Thursday, April 29, 2010


Just watch the whole thing:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

That's Why We Moved Here

(although we're in a far more mountainous portion of the state)

From Oleg:
Of Idaho
These rolling hills are Irish-Green
But those who herein dwell
Have rifles that reach a mile
To send Cromwell's hosts to hell

To them Ruby Ridge was a warning
An alert to the fair and free
Like other, more recent incursions
Against them and you and me

Enjoy rolling hills of Idaho
They look Irish but hold more lead
In case someday reason fails
And the living might envy the dead

The Federal hydra seldom
Comes into these rolling hills
To it the climate is noisome
Though the locals are dressed to kill

Plain are natives of green and beauty
Simple and rough their talk
But they have enough math to know
How far long-range bullets drop

These rolling hills are Irish-Green
But those who herein dwell
Though wishing for peace and quiet
In war would do rather well

To them you are valued visitor
By whom they strive to do right
Those who come in friendship
Need not fear the rifles' might

These rolling hills aren't Ireland
But a more formidable land
And despite all the Pharaoh's armies
These people will win in the end

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

WF, WHF - The Importance of Good Design

There's a new post up at We Few:

In the last 6 weeks I've fallen down our stairs twice.


Not the outside stairs. Not the stairs to the basement. The loft stairs that lead from the main floor to the master suite.

They're fully enclosed, carpeted, and of spec but of bad design.

Oh yes, indeed there is

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

New Blog - We Few, We Happy Few

Chris and I started another blog detailing our journey from suburbanites to rural Americans.

We Few, We Happy Few, a blog dedicated to rural life, culture shock, and the quest for Crispin Ranch.

We already have a few posts up, including some background and our purpose, a post on shopping by the side of the road and the characters we've met, and the joys of dogs and fencing.

The AnarchAngel with remain more dedicated to guns, geekery, and politics.

We felt we needed a more... focused outlet for the changes our life is going through, and why we moved where we are.

Posts will be linked up of course.

Hope to see y'all over at the new place.


Another Trip 'Round The Sun

Today, is my birthday, and I woke up on the right side of the ground; so it's a good day.

I am old enough to know better, and young enough to do it anyway... but still, old enough to feel the pain afterwards.

I may write today, I may not. I most certainly will NOT login to work today (though the blackberry... It's just easier if I keep up. I get a couple hundred emails a day some days). I most certainly WILL read, and relax, and enjoy my wife, and kids, and dogs, and lake.

Monday, April 26, 2010

More Scenes from My Marriage

Mel: Did you give him his ass reaming?

Chris: Yeah... well, it was a polite and relatively gentle ass reaming...

Mel: If it's polite and gentle, that's not a reaming, it's a rim job

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Scenes from My Marriage

Chris: "I like this guy... He builds his boats in his living room"

Mel: "... Yeah... no..."

Chris: "Of course not..."

Chris: "Our living room isn't NEARLY big enough..."

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Anything better than a roaring fire?

We've got one of those woodstove inset fireplaces; and damn is it effective at heating our house.

This one fireplace can heat the entirety of the top two floors, no problem.

With decent wood, and throttling down the flu damper (to slow the burn); I can get 6 standard splits in there and heat the house all night.

Or I can open it wide with 3 or four splits on (for more airflow) and they'll burn down in 90 minutes; having raise the temperature in the house from under 40 to over 70 in that time.

Now, it's off to the hot tub, while the house get's toasty.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Not Enough Gun

So now that we've moved to Northern Idaho, I've decided my carry gun is inadequate.

My carry piece is a Kimber Aegis 9mm 1911. I love it, I adore it, I couldn't be happier with it.

But 9mm ain't gonna do the job anymore.

Anyone who wants to pontificate on the wussy nature of 9mm, go right ahead, I'll ignore those comments like usual. I chose the Aegis for a reason; it was the best balance between weight, conceal-ability, power, and ability to do the job that I could find.

When I bought the Aegis, I had two major concerns: the ability to concealed carry, and the ability to take down my two biggest threats. I believe that my carry piece should also be useful if I get stranded on the side of the road. Arizona, and the route between our house and my dad's in particular, is full of desert and long stretches of wilderness. After human predators, my biggest worry was coyotes and the 9mm would take care of either. I also carried a Marlin Camp 9 Carbine in my vehicle for the same reason and for ammo commonality.

Now instead of long stretches of desert I drive through long stretches of forest. Instead of coyotes, I have wolves, and deer, and elk, and black bear. 9mm ain't gonna do it. I need something with more punch.

On top of that, this region is *mostly* empty of hoplophobes. Even the hippies carry guns here. I don't NEED to conceal carry anymore, so ability to conceal is no longer an issue. I can carry as much gun as I want without worries, without calls to police, and without being pestered with anything more than, "hey, whatcha carrying? I'm carrying such-and-such." The only time I need a small handgun is when I'm going to the mailbox or going into Spokane, and I have the PF-9 for that.

So regretfully, since I refuse to keep firearms I won't use, I'm putting my Kimber Aegis and Marlin Camp 9 up for sale.

*Sigh* I'm going to miss those two.



So, I didn't have a BAG day gun this year... Mostly because we bought two home defense guns just before I moved: a new AR carbine, and a Saiga 12 conversion (I'll do some pics of those soon). Then moving went almost $8000 over planned expenditures and I am broke for the month of April (plus all my March bonus for 2009 is bye bye).


I did find something on tax day this year... something very interesting... and I got to check it out and make the purchase decision today (we'll be picking it up from the owner, with cash in hand, after my next check).

Knowing I didn't have the money yet, but wanting to keep abreast of things, I'd been scanning the local nicklesworth,and craigslist, for boat ads. A very interesting one popped up on tax day... and now... well...

Here are some pics of my new project: An all wood 1970 Carver Custom Cruiser.

It's similar to the '69 Monterey 2580, but  I've got the original dealer bill of sale and options sheet (and all the original user manuals, and the first 10 years of records, which is very cool), and it's labeled as a "Carver 25' Custom Cruiser", not a "Carver Monterey 2580"; and the builders plate doesn't have a model or series number.

I think it might have been a hull that was assembled with power in '69 (the stern drive is a '69 OMC. I've got the original manual for that too); but wasn't completed, as a '69 leftover, until 1970.

It's FULLY optioned up, with all the optional hull and cabin teak, the extra instruments (aqua meter including compass and depth sounder), electric windshield wipers, the chrome horn, the monomatic electric head, the propane stove, shore power, the teak steps and boarding ladder (the ladders not mounted at the moment), ALL the factory canvas (mildew free, amazingly), the extra handrails and "custom" bowrail, even the original curtains, and the contrasting top stripe on the hull (though it's been repainted since).

Everything is there, everything is functional, and most of it is in pretty good shape.

Here's the link to the factory brochure from 1969 (Carver is a great company, and they really appreciate their history. Warning, PDF). Here's the 2580 page from the brochure:

It's got an OMC 210hp motor (a GM 307 small block V8); and the last owner put in a new carb and exhaust logs. The motor runs strong, and clean, and sounds good.

The hull is sound with no rot, and just a few sprung or loose planks (easy fixes), and the wood is in great shape.

I did screwdrivers tests all over the hull inside and out, and didn't find a single soft spot in any structural or cosmetic wood (some of the plywood decking was a bit week, but not rotten); though there are some rubrail repairs and patches made with the wrong screws. 

It runs, doesn't need much pumpout (like any wooden boat, when its out of the water, the wood dries and shrinks; and when you put it back in the water, it will leak a fair bit until the wood swells), doesn't smoke, and doesn't burn oil.

The guy has run it all season for five seasons; he just hasn't had the time or energy to complete the project work... and his wife likes their 28' party barge a lot more.

I picked it up for less than scrappage value (seriously, it wasn't free, but it might as well have been). Oh and the custom trailer comes with it of course...

...WAY below scrappage value...

A functioning stern drive, with a decent condition small block in front of it... at least $1500.
The trailer alone would have cost me more than $1500.

I didn't pay nearly that, for the whole thing.

Now I just need to scrape, sand, seal, and stain or paint; 4000lbs of 40 year old mahogany...

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Views from an Evening

People have asked me, "why did you move?"

Oh... I don't know...

I kinda like the view...

Monday, April 19, 2010

Tried it.. didn't like it

Click to embiggen (From Applegeeks)...

So... the doubledown...

First, dry, not very good chicken. Such is the KFC chicken sandwich (the only things I particularly like from KFC are their chicken strips, potato wedges, and mashies and gravy) whose nominal filling serves as the "bread" of this sandwich.

The bacon? Thin, not particularly crisp, and without flavor. The cheese? Thin, greasy, and without flavor.

The worst part though, is the "special sauce". It tastes like a combination of mayo, cheese whiz, and hot sauce... and NOT in a good way.

Oh, and it costs $2 more than their chicken sandwich.

Personally, I'd just get two chicken sandwiches... or really, I'd eat somewhere else.

Happy Birthday

To my brother, who hit 31 today (and we thought he never would).

To our nation, which entered frank labor 235 years ago on this day; patriots day.

PT, good for you, good for me

PT can have a couple meanings. To anyone who served in the military of course, it means (officially) "Physical Training" (unofficially, there are a number of other, and more creative, names for it), and has a certain association with pain... And for anyone who's had serious orthopedic injuries it means "Physical Therapy"... and has certain associations with pain...

The constant there seems to be joint and muscle pain.

Now, for my money, the best relief for joint and muscle pain is the hot, wet, pounding (dirty bastards... besides, that causes MORE joint and muscle pain... even if it is worth it) of a nice hot tub/spa.

As it happens, I've been doing a bunch of yard work recently (fence mending, constructing yard shelter, felling and splitting wood etc...); and my new house has four different sets of stairs for me to deal with (two bad knees, overweight, and stairs... joy).

Thankfully, our new house ALSO has one of THESE:

Actually, particularly, a Dolphin Spas Luxor:

Oh lord, how I love hot tubs. I can't even tell you. If you happen to have a bad back, or bad knees, you almost certainly know what I'm talking about.

We filled the hot tub yesterday around noon, and I expected to have to wait 24 hours (as I had in all my previous hot tub experiences); but the thing had hit 104 (from 48 degrees to start) by 7pm.

By 9pm, we were relaxing in the tub, and stayed in there 'til almost 11.

Late night, cold (about 45) clear, with a new moon and bright stars reflecting off the lake, geese honking every once in a while; in a hot tub with my wife.


Now, there's the physical therapy, where the physical torture... uhhh I mean training?

Well, in other good news, I've lost 40lbs in the last six weeks. Yay me...

Of course a non trivial portion of that is from the pneumonia; but hey, 40lbs is 40lbs.

Just PART of that loss is from the illness though; the other part is that I'm being much more active, and eating somewhat less than I was in AZ.

In general, the atmoshphere here is just better for me. I like it more, I have more fun, I can spend a lot more time outside (even in the cold. I just prefer the "feel" here).

What I can't do right now, is work out. When we moved, we gave away our home gym, and our excercise bike.

I really liked our smith machine, but it was always a bit limiting for me anyway; and we really didn't want to (or for that matter, really couldn't) carry that extra thousand+ pounds of weight with us.

I've noted before my feelings on gym memberships vs. home gyms; and moving to the middle of frikken nowhere has only strengthened that opinion. For me, where I live, it's a home gym or nothing.

So, more PT... and in my case, it's really both, since the more I exercise for fitness, the more I reinforce my joints with good muscle tone etc... (presuming I don't overdo it).

So, I figure, this time I'm going to get what I wanted when I was buying last time. Again, I liked my smith machine, but it wasn't exactly what I wanted... it was just such a great deal (massive clearance) that I couldn't say no.

And I do LIKE smith machines; but they have disadvantages. For one thing, you can only have one station active at a time. For another, although the motion is generally good, it's not good for squats (it causes hip issues), or leg presses; and it requires a lot of reconfiguration while you're working out.

What I really want, is a powertec leverage machine; and they cost less than half as much as they used to (they were well over $2k when I was looking last time) so I'm going for one:

That is the Powertec WB-MS10 leverage gym; and with a couple add on accessories (leg press, leg lift, pec fly, all $130 each) it does everything I want.

Check out the video, and you'll see how versatile these machines are.

Add an accessory bench ($250), and you can actually set one of the other accessories (the leg press, pec fly etc... above) on it, and have four stations ging at once if you like; or have a dedicated station, or use it as a crunch bench or a dumb bell bench (which is what we'll do).

The only thing I'm trying to decide, is whether I also want to grab their power rack, since I'm already getting the accessory bench and accessories (that's the accessory bench in the picture with it):

There are a few exercises that the power rack is better for (like squats, and bench pressing), but the only thing set of excercises I can do with a power rack that I can't do with the leverage machine; are safety dead lifts, cleans, and clean and jerks (doing lifts inside the rack). Also if you get the lat tower, it gives you a few more options for pulling exercises (rows, lat pulldowns etc...)

Watch the video, you'll see what I mean.

I've got the floor space for it, and it's not much extra money for one, but I'm not sure if it's worth it.

If I get the power rack, I'm going to want two 700lb plate sets anyway; just so I don't have to move plates around all the time. If I don't get the rack I can probably get away with a 700, and a 300 or 500.

Oh and of course we'll need a dumb bell set. Not sure if I'm just going to grab the cast iron bells, or a couple sets of olympic bars and a small plate set. I don't much feel like dropping $500 on a decent set of bells, and if I'm getting two 700lb plate sets, I've got to do SOMETHING with all those 2.5 and 5lb plates they stick in the things.

Of course we also need cardio; and I need a 0 impact solution, that can work with my bac back, ankles, and knees. For me that leaves pretty much just recumbent bikes.

I'm thinking about this one, a Diamondback 500sr:

It looks good, I like the features, it gets great reviews, and a decent price. The only problem being the "user weight limit", but there isn't a single consumer grade bike that doesn't set their limit that low.

Now, all of these aint cheap... Probably around $3k or a bit more total (and thus aren't in the budget yet. Debt service and a new transmission come first); but neither is a good local gym (and near as I can tell, there ISN'T a good local gym. There are four gyms in the area, but they're all of the "Curves" variety. The nearest gym with adequate facilities for me is 35 miles away).

This is a full gym setup for me, and my wife (and eventually, the kids), and if we can find some friends to work out with, for the next ten years...

... and we'll actually use it, unlike our gym memberships. Worth every damn penny.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

God damn !@$%@#$&%@#$%!

Blogger just ate a 2000 word post on CCW for women... First good gun piece I write in a couple months and !$%@#$^@!$%!@#$@$%^&#^%&#%^*%&*($#%$^!#@$!$%!$

Ok, I'm irritated right now.

I'll try and re-write the damn thing tomorrow.


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

I THINK I have a decision about the saw

Firstly... I get more comments on a chainsaw post in one day, than most of my gun or political posts ever get.

Actually, ANY tool posts get a lot more comments. People who never comment on anything, go for the tool posts.

Second, I think I have a plan of action for the saw.

After a bit more research, I've decided that I can afford to go a little smaller than the 70cc models. I'm thinking I'll save the weight, and the money (around 30%), and go for one of the pro 50cc models. The landowner/homeowner 50cc models don't have the juice for what I need, but I think with the pro models, I can get away with the 50s.

If I end up needing a 70cc saw (or bigger), I'll buy it later; but for the next two years (until we buy the big property), a 50cc ought to do it for me.

Realistically, I think anyone looking to do a lot of cutting and clearing needs three saws anyway: one smaller model for light trees, brush, and light limbing (the Poulan is perfectly adequate for that); one medium sized saw for felling medium trees, bucking small and medium trees, and heavy limbing; and one saw for BIG tree felling and bucking (a 28-32" 80cc or bigger).

For the next two years, I won't need to be felling or bucking anything more than 24"; and I should be able to handle that with a strong 50cc, with a 20" bar, maybe even a 24" bar (which I think is iffy on a 50, but I don't plan on cutting big hardwood with it. The big ones are all birch, pine, fir, and tamarack. You want at least a 70 to pull a 24" in hardwood).

Oh and thanks to True Blue Sam for the tips on bore cutting etc... I learned the old way, with saws that didn't have the power to do that; and my instructors always jumped HARD on NEVER burying the kicking edge of the nose (even with the attack edge engaged). Even if you didn't kickback, they were dead certain you'd stall the chain (and with the saws we had, you would).

When I had to deal with hard cuts, I was taught to roll in and angle cut at the dog end of the bar, back to the attack edge of the nose, and back again; then cut out the angle created by that, and start the cycle over again.

If you do it right, you keep the tree from pinching the blade out while you're hinging; and you can attack a harder and thicker tree with a smaller and less powerful saw than you would ideally wish (I learned on old, crappy, low powered saws).

Of course, if you do it wrong, your hinge fails. Obviously, the bore cutting technique works better. You can take a much harder tree, much faster and safer, with bore cutting. Theres just a lot fewer ways for things to go wrong, leaving a backstrap on the tree.

At any rate, I'm going to go for a strong 50cc class saw, unless someone with the right experience convinces me otherwise.

I've narrowed it down to the Husqvarna 357xp (56.5cc, 4.4hp, 13-20" bar, 12.1lbs)

and the Stihl MS362 (59cc, 4.6hp, 16-25" bar, 13.7lbs).

The Husky is a fair bit lighter, the Stihl has a bit more power (I think the 25" max bar rating on the Stihl is a bit optimistic, and the Husky can probably pull a bit more than 20" without much trouble... Maybe a softwood rating for one, a hardwood rating for the other), they both run about $650 street. They both have a lot of fans, and a lot of detractors (chainsaw partisans are as rabid as any other tool partisans).

It's been a while since I looked seriously at new heavy duty saws. When I bought the Poulan, it was because I could get a 42cc 18" saw for under $150 out the door; not after extensive research (unusually for me). The new motors on these pro saws... Damn. 25% more horsepower for the same displacement as a few years ago; and the power to weight is so much better it's crazy.

What I'm going to do, is visit the Husqvarna, and the Stihl distributors for the area (there are actually one for each with 10 miles, and 3 for each within 30), take a look at both saws and at both dealers. Unless one or the other saw is clearly better in my hands, I'll make my decision based on which dealer/distributor network I think will give me better service.

With a pro saw, it really is about the service.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Free firewood... but I think I need a bigger chain saw

So, while we were gone; there was a big wind storm up here, that took one of our trees down (and a fence slat or two, and some other minor damage).

I'm pretty sure that's a birch of some kind. Not sure which, since the thing is so mossy, and in pretty rough shape anyway (and it's been 20 years since my boy scout tree identification lessons).

There are a few more, similar, trees on the property that I really need to take down. A few shorties, some of which have been topped off by nature already; and couple MUCH taller than this little boy (in the forty foot range), and consequently much thicker through the main trunk and stump.

It took me a couple hours to reduce just that little one to logs, using my 18" Poulan Pro; and I had to make four cuts at the base, which was less than a solid foot thick, to avoid binding, or lugging and stalling.

This little saw has served me well for the last couple years in Arizona; but it just can't handle the trees out here. It's really a light duty saw, for limbing and the like. I picked it up on a massive sale for I think $119, and used it to clear overhangining limbs etc...
Note: Several people in comments have noted that I should be able to take that tree... or a 24" for that matter using my current saw; and I agree, I SHOULD be able to. It's a 42cc saw, it SHOULD be able to do so, providing I am using the right technique.

Thing is, I AM using the right technique. I'm not a novice at running a chain saw. I learned as a teenager PROPERLY, in the New Hampshire woods from experienced firewood cutters.

I AM out of practice however. Although I used the thing every month or two for maintenance; it's been... I guess 7 or 8 years since I've had to fell and buck any trees. I could certainly use a refresher, but I've been reading True Blue Sam (a pro) and some other resources on the web, and I'm not doing anything particularly wrong).

She cut fairly easily on shallow cuts, and not so bad on the short face cuts. It was whenever I had more than an inch or two of the blade bearing on the wood (on a relatively soft wood like Birch you SHOULD be able to get 4" of good bearing surface, even from a 40cc saw on an 18" bar without bogging in any way), had the blade buried much (of course, keeping the tip cleart) or when I had a knot I couldn't avoid that she bogged down badly.

I even stalled the chain a couple times, on cuts that really shouldn't have stalled the chain, though that's where if I had been more in practice I could have avoided it. I paid closer attention after the second time, and didnt stall again.

Also, she got a bit hotter than I like, even cutting that bitty tree... Though I suppose part of that poor performance is me running it with an anti-kickback chain. My current chain is reasonably sharp (I haven't sharpened it recently, but it's not bad. Could be better...) , but I'd certainly get better performance out of it with a new, non-safety chain.

Also, someone noted that saws are classified by displacement, not horsepower; which I was also aware of, but most people reading this post (like my wife) would have no idea what the difference between a 40cc, 50cc, or 60cc saw was, other than "is one bigger?".

Now, I'mna need a real felling and bucking saw; and you all know my philosophy about tools: Either buy the cheapest thing that will do the job, or buy something that will do everything you need for life (or twenty years, or however long a reasonable expectation for that tool might be).

I plan on using this to clear land later on, with trees up to 24" thick. I'm also going to use it to buck out said cleared trees for firewood.

Accordingly, I'm thinking about a 60cc or 70cc, 5+hp 28" or so Husky:

or Stihl:

I don't really NEED one of the big 7 or 8hp Husky XPs. My neighbor has a 93cc, 7hp 32" Husky 395XP, and it's a damn nice saw; but it streets for over a grand, and that's just too much for something I'm not making my living with. Besides which, it's a heavy bastard.

The problem is, there's a HUGE gap between say, the 390xp (87cc, 7hp, 18-28" bar, streets at just about $1k); and the top end of their "landowner" line, the 359 (59cc, 4hp, 13-20" bar, streets at just under $500). The 359 is a good saw, but it's only got a bit more capacity that my little Poulan (for a lot more money).

Frankly, I don't think anything MUCH smaller than the 390 is going to do the job I want.... or rather I'm pretty sure the landowner type models WONT do the job particularly well, or hold up to the duty for years; and if you're going to buy a pro model, the prices are all pretty close together.

There are other saws in between the two, like the 70cc, 5.5hp 372; but it streets for just $100 less than the 390, for considerably less capacity. I'm sure it could do the job I want to do, but for $100 more I could get the $390... Not sure if it's worth the difference or not, plus the 372 is 2lbs lighter.

Husky doesn't have any 60cc saws, and I'm not sure if the 50cc saws are enough. They jump from the 50cc class, to the 70cc class (and from 4.4hp to 5.3hp, and 20" max bar to 28" max bar).

Stihl gives you more options (they have a ridiculous number of models), but the prices are in about the same range.

I figure for what I want to do, the 441 (71cc 5.5hp, 16"-32") or 460 magnums ( 77cc, 6hp, 16"-32") are about the smallest that will have the capacity for what I want; though the MS362 (59cc, 4.6hp, 25" max bar) might do the job as well.

So, I know theres a bunch of experienced loggers, land clearers, firewood cutters and the like out there reading me; what do YOU recommend for clearing, bucking, and other use up here in the north woods?

Update: I THINK I have a decision about the saw

Monday, April 12, 2010

Falling over, but at least into our own beds

It's amazing how fast the miles are eaten up, when you've got the cruise control locked at 84mph.

No matter how fast though, there are still 1500 someodd of them, between the reception hall, and home

No matter how comfortable, smooth, fast, and well appointed your car is, it's still not very fun having to spend 24 driving hours in it.

Doing it for the second time in just less than a month, while still recovering from pneumonia... Yeah not fun at all.

So the numbers... 1522 total miles (including a detour or two), at an average road hours speed of 65.6mph. We did it in 24 on the road hours with about five hours in gas and food stops, for 19 hours actual drive time; so our actual driving speed average was just about 80mph (which is about right, since I wasn't kidding about having the cruise locked at 84 almost the entire way).

That's actually a lot better than we'd planned. It's pretty hard to make a road hours average of much more than 50mph on most trips; and an actual driving speed average of 80 is DAMN good.

Our average mileage en route was 24.4mpg, for a total of about 63 gallons of gas burned; which was also a lot better than we'd planned. This is especially true, because we were doing 84 the whole way (including through the mountains, both up and down). During some stretches where we were limited to 74 (I kept it to plus 9) I was seeing sustained 28.7mpg.

We did two overnights, taking it a bit easier than the last trip; so our total time enroute, was 41 hours, for a total trip average of about 37mph.

However, even taking it easier, and much more comfortably; we still managed the trip in 7 fewer driving hours, and 13 fewer hours overall than with the truck and trailer. Don't even need to talk about how much better average speed, or how much less fuel etc...

Oh and no blowouts, and no mechanical damage.

Overall... It was a much better trip than the first time. The kids were great, the car was as comfortable as any car can be for so much time in it, and we enjoyed some audiobooks along the way.

The kids are freaking out about how awesome the new house is, and the dogs are freaking out at how awesome it is to have the girls back.

We're just exhausted, and are about ready to fall over for a day or so.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

A bit more than I need just to hold pants up

This, is my new belt.

I needed a new kilt belt for JohnOCs wedding, and a new faire belt for that matter; and I couldn't find one I wanted, so I decided to make my own.

My wife grabbed a six foot length, of 3" wide, 12oz tool leather (just under saddle leather in weight, thickness etc..) and I went to work.

I actually managed to kill two punch dies in the process, thats how tough this stuff is.

The hardware is solid brass, with brass Chicago screws holding everything together.

The design of the belt is such that when fastened, there are three full layers of leather over the front of my body (four, around the buckle attachment and adjusting loop); and never less than two layers forward of the midline (the inner ends wrap under each other, and the buckle, clasp and adjuster are another layer, starting at about the midline of the body).

The whole thing took me about an hour (not including the edge dressing and dry time), and I'd say the belt weighs well over a pound.. probably two pounds with the buckle.

I jokingly slapped it into my hand to test the weight, and had to shake off the sting...

I wonder what the TSA will make of it?

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Happy Birthday to Information Technology

Today is one of the most important single dates in information technology. It could reasonably be called ITs birthday.

On April 7th 1927, the first long distance television broadcast was made... Information technology isn't just about computers after all...

On April 7th 1964, the modern mainframe, the IBM System 360, was officially announced. There were of course other large computers before the System 360, but the 360 represented the first truly modern mainframe... and more importantly, the modern generation of mainframe system software, and applications.

So much so, that many core mainframe applications running today, are at least in part, binary compatible back to the programs of the S/360 in 1964.

The system 360 pioneered so many things we consider standard today, it can be fairly said that all modern computing is in some way descended from it.

Five years later, April 7th 1969, RFC-1 was published, setting the first basic standards of what would become the internet.

So, happy birthday to the industry that pays my bills.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Swingin' Steaks

Mel and I are heading back to Phoenix for John OCs wedding early Thursday morning. We get picked up for the ride to the airport at 2am, and need to get to bed early wednesday night, and grab a couple hours nap; since were going to have a full day of John OCs wedding activities once we get off the plane.

Then we pick up the kids from grandpa, and drive home with kids and car.

So, Mel and I decided to celebrate our last night of being solo grownups for a while, at the steakhouse whose door is pictured above.

Their specialties are a 40oz porterhouse (no, I'm not having that); and a real treat, Mels first "swingin steaks", AKA prairie oysters.

Yeah, I meant that unironically. I love the things, when they're done right.

Yeah, this is our kind of place.

Monday, April 05, 2010

The Double Truck Shuffle

So, we're moved up to Idaho (again I say, long post about that forthcoming. The pneumonia has kept me from getting the pics I want to accompany the post); and among the MANY other changes, projects, acquisitions, and everything else we're going to be doing over the next... Oh two or three years let's say... I promised my wife we'd build her a truck when we got up here.

The Truck of Doom (Diesel Edition), is an awesome truck, and an incredible tow/haul vehicle. It's also 21 feet long (not including the hitch stinger), 8 feet wide to the mirrors, and over 7 feet tall (now that it's got 35" tires on).

Frankly, it just doesn't fit some places; and she's terrified of trying to park it in tight spaces. She absolutely will not even attempt to parallel park the damn thing at all (really, it's not THAT hard. It's got good mirrors, and a decent turning radius).

All that said, 4x4 is definitely a necessity up here (three months of the year, my car is going to live in the garage and not come out... because it won't be able to get out of our driveway, never mind be able to deal with the roads); and she still wants a truck, both as a fun vehicle, and for the school run/grocery getter.

This is complicated by the fact that the nearby town, is one of those stupid "walking cities" that deliberately make driving and parking in town difficult; with one ways and traffic diversions through the whole damn town.

During summer tourist season the town and the parking are damn near impossible, and a bigass pickup truck just aint gonna do it; but anything short of a big 4 wheel drive station wagon isn't going to cut it for our practical need either. If we're going to do that, we might as well get a small SUV, for the extra off road capability, toughness, and cargo capacity (especially tow capacity).

Then there's the fact that I'm planning on seriously kitting out the Dodge over the next couple years (I'm keeping the thing til it dies, or 'til I do; whichever happens first. I'm going to make it into exactly what I want); and she wants a vehicle of her own, done HER way.

Finally, there's an additional complication that pushes this purchase up the line so to speak:

We seem to have fried the tranny in our truck.

It's not 100% dead, yet, but it's on its way rapidly. The thing is slipping badly, and flapping gears in certain RPM and load ranges. It needs a full rebuild or replacement very soon (along with the torque converter).

This wasn't particularly unexpected. With a Chrysler automatic, it's generally a question of WHEN it's going to die, not if. I was hoping to get another 20k miles out of it, but I wasn't surprised it died at 60k, given the heavy towing we were doing.

It IS happening at an inconvenient time, but that's life.

I really don't feel like paying somebody $3k to swap out with just a rebuilt stock tranny (that was the LOWEST quote by the way); which is just going to lunch itself in another 60,000-80,000 miles (thats about average for this tranny when you're doing a lot of heavy towing, or offroading, or anything particularly strenuous).

So we're looking into replacing the stock trans with a super heavy duty manual (a tow truck tranny), or a highly upgraded super heavy duty automatic from one of the various specialty tranny makers/rebuilders.

ATS and B&M are both selling upgraded versions of the stock auto. I can't find any source for third party manuals, but there are enough junked Cummins medium duty trucks out there (I found four under $2500 within 100 miles of me, in 5 minutes of searching) I shouldn't have a problem finding a manual if I want to go that way.

The real problem there is the cost and complexity of a conversion. It would really be best just to find a junked 2500 of similar vintage, and strip the clutch, pedal assembly, tranny, brackets, lines etc.. out of it; otherwise you're talking about more than $6k in parts easy.

A lot easier, is to just replace the standard TorqueFlite 48RE-HD; with either a super heavy duty upgraded model (from ATS or B&M or others), or possibly dropping in the next model years heavy duty six speed 68rfe (ATS builds a version of that tranny for the same price as the 48RE).

Just for comparison, the stock 48RE trans is rated for 400hp and 650ftlbs of torque (the 68rfe is rated a bit higher, for 450hp and 750ftlbs max) with a 13,700lb max towing capacity; the ATS is rated for 750hp and 2000ftlbs, with a 20,000lbs max tow.

With the ATS trans, clutches, valvebody, pump, I/O shafts, torque converter, trans/TC controller, and exhaust brake (you can buy the whole thing as a package for about $5.5k); you've got most of the advantages of a manual right there; including the ability to force manual shift and hold on every gear, and to lock and unlock the torque converter either manually, or at preprogrammed points.

That, and it'll be cheaper over all; less work, and less modification to the truck. I'd really prefer a manual, but the hassle of it... Plus, I'm partially disabled, and I'm not likely to get much better; sticking with the auto might be the better choice given my knees.

At any rate, whatever we decide to do I'm going to do the work (I've done tranny swaps before, though not on a Cummins, and it's going to save me at least a grand, maybe two), and buy the parts myself.

It's going to be several months before we can do it; and in the mean time, we need to have a usable vehicle, big enoguh for us, the kids, the dogs, and costco runs, and with at least some towing and hauling capability; on the road. Say enough to haul a small utility trailer, a couple of quads, a small boat etc...

So, the question then becomes, "what to buy as a project truck"?

That really comes down to a question of, what does she like, what do we want, and what do we need.

The desired properties are fairly simple, though unfortunately, not particularly easy to find all in one platform:

  1. Smaller and more maneuverable than our big truck, but still big enough for us, kids, dogs, stuff etc...

  2. REAL 4x4 is an absolute must, with serious upgradability. Part time or full time are both OK, but if full time, it must still have a multirange transfer case and properly locking hubs; and locking diffs must be available for it

  3. Must be available, in decent condition, at low cost (say under $2500 for a base vehicle, under $4k for one in great shape with a bunch of extras), with EXCELLENT parts availability at a reasonable price.

  4. The availability, or easy retrofit, of a manual transmission, is a BIG plus

  5. The availability, or easy retrofit, of a diesel engine, is a plus

  6. General upgradeability; especially serious power, reliability, suspension, and driveline upgradeability.

  7. The ability to put in a nice, but TOUGH (kidproof, dogproof, weather proof) interior, at a relatively reasonable cost

  8. The ability to lose the top in back is a small plus

  9. There should be no "fatal flaws" in the vehicle that can't be easily corrected (i.e. bad suspension that's hard to replace, bad driveline, body rusts away to nothing etc..).

  10. The thing has to be FUN

To meet all these requirements, we looked at a lot of different possibilities:
  1. 1st through 3rd generation Chevy Blazer/GMC Jimmy

  2. 1st and 2nd generation Dodge Ramcharger

  3. 2nd through 5th generation Ford Bronco

  4. 1st gen Ford Explorer

  5. Jeep SJ (Wagoneer)

  6. Jeep XJ (Cherokee)

  7. Jeep ZJ and WJ (grand cherokee)

  8. 2nd or 3rd generation Toyota 4runner

  9. 60 series or 80 series Toyota Land Cruiser

  10. 1st or 2nd generation Range Rover
As I said, NONE of these vehicles meets all the criteria above. As far as I know, NO vehicle does; but this is the list we thought met the most possible of the desired properties.

There were a number of others that we thought about, but dismissed for various reasons. Jeep CJ/YJ/TJ (excluding unlimiteds which are too new, or CJ8s which are impossible to find in decent shape) etc... are a bit too small; as is the first gen Bronco, the International scout, and the FJ40 land cruiser.

The majority of the "other brand" SUVs out there don't meet enough of the criteria above, or are just too crappy (Suzuki Samurai make great buggies when tricked out, but are still crap on the road for example, and are too small etc...).

Right away, we excluded the ramcharger based on it's problematic 4 wheel drive system, and transmissions; and the near impossibility of finding a good one in decent shape in this region.

The 1st gen Explorer has similar driveline issues; with crap auto trannies, decent manuals with crap clutches, and hubs that shred themselves. They are seriously upgradable, but they also generally suffer from having been long term mommy mobiles, then passed on as beaters. And honestly, the explorer just has no soul.

The 1st gen 4runner is a BIT too crappy. It's a solid pickup truck design (you just can't kill the damn things), but the engines and transmissions are weak, and not particularly upgradeable. There ARE good swaps available for it, but probably not worth it. The second gen is a bit better, but both have the problem of availability, and of parts availability at a reasonable price.

The Land Rover suffers from availability, and parts availability issues; otherwise it'd be at or near the top of the list. The land cruiser only slightly less so. It's not that there aren't lots of parts available for both; it's just that they are all special order parts, and EXPENSIVE.

The third gen on fullsize Broncos are great trucks, but they have major front suspension issues (the wife hates the look of the second gen. She loves the first gen, but they're too small). If we were going to run one, we'd have to swap out the TTB front suspension for a true solid axle. It's still a possibility, especially given the engine, tranny, transfer case, and axle options available to the machine; and that you could still get a removable hard top all the way until '96... but lets just say it's moved off the "short list".

That brings us down to the K5 Blazer/Jimmy, or some kind of midsize Jeep SUV.

The jeeps have the mixed advantage/disadvantage of being smaller. They're certainly more nimble and better on the trails; but they also don't have nearly as much room.

All of them have a lot of engine options; though obviously the K5, being a GM pickup truck based vehicle, has basically infinite options, including several diesels.

The XJ doesn't have an easy v8 or diesel option (actually, it has two diesel options, but neither are particularly good), but it does have a very good inline six that's highly upgradeable (including a factory 4.7l crate motor, and an available supercharger kit). The SJ, ZJ, and WJ all have V8 options.

The SJ, XJ, and K5 can all be had with a decent manual tranny, good axles, and good transfer cases; never mind every axle and transfer case manufacturer EVER makes a model either explicitly for, or that will swap in to, all three.

The ZJ and WJ don't have a manual tranny option, and have far more limited axle and transfer case options, without some SERIOUS fab work. It can be done, but it's probably not worth it.

Parts availability? Well, SJ parts are getting a little harder to come by, and there weren't ever as many parts for WJ/ZJs; but the XJ and K5 have basically infinite parts available, OEM and aftermarket. Hell, you can actually build an entire XJ or K5 minus frame, straight from newly available catalog parts from LMC and the like.

It's getting hard to find a good condition SJ for reasonable money. They're out there, but it takes some looking. On the other hand, there are right now, over 100 K5s for sale within 150 miles of me, and over 200 XJs.

So what we've come down to really, is trying to decide between an XJ and a K5; though the SJ is still in the running (my wife and I both love the old Wagoneer look; and they're great to work on, with real old truck construction, and a decent aftermarket), if we can find the right one.

The XJ is more upgradeable as an offroader, and is smaller and more maneuverable for in town stuff. The only real offroad limitation on it, is the tires. It requires a lift and flares just for 32s.

The K5 has more room, is cheaper, is easier to work on (that whole "more room" thing again), the parts are cheaper (it's a GM pickup based vehicle), we can get a diesel for it, and there are more options (though honestly, both have so many options that's really a wash). Oh and if you get one of the 3/4ton rated models (the civvy diesel, or the CUCV), you can put 35s on it with no lift (it will need flares though); or 32s with the stock half ton rating and no flares.

Complicating the decision, is the number of really nice XJs available around here for under $4k, including some already built or partially rigs.

Complicating the decision further, is the availability of a couple of diesel K5s; including an m1009 CUCV (ex military), with a turbo upgrade and newly rebuilt motor and tranny, for just $2250.

Mel likes them both. I like them both. Their advantages and disadvantages pretty much balance each other out.

We're slightly leaning towards the Cherokee, because of the manual transmission (I've found a half dozen in easy distance. I haven't found a single manual K5), and because it's a bit easier to deal with in town.

Basically, it comes down to finding the right truck, at the right time, for the right price.

We're flying down to Arizona in a couple days for JohnOCs wedding; and driving home with the kids and the car. When we get back, we're going to start looking in earnest, so we can take the truck off the road as soon as possible.