Yet another thing I never did before…

I never ordered away for fancy aftermarket shock absorbers.

I’ve gone through three sets of stock rear shocks in less than two years – granted the third set is still working but it’s only a matter of time because they’re just clearly too short. The jounce is fine but the rebound is murder, pulling them right off the Jeep. So I wiped away a tear and spent some of my housesitting money on these, and we’ll see if that helps.

I’m still procrastinating on leaving the Jeep in town for a week or two to get the fuel and cooling systems fixed once and for all but it’s pretty clear it’ll have to happen before long, whether I drive the jeep there or have it towed. There’s a new nasty front-of-the-engine noise I suspect is coming from the already leaking water pump, and I’m absolutely not willing to replace that in the driveway.

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Yeah, but it’s a dry heat though…

Just came in from fastening down those porch floorboards I took up yesterday, and found that it finally got into three figures.

I wasn’t here for most of June but I’m told it was unusually cool for what’s usually the hottest month of the summer. Down in the city of course it did this every day (did I mention my friends have a shower?) but this is the first 3-figure day I’ve seen at the Gulch this year.

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Damned Leghorns…

It’s pre-monsoon summer, and kind of hot. Walk into the Big Chickenhouse in the afternoon and you’ll see a whole bunch of chickens with their beaks open and their wings held away from their bodies, praying for the evening cool. So not surprisingly, egg production is off a bit.

But when you go to collect eggs in the morning and the count is zero, it’s time to start looking for their new hiding place.

The Leghorns have never been enthusiastic about using the nesting boxes. They normally all (or most) use the same hollow in the bedding so all the eggs end up in one place. And one of those girls right there has gotten very serious about hiding the eggs from the Bad Man. I come in in the morning, look around for eggs and find none, but here’s a little white hen sitting very still in an obscure corner and apparently paying no attention to me at all. When I shoo her away she spends the rest of my visit screaming and squawking bloody murder and when she moves she uncovers…

…the literal mother lode.

And she doesn’t always give it up without a fight. She’s a biter, that one…

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First paintbrush I ever honestly wore out!

At the cost of a truly aching back I finished a first coat on all the front-facing new lumber – which if that sounds like it’s weasel-worded, it is: I have to pull the balusters to properly paint the pre-existing lumber, and that’s okay because they could really use another coat of green while I’m here.

The new floorboards have been down for over two months but I never finished properly securing them because I knew all along I’d have to take them up again to paint under them. The current plan is to take them up a little at a time, paint what they cover, then properly screw them down with deck screws. We’ll see if that plan is worth the genuine pain in the ass it will be: I might end up just leaving that part for last and taking them all off at once.

I noticed yesterday, the first time I’ve used my wall brush this year, that it really didn’t want to properly clean. And over the course of three hours’ painting this morning it got stiffer and less cooperative.

Through my married years I confess I negligently destroyed more than a few paintbrushes out of a (in hindsight) childish wish to passive-aggressively express my objection to all that damned evening and weekend painting. I bought this brush and – to my utter astonishment – two cutting brushes after the Great Siding Project of 2015 when I found myself actually enthusiastic about painting and maintaining the finally-completed cabin exterior. Since that time the only brushes I’ve purposely allowed to be destroyed were cheap one-shots bought for using Killz. I still have those three half-decent brushes. But this one isn’t cleaning up the way it used to, and I find myself wondering if it’s possible to honestly wear out a paintbrush.

It’s just a wall brush, it’s not expensive and I’ll need one a lot on this project so I plan to replace it on Monday. But as Glidden is my witness, I never neglected it. 🙁

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Unexpected care package day!

Landlady came up last night, and the only package I expected from her was some Britta filters. Instead I got two food packages and somebody hit my wish list pretty hard.

These were sent to me by someone who only identifies as “WJW,” and I don’t know who that is but I do appreciate the useful gifts. The Wishlist tends to be the dump for things I think might be useful but I’m not willing to risk that much money to find out. In this case, onions are always a problem because of limited shelf life and wastage. I eat onions with a lot of stuff but I’m always running out or finding out the last onion in the hanging bag has gone mushy. I thought, ‘a can of dehydrated onion shreds might be just the fix,’ and now I get a chance to find out. Also I’ve got rain gear out the kazoo but for some reason no waterproof hat. This one looked like a simple solution to that, especially with Monsoon coming. But I could never bring myself to spend ten bucks on a hat. So thank you very much, whoever you are!

Colorado Hermit sent a food packet quite unexpectedly…

Coffee! Including something I haven’t tried before, which is always fun. Canned meat! And a package of Pup-peroni, which is Laddie’s current favorite. He’d live on nothing but that and biscuits if I let him. Thanks, CH!

And BB sent me a gift from Wally World…

Much canned meat and snackies and dog biscuits, plus a whole bunch of applesauce I’m going to run over the ridge and put in Ian’s fridge for afternoon treats.

Thanks guys! With you around I’ll never starve.

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And now we start painting.

I’ve put this off since coming back from the city, waiting for the mood to strike. Since that’s taking its sweet time happening, it’s time to just get on with it. I’ve got other things to do.

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Horrors! Forcing a man to wash his own laundry!

Actually I’d forgotten how much I kind of enjoy doing this. It’s relaxing.

Not that I’m planning to start refusing the use of Neighbor L’s washing machine. 😉 But S&L are out of state and I’m using up stump socks. So out came the buckets and agitator.

Nice thing about it being so hot and dry right now – you can throw your favorite summer shirt into the bucket and wash it with the rest, rinse and hang it first, and by the time you’re done with the rest your shirt is dry enough to put right back on! Frugality!

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It works! But you need a really big gauge.

Okay: I need to repair or replace my toilet valve – again. And maybe the style where the float wraps around the stem isn’t such a good choice. I left the thing alone for the better part of a month and now the float is hanging up on the stem because calcium scale. The well water here is super hard. Very annoying.

And when that happens, water quietly drains out of the tank at the top of the ridge. It did that all last night to the tune of about 600 gallons. Very bad – but also kind of good because it allowed me to see what effect a leak like that would have on the indicated water pressure.

And blessed be: it had a measurable effect!

Only about a pound and a half, but on a big enough gauge it’s not only measurable but noticeable. Didn’t really save me from any bad thing in this case because the water leak was inside and my first clue was the sound of running water. But if I’d sprung a leak anywhere else, the big steampunk pressure gauge really would have come to my rescue.

It works!

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Breaking my last solar power taboo…

Really longtime readers know that the original solar power system at the Secret Lair was a comically inadequate mishmash of scrounged worn-out parts which barely worked on bright sunny days. Evenings, I read by carefully rationed lamplight and most mornings I could only use electric lights if I also wanted to listen to the low-voltage alarm blare. I put up with that – and also burned a lot of kerosene – for my whole first winter in the Lair. By the end of that winter I vowed I would not rest until I’d built a better and more adequate mishmash of parts that were not entirely worn out.

And with a lot of help from neighbors I did, and it has done nothing but improve and expand in the seven years since. Therefore it is really not necessary for me to be quite the lightswitch nazi I was during the winter of ’11-’12. But old habits die hard.

Now it’s high summer, the days are long and bright and power is plentiful. Since Monsoon has seemingly decided to hold off for a while, it’s also quite hot. Unlike in the old days, the Lair is now equipped with ceiling fans – a monster 120 VAC fan for the main cabin that some neighbors were going to throw away because it got dropped and its case cracked, and a 12 VDC fan in the bedroom…

…donated by BB early last year*. Between them they quite efficiently keep the Lair from getting nearly as hot and stuffy as it used to. Very nice. But it’s still my habit to shut them off at bedtime, because of course I do. Solar power needs the sun, and the sun don’t shine at night, and batteries are expensive.

Last night, though, we didn’t get any evening breeze to cool the cabin down for sleeping. It’s really not an especially hot summer but it’s still summer in the desert and if you can’t cool off your sleeping space you’re going to just lay there and sweat. And I decided that since I’m planning to replace the batteries soon anyway it really doesn’t matter if I wreck the ones I have in a criminally reckless experiment: Let’s leave’em on.

And I did – and it made virtually no difference to the resting voltage of the batteries. Oh, it pulled them down over a tenth of a volt in use by morning, sure. But shut the fans off, wait a few and then record the voltage, and the actual difference was surprisingly – negligible. Measurable in hundredths of a volt if at all.

The difference is so negligible, in fact, that I don’t trust my figures. So assuming we don’t suddenly shift to cool evenings – unlikely – I’ll be experimenting with this more scientifically for the next few nights. I may have been sweating unnecessarily in the name of sparing my batteries.

*It also contributed something I never thought the Secret Lair would ever have: Its very own remote control. But it’s really nice.

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Well. That escalated a little out of control…

It’s supposed to be hot today and I did not have a good day for work yesterday. Up half the night with my nose running, same thing all through morning chores so I took an antihistamine and spent most of the afternoon impersonating a zombie. Hate when that happens.

So this morning I wanted an early start. I walked around my neighbor’s place calling for that little sheltie – I admit that at this point it was pretty much only so I could honestly say I’d done it, because I’m never going to find that dog. Then I went over to Landlady’s for what was supposed to be the main chore of yesterday afternoon…

…washing off the very grody tops of Landlady’s batteries. And yes, Zelda – in this case I took every practical precaution. Gloves, mask, eyepro, rubber apron… Continue reading

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Looking for the little dog…

Okay – between you and me, at this point it’s more like looking without a lot of hope for a recognizable scrap or two of the dog just to give some nice folks a little closure.

It has been my observation, having left the bodies of chickens, squirrels and rabbits in various places and checked for remains later just to see what would happen, that there are never any remains.

So the only hope of finding the little dog is if the little dog is still alive and capable of avoiding predators. I checked the houses in my stomping grounds, checked the watering opportunities – there’s no sign of any little dog, past or present. I had to come this way this morning anyway because S&L are gone and I’m watering their plants every other day – but I was here yesterday as well, because I really do feel bad about these folks’ little dog and wish I could find some sign of it.

There’s some fairly rough country between their place and where they lost the dog, and it wouldn’t be impossible for a scared little townie dog to blunder right off a cliff. It took me some time to get down into this gully without breaking my own neck. But the same thought obviously occurred to my neighbor, because no matter where I went I ran into fresh human tracks. No dog, just human.

I’ll keep my eyes open but it’s been the better part of a week. I don’t think we’re going to find the little sheltie dog.

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(sigh) I chickened out.

I was supposed to take the Jeep to the shop in town this morning. That means a) going to the hassle and stress of illegally driving into town, and b) going without the Jeep for at least a week. It’s inevitable and must be done but I finally convinced myself this isn’t a good time because I’m tending properties of absent neighbors and I might need it when Landlady comes to visit next weekend, the weather being pretty iffy.

Actually it’s just a pack of excuses: I woke up from a dream in which I had found an excellent – completely fictional – reason not to drive to town this morning. I’m conditioned not to mind tagging along with neighbors once a week for drinking water and fuel but in general I truly prefer to stay at the Lair and let the world forget I ever lived.

I’m going to salve my conscience by at least replacing the shocks myself if the local parts store has some that will work – heaven knows I have enough recent experience installing shock absorbers. And while I’m under there maybe I’ll see how hard it would be to loosen up the tank scrap bolts without breaking them…

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Please don’t let your dog run loose in the wilderness.

A wordy cautionary tale which turned into a wall of words: Please bear with me.

For the benefit of anyone not a regular to this blog: My name is Joel, and I’m a desert hermit. I don’t live in a park. I don’t live within ten miles of pavement. I’m several miles as the crow flies from the nearest power pole. This is where the wild things are.

A few days ago some neighbors very abruptly lost a dog. While I have nothing but the deepest sympathy, it could have been avoided. Continue reading

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You never know what’s going to be useful.

The weeds were getting thick before I left and during the nearly a month I was gone they made a play at taking over. I’ve been hoeing and pulling off and on since I got back. And there’s this one bush right beside the driveway that gave me pause. It’s thick and seriously encroaching on the path but all the branches are too skinny for a chainsaw or even a recip saw with a brush blade. Finally decided what this called for was old-fashioned chopping…

…and so I took this thing off the wall. Which in turn got me to thinking about this thing, which I don’t very often. Mostly it just hangs on the wall.

When I first saw it it belonged to T. I never asked him about it, assuming he picked it up at some flea market. T loved him some flea markets, but honestly he wasn’t always the most discerning shopper. At a glance the blade looked like the sort of embarrassing impulse buy you’d thereafter stash on a bottom shelf out of the way and give no more thought.

And after T died, it nearly ended up in a landfill. Landlady didn’t want it. Ian didn’t want it. I was inclined to pass it by myself but then took a second look and became intrigued.

It appears to have been made from an industrial saw blade by someone who knew what he wanted and had the gear to get it, but who didn’t give a damn what the final product looked like. Parts of it are crude, hacked-out work but the blade was very straight, dangerously sharp under the corrosion, and seemed to my uneducated eye to have been machine hammered…

Having originally been a saw blade it has a delightful ring when you chop with it, and the edge is very tough. But except for the sophistication of the edge it looks like something a teenager might come up with in a weekend set loose among his father’s tools. Maybe it is, I really don’t know.

Anyway. I eventually decided ‘what’s a peasant’s shack without a Grosse Messer,’ right? And mostly it hangs right there on the wall’o’kitsch…

…but once in a blue moon it comes in handy.

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Battery Day, and time to clean the cables.

I have wondered for years what’s going on with Landlady’s batteries – and it’s been two completely different sets of batteries.

Topped off her electrolyte today, only a few days late. I need to bring a brush and wash the tops because they’re really getting grody, and then I need to disconnect and clean all the cable connections … again.

Seems like I go through this every year. Mostly but not entirely the positives, of course. I’m going to see if a wire brush will help me clean the battery sides of the connections because they’re a pain to get really clean with sandpaper. And this time I have a new nostrum to try, which I bought since last time and which has worked pretty well on mine. Though petroleum jelly always worked on mine and doesn’t do a thing on Landlady’s…

I’ve tried other corrosion preventive goo on Landlady’s cables in the past and it does nothing but make a mess, so I’m not touchingly optimistic about this stuff. But at least it hasn’t failed before, so I’ll give it a try.

But boy, I hate scraping at those connections with sandpaper. Maybe I should try a chemical approach to that as well? I notice the same company offers hope in a can

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Private to anyone who recently purchased the Solar Power ebook…

A number of people have recently reported difficulty getting the link to work. I don’t yet know what the problem is and I don’t want a dozen people out there thinking I’m a welcher. I acknowledge every purchase I hear about and that’s how I learned there’s a problem, but it’s possible I don’t hear about every single sale. So: If you have purchased the ebook in the past few days and are having difficulty getting your product and haven’t heard from me already, please drop me a line at the email address available at the Send Joel Stuff page, clicky link above. I will drop everything I’m doing and get you a copy immediately.

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Get it while it’s cool…

Finished the east gully’s drainage ditch this morning before seven…

Could have finished it yesterday, I was within two wheelbarrow-loads of doneness. But it’s hard work in the hot sun, not that urgent, and there’s no reason to blow blood vessels over it. If you’re really digging ditches in early July it’s best to hit it for a while before breakfast and then leave it till the next morning.

This wasn’t really much of a ditching project; maybe ten full wheelbarrows of loose silt and a few small washed-in rocks. But still, it’s July in the desert so once the sun is up it’s gonna warm up fast, and you’re an old man with a bad [fill in the provided blank, attach separate sheet if needed.] Get it early and then give it a rest.

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I love the future!

I am aware that in my capacity as a Paranoid Desert Recluse I am supposed to hate all things technological and especially all things connected. And I do fall in line with some of that: I truly don’t understand why anybody’s toilet needs its own internet connection, for example, and you’ll never see me looking at a computer screen without electrical tape over that creepy little camera lens because sheesh.

But sometimes the future is fun and convenient. You may recall that in the last big care package drop my older brother sent me a fuel gauge set for diagnosing what’s going on with the Jeep’s fuel system. That was shortly before my trip to the city and it spent all June locked up in the powershed. But today I dragged it out and hooked it up to that very convenient Schrader valve on the fuel rail…

…and learned that the running fuel pressure was 23psi. Which didn’t really tell me anything useful because I don’t know what the spec is. Not a big problem, I do have a manual and if that doesn’t work I have this hip, cool new thing called the internet. But that would involve taking half an hour or more to go inside and do that research, which would surely let the air out of my Jeep maintenance project…except that I also have this amazing magic elf box right here, which I just used to take that picture.

And so leaning on the fender in the sun I just typed “fuel pressure jeep 4.0” and was immediately rewarded with multiple sources all of which agreed that the pressure ought to be 45-55psi. And that is useful information.

For several annoying little reasons I believe the Jeep is going to be spending a week or two in town before the month is out. But I must admit, I do enjoy certain aspects of living in the future.

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But what would I do for fun?

Some lady wants me shut down and prosecuted!

I’m honored! Bring it on, screechy voice lady! In fact, though I’ve never threatened anybody, I do make fun of congressvermin as amusingly as I can within the limits of my poor talents. I volunteer myself as a test case – just please phone ahead so I can put some stuff into safe keeping before you come haul me away. Please bring cameras, and don’t shoot my dog. He promises to take congress very seriously if it has biscuits.

But I believe what she’s saying here, if she’s capable of actually meaning anything and isn’t just making noises in front of the shiny thing while wearing a hat, that she’s all in favor of such outlets as YouTube “shutting down” voices she doesn’t want anybody hearing from – and thinks those outlets should in effect be given steenking badges and set up to do it officially as an arm of the feds. Only time will tell which side of history she’s on in that regard.

In the meantime, please allow me to make fun of congress a little bit…

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Good start to the day…

We’re obviously scraping the forward edge of Monsoon here, with warm muggy mornings and stormy afternoons. Yesterday the storm held off until almost five but when it came it brought some actual rain as opposed to thunderous ovations for a little sprinkle. That’s the way the season typically starts and while only a fool would bet on the weather around here, it was a wet winter and a wet spring and there’s no really good reason not to plan on a wet Monsoon.


…this morning before it got hot I dug out the lower half of the little ditch that runs through my yard, carrying off the drainage from the small eastern gully and encouraging it not to sheet across the yard. This ditch tends to fill in over the season and I typically leave it silted up until I need it, since it’s a colossal pain in the ass and only serves a purpose for a couple of months in the year. Fortunately while the weather was cool I already saw to the much bigger runoff ditch behind the cabin, which serves a bigger gully that can do real damage. So, since the new porch roof’s gutter is complete and tested, I’m already only one more morning’s work away from being as prepared for Monsoon as I can practically get.

Then I could finally take my first good morning walkie since returning from the city – just take my rifle and some water, go out and have some fun.

That in turn allowed me to finally give my new city-bought boots a test…

And oh my goodness they’re nice. I sure hope my plastic foot doesn’t wear through the sole too quickly because this is the first really comfortable pair of summer boots I’ve had in four years or so. But with lightweight boots the longevity of the soles is always a crapshoot: I’ll just have to wait and see, and enjoy the comfort in the meantime.


I was able to pleasantly work up a good stink before 8:30. Now I’m going to take some coffee out to the porch and finish this new book written by a Friend of the Gulch, which I received too soon before my trip to properly read and review. This afternoon I’m going to fix the handrail on the stairs, which served well enough over the winter but did work itself kind of loose. By the end of the week I expect I’ll be sufficiently back into the rhythm of living here that I can turn my attention back to the next Big Ugly Project, painting the porch.

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