Hannah and I pulled in at 2:30 with a rented trencher in tow. I picked this up at Kitz and Pfeil in Berlin on the way up. This weekend is dedicated to running new power lines to the keep and pole barn straight from the new service panel we installed last fall. After opening up the keep and getting my clothes and other supplies put away, I unloaded the trencher from its trailer. This is the same one I rented back in 2011 when I made the first buried electrical runs. While that project was a significant improvement from previous methods of getting power to the keep and pole barn—stringing extension cords through the trees—the limitations were starting to show.
This is my trencher. There are many others like it, but this one is mine (for the next 24 hours).
When I first did this seven years ago, I used 10-gauge, 2-conductor direct burial copper cable…mostly. Power was supplied from two 20-amp breakers in the big trailer and run to an outdoor service box using 12-gauge romex. The thicker 10-gauge wire was only run underground to each building where it was spliced to 12-gauge romex in conduits. I also didn’t have subpanels at either building. In the pole barn, I just spliced the incoming connection with wire nuts. In the keep, I gutted the contents of the old fuse box and spliced everything together from the feed, and this was after a spliced stop at the water pump outside. In retrospect, this was terribly kludgy. When you consider the system it was replacing, however, it was revolutionary. Still, the time had come to revisit this project and do it right this time.
Hannah and I pulled in at 6:00 pm pulling the blue trailer full of brush from Red’s house. The boys are at Presque Isle with my folks for the holiday weekend and Lyssa’s working late tonight. It’s just as well, this weekend is 100% project-focused. Miraculously, my back is completely better from the freak tweak I gave it last Sunday, so I’m ready.
The pit was starving. I let it feast.
I hauled my clothes and supplies into the keep, which was pleasantly pre-cooled thanks to my remote-controlled air conditioner. It’s in the mid 80s and only supposed to get hotter as the weekend goes on, so it’ll be essential to have somewhere to beat the heat. Back outside, the mosquitoes were in full force. I loaded myself up with DEET and started stacking Red’s brush on the burn pile. It’s all evergreen that’s had a year to dry out, so it should catch fire pretty quickly. Once the trailer was empty, I moved it out of the way and double checked the DNR site to make sure it was OK to burn. Confident I wouldn’t attract the authorities, I grabbed my propane torch and started lighting the brush. In less than a minute, I had a raging fire, the first one of 2018. I didn’t even need any gasoline.
Flying trip today. Came down a very wet driveway at 2:45 pm with a truck bed full of tools and building materials from Mayville. My folks are making the final push to sell that place, and I’m happy to help just to be rid of it. I made some room in the pole barn for all the sheets of OSB and panelling from the Mayville garage and had the truck emptied in about ten minutes. As long as I was here and heading back to Mayville, I figured I’d make the most of it. I backed up the truck to the scrap pile and heaved the burn barrel into the bed. Farmer Joe expressed some interest in this a while back, so today he’s getting it delivered. Rolled out around 3:30.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Running water is something we all take for granted. It’s been a basic feature of American homes for over 100 years. But up at Puckaway, we haven’t quite caught up, as there are a few major hurdles in the way. If you want potable (safe to drink) water around here, you need to drill down over 200 feet. We’re not putting in a proper well until we have a nice permanent home up here and know where we’re placing the slab.
Also, while we have always had a shallow well and outdoor pump to provide water that we can wash up with, it has a poor flow rate of under one gallon per minute. Additionally, we have to drain the pump and hoses when temperatures drop below freezing. And we don’t heat any of the buildings during the winter. Pipes would freeze and burst.
Last year, I reconnected all of the drain plumbing in the keep, but I wasn’t expecting much improvement on the supply side. We did what we had always done, storing 5-gallon buckets next to the sinks to wash up with and using our portable, hand-pumped, camping shower. Interestingly enough, this was all about to change because of a pressure washer.