Saturday, May 29, 2010

I guess the drought is over

I can remember about 5 years ago listening to so-called professional weather prognosticators tell us that the reason we were in an extended drought was clearly because of global warming.  Its no longer politically correct to refer to it as global warming – the international socialists have changed the terminology to “climate warming” - but the drought also appears to be over. 

DyerStraitsWet-2 The picture above is just inside the gate at Dyer Straits campground which is our preferred hangout when we are in Regina.  It was wet enough when we were here 2 weeks ago that we were careful about picking our spot.  They have what are locally referred to as “frost boils”.  I’m not sure what the correct soil physics terminology would be, perhaps “plasticity limit” is the correct term.  Whatever the terminology, what happens in practice is that when you have the wrong type of clay with a relatively high water table, then relatively little traffic over the surface will cause the water to wick upwards to the surface.  Once the water gets up close to the surface then the ground literally erupts in gooey mud holes with no bottom.  The situation tends to be worst in spring while the ground water is trapped between the surface and the frost line but with enough rainfall it can occur at any time.  The tracks above were made earlier this week when a truck arrived to pick up the park model below.

DyerStraitsWet-3 Eventually it took a grader and a payloader to extricate all the various stuck equipment.  And they gave up entirely on removing the park model.  Corb Lund says “the Dodge got stuck in the tractor rut which eventually pulled out the Ford” and it sounds like it was one of those days.  So we were very careful in our site selection and with Lorne’s advice eventually got settled in a water/electric-only site close to the front of the yard. 

Yesterday we finished up the brake work and got away a little after 10:00 in the morning.  By the time we had stopped at Millsap’s to fuel up and I had paid Homer Simpson for the last fuel we used it was getting close to lunchtime so we stopped behind Damar in Melfort.  Last night we parked on the street in south Regina where the province very kindly provides free wifi access.  I believe it is targeted at student residences but whatever the reason, it was pretty nice to have internet access on the side of a street in Regina.

This morning we slept in, had pancakes & bacon & eggs for brunch and then headed over to Wascana to visit father.  We saw him last night when we got in and met one of Diane Neale’s employees who was visiting him at the same time.  He looks really good – the new surroundings have been so good for him.  Apparently he is trying to get out of bed on his own fairly regularly now but that is a good sign.  He had grown so lethargic at Dove House that he no longer bothered to try getting up on his own. 

Wascana has a couple of systems in place to ensure he doesn’t get away from them.  I inadvertently tested the bed sensor last night when I sat down on the edge of the bed and then got up.  Immediately there was a loud screeching noise which was quickly followed by a nurse checking to see what was going on.

Tomorrow we have a wheelchair cab lined up to take him to church.  He has about as much interest in the religious part of attending church as I do – in other words not much – but he really enjoys the fellowship.  Its been a long time since he was able to attend so he will no doubt get a lot of attention.  And clearly we’ll have to stay for coffee.  I hope they have cookies.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The great brake rebuild project

Today (Weds the 26th) we pulled the bus into Darrel Ozmun’s shop east of Nipawin.  We were up here a couple of weeks ago at which time we ordered some brake parts and now that the parts have arrived we’re back to put them on.  Of course nothing ever goes as easy as we think it will.

I put new shocks on just 2-1/2 years ago now but you’d never know it from the condition they were in so we ordered 10 of NAPA’s finest.  The last ones came from Prevost Parts – these are Gabriels, for whatever that might be worth. 

Les flailed away at the brake drum and I kindly stayed out of his way or occasionally rotated it so he could hit a new spot with the 10 pound sledge.  Finally it separated from the hub and then it was (the other) Bob’s turn to do the actual brake work. 

It turned out that Al’s NAPA bus expert wasn’t completely expert.  He managed to ship us springs that flat out wouldn’t work and the seal kits that he shipped for the camshaft are marginal but will likely work for our purposes.  We’re hoping that the right springs will arrive tomorrow afternoon and, as usual, we forgot to order seals for the hubs so we’re waiting for them too.

The running gear on the bus is massive.  Every time I have some of it apart I am reminded of just how overbuilt it is.  The last time we had the wheels off one of Darrel’s men built a special tool to tighten the pre-load “sleeve” against the bearings.  (I’m not sure what to call it – normally there would be a thin nut holding the preload but on a Prevost there is a fairly heavy threaded sleeve followed by the standard nut which only serves as a jam nut in this case and which is further held in place by the traditional bent tab washer.)

We had to burn off one of the bolts that holds the brake drum to the hub.  They were all pretty well seized in but one absolutely wouldn’t come loose so we had to burn the head off it.  The best way to deal with a situation like that is just to put an oversize nut on the stud and weld inside the nut.  The welding heat expands the stud which helps to break it loose once it cools off again and the nut gives you something solid to put an impact wrench onto.

Its so nice working in Darrel’s shop because he has absolutely every tool known to man.  Two weeks ago when we were here I said something about pulling one of the drive tires and taking it to a tire shop because I had a leaking valve stem.  No problem – turns out they have a truck tire machine that is fancier than anything I have ever seen in any tire shop.  Today Les took the hubs to their steam cleaner and then brought them back sparkling clean. 

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Miles and miles of pretty plus a 50 amp pedestal

We arrived in Waskesiu Lake this afternoon and we can’t really remember when we were last here but it was likely for Anne’s 100th birthday which would make it 3 years ago now.   We’ve spent a lot of wonderful family time here in the trailer park and just north of here in Beaver Glen.   I see they’re calling this place “Red Deer” campground now.  That’s pretty stupid.  Its always just been “the trailer park” and everybody seems to have been able to find it just fine over the years.  When we first started coming here you could still have campfires on this side but they stopped that years ago and restricted the campfires to Beaver Glen.  We liked going in there when the kids were young so we could have a campfire in the evening. 

When it was just Marilyn and me we would always stay in the trailer park so we could have full hookups.  Beaver Glen has a limited number of water plus electrical sites but no full hookups and lots of the time we were in electric only sites.  I can remember the kids packing water from the community tap because our Savanna fifth wheel would hold more gray water than it would hold fresh.  As I recall we could go through about 2-1/2 fresh tanks before the grey and black tanks filled up so the kids would haul water in pails and pour it into the fresh tank. 

One year when we were parked in Beaver Glen I got up in the morning to find one of my favourite leather sandals missing and the other one badly chewed.  I suspected a porcupine and sure enough, that night the kids heard some rustling outside their tent and RJ confirmed the presence of a porcupine with his flashlight.  “Puerco espin”, according to Karla who was with us that year, apparently liked the salty leather on my sandals.  We eventually found the missing sandal but they were both ruined.

Beaver Glen was also a lot of fun when the bears wandered through the campground.  I suppose they come out here occasionally too but the only time I remember seeing them in camp was in Beaver Glen.  One night the rangers were in hot pursuit of  a bear but it was way to cagey for them.  They roared through the campground looking for the bear but he could cut across the sites and avoid the roads and the rangers didn’t really have much chance of catching up to him.  I’m not sure what they thought they were going to do if they did catch him – it would be like the dog who caught his tail - “now what do I do?”

I heard a news report one summer about camper aversion training that the rangers at Banff were conducting.  Apparently the bears learn to recognize the park ranger vehicles to the point where the rangers seldom actually see a bear.  So the rangers were setting up decoy camps and hiding in the tent.  Then when the bear wandered unsuspectingly into the camp the rangers would burst out of the tent with noisemakers and paintball guns.  The theory was that the bears would eventually learn to avoid campers but I never heard how successful that program was.

Its so pretty up here, even  in the rain which is what we are in right now.  We left Candle Lake because it was all too reminiscent of the soggy summers we spent up there.  We loved coming here to Waskesiu but decided that because Candle was so much closer to Nipawin we would make it our lake instead of this one.  Neither of us ever really connected with Candle Lake so after we got our visiting out of the way the prospect of another soggy couple of days there was just too much to think about.  I’d forgotten but several of the rows in the trailer park even have 50 amp plugs.  That’s what we landed on so we’ll be able to run the electric heaters and electric blanket tonight. 

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Nobles Point Marina

We’re back here at Nobles Point Marina.  We spent several years up here in a seasonal site until we got tired of the endless rain and wind that whips this lake into a frenzy.  Candle Lake is close enough to Saskatoon and Prince Albert to have become a favourite weekend destination for many Saskatchewan residents.  That has driven development at the lake to a fever pitch which we enjoyed watching while we were residents here but are glad to be away from now. 

Some of our friends must have been waiting for us to leave so that they could move into Candle Lake.  That gave us a good excuse to come back to visit them as well as some of the people we met while we had our seasonal site.  The landlord at Nobles Point is a local legend for his alcohol consumption so, not surprisingly he recognized our faces but could put a name to us.  Despite that he provided us a 30 amp plug overlooking the marina.  Rick never misses an opportunity to make a buck so we were confident he would find some place for us to park for a couple of nights. 

Its still early season so the park is only about half occupied and the marina looks empty.  There’s also lot of people here for the weekend to open up their cabins.  That was something we could never understand – why people would want to have a cabin to paint and fix the roof on and mow the grass at and pay taxes on and fix the well and pump the sewer at.  Cabin owners at Candle Lake have enjoyed some handsome capital gains over the last 10 years but the tradeoff in free time makes those gains seem less attractive to us. 

We had a great visit with Doug and Joanne last night and this morning.  This afternoon we tracked down Larry & Glennis and had a tour of their campground and private lake development on the west side of the lake.  When we left here 2-1/2 years ago Larry had a dream that he would carve a lake and campground out of what looked like a swamp to me.  He would drive me around the edges of the swamp and tell me about the vision he had for the property but all I could ever see was willows and swamp.  Today we saw about a dozen campsites and all but one of them is occupied.  Its still very much a work in progress but it is definitely coming together for them. 

The lake is still a long way in the future but they now have the water held at bay so that they can get at the clay that lies where the lake will be.  That allows them to claw the clay out of the ground with an ancient trackhoe and haul it to where the future campsites will be located.  It also allows them to sell some topsoil and clay fill to developers who are cashing in on the local property boom.

Some things never change and I have to be careful how specific the stories I tell are but the landlord here at Nobles Point continues to entertain both his tenants and the community with his alcohol induced activities.  I think the story of him being carried home from an evening campfire in a wheelbarrow is legend but it could just as easily be true.  One of his favourite tales is of walking in on some of his tenants who were well into a game of strip poker around their campfire.  Again the story may or may not be true but some of the tenants while we were here certainly enjoyed alcohol induced evening activities.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

A Really Big Thing and a Not So Big Trip

Yesterday we visiting father for one last time before packing up and leaving Regina.  It was really hard to leave him, particularly so because he was having one of his “off” days.  When we go to visit him we’re never sure who is going to be lying in his bed.  Somedays he’s pretty much on his game and other times he’s right out of it.  Yesterday was one of those other times.  His regular companion Diane is also away this week so it’s going to be a lonely week for him but we have some things we have to do that we had been putting off in order to be in Regina.

We stopped here at the Bethune highway rest area alongside Highway 11 between Regina and Saskatoon.  It was a surprisingly popular stopping point with fairly regular visitors to the outhouses. 

When we arrived in Saskatoon we parked in front of a laundry on the east side of town so that we could deal with about 3 weeks worth of dirty clothing.

Some heavy thundershowers hit Saskatoon last night causing us to briefly consider staying on the pavement in town somewhere but finally we decided to go ahead with our original plan which was to park at Blaine & Jackie’s place just east of the city.  So this morning we woke with a grand view of the city from the top of Eagle Ridge about 2 miles east of town.  We had a good visit with Jackie and the boys last night but Blaine was out of town overnight on a relief manager project.  He’ll be back tonight so we’ll be able to break out a little good scotch and swap lies together. 

The municipal boondoggle that has been plaguing our friends continues unabated.  They built this house about 10 years ago now.  Its a gorgeous view location along the top of a ridge with farmland to the east and roughly two miles of buffer to the west between them and the city.  Shortly after they moved in though they discovered that the long range plan for the city includes putting a freeway through their front yard.  The last time I visited Blaine he was getting ready for a municipal information meeting which Jackie updated us on last night. 

Apparently they have a development timeframe which might be 15 years or it might be 75 years.  So in the meantime the affected residents live in a state of limbo with no real direction from their municipal planners.  For Blaine & Jackie its more of a potential annoyance than an immediate issue.  The proposed expropriation would leave their home close to but not directly impacted by the new freeway.  One of their neighbours however has his house sitting directly in the path of the proposed freeway.  The house is located on 80 acres which is the smallest subdivision allowed in this jurisdiction and they only allow one residence per legal subdivision.  The owner is getting on in years and his son would like to build another residence on the same property but out of the path of the proposed freeway.  Good luck getting the bureaucrats to get their heads around that one.

From here the plan is to go to Nipawin via Candle Lake.  That’s actually a pretty direct route and it catches some friends that we haven’t seen for a long time.  We’ve both got meetings here today and tomorrow but we’ll try to get away in good time on Friday.  If the weather forecast holds it will be (another) wet soggy weekend at Candle Lake.  We thought about going to Waskesiu because its a lot more pleasant place to spend a wet weekend but our friends are going to be in Candle Lake so that’s the current plan.

I’ve got parts ordered from the frenchmen at Prevost Parts.  And some more ordered from Al at Nipawin Parts.  Al’s parts arrived OK, on time and were the right ones but Darrel phoned me yesterday to say that the frenchmen had shipped the wrong brake cam.  That’s not really a surprise because they generally screw up something on every parts order.  I’ve got another one ordered from them but I have very little faith that they will get it right so just for insurance I phoned Al and he tracked down what we need in Edmonton.  If the plan comes together all the parts will hit Nipawin about Friday and we’ll be in Darrel’s shop Tuesday hanging them on the bus.  If by some miracle the frenchmen manage to ship the right part it will mean we have an extra pair of brake cams but they also fit the front wheels and we’ll likely rebuild them next summer so the cams won’t be completely surplus.  On the other hand, if they ship a 2nd wrong one as I fully expect them to do, they’ll get them both back freight COD.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Wascana slough

On our way into town tonight Marilyn noted that it is a really good thing Wascana creek runs through the middle of Regina.  The splash of green is the only pleasant feature for an otherwise drab and boring city. 

We timed our arrival at Wascana Rehab tonight so that we arrived just as father was finishing his supper.  We had figured out that he was within walking distance from Wascana slough so we thought we could take him for a walk down to the swamp.  It was such a gorgeous day today that even Wascana looked pretty good.  And father seemed to enjoy the outing too. 

It has been fascinating to watch the contrast between Dove House and Wascana Rehab.  The intake process was very structured and that sense of order and discipline carries through everything that they do.  They also have things that we didn’t even know existed – like thick water.  Father has trouble swallowing and occasionally chokes.  As soon as we mentioned that they said that they would put him on thick fluids and that carries right down to the water he receives.  Tonight they wanted to weigh him but somebody didn’t get to the room in time with the scale – its just a portable lift with a scale mounted on it.  He has lost a lot of weight over the last two years so monitoring it seems like a very sensible idea.  The way he dives into his meals you would think he would blow up like a balloon but so far that hasn’t happened.

Dove House meant well and did what they could but their resources were limited by staffing constraints.  Wascana has a variety of staff – we haven’t figured out what all the different uniforms mean – but mostly they just have a much higher staff to patient ratio.  They also appear to make good use of student placements.  In the dining room tonight there must have been close to a 1:2 ratio of staff to inmates.  Father is pretty self sufficient at meal time but he still needs some help.  Clearly that isn’t going to be an issue and this was a weekend so if anything I assume the weekdays would be staffed heavier.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Shellbrook to Regina via Nipawin

For those of you who don’t know Saskatchewan geography, that is by no means a direct route.  In fact its hard to think of a longer route that wouldn’t involve at least some backtracking.

We spent a couple of nights in Reg & Ken Miners’ bin yard.  They fed us and we fed them and we had a great old time catching up on our visiting.  Mick-Mick (or maybe that’s McMick) kept careful watch over us just in case I might happen to feed him some more cheese.  I had trouble adjusting to a Miners dog that wasn’t named Trixie but the dog didn’t seem to mind whatever I might call him.

We had an appointment for the frenchy-bus at Darrel Ozmun’s shop in Nipawin on Wednesday morning.  Tuesday morning Marilyn drove into P.A. for some meetings and I met her at the rental house later in the afternoon.  We had a good visit with the tenants, inspected the house, discussed some work that needs doing and stuck them with a little rent increase.  We need to make some time this summer to go back there and kill some trees because the yard is slowly disappearing into a forest. 

It was dark when we got to Nipawin but we pulled in at our old shop and parked in front of the loadout spout.  That turned out to be a mistake because Kevin has the shed rented out to Aylsham Agro and Growplan.  Somebody’s super-b showed up shortly after we did and we got to listen to the sound of the plant running for a little more than an hour after that.  We could have moved but I had already set up the internet dish so we didn’t bother.

Setting up the dish turned out to be more of a challenge than usual.  I guess all the metal and electrical equipment in the plant must have confused both my compasses.  When I finally found the satellite it was over 20 degrees off where the compasses thought it should be.  The compass on the align-a-site is usually pretty flaky but this is the first time the other one has let me down.

Today we got the bus settled in Darrel’s shop.  Last fall when we did the B.C. safety they flagged the curbside tag axle brakes as being close to out of spec.  The pads still have plenty of thickness left but when they put a dial gauge on the camshaft and measured the full travel rotation it measured just over 90 degrees.  Out of spec is 110 degrees.  That’s been bothering me all winter so the main plan for today was to remedy that situation.  The risk is that if I made a hard brake application the brakes might cam over so it’s important to get it fixed.

When we got into it today we quickly determined that the problem is serious.  The tag brake drums are badly worn as are the cam bushings.  We didn’t tear anything apart but we did get the parts ordered. 

Having a few days to kill while we wait for parts to arrive wasn’t all bad.  Earlier this week father got offered a bed at Wascana Rehab.  That facility was our first choice for him when we placed him at Dove House.  Our intent for Dove House was that they would be a stopping point while we waited for father’s name to come to the top of the waiting list for Wascana.  We’ve had a few hiccups along the way but earlier this week I accepted the bed at Wascana.  Once you accept a bed the system expects you to get moved into it immediately so we are now on our way to Regina to get father moved. 

By early next week father should be in his new room and our parts should be in Nipawin.  There is a lot of room for slippage in that plan but that’s the one we are presently working on.  Lately a long range plan for us has meant that we know what we will be doing a week from now.

Tonight we’re parked outside the entrance to some provincial park on the south side of the Qu’Appelle valley. 

Tomorrow we’ll get settled in again at Comfort Plus and then we’ll go break the news to father.  The next couple of days will be tough on everyone but we’ve been through it before and we’ll get through this one too.  It wasn’t easy when mom & dad sold the house and moved into their apartment but they were still together, still more or less healthy and that was entirely their decision.  It was harder for them to accept when we helped them move into Victoria Park but that was still their decision and all we did was help them implement it.  We didn’t have any control over father’s move out of Victoria Park.  They sent him to the hospital and then refused to take him back so that move was forced on everyone which actually helped because we could all be mad at the Vic Park staff.  This time the decision has been very difficult because everyone knows that father won’t be making any more moves. 

Monday, May 10, 2010

Honeywood nursery

Its a peculiarly prairie thing that some communities want to build really big things in a likely misguided attempt to promote tourism.  We’ve got the really big egg at Vegreville, the really big coffee pot at Davidson, a very big truck at Sparwood and the big lily at Parkside, among others.  If any of you watch Corner Gas you may remember the episode where Dog River considered building a really big dirty hoe.  Sometime I’m going to do a post about all the big things in the west but that’s not the point today.

Parkside seems like a strange place for a really big lily but there it is.  In fact its about all that is left in Parkside now.  There’s still the obligatory prairie grain elevator in what’s left of the town but the company affiliation on the elevator (formerly Sask. Wheat Pool) is now obscured by a big splotch of white paint.  I suppose there is likely still a Post Office in town because the postal union seems to have been able to preserve employment in communities that have long since ceased to exist.  Even 40+ years ago when we lived in Shellbrook my memory of Parkside is that there wasn’t much there and the passing time hasn’t been kind to the community.

The lily is there to celebrate the history of Honeywood Nursery which was established in the early 1930’s by A.J.(Bert) Porter.  Its hard for me to think of him as Dr. Porter but later in life he received an honourary Doctorate so I guess that’s the correct appellation now. 

My memories of Bert and his wife Winnie are not doctoral.  When we lived in Shellbrook the nursery was just a collection of fruit trees and flowers set in a few clearings in the trees at the end of a winding overgrown lane.  Invariably when we entered the yard we would be met by Winnie who was a jovial woman with an eccentric sense of wardrobe.  Grandpa used to enjoy visiting the orchard just to see how much cleavage Winnie might be showing.  Grandma loved to tell the story of Winnie warning them to make lots of noise as they drove further back into the orchard because Bert liked to work in the nude. 

With no formal training in horticulture, Bert established the nursery to supplement a teaching salary.  Over the years he developed many original lily varieties and attained a worldwide reputation as a lily breeder.  I believe he also had some success with hardy fruit varieties but his real fame came from lilies.  The provincial government press release about the nursery makes it sound like it had fallen into disrepair and was rescued by a local society.  In point of fact the nursery always looked like it was falling apart at the seams and I am loathe to visit it now for fear it will look so antiseptically organized  that it will destroy my fond memories of the place. 

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Rivers and bridges and ferries

Saskatchewan is cut east to west by two main river systems.  In the north the Churchill River slices across the province on its way to Hudson Bay.  In the south the North Saskatchewan River rises in western Alberta and heads southeast for Prince Albert.  The South Saskatchewan meanwhile rises in southern Alberta and heads northeast for Prince Albert.  Just east of P.A. the two rivers connect and then, joined into the Saskatchewan River, head east on their way to Lake Winnipeg and eventually Hudson Bay.

With those major rivers to contend with the provincial department of highways has settled on river ferries to solve the problem of river crossings where they don’t have adequate traffic to justify a bridge crossing.  Today we are parked at Petrofka Bridge for lunch.  I can remember when they built this bridge and more importantly I can remember how much fun it was crossing before the bridge was built. 

River ferries are like a step back in time.  Some guy who lives next to the crossing gets up each morning and spends his day making lazy crossings of a slow moving river.  Most of his traffic is local so he knows pretty well everybody that makes the crossing.  Most of the ferry operators are sociable types, maybe not so much as they used to be, but they’re still pretty talkative.  I can remember ferry crossings when we were kids being grand adventures.  You’d pull up to the river and, if you were lucky, the ferry would be on the other side so you got to get out of the car and play while the ferry made it’s slow, deliberate crossing.  Some of the operators would actually “ferry” across the river, turning the boat at a slight angle to it’s direction of travel so as to use the river current to push it across.  They all had engines but not all operators would use the engine for the crossing. 

We would have crossed on Wingard ferry today except for the fact that we were worried about the condition of the ramps and the access roads.  Which brings up the reason why ferry crossings were always a bit of an adventure.  In the winter when the river was clearly frozen the ferry couldn’t operate but in between winter and summer there was always a time when you weren’t sure what to expect. 

I remember one spring trip to Saskatoon that was more than a little exciting.  We didn’t go to Saskatoon very often and even less often for just one day but that is my recollection of this trip.  We crossed in the early morning on the river ice but it was the return trip that was memorable.

I remember waking up in the back seat of one of the old Mercuries, sitting up and seeing what looked like a black lake in front of the car.  As far as the car headlights could penetrate the blackness of the night all we could see was water in front of the car.  There was a half-ton parked kind of beside and a bit ahead of us and that was why we had stopped.  Evidently the truck driver in front of us had stopped and father had got out to confer with him.  The noise of father getting out of the car was likely what woke me up. 

When he got back in the car father’s face was grim and I don’t recall him saying much, if anything.  He put the car in gear, swung around the truck and drove deliberately into the water.  Obviously I’m here to tell the story so it had a happy ending.  Afterward I remember father saying that he knew there still had to be ice under the water because it had been there in the morning but it had to be a tough call for him at the time.  The alternative to crossing there would have been roughly a 3 hour detour through Prince Albert for a bridge crossing. 

I think Petrofka bridge was already under construction that spring night so that was likely our last ever river ice crossing as a family.  I’ve made a few since then and its always unnerving, even in the dead of winter when you know that the ice has to be solid.  I can’t imagine what father must have been thinking that spring night with his whole family in the car as he entered the black water.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Talking fools

In “Fooled by Randomness” Nassim Taleb says that he likes to leave the TV tuned to a market news station but with the volume muted.  That way he can by amused by the silly head bobs and gesticulations without having his brain bothered by the foolishness that comes out of the talking heads’ mouths. 

That certainly was the case at the end of this last week after Thursday’s market gyrations.  But anybody with half a brain could have easily seen the unease approaching long before Thursday afternoon. 

The CBOE VXO is a measure of volatility in the market that some traders have named the “fear index”.  Typically as it rises the market falls.  Times of extreme uncertainty and fear are typically a buying opportunity and similarly times of increasing uncertainty are typically selling opportunities.  Since about the middle of April the VXO has been steadily increasing with a predictable outcome on Thursday.  Despite what the bobbing heads may be saying.  I don’t actually mute them but I am slowly learning to ignore them.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Saskatoon in the sunshine

We moved from Regina to Saskatoon yesterday, coming via Humboldt.  That’s not really much of a detour unless you do like I did and miss the junction of #20 turning north off #16 highway.  That added a few miles – by the time I realized what I had done it was easiest to just carry on to Colonsay and come north on #2 which made for quite a bit of backtracking.  Marilyn had a meeting in Humboldt in connection with the funeral services training that she is writing.  Once she got done that and we had cooked supper for her friend we headed for Saskatoon, arriving just at dark. 

We spent the night on the new Wallymart lot on the south side of the city.  The shopping centre is new enough that it doesn’t show on the Google map but you can see signs of them getting ready in the photo.  This one actually had a sign posted indicating where they want the RVs to park so we felt downright welcome.  We seem to have managed to leave the snow in Regina.  Yesterday when we got up the ground was white again but this morning was clear blue skies.

Last night our on again off again genset was on so I was able to use it while I made supper.  This morning I started it and it ran for about 40 seconds and shut down.  That is a normal failure mode that sometimes cures itself but I think it has been getting worse lately.  The electronics on this generator are needlessly complicated but as near as I can tell the run time is a delay to allow the oil pressure to come up before the auto shutdown circuitry based on oil pressure or high temperature kicks in.  We’re talking about a 2 cylinder maybe 14 or 16 HP engine so it shouldn’t need a bunch of complicated circuitry but evidently Kubota doesn’t subscribe to K.I.S.S. 

I have tried for several years to get a service manual for this piece of crap but that doesn’t seem to be possible.  Today I phoned Wrico International and, wonderful folks that they are, they helped me troubleshoot what was happening.  All symptoms point to the control module or “computer” being the problem but there is no way in hell I will be buying a new one.  I’ve already got half the price of a new unit into this piece of shit over the last year but no more.  Even when it is running it is still a noisy over-revving son of a bitch so there is no way I am spending any more money on it. 

I figured out that the control module is de-energizing two solenoids to shut the unit down and that I can override the control module by putting power to those solenoids.  By the time I quit working on it today I had satisfied myself that I could make it run but it wouldn’t have any safety shutdowns for high temperature or low oil pressure.  However, as I told the guy at Wrico, the way it is now I don’t have a generator so not having safety shutdowns seems like a pretty small sacrifice.

Much in the same manner that many years ago Paul Kardash told us “enlightenment come to Buddha one day when he was sittin’ under a tree”, I had an inspirational moment as I was packing up for the night.  At the very least I can enable the high temperature shutdown and I think I can get the oil pressure shutdown working too.  That stuff doesn’t take a computer and whichever damn engineer thought up the idea that it does is a fool.  There were Murphy switches on diesel engines long before anybody thought of putting computers on them. 

Monday, May 3, 2010

Big yellow thing in the sky

The sun came out this morning.  That’s noteworthy because we haven’t seen much of it for the last couple of months.  Actually we haven’t seen much of it since we left San Diego.  We’ve been hanging out east of Regina for over a week now.  Its really nice to be able to have the windows open again.

We visit father every day – some days a couple of times.  His mind comes and goes.  Yesterday we both thought he was pretty much on his game.  We had taken a bunch of laundry to a place close to Dove House.  Marilyn watched the washers while I visited and then I monitored the dryers while she visited.  Both of us had a good visit but when Marilyn got ready to leave father thought he should get up and drive her.  It was a nice gesture but he hasn’t had a drivers license for at least three years now.  One night earlier in the week he was convinced that mother was “upstairs” and was very concerned about whether we were going to go visit her after we left him.  We’re not sure whether its better to remind him that mother died a year and a half ago or just let him live in his fantasy world.

We like to switch the visit times every day because it gives us a better window into the kind of care father is getting from Dove House.  They are probably better than average for the type of facility they run but they are far from perfect.  I’m sure its a huge challenge to retain staff at that type of place, no different from most businesses.  Quality nursing staff is no doubt expensive and a lot of the time they simply don’t have enough staff on duty to do anything more than put out fires.  Unfortunately that leaves the less demanding inmates being treated like potted plants – watered regularly, turned occasionally and otherwise ignored.

A lot of the time we’re not sure what father is aware of or where he thinks he is at the moment.  On the other hand he is clearly aware of the situation in the US Gulf.  I periodically ask him open ended questions to attempt to figure out just how much of the world around him he is still aware of and last night he made an unaided reference to the oil spill.  He’s always been a news junkie and that part of his brain still seems to be at least a little bit active.

It snowed off and on all day Saturday and had the ground covered when we went to bed.  Fortunately all that has melted now and even more fortunately we haven’t sunk out of sight on this Regina gumbo.  Our landing pads are slowly disappearing into the ground but so far I think we could still move if we had to. 

George approves of this location.  He really likes the spots that have trees around them because trees bring birds and birds outside the window are cat TV.