Pulled in around 4:00 pm in a fairly empty pickup. All of my tools and goodies for the weekend were brought up last weekend, so all I really needed today was my duffle bag. Well, that and the final parts for the secret project I started last trip up. I brought everything into the keep between intermittent rain showers and got to work on the final big project for Puckaweekend: hot and cold running water.
Of course, cold running water has been a reality up here since early this summer, but I wanted to take it further. I picked up a outdoor, propane-fueled, tankless water heater on Amazon and built it into a “backpack” I could hang on the back of the keep. This setup also contains the pump that was previously mounted beneath the bathroom sink. All connections are centralized (propane supply, power outlet for the pump, water supply, hot output and cold output) and can be disconnected to store the backpack safely indoors for the winter. I ran my new hot water lines to both sinks, fixed my cold water connections beneath the bathroom sink to accommodate for the relocated pump, and ran an extension cord out to the backpack to run the pump in its new spot. I also replaced the kitchen and bathroom faucets with ones that sported both hot and cold taps (and the bathroom one was busted anyway). Finally, I added a hot water supply branch for the new shower head that came with the water heater. It has a supply shutoff switch right on the handle so there’s no need to plumb in a shower faucet. It was nearly dark by the time I finished setting everything up and, thankfully, it worked flawlessly during the first test. No leaks anywhere and 120° water within seconds of turning on a tap.
I took a moment out on the deck to relax and think about the progress that was made in the last year around here. Because I am a soft touch, this success actually got me choked up. I just started thinking about what a kick both of my grandparents would have gotten out of it. All those years heating water on the stove in old teakettles just to do dishes—water that had to be hauled in from the pump in 5-gallon pails. And now we can just turn on a tap. I wish I could see their reaction.
Hunger eventually beat out wistfulness, so around 7:00 I drove thru A&W to bring home a quick dinner. The wind was really starting to pick up, but it was still in the mid-60s. I opened most of the keep windows just to air everything out. After finishing my burger, I ran out to the pole barn for the box of dishes I packed up years back when first starting to clear out the keep. It finally makes sense to bring them back now that the cabinets are critter-free and we have a ready means of washing them.
My last effort for the night was to re-mount the webcam I use to watch the bird feeder pole. It’s been temporarily mounted to the inside of the keep’s window all summer, but this results in a lot of glare and reflections throughout the day. I set it up under the eave outside instead, running power and Ethernet to it from a small hole drilled through the bottom of the floor ductwork and tucked into a lap in the siding. No visible wiring and it’s protected from the elements this way.
The Wi-Fi access point is now mounted outside, too. I put it in a small waterproof enclosure on the antenna pole and aimed it in the general direction of the pole barn. Since the AP supports PoE, I only had to run one cable to it. I went to the pole barn to see if this made an appreciable difference and was happy to see a full set of signal bars and a steady connection rate of 54 Mbps.
The rain was really starting to pick up, so I closed up the pole barn and headed inside for the night. I was able to keep the windows open a little, and it was fun to listen to the storm pass through as I cleaned up and organized. Around 11:30, I deemed my efforts to be good enough and rewarded myself with a proper, hot, high-pressure shower. Amazing. A fine birthday gift to myself. While Red and I were able to test this last weekend (hey, not like that), it was with the tankless heater in the bathroom, the window and door open, and a fan blowing. You know, so you don’t die from carbon monoxide. Now that all the final plumbing has been run and the heater is outdoors venting safely into the open atmosphere, the experience is complete. I dried off and went right to bed where I fell asleep listening to the last of the storm as it blew through.
Woke up around 8:00 and was happy to see that the skies were clear and the ground was drying up. It’s supposed to be fairly warm today, in the upper 60s or so. As long as the breeze sticks around, it should be dry enough to collect leaves. Headed into town at 9:30 for breakfast at Aunt Judy’s and a quick run to Piggly Wiggly for initial supplies. I learned my lesson last year; once the guys arrive, they are a force to be reckoned with and there better be some food and drink around. Accordingly, I bought 10 pizzas, a bunch of soda for mixers, chips, salsa, and a big bag of ice. This should hopefully keep us fueled for the first night.
Back at Puckaway, I stocked the fridge and pantry, fed the birds, and ran the leaf-blower around the keep, deck, pump, outhouse, and feeders. The only downside of the leaf-collection trailer for the riding mower is that it’s not the easiest thing to maneuver, so I wanted to get all the leaves out in the open where I could make some strafing runs. I hopped on the mower (without hooking up the trailer) and made a few passes around the corners of the buildings and big trees in the yard, all for the benefit of later leaf collection. Prep work out of the way, I spent the rest of my morning sucking up leaves in the driveway and around the yard, depositing them at the still rather squishy marsh entrance.
Around 11:30, during one of my passes around the burnpit, a car pulled in the driveway. Tach was the first to arrive for Puckaweekend 2016. This was a damn fine excuse to take a break and I helped him get unloaded before showing off the past year’s worth of improvements to the grounds. As would prove true for most of the guys, he seemed most excited about the new outhouse. Never underestimate the appeal of a well-built pit toilet. I saved the best for last and showed him the on-demand hot water and the new high-pressure shower, but lost some points in the Presentation category when I couldn’t get the shower head to turn back off. The little in-line switch was stuck open and wouldn’t budge. Great.
I turned off the pump and we headed to Kitz and Pfeil True Value in Berlin to find a solution. I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to rig a ball valve or would have to actually install a proper tap, but thankfully a fix presented itself in the form of a flow-regulator. It’s just a cheap little plastic ball valve that installs right before the shower head itself. I’m not sure I’d trust it not to leak in the long term, but since I turn off the pump when I’m not up here, it’s not going to matter anyway. Perfect! Proper showers can continue. I picked up a double-suet feeder and some cakes as long as we were there. Hopefully, they’ll bring in the woodpeckers.
Once we were back, and after I installed and tested the new shower valve, we both got to work on yard maintenance. After several hours of sunshine and cool breezes, the marsh was dry enough to cut. I set up Tach with the Craftsman mower and he went out to blaze the trails while I continued collecting leaves around the yard. We worked until dusk and did a lot of clearing. Tach did a great job out in the marsh taming all the walking trails and finished up by helping with the edging in the yard. The place looks great. I parked the mowers by the pole barn and got everything ready for the annual Digging of the Pit: five shovels and a waiting ATV and trailer. To help make the driveway easier to find, I rigged a flashing tow truck warning light to a spare motorcycle battery with some alligator clips (because, of course, these are all things we have at the ready) and set up the combo out at the end of the driveway by the fire number sign. That’ll be a hard signal to miss. Tach and I took a break in the keep while we awaited further reinforcements.
Sean and newcomer Phong were the next to arrive around 6:00. After the necessary hugs and introductions respectively, we toured the grounds for a bit. We ended up relaxing on the deck, now comfortably lit by the new LED strip lights. It wasn’t long before Red and Gunner pulled in and Runge followed soon after with his long-haired dachshund, Pepper. Everyone was here that was planning on coming tonight, so we got to work on the pit. It never ceases to astonish me how quickly we can dig that out. Four trailer loads worth of ash, dirt, and godknowswhat were hauled out this year. I ran some extension cords out to the last of the large driveway wood piles and set up a few halogen work lamps so we could start pulling railroad ties. We unearthed some sizable logs and had a sturdy base for the inaugural fire in no time. Atop this pyre, we placed a mighty sacrifice: the old outhouse, the first of two buildings we will offer to the pit this weekend. The fire was reluctant to get going, so we added some dead pine branches to the mix. This soon produced a roaring inferno that would burn for the next three days.
The rest of the evening was spent in the scattered pursuit of several goals: drinking, fellowship, the consumption of a great deal of pizza, and the demolition of the woodshed. The old building was surprisingly reluctant to go down. Even after knocking out an entire wall with axes and hammers, it stood. So we upped our game and brought out the potent one-two punch of my truck and a long chain. Runge and Sean would loop the chain through the ruins of the shed and I’d hop in the truck to tear away as much as I could. We kept underestimating the construction of this thing, because we only succeeded in pulling away a few small sections at a time. This ended up working to our advantage, as it kept the pace pretty even all around and we were able to keep feeding the fire as we tore more and more away. We gave up on truck pulls for the night around 10:00. We’ll resume tomorrow. There’s a lot of weekend left.
Shed destruction on hold, we took to relaxing, burning, queuing up the pole barn jukebox, watching movies in the keep, sampling this years’ pickled goods, and just enjoying each others’ company. We started dispersing around midnight. Red, Runge, and the dogs spent the night in the big house trailer; Phong, Sean, and Tach took the beds in the back of the keep; and I pulled out the futon. I finally dropped off around 1 am after a refreshing shower.
We’re going to have the best weather in Puckaweekend history this year. Highs in the mid 50’s today with partly cloudy skies. Excellent. Unfortunately, and accidentally, I started the day out as a crappy host by dumping all my bedding on top of a sleeping Phong. (Sorry!) I didn’t know he was still in the bedroom. Tach and Sean were awake long before me, and the Mayvillian cousins were already outside with their pooches, tending the fire and building debris. We made ourselves as presentable as possible and all headed into town to start our day with a proper Aunt Judy’s breakfast. Fortune smiled upon us and the entire counter was open, so we promptly took it over. Appetites sated, we stopped in at Piggly Wiggly where we walked away with almost $300 worth of consumables. I was once again barred from contributing to the supply run fund this year. You have my gratitude, gentlemen.
Back at camp, we somehow found enough room for all the food and headed back out onto the grounds to do mighty works. Dusty showed up mid-morning and jumped right in on the shed teardown effort. A few of us were hauling a sizable chunk of roof to the pit when I gave myself a painful flat tire by stepping firmly through a framing nail that was sticking out of a 2×4 at the edge of the pit. Damn, that smarts. I do not recommend it. Thankfully, it was a clean, straight nail that was only pulled out of the wall that morning and not some rusty monstrosity that’s been exposed to the elements for the last 40 years. Still, not very fun when it sinks two inches into your skin. Red was quick to grab the first aid kit, but after letting it bleed out for a bit and cleaning the wound with alcohol, I only ended up needing some neosporin and a big band-aid.
Unfortunately, I spent the rest of the day effectively benched. I favored that foot quite a bit and couldn’t really navigate the debris around the shed to help further its destruction. This didn’t seem to slow anyone else down, Sean and Runge especially. They honed their hammer wielding skills by blasting huge gaping maws into the roof so I could chain more of it apart with the truck. Finally, just a little before noon, we got a good grip on the remains of the roof assembly and I was able to rip it free from the last of the walls. The woodshed was officially down.
The standing orders of drink, eat, hang out, play music, and find something fun to do were followed by all throughout the rest of the day. Dusty added an enjoyable new element by bringing out his Viking Chess (or “kubb”) set. Most of us hadn’t played it or even heard of it before, but it was easy to pick up and a lot of fun. We also got in a round or two of hammerschlagen using the same trunk chunk from last year. Tach got his homemade chili going in the crock pot and we kept the pizza oven stoked all afternoon. And little by little, Sean and Runge kept chipping away at the woodshed roof.
By around 7:00, the little nagging voice in the back of my head got loud enough and I drove myself to Berlin to get checked out in the ER. I couldn’t remember when I last had a tetanus shot, and with my ticker, a fair amount of caution must be taken to avoid bacterial infection. Thankfully, there was nothing to worry about. They had my records and I was up to date with tetanus. X-rays also looked clean, and the doc thought the wound was fine but gave me a short-term Rx for antibiotics just to be safe. I figured I’d make the most of the trip and stopped at McDonalds to buy 20 cheeseburgers.
It was 9:30 by the time I got back and the last of the roof had already been thrown into the fire. You guys amaze me. I disbursed the burgers (Red ate five) and we all relaxed for the rest of the night. I don’t even remember what time I finally fell asleep, but it was mighty late.
Tach was up, packed, and on the road before 6:00 am as he had to be back in Minneapolis by noon. A combination of lack of sleep and a throbbing foot made me a fairly useless pile and I slept in, even skipping a run to Aunt Judy’s. Phong and Sean sought out a bar in town to watch the Vikings game and the rest of us roamed the grounds lazily. There’s just a pile of junk where the woodshed once stood. With nothing left to burn from there, we started pulling from the last of the driveway piles instead. Farmer Joe arrived a little before noon and lent a hand with the hauling and burning. I’m still only half-useful and limpy today, but I took some vicodin I had left from my sinus surgery and it’s helping a lot.
Around 1:00 pm, I got a call from Paul the Scrap Guy that he was heading our way. I called Sean so he and Phong could come back in to help load up. Everyone arrived around the same time and we had the shed platform cleared and Paul’s truck and trailer filled in under a half hour. This effort almost did as much to improve the general scenery as tearing down the shed itself. It’s incredible how quickly we get things done when everyone’s up here.
Feeling better all around, I fired up the grill and threw on the steaks the guys bought yesterday. We all had dinner on the deck. Farmer Joe, Dusty, and Runge all trickled out by dusk, and after an unsuccessful attempt to pull in Fox on the keep’s antenna, Red, Sean, Phong and I headed to the big trailer to play Zelda Monopoly and watch the Packers game. We were only a few rounds in when Sean made a strange noise and proceeded to drool out a mouthful of hard root beer. I initially thought the drugs had finally taken hold, but the culprit turned out to be a yellow-jacket that had climbed into his bottle back when we were all on the deck. It had gotten nice and drunk and decided to start a fight with Sean. Never bring a tongue to a stinger fight.
This, the second unwanted penetration of the weekend, put an end to Monopoly, and the Packers’ poor play put an end to the football watching. We all called it a night fairly early.
I woke up around 8:00 or so, and everyone else got moving around the same time. We did a bit of final cleanup around the shed platform and trimmed some more branches in the yard. I even felled a few dead birch trees along the southeast edge of the yard that the woodpeckers had hit pretty hard. The birches were still fairly saturated and made a decent cap for the pit. There’s a ton of fresh ash from the weekend’s burning that contains a lot of nails from the woodshed. I collected as many as I could to save other feet and tires from sharing my fate.
Red and Gunner were on their way home a little before noon. Red had completely cleaned the big house trailer before packing up. It’s spotless. He also did all the dishes from the night before in the keep. This is why I married him, folks. Sean and Phong helped organize in the keep and pole barn and were on the road to MN by 2:00 pm. We’ll be seeing them again soon: Sean’s getting married on Saturday. Puckaweekend 2016 unofficially doubled as his bachelor party. No women, no flush toilet, hours of hard outdoor labor, sharing a bedroom with Phong and Tach, and he got his tongue stung by a boozed-up bee. Helluva party!
I put away the mowers and ATVs, gathered my tools, packed my clothes, and stripped the beds. I took a walk around the grounds and surveyed the fruits of the weekend’s labors. The place looks better than ever. Tach, Sean, Phong, Red, Runge, Dusty, Farmer Joe, thank you all sincerely for all your help and for sharing this place with me. It means a lot, guys. And we do damn good work.