A Head Shed?

Antler sheds found in fields

It is not unusual for me to find deer antler sheds around my fields and pastures, such as the ones pictured above.  I try to keep a sharp eye out for them in the fall, particularly when I am using the tractor to bush-hog our fields.  Why the sharp lookout?

Antler point extracted from tractor tire

In the photograph above there is a small tine from a deer antler that I keep on my desk.  It reminds me of the day I found it, lodged in the sidewall of a perfectly good rear tractor tire.  Seeing as this tine cost me about $400.00, I figure that it can at least serve as a paper weight for a short period of penitence.

A running gag

We find the sheds so often that I thought I would begin to mount them and display them on a wall.  I was in Bass Pro Shop in Springfield, Missouri about 5 years ago, when I saw an antler mounting kit for sale at a reasonable price.  I bought one, and soon had a pair of shed antlers proudly on display above my office desk, as you can see in the photograph above.

Something looked peculiar with the antlers I had hanging on the wall, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it might be.  Then, one day as I was browsing through some deer photographs, it dawned on me – the antlers hanging on my wall looked odd because I had mounted them upside down!

Oops!  I was about to climb up on my desk to retrieve the plaque with the mis-mounted antlers, when it occurred to me that it might be fun to leave them as they were, and see how long it would take until somebody noticed the error in my faulty craftsmanship.  To date (about 5 years now) no one has said a thing.  I wonder how long this streak will run?

This mistake could have been avoided if only the antlers appeared in my pastures and fields just like the ones I found today –

Today’s find while doing groundskeeping chores

I ran across this specimen as I was performing a few grounds keeping chores today.  You can clearly see the correct orientation of the antlers relative to the skull on this young buck.  There is no way even a dummy like me could botch this up ;)

Teeth are still sharp

I am surmising that this buck was relatively young, as there were no missing teeth, and the teeth looked to be sharp and undamaged.  Various other skeletal remains were located in the vicinity of this skull.  Perhaps he was brought down by a pack of coyotes, and then the carcass picked clean by vultures and other critters.

Bluebird Trail – Part II

First batch of bluebird nesting boxes

Perhaps you recall from a previous post that I intend to establish a bluebird nesting box trail along some of the trails on our property.  Since that posting, I have made substantial progress in my commitment to build 100 bluebird nesting boxes.  As you can see from the photograph above, I have completed 25 of the boxes.  You can also see that the boxes take up a good deal of room in the shop, which is why I decided to build the boxes 25 at a time.

In all crafts, the rule of thumb is to measure twice, and cut once, thus avoiding errors and material wastage.  In the design of the nesting box that I am using, there are 30 specific measurements that are required in order to build the box.  The measure twice rule thus makes  60 measurements per box.    Since I am building 100 boxes, a total of 6000 accurate measurements are required.  UNLESS…..

Bluebird nesting box patterns and jigs

UNLESS I were to spend a little bit of time up front to build an accurate set of templates and jigs for this project, which is what you see in the photograph above.  After the initial templates are built, the tape measures and rulers can be put aside, and the parts for the 100 bluebird nesting boxes can be build with complete accuracy and no wastage.

Patterns provide accurate hole placement

By providing holes in the templates where all the screw pilot holes need to be located, it is a simple matter to use an awl (shown above) to mark accurate drilling locations for each hole.

Miter table setup templates

Besides cutting and drilling templates, I made and labeled a complete set of jigs and stop blocks to use on the table saw, one of which is shown in the photograph above.  Now, without any measuring at all, I can easily set up the machine to make the accurate and uniform cuts I need for this project.

Drill press setup for hole saw

Building the nesting boxes in batches allows me to produce all the parts I require for the project with a minimum of machine set up time.  For example, in the photograph above you can see that I am using a 1 1/2″ diameter hole saw to cut the entry hole for the nesting box.  Using this hole saw requires the drill press to be set to a slower speed than for the other drilling on the boxes.  Instead of changing the machine speed (which involves realigning two drive belts) repeatedly for each nesting box, I can simply set the machine up once and drill all the 1 1/2″ holes at the same time.

Assembly jig

The assembly phase of the project is made simple by the use of a couple of assembly jigs that I fashioned for this project.  By building reusable positioning blocks and jigs, I can position parts accurately for fastening with screws, knowing that each screw is located exactly where I want it to be.

Setting the t-post into the ground

The completed nesting boxes are now ready to be installed in the field.  I think steel t-posts are the quickest and most durable method for mounting the nesting boxes.  The photo above shows how simple it is to put a t-post into the ground, using a t-post driver made for just this job.

Nesting box attached to t-post with conduit straps

After the t-post is in the ground, it is time to mount the nesting box on top of it.  In the photo above you can see that two 1 1/4″ conduit straps work as perfect fasteners for the nesting boxes to be secured to the t-posts.

Installed bluebird nesting box

And here is the finished product.  Now, just 99 more to go ……

Elk City, Oklahoma – Old Town Museum Complex

Last month I took a road trip from Arkansas to California and back, which is a trip I have taken many times in the past.  In order to add a little more interest this time around, I decided to travel over as much of the original Route 66 as was reasonably possible, given the overall time I had alloted for this particular trip. Along the way, I sampled some of delightful places that this route took me near.

Since my camera is once again off traveling without me, I thought I would share some of the sights that I saw along Route 66 over the next few days.  In case you haven’t noticed, I have already posted about several of these sights already.  There was the post about the Nation Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.  And then the post about the Sandia Peak Tramway in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and of course the Burma Shave signs  I ran across while driving on Route 66 in western Arizona.

Today’s post is about the Elk City Old Town Museum Complex, located along Route 66 in western Oklahoma.  The museum complex was quite impressive, particularly considering the small size of Elk City (population – approximately 11,000).

The complex is comprised of a replica old western town, with all the types of buildings you would expect to see in such a town, along with several museums, some of which I’ll show you in a moment.  Above is the Opera House replica (which can be rented for weddings and other occasions).

Here is a bank and mercantile building that is located along one side of the park, which is home to the museum complex.

Inside the buildings are authentic antiques from days of yore, such as the surgical facility shown in the photograph above.

There is a replica train depot which you can visit, along with an authentic railroad caboose that you can walk through.

This is an actual old school house that was originally located in a nearby town.  It was dismantled and rebuilt at this sight, and contains the  furnishings and accoutrements you might expect to see in an old school house on the prairie.

One of the museums contained in the complex is the National Route 66 Museum.  Visiting the Route 66 museum is the reason I sought out the Elk City Museum Complex in the first place.

Within this museum are displays of the scenes you would be likely to see while traveling along Route 66, such as the Navajo peddler depicted above, or the old-time service station recreated in the photograph below.

This sailor, hitching a ride along Route 66 in the southeast corner of Kansas, is a very long way from any ocean.  I wonder if his destination is the Atlantic, or Pacific ocean?

Considering that the National Route 66 Museum was the reason for my visit, I felt a little let down with it’s contents and displays.  I found nothing on display that was particularly unique or compelling, and if it were the only draw to the Elk City Museum Complex, I would have been disappointed.

The portion of the complex that I found most appealing was the Farm and Ranch Museum, which is comprised of an outdoor display area, along with a large indoor facility (seen in the background in the photograph above).

The museum owns a collection of windmills, each one with some special pedigree or unique feature.  The style shown above, with it’s unusual blade structure, is designed to operate in, and withstand very high winds.

There are old and varied farm implements on display outside at the Farm and Ranch Museum, many of which have functions that are not immediately recognizable to the average person.  All are well signed and documented, however, so that the visitor can learn about these pieces of farm machinery during the course of their visit.

Here is an example of the kind of old farm equipment you will find inside the Farm and Ranch Museum building.  The building is quite large and hosts a great number of items – from large tractors and implements, to collections of tiny agricultural U.S. postage stamps, and everything in between.

The Farm and Ranch Museum offers exhibits of items that you may never have seen or heard about, such as the display of hog oilers seen in the photograph above.  Hogs would rub up against the oily wheels of the hog oiler, and the coat of oil on the skin of the hogs would help to protect the hogs against flies and ticks.

Here is a very colorful display of old, cast-iron tractor and farm implement seats.  There are many more on display at the museum, but these are the only ones that are painted so colorfully.

This wagon is just one of many on display at the Farm and Ranch Museum.  In fact, there are several that I saw that would make perfect “yard art” somewhere on our property :)

In conclusion, I would highly recommend a visit to the Elk City Old Town Museum complex.  Perhaps not for the National Route 66 Museum, which I found disappointing, but for the excellent re-creation of an old town within the complex, and for the outstanding Farm and Ranch Museum, which (to me) was well worth the time and (modest) cost of admission.


Momma Wolf Spider

Wolf spider carrying babies

This morning Retta saw a wolf spider taking a dip in the swimming pool, and Retta,  true to form, scooped up the spider with a skimmer net in order to save it from a possible drowning death.

Upon further examination, Retta discovered that this wolf spider was a momma.  Indeed, you can see from the photograph above that momma spider has a host of babies perched, papoose style, on her back.  I don’t think that I have ever seen this occurance before, or if I have, I did not know what I was witnessing at the time.

Bluebird Trail Beginnings

Established front-opening bluebird house

We have six well-established Eastern Bluebird nesting boxes spaced around our house, and it is a pleasure to be able to watch these wonderful birds go about their business.  Since the six boxes around the house have been well used, I thought it might be a fine idea to establish a trail of bluebird nesting boxes along some of the paths we hike along throughout our property.  I figure we might ultimately put up over 100 nesting boxes over time,  so I decided to build a few prototypes first, to work out the kinks and help select a decent design that was reasonably inexpensive and easy to build.

We currently have two types of established nesting boxes.  The nesting box shown above is designed so that the front panel opens for cleaning, while the type shown below has a hinged roof, to allow access from the top.

Hinged-top bluebird nesting box

But which style to use for my little project? 

A few prototype bluebird nesting boxes

Above are three prototypes that I built to help decide on a final nesting box design.  Two are front-opening,  while one is top-opening.

Top-opening bluebird nesting box

The top-opening nesting box (shown above) uses a section of piano hinge at the back of the lid, and is secured shut by a locking gate hook.   It was easy to cut and assemble, and it is reasonably decent looking (for a bird house in the woods).  The disadvantage of a top-opening nesting box becomes clear when it becomes time to clean it out.  Look at the following design to see why.

Front-opening bluebird nesting box

This is a front-opening nesting box.  Rather than having the roof swing up for cleaning, the front panel pivots at the top, and is secured at the bottom.

Nesting box (seen with the front panel open)

When the front panel is unlatched and swung open, as shown above, it is quite easy to simply “sweep” the nest debris out of the box.  With a top-hinged design, cleaning requires you to lift the mess out of the box for disposal, which isn’t the most pleasant of tasks.

Countersunk wood screw pivot

The way that the front panel pivots is very simple.  It merely consists of a large wood screw on either side of the nesting box.

Bottom detail of bluebird nesting box

You can see the locking gate hook that secures the front panel shut in this underside view of the nesting box.  Also, notice the drainage/ventilation gaps at the four corners of the floor.

Ventilation gap underneath roof eave

The length of the front panel is cut short enough to leave a ventilation gap at the top of the nesting box, as you can see here.

Because of the ease with which the front-opening box can be cleaned, and because it is quicker, cheaper, and easier to build than the top-hinged style, I have decided to go with the front-opening prototype.

I’m still debating about the type of wood, however.  Treated lumber is out of the question for this application, so cedar would probably be the most durable, as it is resistant to rotting.  The stumbling block is the cost.  I can buy pine for 1/3 the cost of cedar, so I am inclined to use it, as I have for these prototypes.  If I were just building a few nest boxes, then I wouldn’t hesitate, but for the number I want to build, the cost differential between pine and cedar is significant.

Decisions, decisions, decisions.