The Never Ending Repair Cycle

I keep reminding myself I asked for this. I entered into this adventure willingly but I’m reminded daily that it comes with a price.

Living out here away from the cities and towns and utilities is very hard work. It’s exhausting and I’m pretty sure my blog will someday morph into “Stories Formerly From Off The Grid”. I’m up for that.

I’m also up in the middle of the night again unable to sleep. There’s either an air or water leak in our RV fresh water system and the pump keeps cycling on and off about three times a minute. It’s driving me nuts. I could go disconnect it but that would mean putting my sloggers on and going outside in the rain to disconnect the pump wires from the battery which might wake my husband.

We’ve tried to track down the cause and have repeatedly reinforced the heat hose going from the external water tank to the pump without success. I’ve listened carefully for the sound of running water inside the RV but haven’t heard anything. I’ve crept around the outside underneath of the trailer looking for drips but have only spotted a drip coming from one of the holding tanks.

My next step is to temporarily fashion an intake hose out of garden hose to replace the heat hose. If that stops the cycling of the pump, at least I’ll have isolated the cause. Then we’ll have to get the heat hose back on without issues – somehow.

On top of the leak problem, our furnace has decided to stop working. Sweeps of the online RV forums have given us some clues as to what might be amiss but now we’ll have to open an outside access panel that’s sealed tight with some kind of goo to access the fan reset switch, if there IS one. Sigh.

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But wait, there’s more! We accidentally put bad gas in the smaller of our two generators which effectively gummed it up. In an effort to fix it, I accidentally stripped a mechanism inside the carburetor so it’s JB Weld time. Hope that works. In the mean time we’re using the gas hog generator.

We tried to install a propane refrigerator to replace the electric one but after having it sit in the middle of our fifth wheel kitchen-hall-dining room for about a month while we tried to get the used gas model to actually work, it’s tucked back into it’s nook and suddenly I don’t mind that it’s responsible for about half of our energy consumption.

I’m ready for some amenities…and bed.

 

Featured Image by  Christopher Burns on Unsplash.

 

Holes

Give me a shovel and I’m happy.

I grew up in Utah in a middle size town named Roy. My Dad passed away months before I was born but I’m told our house was brand new when my parents bought it. No landscaping was in place when they moved in. Most people laid or planted grass and a farmer who still owned many acres worked his land behind us well after he was surrounded by “civilization”.

Our yard, however, was different for two reasons: First, we had a commercial size playground set that attracted every kid for miles and secondly, because my father had the foresight to leave the back quarter in it’s natural state. The rear fence was lined by four huge trees for climbing and the rest was dirt.

Mud is the perfect toy. It’s great for the immune system, and is superior to the most expensive of Lego sets.  You can mold it, make highways for your matchbook cars, or create mud pies. The possibilities are endless for a kid with a bucket, a shovel and a four year old imagination. Essentially, I grew up in the dirt.

Fast forward to adulthood and the continuing fascination with digging. While we were on the road looking for property to buy a couple of years ago, I dug a few test holes out in the woods looking for water. I knew we were going to be roughing it and I wanted practice. I youtubed instructions on how to dig a water well with nothing but PVC pipe and was successful at one point. My husband promised me that when we got our own property, I could dig any time of day and for as long as I wanted. I couldn’t wait.

Now that our realm is measured in acres rather than feet and there is no HOA from hell to tell me what I can and can’t do, I dig to my heart’s content. I need only the slightest excuse to grab a shovel and open the ground whether it be in search of water, gold, artifacts or to plumb the depths of a fault (a couple of months ago, I got about three feet down before I realized I wasn’t going to run into lava).

When we first got to our new property, I went looking for a likely place for water. To my delight, I found it a little over a foot down and we have have used the springs along a hillside for our water supply without digging a deep well.

I subsequently dug several other test wells and named them alpha hole, beta hole, etc. Most I’ve since filled in lest someone happen along in the middle of the night without a flashlight and break a leg.

Recently, with the drought and all, I began eyeballing a spot I suspected may have been a well for the original occupants of the property seventy years before our arrival. The rocks seemed to be piled into a depression that gave me the impression of a filled-in well.

Although I’d previously dug down about five feet, the idea of digging deeper was daunting because of the terrain and brush surrounding it. With our current water supply dwindling however, I surveyed the area again and finally made the decision to excavate.

Me and my husband spent about a week clearing vegetation and moving the already existing piles of rock farther away from the hole. We spent day after day digging by hand, pick and shovel farther down into the earth until I heard my husband exclaim excitedly “look at this!”. I looked down to where he pointed and saw water actually squirting up and out of a crack in the rock.

We already had water in the bottom of the hole but this was what we were looking for. A strong new water supply. To our best estimates, our new well is producing about a hundred fifty to two hundred gallons a day. Plenty for ourselves and our garden.

We set the pump and laid the hose and power cord over a tree we placed across the opening, cleaned up the bottom and sides and we’re back in business! I felt a great sense of relief and was doubly glad I’d decided to go through with the back breaking project.

My latest excavations are test holes for gold. I currently have about five or six of those going. But I really don’t need an excuse to dig any more.

Mushroom Farm

Morels. 40.00+, a pound. And they’re apparently hard to cultivate but we got lucky. You see, they already like it here. They grow on our property. Just not enough to sell but enough to make mushroom “slurry” out of.

We’ve been tossing around the idea of farming mushrooms since we moved onto our 3.7 acres of land in eastern Washington almost two years ago. For quite a while, we were thinking oyster or medicinal mushrooms but our tight budget, the need for snow-load rated greenhouses, and a lack of knowledge have kept us from moving forward.

Then I had a great idea the other day. The mighty morel!

The morel I’m no expert on but my husband and I have been harvesting them for a couple of years and know they bring a pretty penny per pound, dried or fresh. The biggest problem is that they only grow once a year – in the spring – and for a very limited time. You have to know where to go to get them and how to move them and we have yet to find any real sweet spots.

We’ve been up and down many forest service and DNR (Department of Natural Resources) roads and looked but not a one have we seen – until we get back home. Turns out we are fortunate to have land that is naturally host to morels.

In our area of the Pacific Northwest, they grow around Ponderosa pines in slightly grassy to semi-spongy areas and along roadsides. That’s a generalization but it’s what we’ve found to be so far. My understanding is that the mycelium or main mass of the things live in connection with certain tree roots underground. The mushrooms themselves are the fruiting bodies of the mycelium. That’s the extent of my education on mushrooms so far.

They are far and few between though so we’ve dried out those we’ve found so far and have started the spore slurry. I’m not 100% on the efficacy of the slurry but the basic idea is you soak the mushrooms in water that has had salt and molasses added in order to germinate the spores. The molasses feeds them and the salt keeps the bacteria away.

After soaking them for 24 to 48 hours, apply the liquid or slurry to the areas around host trees where, theoretically, they’ll search for roots to become roommates with.

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 I was stirring the slurry with a wooden paddle when the thought came to me that if they like wood, why not add pieces of wood directly to the slurry then bury them under trees when ready? The thought is that the spores will find and start a home before they are planted. This will be an experiment that won’t show results for a couple to a few years when the mushrooms grow, if they take.

If this works, in a few years we’ll have mushrooms aplenty and might be able to begin to harvest an amount large enough to put a dent in our pocketbooks. It’s one of many adventures we’re embarking upon.

Never put all your morels in one basket.

 

 

Restoration

When we “moved in”, we were intent on securing the necessities of every day life such as water. I was also motivated by sheer curiosity about wells and well digging. During the summer we were on the road before we found some land, I went online to find out more about the subject, knowing it would be something we’d have to think about if we bought raw land.

After we pulled up the driveway and secured the trailer, we were exhausted. My husband pooped out but I was so excited, I traversed every corner of our property before I succumbed to slumber.

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I was driven to find prospective spots for water and my curiosity paid off. I found a trench that ran down a hillside with matted vegetation that suggested it was, in part, a runoff zone. I also found some green grass at the end of a long summer. That meant the possibility of water.  I later came to realize our whole hillside and the meadow above was an intricate and plentiful source of springs and fresh water most likely due to the fault lines crossing the landscape.

I started to dig by our second day, as I remember. I was obsessed with finding the secrets hidden under the ground, being them gold or water. I had a few tools I’d collected over the summer for the task and I set to work digging through the very rocky, sometimes solid rock and soil.

I found water about one and a half feet down. 🙂  My dream had come true.

Zooming forward, we subsequently dug about a twelve by five by five foot hole and use it for our water supply year round. In the process of a year’s long dig however, we threw a lot of rocks and mud around. By the end of the first year, the upper part of the property looked like a bomb had gone off.

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 The shear volume of rock and mud in the form of small to super large slabs of quartzite littered the ground from the top to the bottom of the area where our main spring lay. I came to want to restore the natural beauty that was there when we arrived. I decided to start a restoration.

 Surprisingly, it went faster than I anticipated. I began to throw and rake rocks into piles; to conglomerate the debris. By hand naturally proved to be the most efficacious method due to the nature of which it was deposited in the first place and we don’t have any mechanized equipment. 20190518_121902

 I started last fall and got about a third into the estimated work. I cleaned up the main and lower spring areas where the hillside was slathered in bits and pieces of debris. This spring, I started on the second upper spring area. There’s so much rock I can only gather it up into piles until we can get a tractor of some sort up the hill.

I’m having to painstakingly dig out from between plants because wherever there is rock, there is no growth. The area looks so much better already although temporarily worse in spots because of the exposed soil. Next year, I’m expecting the place to look really beautiful; resplendent with the moss and greenery that come with natural springs.

 

 

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Two Idiots, A Water Heater and a Hero

Most people probably don’t give a second thought to their water heaters but ours came with a story.

We are afraid of it as we’re unfamiliar with it’s inner workings and are concerned it may blow up at any moment. It’s not the heater’s fault nor that of anyone involved with it’s design or installation; they’re just suspicious-seeming by nature. It doesn’t help that we’re ignorant of such things despite over a year of living off-grid in an RV.

When we first got the thing, we full of ideas from an episode of Mythbusters we’d recently seen where all of the fail-safe measures were removed on some water heaters and the heat cranked up. The tanks became rockets, shooting hundreds of feet into the air, giving my husband and I pause as to what our own rocket/heater might be capable of. But let’s back up.

When we came by our fifth wheeler it had been gutted and refitted for use with city hookups such as electricity rather than for it’s original purpose of boon docking. The electric water heater that had been installed was gobbling our energy so we ordered a propane model. It arrived promptly and we managed to get it nestled into the side of our RV without much ado. We carefully hooked up the gas, checked for leaks and lit her up.

Everything went fine as we turned the bathtub spigot on and off to check the rising temperature but the water got hotter and hotter and stopped flowing altogether. Clueless and sure the heater was nearing ignition, we turned it off and called it a night.

The next day we exchanged the old faucet for a new one and the water ran fine but continued to overheat. We shut it down for a second time to save our very lives lest we recreate that episode of Mythbusters.

Photo by Kurt Cotoaga on Unsplash

We needed a professional. Enter Norstar Heating and Cooling, Inc.

We gave them a call and explained the strange behavior of our water heater and made an appointment. Although they didn’t normally deal with RV type systems, they were willing to come take a look. We kept the unit shut off while we waited for our savior- his elevated status growing every day we went without the ability to shower.

Then the day arrived and “he” showed up. He didn’t have six-shooters on his side but he came with a notepad and a toolbox.  Wringing our now filthy hands, we recounted our misadventures as the repairman stole sideways glances at the beast waiting silently in it’s hole on the side of the fifth wheel.

Finally, our man adjusted his collar and approached the offender with a swagger and a coolness that would make John Wayne jealous. He stared at his foe for a moment or two then reached out confidently and began to manipulate the dials with the authority of a….well…appliance repairman. We stood a good ways back and watched with mixed fear and excitement at the prospect of being able to resume our personal hygiene routines.

Then we heard it; the rocket-like flame of the gas feed shot to life as the man cocked his head and squinted suspiciously at the device while he made his final adjustments. With a satisfied nod he turned and walked back our way to give us the news.

His words will haunt us forever; “I turned the heat down.”

 

 

 

The Amazing Miracle Pallet

Never seen on TV

Free wood!

If you live off the grid or just have a lot of projects requiring wood, pallets are perfect.

They are a great choice for many reasons:

  • They’re free
  • They’re already nailed together
  • There’re plenty of them
  • They have about a billion possible uses
  • You can find them EVERYWHERE

Where can you find them?

  • Behind grocery stores
  • In the alleys behind hardware stores
  • In the garbage/recyling areas of businesses
  • On Craigslist

What can you do with them?

  • Make furniture for your house: benches and tables
  • Craft projects: Signs, decorations, hangers for jewelry, etc.
  • Shop uses: shelves, tool holders, work tables
  • Dismantle them and burn them
  • Build a shed or even a house

We’ve utilized pallets extensively on our off the grid property. We didn’t have much money the first year we lived here so free was a good if not necessary choice for a building medium.

We built a garbage enclosure, benches, LOTS of shelving units, racks, and we burned a lot of them during the cold months of the year.

We drove around town and just looked for places that had them sitting out in back and  we always asked first if it was OK to take them. It works out for everyone. They get rid of surplus and we gain our next….you name it.

To cut them up or dismantle individual planks use:

  • a jig saw
  • a circular saw
  • a pry bar
  • a nifty tool we bought at an Ace Hardware called The Wrecker (a fancy pry bar with extra “bars” for whatever leverage you need
  • a hammer and a chisel for working the nails out
  • a hammer to just whack the slats free (might break it)
  • a couple of two by fours to remove individual planks without breaking them

They also make special pallet tools called pallet busters just for the purpose. Maybe a good purchase if you plan on using a lot of pallets.

The biggest pain in the ass is the nails they’re put together with. My husband and I could just visualize some guy with a nail gun going nuts on the assembly line. No limit to the number of nails used in each pallet. We’ve gotten them so riddled with nails, it’s almost impossible to take them apart.

And the ones that are STAPLED together……If we were desperate enough to need the pallet, we’d have to remove every staple individually with a hammer and needlenose pliers. Staples that were about two inches long sticking out of the piece of wood after we ripped it off of the pallet. Sometimes we’d just take a hammer and whack them down flat rather than deal with them.

For assembling various projects use:

  • A drill and drill bits for pilot holes through thick boards
  • A screw guide for the drill (a MUST)
  • Wood or deck screws of varying lengths
  • Nails
  • Brackets made by screwing two pieces of wood together or metal ones from the hardware store to add extra strength at attachment points
  • Circular saw for cutting leg lengths and larger straight surfaces
  • Hand saw
  • Hammer
  • C-clamp for holding pieces together tightly (the third arm) while installing screws
  • Jig saw
  • Tape measure
  • Wood router
  • Wood pencil for marking (works even on wet surfaces)
  • Other hardware such as hooks and hangers
  • Varnish

As for the how-tos and ideas, I just looked online. The projects haven’t always come out looking pretty but that’s just my craftsmanship or lack thereof.  Functionality is my main goal. You can make some really nice pieces if you do the job right and have the right tools.

 General tips:

  • That screw guide for your drill makes sinking those long screws SO much easier
  • C-clamp for securing pieces – night and day
  • Pilot holes for those thick pieces. You’ll strip the screws otherwise
  • Pilot holes to prevent cracking. You don’t always have to but if the wood is prone to cracking or on the thin side, it’ll help
  • Look for the better specimens in pallets. There are some shitty torn up ones you just pass up
  • If you DO end up with a shitty pallet, you can add slats from another shitty pallet to make one whole NOT shitty pallet

Here are some photos of things we’ve done so far: