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.
Home sweet home.
Hannah and I rode in around 4:30. Sunny and in the mid-60s, with no change in the forecast. This is going to be the best weather we’ve ever had for a Puckaweekend. Tools, clothes, and most other supplies are already here, but I brought a cooler full of goodies with me. I stocked the fridge and freezer with chili, beer, pizzas, and hot peppers, then headed outside. After filling the bird feeders, I kept the ladder out to make some modifications to the new outhouse vent. I added a wye with a 1 1/2″ plug to the base of the vent stack to make it easier to add water to the hole. I also installed a vent guard on the top of the pipe to keep leaves and critters out.
Next on the agenda was infrastructure prep. I ran a 100′ extension cord from one of the outdoor plugs on the meter panel to the pop-up camper and powered it up. I also turned on the fridge in the big trailer as we may need it for overflow freezer space.
I needed some more room in the pole barn, so I towed the aluminum ATV trailer out and parked it along the south side of the big trailer where it’ll be out of sight, out of mind. I also took a moment to tow the blue utility trailer up to the edge of the driveway so I can’t miss it tomorrow. It’s still full of scrap tires and needs to get dropped off at Pomp’s in Fond du Lac. I don’t want to forget it again.
I emptied the gas cans into the ATVs and mower, threw them in the back of the truck, and ran into town at 6:30 to fill them up and get some A&W. Back at the keep, I washed down dinner with a few cheladas as I uploaded some new additions to the media collection. Hannah was passed out on the couch already, dreaming hard. She must know what’s coming.
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.
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.
Hannah and I drove in around 6:20 pm with a pickup bed full of tools and other goodies. She ran some laps around the yard while I quickly unloaded the truck. I wanted to get right to my first project.
Let there be (night)light!
Lyssa got me a pair of really nice network cameras for Christmas. They’re PoE, 720p, have IR blasters, and are IP66 rated. Translated: they don’t need a power cord, have four times the clarity of the old ones, come with night vision, and they’re waterproof. One of them has replaced the driveway camera back home, but the other one will serve as the new bird feeder cam.
I had already configured everything from home, so I installed it to the roof overhang on the keep, plugged it in, and tested it out. There was the expected major increase in image quality, but I was surprised by just how much wider of a field of view it has, too. This is a very welcome improvement.
I wound my way down the driveway around noon after fortifying myself with some Aunt Judy’s. This trip, my only aim is to suck up leaves. However, I had some prep work to get out of the way. I started the pump and filled the keep’s reservoir so I could have some wash water this weekend. I also blew leaves off of the deck and away from the front of the keep. I unloaded my bags and some tools from the truck, parked it out of the way, and I was ready to hop on the mower.
I got right to it, starting with the driveway. I’m very glad the collection trailer works as well as it does; it would take forever to do this with a traditional bagger unit. As it was, I filled the trailer three times from the driveway alone. I’m dumping the mulched leaves around the marsh entrance as that’s been getting pretty squishy lately. After about four hours on the mower, I finally decided to do something about all the low branches and dead trees on the east side of the yard. I parked the mower and got out the chainsaw, trimming trees as high as I could reach from the ground. I hit everything from the marsh entrance to the outhouse, greatly increasing visibility in that part of the yard.
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.
No more low spots!
I pulled in at 3:00 pm with a truck bed full of tools and Outhouse 2.0 on the ATV trailer. This weekend will be the final project push before Puckaweekend 2016. It’s overcast and in the mid-60s and the forecast is calling for intermittent rain all weekend. Not sure how much yard work I’ll be able to get done, but there are plenty of other things to do. I unhooked the trailer and backed up to the pole barn to start unloading tools and materials. I’ll be leaving most of this stuff up here until next weekend. I was just about done when I noticed someone with a day-glo yellow shirt walking up the drive. It was a dump truck driver with Kinas Excavating and he had a full load of gravel to spread at the end of the driveway. Perfect timing. I walked him down and showed him where we wanted it, though the low spots were pretty obvious. Once he knew where to drop, it didn’t take him long to get to work. He had it all spread evenly and was on his way within minutes. It was pretty impressive to watch.
After taking a minute to check out the new driveway, I grabbed the green ATV, hooked it up to the small yard trailer, and backed up to the outhouse. I took down the Christmas lights and removed everything of value from the outhouse like the seat and roll holder. I then took a sledge to the roof assembly, hoping I could pop it loose to re-use on the new outhouse. No such luck. The old roof came away in pieces and shingles crumbled right off of it. I’ll have to come up with a different plan for Outhouse 2.0.
Lyssa, the boys, and I pulled in at 11:00 after breakfast at Aunt Judy’s. Heading down the driveway, I was nervous that the new paint on the keep might not have held up through the big storms that rolled through this past week, but the place looks absolutely great. On our way up, we had stopped at J&A for a deer block. They were out of stock and won’t have more until Tuesday, so I got a bag of molasses-based feed and two bags of shell corn instead. I unloaded the boys’ power wheels from the back of the truck and they were off to the races. I carried the goods from J&A to the garden shed and got a bummer of a surprise upon opening it up. I had left a full 50-lb bag of sunflower seed in there without sealing it in one of the containers and the chipmunks had completely looted it. So much for filling the bird feeders. I spread the remains of the bag, the molasses mix, and some shell corn in the area behind the feeders and made sure the rest of my new purchases were secured in critter-proof cans. Chipmunks suck.
Musty paneling sure gets hot in a hurry.
I’ve got two goals today: collect building materials to build a new outhouse, and clean up fallen branches and brush around the yard. I knew there was a good-sized stack of exterior pine board paneling under the big house trailer, so I grabbed the green ATV and small yard trailer and started digging things out. Roughly 60% of the sheets were too rotten or rough to be of any use, so I stacked them on the trailer to get burned. The rest I set aside to get picked up later. The pit was already stacked with the big oak limb I cut down last trip, so I made a teepee out of the panels over that, poured on some old boat gas, and lit ‘er up. Wasn’t long before I had a nice hot fire. Lyssa tended it while I took the boys into town for snacks and to fill the two big gas cans from the pole barn with ethanol-free fuel. I stopped in at J&A again to see if they had any sunflower seed to replace the bag the chipmunks binged on. This, too, was out of stock until Tuesday. It’s always Tuesday.
Pulled in the driveway at 5:45 am to turn on the AC in the keep. The forecast is calling for humid days with highs in the 90s all weekend. I wanted to make sure we’d have a comfortable place to get out of the heat and I figured our only shot would be to give the air conditioner a head start. I headed back to Oshkosh as I still had to work a full day. Throughout the day, I kept an eye on the temperature and humidity readings from the Raspberry Pi server in the keep, and was pleased to see that it was able to maintain a 10 to 12 degree difference from the outside temps with humidity hovering around 55%. We’re certainly pushing the limits of that little 5,000 BTU window unit by asking it to cool a 40-year-old mobile home, but it’s making a valiant effort.
Arrived for the second time around 4:00 pm with Lyssa and the boys. Jake and Josh went off on their Power Wheels to explore the yard and were particularly interested in the new area by the bird feeders. The heat and humidity are pretty intense, but the keep is a nice little oasis. I’m not a fan of waking up early, but I’m definitely glad I did today.
We had a dinner guest!
We brought up a small pool for the boys and I set it up by the picnic table and swing. I drove a pipe into the ground next to it and hung the hoze nozzle from it, giving Jake and Josh a makeshift sprinkler as the pool filled. Lyssa worked on stocking the fridge and prepping the keep while I headed to the pole barn. The replacement starter solenoid for the blue ATV finally came, so I took a few minutes to install it. No more pull-starting! The ATV fires up with the turn of a key again, just as God intended. I drove it out to show the boys and was signalled to come in for dinner. We had grilled burgers and veggies at the keep’s kitchen table; it’s way too hot and humid to enjoy a meal on the deck today. While we ate, I brought up the live stream from the bird feeder camera on the living room TV. This let us keep the shades drawn to keep the heat down while allowing the boys to keep an eye on the animal traffic. Just as we were finishing up, Jake spotted a deer. Good to know they’re taking advantage of the food block out there. The doe was being pretty cautious but stuck around a good 15 minutes or so. It’s crazy how bright and colorful their coats get this time of year.