February 12, 2017
Over the last week I’ve been up to my elbows in barn demolition, a massive, high-budget job. The excavator arrived Tuesday and worked until mid-morning Friday. The knoll below the barn foundation is now festooned with hewn 35′ ash timbers on display for buyers.
The rest sits in massive piles: crumpled metal shingles, hay and broken wood, barn boards, choice hardwood accumulated over 40 years, roofing boards, rafters, feeding racks, old hay, and so on.
My immediate job was to rescue as much of the hardwood as I could in the face of the onslaught of the excavator. Of course everything was icy, and my landing area was uphill from the work site. My two 35 hp tractors have implements on them and couldn’t tow. The ancient trailer-hauler, the Massey-Harris 30, wouldn’t spark.
In desperation I pressed the little Kubota into service. It starts very well in winter. Its 4WD system with turf tires grips surprisingly well on icy snow. With trailer-loads of lumber it needed low range to climb the hill, but balked only on one occasion with an overloaded 6X11 tandem. Turned out the Massey Ferguson 35, even with the help of sand, couldn’t get the load up the hill, either. I had to use the winch.
The icy surface the 21 hp Kubota had worked on routinely was more than a conventional 2WD tractor could handle. The short wheelbase of the B7510 and its hydraulic drive made complex manoeuvres much easier in the frigid north wind around the lumber piles. With assorted lengths on every load, I’d move the trailer between piles, leaving the little diesel to idle while I worked.
With an excavator on site it’s easy to maintain a rubbish fire: just start it up, reach over to a pile, grab a bucketful with the thumb, drop it on the fire. It’s a lot more work to do the same thing with a pair of gloves and a pitchfork. I’m reluctant to risk one of the loader tractors on the barn-floor burn area for fear of damage to the calcium-loaded rear tires. The Kubota’s non-loaded tires would be much easier to repair, if punctured. If I mounted the winch on it, I’d have pulling power, as well as a very rugged 5′ blade on the back. This seems a brutal job for the lawn mower, but one fall the little Bolens pulled a lot of cordwood out to the logging road. It couldn’t tow a log, but it would sit crossways on the road and winch with the p.t.o. quite effectively.
January 31, 2017
The family pool vehicle is a 2008 Scion xB, purchased used from the Smiths Falls Honda dealership when we collectively decided that my mother’s beloved Honda CRV was too old for her to drive safely any more. Mom and I picked the car because it was the easiest thing on the lot to get into and exit because of its height-adjustable front seats. Very few cars for sale in North America have height-adjustable passenger seats.
The Florida-import posed a few difficulties for Mom in that the heater controls were counter-intuitive to an elderly person used to her Honda. Nonetheless, it was mechanically sound and she drove it until her eighty-eighth year.
Then the car became a pool vehicle, used primarily for ferrying Mom around, but also available when another family car was out of the country, broken down, or on loan to a friend. It had proven a favourite to leave in airport parking lots, for example.
Understandably, a machine this low on the depth chart would sit for considerable periods of time between uses. It’s always been pretty reliable. It needed ignition coils and plugs last year, but that’s been it.
But then it started to sputter when I was turning around after a visit to the Scott Island Ferry. Barely got home. Error codes blamed cylinder #3, then #2, Then 1, 2, 3 and 4, finally settling on 1 and 2. What the???
I went back to United Auto Parts in Smiths Falls where I had bought the coils and recounted my tale of woe to the guy in there who is both older and balder than me. I asked if there was some magic solution which would make the fuel injection system work, because I had no idea how to fix fuel injectors, and a new computer was too expensive.
“I use Sea Foam.” He walked over to a counter and handed me a can. “It’s very quick. Put it in and run the engine for ten minutes and see.”
I tried it and it worked. The Scion is restored to service again. I still don’t know what the problem was, but it was somewhere between fuel and injectors, and it’s better now. So I guess this is a testimonial to one of those products that line the shelves of parts stores which I have never noticed before.
January 20, 2017
Today conditions were perfect for a bit of exercise, so I began to gather up slash left over from the trimming job on a stand of ten-year-old white pines.
Last fall a contractor offered the trimming in return for the pine needles which he sells in Toronto for wreaths at Christmas. The crew came back a couple of weeks later and dutifully trimmed the stubby branches off the trees, but I decided if I got a chance I’d clean up under the canopy so that I could mow it once or twice a year.
Five loads of branches transported to a burn pile were enough for today. If the weather holds I’ll get back at it. There’s little danger of running out of branches to gather in the near future: these rows are 700′ long.
Of course the best part is the unloading: just back up to the pile and flick a lever. The trailer dumps itself. A little overcapitalized? Maybe, but it’s fun.
December 28, 2016
Today I ran into a case where Porsche over-engineering produced a potential safety hazard for the uninformed trailer user.
A Cayenne’s a logical choice to tow a 6X12 covered U-Haul trailer, but not until the rental’s safety chains receive an important modification. The hooks on the trailer I recently rented would not engage the rings on the factory trailer hitch because the steel is too thick to accommodate the triangular safety devices. Jamming the hooks into place wasn’t going to work, so I limped three miles to my shop from the rental depot by a back road. By then, one of the three chains had worked its way loose and was dragging.
I borrowed a pair of hooks from a robust trailer I built a few years ago. The photo shows them in place, pinned into links below the U-Haul hooks. I only had access to two hooks this time but from now on I’ll keep three which I can add on to safety chains to ensure that the robust hitch does not itself produce a hazard.
Update: 29 December, 2016
Grab the chain about 12″ from the hook, stick the CHAIN through the hole, loop the hook around the chain. This worked for me at UHaul.
Another RennList contributor used 3/8″ stainless steel quick-links to do the same job.
According to trailer veteran Tom Stutzman, Toyota has similarly robust hitch dimensions. Pennsylvania mandates simple S-hooks which fit easily. Ontario regulations require the problematic hooks.
December 25, 2016
Over the years it has become a Christmas ritual to tour the woodlot by whatever means necessary. Ten years ago Charlie and Shiva began the tradition by bullying the golf cart into the trip through too much fluffy snow. When the Ranger replaced the golf cart, it hauled passengers and their snowshoes across the windy fields to the woodlot and froze them on the return trip.
This year Charlie started up both 2004 Cayennes to try out their low range and differential locks around the yard. Ruby was thus already cleaned off and warmed up when I grabbed my keys and tracked him down on the property. Then we toured the sugar bush.
We soon observed that it would take a good deal of snow to stop a Porsche Cayenne equipped with winter tires. I did manage to twist over an earth berm at such an angle that I needed to use the locker to maintain traction to the wheels, but Ruby felt right at home off-roading in snow.
The only problem is that puttering through the woods in a Porsche Cayenne isn’t much fun. It’s far too capable a vehicle. A golf cart or 2WD UTV, or even a snowmobile, provides much more of a challenge, and hence a higher fun quotient.
On the other hand Charlie is now a father and I’m not getting any younger, and we did break a good wide walking track through the bush.
November 30, 2016
This Barney and Clyde strip appeared November 29, 2016. How it caused a few minutes’ anxiety for the service manager of a local Toyota dealership is a tale possibly worth recounting.
Barney and Clyde is one of my favourite Arcamax Publications online offerings. The strip often sends me to Google to track down obscure facts and theories I wouldn’t otherwise encounter.
In this strip I had a good idea that Samsung owns the notoriety associated with the exploding Galaxy 7 Smartphone, but I had to look up Takata.
The horror story of the 17 year-old girl bleeding to death from a shrapnel cut from a prematurely detonating air bag in a Honda Civic definitely caught my attention. Of course Google provided many references to track down the car models into which the potentially defective airbags had been installed.
On a US government site I ran through the family fleet. My models of Porsche, Lexus, and Toyota do not have Takata airbags. My mother’s 2008 Scion xB, a Florida purchase, was the only one which appeared on the list. I plugged in the VIN. Yep, it has the bad airbag.
Toyota/Lexus Canada is very good at maintaining contact with their owners, but this car came from a Florida auction to a local Honda dealer, and then was sold off his used car lot. I would need to register the car in Canada for the recall.
I called Kingston Toyota and spoke to the service manager. Impressive acceleration there. Over the course of a few halting sentences of dialogue while he no doubt searched his computer, he went from zero knowledge on the subject to enough information to at least sound competent and book the car for a recall a month later.
The only evidence that he was scrambling to get his feet under him was the question: “How did you hear about this?”
“It was in Barney and Clyde, a comic strip.”
Ten minutes later he called me back. Toyota has no plans yet for a recall, though that may change in the next few weeks. I responded that because I was essentially removing the family pool vehicle from service for a month, perhaps I should hold onto the appointment and confirm a day or two in advance of the date. He agreed that that would be a good strategy.
I asked how big a risk the exploding ignitor on the airbag presents to occupants of the car, and if it would be better simply to disable the device. He advised against that, but suggested that the car would be fine to drive in the interim as long as no one sits in the passenger seat. An empty seat disables the airbag.
So I left it.
Then I called my sister who has been using the car to ferry Mom around. She appeared uncharacteristically calm about my warning. She also knew considerably more about the Takata SNAFU than I did.
She owns a Honda Element. Her recall notification caught up with her last January at her winter residence in Florida. After many conversations with “a highly intelligent woman at the Honda hot-line over six months,” in early July her relieved Ottawa dealer gained access to an airbag and repaired her Honda Element. “The problem at that time was that half the airbags in the world needed to be replaced, all at the same time, and all from the same company. They were in short supply. Perhaps they have the shortage under control by now, a year later.” She further told me that she had simply shut off the airbag with the ignition key and gone about her business as usual. She saw no reason not to do the same with the Scion.
I guess you can get used to anything if you have a bit of time to adjust to it. That’s pretty much the central thesis of the Barney and Clyde comic strip, come to think of it.
UPDATE: 1 January, 2017
The December 29th recall appointment came and went. Toyota Canada still can’t provide the airbag. The service manager strongly suggested that I bring the Scion in for another recall on the master power window switch, though. I asked how the problem manifested itself. Apparently the master switch becomes sticky and some handymen spray it with penetrating oil, creating an alarming fire when the circuit is next closed in the presence of the volatile liquid. I suggested I’d keep the WD-40 away from window switches and would get both jobs done when they inform me that they have the air bag.
That’s when things got interesting. Seems I need to provide a recall letter from Scion USA, and they don’t have my address, so if I want things to proceed, I should call their 1-800 number and get on the list. Oh. I dialled, and on the third try spoke to a very helpful woman who carefully took down the VIN, my contact details, and again informed me that Toyota has no replacement air bags yet, but they’ll send me a letter when one becomes available. She further warned me about the window switch recall and we parted friends.
August 14, 2016
This morning our dog summoned her mistress with a series of bemused barks at the front screen door. Bet commented: “It wasn’t her intruding-car bark. She seemed to know it was you, but she didn’t understand what that yellow thing underneath you was.”
After considerable thought I had hopped onto one of the bikes in the garage and ridden it around the lawn, nearly falling off, twice. The forks of modern bikes don’t have as much caster as the old iron ones of the 1970’s. I’m sure of that. They steer harder too, I think. I soon learned that it would not steer itself, and that I would have to turn the handlebars, not just lean.
On the other hand a Bandit with disk brakes (I don’t know the language yet to describe the other features) has front shocks and many gears with toggles for shifting, rather like a Porsche. It’s light and taut and far too good a machine for my toe-dip into the maelstrom of physical fitness.
Gradually I became more confident with orbits of gravel and lawn, and glided down the long driveway with growing trepidation. Memories of wipeouts on fresh gravel flooded back to where I desperately wished I could shift my weight further aft, away from the front wheel. No chance on this bike. Then came the U-turn at the paved road: turn up the hill or down? I chose down, only to feel the front wheel start to slide on the sand washed onto the road by yesterday’s rain. I kept the bike upright, thereby losing the downhill apex of the turn and steering perilously close to the end of a culvert. The only way out was to track through a flower bed, but I stayed upright and the front shocks protected my arthritic wrists from vibration, so that was a win.
Then came the climb up the 500 feet to the house. With any other vehicle the slope is not significant, though it does help a 2WD tractor push a bucket of snow all the way down and across the road, regardless of traction. Backing up same hill in winter without tire chains on the tractor is out of the question. Still, it’s a gentle slope compared to that of Young’s Hill Road, which I’d have to master if I ever work up the nerve to leave the property on the bike.
Downshifts are effortless on the Bandit, even for the uninitiated. I tried to maintain a decent pace, because after all, it’s a very gentle slope. Legs quickly began to yelp, but I persevered, adding extra power with the balls of my feet. Feeling a bit gassed, I rode the bike back into the garage and dismounted without mishap.
Conscious of the precise location of every muscle the bike had used, I winced my way back to the recliner in the living room, the unfinished cup of coffee, and my computer.
By the end of the week I should be ready to tackle the hill.
UPDATE: 27 August, 2016
The following day I faced excruciating pain when I sat on the bike seat. Charlie had told me this would happen. It’s a high-tech woman’s seat, and the pressure points are all wrong for the male pelvis.
The new seat still felt very much like the head of an axe for a few days, but eventually the pain dulled, and by August 25th, I rode flat-out for 25 minutes in the rain and felt pretty good, actually.
I had given up on the hills. I own a truck. I found my bike rack hanging from the side of Tony’s shed in Newboro after I had loaned it to him about ten years ago. I bolted it to the hitch ball. So now my bike ride consists of flat runs on Hwy 42, the Cataraqui Trail, or the paved Forfar Road, with the Tacoma parked in my field at the corner.
Oiling the bike’s chain also increased the gears’ efficiency enough to let me cruise in eighth gear, top sprocket on the flat. I still can’t look other cyclists in the eye because I have gone only a short distance while they have come from afar, but if can almost keep up to their pace, now, and the nurse yesterday said I have dropped 10 pounds.