Spring Foraging

4.22.2021 – Thursday

Sarah, the kids, and I arrived late Thursday morning. We would be spending the night and leaving the next day. I worked the upcoming weekend this go around, so I had had a shorter work day on Wednesday, was off Thursday, and then would be going in to work Friday through the weekend. The only downside to a cabin trip was having to take both vehicles, since we had different destinations Friday.

At home I have already finished cutting, splitting, and piling wood for next winter. With that 23 ton task complete, I brought the wood splitter back to camp – a good middle point for sharing equipment between the Ol’man and me. I know, the splitter has wheels and a hitch… but those tiny wheels are only good for a sketchy 45mph and hydraulic wood splitters lack suspension. A better way is to use a hitch receiver mounted on the front of my trailer bed and a single ratchet strap. This way the trailer takes up the bumps and the splitter stays secure at any reasonable speed.

It was a gorgeous day. My youngest helped me prep a base for the next cutting. Right now there is 1000+ board feet of hard maple from the home forty headed to the mill. It needs a place to go once it’s cut, and building a base while a trailer of lumber sits waiting is no fun. With the great weather and a tractor on hand it was an ideal day to play in the dirt. Like the rest of the pile I started with a nearly level platform and added a vapor barrier underneath.

With plenty of daylight remaining we took a tour of the nearby forest roads and foraged. Our annual harvest of wild leek was quickly acquired and then we continued exploring, stopping several times to see what plants were beginning to emerge.

The small purple flower is Spring Beauty. It is responsible for the tiny edible tuber Sarah is holding – called a fairy potato by some. By counting the bumps on the tuber we estimated it was close to 16 years old. Marsh marigold (Cow slips) buds are edible (when pickled), as are newly emerging fiddle heads (ferns). We focused primarily on wild leek for our harvest, since the forest is rich with them and their flavor is quite strong, it doesn’t take long to harvest for a years worth of cooking.

The woods are so pretty this time of year. It’s more fun still because we have a knowledge of what a lot of the young plants will grow to become later in summer. The lack of biting insects and abundance of sun is also welcome.

Dinner was breakfast. Home made sourdough English muffins. Oh, and I found another bottle of Rum in the basement. Did I mention we stayed the night?

The two drain pipes added to the inlet and outlet side of the pond have kept it at a reasonable level this Spring.

We previously had stopped in for a quick night stay in early April, and it ended up being ‘Big Night.’ This is the night when amphibians return to mating grounds in abundance and it is the loudest night of the year in the swamps. The sound continues on other warm evenings over the next few weeks and we heard peepers (tree frogs) on this trip, but nothing will match the deafening sound of Big Night. Blue spotted salamanders were incredibly easy to find. One small pool had five in a small grouping about two feet across. We put every critter back where we found it after getting a closer look for science.

The food plots are a mixed bag this Spring. The middle plot with the partner archery stand (I have shot two here while accompanied by my oldest) is healthy clover.

The 6×6 stand overlooks grass! All of the cabbage and turnip based plants from last Fall are completely gone. We’ll reseed this Summer.

One of the Ol’man’s Spring projects has been brushing out the Western slope. I had to go back a few years to find a before photo, but there were several hundred small trees that had started after the woods was thinned of softwoods around the time the cabin was constructed. The wind storm in 2017 removed a few more trees and accelerated the growth of the underbrush. Now with the tree tops crowning out and filling the gaps in the canopy, hopefully we can maintain an open undergrowth.

This trip ended with an unceremonious return to work the next day: COVID vaccines and prescriptions. Here is looking forward to the next cabin trip.

Maple Flavored Aurora

3.13.2021 – Saturday

At 9am we rolled out. Cabin bound. At the cabin the Ol’man had a boil going. The sun was out. The temperature was rising. Soon gloves were off, then hats, and lastly jackets. The temperature rose to the mid 50’s °F. I checked out the upgrades for this year. 

First up is the adjustable draft unit. The set-up is simple and wicked effective at creating a rolling boil. The blower is mounted on an adjustable stand with a steel control box. Inside the box is a 110V AC to 12V DC transformer, a motor speed control dial, and an on/off switch. All these components are connected with simple spade connectors that allow for easy replacement of any component. The 3” fan is adapted to a 2.5” truck exhaust pipe with a 90· bend on the tip that aims the air up and directly into the wood from below.

When loading the stove, the blower is switched off, the flame settles, and the boil calms down. With a strong forced air draft from below the wood (Probably around 90 CFM after pushing air through a 5 foot 2.5” diameter pipe, which is 7.85 square inches down from the 9.42 square inches fan outlet, or 17% smaller) we had a very controlled and consistent boil. I highly recommend using some sort of controlled draft on a boiling stove. It makes all the difference and allows a much finer level of control.

With beautiful weather and nowhere to be, I got to study the boiling operation today. Here come the tips and tricks! 

Two pieces of brass were set in the bottom of the pan. One was 2” tall and the other 3” tall. When boiling we are trying to keep the level between the two. This is a shallower boil depth that we have done in the past and the steam rolling of the pan looks very promising. Our hourly boil rate in a 24” x 48” pan was just over 7 gallons per hour. 

The pre-heater pan, or dripper pan, is located over the coolest part of the large boiling pan. This location allowed for the fastest boil rate and allowed the most steam to escape. A weakness of our stove’s design is the short firebox. Because of the truncated firebox we can only achieve a strong evaporative boil over 60% of the surface of the pan. 

A 4-foot carpenter level is kept nearby and occasionally the stove is adjusted. As the frost leaves the ground this time of year the stove can fall out of level. A simple bottle jack and wood wedges make for a quick and easy way to level the pan from day to day, while keeping the heaviest part of the stove over the concrete slab off the front of the garage.

Every 20 minutes the stove is tended and three things are checked:

  • check the boil and depth in the pan
  • add sap and adjust the dripper pan if needed
  • check the firebox and add wood if needed

Between one check the Ol’man and I made a trip down below to a corner of the property that is mostly small scrub brush. Freezing nights and receding snow cover made for the perfect time of year to survey the site. Right now the plan is to add a second pond about 50 to 60 feet in diameter in this low area. There isn’t much for deer trails or cover, and the pond would add animal habit to the property. Hopefully more on this project in the future. Prior to bringing in an excavator only light site preparation is needed. A modest trail will be cut and leveled. The excavator will be able to clean and bury the small scrub brush without first cleaning the site.

With two four wheelers at camp now, the Ol’man and I each had our own ride! The Pioneer 1000-5 side by side is set up for sap collection so having two ATV’s to run around on was a luxury. Having driven both machines back to back a lot of changes happened in the 15 years between each ATV’s development. The Honda has a fully mechanical infinitely variable transmission with hi/lo and is the smoothest transmission ever developed for an ATV. The Suzuki’s transmission is bullet proof and small with hi/lo/super low and an auto-clutch 5-speed manual. The Suzuki also lacks effective front fender coverage; so I take it slow through the mud and puddles.

One of the four cedar duck houses I built this winter with the kiddos found its way to a low spot on the property. We now have two duck houses up on the forty.

The wind settled a bit in the later afternoon and suddenly the sap let loose. The kiddos set a tap each near the garage with the help of grandpa and each of their trees ran a gallon in about 3 hours! Sugar content dropped to 40:1 from 28:1 earlier this season. 

The Ol’man found an electric pump in his garage attic and put it in to use. Using a small toggle switch (left hand) the pump is turned on and off. To prevent back flow or siphoning there is an inline ball valve on the pump. Also in use are some quick-connect hose fittings. It’s a lot easier to swap hoses in the cold versus trying to twist on and off a standard connection. The gasket in this design also seals very well and increases the seal strength as pressure increases.

After the 3:30pm CST collection, three trash can were full and the overflow tank even had some. We anticipated that we had collected enough by this point to boil down for 7 to 8 gallons of syrup this year. 

Meanwhile in the off-grid cabin…

Last year’s syrup was being used up. My wife calibrated her candy thermometer and then started cooking down the syrup. At 22-24°F  above boiling point the syrup was removed from the stove and placed in an ice bath. Once at room temperature it was stirred and stirred and stirred. 

It began as a thick liquid that fought back against the stir with great tenacity. Then it got slightly easier before suddenly locking up. After 15 minutes more of stirring a sudden transformation occurred and in less than one minute it went from thick liquid to cream with the consistency of fudge.

Think maple flavored fudge, but in this case it’s pure maple syrup – amazing maple flavor but higher sugar than fudge. 

You should now be hungry (and maybe jealous). This is homemade bread (100% from scratch, no store-bought yeast) fresh from the oven with real butter and thick maple cream. 

After collection, with the shadows getting long, I took a drive around to check on the taps.

In less than an hour a pint was already in most bags.

Sap was still flowing as the sun set. 

Little dude got some quality outside time today!

At 8pm the last wood was added. In the darkness we could really see just how much heat that the stove is generating. This is not an infrared photo. That is how the stove door looks with a hot fire and a 3 second camera exposure in the dark. 

My folks stayed, but we headed out around 10pm EST. 

Our late departure was rewarded by sleeping kiddos and a surprise light show to the North. I asked Sarah if she saw those odd light streaks in the sky? With no towns in that direction, I pulled over and set up my camera and took a long 20 second exposure. It was exciting to see that first photo!

A bit further down the road we stopped once more for a better view. Holy wah! What a way to cap off the day!

And if you made it all the way to the bottom, check out a video of our day that I put together. I’m fairly new to video, but with the incredible performance of today’s phones (iPhone 12 Pro) it’s fairly easy to take high quality video. I may need to work on audio though – it was windy and that came through on the video.

A few days later the syrup was finished. The Ol’man sent a few photos of the process and reported that this year yielded 8 gallons after some spillage.

Suzuki LT-4WD Restoration

The Ol’man and I have been philosophizing about the ideal small four wheeler for a while now (3 years maybe). Something 250 to 300cc with four wheel drive would do nicely. So we started looking around…

The closest thing we found was the Honda Recon. It’s a gorgeous machine! It is 229cc with a five speed transmission and comes in at a petite 434 pounds curb weight (with fluids). But with only 2WD it’s not ideal for our needs. It’s also $4200 at our dealer. To get to 4WD the most budget friendly Honda is the Rancher: 420cc, 580 pounds curb weight, and $5500.

In other words, what we want simply doesn’t exist new from a major manufacturer. It once did, but is now long extinct. A Honda Recon is a fine machine… and there were a few almost-purchases on some used machines. That is as close as we got to adding a small four wheeler to the stable. And then…

Our cabin neighbor offered up his 1992 Suzuki LT-4WD Quadrunner to my Ol’man and me. We graciously accepted and I set to work. This ATV first showed up in 2012 here. Good thing I don’t put much stock in first impressions.

On to the restoration! I started at the very end of October, took a break in December, and then wrapped it up in January. Along the way I scanned the original Owner’s Manual and tracked my time and money meticulously. The Ol’man backed the project and I supplied the labor. After roughly $1250 in parts and services and 60 hours of work the ATV was fully restored.

10.31.2020 – Saturday

Once I got the ATV up to my shop I tore it all the way down to the frame and started making an inventory of parts to order. The hot water faucet on the outside of my garage shop was fantastic when combined with a Ryobi electric pressure washer. The ATV received several sessions of soap and power wash. After shedding several pounds of gunk the tear down went smoothly. A few bolts were snapped in the process but all were able to be removed with an extraction socket set from Rocket Socket – this set (made in USA) was a pretty great new tool purchased just for this project. A few bolts could not be extracted however, but they were drilled out before using a tap to clean the remaining shards from the threads.

The four wheeler originally came with an unsealed lead acid battery. The two bolts securing the front plastic body to the frame were at the bottom of the battery box and were horribly rusted. The heads snapped off with little effort from the extraction socket. Conveniently, the body could be removed revealing the rusted bolt shaft. There was enough length on the bolt stud for a smaller extraction socket to gain purchase to torque it out. Only one bolt gave me a quality fight. I ended up snapping it off, leaving the stud flush with the engine casting.

Below is how to extract a snapped off bolt in an engine casting incorrectly. I drilled the center to the steel bolt stud, and then used a screw extraction bit. The bit ended up splitting the bolt and cracking the casting. Luckily, there was plenty of metal left for a longer bolt to find threads. The was field down and the resulting gap was shimmed with a few steel washers. Always drill and tap broken bolts if there is not enough of a stud for a socket extractor to grab. Also, when removing old bolts a correctly sized impact driver is far better than using a socket wrench or breaker bar – the impacts are more likely to loosen the bolt where a long gradual pull on a bar tends to snap the bolts. Lesson learned.

11.5.2020 – Thursday

Unlike a modern ATV, there were no pop rivets anywhere. Instead there were dozens of shouldered cap screws with washers and lock nuts. Replacing these with new parts would have run somewhere around $400-500! Originally these fasteners were all black oxide coated. The coating deteriorated. Evaporust had proven useful for my previous metal restorations so I labeled a dozen plastic tubs according to the location of the ATV the fasteners came from, and then filled each with the rust removing solution. An overnight soak followed by a scrub with warm water and dish soap resulted in some paint ready parts.

11.17.2020 – Tuesday

I wasn’t interested in learning how to apply a black oxide coating so I went with black paint. A dab of hot glue on a sheet of cardboard held the machine screws upright and made the process of applying paint much easier. I applied two coats to all fasteners.

1.5.2021 – Tuesday

A lot of work has happened and now it starts to look like I’m actually doing stuff. I’ve sourced parts, sent parts to be sand blasted and painted, got it running, and tore it apart. Forty hours of work in and now begins the last 20 hours when it all comes together.

Today the frame was wire brushed, sanded, and cleaned before painstakingly brushing on a thick coat of black paint. Most of this will be hidden under plastic so it’s primarily for preservation. The pretty bits that will be bolted on later were professionally painted.

1.9.2021 – Saturday

The four wheeler came with good plastic, but parking it outdoors under a lean-to for almost 3 decades takes a toll. An inspection suggested a wandering porcupine got intimate with a few pieces and sharpened its teeth a bit. A stick also went through a mud flap. Luckily, a salvage yard supplied one part that was in pretty rough shape, but other parts were too scarce or too costly to replace and needed repairs.

The first task for plastic restoration was to rebuild and repair. Black fender trim and mud flaps with gaps or tears were mended. I purchased the Polyvance 5700HT Mini Weld Model 7 Airless Plastic Welder for this task. The kit was well supplied and by reading through the included materials I was able to hit the ground running.

The black plastic is softer and more pliable than the colored body panels. This makes it easier to repair and easier to hide blemishes. Using metal HVAC tape as a backing, repair plastic was melted into the fender flare and then shaped with a sharp knife. Fine shaping was then accomplished with sand paper. Once the repair blended in nicely, the surface was flashed with a heat gun at 1100°F to smooth the finish and blend it nicely.

The red body panels have cracks at most of the frame attachment points. I’m not sure the cause of this. It could be a combination of temperature changes and overtightened bolts. To reinforce the cracks, a stainless steel mesh was melted into the body and then some fresh plastic was welded over the mesh for additional strength.

1.10.2021 – Sunday

The muffler was a wreck. After sourcing a replacement from a salvage yard it was sleeved and returned to me. The sleeve weld looked… rough. I massaged it with a die grinder before stripping the paint off the muffler and prepping for paint. A matte black high temperature paint was applied prior to installation. 

1.13.2021 – Saturday

Ethanol sucks. The old Suzuki was certainly fed E15 and it suffered for it. All the fuel lines and any synthetic material the gas touched was damaged.

First up was to drain the bad fuel from the tank. After that I removed all the hardened rubber fuel lines and replaced them with soft new rubber lines. That was easy and very satisfying because it went exactly as planned.

The fuel filter was new and I decided to keep it (I think it’s also an aftermarket accessory). The next photo shows what ethanal can do to rubber that is not compatible with the fuel additive. This piece connects the carburetor to the cylinder head. Atomized fuel flows through it. It dried out, hardened, and cracked.

1.16.2021 – Saturday

Restoring the front brakes was more than half a day of work; about 6 hours. Drum brakes are hard. The service manual from the early 1990’s said to do one at a time so you could reference a complete brake assembly while struggling to put a pile of parts back in just the right place to stop an ATV with a modest squeeze of the right hand brake lever. Reading that was probably the first sign this would not be easy as suggested by the clean package of two springs and two brake pads that had just arrived.

No time for one at a time. I took photos. It’s not the early 1990’s anymore! All the parts were submerged in Evaporust and left to descale for a few hours. Reassembly took 1 hour for the first, and 20 minutes for the second.

Aside from rust removal the drums needed to be turned on a metal lathe… or in my case; a wood lathe with a four jaw chuck and a square carbide-insert lathe tool. This method worked amazingly for cleaning up the drum. It would be an understatement to say I was surprised and pleased with the results. I was over the moon it actually worked.

Feeling brave from that success, and lacking the patience to wait two weeks for a new part, I secured the self-adjusting mechanism with worn out teeth in a vise and carefully filed new teeth. When I finished filing, the small parts I had soaking in Evaporust were ready to be cleaned and reused.

I read the section on replacing brake pads in the service manual twice to make sure I wouldn’t be taking these apart again anytime soon. I followed the recipe in the manual to a ’T’ even using brake grease in the appropriate locations. Look how clean the springs are now! Fresh pads and clean drums.

And now for the rear drum brake: the compound separated from the pads. The drum surface was still clean and smooth. Drop in new pads and that was it. Effortless compared to the front brakes.

The last step after assembly was a cinch. Flush the brake lines twice and then add fresh DOT 4 fluid and bleed the lines. My test drive a few days later (I hit 40 mph!) was an outstanding success. I smiled the whole time and at the end I was able to stop. The brakes have excellent bite!

1.17.2021 – Sunday

The parts that could be unbolted and given to a professional paint shop were sent off early on. The skid plates had over a dozen rubber pads glued to them to damper and eliminate rattles. Photographs proved invaluable for the reinstallation. 

The ATV was acquired with brand new tires. Before encountering engine and battery troubles the previous owner had installed new tires with the plan of keeping this little ATV at their cabin as a run-about. The tires that were freshly mounted were taken off and the wheels sent off for paint.

The front rack had damage and the front most bar was bent beyond my repair skills. The junkyard did not offer up a replacement in bolt-on condition so the rack was sent off to a metal fabricator. The damaged section was cut out and the repair after paint is nearly seamless. As an added benefit, the replacement bar is a bit heavier gauge than stock.

What is the point of fixing up an old ATV and spending $1000 on the project and having ratty old plastic all over the four wheeler? 

With the rack off I could easily clean up the plastic.

The process was fairly simple. The plastic was sanded with 400 grit on the random orbital sander to remove staining and smooth over small scratches. Once the plastic was sanded uniform the transformation really started to take place.

Using a heat gun on 1100°F the surface plastic was flashed and picked up a nice sheen that is 95% factory fresh. Since the top 0.5mm actually melts, a lot of care needs to be taken to not accidentally touch the heat gun nozzle to the plastic or a hot knife through butter effect will happen and that takes more time to repair.

The oil change was uneventful. It was dirty as expected, but again, no surprises. A new air filter and spark plug were installed at this time too.

1.19.2021 – Tuesday

The front differential oil was drained and replaced with Honda GL-5 hypoid gear oil. The Suzuki has a magnet on the differential drain plug (not even my newer 2009 Honda Rubicon has this). The oil was fairly dirty when compared next to the new oil. I also decided to change the fluid in the Honda, which was probably 6 or 7 years old instead of 29 years like the Suzuki (oil samples held in front of each wheeler).

The complex drivetrain has several gear/range selectors under the handlebars. The original rubber dust shrouds deteriorated. In the shop I had some durable siliconized rubber scraps suitable for replacements.

The old rubber was glued on to the metal inserts. It was scraped and then any remaining bits were removed with a small wire wheel on a die grinder. I ran a high quality brad point bit in reverse to cut two holes in the rubber. Then a straight edge and X-Acto knife connected the holes. Contact cement did a fantastic job of securing the new rubber.

After about 15 miles of driving around the homestead and a brief discussion with the Ol’man it was decided that the mirrors should go. I picked up two metric bolts and plugged the holes before touching up the paint a bit.

1.23.2021 – Sunday

The shocks were adjusted to the softest setting on the rear and the second softest on the front to make for a nice comfortable ride. Also, the kiddos will be driving this soon and they are all lightweights; softer is better.

A new foam tube was added to the handle bars and after some debate, the Ol’ man parted with another $50 for new front bumper from a parts warehouse, making the ATV completely restored and original. This is essentially how the quad looked from the factory floor (except for a few missing stickers on the plastic and the upgraded modern tires). 

1.26.2021 – Tuesday

The Suzuki is home now! It was just delivered to the cabin and I took the opportunity to snap a photo before heading inside to sit fireside on the couch.

Winter at the Cabin

1.29.2021 – Friday

The cabin is closer to work than work is to home. A 62 mile work commute (one way) is less than ideal, but the drive from work to the cabin is shorter at 44 miles. The drive is slower paced and still takes less time, so it’s always a nice leisurely transition from the fast pace of work to the relaxed pace and warmth of the cabin.

To wrap up 2020, we made a trip to the cabin to celebrate Christmas. We arrived on Christmas day after nightfall. At the cabin it was warm and inviting. Sarah headed to bed with the kiddos while I stayed upstairs and tended the fire. I also found the rum (Smooth Sailing Rum from Northwoods Distillery in my home town) and mixed it with Peach Coke and watched the just released today on HBO Max Wonder Women 84’

The evening was fantastic. The movie was OK.

I opened the bed when I arrived. When I finally got in to bed it was cold… instead of ice cold. 

We had a wonderful December 26th at the cabin. My folks were not in attendance, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t present. I did a bit of work on the orientation of the cellular booster antennas inside the cabin and eliminated a signal interference issue that we previously had – in other words, we were able to use FaceTime video on an iPad while the kiddos opened presents.

I believe in discipline and self-sacrifice. This year that meant following strict guidelines and doing our part to endure the present pandemic. It is tempting to live life as normal. I could go on and on about this topic; the substantial commute to and from work allows a great deal of time for self-reflection as well as education opportunities via podcasts. As the new year unfolds, I intend to focus on seeking truth in all things and facing conflict with kindness. Just imagine if everyone sought the truth of the matter and spoke kindly to one another in their shared goal of finding truth. Hmm…

…I know that won’t happen, but a bit of fine quality rum and a rolling fire affords one a bit of optimism and nostalgia as the new year approaches.

We returned to the cabin the evening of January 7 and were greeted with splendid weather the next morning. Over three dozen Pine Grosbeak gathered to gorge on black oil sunflower seeds. It wasn’t until the late afternoon that we got in a quality outing and walked the trails.

It was a quality hike.

We returned again the evening of January 26 and managed to spend one of the coldest days of the year playing outside the next day. Remember that old Suzuki Sarah and I towed back this past October? I brought it back fully restored today. More to come about that in a future post.

Despite the brutal cold (I think 14°F was the high) the sun was strong. The days of 10-20Ah a day look to be giving way to 100-120Ah days! The batteries are enjoying the extra boost and soon the generator will be returning to backup duty instead of being the primary power source. Even with the sun, I still wore two hats out and about today.

After dark we packed up for departure, stoked the fire, and sat down for a hearty home cooked meal. This is meatball hoagie. The meatballs are half venison from a deer I shot and half pork from a pig raised down the road. Sarah and I took the meat and ground it one night after the kiddos went to bed. I think we finished around 1am. The sauce is homemade as well. Sarah took tomatoes from our garden and turned them into this wonderfully spiced thick sauce. The garden where the tomatoes were grown began as a plot of sandy soil at our house that was once scrub trees. I cleared the trees and it is now beautifully amended soil fenced off from deer where the flowers of cultivated plants are pollinated by honey bees. The bees live in hives built in my wood shop. I love how food tells a story.

Have a blessed 2021. Seek truth and be kind. Cheers!

battery monitor upgrade 2021

1.28.2021 – Thursday

My time using Victron Battery monitors is over.

A brief history:

  • July 2011: the first battery monitor was installed. A Victron BMV-600s.
  • May 2014: upgraded to a Victron BMV-702
  • January 2020: added a temperature sensor
  • January 2020: added a bluetooth module for iOS app compatibility

All along we have had several accuracy issues. The monitor would perform normally for a few hours and then it would be incredibly unreliable. Ultimately, the only useful bit of information it could report was voltage. I pored over the settings and made adjustments, updated software, and even the wiring was checked and redone. No luck.

After over 9 years my long term testing is done and I can say with certainty I would not recommend a Victron battery monitor. The two I still have aren’t for sale (or free for that matter) because I can’t in good conscious give away an inferior product that I wouldn’t use myself.

In this new post-Victron battery monitor world the Ol’man and I tried something new: a pair of generic battery monitors. The model I selected is the bayite DC 6.5-100V 0-100A LCD Display Digital Current Voltage Power Energy Meter Multimeter Ammeter Voltmeter with 100A Current Shunt from amazon.com

Specifications: 

  • Working voltage: DC 6.5 ~ 100V 
  • Measuring Accuracy: 1% 
  • Power Consumption: 0.2W 
  • Measurement speed: 2 times/s
  • The blue backlight can be turned on/off manually
  • Test Range and Display format: 
  • Active Power range: 0~10kW
  • Energy range: 0~9999kWh 
  • Voltage range: DC 6.5~100V 
  • Current range: 0~ 100A 

Pretty basic specs. I purchased two and installed them in the garage. The are affixed to the wall with that really awesome outdoor velcro made by 3M that goes by the trade name: Dual Lock Reclosable Fastener.

The top monitor records information for the 12V accessory system at the cabin (cellular booster, 12V motion lights, cabin phone charging station) and the bottom records the solar energy generated from our 810 Watts of PV array. So far after half a year of use, these two $16 monitors have proven accurate and reliable. One advantage, and something the Ol’man and I both took a liking to is the ability to see four values at one time; Volts, Amps, Watts, and Watt hours. With our previous battery monitor, only one value was visible, and manual input via a tiny stiff button was required to glimpse additional values. Here is the full user manual for these two garage battery monitors.

With the success of the two new monitors in the garage my attention was turned toward the cabin. The search for a Victron upgrade began and ended in about 30 minutes. The clear winner was a unit from Renogy and it came in around a reasonable $100. It has a much shorter User Manual than the Victron and displays all the important information at once. Specifications:

The wiring was a bit of a challenge and took about 3 hours to test and verify. I was sure glad I brought a multimeter to the cabin to test continuity or else I would have gone mad. The solid core ethernet cable could be stripped and inserted in to the five pin connector. The fit was good and once shrink tube was applied over the connection it produced a sound cable. I built several cables this way.

The 5-pin to ethernet adapter cables allowed the existing buried ethernet cable to be used for the new monitor. The original layout and design of the system allowed for these additions to be easily integrated.

The screen is intuitive and displays a lot of information at a glance. The bottom of the screen shows voltage, amps, watts. The time on the right side can mean one of two values depending on the battery icon: time to full charge or time until battery depleted. The battery icon has two small triangles that will point up if the batteries are being charged, or down if the battery is being under draw.

But wait! There is one more thing! Because the display shows all this information at a glance and we have wifi connected surveillance at the cabin, remote monitoring of the off grid system is now possible.

The camera holder simple and adjustable. It is just three elm boards drilled and threaded for 3/8″ rod with slots cut in two for adjustability. The boards are finished in shellac with self adhesive cork applied on the surfaces that contact the half wall.

Below is an image from the Blink camera. The camera is positioned at the correct distance for the auto exposure to adjust to the backlight and produce an easily readable image.

After a month of service it was decided the Renogy is here to stay. The temporary faceplate I made was discarded and the battery monitor was carefully hand fit into the wall.

Long Weekend

10.15.2020 – Thursday

I just wrapped up a three day weekend at the cabin. It was good for the soul and worth reminiscing about. I arrived after work and loaded bait and gear in to the Honda Pioneer 1000-5 side by side and set out down the trail as daylight started to fade. The movable top had blown off the bow stand at the middle food plot. A few trips up the ladder and I had the roof in place and chairs set up. A hanger for my bow was reinstalled on the ceiling. Lastly, I set some bait out (most of which would be gone by morning) and then I headed back to camp. Up on the ridge, headlights brushed the tree tops as a car pulled up to the cabin, my family had arrived just after nightfall.

We settled in for the night and made plans for tomorrow.

10.16.2020 – Friday

6:30am EST. The alarm on my iPhone sounded. The case is magnetic and it sticks to the frame of the bed, so along with the sound I also got the experience of feeling the bed frame vibrate. I headed downstairs and reached into the top bunk to disrupt the sleep of my eight year old. William resisted but then got up dutifully and we headed upstairs. After a snack we bundled up in warm clothes and headed out. It was 38°F.

The view from the stand was superb. Photos are getting closer to capturing the majesty of our view as technology evolves, but the crispness of the air, and the smell of Fall still escapes the best photo. No deer this morning. But we heard a bit of fuss from several Ruffed Grouse. After eggs and toast back at camp, I took a walk for grouse. Ever since acquiring my Ol’ man’s Benelli Montefeltro 20 gauge semi-auto shotgun I have been eager to try it out. It is lighter than any double barrel and has a lovely balance and feel. Paired with my electronic ear protection it is a joy to shoot. Low recoil, and the delightful mechanical sound of the action can be felt with every shot as a finely constructed firearm cycles a spent shell. I got my wish.

Walking in to the clover field I spotted grouse #1 on the very edge of the clearing. A quick shot and a clean kill. A few steps further along the trail and the sound of a bird in flight drew my attention. I wheeled around to shoot it mid-flight. This gun is quick! Before that bird dropped I pivoted and took aim at another, this time roosting in a tree. In five minutes I used three shells and had three birds. Not bad! I continued my walk and returned to camp a short while later.

My folks arrived. Mom’s birthday is tomorrow. The kiddos kept her busy the whole visit and did their best to make sure Mom slept in on her birthday. I spotted them playing in a leaf pile while I helped Dad.

Meanwhile, the Ol’ man and I did yard work. I used the back pack leaf blower, the largest model from Stihl, while Dad used the riding lawn mower. After a bit, the pond, old cabin clearing, and cabin lawn was clear of leaves and cut to 2″ in preparation for Winter. Before my folks headed out from their day trip the Ol’ man gave William and me a ride to the stand (because of COVID-19 we are limiting the chance of transmission. I am a retail pharmacist, and while I follow the strictest guidelines the same rigor cannot be claimed for a fair number of people I regularly come in contact with). My youngest (Felix, 3 years old) also came along for a ride with Grandpa.

The view from the stand was again without fault. Another post-card evening and a successful hunt. An adult doe came into view and we waited ten minutes for a shot. Once a good shot presented, I took it. After a few minutes we packed up and went to look for the deer. Our hike became quite long and after 200 yards I marked last blood with a red blinking LED light (the kind designed for dog collars) and we walked back to the cabin. Two hours passed and supper was allowed to settle in my stomach before I found my second wind.

I changed into different clothes, slung my camo sling-bag over my shoulder, and holstered a pistol. My trusty woods gun is a Smith and Wesson M&P 40 with an Olight weapon light and a Vortex reflex sight. Not knowing what else might be tracking my deer this time of night, I took precautions.

I walked up on the deer 250 feet from last blood and determined that the animal was near death, but still holding on to a bit of life. I took the necessary steps to ensure the outcome I desired and brought the deer back to the cabin. It was late and nearly midnight when I took the hide off. Felix was still up and Sarah brought him out to watch.

When I reviewed the video of the shot (from an iPhone X). The doe dropped, turned away slightly, and moved forward after the release and before the arrow hit. My arrow struck 4.5″ from where it would have hit if the deer had not flinched. Instead of the lungs, and got the liver. Instead of a 75 yard walk I got a nearly 300 yard hike.

10.17.2020 – Saturday

Today was a day of rest and reflection. I finished cutting up the deer and we enjoyed the warm cabin. A fire was kept going all day and we even headed downstairs to play billiards. In the afternoon, the Ol’ man messaged saying that our cabin neighbor asked if we wanted his old four wheeler. Sure! We all headed over in the Honda 1000 and towed it back.

Early afternoon brought the first snow of the season. The kiddos rolled a few snowballs before stacking them into snowmen and decorating them with rocks. Next Spring I wonder if the Ol’ man will pause and ponder why there are rocks in his lawn.

Here is a quick preview of a winter project: A restoration of this old Suzuki four wheeler. I have a bunch of small things to replace and an electrical issue to resolve. A mouse nest above the fuel tank might be related to the latter issue. The front rack will be fixed as well; either by cutting and welding in a new front tube or by sourcing a rack from a wheeler junk yard. Scotch Brite and paint will fix the rust and I’ll no doubt go through the brakes and replace all fluids, filters, and spark plug. It’s gonna be pretty cool! The Ol’ man and I have a fondness for four wheels that are both lightweight and four-wheel drive. Did I even mention we used to have an old Honda Fourtrax 300 4×4? That was a dandy of a machine.

I ended the evening with Saturday Night Live on the TV and a beer, a gentle fire, and some grouse on the cutting board.

Looking Back Looking Forward

8.3.2020 – Monday

If you look back on the blog you’ll find that it started in 2009. Wow… that was 11 years ago. The internet is primarily occupied by video nowadays. Perhaps I should venture into that media and start a channel on all the homestead and wood working projects that I make. Well… maybe I’ll just keep that to instagram since it’s less work and I don’t have to listen to myself talk and edit video (@swiltzius if you are interested).

The cabin is more or less a complete thing now. There aren’t really any projects left to do. Sure, some will always come up and I have a few I’m tracking. Usually a project takes a while to mature and grow into something worthy of its own post. This year we planted some fruit trees, plans are underway to improve the already thriving pond ecosystem, and next year I plan to start a milkweed patch. It took two years at my house to establish a thriving milkweed patch after starting from seed in our nursery and planting late summer. The seedlings established in the Fall and then came back strong the following year. The year after that (this year) they tripled in number and emerged with much more vigor after building up healthy root systems the previous years.

But anyway, it’s now time to go through the battery bank and assess the health of each cell. You heard right: each cell. There are 14 batteries with 3 cells each, so… 42 cells. The best way to do this is to top off the electrolyte, run an equalize charge cycle, and take a specific gravity reading. Step two is to discharge the system, record how much power was spent, and then take another 42 readings. From this I can calculate the actual capacity of the battery bank and how it compares to the listed output from when the batteries were new. I plan to do this sometime this year. Admittedly, what I plan and what actually happens are often in disagreement.

One last thing. I value the time spent at the cabin and often take a number of photos of nature and of family. I’m thinking of adding a post from time to time about these trips as a way to keep this blog a bit more active. This aligns with my evolving view of the Cabin as well. It started as a thing to be worked on. It was a big project. The space between projects has lengthened and the frequency of my entires has diminished. Now the cabin is a place and an experience. Perhaps my entires should reflect that and focus for a bit on my experiences at The Off Grid Cabin (don’t worry, there always be more projects).

So far this year, we have taken the side by side down to the flowage to fish a handful of times with the kiddos, found some really cool creatures at the cabin pond, caught dozens of frogs, a snapping turtle, a few painted turtles, and I piled a bunch of soft maple cut from the home forty. Yeah… each of these would have been fun to share in more depth. Look for some short entries in the future.

Happy Little Improvements

12.1.2019 – Sunday

There have been a few small things that have bothered me and the Ol’ man. This year we fixed five of them.

The longest standing, and first to be fixed, has bothered me since day one. The garage has a simple wall mounted propane heater on the inside. We keep the pilot light off and use it maybe twice a year during the cold months. The past few times it’s been run has been for our convenience when cutting up a deer. It’s become a sort of best practice that the Ol’ man and I usually have a deer quartered, deboned, and in the fridge within 6 hours of shooting. Despite the infrequency of use, the vent to the outside is often seen, and in my case, noticed.

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The Ol’ man had some left over rough sawn pine from the Cabin construction (of coarse). He pre-finished it and I brought some wood working tools up to the cabin on July 6, 2019. The installation was very simple. I clad the existing OSB box with the pine and broke the corners with a block plane. Later, some additional exterior finish was applied to darken the fresh wood revealed by the block plane.

The next two improvements were required. They were finished on July 12, 2019. From use and the elements a bit of wear and tear was suffered by the garage service door sill and our porch railings. The sill was taken back to my shop and cleaned up with a wire wheel on an angle grinder. The rotted wood was replaced by a new version carefully milled from treated pine. This time we used concrete screws and a carefully selected multi-surface construction adhesive to secure the sill to the slab. Previously, water had run under the sill into the garage. That won’t be the case this winter.

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After a quick installation of the sill we moved on to the biggest improvement. The bottom post on all three outside stairways has always been less than satisfactory. They would wobble and inspired little confidence in their permanence if you leaned on them. My investigation into a fix began a few months earlier. I had just built two Shaker Low Post beds for my house in the wood shop and found the solution in their construction. The beds featured captured nuts and heavy bed bolts to secure the posts to the rails. I wandered around Menards for a while after work one evening and found the necessary parts for the project. In late May I began to prepare my materials for installation.

I cut a long C-channel bar into shorter lengths and ground two shoulders of the square nuts to fit.

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The thick hot dipped galvanized square bearing plates got a nice coat of dark bronze hammered paint. So did the bolt heads. 

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Because the steel will be in contact with treated wood I cleaned them and appleid a thick coat of paint to the C-channel. IMG_7433.jpg

Installation of the captured nut and bolts was straight forward. A block of treated 4×6 pine was cut to fit snug between two stair stringers. Next I clamped it in place and drilled a long hole for the bolt. The block was then unclamped and using the first drill bit as a quick guide to double check my aim, I drilled the hole for the captured nut.

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The 12” bolt is 1/2”-13TPI galvanized with a 3”x3” sill plate for contact on the post. It is installed exactly like a bed bolt, but the design has a 1” steel C-channel piece of steel about 2” long that cradles the square-nut. Tightened to 86 ft pounds the clamping power should approach 9,000 pounds. The rail gained incredible rigidity compared to before.

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Look close and you will see a new stair stringer in the photo below. The previous one was split from deck screws placed too close to the front edge. The front of the stair tread us left unsupported by the damaged stringer and bent down with weight. We also replaced that when fixing the posts. That was a simple task of removing the old stringer, copying it, and installing the replacement. Later, the Ol’ man returned with some pre-finished rough sawn pine and dressed up the repair. We are now contemplating dressing all the stairs with rough sawn kickers.

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We uncovered a future repair project while reinforcing the posts. Off the front porch the posts were in contact with the ground. The bottoms rotted out and can’t be saved. The two outside treated stringers will also need to be replaced. This is a project for 2020. The Ol’ man already had two sets of pine posts cut from our local mill this Summer and treated pine stringers are just 2×10’s cut to fit.

In mid-summer the Ol’ man put that final coat of paint on the garage service door. He also refreshed the trim. Before this, the door was lighter green than the cabin doors and the paint was streaked with brush marks and a paint that didn’t fully cover the primer. The door is now deep green and looks so good. It took 10 years, but it finally matches the cabin.

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The final project was finished up on the second day of the Michigan gun deer season. I was held up from making opening day at the cabin. Something about being a good husband and watching the three kiddos while my wife attended some sort of Women’s night thing in Marquette. Yeah… I don’t get it either.

I made due and hunted the opening from my second floor study at home. Life is a compromise sometimes. This was a fine compromise.

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I planned to arrive at the cabin by noon, but as you can see, I had a late start. I didn’t make it to the cabin until 1:30pm CST on November 15, 2019. Most of my time at the cabin this deer season was my attempt to combine the irresponsibility of Octoberfest with the gluttony of Thanksgiving. Fitting I suppose since it falls between the two on the calendar. I took a break from my gastrointestinal cross training to do the final cabin upgrade of this post.

After recovering from the events of the day (and night) before I skipped the morning hunt and started on the upgrade to the garbage drawer in the kitchen. I purchased the fanciest drawer slides I could find from LeeValley.com two weeks earlier. Now I had to figure out how they worked.

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After a bit of head scratching and research I resolved that I should have investigated their mysterious workings prior to going to a location with spotty cellular reception. I did make these cool mounting brackets ahead of time at least.

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The wood mounting bracket allowed me to start with a perfectly level and parallel mounting surface. Then I installed the fancy Blum Tip-On Movento soft close ball-bearing drawer slides with push-to-open internal catch.

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Previously, the trash bin was on a tray that slid out (sort of) being a door that first had to be opened all the way. Problem was the old drawer slides were not ball bearing and the soli ash bin was heavy. The slides were not installed perfectly parallel or level, and bound, only sliding half way out. The action of opening a door first, then pulling out a stubborn drawer that would bump into the door if not fully opened, was a great irritant to everyone.

The new slides glide out effortlessly. The door was mounted to the face of the bin and the two move as one unit now.  Two options for accessing the trash now exist:

  • Gently push the front of the frame and panel drawer front and a catch releases and the drawer pops out, gliding to full extension. Closing the drawer resets the catch and then the soft close takes over and drawer glides shut the final inch and a half.
  • Pull on the knob and the drawer glides out. When closing, the soft close engages and the drawer glides shut the final inch and half. This is arguably smoother since the catch doesn’t have to reset for the push-to-open feature.

The Ol’ man and I were both impressed with our high tech Austrian made drawer slides. They are rated to 40 kilograms capacity for the pair.

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A final improvement that has continued to elude me is cellular reception. Initially there was excellent reception with our SureCall cellular booster for both AT&T and Verizon. Then AT&T faded. I’ve been through multiple variations of antenna configurations, each time chasing small gains until no further improvements could be made. Then the signal faded all-together. I settled and decided to set up for the best possible Verizon reception and gave up temporarily on AT&T. I discovered a way to set up a $45/month unlimited plan using an iPhone 6S on a virtual network (Spectrum) that uses Verizon towers for service. I use a small Travel Router tethered to the iPhone to create a wifi network at the cabin so our phones continue to work despite no AT&T reception. We can even make phone calls on our phones over the wifi network. This is an ongoing problem that I’m still actively working on. At this point I’m starting to suspect that AT&T changed something on the tower that used to provide service to our cabin.

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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