Another Steamy Ozarks Morning Sunrise

Steamy Ozarks sunrise

Retta took this photograph at 5:41am this past Wednesday morning, after rising with the sun to let the dogs out of the house.  Having recently returned from an unexpected trip to congested southern California to pay my respects due to the passing of a dear loved one, this photo serves to remind us of the beauty that we are fortunate to wake up to each and every day.  For this, we feel truly blessed.

Equipment Maintenance Chores

Now that the Fall season is rapidly approaching, it is time to get the Bush Hog rotary cutter into shape, as there are many acres to be cut in the upcoming months.  After greasing and inspecting the various components of the rotary cutter, the most common maintenance task is to sharpen the blades of the cutter. 

Bush hog blade sharpening

During the course of cutting pastures and fields the blades of the rotary cutter will become worn and dull, primarily from impact with rocks (see previous post entitled Dang Rocks!).   You can see what a worn rotary cutter blade edge looks like in the following photograph.

Dull, rock-beaten blade

Before working underneath the rotary cutter, I would like you to take a look at the upper link assembly of the three-point hitch, which is the means of attaching the cutter to the tractor.  At the top of the link assembly you can see a bolt which acts as a pivot for the upper link arm.  This bolt is prone to breakage.  When it breaks, the entire rear portion of the rotary cutter comes crashing down to the ground.  If you happen to be underneath this rotary cutter (which weighs 1247 pounds) when this bolt snaps, it would certainly ruin your day!

Upper link of 3-point hitch

To prevent the possibility of an accident occurring when working under or around the rotary cutter, I use several heavy-duty axle stands to support the implement, as shown in the photograph below.

Heavy-duty axle stand

Once the cutter is properly braced, the next step is to remove the two blades from the flywheel.  In the next photograph you can see that the manufacturer has provided an access hole for the blade bolts at the top of the cutter.  This is a sturdy and massive 1-3/4″ bolt, which requires the use of a heavy duty socket set.

Blade pivot bolt access

In order to even begin to budge this bolt, brains must take precedence over brawn, and so you see me resort to the use of a “cheater” bar to coax the retainer bolt into submission.

Cheater bar in use

Eventually, the nut for this large retainer bolt will loosen and come off, but the bolt itself will be firmly stuck in the flywheel of the rotary cutter.  At this point, a sledge hammer and a length of galvanized pipe can usually persuade the stubborn bolt to part ways with the flywheel.

The

The photograph below gives a good indication of the size of the rotary cutter blades.  Each blade is 5/16″ thick and weighs in excess of 20 pounds.  The blade on the left is the blade that has just been removed from the cutter, and the blade on the right is a sharpened replacement blade.

Blade sections

Sharpening the blades is a simple matter of running the cutting edge along the surface of a grinding wheel, as shown below.

 Sharpening blades

While it is not necessary for the two blades on the opposing sides of the flywheel to be exactly equal in weight after sharpening, they must be reasonably close to avoid unnecessary vibration and premature wear to the rotary cutter gearbox.  To achieve this result, I use a simple self-devised method.  I hang each blade from the end of a bungee cord and measure the amount of stretch that the bungee cord undergoes.  When the cord stretches an equal distance for both blades, than I know that they are approximately the same weight.

Sharpened blade

The photograph above shows the sharp edge that is obtained from grinding the rotary cutter blades.  It is not as clean looking and smooth as a kitchen knife, to be sure, but it is now plenty sharp enough to tackle the grasses, weeds and brush in the pastures and fields scattered around our property.

Now that the blades are reasonably sharp and balanced, the only thing left to do is re-assemble the blades onto the flywheel of the rotary cutter.  This is a simple task, however it is now that you are required to venture underneath the implement to install the blades.  I always double-check the axle stands before sliding underneath the cutter, and as the photo below shows, I make it a point to coat the bolt with a good anti-seize compound before re-assembly.

Anti-sieze compound used on retaining bolt

Now that I have finished sharpening the rotary cutter blades, it’s time to fuel the tractor and go bush-hog some fields.  Adios, amigos.

Photo Collages

Collage of sponges and barracuda

FloridaCracker, the author of the informative and always interesting Pure Florida blog, inquired in a comment yesterday about two photographs that are to be found hanging on the wall in the background, as I hang precariously suspended, upside-down in Retta’s inversion chair.  The two photographs depict fish that I shot with a Nikonos underwater camera while scuba diving some 16 years ago.  Or should I say, the two photo-illustrations, because those prints on the wall are digital collages that I created back in the early days of my experimenting with scanned slides and Adobe Photoshop.

Before I show you how I created these collages, I would like to point out what was involved in creating these simple works some 16 years ago.  First, the hardware that was in use back then was abysmally slow by comparison to today’s standards.  Second, the shear size of the digital files required to generate a decent result from a film recorder (which was used to create the working negative of the finished product) overwhelmed the amount of RAM that standard operating systems and PC hardware could provide.  The trials and tribulations of such endeavors are outlined in a previous post, Bridging The Generation Gap, but for the purposes of this post, I’ll just say that it used to take my computer 7 minutes just to open up 1 image file.  The creation of just one of these collages usually involved at least a month of manipulation on my part, whereas today, with the tools and hardware that are available, the same result could be achieved in a matter of hours, if not minutes.  So now that I have apologized, sort of, for the amateurish results of my labors, here’s how it was accomplished.

Background image

The first step in creating the collage is to find an interesting background.  It is absolutely amazing to see how much the background of a photo affects the quality of the overall composition.  The slide of the bait fish school above, taken off the island of Bonaire, is not a particularly compelling photograph.  While it is technically adequate, it seems to lack a central subject.  But as I studied it, I realized that it might make an interesting background for a future project, so I filed it away with the many other background slides that I was accumulating.  After deciding to use the slide as a background for the project which resulted in the slide that begins this post, I decided to add other visual elements.

Purple sponge

This slide of coral and a purple sponge was taken off the island of Cozumel, and it also is a technically adequate photo, but with no pizazz.  Maybe this would work in my collage.

Purple sponge

If one purple sponge is a good thing, then why not two?  So off I went to find another slide of sponges, this one again from Cozumel, but taken a year later than the first.  So now I had everything in place, except for a main subject.  Searching through my slides, I came across the following mediocre picture of a barracuda.

Barracuda

Without going into a detailed critique of this slide, I’ll just point out the obvious – it cries out for a better background.  Since I had all of the other element already in place, I added the barracuda to my composition, adjusted the various layers to my satisfaction, and created the photo-illustration that begins this post.  It is not the greatest composition in the world, to be sure, but it does manage to take some otherwise bland photographs, and blend them into a picture that is pleasant to view.

The second photo-illustration hanging on the wall is a collage that was assembled from various undersea life in the waters of the Pacific off the coast of California.

Treefish

Again, I started with a slide taken from my collection of possible backgrounds, which in this case are some sea fans found at Anacapa Island.

Sea fans

The next element that I chose to add to the composition was an egg sack from a swell shark, which is a common small shark that inhabits the sandy tracts near shore.

Nurse shark egg sack

The final element in the arrangement was the main subject, a treefish, which is a type of rockfish that was once common around the Channel Islands of California.

Treefish

Let me take this opportunity to stress one thing.  These photo-illustrations are quite crude by today’s standards.  Never the less, the point to be made is that a photograph you might decide to toss just might be a “keeper” when you view it again in the context of a photo-illustration.  Maybe it lacks a central subject, but would make a good background.  Maybe it is a technically adequate photograph of a subject, with a terrible background.  Don’t throw it away!  If it is properly exposed, and if it is in sharp focus, put it away, and maybe some day in the future it will become an element in one of your prize-winning photo-illustrations.

NOTE: This would be a good spot to post my Photoshop policy – any photographs that you see on this blog are undoctored photographs (photos which have only undergone minor cropping, exposure and sharpening procedures, similar to what normally occurs in the darkroom process), unless I indicate otherwise with the term photo-illustration.  If I call an image a photo-illustration, then it is understood that anything goes!

Just Hanging Around Today

In a post of two days ago entitled Feeder Maintenance – Part II, the issue of back strain while loading the feeders with heavy sacks of corn was raised.  In the comments that followed that post, Tjilpi (a practicing physician who knows all about such things) pointed out that hoisting the full drum of corn up to the top of the feeder was possibly causing pressure on my spinal disks.  My joking reaction to Tjilpi was “I figure that whatever compression damage I’m doing by hefting the bags onto my shoulder is being offset by the extension damage I’m doing by pulling on the hoist.”  Tjilpi suggested that the act of pulling down on the rope was actually causing compression of the disks, rather then the extension damage that I had assumed would be occurring.

Notwithstanding the fact that he resides in the Southern Hemisphere, where even gravity sometimes behaves in an unpredictable manner, I respect Tjilpi’s learned opinion on the matter, and figured that I had better self-treat my compression damage from loading the corn feeders.  And so it is that you see me in the basement in the following photograph, defying Newton’s laws of gravity as I hang fearlessly upside-down in Retta’s inversion chair.

Hanging in an inversion chair

After spending sufficient time in the inversion chair to stretch out my spine, I figured I had better end the session before bursting a vein somewhere in my cranium, which would have really ruined my day :)

Now You See It, Now You Don’t

Fescue and clover hayfield

Perhaps you recall seeing this picture before on the Ranch Ramblins blog.  I used this photograph in a post entitled Fescue To The Rescue, which extolled the virtues and cautioned about the vices of fescue grass.  The picture was taken on June 8, 2006, and at the time of the photo this fescue/clover field, as well as several others, were in prime condition to be cut, dried and baled into large round bales for winter feeding of local cattle.

Early this past spring, I had made arrangements with a neighbor for baling this hay.  The deal was a sweetheart deal from his point of view, as I offered him all of the hay and asked nothing in return.  And what do I get out of the deal?  About 20 fewer acres of grass that I need to cut using my own time, tractor and fuel.  It was my hope to photograph the cutting, raking, drying, baling and hauling process, and to document these activities here on this blog.  Alas, the best laid plans of mice and men sometimes go awry, and thus it was with this particular endeavor.

For reasons that most likely revolved around health concerns (this neighbor has had more than his share of medical problems) and recalcitrant equipment (40+ year old tractors, sickle-bar mowers, and hay rakes), the hay field went uncut.  By the time I had realized that the neighbor wasn’t going to bale the hay, as previously arranged, it was too late to find someone with the time and equipment to bale these hay fields.

Hayfield after shredding

Last week I took the bush hog to this particular field, as you can see from the picture above.  From a selfish point of view, I should be happy that things worked out the way that they did.  Leaving the shredded fescue and clover to decompose in the field will be healthy for the grass in the long run, and the fescue was laden with seed, some of which will germinate next season as conditions warrant.  The overall result will probably be healthier hay fields than would otherwise be the case had my neighbor baled the hay.  On the other hand, with the persistent draught that has beset this region, hay prices have shot up through the roof, and I can’t help thinking that some local farmer, who might be struggling to make ends meet, would have loved to have 20 acres of fescue/clover hay for the taking.

Hopefully, next season I will have haying photographs to share with you.

Feeder Maintenance Time – Part II

If you have been a regular reader of this blog, you may recall that we utilize game feeders here at the ranch on a year round basis.  Notwithstanding the temporary feelings of angst regarding wildlife feeding (detailed in the previous post Birds Of A Feather), we have enjoyed the benefits that having feeders provides us, namely, regular visits from the local wildlife.

Having game feeders operating reliably full-time has proven to be more of a challenge than I would have previously thought.  In a previous post entitled Feeder Maintenance Time Again, I pointed out my experiences providing a reliable source of power to the feeder units.  One of today’s chores was to replace the batteries in two feeders and refill them both with deer corn, so I thought I would take you along to see what this is all about.

Tripod feeder with hoist assembly

The feeder pictured above is a tripod mounted plastic drum which utilizes a block-and-tackle hoisting mechanism.  The drum holds three bags, or 150 pounds of deer corn.

Changing the battery

In the photo above, you see the actual feeder timer and motor assembly, all housed into a neat, compact package.  The 6 volt alkaline battery that we are replacing hangs from two alligator type clips on the end of a short set of wires.  In fact, the wires are so short that it is actually quite difficult to attach the alligator clips onto the battery terminals.  After finally managing to attach the clips to the battery, it becomes a comical sight to watch me try to push the battery back up into the housing and attach the bottom cover plate with the four tiny sheet metal screws provided.  It usually takes me several tries, with frequent interruptions as I search for the small parts that invariably drop to the ground (dang gravity).   If only the people who design these things were required to actually use them in the field, this probably wouldn’t happen.

Varmint protection

In the photo above you can see the funnel tube (coming down from the drum) and the spinner plate that the corn comes to rest on.  Some of the previous feeders that we have owned were produced with plastic funnels and spinner plates.  The varmints of the area soon learned to chew through the plastic parts, thus allowing the entire contents of the drum to spill out onto the ground.  One manufacturer even has the audacity to sell replacement parts fabricated out of metal, even while selling new feeder units with the useless plastic parts.  Even with the metal parts, eventually the larger varmints manage to bend the spinners to the point that the corn is released to the ground, and the feeder unit fails to operate due to the bent spinner plate.  The solution to this problem is to surround the entire feeder assembly with a varmint-proof enclosure, as is shown in the photo above.  There are after-market enclosures for sale by various manufacturers.  It would be nice if they were included as a standard item on all complete feeder kits, but they are not.  A word to the wise – if you buy or build your own wildlife feeder, spring for an optional varmint guard.

Appetizing plastic top

In this photograph you can see that this particular feeder drum lid is held in place by a sturdy expansion hoop that is fitted with a cam-lever type closure system.  This system works great – it is quick and can be operated in all kinds of weather easily.  You can also see that the drum is made from plastic materials.  The advantage of the plastic is that it will not rust or corrode.  The obvious disadvantage to the plastic materials is that they are not resistant to the sharp, persistent teeth of varmints.  You can see in the photo above that I have had to patch up the lid with duct tape after some critter chewed its way into the drum of delectable apple flavored deer corn.  Several times.  If the people who designed feeders were compelled to actually use and maintain them, we would probably see an end to plastic drum lids.

Filling the feeder with corn

The great advantage of this tripod feeder unit is the block-and-tackle hoist system that it incorporates.  By simply lowering the drum to ground level, it is relatively easy to fill the drum to capacity with the necessary three bags of deer corn, as you can see from the photograph above.

Hoisting the drum into place

After the drum is filled, the block-and-tackle hoist system makes it a breeze to lift the corn-filled drum back into the raised position.  It is a simple, effective system for easing the job of filling feeders, which can be a back breaking task, as you shall soon see.

Stationary tripod feeder system

The type of feeder you see above is a stationary tripod style of feeder.  This feeder drum and lid are built entirely from metal and the feeder unit is enclosed in a varmint cage, so there is no possibility of varmints chewing their way into the corn supply.  Because the drum does not have to be hoisted up off the ground after filling, it can be built to accommodate a larger supply of corn.  Whereas the first feeder has a capacity of 3 bags of corn (150#), this feeder has a capacity of 4-1/2 bags of corn (225#), so the interval between fillings is longer.

Poor closure engineering

The picture above shows the pitiful lid closure mechanism that this manufacturer employed.  To remove the lid, you must first completely remove the bolt from the lid retaining hoop.  This requires the use of a screwdriver (which I store on top of the lid for convenience) to remove the bolt, whilst stretching up to reach it’s lofty height.  In the warmer months this is merely an inconvenience, but in the depths of winter, when the thermometer indicates unspeakably low temperatures, and you are trying to remove the lid while hungry deer peer out at you from the forest edge, it is a royal pain-in-the-butt.  If the people who engineered these closures were required  to operate them regularly in January, we would probably not see these in use anymore.

I have saved the very best for last.  To fill this type of tripod feeder requires the strength, height, and stamina of Shaquille O’Neal, and not the tired, worn out body of this Ramblin Rancher, as you can clearly see from the following picture.

Oh!! My aching back!!

To get the corn into the feeder requires a sort of “clean ‘n jerk” technique, as used in Olympic style weight-lifting.  First, using your knees as best as possible, the sack is snatched up off the floor in one fluid motion, while at the same time, your body comes down into position so that the 50# sack of corn comes to rest on your shoulder.  Now that the corn is held up by your shoulder, straighten your legs to full extension, and then lift the sack as high as possible over your head, hoping to aim it well enough so that the corn ends up in the drum, and not on the ground.  If all goes well, then repeat this procedure four more times, before heading for the house to rest your aching back for the balance of the day!  If the designers of wildlife feeders were required to fill feeders with corn on a regular basis, I’ll bet these types of stationary tripod feeders would disappear.  But then again, what do I know?

Flashback Friday #13: Lay Lady, Lay…..

…Lay Across My Big Grass Bed.

Skeletal remains of Lady

My apologies to Bob Dylan, but how else could I introduce the gentle readers of this blog to Lady (or at least her remains)?

This ranch takes on it’s present form due to the labors of a family I shall call the Farmers.  The Farmers built the present day house and most of the outbuildings in 1980.  They lived here, working the land, raising cattle and operating a small dairy operation until 1996, when they sold the ranch to other owners.

There are three generations of the Farmer family that lived here.  The Farmer parents, the Farmer children, and the Farmer grandchildren.  In fact, a Farmer daughter gave birth to a Farmer grandchild right in the master bedroom of this house.

Eventually, we came to purchase this property in 2001.  In the course of moving our belongings into the house, I discovered an envelope taped to the underside of a desk drawer.  Naturally, curiosity took hold, and I opened the envelope to find a multi-page hand written letter within.  The letter was addressed to nobody in particular, and yet was written as if intended for everybody.  One of the Farmer grandchildren had penned this letter just prior to moving away from this ranch for good.

As I read this letter, I recall that tears began to well up in my eyes, as it soon became obvious how much this young woman loved both the property and the lifestyle that went along with living here.  It was apparent that she leaving the property out of necessity and not choice, which made me feel very bad for this unknown young woman.  Somewhere within the text of her open letter, she mentioned the names of various people that had enjoyed life on this ranch, and at one point the name Lady came up.  I did not think much of the reference at the time, other than to think that Lady was an unusual name (or nickname) for a person.  After sharing the letter that I had found with Retta, I filed it away in a safe place, for posterity’s sake.

Some time later, Retta and I happened to have the opportunity to meet the Farmer family.  At our gathering, when we mentioned the existence of the open letter we had found, one of the Farmers inquired as to whether we had discovered letter #2, written by another of the Farmer grandchildren.  When we replied that we had not yet found this second letter, they told us where it was located.  Just as they had indicated, the letter lay hidden behind the back wall studs of an under-stairs storage closet in the basement.  It was so well hidden that we would have never stumbled upon it, had we not been steered in the right direction by the Farmers.  The second letter had the same poignient tone as the first letter, and again I found a lump in my throat as I read it’s contents.  This second letter also contained a reference to someone named Lady, just as the first letter had.

So that sums up the two open letters that we discovered (with some help, I have to admit).  In the meanwhile, shortly after moving here we began an intense exploration of the hills and hollers of this ranch.  Along a fence line, in a very remote section of the property, we came upon the skeletal remains of a horse, which seemed to be in fairly good condition.  For reasons that I still cannot explain, I felt a desire to bring the horse’s skeletal head over to the house, where we set it among our collection of “yard art.”  And there it remained for quite a long time.

Fast forward a couple of years.  We received a telephone call from a Farmer grandson, who asked if he could come visit the property and reminisce.  We readily agreed, and soon he was hiking and exploring the property he knew so well as a child.  As I began to pick his brain for tidbits of information regarding the history of this ranch, I happened to ask him who this “Lady” was, that I had read about in the letters left by his sisters.  He explained that Lady was a gentle old nag that was ridden frequently by the Farmer grandchildren, and that when she died in 1994, they placed her carcass in a far corner of the property to decompose, which is where Retta and I found the remains.

Now that we knew the history behind the skeletal remains, and the attachment of the Farmer grandchildren to this nag named Lady, we felt that is was almost sacrilegious to leave her skeletal head among our yard art.  So I immediately took the remains out of our yard and returned them to where we had originally found them.  The picture above was taken where the bones now lay, in their former location.

What has surprised me is how the bones have been left undisturbed (except for the temporary relocation that we put them through) for such a long period of time.  It is twelve years since Lady died, and yet the bones remain in the location where first placed, unchewed and unmolested by the native wildlife.

Whenever we pass by Lady’s remains, we pay our respects, now that we know of her past connection to the originators of this ranch.  And I have vowed not to disturb her remains ever again!