Little Helper’s Holiday Project (Part 3)

I think the not-so-little helper has done a fantastic job telling the latest stage of the horse float restoration…  

The horse float restoration on the rock farm is rolling again, with some nice and cool, but still smoky days. The mornings start clear, so for a brief part of the day, we can continue working.

But almost straight away we hit a problem. It’s something Dad was thinking for a while and he came to us with his problem. The horse floats frame is made of 1-inch steel. This may seem pretty solid, but with half of it rusted, and hopefully future horses riding in it, it wouldn’t be safe. Not at all.

So, we went back to stage 1, designing.

We have found around the rock farm that Dad doesn’t have any good, solid box trailers. Or at least any 9 feet long with tandem axles. So, somehow Dad persuaded us to turn a totally terrible horse float into an okay box trailer, and his idea is kind of working.

A few days ago, the trailer was just the chassis. We stripped the trailer a day before a total fire ban, smoky and hot day, so we had to go on another small break.

Then we made a frame from 2×1 inch steel. It’s around 450 mm high and it’s really tough. Dad decided to leave us to paint it with the paint primer. Bad idea Dad, really bad idea.

It ended up even worse than I could imagine because the paint primer was bright red, and two brothers, each with paint brushes and bright red paint, does not end well.

I am still part painted red, so, yeah, fun.

Today we attempted to rivet some of the sheets onto the frame of the trailer. We haven’t even finished one sheet. ( out of the 8 we need to do. ). Out of all the things we needed to do on the trailer, putting in rivets was the one I expected least to be taxing. But I was wrong. Very wrong.

After the first 10 holes were drilled, and the rivets were shoved in, I was sweating a river and my arms had died. After that, I don’t need to explain, I think you can just imagine.

But the holidays are soon closing, and the ex-horse float will have a break. It’s going to be fun to go back to school, chill with friends, forget about study, but I will miss the days of using the grinder, or scrubbing away with a wire brush. Or at least until the next holidays.

The Little Helper’s Holiday Project (Part 2)

It has been a hot couple of weeks on the Rock Farm.  We have been busy watering trees, feeding cattle and trying to stay cool.  The bush-fires have been an ever present threat.  This instalment comes from the (not so) Little Fisherman. 

Due to the weather, we have not been able to work much on the float since the other Little Helper did his last blog (The Little Helper’s Holiday Project (Part 1)).  The last couple of days have been total fire bans with one of the days even being a catastrophic fire danger day.  But the next day brought some relief.  The temperature was set to be a maximum of 28 degrees Celsius, and the fire ban had been lifted!

We decided to use the break in the weather to replace some of the rusted frames in the float.  Our replacement bar for one of the more rusted floor sections, was slightly to small and did not have the strength needed of it (Dad will take more care to purchase steel of the correct dimensions next time).  Despite this, we still managed to replace some of the other frames on the side of the float.

This turned out to also be the perfect time for me to hone my grinding skills…  Although it took a while, I managed to successfully remove one of the old bars and clean up the cuts, before cutting a new piece (A tad to long).  I also asked dad if I could weld the bar in place, but after watching him struggle to weld the thin steel we decided that I would do more harm than good.  Instead, I took my new-found grinding skills to finish making my mother’s Christmas present.

After the horizontal struts were in place, we realised that we needed to replace one of the vertical supports.  This meant that dad had to cut up some of his pre-existing welds to put the new piece in place.  Let’s just say, I don’t think that he was to happy with having to re-weld the weak steel.

Meanwhile, the little helper was cleaning up the tailgate with a wire brush and a lot of elbow grease.  After he had finished polishing off the tailgate, he proceeded to rust-proof all the exposed metal he could lay eyes on with some ‘Rust Converter’ (phosphoric acid).

A couple of days later, the weather cooled down again.  We took this opportunity to remove the fibreglass section of the roof.  This proved somewhat difficult as many of the rivets where rusted in place.  We ended up drilling out the rivets.  After some effort we got the roof down, where it now lies, waiting to be sanded, patched and painted.

All in all, we have made many very important structural repairs and have begun looking at the roof.  Hopefully the next blog will be about reattaching the roof and possibly finishing our structural repairs.  We are looking forward to being able to start re-assembling the body of the horse float soon.

The Little Helper’s Holiday Project (Part 1)

For something different, the (not so) little helpers have a school holiday project that they will work on over summer.  Not only that, they have agreed to update their progress online.       They have a tight budget to work on, but we hope to turn this old float into some pocket money.  The main priority is to make the float completely solid and safe, not just to drive on the road, but also to carry precious horses in.  Turning a profit would also be nice – and should be achievable when you’re used to earning $10 per hour….  But enough from me – over to the Little Helper for his take on the holiday project.  

 

The school days are over, and on the Rock Farm the holidays have started. It’s great to lie back, throwing a ball for a very energetic dog, whilst enjoying a smoothie that would break the world record for the most sugar consumed at once. And it’s awesome the sleep in and not wake up at six o’clock to catch the school bus. Holidays are fantastic.

They are also good to look back on the year and see what we achieved, what happened, what went wrong, and what we can do next time.  Something that I noticed about this year, is that my brother and I achieved almost nothing together. Sure, there were the days where we made catapults, swords, and things to whack each other with, but there was nothing where we did something to learn new skills. (comment from Dad – I would disagree – I love the things they have done where the didn’t even realise they were learning!).

So, these holidays we asked Dad for help, and we started a new project – horse float restoration.

There has been an old horse float down near the stables. It hasn’t been undercover and it has just sat there, rotting itself apart. With the help of Dad, the ute, and the air compressor, we got the old float up to the shed for some pretty major repairs.

We started by taking the wheels off, and after years of rust, the nuts holding the wheels on weren’t feeling like moving. Even after I stood on the tyre lever trying to make the bolts spin, the nuts stayed attached. Only Dad could undo those bolts.

After the wheels were sent rolling, we started taking out the floor. This was more challenging than we had hoped because the bolts had rusted so much there was basically nothing left of them.  The old nuts had seized to the metal frame. So, we called in Dad with the grinder. After an hour of grinding, levering, and swearing (comment from Dad – speak for yourselves!), we pulled the hardwood beams from the frame.

This was all that we could achieve at the time, because the following few days were forecast to be above 40 degrees with total fire bans in place. Sadly, taking apart the horse float involves a lot of sparks.

But there was still one thing we could do: paint scraping.

To be honest, I am so over using the wire brush and chisel. After scraping every single piece of paint off, every side, every corner, we could finally put down the brush and smile. But that’s only the start. We still need to put the rust preventer on that Dad got us, and then paint, replace the rusted beams, put the floor back in, redo the wiring, replace the springs, check it all works, and make it look nice.

We have some more to do, but due to the heat we can’t progress at the moment. So for the time being, we can go back to our smoothies, and relax.

 

Every blade of grass counts.

The past week had seen the end of spring. Hot days above 30 degrees and some wild winds have dried out the grass. Many people in the district nervous for the bushfire season and our local RFS training is ramping up.

On the RockFarm, our lambs have been eating out their small holding paddocks. This is a good thing as the paddocks are close to the house, and the less grass here the better coming into summer.

Between the two paddocks is a channel for water. Water hasn’t flowed down here for months, but it naturally holds a bit of extra moisture and therefore grass.

There isn’t enough grass to make it worth fencing properly, but it was worth spending an hour to rig up a little race for the lambs to have access to the lane. This allows them to come and go as they please, with water in their paddock.

The old gates were around the hay shed. When we replaced them with the old roofing iron from the house, we kept the gates handy. I can now understand why farmers never seem to throw anything out!

The lambs love it, quickly disappearing in the long grass. The only problem is they will be through this in about a week.

I hope to move the lambs soon to our large flat paddock. It is fenced with hinge joint stock mesh. It is mostly sheep proof, but wombats also hang out here – and they have no respect for fences!

It is a constant job patching holes. Old star pickets, short rolls of old netting and logs or branches hopefully create a barrier that works

I will have to check the fence again before we move the sheep into this paddock – but hopefully it won’t take too much extra work to keep them in.

And then as the sun sets it is nice to sit back and relax feeling great about living in paradise.

The hint of rain

The past few weeks have been a little hectic on the Rock Farm.  Calving and lambing has continued.  Life has also continued, with some big weeks at work and school keeping us all away from the farm for longer than we would like.

First an update on Daisy.  Daisy and Mum have rejoined the herd and have settled in well.  Daisy has put on weight and enjoys her fellow bovine’s company more than humans now.  This is not a bad thing – although I miss our cuddles.  She might never do particularly well, but we are really happy that both Daisy and mum are now in good health.

With the long-term forecast for spring rainfall looking grim, we elected to sell off our older ewes and ram.  With such a small herd of 13 to take to the sale-yards, it was hardly worth organising a truck.  With a bit of time, I soon had the sheep loaded in the horse-float and passed the lambs out the tailgate back into the yards.  The irony was on the day I took the sheep to the sale yards, we received our first decent rainfall in months, a delightful 22mm.  It was a rare and unusual problem to be loading the sheep in the rain!

Selling the ewes solved a couple of problems.  It reduced the immediate pressure on the feed, and also stopped me having to retrieve them from the neighbour’s on a regular frequency.  I must admit I felt a little dwarfed by all the trucks and semi-trailers unloading stock at the yards, but the stock agent showed good humour and helped me pen the sheep.

The lambs are now enjoying some time near the house, where we are supplementing their feed.  They are becoming much quieter, hopefully making them easy to handle as they grow.

The little bit of rain was welcome.  It settled the dust, but more importantly it turned the grass green.  We are still feeding, whilst we wait for the grass to grow.

If you do want to find water though – I would highly recommend hiring a Kanga.  Jimmy and his marvellous machine have an amazing ability to find water pipes.  After successfully digging holes for our carport foundation, we decided to make the most of his visit with a couple of extra post holes for gate posts….  it was the last hole (it always is) when the auger came up with water pouring out of the hole…

Needless to say I am becoming pretty handy at repairing poly pipe.  Thankfully we were able to quickly isolate the water, which was non-potable water from dam.  Around the house it is used for flushing the loo and around the garden.  This water also supplies all the stock troughs – so I needed to get it repaired relatively quickly.  It has highlighted the need to install a valve so I can isolate the garden water quickly in case of future mishaps!

After repairing the pipe, it was time to head back with the girls.

I have moved them onto the flat country.  Whilst there isn’t much feed here yet, I am just rotating them through the smaller paddocks.  I hope they will keep on-top of the Barley grass, but it all seems to be going to seed early as it struggles with the dry season.

Time will tell what the season holds.  In the meantime, we have developed a plan for the cattle which we will start to implement in a few weeks.  For now though,  it is lovely to see a little water flowing in the creek again.

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!

 

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. 🙂

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.

Fire Season Maintenance

We have a fire plan.  We hope to never use it.

Our plan is a living document we have worked through with the kids, and details what actions we should take:

  • prior to the start of the fire danger season
  • if a Catastrophic Fire Danger day is forecast
  • if a fire is detected

The critical decision point occurs if a fire is detected.  We have to make a decision to either stay or evacuate.  Our children are now mature enough to be part of this decision process and are critical to its success.  Our fire plan is complicated by the very likely possibility that if there is a fire, I will be fighting it somewhere else with the Rural Fire Service.

One part of our fire plan is the ability to put out small fires with our own private appliance.  To this end, we have fitted an IBC 1000 litre tank with a small Honda pump to an old trailer.

The trailer sits by the shed, easily accessible.  I gave our fire trailer a service a couple of months ago (the fire danger season starts on 1st October).  All was in order, but during my rounds the other day I noticed one of the tyres was flat.  I pumped it up, but over the course of a few days it slowly went flat again.

It was a quick job to change the tyre over, but I also took the opportunity to double check everything else still worked.

After flushing out the old petrol, it was time to pull the starter and get the pump running.  Somehow the throttle was a bit stiff, but after a bit of lubrication in the form of WD40, it was soon working as expected.

The whole job didn’t take too long, but it is nice to tick off one small little job (again) in our fire safety preparations.

I just hope we don’t have to use it.

A dry spring on the Rock Farm

My last post was about managing weeds during the spring growth.  Unfortunately the hoped for spring rain didn’t eventuate.  Even as parts of the State are getting some of their best rain in months, we have managed a paltry 3mm.  It is better than nothing, and might give the clover the break it needs to set seed!

Our property has an interesting arrangement where the road access comes in and past the house to the paddocks. Like all roadsides / laneways, this is rarely grazed, because of the inconvenience to traffic.  But it was the only part of the property the cattle hadn’t grazed and every bit of grass is precious at the moment.

Several fences needed to be fixed up, and water provided before I could contemplate putting the cattle in the laneway.  Even so, I still used temporary electric fence to allow the cattle right up to the garden – a treat they all enjoyed!

In fact the cattle were so happy to have access to the special grass near the garden, they hardly noticed me sneaking in close for a Selfie!

School holidays is an exciting time for the kids.  As they get bigger, their commitments grow too, with sporting camps keeping them busy for the first week.  These are fantastic opportunities for them, but I also love seeing them get creative in the shed.  Of course the dog is in the thick of it too, causing equal measures of delight and frustration at her efforts to help.

Speaking of the shed, our region is often windy in Spring.  Very windy.  And the old shed was looking a little worse for wear, with several sheets of corrugated iron roofing sheets looking like they wanted to lift off.   The shed is of unknown vintage, and in the fine tradition of most Australian farms, it has been made of second hand recycled iron and fencing wire.   It gives it a certain charm, but would be a huge inconvenience if it was actually destroyed.  A little bit of preventative maintenance was in order.

The advantage of so much sunny weather meant that I was able to replace some of the very loose nails with new roofing screws, without the risk of rain making the roof treacherous. I fabricated some brackets and purchased a harness to provide some comfort whilst working aloft.

And then there was the garden.  Neglected and in need of a bit (lot) of work, it was time to get the chain saw out for some ‘pruning’.  With a garden that is around 2.5 acres, there are always trees to prune.  The black wheelbarrow made the carting of the firewood size pieces a lot more manageable.

All the other branches and lighter sticks and twigs were thrown on the back of Myrtle – the big red truck, and taken down to the paddocks.  We found a remarkable sight.  Under similar tree prunings, deposited in the paddock six months earlier, we found growing lush, green grass and clover.

I think there are three possible reasons for this (or a combination of all three).

  1. As the branches break down, they release nutrient into the soil,
  2. The branches provide a physical barrier stopping kangaroos from eating the grass (this paddock has no other stock in it), or
  3. The branches provide shade to the grass, making what little moisture there is more effective.

Thus encouraged, we will keep putting our prunings into the gullies and over bare soil.  It is great to see positive results for our efforts.

On the Rock Farm, the only place where the grass has been most prolific in its growth is the garden.  With the current season being so dry, it feels such a crime to simply cut the grass with a mower.  But, the grass was getting long, and the snakes are coming out.  So I got right onto my next job, and brought in the one horse power self propelled mower model.  Best part is, you don’t have to sit on it as it gets to work – but that can be the best bit!