Springtime in Wyoming

Washerwoman blues . . . .

Washerwoman blues . . . .

Only a darned fool optimist would dare to hang clothes on the line in Wyoming in April, 2013!  We have had three major snowstorms and as I look out the window at the drifts piled up, all I can see is more winter.  We had four days of spring-like weather early in the month, which was just enough to fool us into believing we could get on with major outdoor cleanup projects and activities as innocent as hanging a few old cleaning rags on the line.

Hope springs . . . .

Hope springs . . . .

The metal frame of an ancient cot was caught in the last winter storm.  It was recently tossed out of one of our homestead cottages (circa 1915) that has been undergoing a long, drawn out restoration.  The sides fold down, however I left them extended so that I could pile a few more items on top temporarily.  When skies looked threatening and flurries started coming down, we hurried to relocate all the “stuff” piled on top. Nobody had any ideas for where to stash the old cot, so here it still sits waiting for its next assignment. The fluffy mattress of snow looks inviting.

A Wintertime Woodpile

How much wood would a woodcutter cut? . . . .

How much wood would a woodcutter cut? . . . .

An old cottonwood that had to be brought down finally got split into firewood this winter.  This pile represents a lot of hard work for the wood splitter (my husband), as well as the wood hauler (me).  All this wood has to be loaded into Beetle, the ancient green Dodge and stacked onto wood pallets next to the shed.  My share of the labor has been waiting for repairs to the old Dodge, but it came home from the garage this past week so I am out of excuses.  If this was the only pile it would be bad enough.  But there are two more!

In another location we are splitting the stumps from several silver leaf poplars that came down in an early autumn snow storm.  And not far away is a pile of Ponderosa pine that we split from beetle killed trees in the mountains of Colorado.  After helping a neighbor clear the downed trees from his yard, we hauled them home, cut them into two-foot lengths and split them for firewood.

The Chief Fire Tender likes to mix it up in the woodbox and build a fire with a mix of pine, cottonwood and poplar.  I haven’t figured out yet how I’m going to stack all of this in the proper proportion so that when we bring in a load, it will have the right mix.  I’m absolutely certain he will offer some instructions!

Jim’s Old Cowboy Boots

these boots were made for working . . . .

these boots were made for working . . . .

Dad has been gone since 2005, and I cannot part with the last of his old boots (or his old Stetson hats, for that matter, but that’s another story).  The black ones with the fancy tops were custom made from the Western Boot Company, Tucson, Arizona.  He bought those for about $34.50 and it was a princely sum in the 1930’s when he ordered them.  I still have a little catalog published by the boot maker that describes these boots as “classy and stylish tulip and leaf inlaid design with three or more rows stitching. . .  fancy wing tip toe and heel as shown, $3.25 extra.”  He obviously decided he couldn’t afford the wing tip toe.

The steel caps on the heels of this particular boot got him into a little trouble that brings a smile when we remember the uproar.  When I was about 10 Dad left me at home with my older brother while he and Mom made a trip to town.   Naturally, a fracas ensued when someone got the bright idea to turn the garden hose on inside the hallway leading into the house.  It was a blistering hot day and we chose the obvious way to cool off–a water fight.  Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) they arrived home in the “heat” of the battle and there was no time to clean up the mess.

Dad came thundering through the screen door and up the hallway in those steel capped boots.  When his heels hit the water on the linoleum floor, up flew his feet and down went  everything else.  Needless to say, two kids who, at that point could not resist screeching with laughter at the sight of Dad on the floor, suddenly realized we were in harms way and took off like two scalded jack rabbits.

As I remember, Dad was so furious with us that he grabbed an old platform rocker that sat in the corner of the living room and pitched it down the hallway.  By that time we had not let the screen door hit our behinds as we went through it.  Dad had a ferocious temper and he had obviously had a hot time in the old town.  We didn’t come home until he had a chance to cool off.  By that time Mom had cleaned up our mess and though we got a chilly reception from Dad, he didn’t offer up any additional punishment.

I guess that’s one of the many reasons why I cannot part with Dad’s old boots.

Winter Lettuce

001With the help of heavy plastic sheeting over p.v.c. hoops, we have managed to grow a little crop in the garden in December!  The lettuce is doing fairly well in spite of no heat source other than sunshine, but the kale and spinach is still too small to harvest.  They will, however, rise to the occasion in the spring and produce a prodigious crop beginning in April, lasting well through May when we will plant a new crop.

This is know as “poor farm” gardening–a greenhouse with lights and heat would produce a real crop all winter but is expensive to build.  It would have to withstand the Wyoming winds which blow fiercely and are often accompanied by tree limbs, flying gravel, tumbleweeds, cardboard boxes, feeding tubs and anything else that is left unattached or without an anchor to hold it down.

We have about finished the last of the garden cleanup, and delivered a load of frosty collard greens and kale to neighbor Tom’s pigs, who will enjoy gnoshing on this late harvest bounty.  A row of young potted cottonwood trees line the garden fence and are mulched with two feet of straw and leaves.  Hopefully they will survive to be planted in the spring.  The rest of the garden has been tucked beneath black plastic weed barrier which prevents the weeds from getting the jump on us before planting time next year.

And now for a long winter’s nap!

Chicken House Restoration For The Birds!

“the old chicken house ain’t what she used to be!” . . . .

What was once a thriving poultry operation now sits abandoned and filled with a 30-year accumulation of cast off tires, fuel tanks, lumber, roofing steel, chimney pipe, left-over insulation, a variety of ladders, cast off windows, doors, screens, old bicycles and various trash.  And should we mention the ton or so of old straw, dirt and manure that accumulated over many years on the floor?  This photo was taken in August, 2012 as rehabilitation was about to begin.  Relatively new roofing steel from a house recently demolished is piled on the ground and will be recycled in Phase I, after major branches are cut away from the elm tree rising above.

fresh air vent leads up through the roof–no guineas have escaped as yet . . . .

Constructed in the early 1920’s, the chicken house was built to be efficient and to endure.  It is large by most chicken house standards, at 40′ x 16′.  Nesting boxes, feeding troughs, a grain storage bin, roosts that could be lifted for cleaning, windows for light, fresh air silos for ventilation, and insulation with a mixture of straw and coal slack are just a few of the “modern” innovations the designer/builder thought of.  The chicken house held upward of 200 laying hens in the glory days, and the “egg money” often paid the bill at the local general store where food and other staples were purchased.

roosts are quiet now, but a clucking cacophony could be heard within these walls . . . .

Roosts are currently being removed for cleaning and some replacement.  The notched 2×4’s lift up and are anchored by the chains hanging from the ceiling.  Manure was raked down into the “poop chute” and shoveled out into a cart to be recycled on the flower and vegetable gardens.

exterior door to the grain bin–convenient!

A lot of grain was shoveled into barrels inside through this little chute.  Made for an efficient way to replenish the chicken feed.

the grain bin could be accessed indoors or out . . . .

Two 50-gallon barrels held chicken feed inside this bin, which has an outside opening which made re-filling easy.

the latch that holds the grain bin lid open . . . .so it won’t fall on your head!

Note the insulation in the cracks behind the rough lumber interior walls.  It is comprised of chopped straw and fine coal slack, which is a curious mixture indeed!  While trying to nail down a loose base board, I scooped out some of the insulation so the board would nail back to its original position, and the stuff just kept coming.  I emptied most of a small section of wall before I could stop the flow of straw and coal slack cascading down through the opening behind the loose board.

10 sets of double hung windows waiting to be restored . . . .

Determined to save and refurbish the old windows, I began by removing all of them (20 individual windows, 80 panes of glass, need I say more?)  I went to the Internet for the best technical advice and realized I didn’t have much of the available technology (a heating tool to soften old window glazing, a gun to install glazing points, skill saw to create new muntins).  What the heck, this job was going to get done with grit, elbow grease and sweat equity.  1. Remove old glass; 2. remove old glazing; 3. remove old glazing points; 4. scrape and brush old paint, dust, dirt and grime; 5. replace broken muntins (this required the help of my carpenter/contractor);  6. paint all surfaces with linseed oil; 7. install new heavy duty glass panes with new points; 8. glaze all 80 panes with oil-based putty; 9. wash residue from glass; 10. trim off excess putty; 11. paint exterior of window frames and glazing with oil-based primer; 12. remove excess paint from panes; 13. prep window openings with linseed oil and primer; 14. install windows.  No hill for a climber.

foundation stones hauled from the foothills of the Big Horn mountains . . . .

Early-day construction began with a foundation of flat stones picked up from the mountains and hills nearby.  I was relieved, after digging about a foot of soil away from the baseboards, when the shovel struck these stones.  It was a comfort to know the old chicken house actually sat on a solid foundation.

her underpinnings needed a little help . . . .

The north wall of the chicken house did not have the Dutch cove fir siding the rest of the building was finished with.  Instead, bales of straw were stacked to the roof, held in place with poles and sheets of tin.  That insulation kept the north wind and bitter Wyoming winters at bay and worked for well over 30 years.  Sometime in the 1950’s the straw wall had deteriorated to the point it had to be replaced with asbestos siding, which today is badly in need of replacement as well.  Back to the Internet to locate Dutch cove fir siding.  Eeeek!  They don’t give the stuff away and we will need 500 square feet.  Haven’t found any local suppliers, so will have to pay shipping costs as well.  And, I need some extra for the old homestead cottage which has the same siding and could use a little sprucing up.  But that’s another project!

A good segment for “Dirty Jobs!” Rip off the old roof down to the 2×4 trusses.

The old steel roof has a beautiful rust-colored patina but has been trying to blow off for years.  The 1″ x 6″ cross beams had rotted due to moisture and age and all had to be ripped off.  Fortunately, we had cleaned and saved a pile of 1″ x 6″ lumber that was used to frame the foundation for an addition to our house.  We only had to purchase a few more to completely replace the cross members and then screw down the new (recycled) steel roof.  We also had quite a few rolls of left-over insulation that we laid down over the foot of old straw, which was in remarkably good condition.  And we got to wear our new knee pads for the occasion – I thought I would never need them!

Nesting boxes have collected thousands of eggs and heard many chicken stories . . .

The east end contains 16 feet of nesting boxes with rails for chicken access.  As a child one of my chores was to gather eggs, and often the hens would still be sitting on their bounty, which was warm amid all the soft feathers.  The hens would squawk in protest, leap to the floor and tear off in clucking indignation at the injustice of surrendering their eggs to the basket.

half of the new roof is on at last–the frosting on the cupcake! . . . .

We were fortunate to obtain this recycled tin in the same color as the roof on a new pole barn we built to house our cars.  In the spring a coat of paint will have the old girl looking like new!  The old red and white has lasted 50-odd years but is looking pretty tired.

rushing to keep old man winter out . . . .

We installed most of the windows before a winter storm arrived on Thanksgiving weekend.  Awaiting two frames that needed new muntins and stiles, which is giving our carpenter fits.  Also have one window waiting for primer, then we can finish installing all the windows.  The guinea fowl won’t wait, however, as winter has arrived and the geese need to move into the former guinea quarters.  Such is life with too many critters!

guineas are enjoying the afternoon sunshine in their palatial new digs . . . .

Twenty guinea fowl in a chicken house built for 200!  They seemed a little lost at first and have to keep warm with a heat lamp hung over the roost at night.  We are hoping they will be comfortable, and pleased that we have been able to bring a marvelous old chicken house back to life.  In the spring, we will install the fir siding on the north wall and east end, repair some of the trim and put a new coat of paint on everything.  We will also restore electricity to the building by laying it underground.  We currently are running an extension cord for the heat lamp and heated water bowl. That will be Phase II and when completed, we will have the satisfaction of knowing we restored an historic structure that should last well into the future.  And it will look great to boot!  My granny would be proud.

this looks like work . . . .

this looks like work . . . .

Segue to September, 2013 and Phase II is underway.  Scraping the old siding was a tough job and required a mask to prevent lead based paint chips from being ingested.  The old siding, nearing 100 years old, is still sound in most places.  A few of the bottom two boards had to be replaced and that was another miserable job trying to get the grooves to fit and the straw and coal insulation from rushing out from between the walls.

will it ever stop? . . . .

will it ever stop? . . . .

Trying to get a coat of primer on before cold weather hits.  Oil-based primer, with an addition of linseed oil worked very well.  The deep grooves of the weathered wood sucked up paint and the local Sherwin Williams was so happy to see me coming.

this stuff has to go! . . . .

this stuff has to go! . . . .

The old rolled siding, installed during the 1950’s, has begun to deteriorate.  It served its purpose, as the original builder did not put cedar siding on the north wall or the east end.

new hemline . . . .

new hemline . . . .

New boards replace the old, rotted ones.

"what has happened to our house?" . . . .

“what has happened to our house?” . . . .

My toughest critics, the guineas aren’t sure they like the paint job.

aw, the smell of new lumber! . . . .

aw, the smell of new lumber! . . . .

Western red cedar siding, 518 sq. ft., for the north wall and east end.  This was our major purchase for the chicken house restoration and was an education in itself.  I learned about “reveals” and “rabbets” and was able to duplicate the original siding with this Dutch Lap pattern. The lumber company provided a 20-page installation manual that we found most helpful.  The first step was to prime the lumber on all surfaces, front and back, with a sealer.  I used a roller and draped the boards over saw horses.  I re-stacked them with enough air space to allow the sealer to dry.  This was the most tedious task of all.

changes to the north wall . . . .

changes to the north wall . . . .

With the help of our contractor/neighbor Tom, we installed #15 tar paper over the rough lumber of the north wall.  Then we applied 1×4 firring strips to nail the siding to.  This step was necessary due to the uneven surface of the old lumber.

east end looking pretty snappy! . . . .

east end looking pretty snappy! . . . .

The siding went on beautifully, and made me wish I didn’t have to paint it.  We laid gravel along the sides to prevent dirt and mud splash back on the walls and protect the paint.

Primed and ready for paint . . . .

Primed and ready for paint . . . .

By the time I finished priming, then painting this 40-foot north wall, I was sick of it.  And we still have to install, and paint the trim along the top of the wall.  Trying to balance a paint bucket, brush, rag etc. and keep from sliding off the roof as I primed the fresh-air stacks was a challenge as well.  We secured an old wooden ladder for me to cling to as a scaffold of sorts, and it worked.  I remember hammering nails in the old tin on this roof with no fear.  The new roof is a lot more slippery and I am a lot older!

I think I'll move in . . . .

I think I’ll move in . . . .

This old structure has a new lease on life and should last another 100 years, barring some calamity.  Our investment of $3,800 fine-tuned an historic building that still had lots of useful life and structural integrity.

the chicken lodge . . . .

the chicken lodge . . . .

The plan is to move our little flock of 12 chickens into their rightful home.  The guineas will move into another shed and we don’t know how they are going to feel about that.  We still have to clean the windows and put fresh straw in the nesting boxes. Now it’s on to the next restoration project!

Snake Fence – Who Knew?

curbside critic says it is a “snake” fence . . . .

An aging pile of logs stacked alongside the boat house seemed the perfect material to create a stacked log fence.  The logs were a bonafide surplus, since it would take the next twenty years to burn them in the pot belly stove inside our mountain cottage, and they likely would moulder and rot before we got around to burning them.  They had developed a lovely silver-grey patina that would blend into the landscape, and would create a boundary fence that would appear to have been erected a very long time ago.  So, to work!

Having no blueprint or instructions, we began dragging the logs from the back of the property to the front, where the fence would begin at the road and travel up the driveway. After dragging twenty or so logs, we voted to “give it a rest” and sort out how to begin.  The first step was place a log up on the “saw buck” and cut two-foot sections that would be used as support to hold the logs up off the ground.  The supports had to be notched, and while a chain saw isn’t the best tool for the job, it worked–finally–after the chain came off in protest and caused a considerable delay and many expletives deleted.

Next the chain saw had to be transported to the job site, with lengthy extension cords, to notch the logs so they would stack.  It isn’t quite as easy as Lincoln Logs – does anyone remember those?  We had no tools to measure with, and eroded at least a foot of topsoil dragging and re-placing the logs to try to get  the proper angle of repose.  Many trips were made up the hill to “eyeball” whether the logs pointing in each direction were parallel.

A neighbor stopped to watch quietly for about an hour as we struggled, sweat and swore.  Then he abruptly decided to take his leave, but not until he informed us we had a crooked log that needed replacing in our “snake fence.”  Of course it was on the bottom and required dragging another log from the back of the property over the hill to the front, and re-positioning five or six other logs that were stacked over the top of the crooked one.  Thanks, Charlie!!!

fence looks as old as the view (almost) . . . .

At the end of the day, we had utilized all our logs and the fence was taking shape.  There are many more logs out back, and we vowed to build another section as soon as we have recovered from bruises, scrapes and aching backs! Oh pioneer!

Gardens Are Hard Work, But Oh My!

Eat your veggies! . . . .

A late summer harvest was so bounteous, and this is only a small part of it.  We loaded a tub of summer squash to give to the neighbors to feed their hogs.  We feed collard greens, kale and Swiss chard to the young guinea keets in the pen next to the garden, and they love it!  Why is it gardens keep you waiting all summer, and then give forth in such profusion that you cannot possibly take care of it?  Or consume all of it?

I am reminded of my grandmother’s garden which was much larger than my own. She was far more efficient at preserving her summer bounty, and would rise at daybreak, pick peas and green beans, and the next day would be blanching and freezing the peas and canning the green beans in quart Mason jars.  The cellar shelves would be lined with her peaches, pears, vegetables, pickles, tomatoes and apple sauce.  She dried corn and stored it in 1# coffee cans for reconstitution throughout the long winter months.  I loved eating it dry and would sneak a handful to chew on.  Her winter squash would be stored in bushel baskets, and carrots, beets and potatoes were stored in wooden crates wrapped in newspaper.

Just before frost, I plant fall crops of red winter kale, spinach, and lettuce.  When I recently went to prepare the bed I planned to use, I noticed the sweet pea vines I had planned to tear up were blooming and producing a second crop of peas!  A cool weather crop, the peas had gone dormant over the summer.  As I began gathering the mature pods, I discovered I had as many, if not more peas than I got from the early spring crop. I wondered if my grandmother had a second crop also, and wished I had spent more time with her in our family garden as a girl.  I well remember the scolding and prying to drag me to the garden early on summer mornings, and how hard I tried to resist.

A light frost turned the tips of the squash and cucumber plants brown two nights ago, and served as a reminder it’s time to drag out the heavy plastic row covers to protect the garden for the next month to six weeks.  We can always count on frost shortly after Labor Day, and it came right on schedule this year.  Fortunately, we got an early warning light frost rather than a killing frost that would have wiped out the entire garden.

So much work, so little time!