Kevin Standlee (kevin_standlee) wrote,
Kevin Standlee

Never Ending Projects

One of the, er, interesting things about the property here in Mehama is that we never want for projects. Besides That Darn Roof, there is log-splitting (I spent an hour this morning splitting four more poplar and cedar logs) and lawn mowing (although since we don't water the grass in the summer, it stops growing and we don't have to cut it so often). And then there is brush clearance. Things grow very fast around here, and there's never a shortage of brush that needs clearing.

This area in front of my van and to the left of the gate used to be a small garage. It started collapsing a few years ago and Lisa's father paid some neighbors to tear it down. (Unfortunately, they ignored Lisa's instructions on how to dispose of the debris and we're now left with another mess on another part of the property that is Yet Another Project, but that's another story.) It didn't take long for grape vines, blackberry bushes, and even small trees like a holly bush to grow up over the site of the garage.

Lisa would like to clear this area, take down the fence that she and I strung to keep people from casually wandering onto the property (back before the bushes started growing), order a truckload of gravel for the site, and buy a storage container to use as a shed on this site.

Yesterday evening, Lisa did not feel like climbing back onto That Darn Roof to start the next phase of that project (move ladders, install more lathing, prepare for more Gray Goo). But the weather was too good to waste, so she got out the electric trimmer, I got the clippers, rakes, pitchfork, and hand cart, and we started hacking away at the brush. As Lisa plied the cutter, I raked the debris away and lifted it into the cart.

Here's the dent she made in the brush after about 30 minutes of cutting. It's more progress than I would have expected, actually, and bodes well for us actually being able to make something happen here.

Unfortunately, while I was whacking away at the loose brush with the rake, I came up with only half a rake. I held up the rake and waved to get Lisa's attention. (We were, of course, wearing eye and ear protection while working with the noisy, debris-throwing equipment.) Half the tines on the rake had broken off at the center of the rake where it attaches to the handle.

Lisa fished around in the bush I'd been combing and dug out the broken piece. She said, "This rake has broken before; you can see where someone welded it. Well, we'd better fix it." And thus we downed tools and headed over to the workshop, where Lisa rolled out her welding kit.

Yes, Lisa has a small set of welder's tools. She explained that this is one of the high-end brand names of welding equipment, but it's the smallest version they make. Most of their gear is much larger, but this one will work for what we needed. Hunting around the place, she found a long bolt that she planned to use to knit the pieces together. She handed me an empty gallon jug and instructed me to go fill it with water. "I have a fire extinguisher," she said, "but I'd rather not use it unless things get serious." (Did I mention that we haven't been watering the grass? There's a fair bit of dry growth around the place, albeit mostly trimmed short.)

Using an old metal plate as a work surface, Lisa got out a grinder and had me hold the rake steady while she ground off the rough surfaces and prepared the rake. (This, by the way, is why there are no pictures. Our hands were full of repairs at the time.) Sparks flew freely, and I was glad I was wearing my coveralls and heavy boots, not to mention my glasses.

Then it was time to get serious. Putting the grinder aside, Lisa connected the welder and donned the leather apron and chaps to protect herself. She put on the welding helmet and lined up the two pieces of the rake. She complained, "With the hood closed, I can't see what I'm doing until I actually start welding!"

"Try taking off your glasses," I suggested. She'd been wearing her tinted safety glasses, which she also uses as sunglasses in normal operation. With the welding hood down, she was behind a double coat of tinting.

Removing the glasses helped a little bit, and she started to apply the first weld to tack the two pieces of the rake together.

"Eek! Fire!" I called out, as the dry grass between her legs burst into flame.

Lisa stopped and stomped out the small conflagration. "Do you want me to pour some water on it?" I asked.

"No," she said, "I don't want to have to work in the mud."

Returning to her task, Lisa welded the bolt across the flat top of the rake to further bind everything together. She had to stop a few times to let the welding unit cool down (it's supposed to rest four seconds for every one second you use it) and to put out additional small fires. She applied the welds liberally, partially because I don't know my own strength and have managed to break a lot of the tools around here by over-using them, and she wanted to allow for that. I reckon it was quite a show for the neighbors across the street. I was of course careful to not look at the arc, for I had only my sunglasses, not a welder's helmet. I watched out for fires and stood on the rake handle to hold it steady while she worked.

After a while, she pronounced the weld complete, and after the welder cooled off sufficiently to be shut down and stowed, she retrieved the grinder, ground off the loose bits, and handed the rake back to me. "How does it feel?" she asked.

I tentatively scraped at some of the (now slightly charred) weeds in the area and allowed as it seemed to be solid. Lisa put the rest of the tools away and instructed me to use the gallon of water to soak the area where we'd been working, just in case there was some stray spark that was waiting for us to leave before bursting into flame. As a child of a US Forest Service officer, I'm somewhat sensitive to this kind of issue myself, and she didn't have to ask me twice.

Unfortunately, the time we spent repairing the rake used up much of our brush-clearing time, so we only got one (fairly large) cart load of brush cut before calling it a night; however, if we can clear the brush faster than it regrows, then maybe we can accomplish something. Lisa has an idea that maybe after we clear the area, but before we get the gravel, that we could lay down plastic sheeting over the area to be graveled in order to discourage the brush from regrowing.
Tags: lisa, mehama, roof, yard work

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