Grading the Driveway

Since I daily drive a Jeep Cherokee XJ, I often don’t notice the condition of the driveway. I live at the end of a dead end road and I have a long gravel driveway.   Instructions to my house include, “when you get to the end of the paved road – keep going”

When I drive one of my sports cars however,  the ruts and bumps in the droveway become very apparent.  The Porsche and the RX7 do a fairly good job at grading the center of the drive but it is hard on the air dams.

Grass in center of the driveway

So occasionally I have to get out my antique tractor and attach the grader blade.  Like today that usually involves working on the tractor first.  Today I had to remove and clean the carburettor before it would start.

I began by setting the blade at an angle and cutting the gravel that gets pushed to the sides of the road back to the middle. This creates a big hump in the middle of the road.  So I have to be prepared to finish once I get to this state.

I learned this method growing up on gravel roads in rural Mississippi.  I would watch as the county road graders came by once a month or so and smoothed the roads.

Back drag

After the gravel had been pulled back to the middle, I flipped the blade around backwards to do a back drag.  Allowing the curved part of the blade to ride on the pile of gravel smooths it out nicely.

Finished Drive

Now I am ready to take the Porsche for a test drive once I reinstall the brake cooling ducts.

Bridge Repair – correcting an oops

Bridge Repair – correcting an oops

“Mister Straw, I need your help,” the county engineer said to my grandfather. “We have a dragline in the creek and we hope you can help us pull it out.”

The engineer went on to explain that they were installing a new bridge on one of the county roads. They had fabricated a new concrete bridge to replace the old wooden structure. They had cast a new concrete deck but had retained the original wooden abutments. During the back filling of the road bed, one of the abutments had been pushed off vertical and collapsed under the weight of the new bridge.

One end of the bridge had fallen into the creek. They had brought out the drag line to try to raise the bridge and now it was in the creek too – on its side.

Daddy Straw surveyed the situation and assured him that he could recover both the machine and save the bridge. Back at the shop he had my Dad and my uncle collect cribbing and jacks. HE then had one of the other employees drive the shop crane to the job site.

The shop crane or winch truck as he called it was made from a Ford lat bed truck with most of the body removed. There was a large boom mounted on the back. The rear axle had been replaced with one from a motor grader. A huge winch form a bulldozer was drive by the truck’s PTO. The operator’s seat faced the rear of the truck. Driving it to the job site meant an uncomfortable neck strain for the driver.

First they recovered the fallen machine using the old winch truck. Next, they set about raising the bridge.

My dad and his brother took on the task of wrestling the heavy hydraulic jacks and cribbing timbers down the creek bank and under the concrete bridge.

They built a base and began raising the structure a few inches at a time and re-cribbing with wood. It took about three weeks but they were able to raise the bridge back to the level of the roadway without damaging the bridge section.

Next my grandfather fabricated steel supports out of heavy H beams and my dad and his brother were assigned the task of snaking them down the creek bank and setting them in pace under the bridge. The dug down and created a concrete base to set he beams on.

Once that end of the bridge was stabilized, they move to the other end and temporarily lifted that end off the wooded supports. They cut out the wood and fabricated another steel support for that end. They then carefully set the bridge in its final resting place.

I am always amazed at the stories of how my Grandfather who had only a third grade education was called upon to bail out engineers and others who were supposedly more educated than him. I guess his education at the School of Hard Knocks as he called it was a pretty good one.

The remains of the winch truck we found near the old shop building

Hacking with Sugru

Hacking with Sugru

I have been reading about Sugru on several websites. I finally decided to order some and see what all the fuss is about.

I looked through the various bright colors and decided that black was really the only color I could see my self using for the projects I had in mind. It took some looking but I finally found where to order single color packs on the website. I entered my info and waited. My envelope arrived a few days alter and I was anxious to try out a packet.

I was at first surprised at how small the packets were. Somehow I had expected more volume for $15 but if it lives up to its reputation, it will be worth the price of admission.

For my first hack, as they call it, I decided to repair my broken key chain flash drive. It get s a lot of use and abuse and the case has been held together with tape for a while. More and more bits of plastic crumble off it each day. The exposed circuit board was beginning to worry me so it was an ideal test for my first Sugru hack.

I realized that about half a pack was all I was going to need for the repair. I did not want to waste the rest of the pack so I looked around for something else to test it on. I found a 2M radio that had an exposed wire at the power cord. Electrical tape keeps coming of the joint so I decided to try the Sugru.

For the thumb drive, I had to do a little prep work. The drive slips into a cover that is the key chain part. I needed to make sure the Sugru covered the damaged area but did not interfere with slipping it into the case. I read in the instructions that soap is a release agent. So I coated the case with dish soap and then molded the repair blob around the broken end of the drive. While it was still moldable, I slipped it into the cover. This made the Sugur form around the cover edge. I molded it in to the shape I wanted and let it set hoping it would really release for the cover.

The remaining Sugru, I molded into a blob around the wire side of the connector on the radio. I had a lot more confidence in this repair as I was able to work the putty between the wires and give it some mechanical grip as well as its adhesive powers.

After letting both tests set overnight I am pleased with the results in both cases. The thumb drive stuck a little in the cover but I was able to pull it out with a little force. It looks much better than the tape and exposed circuits. I think it is well protected now and should last a while.

The radio wire repair looks nice too. The joint is flexible and is much neater than having electrical tape wrapped around it. I am looking forward to hacking more things with Sugru.

Saving on Propane costs

Saving on Propane costs

I recently noticed that our propane costs have gone up a huge amount. I know the cost of propane has increased, but our usage is up as well. We use propane only for the stove and the water heater so we really should not use very much propane at all. In fact over the 15 plus years we have lived in this house I have pretty much ignored the propane bills and just let the truck driver stay on top of keeping my tank filled.

However I am paying the price for my inattention right now.

I started by setting back the thermostat on the hot water heater. There is no use heating the utility room any more than necessary. The clothes dryer does a good enough job with that.

Next I started checking for leaks. I mixed up a batch of soap and water and put it in spray bottle. I went around outside spraying joints. I started at the tank and worked my way back to the house. I checked the regulator vent as well because a broken diaphragm could be a big leak.

I finally found a joint that bubbled where the line entered the house for the stove. It had been repaired a few years ago and one of the fittings made a few bubbles. Snugging up the nut made the bubbles quit.

Next I checked around the hot water heater. It was relocated a couple of years ago when the floor was redone. Sure enough there was a leak where the copper pipe joined the shut off valve. I had to tighten the nut twice to get it to completely stop.

I had thought the smell around the hot water heater was just the kitty litter box but I guess it was the mercaptane in the propane after all. A couple of hours after I tightened the fitting, the air was much fresher smelling in the laundry room. I hope this will also translate in to lower propane bills as well.

How to install a corner shower.

How to install a corner shower.

Obtain a corner shower kit. The kits come with the glass sides and door, the base and some water proof sheets for the other two walls. I have assembled ones from both Home Depot and Lowes. I don’t see much difference so get the one that you prefer.

Begin by locating the drain. If you are working with an existing drain, you may be limited. If not then plan you drain layout first and install the drain pipes with an appropriate trap. Most of the kits come with a drain fitting that will slip over a 2 inch pipe.

You will need two solid walls to form the corner for the shower. If you already have a corner then you can use that. If you are mounting the shower along a wall, you may need to build a new wall to form the corner. The new wall can be faced with sheetrock. The shower panels will glue over the wall to make it water proof.

Once the drain is in place securely mount the base. Make sure the base is level or at least drains to the hole. Pack gout or sand under the base to make sure it is firmly supported. Screw or press the drain in place and caulk it to the base.

If you are using an existing wall, cut back the sheet rock so that the base will be against the studs. If you are building a new wall, push the base against the studs and set the sheet rock on top of the base flange.

Install the shower faucet and plumbing. Be sure to test it all for leaks before sealing up the wall. I recently had a brand new faucet fail to shut off causing quiet a mess.

Make a cardboard template from the shower box to locate the holes for the shower nozzle and the knobs. Mark these on the sheet rock for the wall and on the plastic water proof sheet that will be on that side.

Set the corner piece up and mark it on the wall. Remove it and put glue o the wall for the water proof sides. I used the appropriate styrene compatible glue in a caulking gun to secure the walls to the sheet rock. Tape them in place to make sure they don’t sag. Make sure they are level and vertical.

Apply glue for the corner piece and glue it in place. Make sure you insert the towel bar (if it has one) before gluing it up.

Install the faucet knobs and trim, Install the shower head.

Mount the first track for the glass wall making sure it is vertical. Then mount the second one. Choose which way the door will hinge and install the magnet closer strip on the appropriate side. Attach the strips above and below the door opening to that side.

Install the glass wall in the end strip. Assemble the hinge side and slip it into place. Adjust the pieces so that they sit in the center of the base flange. Level the walls and anchor them to the end strips with the provided screws.

Cut the top piece to the correct length and bend it over the top of the walls. Anchor it with the provided screws. Be sure to compare the screws to the instructions so that you are using the correct length fasteners.

Attach and top plates that are provided for stiffeners. Then attach the lower hinge plate. Set the door in place and install the upper hinge plate to secure the door. Adjust the hinges so that the door swings smoothly.

Caulk the joints where the metal frames contact the plastic parts. Allow the caulk to set before testing the water.