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Sunday, October 13, 2019

Extremely Cheap Cars

I once bought an old Dodge wagon with the 318 engine for fifty dollars because the junk yard only offered the previous owner thirty five. It had a blown torque converter and the engine had lifter noise. A cheap can of additive solved the hydraulic lifter issue. A buddy at work found a torque converter in a vehicle abandoned in a farmer’s field. I did the work in my dad’s backyard. The car, after repairs, still cost less than one hundred dollars.

Unfortunately the gas gauge never worked. One cold night it left me stranded a long walk from home. That was it, time to trade the car in. We had driven it for two years by then anyway.

My lovely wife and I bought the first new car of our marriage. It wasn’t much of a car, a Dodge Omni with the four speed manual transmission and the gutless 1.6 liter Peuguet engine. The car was cheaply made; it didn’t even have a radio. We drove that thing for 10 years and it was falling apart: rust, broken door handles, and a host of niggling mechanical issues. One day my lovely wife got into an accident with a tractor trailer fuel hauler. She totaled the truck, so you can imagine what the car looked like. She was lucky to survive with minor injuries.

Over the years we’ve owned way too many junk cars. At least we aren’t buying Dodges anymore. Probably the best car we ever owned was an old Mercedes 240 D. It was very old when we bought it with 100,000 miles on the odometer. I converted it to run on waste vegetable oil and we put an additional 400,000 miles on it.

All I ever wanted from a car was transportation. It’s not about ego. I don’t have to have a big fancy lifted 4X4 to compensate for my short comings. Cars just don’t excite me, especially new cars. They cost too much money and are poorly made. While the best car I ever owned was that Mercedes, I would not buy a newer one. They are now over engineered with too many computers and too much cheap plastic.

While I had fun running four different diesel vehicles on waste veggie oil, that’s come to an end too. Newer diesels are too complicated and don’t convert well. Then there’s the issue that waste veggie is no longer free and harder to get.

So what’s in my future? With my budget, maybe walking. My lovely wife is currently driving a very cheap Nissan Versa Note with a manual transmission. I’ve got that 2004 Chevy Blazer for the main purpose of towing my boat. When those are gone, I’m just not sure. Maybe we’ll spend half the year living on a sailboat and not needing a car. For the other half? It’s anyone’s guess. Maybe there will be cheap reliable used electric cars on the market? Maybe the whole car thing will be over and we’ll be back to horses.


Saturday, October 12, 2019

Some thoughts on California power cuts

A lot of ink has been spilled about the California power cuts. First of all, it’s inconvenient, but not the Armageddon that some people want you to believe. That’s not to say there won’t be some real suffering, especially for those people with medical needs.

There are some things people should know. The first is that the shutdowns were announced a long time ago and there’s been plenty of time to prepare. Western states are a lot drier than eastern states, making for a much higher fire danger. That’s true in years without drought and dry years make it much worse. After being blamed for the death and destruction of last year’s fires, PG&E can’t afford more lawsuits. They are already in deep financial trouble.

LA is in serious danger from major fires. There are no natural fire breaks and no way to really stop a major burn. The only danger more serious to LA is earthquakes. If there is a major earthquake, fire is a major hazard at the same time.

Many fires have been caused by high tension power lines. Personally, it’s my opinion that the nation should be moving away from big interconnected grids. When power is generated near where it’s to be used, there’s no need for high tension wires. A lot of energy is lost in transport and alternative energy is now cheap and clean enough to do the job. Doesn’t that sound like a better idea than shutting down the power every fire season?

California doesn’t normally experience power outages of this scale. Where I live in Northern New England, power outages can be measured in weeks for some people. Winter weather takes its toll, but I’ve lost power on clear sunny days. Such is life out in the country. That’s a major reason why I was an early adopter of solar electricity. It just works.

California is going to have to figure something out. These problems aren’t going away. Remember, what happens in California has a habit of eventually affecting the rest of the country.


Friday, October 11, 2019

Getting back in the swing of things

Well, the heating oil ran dry. Frankly, I’m surprised it lasted as long as it did. The nights have been cool. No, they’ve been down right cold. Some of the days haven’t been all that warm either.

So now I’m down to firewood. Since we’ll be closing up the house near the end of the month, I really don’t want to invest in a load of heating oil. That can wait until sometime next year. Firewood will have to do.

My wood pile has a fair number of unsplit logs. Last year when I was splitting wood, a lot of the twisty and knotty ones were set aside. Now that’s much of what’s left. Some of them are bad enough that I chainsaw them in half before splitting them smaller.

There I was puttering around the woodpile. It was going fairly well -until I realized how sore and tired the work made me. That long recovery from that nasty infection took more out of me than I realized. That last thing you want to do is swing an ax around when sore and tired. No sense getting injured. Instead of pushing on I took a couple of ibuprofen and had a nap.

Now I’m pacing myself until I get back in the grove of things. I’m not one of those guys who spends a lot of time in the gym. Normally my day to day life gives me a fair bit of exercise. After convalescing for a number of months I really got out of condition. While a lot of progress has been made, now and then some activity knocks me back harder than expected.

A winter of camping and sailing should be just the thing. Looking forward to it.


Thursday, October 10, 2019

Vehicle to home conversions

There’s a lot of information on the Internet about people who convert vehicles into traveling mini-homes. Having converted an ambulance I’ve some ideas on the practice.

There are some really nice conversions out there. Some people put a lot of time and money into their vehicles. In many cases that’s a mistake. I’ve seen where someone did an amazing conversion: fine wood work, sophisticated water and electrical systems, and great attention to detail. No expense was spared.

Then I see the base vehicle that they started with is something like a 1987 Chevy Van with 200,000 miles on it. No matter how well it was maintained or updated, it’s an old van. It will fail. Then you are stuck with a lot of money sunk into a dead vehicle.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t do a conversion on an older vehicle. Just don’t spend a lot of money on it. You could also built it in such a way that the components can easily be removed and installed in something else. For example, when I finally sold my van, the fridge, bed, microwave, tables, and solar electric system were all easy to remove. All of that stuff found new homes.

If you are going to spend crazy money on a van to live in, might as well buy something ready to go. There are quite a few choices based on Mercedes Benz, Ford, GMC, and RAM vehicles.

Of course, some people convert vans for the joy of doing the conversion. Actually using them is secondary. If you are going to really use such a vehicle for extended periods of time I recommend going one of two ways. Either go high end and get something commercial, or go low end and do a quick and dirty conversion. If you take a used older vehicle and put a lot of money into it, it will break your heart when the engine or transmission fails.


Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Final Checkups

The crew is getting ready for travel. One of the things we need to do is to sort out any health issues.

I’ve had two doctor’s appointments so far this month. The first one was with a foot doctor to see how my ingrown toenail surgery worked out. The results were great and the doctor didn’t even schedule any followup. I just had a meeting with the doctor who sent me to the hospital with my leg infection last winter. That went well. He thinks my leg now looks “perfect.”

Next week I have one more appointment. This time it’s with an eye doctor. There are two reasons for an eye exam. Reason number one: I’m sixty-one and never had an eye exam. Reason number two: my driver’s license is due for renewal and an eye test is part of the process. Better to find out if I need glasses before the license test.

Unfortunately, my lovely wife is dealing with a broken toe. She’s determined to not let it slow her down two much but she really needs to rest it right now. Her next appointment is on Thursday and we have a our finger’s crossed that it goes well.

Even Brownie the Sailor Dog went to the vet. She had her annual checkup and her shots brought up to date.

With any luck we won’t have to deal with health problems while we are traveling. All that fresh air and exercise should keep us healthy. All we have to do is avoid injury, disease, and encounters with wild animals. Piece of cake.


Tuesday, October 8, 2019

So now we have chickens

We’ve got three chickens and a rooster with one bum leg living at our house. They aren’t our chickens but the neighbor's. The chickens go home in the evening to roost, but that’s about it. The rest of the time they hang around our place.

I think the chickens would rather deal with our dog than their owner’s two labs. Brownie listens pretty well and knows better than to hurt the chickens. I’m pretty sure one of the labs is the reason the rooster hops on one leg. The neighbors are also doing a massive landscaping job with heavy equipment running all over the place. That scares the birds and they come running across the street to my place.

My lovely wife and I told the neighbors not to worry about their chickens. We don’t mind having them around. They are amusing to watch. They also eat a lot of bugs. The dog hasn’t come home with a single tick since the chickens have been on patrol.

My lovely wife always wanted to have chickens. The problem with that idea is that we also like to travel. It’s not like we could take a bunch of chickens on the road with us. One chicken, maybe. There is that guy who sailed around the world with his pet chicken. Now we can enjoy watching them without having to worry about them.


Monday, October 7, 2019

Junk wood season

October is what I call junk wood season. It’s a transition month from warmer to cooler weather. Actually, here in the North Country, some days are quite cold. Last year we got our first snow in October and it didn’t melt until late spring.

This is the season when people really don’t want to spend money heating their house. Those of us with woodstoves hate to burn our quality wood so early in the season. The house tends to overheat. We also run the risk of running out of quality firewood before winter is over.

This is a good time to burn lower quality stuff. For example, right now I’m burning aspen and some softwood. Lesser grade woods don’t put out the BTUs and they don’t last as long. That’s fine when you only really need a fire in the evening and again in the morning.

The aspen came from my daughter’s place. The trees were growing into the power lines and had to come down. My softwood came from a friend who was cutting down trees for garden space. The wood, while not the highest quality, was free. My son-in-law even delivered the aspen, so you can’t beat that.

I’m also taking down a deck that has too much rot to repair. The wood was never pressure treated so it’s not toxic. The deck boards, once chopped up, will make good kindling.

We are closing the house for the winter in about three weeks. The junk wood should keep us warm enough until then.