Cutting Edge Tech on the Rock Farm

These school holidays are fast upon us – and the weather this weekend is bitterly cold and windy.  Perfect weather to be inside and making the most of the new heating system on the Rock Farm (see – keeping-warm-part-1).

We have enjoyed a nice break from the endless running around chasing kid’s school, sport and music commitments.  Instead we have caught up with family and friends and tried hard to do nothing…  It has been a pleasant change to actually read a novel.

But not all has been quiet.  An almost constant whirring and beeping has been coming from the the study nook.  It has been emanating from the latest tool on the Rock Farm.  Unlike the majority of tools here that are old style and barely changed over the past 50 years or so, this one comes from the other end of the spectrum.  It is our very own 3D printer.

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The (not so) Little Fisherman received a box of parts a while ago, and eagerly started putting them together.  They were remarkably complex, and I started to feel a little bewildered as he tackled his task with enthusiasm.  Disaster struck though, when he lost the instructions when he didn’t shut down his computer properly.  A few months of emails back and forth requesting another copy of the assembly instructions with Chinese manufacturer who mis-understood our requests entirely.  Eventually we gave up and took a punt plugging in the last couple of wires.  Thankfully Murphy was on our side that day, and the printer came alive and successfully printed its calibration cube.

Since then, I have been amazed at the progress.  Within a week, the (not so) Little Fisherman had stopped downloading designs from the internet and had started making his own creations.  Initially plenty of catapults, trebuchets and other mini-weapons of mass destruction were crafted by the printer as we learnt it’s capabilities.

And then I thought it was about time to start harnessing this unbridled enthusiasm for good… and asked the (not so) Little Fisherman to design and make for me a  new gear knob for the tractor.  A simple round knob was required, with a central hole to fit over the metal linkage.  It had been long missing from the tractor, but proved to be a good exercise, particularly in the precision required for measurement.  We used a vernier caliper to measure the precise diameter for the central hole, and it fit perfectly.  I was very impressed.

And I quickly put the tractor to work tidying up the garden.

But the next challenge is proving to be a bit more difficult.  Somehow I had also managed to break the centrifugal dust bowl filter…  The (not so) Little Fisherman initially baulked at the size and shape of the problem – but has managed to come up with a design.

He has spent a fair bit of time measuring and even trialled the construction of a torus of revolution for the base to ensure he had it exactly right.   Don’t worry – I had to google the name of it when he told me he had made a torus!

The only problem is that this is a particularly large and complex build.  The print time will be around 55 hours – if only I can hold my breath that long, I can’t wait to see what the little machine will produce!

The best part is that I am in good hands.  I now have a talented young man who is learning skills to repair old and worn out items with good-as-new parts.  I feel excited to be part of this new technology that will allow us to repair many more items previously considered beyond saving.  This cannot help but contribute to reducing our footprint on this precious planet.

A large part of our choice in living on the Rock Farm was to give our children a well rounded education, with academic opportunity tempered with responsibility to care for the land and livestock.  It is a constant juggling act, balancing the competing interests of their schooling, our work and their real education of life and how they can make a difference in this world.  Giving a child opportunities to pursue their interests is the wish of most parents and I am immensely proud of this fellow and his first steps into the future.

 

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Keeping Warm – Part 2

After enduring one winter at The Rock Farm, we quickly realised that the house was like living in a tent.  It was hot in summer and unbearably cold in winter.  We installed a new fireplace as the first stage in warming the house (Keeping Warm – Part 1).

The second stage was a lot more drastic  it involved replacing the roof.

The house was built sometime in the mid seventies.  It would have been quite chic in the day, but the builders failed to install any insulation in their stylish flat roof.  40 years had also caused a few leaks and the old galvanised sheets were rusty in places where water naturally pools.

We investigated options to replace the roof with a lovely truss roof, but ultimately finances led us to decide to replace the old galvanised iron with a new zincalum product and install R4 batts in the cavity with an extra layer of anti-con under the sheets.

This is where we could get involved as a key part of our plan was to remove any redundant penetrations in the roof.  The largest and most obvious was the old brick chimney.

There didn’t look to be too many bricks on the roof, but it was a fair load in the back of the ute!  The old bricks were put to use stabilising a gully head.

Mark from 24SEVEN Plumbing got stuck right in removing the old sheets.  He worked in sections, taking off a few sheets and the filling the void with insulation, before installing new clips and the new sheets.  Whilst the sheets look similar, they are a completely different profile and size.

The install wasn’t without problems.  The old clips were nailed into the hardwood rafters, making removal an exercise in brute force.  Also the evidence of rats was apparent with one junction box showing exposed wires.  A panic phone call to a nearby sparky soon had it safe.

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The gutters and exterior flashing will also be replaced soon, and will not only increase the functionality but also the appearance of the house.

The old sheets have been stacked on the back of Myrtle, the old Mercedes.  We will use some of them around the place, and will try and sell the rest at some stage.  Have I said how handy this truck is for odd jobs!

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The difference is remarkable.  From a house that routinely dropped below 10 degrees overnight – even with a fire burning, we are now keeping the living space around 19 degrees.  It is a different house, and I have a very happy family.

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But don’t take my word for it! I think the dogs love it too. At least I’ll know where to find them until for the next few months!

 

Out and about

School holidays are one of my favourite times on the Rock Farm.  In between days at work, we get to spend time doing various things around the place. Some of the activities are related to the running of the farm, some have the boys learning valuable skills.  Others are just fun.

The young fellows have a couple of projects they want to complete.  Indeed they wrote a list of activities they wanted to tick off these holidays (they must take after their mother)!  They have a couple of woodwork projects to complete – a pair of picture frames.

For me, it is all about hanging with the animals.  The neighbour’s beautiful horses love any excess carrots, whilst the cattle are just curious (and hopeful I will move them to a different paddock).

Of course not all farm jobs can wait until the holidays are over.  Our header tank float valve was leaking, causing the pump to run continuously.  The resultant leaking water might have been a boon for the nearby grass, but it wasn’t good for our dam’s water levels.  Jo volunteered to enter the tank and remove the old valve.  Thankfully it just needed a good clean and fresh lubrication, and was as good as new.  I quite enjoyed offering advice from the sidelines…

We also had a few mechanical issues to deal with. The falcon ute needed a new idler pulley and the young fella broke something on his motorbike.

The falcon was an easy fix. The motorbike needed to go and visit an expert…

An old meat saw on Gumtree somehow ended up in the back of the car.  I re-purposed an old kitchen bench top and some leftover pine into a mount for the saw.  It should make processing our lamb a little easier.

Speaking of lamb – we enjoyed a couple of roast legs of lamb in the camp ovens.  The brick lined fire-pit hasn’t had much use over summer – but we hope to change that now the weather has cooled down a little.

We also made a warning sign to put on the gate 🙂 It is a simple form of security after a car we didn’t recognise drove up our drive and into our property, before leaving.

And on one glorious day we went for a hike.  With some hearty snacks, we put on our hiking boots and walked the boundary of our place and our neighbours.

We loved it, as it was a fantastic opportunity to check out the place and really take time to enjoy the Rock Farm.  All too often there are little jobs to do, but at the end of the day, spending time with this gorgeous family is what really matters.

It was good to recharge the soul. After all isn’t that what school holidays are for?

Keeping Warm – Part 1

When we moved into the not so rocky Rock Farm, we knew that we had a lot of work ahead of us.  From bringing fences and paddocks back into order, managing the weeds and maintaining the water supplies – there is no end of projects to keep me amused.

To keep from being overwhelmed, we developed a master plan.  On one branch of the master plan was two words….  Renovate House.

We gave ourselves twelve months to live in the new house before touching anything.  And a good thing too.  Updating the kitchen and bathrooms moved down the list as the cool weather came and we decided that making the house warmer was essential.

The main heating for the house came from a slow combustion stove that had been installed into a brick wall.  The small fire struggled with the large space it was trying to heat, especially as there is no insulation in the house whatsoever.  Pulling the old fireplace out revealed a full brick hearth from an earlier open fireplace and chimney.  We couldn’t imagine how cold the house would have been with an open fireplace in the lounge room!

We recruited a couple of helpers to remove the old hearth – that had been extended when the slow combustion stove had been fitted.  Demolition was good fun – and created an abundance of mess.

Then came the tedious part of setting up for a new fireplace.  We elected to brick up the old fireplace entirely and render the wall.  A brick layer I am not, but I found it easier to do than rendering.  It took me three coats to get a finish we were happy with.

We tinted the render with a blue-stone oxide that matched some stone paving stones.  We carefully measured the size of the base to ensure it met the required clearances.  Jo found an old shearing shed frame that we used to make the timber surround.  We trialed the fit many times to try and get it right.

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At this point it was time to get the professionals in.  We were lucky to get Phil, the same installer who fitted a similar fireplace at the original Rock Farm.  Phil worked hard to ensure the fireplace sat perfectly in the hearth – and we were lucky that the flue missed all important structures in the ceiling cavity.

We had also fitted and oiled the timber – and were thrilled with the result.  The best part was it only took a day or two before we had a cold snap – just the excuse to light it up and set the paint.

There is still a long way to go to make the house warm and we have a few plans we will look at soon.  Meanwhile if the pooch is anything to go by, the fire is a roaring success. 🙂

Tractor Repairs on The Rock Farm

One of the things I love about living on the Rock Farm is the constant series of problems that require solving.  There is so much to learn over so many diverse subjects that I find myself constantly seeking new knowledge.  The best part of living at this time in history is the easy access to the collective wisdom of mankind.  It is all held in a small device that fits into my hand.

But there is also a lot of stuff I learn from giving things a go – and one of the recent jobs was to repair the front swivel on the tractor.  Years of hard work had stripped the threads out of the casing and the steering arm kept falling off the bottom of the axle.

The problem with having the collective wisdom of mankind in your hand is it sometimes takes a while to know what to ask it.  I eventually determined that the best repair would be a helicoil, or threaded insert, and promptly ordered the parts.

Unfortunately there are also some skills you can’t learn by reading a book or watching YouTube…  and in my haste to prepare the tractor, I drilled out the stripped bolt holes too far.  Thankfully a local engineering workshop was able to rebuild the casing and re-thread the holes back to original specification.

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Drilled out too far, the holes needed to be refilled and re-tapped. 

Once the repair was complete, I was able to re-assemble the front axle, and get straight into the test drive.

The test drive involved ripping lines in a couple of paddocks to capture any run-off and allow it to soak into the ground.  The old International 674 passed the test with flying colours.  Test completed, the tractor was put back into the shed for a well earned rest.

I (re-)learnt there is some wisdom you can’t find on the internet or in a book.  In the absence of having an expert on hand, some things you have to learn by giving a go.

It might go against one of my favourite quotes, but that is okay with me.  I think Douglas Adams got it mostly right 🙂

Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so.
Douglas Adams

 

 

Around the farm

With the little helpers both now in High School, we are finding ourselves spending more time in town.  Between before school music practice and after school sports training, our days are very full and busy.  As they should be.  Whilst part of me hankers for the simpler times when the boys went to our local primary school just down the road, they are growing up and are relishing in the new experiences and opportunities that a large school provides.

As we have now lived at the new Rock Farm for over 12 months, we have also started (albeit slowly) renovating the house.  The first priority is the installation of a large efficient slow combustion fireplace.  There is nothing like a cool morning to focus the mind and allow you to recall how cold the house was last year.

This means the farm part of the Rock Farm is not getting as much time for my attention as I would like to give it.  There has still been plenty to keep us busy, checking the stock water daily and moving the cattle and sheep into other paddocks.  Of course there are some gorgeous horses nearby that also demand attention – and somehow I always find time for a pat.

The cattle have been eating the remaining grass, and giving some of the weeds a good nibble in their quest for food.  They remain in good condition, which they will need heading into winter.  The skies, whilst looking promising have only yielded 2.5mm in the past two weeks.  The unseasonably hot days have burnt away any remaining moisture.

The sunsets though have been spectacular – and make me pinch myself every time.

The dry weather has put a lot of the trees under stress.  The native gum trees have a very effective method to cope with droughts.  They shed branches.  Unfortunately most of our trees are along fence-lines, requiring a bit of work to clear the branches.

Thankfully most of the branches were relatively small – and I was able to make some handy little piles of firewood for collection in a year or two once they’re seasoned.

I even was lucky enough to have a helper for a couple of hours – but he got distracted talking to the girls!

And then the helper wandered over and poured a bucket of oats on the ground for the other girls (and nearly ready) boys.

The sheep are managing to find some good grass among the weeds, and are all in healthy condition.  We have a few of our neighbour’s dorpers running with our sheep which are wiltipolls.  Both types naturally shed their wool and are bred for their meat.  The dorper tends to be a stockier animal, and tend to look more shaggy.

We sold most of the female ewe lambs, but are growing out the boys.  I will fast have to make a decision as to whether we send the boys to the sale yards, our put them in our freezer.  With two teenage boys in the family – I think that keeping the food miles to an absolute minimum will be time well spent.

I just have to find that time….

Every woman needs a She-Shed

A couple of months ago we started a project on the Rock Farm to make a Potting Shed, to store Jo’s gardening bits and pieces.  In order to build Jo’s She-Shed, Jo had been collecting second hand iron, fence palings, doors and windows for a while.  With the other shed getting cluttered, the timely visit of Jo’s parents and my brother made the time was right to turn her plan into reality.

Whilst the shed was to be clad and finished with recycled (upcycled?) materials,  for ease of construction I requested new material be used to build the frame.  Jo was keen to get stuck in and do most of the construction herself, which was fantastic.  Although I must admit she did seem a little too comfortable with the nail gun!

The frames were fabricated in sections on the floor of the shed, and brought down on the back of Myrtle, the big red truck.  Jo’s dad, a retired engineer, ensured that everything was braced and square.  As more and more bracing was added, I felt confident that the whole structure was extremely solid.

We wrapped the frame in some excess sarking we found in the shed.  This should reduce the drafts.  We haven’t insulated the she-shed, but we did later line the shed with plywood sheeting.

We sourced the windows from the local recycling yard for $20 each.  Our original design was modified as the windows we initially chose didn’t fit in the horse float.  These old timber windows were extremely heavy, and I appreciated my brother’s help to lift them into position.

The cladding was a combination of old Lysaght Corrugated Iron, and old hardwood timber palings.  The timber was rather easy to split, but mostly held up to to being attached with galvanised nails.

We found a couple of old posts for the front lean to in a paddock.  Unfortunately they were too short to reach the ground, so we improvised with a couple of old 44 gallon drums filled with old broken bricks.  The end result is an extremely solid structure I am confident won’t go anywhere for a long time.

The doors were out of an old office block.  Again, they are extremely heavy solid timber doors that cost a pittance at auction.  We bought some new door furniture as none of the original mechanisms worked.

We have since put some flashing on the roof and installed a gutter.  The last job is to pave the front area and build a step into the shed.

The internal fit out was left to Jo.  We found an old table lying in the paddock under an Elm tree.  The timbers of this ancient table were protected somewhat by a galvanised sheet placed over the top.  After removing the resident Huntsman and Redback spiders, we brought the table into the shed.

I am glad we saved this table from the elements.  I often wonder with old pieces such as this what their history was.  It is a little wobbly, but we were able to prop it up and make it reasonably flat.

It didn’t take long though and the she-shed was rearranged.  Old bookshelves and dressers that had been cluttering up my shed were relocated and set up in the newly lined she-shed.  Jo has since slowly set it up with a place for everything, and I am happy that I have space back in my shed too.  It has been a great little project that we both have enjoyed working on.

Which means that now I’ll have to start work on the next project… the carport.

Doing nothing often leads to the very best of something

The Summer Holidays are a magical time for most kids (big and little).  The pace of life slows and you can enjoy lazy days without the guilt that normally comes with an afternoon of idleness.

As Winnie the Pooh said “Doing nothing often leads to the very best of something”.

The run of fiercely hot 40 degree days over January, often led to us doing nothing.  Well not quite nothing.  We enjoyed a few afternoons inside the air-conditioning watching family movies or the Cricket.  And it was time well spent – well except for the Cricket perhaps…

In between the hot days, we got the occasional summer storms. These kept the grass (and the weeds) growing.  I took the opportunity to spend a couple of hours slashing thistles with the trusty mower.  This paddock was all thistles 12 months ago when we moved in.  I slashed the paddock twice last summer, before the majority of the heads had gone to seed (https://rockfarming.com/2018/01/04/managing-thistles-on-the-new-farm/).  This year there was a remarkable reduction in thistles, and I am hoping to continue the downward trend on thistle numbers. A special thanks also to my old man who sweltered through a few hours chipping out thistles in the next paddock. I fear this will be a continuing challenge on the Rock Farm.

The sheep and the cattle continue to turn grass into manure.  Before Christmas, we put some of the larger lambs in the freezer.   The combination of no stress for the animal and good grass made for some delicious dinners.  We slow roasted a couple of legs in a camp oven over some hot coals and shared the meal with friends – a most enjoyable way to appreciate some of the harvest from the Rock Farm.

Lucie the Tractor has been hard at work over the summer – but finally something had to give.  The steering arm bolts finally stripped the tread from the casing on the left front pivot.  Pulling the front axle apart revealed the extent of the damage.  Some new thread repair inserts have been ordered, and I hope will make a permanent repair.

The summer storms have caused a welcome distraction.  Providing relief from the scorching summer, they have also come often enough to keep the grass alive and growing.  The creek has risen a couple of times, necessitating repair to our electric fence ‘floodgate’, but that has been part of the adventure.  The boys love testing the depth of the creek against the height of their gum-boots, and the dogs love just being part of the fun.

In between, there is plenty of time to get on with the most important part of the holidays.  Having fun. 

The boys have tinkered in the shed, turned petrol into noise on their motorbikes, and relaxed in our hillbilly pool. One day they disappeared and made the most amazing tree house / fort in a dry creek bed. Good job they get hungry, so they return home for meals!

 

A couple of the storms even had the creek flowing, after being dry for almost 12 months. We took time to teach the dogs a variant of Pooh Sticks. I think they love splashing in the creek as much as the kids do!

We even managed to escape for a couple of nights camping at Blowering Reservoir.  It is hard to find an excuse to leave the Rock Farm, however sometimes it is nice to get away where you can’t be looking at jobs you need to do, or projects to start.  It was fantastic to set up camp and have nothing to do. We were able to read, play board games and simply hang out, which was just wonderful.

Three glorious nights swimming and kayaking in the reservoir, just a few hours from home was what we needed to complete the school holidays and bring our focus onto 2019.  This year marks the beginning of high school for the youngest helper – and it was lovely to celebrate the commencement of this phase in his (and our) lives with some time away with just the four of us.

As enjoyable as it was to go away, it was even better to come back home and sit back and watch the sun set over the Rock Farm.  We have some exciting changes planned for the Rock Farm this year and we look forward to sharing them with you. 

The girls come home

You may recall that a few weeks ago we took up the kind offer of John, our heifer’s breeder, to join our girls with one of his young bulls.  Getting the girls there proved to be a bit of a challenge, especially for one of our heifers now known as Miss Steak. She didn’t travel with her friends after getting stuck and injuring herself – see previous blog:  https://rockfarming.com/2018/11/16/a-terrible-miss-steak/. After training her to enter the horse-float, she travelled without any complaints at all.  When we arrived, I drove straight into the paddock, and she had a welcoming committee come down and greet her.

We had also been keeping a close eye on one of the heifers.  Over the previous month or two, it became apparent that she was pregnant. This can be a big problem for young heifers, especially if they have large calves.  We weren’t sure what to expect, and were worried we would lose the heifer.  Renamed “The Unchaste One”, she gave birth without incident to a  handsome bull calf.

The cattle continued to grow and put on condition at John’s place.  The Crookwell area seems to have escaped the worst of the drought conditions that have caused so much devastation elsewhere.

Thankfully the rest of their time at John’s proved to be without incident, and we went to bring them home the other day..

The heifers first came to our place on Jimmy’s truck as weaners.  On their first trip, they easily fitted in the front two pens.  Now they are much closer to 400kg each, several overflowed into the rear pen.

I was pleased to see how quickly they settled back at home.  I kept them in the yards for just a few minutes, letting them find the water trough.  When I let them out, they barely moved half a dozen metres before they stuck their heads down and happily commenced grazing.

We have all missed having the cattle on the place, and love having them back.  We have since moved them into a paddock with more shade – helping them through the worst of the current heatwave.

In other parts of life on the Rock Farm, the run of 40 degree days has been pretty hard on our newly planted oaks.  Some of our seedlings have clearly struggled, but others look like they are doing alright.  I think they all appreciated a drink.  Hopefully we can nurse them through the summer and give them a fighting chance at survival.

School Holidays on the Rock Farm

School holidays are in full swing on the Rock Farm.  The boys have been turning petrol into noise on their motorbikes, building tree houses in the gum trees, and playing in the dirt.  They have also been learning a few other skills such as fencing, planting trees, repairing said motorbikes and fixing broken water pipes.

The holidays have also been a wonderful opportunity to catch up with friends and family.  This, in conjunction with a series of extremely hot days, has slowed the normal rate of progress on the Rock Farm, and that isn’t a bad thing.  We have enjoyed the opportunity to slow down and enjoy good company, and the odd quiet afternoon, with the air conditioner on, in front of a movie with the family.

The ongoing requirement to repair our fences continues.  On one of the cooler mornings, The youngest helper and I replaced a small section of fence.  A few days later the whole family helped run hinge joint around a small 2 acre triangle paddock near the house.  This will allow us to bring the sheep into this paddock and hopefully contain them!  It was pretty hot work, and it times tempers flared due to Hangry boys.  The result will be a handy little paddock allowing us to keep a closer eye on the sheep.

We have been lucky to experience a couple of summer storms this season.  With a bit of moisture in the soil, I thought we would get away with planting out some acorns that had germinated.  These oaks are Daimyo Oaks (Quercus dentata), also known as Japanese Emperor Oak or Korean Oak.  These trees have large leaves, and are part of our plan that should see the Rock Farm renamed “Oak Park” one day.  The oaks draw nutrient from deep in the ground, provide shade thus retaining moisture, and the leaves return the nutrient and organic matter to the soil when they fall and mulch.

Then it was back onto the serious business of making tree houses in some existing trees!

The summer storms often provide short bursts of heavy rain that mostly runs off.  Any technique that increases the amount of rainfall captured into the soil is to be tried.  One technique, pioneered by P.A. Yeomans and recommended by Pat Coleby is to rip lines along contours, opening up the soil allowing moisture to penetrate deep into the ground.

Our last property (the original Rock Farm) had deep rip lines put in by the previous owner.  These lines trapped moisture and were clearly the greenest part of the property on satellite images.  Trees benefited from being planted in the rip lines, as their roots could seek out the moisture stored in the cracks of the rocks.

Unfortunately the old single tyne ripper wasn’t up to the tough Ordovician Shale that underlies our fragile slopes.  Only a few lines into it, a large rock twisted the tyne worse than before.  Despite several attempts to gain leverage, I was unable to straighten the tyne.

The good news was that leaning against a tree, forgotten by owners previous, a double tyne ripper was leaning against a tree.  It had been there so long, a tree root had grown over a tyne, vastly complicating my efforts to put the ripper on the tractor.  It took my wife and I a good hour to eventually get the ripper fitted… but it was worth the effort!

And the result was success!  Using a piece of clear pipe filled with water and threaded on the ROPS, I was able to get a reasonably accurate contour ripped across the slope of the paddock.  It took a little while for me to get the draft and raise response where I was happy with it, but the old tractor performed flawlessly.  The rip line was only 150mm deep – but that was deeper than the soil and into the rock layer.   Now I just need it to rain to test the theory.

The school holidays have also had the boys learning some other important lessons.  They are still young enough to play in the dirt – and were enthusiastically making tracks for matchbox cars when they received last call to come in and have a shower before bed.

The final throw of the digger resulted in an unmistakable gurgle and their construction rapidly filled with water.  After years of observing me, they correctly recognised that they hadn’t found a fresh water aquifer just below the surface, but rather a poly pipe.  I took some solace from the fact that the rapidly appearing water was our non-potable water supply to our garden and toilets… not our precious house supply that runs under the ground only a couple of metres away.

The good news was that it wasn’t my fault.  So I had if not enthusiastic, then certainly guilty helpers to:

  • run to the dam and isolate the pump (long way down hill)
  • run to the tank and isolate the tank (long way up hill)
  • dig a much larger hole to expose the pipe
  • measure the diameter to check if we had the right fittings (which we did – good planning Dad)
  • carefully cut the damaged section of pipe out with a hacksaw
  • replace damaged section with a joiner fitting
  • run back to pump and turn it on
  • run back to tank and turn it on
  • watch and check for leaks

It was the quickest I had ever replaced a pipe – and I barely raised a sweat… In fact I did a lot of not much except pointing, and asking for tools, most of which live in my pipe repair tub.

As the sun set and the light faded, we turned the water on and held our breath.  It worked!  All in all it was a pretty good outcome – the kids learned some important skills, and I realised how grown up they are becoming.