Power System Changes

11.18.2019 – Monday

Over the past year a few changes have taken place. The biggest update was the inverter. Back on August 24, 2018 the Ol’ man noticed something that he thought was odd. He couldn’t hear a cooling fan running on the inverter. We examined the inverter. After a bit I pulled up some information and figured out the exact nature of the problem… it was the Ol’ man. The inverter was operating 100% perfectly. The Ol’ man thought that a fan stopped working that should be running continuously.

He saw two fans and neither was running. I discovered that there are three fans total. The continuous fan is on the back of the inverter (against the wall) and cools the circuits. It runs continuously and moves a very small amount of air nearly silently. The other two fans activate at the same time when the unit reaches a certain operating temperature and keep the unit from heating up to greater than 120°F – at which point it would automatically turn off. Phew… we thought for a moment the inverter was starting to fail.

Then on September 20, 2018 at 8:55pm I got a text, “Inverter meltdown, lost power, Xantrex meter not working.” A bunch of warning and fault messages started to show up. We text back and forth a bit trying to reset faults and cycle the inverter on and off in the hopes the issue resolves without further issue. No luck. The Ol’ man ran the generator on bypass mode for the reminder of his visit at the cabin.

I started researching and the Ol’ man started recording data before making a few phone calls. The inverter is no longer supported and we cannot get parts. Here is the data recorded that night:

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At this point we were stuck. No parts are available, no one locally could repair it, the manufacturer doesn’t support it, and I’m not even sure if there was a bad part that I could find it. The inverter was visually inspected and my untrained eye could find no obvious signs of failure. Have look.

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So we moved to plan B: replace it. The direct replacement to our old Xantrex MS 3000 model is the Xantrex Freedom SW 12V. Here is a quick comparison of the key features and differences.

  • series stacking is new
  • full output to 104°F (was 122°F)
  • 6000 watt surge (was 7500 watt)
  • output frequency is 60 Hz +/- 0.2 Hz (was 0.05% or 0.03 Hz)
  • battery charger voltage range 5 – 16 Vdc (was 10 – 15.5 Vdc)
  • no load power draw 3 Amps (was <20 watts, new one no longer lists search mode as feature)
  • max input battery charge 24 A rms (was 22 A rms)
  • dead battery charge feature (not on old model)
  • transfer time <20 ms (not reported on old model)
  • operating range -4°F to 140°F (was -4° to 122°F)
  • storage range -40°F to 185°F (was -40° to 122°F)
  • size  7.75 x 13.5 x 15.25” (was 8.17 x 13.25 x 16”)
  • weight 73.7 lbs (was 70 lbs)

On September 28, 2019 we received the new inverter. The box looked pretty awful. Not surprisingly the inviter inside suffered a fair amount of damage as well. The damaged inverter was installed and put to use until a replacement arrived and we could return the damaged unit.

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On October 11, 2019 we finally got everything sorted out I did a cleaner installation and tidied up all the wiring. The replacement inverter arrived with significantly less damage from shipping (there was still some, but it was small and we were tired of hauling around inverters at this point). At this time we also installed a new control panel. Not surprisingly, the old control panel in the cabin no longer worked. It looked identical to the new control panel but the electronics inside were updated. Since all the screw holes and communication ports were unchanged it was a quick swap.

Finally! Back up and running.

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Guess what… random blackouts started a month later. On January 17, 2019 we finally found the issue. The battery disconnect switch was faulty. The switch that failed was supposed to be an upgrade to the original switch we installed back in 2009. The original switch would stick sometimes. In cold weather we would turn it to ‘off’ and it would remain on. It would turn on reliably however. In 2014 the switch was upgraded to a heavier switch that had a more substantial click when engaged. The new switch was sealed and three times the cost of the original.

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We went back to the original switch but used some thin lubricant to fix the cold weather sticking issue. OK… finally we were back to normal operation. The new switch, below, has worked perfectly and the new inverter has operated without any issues for the last 10 months.

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While this was going on I did a quick upgrade to our charging station. Ten years ago when I built the first version in the stairway 12V automative accessory outlets were metal and USB chargers were mostly junk, or phones had proprietary chargers. Jump forward to present day and USB Q.C. 3.0 will do just about everything you want and 12V accessory outlets are going away. I ordered a bunch of parts and started on a redesign.

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I built a whole new panel and routed keyholes on the back for mounting. The assembly is all set up for quick upgrades in the future. The keyholes allow the panel to be removed from the wall without tools and the spade connectors allow for a new accessory socket to also be installed without tools.

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The outlets are on a power switch so we can eliminate unwanted power draws or simply minimize the amount of devices that are under power when we are away. The modular design also allowed me to test everything in my shop before installing at the cabin.

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The installation was simple. As devices move from USB 3.0 toward USB C it is now super easy to upgrade the charging station by unplugging and popping out a 12V accessory socket and putting in a USB C charging socket (when the time comes).

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And one more thing. The battery bank. I never got around to running a test. The test will be simple and is now planned for summer 2020. I will fully charge and equalize the batteries before running an air conditioner until 100 Ah have been used (as recorded by the Victron battery monitor). Specific gravity will be recorded after equalizing and after using 100 Ah and will allow me to calculate the remaining real-work capacity in the battery bank.

 

Fall & Rise 2019

10.20.2019

It’s been a while. I have been staying many more nights at the Cabin than in previous years. Oddly enough, it is work related. I was happily employed at Shopko, which as you may have heard is no longer in business. My departure from Shopko was timed just right; though I did not want to leave. Perhaps a little back story is in store (or skip ahead to the pretty Fall photo).

When I began in November 2017 at Shopko I was taking five years of Walgreens pharmacist experience with me and searching out a position that would allow me more time with my wife and kiddos while allowing a bit more professional growth. Acclimating was a bit rough but after two months I had the hang of things – though it would be a stretch to say that things were going smoothly. Prescription counts were in decline – for the last several years actually. Walgreens came to town 6 years previous and was right across the street. Luckily, things were on the up and up. The decline in volume stopped. Yup… the downward trend had ended! The staff was a step up from what I was used to and the pharmacist manager that helped recruit me to my new position had a knack for finding talent; I’m not sure how, but we had some talented techs and more were added. And then things took a turn: store closings downstate.

And this is the part where I started my research. Each week we got updates on pharmacy financials for our store and our district. Each abbreviation and acronym was looked up. I started with simple definitions and then began to ask what each meant. Things looked good. Next I asked the key question: why were these specific metrics used? And then I figured it out. The financial information being shared was only part of the equation. The company focussed on earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) – which skips out on a bunch of expenses and does an excellent job of obscuring whether a company is profitable or not. Hang with me, just one more level deeper and I’ll get back to cabin happenings…

So why did Shopko cancel 401K match in January 2018? Why were stores closing? Something stunk. I dived in to the company’s history and began to make sense of what was going on. Shopko was purchased in 2005 for $877 million by Sun Capital, a Private Equity Firm. Immediately after acquisition, all the physical buildings were sold to Spirit Realty. By doing this Sun Capital made $815.3 million by selling the stores, which Shopko now had to rent from Spirit Realty (rent is not reported in EBITDA). Sun Capital purchased Pamida and rebranded these as Shopko Hometown. Shopko stores were up to 358 in count and Shopko looked like a successful midwestern company being modernized for the future. Except Sun Capital has a history of wringing money out of acquisitions and then trying to sell them off or declare bankruptcy.

Sun Capital paid itself dividends from Shopko all the while in the background bills were going unpaid and rental fees for the buildings were an afterthought. The stores were falling into decay. Paint was falling off the outside. Light bulbs that burned out were not replaced. Three bathroom stalls but only one has a working latch. The inside and outside looked neglected. Neither Sun Capital or Spirit Realty wanted to spend any money on the buildings. And then on December 6, 2018 I got word that 69 pharmacies were being sold. The public found out two days later. The company that was built with pharmacy as the cornerstone was selling out. My store was not affected, but it was clear this was the beginning of an avalanche.

I made a phone call and had a job offer before I got off the phone. On January 3, 2019 I began as a Meijer Pharmacist. The store I work at ends up being closer to the cabin than my house. Depending on my schedule I’ll overnight at the cabin to save some drive time or use the evening hours to hunt. Meijer is also a progressive and fiercely competitive company. Unlike previous employers, the company culture is exceptional and the drive to evolve and embrace new technology is refreshing.

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That was a lot of words to simply say that I changed jobs and now spend more time at the cabin.

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Fall is here. All the glory of summer that was spread out over several months is suddenly compressed in to a small handful of days with warm sun and cool crisp nights. At the house, Sarah and I have been busy with harvesting and canning. I don’t have a full list of everything but the honey harvest this year should be close to 8 gallons when finished and Sarah has made the following canned goods so far:

  • plum jelly
  • raspberry jam
  • canned whole plums
  • dill pickles
  • bread and butter pickles
  • bread and butter summer squash pickles
  • wild blueberry jam
  • tomatoes sauce
  • canned crushed tomatoes
  • wild grape jelly
  • canned banana & jalapeño  pepper rings
  • sun dried tomatoes preserved in oil
  • dehydrated giant puffball
  • tomatillo jam
  • applesauce
  • pickled reddish seed pods
  • frozen broccoli
  • frozen corn
  • frozen green beens
  • frozen shredded summer squash
  • dehydrated wild leak (from Spring)
  • salsa (still an abundance from last year)
  • suar kraut

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The Ol’ Man and I teamed up to put up a stand on the center food plot. Believe or not, this food plot has been well maintained but never hunted on. A few clever designs came out of the collaborate R&D between the Ol’ Man and I. The ladder is a section from an aluminum extension ladder – apparently fairly easy to acquire second hand (for $30). We still have one more section to use too! The Ol’ Man built the platform while I built the stand in the wood shop. The skin is dryer felt and the roof can be put in place for snow or bad weather and then stored at a 45° angle when not in use. With the use of a roof the inside is nicely blacked out; it’s much easier to hide against a dark background than a horizon.

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The floor was screwed in and construction adhesive was used to prevent the possibility of any future creeks as the stand ages. Having a fully outfitted fine woodworking shop available to construct the stand allowed me to build a perfectly square stand with exceptionally accurate miters onto X-bracing. On the front of the stand there is a place to sweep out debris and mud as well as a foot rest.

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At the Cabin the Ol’ Man and I have been working on several projects. The one we just wrapped up was the shooting range. It’s been in the works for a bit and we finally had a break through. Targets are finally up and broken in. The range now has steel targets at 10, 20, 50, and 100 yards with a spot for paper targets at 200 yards. With targets always ready to shoot it’s effortless to grab a gun and go shoot. For long range rifle work the shooting bench can be rolled into position in a few seconds. Rain? No problem; just open the garage door and shoot from shelter off the bench or freehand.

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I chose 1/2″ AR500 steel for the gongs and heavy 1/4″ high carbon steel chain with stainless steel claps. The post is a treated 4×6 with a simple deck board lag bolted on top. The whole set up uses parts that are easy to repair or replace. After trying it out I realized one thing that could be better – the gongs don’t sing that loudly when struck. I may need to pick up some thinner plate for pistol calibers so we get that lovely song when a pistol round hits its mark.

The locals have been noticing the increasing numbers of a certain species of K-9 and now the numbers are high enough that the out-of-towners are taking note. We haven’t seen bear hunters run dogs in our area for a few years. The other night while in the stand I heard a pack sound off after making a kill. They were very close. I made a recording on my phone and had a few others see what they thought. So far it has been unanimous. It was not coyotes! A few nights later the neighbor saw two wolves saunter through their yard. Generally speaking, I think wolves are fascinating and misunderstood. But at the same time, if the odds of meeting one in the woods continues to increase I prefer to be prepared for a confrontation.

A while back I picked up a Smith and Wesson M&P 40 from a coworker. The price was too good to pass up. He justified it as a necessary inventory reduction that would allow him further acquisitions… something about his better half placing a limit on the size of his collection. I tossed it in the gun vault and labeled it a someday gun. With my experience with hand guns and a little homework I put together a formula for a carry gun for out and about in the woods. I had a Vortex Venom 3MOA reflex site in the parts bin and added a weapon light. I can efficiently identify and aim in the woods in the dark – which is usually where I am when searching for or field dressing a deer.

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Once I dug the gun out I remembered why I buried it in the back. The trigger is garbage. The stock trigger (shown below) has a long take up, followed by a gritty pull and sloppy break. Reset is also gritty and long.

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I couldn’t resist adding an Apex Tactical S&W M&P forward set sear & trigger kit. The reviews were not making stuff up: the upgraded trigger is just about perfect. Short take up, crisp break, short reset, 4.5 lb trigger pull. Rigid machined aluminum instead of flexible plastic. The gun is enjoyable to shoot now. Best of all, the gun’s accuracy is now more accessible with the reflex site and enhanced trigger.

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I plan on making many more trips to the cabin in the coming months. After more than a few reminders from the Ol’ Man I finally ordered a second set of wheels for the truck. I’ll run a very aggressive snow tire this winter. The 2007 Honda Civic was excellent with snow tires on the front only. I’m looking forward to snow tires at all four corners and four wheel drive this winter (If you look closely, you’ll notice this is the RST with a 2″ lift to match the ride-height of the Trail Boss).

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That’s a quick update for now. Happy Fall.

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Little Refinements

1.12.2019 – Saturday

The cabin is a continuing work in progress. This past year there were several upgrades and refinements. The first began late Monday evening on December 4, 2017. The road was still torn up from logging and impassable without a 4×4. The Honda Civic simply wasn’t up to the task. The Ol’ man picked me up in the Honda Pioneer SxS and hauled me and my gear to the cabin. By the time I finally made it to the cabin it was 11:00pm.

The next morning my alarm sounded and by 7:10am I had a nice view of a food plot. It was a cold and windy day. In my journal I noted that it hit 22°F and wind gusts approached 45mph with sustained wind hanging right around 18mph. The morning hunt was not successful. When 9:30am rolled around I was ready to head in. Back at the cabin a project awaited. I headed to the basement and took inventory of my supplies and tools before starting. Installing the stair edging was a straightforward task. The metal chop saw made short work of the stair edging and an angle grinder with cut-off wheel was used for some of the more complex cuts. The installation went well. Immediately upon completion, the Ol’ man and I tested out the steps and were pleased with the results. The dark stair treads were no longer difficult to navigate. No more sharp edge. The metallic edging made each tread visually well defined and comfortable when traversing barefoot. With wet shoes, there was now suitable grip to prevent a catastrophic misstep.

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The next upgrade comes via Ask This Old House. It’s probably not too surprising that Ask TOH and This Old House are two shows that I enjoy. While watching one night they showcased a nifty tool for those of us who burn wood and require kindling as a fire starter. A quick search on the internet and I found it! After briefly contemplating which model to buy, I ordered The Original Kindling Cracker from Northern Tool & Equipment. This was late April 2018 and in the wood shop I had just added a lathe to my collection. If you recall, I have no shortage of basswood firewood from the windstorm of 2017. A quick walk to the woodshed was all that was required for some material. In short order I had tested out my lathe and made up a small stool for the Kindling Cracker to mount to.

The Kindling Cracker works lovely. When we run low on kindling it takes only a few minutes to make more. It actually is easy and safe to use. In an armload of firewood there are usually one or two knot free pieces; these are the best kind for splitting into kindling. A tap or two with a 3lb hammer is all it takes. Keep on splitting until the kindling is appropriately sized. The basswood base I built is light-weight and sturdy. The wood is at just the right height for splitting without bending over, and unlike mounting it to a block of wood, the unit is light easy to move around. The Ol’ man is in love with it. My kiddos are also interested and my oldest two cracked a few pieces with the help of an adult.

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Up next, the cabin’s Roman shades. Mom made sure to install high quality shades in every window suitable. The shades insulate and save energy when we are not at the cabin. Upon arrival we raise the shades, and when we depart they are lowered. While the shades fulfill their purpose to a high degree of satisfaction, the experience of raising and lowering had been fairly unpleasant. The old mechanisms were plastic and the mounting bracket was poorly constructed. With normal use, a few were broken, bent, or functioned so poorly that in order to open and close the shades a short training course was required from a senior shade operator.

After a little planning and some measuring, I drew up a plan and ordered some parts. The list was fairly short and the materials were less than $20 overall. The plastic mounting bracket was removed and appropriately placed in the trash. The brackets I built were made from soft maple, finished with a clear varnish, and featured upgraded hardware. Small screw eyes guided the string and a much higher quality cord catch was used. After the installation, the shades raised and lowered smoothly with minimal effort and the requirement of a training course in roman shade operations was removed. The Ol’ man approved heartily.

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Sometimes it’s the little things that make life better. I get great satisfaction from solving problems and making simple tasks more enjoyable.

 

 

Bunks in the Basement

1.7.2019 – Monday

This post is a long time coming. I’ve been working on making the basement into a kiddo storage facility… err… sleeping area. We’ve had a pool table, dart board, foosball table, and TV downstairs in the game room for a while now. What we have been lacking is sleeping accommodations for the three kiddos that my wife and I take everywhere. We have William (6), Charlotte (5) and Felix (almost 2) and having two adults share two twin beds with three kiddos is just not the best way to build fond memories of the cabin. To achieve the goal of happy sleeping children and having a bed all to myself there was a daunting checklist of items to satisfy…

  • egress door to satisfy safety codes
  • beds for three
  • mattresses + linens
  • smoke alarms in the basement
  • fire extinguishers
  • night lights

I decided to start with the egress door. The current door was treated plywood and two by fours. And it was screwed shut. The extra step of finding a cordless drill and bit while attempting a hasty escape was not quite appropriate for small children. Fall 2017 saw three new additions to my wood shop: Festool Domino XL, CT26 Vac, and ETS-150EC sander. This was the perfect test project to familiarize myself with these new tools.

The first step was to build the frame for the opening. Next the door would be built to fit. The Domino XL makes mortises for loose tenons. The frame is held together with large 14mm x 75mm beech tenons. The door is made with an outside frame and panel and an inside frame and panel with foam insulation sandwiched in between the two panels.

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The door frame is almost 6″ deep and has a sill encompassing the opening with a thick foam D-seal making a nearly airtight seal when the door is closed. The two stainless steel screws are overkill. They are 4-1/2″ long and provide extra strength, because why not?

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My two older kiddos are very proficient with deadbolts and influenced the design of this door. I’ve been locked out of my own house on several occasions thanks to the deadbolts on our doors. Apparently this is funny. I disagree. Anyway, it made sense to use a deadbolt as a latch for the door. Because the door is nearly 3-1/2″ thick a deadbolt extension kit was ordered and I rekeyed the lock to match the cabin door locks removing the need for an extra key. The door handle is wrought iron and was purchased at a nearby garden center. The mating deadbolt striker plate was secured to the structure using 3″ stainless screws during final installation.

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The last step before installation was to precut interior trim to match the cabin aesthetic and prepare some exterior trim from treated lumber that would be cut to fit during installation. The install went smoothly and was finished on Nov 18, 2017. I used sturdy 3″ stainless steel screws for the entirety of the installation and sealed everything with the same caulk used to seal the cracks between logs on the rest of the cabin (it’s some durable stuff). The bare pine, uncovered when the old door was removed, was later painted grey.

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The finished installation is clean. It matches the rough shiplap siding nicely and the wrought iron handle strikes the wood rack, protecting the door from damage. In front of the egress is a small tub that makes a good step for a small child. Both older kiddos were asked to open and exit the door without any prior training or demonstration and succeeded without any issue.

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On to the bed next. I started in Late November and finished in early January 2018. I started with some gorgeous kiln dried quarter sawn 8/4 white ash sawn from the home forty. The wood was a pleasure to work with. I really had to hunt to find wood that wasn’t clear of knots and defects.

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Once again, this project relied heavily on the Festool Domino XL.

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The project went smoothly but took a bit of time. There were many measurements that were double checked along the way. Designing on the fly with this many measurements was mentally taxing. When the bed was assembled in the basement we had about 1″ of clearance between the walls.

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Can you find my apprentice mark? I cut a headboard sill  too short and spliced it back together with a decorative touch. Who says you can’t cut a board longer? If you are scratching your head at how that could possibly be a sturdy joint see the second photo. It’s reinforced with three dominos (loose tenons).

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Part of the difficulty in designing the bed was figuring out how to make it disassemble and reassemble. It’s a fairly complex set of operations. Have a look.

Just fits! I… er… planned it that way 🙂

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I supplied the mattresses and waterproof mattress covers. The mattresses are Linenspa 8″ Memory foam and innerspring hybrid mattresses. They arrived in a vacuum sealed bag. Once the bag is punctured watch out, they expand! At $84 a mattress they will get used maybe 30 times a year and are just as good as the $400 pillow-top mattresses on the kiddos’ bunk beds at home. My mom provided sheets, pillow cases, and comforter, and even a quilt for each kiddo (not pictured).

One later modification was to bolt the ladder to the guard rail (thanks Wood Whisperer Thread Taps). I learned the hard way that a good yank with the right hand on the upper guard rail will torque the support rail something fierce and put too much stress on the domino connector joinery system. No permanent damage was done in uncovering this flaw.

When it comes to fire safety there are two products I endorse without reservation: Nest Protect smoke alarms and Ansul fire extinguishers. They are each best in class products. I will only ever buy fire extinguishers with all-metal parts and smoke alarms with the ability to detect BOTH fast-flaming fires AND smoldering fires coupled with carbon monoxide detection. The Nest smoke alarms are pricey but with the ability to connect over the internet to a smart phone, remind you when to replace batteries, run system checks monthly, detect fire via combination ionization and photoelectric sensors, and wirelessly interconnect (even between buildings) I can’t find a better device.

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And finally, a night light. A double light switch at the bottom of the stairs was added. One switch controls a 12VDC 400 lumen LED bulb in front of the egress door and the other controls a 12VDC LED path light that has been adapted as a night light. The night light is temporarily mounted in the ceiling. Another suitable nightlight I just discovered is 12V accessory lighting for vehicles. There is a huge selection of brightnesses and colors available.

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I’ve slept in the basement and it’s really comfortable! The flicker from the propane fire dances on the opposite side of the room. The 12V night light casts a gentle warmth along the side of the pool table. The mattress is soft and the heavy blankets are cool and feel secure. The glass block windows along the top of the wall ripple like water in the moonlight. In the morning the sun slowly filters in and floods the basement in the warm optimism of a winter morning. It’s no wonder the kiddos love spending the night… or it could just be because we make big breakfasts.

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Cabin WiFi is here

1.5.2019 – Saturday

Since the very beginning the Ol’ man and I have dreamed of ways to add surveillance to the offgridcabin. The easiest, and first method we utilized, was to use trail cameras. Initially this system relied on cameras with a visible flash. This provided a clear photo night or day but wasn’t very covert in the low-light hours. Then invisible flash cameras hit the market and could take photos undetected. Too bad most of the black-flash cameras yielded photos that were grainy, over/under-exposed, and low resolution. The first camera to produce useful black-flash photos (with a fast trigger speed) was the Reconyx Hyperfine HC600 and we started using it shortly after its introduction in 2011. Look it up; it was at least 5 years ahead of the competition and is highly regarded for night-time image quality. Initially, the HC600 retailed around $550 for a single camera. Today I added 5 Blink XT cameras to the cabin for a total cost of $299. These cameras rely on a WiFi connection to function – that was also added today. Poor reception at the offgridcabin meant a cellular booster was also needed.

Here follows the cellular booster / wifi hotspot / wireless surveillance installation. The total project cost just under $1000 and the only recurring fee is for the Verizon Jetpack® MiFi® 8800L, which costs less than $15/month for 1GB of data.

I have used Blink cameras at my house for nearly 2 years and was an early adopter. The hardware is well designed and only recently has the software caught up with what the hardware is capable of. I’ve enjoyed the product and have eight cameras at my house and use Life360 and IFTTT on my iPhone 8 to automatically arm and disarm the cameras. First person home disarms the system, last one to leave arms it. It works really well. For now, the cabin cameras will be manually armed and disarmed. The one weakness of Blink is that the cameras require a reliable internet connection at all times in order to function properly. Solving that problem is where most of the budget was spent on this project.

The first step was to find a cellular booster that would function off of 12VDC. The Surecall Fusion4Home 3.0 met my specifications. Their customer support was responsive to my questions about power-supply requirements, and detailed specifications were listed for each booster model online. After that, the next step was to find a cellular hotspot. I have AT&T for my phones and share an unlimited plan with my parents. Unfortunately AT&T was a dead end on two fronts. Their best hotspot has a tendency to overheat and the workaround for continuous use is to plug it in to USB power and remove the battery – not good signs when I need reliability. I can’t walk over and simply restart the hotspot when it goes funny. The second shortfall was the requirement for a separate data plan in addition to a monthly line charge… $50/month total for the smallest data plan of 3GB. The only other option was Verizon. Feeling defeated I investigated and was beyond surprised that I could get 1GB data for less than $15/month after all fees and taxes. Holy wah! With all the pieces on the board I poured over fine print for a few days and then placed some orders.

As the kit began to arrive my thoughts moved on to how the installation would look. In the shop I was wrapping up the Sobotta River Table and had some free space on the workbench. A wide hickory board and two ash batons made the perfect mounting panel. Cords were securely mounted onto reverse of the board, and keyholes routed into the batons, which made for a fast and efficient mounting solution. On the front of the board I used Festool 5mm dominos painted black to cradle the Blink camera hub and Verizon MiFi hotspot. An 12V accessory/USB outlet was mounted to provide power to the three units. I’ve noticed that some of the older USB 12V chargers, when in use, cause violent fluctuations in the 12V power supply of the cabin and cause lights to flicker and pulsate. Newer chargers labeled as fast chargers do not cause this. In order for any device in the cabin to be in continuous operation (including this accessory/USB outlet) is has to have some sort of overload protection built in.

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Once the mounting board was built and all the components were tested it was time to head to the cabin for the installation. The mounting board was hung on the wall with two screws and then power was supplied from the 12VDC fuse block left of the breaker panel. That was the easy part. The hard part was running the coaxial cable across the basement and out the far wall to the TV antenna pole. An 18″ drill bit was needed and even then it was barely long enough to span the thickness of the sill.

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The yagi antenna was mounted up as high as was reasonable and aimed directly at the AT&T tower with the strongest signal. This also happened to be ideal for Verizon as well. The correct aim was very important. Trial and error revealed that the yagi is very fussy about being aimed directly at the tower. Aim wrong and the booster is essentially useless. Speed tests revealed that a reliable 5+ mb/s was achieved for both Verizon and AT&T. Not bad! In my testing 2mb/s was the minimum for the Blink cameras to work reliability.

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The rest of the installation was easy. Walk around and find a place for each of the five Blink XT cameras. Each camera mounted easily and the Ol’ man and I had fun playing with live mode and arming and disarming the system.

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The Blink XT is perfect for the offgridcabin. Each camera is wireless and uses 2x AA energizer lithium batteries. With normal use each set of batteries should last 15 to 18 months (in my experience) before needing to be replaced. Rechargeable batteries are not recommended because the camera cannot accurately determine low-battery status on NiMH batteries (LiFeS2 has 1.8V open current voltage, and NiMH is about 1.25V). Also, LiFeS2 batteries like Energizer Ultimate Lithium AA’s have about 6.3 Wh while NiMH like envelop AA’s have about 2.5 Wh capacity. In other words, the lithium AA’s last 2.5x longer than a high quality NiHM AA. Whatever battery is used, the cameras have excellent endurance and are very easy to install and to relocate.

The Sync module is also very low power. I haven’t measured the total energy use of the booster, sync module, and MiFi hotspot…yet (I have a clamp meter). Prior to installation I used a 12V/2amp power supply to test the components and it worked without issue, implying that total power consumption is less than 24 watts.

Each camera has a built in thermometer and programmable temperature alerts. One camera is in the cabin and set to send alerts if the temperature drops too low. In the event of a failure in one of our propane heaters we can respond before the pipes freeze. The Ol’ man is also interested in the weather. How much snow did the cabin get? No need to wait until a neighbor can check and text back – check the cameras. Will the rain turn to ice? – check the temperature on one of the outdoor cameras.

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Blink XT features:

  • HD Video (1280×720 @ 15fps)
    • quality settings (saver, best, enhanced)
    • options to stop clip early if motion stops
    • retrigger time (10 to 60s)
    • clip length (5 to 60s)
  • Motion Sensors
    • programable sensitivity (1 to 9)
    • 25 zones that can be active or inactivated
  • Built-in Microphone
  • Infrared Night Vision
    • illuminator has three modes (low, med, high)
    • illuminator can be set to off, on, auto
  • Temperature Sensor
    • hi/lo alerts range from 40 to 90°F
    • records to temperatures well below 0°F
    • can be manually calibrated

A 30 second clip on best quality is less than 2.5MB. With the tiny 1GB/month data plan Blink should be able to upload about 200 minutes of video each month, or about 600 clips 20 seconds long (20 clips per day).

UPDATE (1.6.2019)

Deer. Everywhere. Here are two videos captured after we departed the cabin yesterday. They don’t look too spectacular when viewed on a 5K computer display. However, pulling up a live feed on an iPhone at any time, any where is pretty cool – and it looks a lot better on a smaller screen.

 

The active zones have been updated on the porch camera. I’m hoping that this reduces the number of videos trigged by passing deer yet still records if anyone gets curious and decides to walk up on the porch and take a look.

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This is the home screen for the Blink App. If a camera is offline the thumbnail will be greyed out. Quickly opening the app and seeing that the thumbnails are normal and the little camera icon is connected with a green line to the cloud let us know everything is operating normally.

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This post was not sponsored. I can say whatever I want 🙂

 

The Woods is Healing

12.23.2018 – Sunday

I have been busy. So busy. There was this thing and this other thing and next thing I know it’s been over a year since I’ve posted an update. Of things: I departed Walgreens and started at Shopko Pharmacy. All the usual things about changing jobs could be said, but oh, here we go again. I’m departing Shopko Pharmacy (mine wasn’t one of the 69 whose files were sold and closed). I will now become a Meijer Pharmacist. They are new up here and I’m looking forward to starting.

My family is well. I have been industrious in my hobbies and we continue to take an abundance of camping trips and enjoy the outdoors of Upper Michigan. Perhaps I’ll get off track and post about some of the woodworking I’ve been doing. With wit and humor I often say I sell drugs to support my hobbies. No plans to do fine woodworking as a profession as of yet.

Last time I sat at my desk and typed out a post it was less than upbeat. I was optimistic but ultimately a bit defeated about the state of the forest. After the clean up I decided it was time for a new chainsaw. The Husqvarna 576XP was a good choice and has served me well this past year. After cutting 15 cord of hard maple here at home and slabbing several large oak logs in Wisconsin, it has proven to be a fine machine. The 42″ Panther Pro II Alaskan mill and Pferd Chain Sharp CS-X file have been fantastic additions as well. Milling logs is pretty simple – so long as you keep an eye on safety and keep up on machine maintenance.

  • Sharpen often
  • Keep the bar oiler full, and sprocket well greased
  • Run a slightly richer 40:1 fuel:oil mixture
  • Use Husqvarna Pro 2-cycle oil
  • Premium gasoline / no ethanol only
  • Run 80-90% throttle and watch for signs of a dirty air cleaner
  • find someone to help! Logs are heavy
  • Run a 10° rip chain

The new saw and the Alaskan mill were tested at the cabin on a fallen maple tree with a sizable burl. Since this log, I’ve milled oak logs up to 38″ diameter and I continue to be pleased with the performance of my equipment.

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We found Shaggy Mane mushrooms this year and learned how not to cook them, and to avoid picking any mushroom growing in a sandy/gravely area – unless the texture of sand and grit is tolerable to you.

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The clean up continued and finished up in early winter 2017. The Ol’ man made friends with the processor and skidder operator and furnished them with the occasional venison product or fermented beverage at the end of their work day. Dad’s hospitality was appreciated and our road from gate to cabin was left in a fine state.

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The machines of modern forestry are impressive, especially compared to our Honda Pioneer 1000 SxS.

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When winter arrived at the end of 2017 the logging was finished. If you look closely you’ll see the cabin off in the distance. I can still see the shadows of the tall poplar trees in my mind.

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Winter arrived and departed. With every trip to the cabin I would take a load of wood home. A few trees that had fallen near the boundary where our land borders state land were processed into logs and left in piles for us. Over summer, an honest three cord was hauled out and stacked under the woodshed roof at home.

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The leaks came in thick this year. We should be stocked for the next 12 months! The daughter loves to forage.

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The little guy loves snakes!

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One year later, the clear cut is thick with six foot tall big toothed aspen saplings. In another year or two there will an impressive 12 foot high hedge a forty deep between the  cabin and the nearest through road.

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The Oldest is up to something.

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The Mullen was abundant, springing up along with the big toothed aspen in the clear cut. It should make fine tea once the flowers have dried out.

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The forest is full of new life. The woods is healing.

 

 

 

Straight Line Wind

8.2.2017 – Wednesday

I’m back at the cabin and having a look around. It’s different now. Fewer trees for sure. I remember first walking the land and seeing the towering Balsam standing like sentinels over the lowlands. Basswood reached above the crowns of the maple trees on the high ground. Poplar trees stood shoulder to shoulder along the two-rut road leading to the cabin. Those trees are absent. Their bones litter the forest floor as reminders of what the forest used to be.

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On July 6, at about 8pm EST, a powerful storm moved through. It moved swiftly over the cabin and created powerful strait line winds. These jest of wind were irregular but uniformly oriented. While no-one was at the cabin at the time of the storm, wind speed was projected to reach 90 mph. Patches of forest were leveled and trees that shouldn’t have ben felled by wind were tore out root and stem.  Basswood trees snapped off 30 feet up as the crowns were forced toward horizontal. The point of failure on some maples was over a foot thick and over 20 feet off the ground.

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I arrived on Monday, after work. The storm passed through in the twilight hours on Thursday. The County had just opened up the main graveled road. The Ol’ man had warned me to take the long way around because the road was impassible by vehicle. While grateful for his wisdom I ignored his advice. There were heavy equipment tracks on the roadway from what looked like a large front end loader. Word was passed to me that the storm hit hardest on the other end of the graveled road. I figured they would start at that end of the road (the end of the road closest to the County garage). Seeing tracks at the North end was a sign that the road might be open again. I was also prepared. I had two Husqvarna 61 chainsaws freshly tuned up with just-sharpened chains. Over the past three years I’ve cut about 40 cord of firewood and become quite proficient with my saws and with my sharpening techniques. One saw would have done they job but there was room for two in the trunk of my 2007 Honda Civic.

As I approached the area hit hardest by the wind storm I slowed my pace. The 3 inches of ground clearance that my economy car yielded didn’t inspire enough confidence to drive swiftly as limbs and leaves began to litter the roadway. I came to an intersection and met a County truck. It was a large and fairly new Ford F-250 crew cab. I got the good news that the road was now open. Along with the good news I also got, “are you crazy driving that through here?” Not wishing to explain the merits of driving an automobile renowned for reliability, efficiency, and low maintenance costs I instead stated that I had two chainsaws and was about to get to work opening up the road to my Cabin. As I drove off I put on my Lee Vally cap and felt a little more rugged. When I reached as far as I could drive up the two rut road I changed out of my dress pants, collared shirt, and dress shoes. Now appropriately dressed in tattered blue jeans, steel toe work boots, and a stained T-shirt I prepared my saws. I fueled up, greased the bar sprocket, and filled up the oiler. I strapped on my professional kevlar chaps and chainsaw helmet. While I may be saving money with my choice in automobile I spare no expense on safety equipment. An injury would really wreck my day and it’s about a half mile walk from car to cabin at this point. Furthermore, emergency care in these parts isn’t, well, all that good frankly.

My first saw was a bit lethargic and after sitting for a year the carburetor was out of adjustment. I switched to my other saw and enjoyed quick cutting. Most of the trees in this spot were poplar, with a basswood here or there. The 3/8” chain with rakers filed just a bit deeper than the recommended 25 thousandths was the perfect combination for this job. Despite the success I was having the number of trees that lay before me was daunting. After three hours of only cutting I made it to the gate before walking back to the car to change. Wind fallen trees are a bit more than a nuisance and each one would easily cause an injury requiring a change in plans and I painful drive to the emergency room. The primary issue is that the trees were upset from their natural state. The wood is under stress and can snap violently at any point in the cut. The tops are also unsettled and can roll one way or the other as the trunk is cut. Of the nearly 40 trees cut tonight I had to carefully examine each one from root to crown and look for potential hazards.

Unscathed and a bit dehydrated I trudged back to my car to change and pack in to the cabin. The walk was hot and treacherous. I packed light but the further along I got the more I thought I could have packed lighter. Eventually I arrived. I rested up and replaced the water and calories that I spent earlier. Astounded with the damage of the storm I was eager to see what the rest of our land looked like. The ‘not-knowing’ was fueling my curiosity and I set out on foot to walk our trails. The walk usually takes about 15 minutes but this time took almost 2 hours. I even took a short video because after a while all the photos start to look the same.

Looking down the road from my parking spot.

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I was sweaty and tired after 2.5 tanks of gas.

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Setting out for the cabin I walked over my cuttings.

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Some trees were uprooted, some broke off up high, and others like this one shattered at their strongest point.

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Five poplar trees in a mess at the gate. A 6th is to my right just barely out of frame of the fisheye lens.

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The gate once again survived in tact.

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Heading away from the gate toward camp I came across one more large tree down and a few limbs. It didn’t look too bad… yet.

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Then I started hopping over trees.

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And more trees…

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Over some, under others.

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The road turned into the wind and 5 or 6 trees were uprooted right alongside the road.

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After setting foot on our property I crossed over a single basswood on the way to the cabin.

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TV reception didn’t look too good. I climbed up on the roof and straighten and repositioned the antenna after my walk.

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The cabin was just out of reach. Phew.

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On my walk down the slope on our trails I saw a few snapped spruce. The beetles did a number on the trees and the wind finished off the remaining trees.

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There was a forest here… the large food plot is straight ahead, through about 10 or more trees. Of coarse they are all matted down in a cluster.

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I made it to the plot. Looking back toward the hill now.

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Plot looks nice at least. Any grouse and deer that weren’t blown away or crushed should have food.

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A jet plowed through the center of our lowland. You can clearly see the direction of the wind.

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I crossed the plot and headed up the trail to the 6×6 stand.

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I snaked around through the woods and stepped back up on the trail and looked back the way I came.

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The stand survived! The clear cut along out Eastern border wasn’t to blame for the wind but it didn’t do any favors for our forest.

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The back trail was thinned by GMO a few years before we bought the camp.  Those trees folded right over across the trail. They are small and shouldn’t be too bad to clean up, but there are a lot of them!

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This view (1), or path, if able to walk would lead you straight across the center food plot and into the center of the pond. See the satellite image I annotated below for reference.

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(2) At the other end of the path, on the bank of the pond looking back.

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Back at the cabin I called the Ol’ man on my iPhone, setting it on the bed and using my bluetooth headset to keep the phone positioned in a location of good reception. Dad asked how they cutting went. Funny… I never said anything about that. In fact, I was advised not to start cutting until he arrived tomorrow morning. Bob, from the neighboring camp called Dad and said something along the lines of, “Some one cut a shitload of trees and made it all the way to your gate! Does you kid drive a Honda Civic?” So that’s how Dad knew what I was up to… I headed back out to the car after Bob stopped cutting, drove up to the gate and then cut for an hour around the gate.

Nightfall halted my efforts. I trekked back with my chainsaw gear this time along with one of my saws.  The next morning I got an early start.  Dad texted when he was 30 minutes out. I made it to the gate around 8am and started hiking out the trail. When I met Dad he had just got the tractor unloaded. The Ol’ man arrived around 8am EST. He appeared to have the same eagerness to open up the road that I did. Too bad he didn’t have steel toe boots though. After discussing the merits of protective gear he dropped a tree on his foot and limped about for a bit. All his toes on one foot except for the smallest toe was purple, and the front third of his foot was discoloring. He iced for a bit while I continued on with the tractor. After icing for a while he pulled the truck up to the gate and we headed up the cabin road cutting and setting the logs and tops aside with the tractor. I suppose we would have been a bit more productive had the Ol’ man not stopped to ice his foot 4 or 5 times today, but overall it went pretty well. Good thing we discussed safety gear before cutting… I suppose after this post is finished I should give him a call and see if he bought a pair of steel toe boots. Now that it’s a few weeks since the storm it’s worth mentioning that the foot was only bruised… same as his pride. Luckily both healed, leaving no lasting damage.

Rudy has also arrived this morning. His camp is the next one up from ours. He started cutting toward his camp but then broke the handle off his saw. In other words, he got it pinched in a tree and tried to pull it out. Both my saws are over 30 years old and both have their original handles. There is value in having two saws (or a separate bar and chain at the least). It guarantees that if a saw gets pinched you can free it up without damage. In this case, Rudy had to call it a day and pack up.

We made camp at 2pm EST. Not too bad. After a brief lunch break, our energy returned and we got back to work. Everything on the ground by the cabin was cleared and most of the leaners were taken down. All told, the tops of 7 trees were removed and 5 leaners were felled. A total of 13 trees fell down or were damaged to the point where removal was required within 200 feet of the cabin. By day’s end the lawn was clear and there was a lot of firewood to cut up. Eleven trees down and two to go.

We took care by the garage and used the tractor to remove logs and persuade trees to fall where we wanted.

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Bob stopped over to thank us for the work on the road. After demonstrating the versatility of a few choice words to describe the storm, work done, and work yet to do, he headed back out to the road to cut. Nice guy. Fairly hard working. After the yard was cleaned up we put in a pizza, some local sort with quality meat and a healthy quantity of fresh mozzarella cheese.

The next day I drove the two rut road and remembered what it used to look like.

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What’s next? The Ol’ man will continue to work on the trails and hopefully by the beginning of August we will have unfettered access to our stands (marking a milestone in the clean up, not the conclusion of it). The basswood will be cut over the next several years to make campfire wood and the maple will be cut in the next 18 months and either split and stacked for the cabin and maple sapping stove, or hauled out to my house for the outdoor wood burner. The lowlands will mostly be left alone. The poplar and balsam that were felled by the storm will be left as cover for whitetail deer and other animals. This is the way things go. Give and take. The lowlands were at an apex back in 2007. No longer! The ridge was thinned of basswood; good thing! had they not, many more maples would have been damaged from wind-felled basswood. The cabin was not damaged and the solar panels are still in place. Both elevated stands survived unscathed. A culvert on the cabin road was crushed by the processor that cut up wind felled trees as part of a salvage operation. Plans were already set to replace the culvert, but not until next year. The Ol’ man and I would also like to do another fly over in Spring 2018.

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Every unexpected event is an opportunity. And like an old timer up the road said standing by his truck parked at the end of the road to his cabin after the storm, “It’s bad, but at least the cabin is OK and I have my health.” I replied, “I like how you mentioned the cabin first.” He chuckled.

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