I unloaded my truck and grabbed a water out of the fridge. I headed back out and checked out the newly depleted brick pile. One of my craigslist brick lovers came back for more earlier this week. I moved a few around to minimize the pile height and took a quick tally. We’re down to about 600 yellow bricks and maybe 800 or so blue firebricks. Last year, getting rid of these bricks seemed like such a monumental task. Now almost 75% of them are gone and I’ve hardly had to do any of the work.
Hannah and I got here around 2:30 pm with an empty ATV trailer in tow. I’m done hauling scrap for a while but will be using this tomorrow to help my dad clear out the garage in Mayville. The pooch sniffed around the grounds while I unloaded the back of the truck. I brought a cooler full of frozen pizzas, four 24-packs of bottled water, some seasoning, mixer ingredients, Ty Ku, and three different craft beer six packs. The Puckaweekend prep begins.
Two guys competing to take away these bricks for free was a beautiful thing to watch.
I spent some time putting everything away, then went out back to drain the IBC holding the keep’s water supply. It’s gotten pretty scummy and smelly. This didn’t seem to happen to the 55-gallon tank (that I noticed, at least) but that was drained and filled a lot more often throughout the year due to its smaller size. I brought up some pool shock treatment, figuring that a large tank of water that we’ll never drink but want to be able to use safely on our bodies has a lot in common with a swimming pool. I’m planning to overtreat a full tank, dump it out, clean it out, then refill it, At that point I’ll add the proper amount of pool shock to prevent anything from growing and living in it.
Quick trip today. Pulled in around 7:00 with the aluminum ATV trailer in tow and the pooch in the backseat. Dad was already up here with his friend Nick, a retired electrician. Nick’s going to be helping us install a new meter and outdoor panel, replacing our ancient push-o-matic 60 amp service with a brand-new 200 amp service panel. I’ll eventually be able to re-route the pole barn and keep lines to this new panel and bump them each up to 30 amp in the process. I talked with Nick about the specifics of my current runs and he’ll be getting back to us with a time he can come back up and perform the install. This will be a major and long-overdue upgrade; I’m looking forward to it!
Service for eight. We’re fancy now.
Dad and Nick left around 7:30 so I opened up the keep and dropped off some supplies and recent acquisitions. Having on-demand hot water makes it much easier to do dishes, so I bought a set of silverware for the keep. No more eating steaks with plastic forks! I also got a turner spatula, ladle, and serving spoon so we can be ready for anything from chili to fried eggs. I dropped off the freshly-laundered linens in the bedroom, too.
Lyssa, the boys, and I enjoyed a late Aunt Judy’s breakfast at 11:30 while Hannah waited in the truck. With no other plans for Labor Day and a promising weather forecast, we’ve decided to spend a night at Puckaway. We pulled in the driveway around 12:15 and had to stop about a third of the way in. A huge fallen birch was blocking our path.
This beast was almost two feet in diameter at its base.
I let everyone out of the truck and backed out of the driveway, turned around, and backed in up to the tree. I walked up to the pole barn, fired up the green ATV, and hooked it up to the small yard trailer. We used it as a bellhop’s cart, filling it with our bags, the cooler, and my tools from the back of the truck. Lyssa started unloading and preparing things in the keep while I gathered some tools to clear our path.
I was filling the chainsaw with gas and chain oil when Lyssa’s parents came walking down the driveway. It’s been a few years since they’ve last seen the place, so we showed off some of the recent improvements. Peter gave me a hand clearing the megabirch from the driveway while Lyssa and Val kept an eye on the boys and filled the bird feeders. We used the ATV trailer for all of the smaller branches and threw the trunk sections in the back of my pickup. After about 45 minutes, we had just about everything collected and enough room to let our vehicles pass.
Speed run! Drove in around 5:30 after picking up a table and chairs set in Berlin, a nice craigslist find for only $20. Hannah came along for the ride. I was glad to replace the keep’s kitchen chairs; the foam cushions are really showing their age. I’m keeping the current table for now as it seems nicer and larger than the one I picked up today. I unloaded the old chairs and new table in the pole barn and collected all the trash/recyclables as long as I was leaving here with an otherwise empty truck bed. While I was here, I got an email reply from the local scrapyard: turns out they will absolutely accept riding lawnmowers, so I’m hoping to be back up here sometime next week to make some more room around the woodshed ruins. The pooch and I were on the road again by 6:15.
Rode up with Lyssa, Josh, and Hannah around 12:30. Jake’s up in Presque Isle with my mom and Josh is excited to have this place to himself. We set Hannah free to bolt around the grounds and I started charging the Power Wheels for Josh to use. Lyssa took him for a four-wheeler ride while I lit up the burnpit to start immolating the brush I had collected during the last trip up. Everything was so dried out that the pit looked like a Saturn V rocket pointed in the wrong direction. Hannah promptly hid in the back of the pole barn. Lyssa’s getting over a summer cold, so after her ride with Josh she relaxed in one of the lounge chairs. They both took refuge in the keep when the smoke picked up, though.
I started cleaning up around the wood shed foundation and unearthed the large prybar from under a stack of shingles. So that’s where it went last fall. I put it to good use by pulling up the remaining wall-base 2x4s from the foundation. This got me motivated, so I grabbed the green ATV and small trailer, backed up to the foundation, and started prying up and collecting all of the hardboard floor panels. I also rolled up and gathered all of the remaining linoleum and floor backing. It was in pretty rough shape. Hannah watched me from the ATV trail on the backside of the pole barn. I think she liked having literal firewall between her and the burn pit.
Something I’ve always associated with Puckaway is feeding the birds. Richie always made it a priority; one of the first things we’d do upon arriving is open up the pole barn and fill some buckets with sunflower seed to stock the feeders. This was a way for me to pitch in and work with my grandpa even when I was too young or small to help with much else. The chickadees were so used to us that they’d eat out of our hands.
When Richie got older and his congestive heart failure started making even light work difficult, I’d drive up here ahead of him to take care of chores so he’d have nothing to do but relax and enjoy the place. Feeding the birds was always the first task on my list.
The first several years after Richie passed away, I didn’t do much of anything for the birds. Overnight stays outside of deer camp were rare, so I wasn’t even around to watch them come in. A lot of the feeders were falling apart and our general neglect of the property didn’t make the birds seem like much of a priority anymore. You could hear chickadees from the margins of the yard and there were signs of woodpeckers on every dead tree off of the driveway, but a lot of songbirds stopped coming in all together. It started to bum me out as just another example of how I couldn’t keep up with the place.
And then Jacob was born.
Shambala – Three Dog Night
We’ve done a lot since last year. High time for a recap!
January started off with a (literal) crash as I deftly maneuvered my toy drone Christmas present right into a tree. Consequently, tree trimming started early this year. The grounds didn’t see any activity again until late March with two quick, back-to-back supply trips. After another hauling run in early April, the keep was ready for the year. It’s never been easier to open this place for business.
We had our first family day trip in mid-April and the deck gained some patio furniture. We also discovered that the bird feeders were getting destroyed, so I sunk a 14′ post in the ground to keep them elevated. By the end of the month, the fridge was stocked for the season, we had our first bonfire, and for the first time in a decade, goldfinches were back in the feeders. The keep got brand new window screens throughout and I rigged a portable pressure-washer supply tank out of an RV pump and 55-gallon drum. Things are starting to look pretty good around here.
She’s run aground.
Hannah and I rolled in around 1pm hauling a cleaned-up pontoon boat behind us. The pooch would have to wait before she got to run some laps, though. I picked a spot in the south yard to park the boat where it would be off-level enough to help prevent rain from accumulating on the deck. It would also get plenty of sun to ward off more mildew formation.
I opened the pole barn and checked out our fuel situation. One of the 5-gallon gas cans was almost empty, so I topped off the mower’s tank with what was left in it and threw the can in the back of the truck. It’s almost 80°, so I popped into the keep to fire up the AC before heading into town for lunch and fuel. Hannah’s patience was rewarded with a burger from A&W.
Resilient little fella.
Once we got back, I ate in the keep while Hannah patrolled the property. It’s already comfortably cool inside; the new AC is a welcome upgrade. I changed into some yard work clothes and set my sites on taming the yard.