Unimog 401

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We've known for a while that our work horse '93 Nissan Pathfinder was approaching the end of it's useful life. The exhaust system is wrecked, the brakes leak, and it isn't capable of getting into the gnarlier parts of our property. It was useful for logging out the edges of the forest, but it's both too big and not capable enough to make it into some of the more dense bush on the property. We'd have to invest thousands of dollars in repairs, tires, and a winch to make it useful again. So about a year ago we started researching various vehicles looking for a multi-use vehicle that could help us with logging, plowing our driveway, lowering our wind turbine, and collecting maple sap (yes, we're making maple syrup this spring). We looked at full and mid-size pickups, 4 wheelers, side-by-sides, and then I stumbled upon Unimogs.

One year later we have purchased a 1953 Unimog 401 hard-top. It has a 25hp diesel engine, a 7500/lb winch and a snowplow. The machine is 10' long, 7' wide, and 7' tall without the plow. The plow adds nearly 3' to the length. The gearing on the Unimog is very low, in 1st gear it has a top speed under 5 km/h, 2nd takes you to nearly 10 km/h. Its top speed is about 50 km/h in 6th gear downhill with a tail-wind. With it's big agricultural tires, massive ground clearance and low gearing we've been able to get to parts of the land that were completely inaccessible except by foot.

Ceiling progress

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We've been making some excellent progress on the ceiling. It's rough work handling the hardwood boards up over your head, I can only manage about 4 hours at a time before I'm done. For the back section we'll mill the boards thinner, we don't need a full 5/8" for a ceiling, 1/2" would work out just fine.

Luckily we've been getting some help from friends and family. Phil and his boys made a trip up and we got a big section done, Stephen came by and lent a hand, and of course Dad's been a rock.

Phil lends a helping hand.

Every board has to have each end squared up with the chop saw and all of the end boards have to be custom cut to fit. Joanne has become a master with the saw, tape and square.

Chopmaster General, Joanne.

We're about two thirds done and might even be ready for trim in a few weeks.

As Phil said, most people would love to have a floor that looked this good!. As Phil said, most people would love to have a floor that looked this good!

Of course the boys wouldn't mind if the job lasts a while longer, after all most kids don't have a jungle gym in their living room.

Dad, can we cross the bridge?

Sorry it's been so long.

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As often happens around here it's been quite a while since my last post, so I figured I'd upload some pictures to give a sense of some recent events around here.

We finished of the deck on the east side of the house with some steel grating we acquired a year or so ago. Near the back part of the house we built a sandbox for the kids. When they're grown we'll make a nice zen garden or something back there.

Joanne has been busy finishing the ash boards that will be going up on the ceiling. We figure that we have enough for the whole front half of the house. The scaffolding is out on loan right now, but comes back in a week or so, this will be a late summer job for us, but it will be fantastic to have a ceiling up.

Most blog readers beyond friends and family won't know this but we lost both of our dogs in the last 12 months. Ceara had a stroke and had to be put down last May, she was 14 1/2. Gator had a tumour on his spine, we had to put him down in February. Gator made it to 11, which if you were familiar with his tendency to eat foreign objects was a miracle. We were devastated. The picture above is Cash. He's our new boy, a 3 year-old Chesapeake Bay Retriever. The boys are head over heals in love with him. Fortunately he has shown no inclination to eat rocks.

Sometimes I can't believe how lucky I am to have ended up here with such a fantastic family and place to live. Sometimes the universe concurs.

Kara over at Stonehouse Straw House has an interesting post up now on a terrible experience they've been having with their exterior finish and their interesting (and very nice) solution. They used earthen plasters on their outside walls and under prolonged exposure to some pretty extreme rain the plaster actually started to slough off. Earthen plasters have been around for a long time but in my experience they're mostly used in the southern (read: dryer) states. Despite this some folks have started using them in Ontario, and apparently the maritimes. Earthen plasters are very nice looking, easy (though very labour intensive) to apply, and have little of the health/environmental baggage that accompanies regular lime plasters such as we used. My suggestion, if you like earthen plasters is that you use them on interior walls, and stick to the tougher lime plasters for the exterior.

What I really like about the post though is their solution. They created a board and batten exterior wall that covers and shields the damaged plaster while still allowing for airflow. In the end the solution ends up being just as attractive, if not more so, than the original wall. Bravo!

The Ceiling - Part 1

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Over the Christmas holiday's we started covering the ceiling in the gallery space with tongue and groove cedar. Dad won the cedar at an auction last spring for a very good price. We won a large stack of boards almost all of which were 16' long, 8" wide and all were tongue and grooved. Unfortunately about 40% of the boards were in pretty bad shape: worm-eaten, weathered, rotten, or warped in some way. We've been cladding our various sheds in the crappier boards and putting aside the good ones to use inside. This fall Joanne and Mom sanded and finished some of those good boards and that's what we've been using.

Over time the Tuck tape that sticks the vapour barrier to the beams has lost it's tack so I'm re-taping as I go.

Fitting the long boards is much easier with a helper. By the end of a day working over your head like this your arms feel like they are about to drop right off.

For extra fun every board in the middle row had to be custom cut to accommodate the light and fan junction boxes. Also because the boards need to be staggered the scaffolding had to make the full trip back and forth across the gallery about a half-dozen times over the course of the project.

We didn't have quite enough boards so we'll complete the job in the spring when we can finish the boards outside - the stain that we use for colour really reeks.

As usual when Dad works so do the children. What's remarkable about this picture is that Gil is actually hammering real nails, into real wood with a toy plastic hammer. No I don't know why there is a parking lot beside the board. Look at how long those legs are! Wonder where he gets his build from?

Happiness defined

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New Panels

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Last month we installed two more 175W solar panels to our array. For those keeping track we now have eight 85W BP solar panels, four 165W Sharp panels, and two 175W Sharp panels for a grand total of 1360W.

Unfortunately one of the realities of building an array piecemeal is that the sizes of the panels change from model-to-model and year-to-year. We really didn't want to buy new racks so we decided to modify the existing racks that hold the BP Solar panels. We added two new mounting rails and moved the two existing rails to the sides. The new panels squeeze quite nicely in the middle.

This required that new holes be drilled to mate the horizontal rails to the rack uprights. If you look closely you can see a piece of wood we were using a blocker to prevent us from accidently drilling into the back of a panel. With Dad, J.P. and I it took most of the day to get the racks modified, panels mounted and wired.

Most of the time that we worked Declan played outside in the sand pile (side note: a pleasant side effect of straw bale construction is that you usually end up with enough leftover sand for a good play area.) He's a remarkably self-sufficient kid.

We've been really lucky, so far this fall and we've had lots of sun. We call this time of year the "100 days of grey" because we typically go from late October to early January with little or no sun. In the last four weeks we've had many sunny days and have really seen the benefit of our new panels. Here's a picture of the readout form our Outback MX-60 charge controller. You can see that the panels are bringing in 31.4A but the MX-60 is upping that to 38.3A. Typically we have to run the generator weekly through the 100 days of grey to keep the batteries charged but in the last four weeks we've only run it twice. In addition to saving money on gas, we really appreciate the peace and quiet.

Green magazine

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Our house is featured in the latest issue of Green, an Australian magazine. The article is very nice - written by our friend and former neighbour Liza Finlay and the pictures by her cousin Naomi Finlay are spectacular. This article is the first to feature photos of our house in the winter. Aside from being one of our four favorite seasons winter provides lots of sun to the interior of the house. The pictures look sun drenched and warm on the interior, an excellent contrast to the snowy landscape outside.

We had a a photoshoot here a couple of weeks ago for a forthcoming coffee table book and the contrasts between the two photographers and publications was remarkable. Naomi captured images of a house that people live in, including one fantastic shot of Gil and Declan that we'll treasure forever (cliche though that may be). The coffee table book people don't seem to want any people in the pictures at all. In fact another of their books that we looked through did not have a single living creature in any of the houses featured. In fact some of the houses didn't even seem to have furniture. Le Corbusier, one of my least favorite architects described houses as "machines for living" and the houses in this book had been staged to the point where the interface between house and human was tenuous at best. So why did we agree to be in the book? It was a last minute request from our architects and I didn't have a chance to check out any of the other books from this publisher beforehand.

Washout

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We've had quite a bit of rain here in southern Ontario this year. In fact we've already had more rain than we had all of last summer and we've shattered all previous records. I don't mind rain at all, but I'm not a fan of massive downpours that wash out my driveway. So far we've had three such storms this summer, and since we've never been washed out before that's pretty serious rain.

We've had Eric in with the backhoe twice now to fix the driveway, and the township has been working on the road pretty much continually all summer.

We think there used to be a culvert here. If there was, it's gone now.

If you look behind Declan you can see most of road, back there in the forest where it doesn't belong.

Fortunately this new gully is the township's problem, not mine.

Joanne makes me drive the truck over the washout, neither of our cars could make it.

Here's the road. There's a brand new ditch, the old ditch is full of the washout from the previous storms.

The new deck

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Long time readers might recall a post I wrote back in April of 2005 talking about milling cedar and the fabulous decks that would be built. I'm pleased to report that construction has finally begun on the east decks, including a new deck directly off the front door.

My helpers

This deck is a team effort, unfortunately I have to spend as much time trying to keep the kids on my team as I do building the deck. It takes only a matter of seconds for them to not only form their own team but for that team to splinter into two entirely separate (and warring) factions. Things degenerate rapidly at that point. So as a result both children are gradually accumulating their own tool sets and each has a simple task that they must perform in order to "help" me. For example both travel with a handful of 3 1/2" screws that each gets to hand me in turn as I screw down the decking. Both kids help me measure the deck (each with his personal dollar store tape measure natch) which lends an interesting twist to the old saw "measure twice, cut once" since neither can actually read a tape measure.

Deck boards going on.

I have noticed that they are doubly helpful when they are wearing superhero pyjamas.

The dynamic duo.

It's all worth it when you get a section done and the kids are so proud that they helped build the deck.

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