Winter Storm Nadia is Naughty.

I remember years ago in first grade our school taking two vacation days in February to celebrate the birthdays of President Abraham Lincoln, February 12, and President George Washington, February 21st.  We would work on crafts centered around both presidents and display them the entire month of February.  Today, schools celebrate Presidents’ Day, which complete robs the importance of these two presidents who were models of what a president should do and behave like.  Plus, 2 days off from school with presidential arts and crafts for a month, what more could a first grader ask for during one of the bleakest winter months?

On Abraham Lincoln’s 210th birthday, N. Idaho was hit by Winter Storm Nadia.  Unlike the snow apocalypse the media might make you think it is, the snow storm was a forgotten normalcy we faced since we moved to N. Idaho.  I plowed 7 hours yesterday and could not keep up with the falling snow.  This morning the sun is out and so will I, but today I will cut the final paths that will get us out of our snowed-in off grid, toasty, bungalow.  Enjoy the quick video I made during the rush of yesterday.  If you are snow bound today.  Perhaps, my old blog post on Spokane’s worst snow storm and preparing for such an event will help encourage you.

I miss the 1980s Radio Shack

While building the bicycle generator, I wished I could find an electronics component store. I needed a couple parts, a diode and an inline Volt/Amp meter.  I checked the phone book for electronic parts and components and an older phone book had a few stores, but in the new phone book, the section no longer existed to be replaced by e-cigs.

The elusive diode…  After several phone calls and a store drop by, to no avail, I succumbed to ordering online.

In the video, I am feeling a sort of dread and disappointment that my generation will no longer see the brick and mortar specialized stores.  Instead, we must shop online exclusively for specialty items.   Ordering online for us means a minimum of a 4 day wait and that is with 2 day Amazon prime.  If the component is the wrong size, does not work as anticipated, or is made so cheaply it would be unwise to use it in the system, the return of another 4 days with another 4 day wait for the replacement could postpone a project over 8 days. Plus, the initial 4 day wait to begin with is a dozen days and don’t forget weekends.  I could have finished the bicycle generator in one day, if I could have purchased all the parts I needed at a localized store.  Gone are the days.

Gone are the days… The inline Volt/ Amp meter, I was surprised even my auto parts store didn’t have this one.

What does this mean for our society? Patience is a virtue? Or, progress is only as fast as the postal service.  Perhaps, with the death of these corporations a new demand will inspire people to start their own brick and mortar businesses to replace them, and the cycle will begin once again.  We can only hope.  I wonder if I could start a successful electronics store.

Bucking Challenge: Electric v. Gas

I have wanted an electric chainsaw for a few years now, and when I was asked by my wife and son what I wanted for Father’s Day, I went with the Oregon CS1500.  The Oregon electric plugin chainsaw was one of the few chainsaws left out there that doesn’t use batteries.  I did not want a battery-operated chainsaw because who wants to wait an hour to recharge to work 20 minutes then wait another hour to recharge for another 20 minutes of work.  With the plugin, I can plug directly into my solar powered home and begin bucking wood for free, minus the need for bar oil.

In the video, I created a split screen and put myself side by side to make it appear I was racing myself in the challenge.  The Stihl was not warmed up, and had a slow start.  The Oregon electric just started and ran when I pulled the on trigger; however, it did not have the power the Stihl had.

I believe the electric chainsaw is a great option during the summer months when the solar panels create a lot of extra power.  Not having to buy gas or perform engine maintenance also helps with the decision to have one.  When looking at the cost, the MS 311 Stihl is $499.00 while the Oregon CS1500 was advertised at $99.00.  I will keep my Stihl for the deep forest work of collecting of firewood, but I will try and use my lighter Oregon electric whenever I can.

Will I drag the electric chainsaw into the forest connected to my tractor’s PTO generator?  I have thought about giving it a run just to see how it would perform, but the idea of hauling all the video equipment out to film it, doesn’t seem appealing when I want to just get the work done.  “The Bucking Challenge” video I created took an entire Saturday morning and afternoon to film and about another 10 hours of editing.

Marooned in Columbus

This is the moment of greatest tension in the story.  I had been marooned in Columbus, Montana for 3 days and this is the moment in which I find out if the car will be ready or if I will continue living in Columbus until another replacement engine could be found.

If the issue turns out to be a fuel injector, I will be sent on my way back to the homestead in a matter of a few hours.  If it turns out to be a bad engine cylinder, it could be a matter of weeks.

Diary of a Union Soldier. I had to wear white gloves to handle it to protect the pages. This diary entry is from over 154 years ago.

During my stay in Columbus, I toured the Museum of the Beartooths.  The museum has a lot to offer about the history of the area. The museum is very charming and inviting.  Since I had nothing to do, I asked the curator if I could volunteer at the museum for the next day.  The museum was kind and gracious and gave me a place to hang my hat for the day.  They also allowed me to white glove a diary of a union soldier from the Civil War, 1864. I can’t explain how thrilling it was to read a journal of a union soldier penned over 150 years ago.

If I had to stay, I would have made arrangements to assist the museum more or even volunteer at a few local churches if I could.  The place was already beginning to feel a lot like the movie Groundhog’s Day starring Bill Murray.  I was beginning to know the locals, their history, and relations in the community better than my own community back home.  One thing the museum taught me is that I need to look into my own community’s museum and begin to possibly volunteer there.  The amount of information available is staggering.

One thing for sure if you are ever on I-90, driving through Columbus, MT, be sure to stop at the free Museum of the Beartooths.  It will be worth the visit to stretch your legs while taking in the rich history of this community.


Junior Ranger Program Available at your National Park

Earning is Learning… Our son and his cousin learn about the Mt. St. Helens volcano.

A few years back, my wife and I were introduced to the Junior Ranger Program at the Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument.  He took a Ranger class about the volcano at the outdoor amphitheater located at the Johnston Ridge Observatory.  The class was between 30 and 40 minutes and we, parents, took a short walk through the observatory and gift shop while our son and his cousin took the class.  The thing he enjoyed most was earning his Junior Forest Ranger Badge.

Our Lewis & Clark pose over looking the Painted Canyons in the Badlands, North Dakota

While at the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, I asked the Ranger if they had a Junior Ranger program.  The park has a guide book of activities that the junior ranger must complete to earn their badge.  His age group must complete 8 activities to have a Ranger check their work to earn the Junior Ranger Badge.  It is not a difficult process, but it is one that keeps your child engaged in the National Park as your family tours the sights. Many of the factoids they learn enriches the park experience for everyone involved.

If you and your family visit a National Park this summer be sure to ask the Ranger about the free Junior Ranger program.

Why we don’t visit campgrounds anymore. And, obstacles we face.

When you live off grid, the idea of heading to an established campground seems more like visiting an outdoor apartment complex in which there are a lot of people, noise, and nature gets in the way to the communal bathrooms.  My wife and I started to leave the campgrounds many years ago because it was no different than living in our apartment complex, minus the thin walls to block the sound of radios, televisions, drunks, and domestic disputes.  We found a book that took us on forest roads so far off the beaten path that it would be days to hike out if the vehicle became stranded.  We set up camp by beautiful flowing tributaries into the main rivers the campgrounds were located on. With plenty of supplies, we enjoyed the peace and quiet of nature all around us.  We waved to the other brave souls who had ventured out as far as we did and noticed they gave great space and distance to our site as we did others as we passed along our route.  On the way up to one of our favorite destinations, we would pass an out of the way private campground and hot spring, Silver Creek Plunge and my wife and I were amazed that anything this remote could sustain itself, but they have done very well due to its remoteness, amenities, and access to the beautiful Boise National Forest.

Doting on our son and enjoying our trip to North Dakota despite the obstacles we face.

On an unrelated side note.  My wife and I are celebrating our 24th anniversary today.  Since the breakdown of our vehicle many challenges and stress has been placed upon our marriage.  In the last two weeks let me list a few of the things we have been dealing with: Our son was admitted into the ER for an emergency appendectomy. He developed appendicitis Friday night and Saturday it was diagnosed and he was operated on later that day with an overnight observation till Sunday afternoon.  He is doing very well today, though mellow, but on the way to recovery. The minor challenges are the other car was acting up while I was waiting in Columbus, MT for the PT to be fixed, the home’s cistern pump gave out prematurely due to some defect and had to be replaced, my lower back gave out and I have been walking hunched and in pain for the past 3 days, my cell phone (208 area code) crashed and I lost all my  contacts (text me and state who you are, so I can re-enter you), our tractor loan office has lost one of our payments even though the check is cashed. We had one chicken die due to an infection after we tried to treat her, and another chicken developed bumble foot.  Also, my wife hasn’t been able to attend a farmer’s market in 4 weeks due to these circumstances.  We also cancelled our anniversary plans today to nurse our boy back to health, but all is not lost, I am making my wife a romantic dinner this evening after we tuck him into bed tonight.  Much thanks to our shop fund, which has got us through all this financially, but once again, our dream shop has been delayed. And, this all went down in one week’s time.  There’s an old saying when it rains, it pours.

I remember in college another week like this developed and another student in a men’s support group we started asked, how I can live in such dire circumstances.  I said, “Just like you, but I trust the grace of God to get me through.”  and that has been the truth of it ever since.  I can’t imagine what would have happened if our son developed appendicitis a week earlier while we were on vacation in the middle of the desolate stretch of Montana and North Dakota at the same time our car’s engine was blown.  I am so grateful that this list of disasters was all spread out, giving my wife and I time to meet each challenge head on.

“God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” 1st Corinthian 10:13

Salvaging a Vacation: when it takes a turn for the worse.

As we were swiftly driving through the Rockies to our night hotel reservation in Billings, something terrible happened.  Our P.T. Cruiser of 13 years, unbeknownst to us, began burning oil at such a rate that the one of the pistons froze from the extreme heat and lack of lubrication. The piston rod splintered under the duress and as the crankshaft continued to crank under the power of the 3 remaining pistons.  The broken piston rod and piston head no longer working in unison were smashing into each other with each powerful turn of the crankshaft.  The car immediately loss power, the entire motor began to shutter, shaking the entire car.  We were at the mercy of whoever was at the next exit, which was the small town of Columbus, the county seat of Stillwater, Montana.  At the exit, our parents/in-laws and a passerby were there to ask questions about the dire circumstances of our situation while gritting their teeth at the sound of the motor’s death throws.

Fortunately, a truck stop was only a block away with a convenience store that carried some oil to preserve what was left of the other three pistons.  We limped over to a parking stall, and I set to work to diagnose the severity of our quagmire.  The engine was gone, my small emergency tool bag kit was useless to me.  My only hope was to find an auto mechanic who knew how to rebuild engines or replace the one I had.  With a moment of quiet prayer amidst the nervous on looking of my family. I did a quick online search on my phone for engine repair shops in Columbus, MT.  I found one within a variety of small town mechanics and proceeded to map the location.  With my wife’s parents behind us, I drove through town with engine knocking until I found the place, Emmett’s Mechanical Service.  I could have gone to few other places in town, but I wanted to be in a shop that could rebuild the engine if possible.  Many shops do not specialize in this and will outsource the work to another shop and add a finder’s fee without telling you what they did, so I wanted to go straight to the source and avoid all that.  Emmetts was the place.

My wife and I upon my decision unloaded the car and placed all our luggage into the back of my father-in-laws pickup.  He admitted to me later how he was shocked I was leaving my car in such a small town at an auto mechanic I did not know that was closed on Sunday with a key and note in an envelope describing my situation dropped in their door’s mail slot. He suggested I use my towing insurance to get the car to Billings and search for an auto mechanic there.  For some reason, I knew I was doing the right thing, and I left the vehicle right where it was in Columbus and what I did not know at the time was in very capable and honest hands.

That evening we arrived at the C’Mon Inn and settled in for the night.  I began to decompress and allow my mind to take in the seriousness of the situation.  That night as I slept I dreamt of each possible scenario and allowed my mind to create several plans.

My wife and I woke the next morning rested and prepared to tackle the daunting task before us to establish transportation, pricing of an engine for our car, and of course making the Medora Musical that evening since we had prepaid tickets with great seats. First my wife’s dad came to the rescue and spared us a car rental.  We would all pile into the F-150 pickup and head for Medora and the AirBnB in Dickinson, ND.  My responsibility was now limited to taking care of the car by determining if we would haul it home on an auto transport or get it fixed in Columbus, MT.  The adventure had really just begun.