Sunday, September 29, 2013

A long way from Buchanan

Right now I’m 9 hours difference in time from Buchanan. As usual when I travel I’ve left my watch on real time but its more difficult to stay focussed on real time when the daylight is all fucked up. 9 hours translates to 135 degrees of longitude so I’m not clear on the other side of the world but close. On Wednesday afternoon Marilyn put me on a plane in Saskatoon and many many many hours later I arrived in Oulu, Finland. That’s somewhere in the northwest corner of the country, at roughly 65 degrees latitude, which is more or less 4 degrees north of Anchorage. When we left Calgary we were headed almost directly north – I suppose we went over Santa Claus’s home but it was too dark to see.

Its all been a grand adventure which is only marred by the fact that Marilyn couldn’t come along. The project has been delayed repeatedly and it probably should have waited another month for me to arrive. In that case it might have worked for Marilyn to come along but right now she’s deep in the Ag in the Classroom project so it was out of the question for her to waste 2 weeks traipsing around northern Europe.

That's my rental car (a Skoda) sitting outside the little apartment where I'm staying on the farm.  Its pretty crude accomodation but adequate.
You can certainly see the effects of cradle to grave socialism in the progress of this project. Nobody is particularly concerned about getting things done in a timely manner. The employee parking lot is empty by 5:00 PM and fills up slowly in the morning. Working on the weekend is a novel concept and not for any religious reasons. I have booked myself in here for 2 weeks but right now I give myself roughly a 60% chance of achieving that departure date. The two days that I have been here already have been largely consumed by seemingly endless meetings to discuss construction details that should have been dealt with weeks if not months before I arrived. All the trades seem to have very specific boundaries which leads to endless delays. For example, the plumber who is installing the watering bowls knows how to hook their heating cable up but is prevented from doing that because he is not an electrician. The installation of those watering bowls has emerged as a barrier to the installation of my equipment because it has developed that the client would like a specific spacing from the watering bowls rather than from the more fixed portions of the building.

I was initially confused by all the pavement and concrete but evidently another beneficiary of cradle to grave socialism is the livestock.  They are housed entirely indoors.  The farm is obviously a dedicated livestock facility but I have yet to see one animal.
Today (Sunday) my host invited me to go hunting with him. I agreed to come along with my camera. When we arrived at the parking lot in the “forest” I was more than a little alarmed by the number of vehicles. Along the road on the way into the bush we saw several orange jacketed hunters with high power rifles obviously waiting for companions to push moose out of the bush. Well ….. actually it wasn’t obvious that they were waiting for moose but that is what Errkki told me they were waiting for and the swampy terrain supported that thesis.

Neither of us had a speck of blaze orange on our clothing. Not surprisingly I don’t generally travel with blaze orange garments but it seemed careless for my host to be similarly attired. When I asked him about this he said that accidents did happen every year. Fortunately one didn’t happen to us but its not hard to imagine how it could have. With multiple shooters in close quarters they wouldn’t even have to mistake us for a moose – which they easily could have – we could simply have been caught in the cross fire. When my host proposed a repeat engagement for next weekend I politely deferred.

Other than the fear of getting a 40 calibre hole in my heart it was an enjoyable morning. Errkki has some kind of long legged dog that vaguely reminded me of a golden retriever. The dog clearly knew where we were going because he was frantically pacing the car when I got in and almost immediately started howling. That continued for the 15 or 20 minute ride into the bush. As soon as he had his collar on and was released he disappeared into the woods and was gone for a very long time. We fussed around in the clearing. I put on some waterproof leggings that Errkki had thoughtfully provided as well as some oversized rubber boots complete with wool socks. Errkki showed me how his handheld GPS display showed both our position and the dog’s location as well as other dog-related data (like the frequency of his barking, how far away he was from us and how far he had travelled in total). After a while we could hear him barking and when Errkki checked his gadget it turned out he was close to a kilometer away.

Eventually the dog started getting closer and his barking became more frantic. We stood out near a trail and shortly spotted a bunny coming down the trail. The bunny didn’t look all that alarmed because at that point he was probably 2 or 300 yards ahead of the dog. He wasn’t far enough away to avoid Errkki’s shotgun blasts although he did zig zag into the parking lot at the last moment and I had a brief vision of a shot blasted vehicle. I trust Errkki had his background in mind but he came alarmingly close to holing his own car. About the time that Errkki got the rabbit gutted the dog came trotting into the clearing and quickly cleaned up the good bits from the rabbit innards.

We then spent about 3 hours tramping along trails through the swamp without any further rabbit deaths. On about 3 occasions we could hear the dog barking in the distance but he never brought us any more bunnies. Periodically the dog would rejoin us for a few minutes and then take off on another adventure. At one point we met up with another dog that vaguely resembled a Husky sled dog which Errkki said was the breed type used for rounding up mooses. That dog followed along with us for a while until we met up with his owner.

Our day finished up with a smoky campfire where we roasted some excellent sausages on wienie sticks.  A very pleasant ending to a pleasant day made all the more enjoyable by the fact that we didn't get shot.

Please accept my apologies if this post doesn't follow my normal format - Google seems thoroughly baffled by the fact that I routinely post from different locations so I have been forced to post this through Blogspot's web interface.  I find that astonishing in an era where travel is common - surely a company that can map the world realizes that their own staff are not the only people who ever venture afield?

Sunday, September 22, 2013

We’ve had better weeks


A week ago today we were parked on the north side of Horseshoe Lake with a herd of curious Charolais cattle surrounding us.  I think the last time I was at Horseshoe Lake was when Grandma & I drove out there one fall to take pictures and pick flowers.  Grandma has been dead for over 20 years now so it had been a long time. 

We left that idyllic spot and almost immediately the real world set in again.  Before we got 20 miles down the road to Davidson we noticed an increase in noise and heat from the big Detroit.  That turned out to be a piece of flex hose that had fallen off the exhaust.  As a result the port side exhaust was blowing directly out from the manifold.


I was worried that carrying on to Regina might result in setting the bus on fire although in hindsight I have to wonder at the wisdom of avoiding that potential outcome.  So we spent the night in a parking lot in Davidson and drove into Regina the next morning in the Exploder.  We both had meetings in Regina.  Once I got my visit out of the way I went up to Traction and picked up a short piece of flex exhaust and two step clamps.  When we got back to the bus it only took a few minutes to put everything back together and we were on our way again.  I immediately noticed that we had very little or no turbo boost.  I’ve noticed lately that we weren’t getting full boost and I knew that I should be getting the turbo rebuilt but I simply hadn’t got around to it.

Shortly after we left Davidson I said to Marilyn that when we got back to Buchanan I thought we should list the bus for some lowball price and get on with the next phase of our life.  We’re both getting increasingly frustrated with the seeming endless list of repairs that it demands.  Owning a bus is a great idea IF YOU TRAVEL CONSTANTLY, which we don’t anymore.  In the last couple of years we have become occasional travellers.  That means that the bus sits for extended periods and then we try to use it for short intense periods of time and that simply doesn’t work.  As it turned out, the bus made the decision for us.

It was a really hot afternoon and it wasn’t long before the hot engine light came on so I backed out of the throttle a bit and everything seemed OK.  A while later the engine light came on again and again I backed out of the throttle.  The next time that happened when I backed out the engine died.  Not good and to make a long story short, the more I learned the worse it got.  The overflow tank on the rad was empty and after I had poured 6 gallons of water into it I pulled the dipstick to find the crankcase overflowing.  Really really not good.


Much later we came home to Buchanan on the back of this big guy.  And here we sit.

Initially we were just sickened by the experience and couldn’t really think straight.  Now I think I can probably salvage some value by stuffing a takeout engine into the bus and selling it for the lowball price we initially had in mind but that won’t happen quickly and neither of us cares anymore.  Sitting here beside the house in Buchanan the bus is just as good accommodation as it ever was.  So nothing has changed in that regard.  We know this house will never be a satisfactory place to live so we have been looking hard all summer and considering where we might like to land permanently.

We’ve been looking for an F250 Powerstroke to replace the Exploder so now we’ll also look for an older 5th wheel to go behind the big Ford.  That combination will be more than adequate for the summer weekend campers that we have become.  As it turns out this winter is a great time to buy a used pickup because there is a record crop coming off in SK right now.  One hard and fast rule for SK farmers is “when you take off a good crop you go buy a new truck.”  I stopped in at Cypress Ford in Swift Current last week and they had 8 new King Ranch diesels lined up side by side.  They run $60,000++ so it looks to me like at least that dealership is ready for a big sales season which means by Jan/Feb they’ll be trying to move some nice trade-ins.

We both really like Buchanan and wouldn’t mind dying here.  Don’t get me wrong – we’re neither of us in any rush to take that final step but in the meantime its a really friendly safe community.  We have paved streets, city water, low taxes, good neighbours and the town mows the grass when we’re not here so there’s a lot worse places to live.  We have been giving serious thoughts to demolishing the house we have and moving a house onto this property.  Another option is to buy a different property in town but there’s surprisingly few places for sale.  This may be a dying town but its a town that has survived years of NDP neglect in the province and its still here for the recovery.  There’s some really nice houses in town and relatively few real wrecks, despite the fact that the house we own is definitely in the wreck category. 

A third option is to buy a quarter or half section of farmland with a yardsite but we are reluctant to do that because then right away we’re back to maintaining a well and farm septic system.  Here all we have to do is turn on a tap and the (treated) water comes out.  Or we fire up the shit pump and the sewer runs away.  QED as father used to say.  SWMBO has a romantic memory of farm life but I clearly remember hauling the shit pump on Christmas Eve and fighting with iron bacteria in the well.

Stay tuned. 

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Well ……….. this is awkward


Not only are we not warming up as fast as the doom and gloomers would like you to believe, for the last 20 or so years we haven’t actually warmed up at all. 

I’m no expert but here’s a couple of people who clearly are:

Bjorn Lomborg

Judith Curry

I’m still in favour of global warming because of that Northwest Passage thing but its looking increasingly less likely that its going to work out in my lifetime.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

My ain’t that purty


We’re parked on the north side of Horseshoe Lake, looking across the lake over the remains of a yardsite that dates back to the early 1900’s.  My grandfather and his brother settled 3 miles south of here close to 100 years ago.  Today there’s someone else in the grandpa’s yard and it is in fact almost unrecognizable as the yard I have so many happy memories of.  Uncle Ernie’s yard on the other hand, hasn’t changed a lot from what I remember.  Aunt Velma’s animal cutouts are gone from the front yard and there’s more and newer buildings in the yard but the basic layout is still the same. 

We didn’t plan this as a trip down memory lane but it certainly hit me that way this afternoon as I turned north off 15 highway “just before the big hill” and headed up past grandpa’s old yard to Marvin and Marilyn’s yard.  Mother used to say “I don’t know why he thinks one hill is any bigger than the rest of them” but all of the hills on 15 highway have been tamed by years of road construction and there’s more happening right now.  We had to chug through about 5 miles of construction just east of Kenaston where they are raising and widening the grade.  I briefly considered trying to go around the construction but decided that 10 extra miles of gravel would be worse than just grinding along in 3rd or 4th through the work zone.

Marilyn is going to interview Paula in the morning about livestock production and we will take some pictures of cows on pasture tonight.  Marvin’s boys are combining wheat behind the yard so I’ll go down there close to sunset and get some video footage just in case.  I thought the cows would have been over to check us out by now but I’m sure before the night is over they’ll have come round to see what we are doing.  We’ve got several fresh cowplops smeared on the tires so I know they’ve been this way today.

The lake in the picture above was the source of ice for the farm.  I think I can remember there being an icehouse at grandpa and grandma’s but I may be just remembering father’s stories about getting ice.  Either way I’m glad my refrigeration doesn’t depend on cutting blocks of ice out of the lake and storing them in sawdust so they last through the summer.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

What the f……?

OK – so I’ve been driving around Maryland for close to a week now & I keep seeing these license plates with “War of 1812” on them.  WTF is that all about????


In case you don’t know WE KICKED YOUR YANKEE ASSES IN 1812.  Not once, not twice but three times.  We chased your butts out of Canada two times and then just for good measure we burned your White House down.  Why in hell would you want to celebrate that?

I realize that in 2013 we may be a social welfare paradise with 4 submarines that won’t float let alone submerge and an army that hasn’t done much since Normandy but 200 years ago …. we kicked ass.  Yankee ass to be specific.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Bob’s excellent adventure

Well its been a while hasn’t it?  What can I say – we’ve been busy. 

We left Saskatoon and went down to a regional park just outside Weyburn for a couple of days.  Then we headed west and stayed a couple more nights in another obscure regional park which is more or less inside what remains of the village of Ponteix.  I cleaned up a bunch of my Palliser files along the way and Marilyn kept grinding away at the video script for Ag in the Classroom. 

We went out in the Exploder one night trying to find some photos or video footage for the AITC project and ended up having an inadvertent adventure.  We had been out for a couple of hours and it was getting close to sundown when we spotted a spray plane working about 5 miles NE of Ponteix.  We sat on a side road for a while watching the plane work until we got bored.  Rather than drive under his flight path I started to turn around at which point I realized that we had a flat tire.  Then we discovered that last fall when we cleaned the truck up to sell it we took the jack out of it and evidently never got around to putting it back in.  I was able to get the spare down from the stupid location up under the box but of course without a jack there was no way I was going any further. 

Marilyn walked about a half mile south to a yard that turned out to be vacant while I was messing with the spare tire.  When she got back she said there was a shop in the yard so I walked back to see if I could steal a jack.  I found a jack and walked back to the truck.  By that time it was getting dark so when I discovered that the wheel bolts were so tight that I couldn’t loosen them with my crossarm wrench and ended up walking back to the farmyard a second time it was pitch black out.  Of course that meant I had to turn the lights on in the shop to find a wrench and the lights attracted the owner of the yard who happened to be out looking at crops.  That turned out better than it could have and I ended up getting a ride back to the truck plus some assistance changing the tire, including headlights to light up the work. 

The next morning we hooked up and headed further west, to Airdrie this time.  Marilyn, Alison and Donna had cooked up a girlfriend weekend and the respective husbands were welcome to come along as long as we stayed out of the way.  Which we did.  We also drank a lot of beer and had a picnic in Banff.  Then we headed back to Saskatoon so that I could catch a plane to Maryland.  Which is where I am right now.

Due to circumstances completely under my client’s control I ended up being here longer than I had intended.  This morning I woke up with nothing to do other than wait until my parts show up tomorrow.  So after eating breakfast at Bob Evans restaurant I caught the subway into DC.  I didn’t really go anywhere in particular – I just kind of wandered around. There’s a few cities that I have visited where I’m perfectly happy to just wander aimlessly – Washington DC and New York are at the top of that list and there’s probably a couple more if I thought about it for a while.  I also ate some expensive seafood in a marginally decent restaurant. 

Tomorrow – if I’m lucky – UPS will arrive with the missing parts and I’ll get everything wrapped up so I can leave in good time on Tuesday.  Alternatively the parts won’t arrive until Tuesday morning in which case I’ll leave around noon in a panic.  Either way I’ll be home Tuesday night.