Flowers!

It’s turning into a lovely May. I wanted to work on the metallic target rack but need some fasteners I can’t get till tomorrow. So I’ve mostly sat around getting over the dehydration and sunburn of the past couple of days, but then this afternoon I took a little trip up the ridge with the camera stuff BB sent me to look in on the cactus flowers.

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Those folks on the other side of the plateau are on another trip…

…and so I’ll be going up there twice a day for the next week.


They’ve been doing that twice a year for a couple of years now, and never before that. I like to think I’m making life easier for them.

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New porch floor


And now I have a lot of cleaning up and putting of things away to do before I can collapse in a chair.

ETA: The plywood having been replaced with 2X6s, Laddie wishes it to be known that he does not entirely approve of how much higher that last step has gotten.

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Thought I’d get more done…

Less than half finished with the porch floor…


But I’m out of steam and my back hurts. Shouldn’t feel too bad about it, I guess. I’ve been working since around 6:30.

Hope I can hitch a ride to town tomorrow morning, if I can’t I’m going to have to canvas the neighbors to find somebody I can bum some screws from. Definitely don’t have enough to finish the floor.

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I have to say this at least once this season…

I love this generator.


Power enough for any tool at any time and for as long as I need, right at the worksite! What a concept. I have electricity at the Lair, of course, but the inverter is only 600 watts and even if it’ll power a tool the battery capacity is limited: Works great for lights and electronics, but (as I actually learned year before last) a shop vac will drain them to the point of inverter shutdown in less than 10 minutes. So power tools have always been an issue, which is in itself a bit problematic since the Lair has been a continual work in progress since 2009.

I could never have afforded one, not in a million years. But Autumn before last a very generous friend of the blog donated this, having bought it for another purpose that life unfortunately prevented. It was enormously useful during last year’s building season, came out of mothballs to aid in the rescue of a couple of trapped tourists this past winter, and started right up this morning for the start of this year’s building season. It has made building season much more productive.

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Bracing complete.


I got lucky with one of my diagonal braces, having forgotten the 12′ 2X6 that’s been my “temporary” threshold for 10 years that had to come off to make room for the new porch flooring. It’s rather weathered for any other use but it makes a fine underfloor brace. I still had to use a 2X4 on the other side, but the corners are nicely braced with 3/4″ plywood.


I was very interested/apprehensive to see if the porch would hold its level when I backed up the Jeep…


And initially, at least, it does! If it will just hold this for a couple of weeks: Once the tops of the middle and two end 4X4s are tied to the roof, it won’t go anywhere. Actually it occurred to me halfway through the morning that most of this work wasn’t really needed, since I could have waited till I was ready to tie the uprights to the roof joists and then forced everything back to square. But whatever: It’s been a learning experience. Next time I’ll remember diagonal braces.

Now I’m going to have some lunch and a cup of tea, and get to work on the floor.

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Progress! What a difference a fresh start makes.

Ben wins the TUAK elbow fitting of the Internet for today, with honorable mention to the numerous people who mentioned the one essential I completely neglected last summer: Diagonal bracing.


I didn’t have anything at the bottom right to connect a come-along to. But I do have a Jeep. So first thing this morning I relocated the hummingbird feeder, looped the end of my tow strap to the highest part of the corner post, connected the come-along to the Jeep’s rear bumper, and carefully pulled the porch square. That worked pretty well.

Pictures are taking too long to upload this morning and I need to get back to work. A full report later. Problem I’m working around right now: diagonal braces need to be fairly stout and (big surprise) I didn’t order enough 2X6s. I have EXACTLY enough for the floor and the roof joists, scrounging the floor joists from shorter pieces I already had. BUT I do suddenly have some fairly large pieces of scrap plywood, and I have several 8′ 2X4s. So I’m making corner braces from the plywood to supplement 2X4 diagonal braces, and more or less depending on hope from there. The best I can do is the best it’s going to get.

I’m also not going to be able to finish the floor this weekend because I completely spaced on buying more 2 1/2″ deck screws when I was in town Monday. So the only hurry is that at the moment the Jeep is an integral part of the porch and at some point I’m going to want it back…

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Yup, there it is.

The cutting table has returned to the Secret Lair for the building season.


Hopefully the last official building season, at least for the Lair itself.

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So you think Spam can’t go bad?

It can, but it needs some help.


By coincidence this particular can was a month past its best-by date, but that wouldn’t have mattered. The weak spot in the miracle that is Spam is the easy-open top, which can open a little too easily. I suspected that this one had a problem when I went to open the top and it nearly fell off in my hand. At some point it got bumped too hard and the seal failed. You have to be careful with them – I kind of wish they didn’t have the pull-off tops.

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And now I’m basically tearing down the porch.

…eleven months almost to the day after I built it.


The last act of the floor this morning was to hold up the ladder as I took the facing boards off the vigas. The facing boards were only cosmetic but now the vigas will be needed to hold up the roof, and the boards will be reassigned for honorable duty as floor joists.

Then I pulled up half the floor…


…and it was all supposed to be very straightforward from here. Install a few joists, cut a bunch of pressure treated 2X6s to length, use up a bunch of deck screws, Miller time. And if that were all there were to it, it would be that simple.

Unfortunately there’s a problem, and I haven’t figured out a solution.


Each of the five 4X4 uprights holding up the porch has taken a slight tilt to the left. As things are, it’s no big deal: Noticeable but of no importance. But three of them are going to be extended to support the drip edge of the roof, and that will be very noticeable: Not a structural problem exactly, but it’ll look positively comical.

The only way to fix it is to remove all the supporting lumber, probably including the railings, and try to force at least those three more nearly vertical. I haven’t figured out yet how I’m going to do that.

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This is getting a little scary to watch…

Remember that book kickstarter that was hoping to raise $25,000 in a month?

Ian is already obligated to sign almost 700 books and this is only the second day of the month. At this rate that’ll be his new career.

This is a fancied-up specialty book for collectors – I’m not familiar with the genre, and I know Ian is popular among gunnies, but I can’t believe pre-selling more than 1100 books in a day is … normal…

I’m laughing at myself as I type this: I recall a couple of years ago encouraging him to write the book even though the project would never make money, because he’s an authority in the field and the traditional way to establish yourself as such is to publish “the” book on the subject. Collectors still use books, as he knows: You ought to see his library. But the subject was so specialized he should resign himself to pathetic lifetime sales … yeah, never take financial advice from Uncle Joel. :-/

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Porch, Secret Lair, Floor and Roof, One Each

Some assembly required.


The delivery guy was actually early. And he called at a rational time in his odyssey into the unknown*, and so taking delivery of the materials – the porch ingredients, plus some stuff for Ian’s Cave – was no problem at all. Of course then I had to bring it all down the ridge and get it stacked in the yard. That was harder. In fact if you call driving back and forth work and include that, it was pretty much another 3 hours hard work.

As soon as the Jeep engine cools down enough to restart, I have to go do afternoon chicken chores. Say around 3. Until then I can sit a spell.



*In the past I have received telephone calls from bewildered truck drivers who were halfway to the Navajo reservation.

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Rushing morning chores today…

I need new bread, but also need to keep the mid-day open to meet the building materials truck. So I think I broke all records this morning. Hurried the morning chicken chores while the bread dough was rising, and the bread came out of the oven by nine. 🙂


And now, unfortunately, there’s nothing to do with this beautiful morning but wait for the truck.

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Ian’s book kickstarter!

Chassepot to FAMAS: French Military Rifles, 1866 – 2016


This is pretty definitely going to happen, since it’s been in production for years now and also because it is (at this moment) at nearly $40,000 of its initial $25,000 kickstarter target. So there are already a lot of pre-sales.

I am more excited over this project of Ian’s than anything previous, both because I know the man personally and think the absolute world of him, and because I was one of the copy editors. I’ve done a lot of editing and proofing of ponderous tomes on technical topics over too many decades, and I know engaging writing when I (rarely) encounter it. It’s rare enough in fiction: In non-fiction it’s an oddity. But I’m telling you I read hundreds of pages of the text-only document on a subject that frankly isn’t one of my passions, and it only confirmed what I already knew: Ian McCollum is a skilled and delightfully witty writer. And that was before I saw the page layout and photography, which I now have, and it is first rate.

Ian has established himself over ten years or more as the first name in peculiar and obscure firearms, but what his many fans (1.2 million Youtube subscribers and rising) may not all know is that his particular interest is – well, French military rifles, the subject of this book. Chassepot to FAMAS is a collector-grade book written for rifle collectors, and as such goes into exhaustive and sometimes maybe exhausting detail on all the things a collector would need to know on every variety of every rifle fielded by the French army and navy between the Franco-Prussian War and the end of their colonial period. And while I may have just made that sound as interesting as a treatise on the chemistry of latex, here’s the thing: I had to study the text of this book, and I frankly wasn’t looking forward to the experience. But Ian, may the gods bless him, made the subject interesting.

Yes, it’s a specialized and rather expensive book. I’m not going to suggest that all TUAK readers rush out and buy an advance copy. But check it out. If you’re a rifle enthusiast, you might well find it worth your time.

Full Disclosure: No, I’m not being paid to write this. 🙂

ETA: Gun Jesus speaks!

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Noted for the record…

I meant to say this earlier: With a nearly full water tank, the resting pressure at the Secret Lair’s sink is 18.5 PSI.


Flow pressure is about 14 and a quarter. Now the trick will be to watch the tank level over the next few weeks, with the well pump turned off, and see if the resting pressure drops at all with the tank level. I harbor doubts but Big Brother thinks it will and if we disagree on a science fact he’s the one to bet on.

I could cut through this by opening a valve and mostly emptying the tank, but wasting water is a sin. Darwin spank. So I’m going to let the experiment take its sweet time.

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Ah! My whatever-it-is cactus is blooming!

I mentioned these before – they don’t bloom every year and I had about decided they wouldn’t this time, but I spoke too soon.


There are several buds of which this is the first, not quite fully open.

Wet as the winter is and mild as the spring has been I kind of hoped this would be a good season for the flowers. The cliff roses are doing well…


I love these things. The bushes are really ugly even by the standards of local flora – but they light up in Spring and sometimes again in late Summer, and when they do the scent is everywhere.


Again, I don’t know what they’re actually called. Years ago somebody pointed at one and told me, “Cliff roses.” So that’s what they are. I never checked to see if that’s really their name.

Tomorrow may be a big day! If everything goes according to plan, building materials are arriving.

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Off-grid is way better.

And now I must risk oversharing. Bear with me, this is sort of stream-of-consciousness. With any luck I’ll resist the urge to hit the Publish button.

Most days I think of myself as a pretty capable guy. I can build stuff, maintain stuff, scrounge stuff. I can get by on very little money. I can protect myself, butcher food, improvise, extemporize, revise, devise, do the whole “country boy can survive” thing. I’ve gradually gotten pretty good at it, frankly. I shrug at pain, find pleasure in simple things, and always have a Plan B.

The reason I can do those things is because I’ve had to: Because I’m so terrible at all the other things which most people get through just fine without even thinking about it. About the only time I ever went into a DMV office and came back out with what I needed, I had somebody with me to make sure my papers were in order and my blood pressure was under control. I don’t think I’ve ever successfully held onto a vehicle title in my life. The thought of pulling out a complete year’s worth of financial records is simply laughable. My papers are never in order. If I were doing it on purpose it would be like a fetish but it’s more like a weird, very unhelpful phobia. Filling out forms is stressful – filling out government forms rarely goes well. I’ve always been this way, and I can’t seriously suggest that more than 12 years in the desert have improved things.


Point is, I like to imagine myself this rough tough Jeremiah Johnson throwback when what I really am is a paranoid excitable gimp who can’t keep records. Uncle Sugar gets angry when you don’t keep records. You wouldn’t like Uncle Sugar when he’s angry.

And ever since late 2006, my weird pathetic disability was irrelevant. The desert will kill you if you’re careless about the wrong things but it don’t need no steenking financial records or proof of residency or two approved forms of identification. But now I have officially turned 65, broke, going blind, needing the kind of societal connection that absolutely requires all those things, notarized and in triplicate no staples do not fold spindle or mutilate. To get Medicaid/SS you need a bank account: To get a bank account you need a proven verifiable physical mailing address, to get that you need proof of residency and “I don’t actually have an address” is not acceptable.

I’m working on it. I even have friends who are trying to smooth me into it. All will be well. But yesterday I dipped my toe into the bureaucratic shitpool only so deep as to discuss the requirements for a PO box with a post office lady, and I’m so glad I had a project to concentrate on when I got home because I was already so full of fail I was ready to blow. It’s gonna be a … process, I suppose. I have dreaded it, and now it’s here.

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The Secret Lair goes Steampunk…

This took…all the time.


I have no idea why. No part of it seemed that hard. But I got home from town at 11, went immediately to work on the faucet, and I just now looked up and it’s 2. Maybe the clock’s wrong, but I think I’m just slow. Of course there was the old faucet to basically chisel off the sink, then there was all that calcium buildup that I mostly ended up chiseling off the sink. And the actual plumbing part would have been simple if it weren’t for Joel’s Highly Idiosyncratic Pressure Gauge. Which BB sent me something like 2 years ago, so since I was re-doing all the under-sink plumbing I couldn’t really get out of it with further procrastination. But it’s in, and it works, and it doesn’t even leak.

And who knows? The point of the exercise is to give me some warning when the tank is running low, and the only way to test the theory involves first installing an improbably gigantic conversation piece of a pressure gauge on the sink because a rational-looking one wouldn’t be sensitive enough. It might do some good. Or it might just be a conversation piece.

Now I seem to have roughly 50% of all the tools I own scattered over the cabin’s main room for some reason, plus the sink area needs more cleaning up, plus I have to do chicken chores including moving over 20 gallons of bottled water, and only then may I experience the taste of beer. So I’m going back to work now.

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Speaking of snakes…

Did you know snake aversion training for dogs is a thing? It really is, and it’s as unpleasant as it sounds. Basically they show a dog a snake in a box. If the dog shies away from the snake, he gets a treat. If he goes closer to give it a sniff, he gets half-barbecued with the shock collar he didn’t know until that moment that he was wearing. Repeat until he gets the message.

I got lucky: All the boys came naturally snake-averse, to the point where one time a harmless baby bull snake was curled up on the Lair’s threshold and Ghost wouldn’t go outside until I moved it. But not all dogs are so fortunately gifted: One time a newbie stuck her nose right up to an unfriendly* rattlesnake and was very lucky to survive. The snake didn’t get a good strike in so the dog lived long enough for us to get her to a vet** but her head swelled up grotesquely. We could have played basketball with it, if we had a hoop and if it weren’t still attached to a large dog.

So anyway, ever since Laddie arrived in August I’ve wondered if he is snake-averse. The best way to find out is to find a bull snake and see what the dog does, and I’ve missed two opportunities to do that. The latest was yesterday morning, and while that particular snake wouldn’t have been amenable to capture I did wish I had Torso Boy with me. That would have cut right through to the truth of the issue. Worst case is he finds a rattlesnake while I’m not paying enough attention, and then he dies.

Landlady had an idea this weekend – it seems S&L have a very realistic figure of a coiled rattlesnake they use as a yard decoration, I presume to scare hell out of townie visitors. She borrowed it, and yesterday before Laddie’s evening walkie I planted it in my yard behind a bush he likes to sniff around.


I’ll be honest, I had doubts about the usefulness of this exercise. But I saw a cat react very dramatically to a ceramic tiger one time; it might work. Basically, if Laddie shied away from the fake snake, that would be good news.

If he did what he actually did, which was saunter up and give it a sniff, that didn’t really mean anything. A dog’s eyes might not know the difference but its nose is sure to. So even though Laddie failed the test completely and immediately, that doesn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know: He might not be snake-averse.


* there is no other variety

** and that’s another piece of luck, because there’s no longer any small-animal vet in that town; the closest is in the big town about 50 miles away

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Know Your Snakes

On my way home from morning chicken chores I encountered this little guy…


At first glance a bull snake, also called a gopher snake, can be mistaken for a rattlesnake because of its diamond pattern. But the bull snake is generally lighter in color, has a narrower head lacking the characteristic wedge shape of the viper, and of course has no rattles. The bull snake is harmless and even beneficial, usually quite laid-back though this one is agitated because I stepped over it to get the shadow behind me and then turned around and gave it more attention than it felt comfortable with.

In practice there are only three kinds of snakes in the naked desert: Bull snakes (harmless), garter snakes (instantly recognizable with their longitudinal stripe) (harmless), and all the many kinds of rattlesnake, any one of which can completely ruin your day.

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