Stiffen Your Hat With Wax

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There is nothing worse than a floppy cowboy hat. Steaming a cowboy hat will stiffen it for a short time, but just a short time. What I want is to steam my cowboy hats, shape them and never have to do it again, but when you spend $35 for a hat or buy one at Bi-Mart for $19.99 you can count on re-steaming on a regular basis to bring back the stiffness. I’ve tried spray starch and some formula that I got off the internet which included corn starch, but nothing really works for long and I’m back to steaming and shaping my hats again.

When I was a kid my brothers and I wore cowboy hats. Usually they were hand-me-downs from my dad or what he’d picked up at a second hand store. And usually they were too big and out of shape when we got them. To adjust for the too big size, my dad would roll up a sheet of newspaper and tuck it in behind the sweat band, adding more or less paper until it fit our tiny heads. One time, my mom sewed the crown together so the hat wouldn’t slip down over my ears.

My dad would always steam them and shape our new/used hats to our desired style and to stiffen them again, but kids are tough on hats and we would be begging him to re-steam them again for us. He too got tired of steaming and shaping hats, so using his vast ingenuity, he decided to wax our hats. I can still remember him melting the wax on the stove and painting it onto my white cow hat. When the wax cooled it was stiff as a board and as waterproof a ducks’ back! I also remember that it looked like it had a layer of wax on it, but that was okay because it was a white hat and the wax is white.

I have a brown cowboy hat that I wear around the farm when it’s cold and rainy. It keeps my head warm and the rain off my spectacles. But it does get beat up and out of shape fairly quickly. I don’t really care how it looks as long as it works, but I do reshape it occasionally. I also have a black cowboy hat that I wear at work when it’s cold and raining. It gets tossed around in the truck and before long it needs to be re-stiffened, re-shaped and occasionally, waterproofed. In the back of my mind, I kept remembering my dad waxing my hat and how nice and stiff it was, so I decided to give it a try.

The first thing I needed was some paraffin wax. You would think it would be easy enough to buy paraffin wax, but unless it’s canning season, it can be hard to come by. I finally settled on a white, unscented candle. I chose unscented because scented candles put out too much soot when they burn, and I didn’t want my hats to smell like a flower.20160228_172120

I thought I’d melt the candle with the old griddle that I have in my shop for heating things, but that was too slow, so I fired up my Harbor Freight heat gun, which melted the candle much faster. With the wax melted, I used a small paint brush to paint the wax onto the underside of the brim and the inside of the crown. I painted the inside and underside because if there was a waxy residue, it would be less noticeable on the inside/underside.20160228_172259 There was a waxy residue when I got done, because the felt didn’t absorb much of the wax. Now this is where my dad stopped, he just painted the hot wax on and let the hat felt absorb as much as it would, which is fine on a kid’s white hat, because who cares how a kids hat looks, right? Well, as I mentioned, my hats are brown and black and I’m not a kid. So, to get the wax to melt into the felt I used my heat gun and heated the wax on the hat. To my delight and surprise, the wax melted and was absorbed into the felt almost completely. What didn’t absorb, I brushed with a stiff bristle brush, removing what wax I could, and then heated the wax again until it was all absorbed into the hat.20160228_172821

When the hat cooled, it was stiff and waterproof. The process worked so well that I also waxed my black hat. I’ve been wearing my hats for about a week now and I am very pleased. I may have put a little too much wax on the inside of the crown of the black hat because there is a slight white waxy residue. However, no one but me knows it’s there and I don’t care.20160228_172918 Would I recommend that you wax your $200 Stetson? No! But if you have an old hat that just won’t hold its form anymore and you are going to toss it, give waxing a try and it just might become your favorite kick-around- in- hat.

Anyway…for what it’s worth.

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Getting All Decked Out

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About seven or eight years ago I bought a Big Tex utility trailer. We needed something to haul motorcycles, livestock, hay, firewood, lumber, well to haul stuff. After looking around for a month for a used trailer that I thought would be the right size and have a loading ramp/tailgate I decided, after asking my wife, to buy a new Big Tex trailer. I remember the salesperson telling me that wood deck was white pine and stated the fact as if it were a selling point. I didn’t want to burst his bubble, so I let the comment slide, but knew that I would have to replace the wood deck in a few years because in this area pine would decay quickly. Over the years and to try and extend the life of the wood deck, I cleaned it and sealed it with deck stain. I’m confident that my efforts helped extend the life of the wood, but ultimately the wood decayed. The first failure was when I was loading a Suzuki GS 850 onto the trailer, my second winter motorcycle project this year. (See my blog The Transformer). As we pushed it onto the trailer the back tire broke through one of the planks. And so it began. I patched the broken board with a piece of plywood and over the next four months of use the trailer deck became a patch work of pieces of plywood. The last straw was last weekend when my son-in-law, Dustin, was moving the trailer, by hand, out of the way so he could get to his camp trailer. At the time my Tex didn’t have the four foot metal tailgate/loading ramp on it and I knew the tongue would be heavy so I thought I’d help Dustin by stepping up on the back of the trailer to counterbalance the weight off the tongue. As I stepped up onto the trailer the wood deck broke through and I was standing on the ground.

Thursday evening he called me and asked if he could borrow my trailer to haul my mower up to my mountain property to mow so my daughter, his wife, will have a nicely cut meadow for her and her friends to camp on. Of course I said yes, knowing that I would have to replace the deck on the trailer before it would be safe to use again. Last night, Friday, after work I removed the most rotted boards so they wouldn’t fall out on the road and drove to Home Depot, trailer in tow, to buy some pressure treated lumber to replace the rotted deck. I could have replaced the deck with untreated Doug Fir and it would have lasted several years if I kept it clean and stained, but even if it lasted ten years I’d have to replace it again and I’d be…well old and I knew I wouldn’t want to mess with replacing the deck again. When you get to be my age you start to considering things like that. If I was thirty I would have used Doug Fir and saved $60.00, but at my age you do the math and knowing you won’t live forever and your health may not always be excellent, you make different decisions.

What is left of the original trailer decking.

What is left of the original trailer decking.

After I got the lumber home, unloaded and the old rotting deck completely removed I could see that the metal frame was suffering from metal oxidation, rust, where the wood had been sitting on the metal and holding moisture. There was also the matter of the very rusted self-tapping lag screws that had held the deck in place and were now were sticking up out of the metal frames cross members. I thought the lag screws were going to be bolts with nuts and washers and I’d be able to remove them, but no, they were not removable. Using a three pound sledge hammer, I broke the lag screws off at the metal cross member and using my angle grinder I ground the little broken nubs of the lags off smooth. For the next hour, using the grinder and my drill with a wire brush wheel, I remove as much rust as I could. After I felt like I had most or all of the loose rust removed I washed the trailer with soap and water and rinsed it with the hose garden hose. Using my leaf blower, I blew most of the water off the trailer and let it sit in the sun to dry, while I went in the house to put on my painting clothes and drink a bunch of water. Did I mention that it was ninety degrees outside?

Lately I have been using Rustoleum 2X paint on my motorcycle projects and so far I have been impressed. 2X is a paint and primer all in one and of course it also fights rust. I had picked up a quart of black 2X and a cheap paint bush when I bought the lumber. When I opened the can I thought, “great, they put dark blue paint in the can and put gloss black on the label”. But, I thought, “what the heck, I’ll have a dark blue trailer instead of a black trailer” and started painting. Well as it turns out the paint is magical. It went on blue, but turned black as it dried. I applied the paint liberally onto the areas that the wood deck would sit on and in and when I was done painting, I pushed the trailer into my shop to let it dry overnight.

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This morning I got early, while it was still cool, to put the wood deck on. In case you didn’t know this, on most trailers, both ends of the wood decking are held in place by metal channels. It’s a good design, but makes replacing the wood deck challenging. To replace the decking you have to place one end of the plank into one of the channels, angle the plank across the trailer, slip the other end of the plank into the channel at the other end and using a hammer and block of wood, drive it in place, parallel to the side of the trailer. It sound easy, but the channels were rough from years of rust and that corrosion made the diving the planks difficult. To add difficulty to the situation, there is a 2”wide metal plate that runs along both sides of the trailer, front to back. Instead of welding the plate flush to the bottom of the channels at the front and back of the trailer, they laid the plate in the channels and welded it in place. This makes the joint stronger but it also creates a lip in the channel that makes it difficult to slide the two side planks in place because the edge of the plank and the edge of the welded plate conflict.

Showing where the side plate is welded inside the channel

Showing the side plate welded inside the back channel.

To combat the roughness of the inside of the channel and the lip the plate and weld created I used axle grease to coat the inside of the channel. The grease not only allowed the planks to slide in the channel easily, it will also acts as an additional preservative to the inside of the metal channel and the ends of the planks where they sit in the channel and where moisture is most likely to be held.

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Showing me greasing the inside of the back channel.

In addition, to make it easier for the edge of the plank to slide over the edge of the plate and weld, I rounded the edge of the plank by tapping on the square edge of the plank with my hammer. With the grease in place in the channels and the edge of the plank slightly rounded, the plank drove easily into place.

 

 

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Showing how to round the edge of the board so it will easily slip over the weld and side plate.

Lying the planks at an angle, slipping both ends into the channels and driving them into place only works with the first six planks. After the first six are angle into place there isn’t enough space to angle any more planks and get both ends started. That is when it starts to get fun.

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Showing how planks can be laid at an angle to get them started into the channels.

To get the rest of the planks to insert into the channels at the front and back of the trailer you now have to bend or bow the middle of the planks up. This shortens the length of the plank and allows you to insert both ends of the plank into the channels. There are probably several methods of doing this and you can probably do this with one person, but two people make it so much easier. This how my wife and I accomplished this next step; First you insert one end of the plank into the back channel, then using a floor jack and a 12” piece of scrap 2X4 or 4X4, one person jacks the center of the plank up while the other person pushes the front end of the plank down. When the center of the plank bows high enough the plank will become short enough that the front will be lined up with the opening of the channel. While the end of the plank is held lined up to the channel the other person lowers the jack and the end of the plank will slip into the channel. The last plank fit so tightly that I had to grease the side of the plank so it would slip down into place. The whole process of decking the trailer when fairly quickly, even with my wife helping, I meant, with wife helping. Thanks Honey!

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Showing the jack in place and ready to bow the center of the plank up in the middle.

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Some other things to consider:

  1. When choosing the boards for the deck makes sure they are straight and without big knots. You don’t want to have to fight warped boards into place and when bowing the boards, large knots can cause a weak point in a board and the board may break or crack.
  2. Buy boards without cracks. Pressure treated wood is only treated into the board .44 of an inch. Cracks that go deeper will allow water into the board and the board will rot from the center out.
  3. Buy boards that are still high in moisture content. Moist boards will be easier to bend and there will be less chance that they will break.
  4. If and/or when you drill holes through the boards and frame for bolts to hold the boards in place, treat the holes with a good dose of oil or wood preservative. This will help keep the wood from rotting around the bolts.
  5. Consider not drilling bolt holes through the boards. The boards fit tightly and will not fall out of the channels even if they shrink slightly. I am going to wait and see how loose the boards get when they dry. If I need to add bolts to hold the deck boards in place I will first explore the possibility of placing the bolts between the deck boards. If a lag bolt that will slip between each the boards, a large washer at the head should hold the deck boards secure to the frame and you can avoid drilling holes in the board.

Anyway…for what it’s worth.

Indestructable Tomato Cages

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So anyway, I think my wife might be insane. Here’s why; every year she plants tomatoes and every year she buys the cheap flimsy tomato cages for the plants to grow on and every year the plants grow up on the cages and tip them over, bending them to the ground. I believe the definition of insanity is -“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” I still love her.

Last year as the tomato plants and tomatoes lay on the ground I told her I would make her tomato cages next year. Hey, I had to do something to stop the insanity. So next year is here and I made her tomato cages.

My youngest daughter and son-in-law have three sons. Myles is the middle son. My mom had three sons. I was the middle child. It’s interesting to watch Myles struggle to find his place in the family. I can relate to the struggle because I also struggled to find my place in my family. As a middle child you really do get ignored, especially if your older brother is cool and your baby brother is cute. His are. Mine were. His mom tries very hard to make Myles feel special, but when his friends come over to play they are drawn to the coolness of his older brother, the cuteness of his baby brother and Myles is mostly left out. Myles is good at passing time playing alone with his toys and is best friend, “imagination.” My mother claims that I did the same.

Myles just had a birthday and for his birthday he wanted tomato plants so he could grow his own tomatoes. He loves tomatoes. When my wife, his Nana, heard this, she decided “we” should make a raised garden and surprise him with the garden and tomato plants. He’s four.

I know it is a little odd a four year old wanting tomato plants for his birthday, but again, I can relate to that oddness. Ask anyone to describe me and they will use many different adjectives and “odd” will always be one of those adjectives. Most people will use restraint and not say it out loud, but the adjective “odd” will be top of mind and on the tip of their tongues. (“Odd”-Deviating from what is ordinary, usual, or expected; strange or peculiar.)

So I built Myles a raised garden out of 1″X6″ cedar. The garden is 2’X6’ and 11” tall or deep. 2″X6″ cedar would last a lot longer, but 1″X6″ will probably out last his interest in growing tomatoes.

I also routered out a sign that says “Myles’ Garden – Love Nana and Grandpa.” I didn’t have room to say, “Love Nana and Mr. Grandpa Larson,” which is what I insist that all my grand kids call me, so the sign just says Grandpa.

Long story short, I also made Myles tomato cages.

I made the cages out of 3/8” rebar. I figured that 3/8” would be strong , last a long time and the lumber yard was all out of ¼”. Our local lumber yard, Stayton Builders Mart, stock not only rebar, but they also have a rebar cutter. I figured that out of a 20’ piece of rebar I could cut five, 4’ piece out of the bar. Tough math. My plan was to make the cages 4’ tall, with four sides and each side would be 1’ wide, 4’X1’=4′. I bought enough rebar to make six tomato cages. Myles only needed two and my wife needs three, but she told me to make her four because someday she would retire and grow four tomato plants. Clearly she has her retirement activity all planned out, pushing her limit to four plants.

So the Builder’s Mart sold me the rebar, pointed to the cutter and said, “knock yourself out.” The chore of cutting went pretty quickly after I set up a cutting guide. I positioned the cutter 4′ from the base of the lumber rack, slide the rebar end against the rack and cut. Once I had all 45 of the 4′ pieces cut, I took them home, laid them all out in a nice flat row and using water and a wire brush I tried to remove as much rust and crud as I could

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I let the bars dry and then painted them red. My wife wanted them painted red so that it would look like we had tomatoes before the tomatoes actually tuned red. What can I say, she is, after all, insane.

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After the paint dried I marked twenty four of the bright red 4′ bars into 12″ increments. Then I clamped each bar in my bench vice and bent them into 1′ squares using a piece of pipe that I slipped over the bars for leverage. It wasn’t as much fun as it sounds and welding the squares onto the 4′ legs was even less fun. After several frustrating hours trying to hold the legs and squares together while welding them I got all six cages welded together. After I finished welding each cage, I tested my welds by tossing the completed cage out my shop door onto the gravel driveway. It wasn’t much of a test, but it made me feel better. Of course, after bending and welding the cages I had to touch up the paint.

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In the end, the cages turned out pretty well. Am I glad I spent all that time making indestructible tomato cages? Yes. Would I do It again? Probably, but I am a glutton for punishment. If you take on this project, get a friend to help you hold the parts together while you weld.

Anyway…for what it’s worth.

 

Loosen Stubborn Screws With a Wrench

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When something is broken or not working I have to fix it. I think there’s a physiological term or medical term for it, something like fixoholic. If my tractor is not running or broken, it gives me a knot in my gut and depression sets in. Rarely do I hire a professional to make the repairs. Well, at least not until I’ve tried to fix it and have made it worse. Over many years, yes I’m old; I have tackled repairs from rebuilding a Fiat motor to repairing a mechanical pencil. Am I an expert, no, but I am getting better. I’ve learned a lot because I try to learn a lot.

Over the years I have accumulated many tools, but I don’t have everything and I am always discovering tools that I need. Recently I bought an impact screw driver and an extraction bit set.

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So many times in the past when a screw would not budge or the head slots were stripped out, I would have given my eyeteeth for both or even one of those tools. Even after days of applying penetrating oil some screws will not break free. I have struggled for, wasted, many hours of my life trying to remove stubborn screws. I have gone as far as taking a fine metal saw blade and re-slotting a screw, which actually works.

The other day I was reading Handyman Magazine. There was a good article on how to remove a stubborn nut or bolt. The article didn’t offer me anything new really, but I did pick up one tip about using heat on the stuck bolt and then spraying it with cold water. The expansion and contraction is supposed to break the rust and allow the bolt to come out or the nut to come off. We tried it on my son’s car, trying to remove the nut on the bracket that attaches the strut to the axle. It didn’t work, but none of the other six methods we tried worked either. Anyway, as I was reading the article I realized that I had never read or seen the method I use to remove stuck, stripped or stubborn screws.

What I have learned about removing stuck screws is that after you have tried with all your might to remove a screw, don’t keep trying and strip the head slots out. But if you do keep trying and you damage the head slots a little, STOP and try this.

One day I was trying to remove a screw from a break fluid reservoir on a motorcycle and was damaging the head slots. I couldn’t push down hard enough to keep the screwdriver point in the head. I realized that what I really needed was help to keep a lot of pressure pushing down on the head so I could turn the screwdriver and not have it pop out of the head slots and damage them, but there was no one around.

I love clamps. It’s like having more hands to hold stuff. Over the past three years my clamp assortment has gone from a dozen clamps to three dozen clamps. I have a variety of sizes of “C” clamps, I have those clothes pin type spring clamps, some quick grip clamps, I have strap clamps, and 4’ long pipe clamps. Sometimes I go into my shop just to sit and admire my clamps. Did I mention that I love clamps?

So, I’m trying to get this screw out and it occurs to me that I could use a clamp to apply pressure to the top of the screwdriver. The best clamp for my purpose was a quick release clamp.

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Here’s an important tip, use the shortest screwdriver you can and with your grinder, flatten the end of the handle so the screwdriver will be more stable under the clamp. Here are the two screwdrivers I use most of the time when applying the clamp technique. Note that the tops of the handles have been ground flat.

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To do this method, place the short screw driver in the head of the screw and clamp it in place with a lot of pressure and turn the screwdriver. It’s really easy, if you have a grip like a gorilla. I don’t, so I use an adjustable wrench to turn the screwdriver. Most screwdrivers have handles that have six sides so they are easy to grip and as it turns out, to put an adjustable wrench on.

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I have used this method of removing stubborn screw several times and each time when I hear the screw pop loose, I get all giddy inside.

Anyway… for what it’s worth.

INDESTRUCTIBLE LIVE STOCK FEEDER

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IF THEY CAN BREAK IT, THEY WILL.

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Farm animals can be rough on a farm. If you could have a farm and not have farm animals, life would be so much easier. They damage stalls, kick holes through barn walls, tear apart feeders, knock over sprinklers, and destroy fences. On occasion we have made the mistake of not neutering calves. As the bulls grow from cute little calves to 1,200 pound bulls they destroy everything they can get their horns on. We had some twelve-foot tall cedar trees in the field that I had planted and nurtured along for eight years. A bull bent them over and broke them off at the ground. They’re not that smart but they are very strong. We’ve had them decide to take a walk about the neighborhood and push right through the field fencing. The last bull we had knocked one of our donkeys down and was mauling it with its head. That will be the last time any of our calves grow up to be bulls.

Bulls are not the only ones to do damage. Horses lean over fences to get to the grass on the other side, even when the grass they are standing on is better grass. Horses and donkeys also chew on wood and can chew a stall rail completely through in no time. Goats rub against fences, pushing them out and climb on fences, pulling them down. We have solved a lot of animal damage problems by installing an electric fence around the top of our field fence, but it hasn’t eliminated all of the damage.

Three years ago I built some feeders out of plastic barrels.  I cut the barrels in half the long way and used tree poles for the frames and legs. I built them to be “indestructible.” They lasted almost a year. The horse and the donkeys chewed the pole and kicked them apart. The steers and bulls, rubbed their heads and horns against them, tearing them to pieces. I repaired them several times, but in the end the only useable parts were the plastic barrels. So, through this scientific process of elimination I discovered that the only thing the animals couldn’t destroy was the plastic barrels. If you have read any other of my blogs you already know that I am a big fan or plastic barrels.

Now that I knew what the animals couldn’t destroy, I revised my feeder design. I only use plastic barrels, nylon ribbon (used by power line workers to pull heavy wires through long runs of conduit) and large screws to attach the feeders to the stall rails.

To make the new feeders, first thing I did was cut a hole in the side of the barrel, we’ll call the front side, so the animals could comfortably put their head into the barrel to eat the hay. I smoothed the cut edges down so the animals wouldn’t cut themselves when they stuck their heads through the holes.

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Livestock, especially horses and donkeys, will waste a lot of hay by shoving it around in the feeder, looking for the sweetest stems and leaves. Much of it will end up on the ground, get walked on and polluted. To solve that, most feeders will have a net or slat system that holds the hay up off the bottom of the feeder so the animals have to pull a little out of the net at a time to eat. To install the nylon slats I drilled half-inch holes in a line across the front top of the barrels and across the lower back. Then using the nylon ribbon, I wove it into the feeders from the front top holes to the lower back holes. Any nylon rope or heavy twine will work; just don’t use something edible, like hemp.

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I drilled small holes in the bottom of the barrels so when I cleaned the feeders water would drain out quickly.

The final step was to mount them in the stalls securely so they wouldn’t be torn down. I mounted the barrel feeders in the corner of the stalls using ½” lag screws and washers. Bolts would also work. Of course you have to mount the feeders at the right height, lower for small animals and taller for large animals.

We have used these feeders for two years now without any sign of failure. They have withstood donkeys, a horse and yes, even a bull.

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Anyway… for what it’s worth.

Hops garden/Fire pit.

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Hops-not just for beer!

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When we first started building the project now known as The Farm it was just a grass seed field with some trees and an old shack at one end. We have come a long way since then. We started by building a pump house for the well and to store tools. Then we built a garage, a house, a barn and last year, a shop. We have fenced and crossed fenced, planted lawns, built gardens, planted trees, dug a pond and maintained it all to the high standards of my loving wife. This place takes a lot of work, it takes a lot of time and sometimes I think we should move to a small house with a small yard. But the truth is, I love this place and I plan on living here until the day I die.

Over the last few years we have made an effort to make The Farm less work by reducing the size of the lawn that needs to be mowed, reducing the number of animals we keep and even hiring help with yard work. Even with the goal of making The Farm less work, I sometimes get a wild hair and we take one step backwards.

One of the first things we did when we were building this place was to make a fire pit out in the field by the pond. Over the years the fire pit has become a place to burn all the branches that get trimmed off the fifty some trees we have planted around the yard. A couple of years ago my wife mentioned that it might be nice to have a fire pit closer to the house so we wouldn’t have to haul the marshmallows so far to roast them.

I’m sure she envisioned a small ring of stones with a couple of benches around it when she mentioned it to me. However, my brain doesn’t work that way and the simple idea of a fire pit grew into “The Hops Garden/Fire Pit.”

Once we agreed on where the new fire pit would be built the creative side of me was awakened and I went to work. I had a vague idea of what I wanted the end product to look like, and since it wasn’t brain surgery, I decided to let the creative juices flow and see what happened.

The location of the pit was near one corner of the yard, exposed on two sides to the open field. I wanted the pit to be a little more private so if I decide to dance naked around a fire, the neighbors wouldn’t complain. I also wanted it to be shaded so that in the late afternoon we wouldn’t be sitting around a fire in the hot sun. So here is what happened.

The place we agreed to put the pit was on a long hump of ground that covered out septic field. My first task was to level the area by hauling in dirt with my tractor. It took several loads and a lot of shoveling and raking, but I got the area level.

After the area was level I built a metal sculpture or column that would serve as the centerpiece of the hops garden/fire pit. Like most projects, I work on a very small budget, so the column was made from three 20’ pieces of rebar that my son Marcus helped me braid together. I cut out a half dozen large leaves from sheet metal and welded it all together. Eventually the hops got too heavy and I added a ¾” length of black iron pipe to keep the the plants from bending the column to the ground. The base of the column is planted in a foot of concrete and weighted with rock.

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I wanted an arbor like entrance to the pit area, so I welded together an arbor. It too was made from rebar. To give it a good stable base I used concrete to set it in place.

My idea was to plant hops around the perimeter of a large circle, 36’ across, and train them to climb strands of wire up to the top of the column that was in the center of the circle. To accomplish this, I drove a dozen 7’ T-post around the perimeter of the circle and ran three strands of heavy, 10 gauge, galvanized wire around the circle of T-posts, one at the top, one midway up and one a few inches from the ground. I then started stringing lighter weight wire from the bottom wire up to the middle and top wires and then to the 5’ metal circle at the top of the column. I spaced the wires about 12” apart so there would be plenty of wires for the hops to climb.

There was a sprinkler head near the outer edge of the new garden that would be blocked from view by hops once the hops started to grow. I dug a trench from the sprinkler to the center column and then laid black poly pipe in the trench, added a 90 degree elbow and ran more black poly pipe to the top of the column. I removed the sprinkler, attached the poly pipe to the system and put the sprinkler head on the top of the pipe at the top of the column. I adjusted the sprinkler so that when the sprinkler system came on the sprinkler would water out to the perimeter of the garden.

Next I removed a 12’ circle of grass around the center column and filled it with pea grave and bordered the circle with concrete edging to contain the gravel.

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The Willamette Valley is known for the production of hops, so finding hop starts was easy. I purchased three varieties of hops to add a contrast of green to the garden. The first year hops will generally grow about 6-8’, but once they are established they will grow 20-25’ long and they will grow about a foot a day. To add color to the garden I planted purple morning glories.

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We had purchased several years ago, a large concrete bowl that we used as a water feature in a garden near the back deck. One year during a very cold winter it cracked and would hold water any more. My wife wanted me to get rid of it, but it occurred to me that it would be the perfect fire pit, so I moved it to the garden.

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We have enjoyed the new hops garden/fire pit for two years now. When the hops and morning glory have climbed to the top column the garden becomes a very large green, shady tent where we can enjoy a fire closer to the house and where we don’t have to carry the marshmallows so far.

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A mower to tow behind your ATV

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Converting a riding mower to an ATV tow behind.

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Some friends of ours own some wilderness property next to our property up in the Elkhorn Valley. They don’t spend as much time up there as they use to when their kids were younger, so I take care of their property along with ours. I don’t mind because they let our family use their fire-pit and ¼ acre meadow. That gives us about ½ acre of meadow to expand onto when we need more room.

One of the maintenance items that I like to do a couple times a year is mow the meadows to keep the grass and weeds down. I used my riding lawnmower for a few years, but then our friends gave me an old Craftsmen riding lawnmower keep up at the property so I wouldn’t have to use my nice mower when I needed to mow. The old mower ran pretty well, but the steering gear was going out. I brought it home a couple of times and fix it, but it kept going out.

My oldest son, Justus, has a home on a couple of acres near Estacada Oregon. The property is mostly on the side of a hill and very slopped. His father-in-law gave him a MTD riding lawnmower to mow his pasture. Unfortunately, it didn’t have enough power to mow up the hill that was at one end of the pasture and it tended to want and tip over when driving horizontal to the slope. He called me one day and asked me if I would help him make a mowing deck out the riding lawn mower. His idea was that he would tow the mowing deck with is ATV. I wasn’t sold on the idea of tearing the mower apart and mounting the motor on the deck to run the blades, but I’m always up for a project, so I told him to bring it on over.

After he got the mower here, we scratched our heads and talked about different ideas to accomplish what he wanted. I finally suggest that we remove the back wheels and fender, add a tow bar and just tow it backwards with his ATV. After he could visualized it and I convinced him that the mower would cut backwards as well as forward, he was all for it.

Here is how simple it was. We removed the belt and pulleys that drove the back wheels. We then removed the back wheels, axle and fenders. The steering wheel and seat were not longer needed so they came off too. We locked the front wheel so they wouldn’t move left or right and the mower would tow straight.

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Basically, we remove everything that will not be needed and to make the mover as lightweight as possible. When we had it stripped down to the essentials; motor, mower deck, front wheels, gas tank and battery, we bolted on a 4’ long 1-1/2” square bar that would attach to the ATV. Like most ATV, his had a hole in the back towing plate, so we welded a small rod on the tow bar that would drop through the hole. We make the bar long enough that when you turned a sharp corner the back wheel or the ATV wouldn’t hit the mower.

To use mower, you simple hook it up to your ATV, turn the key and start the mower, lower the deck to the desired height and mow away.

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After we built his mower, it occurred to me that I could do the same thing with the mower I was using up at the property. The steering was going out anyway, so a tow behind was a great solution. I did the same basic things to Craftsmen as we had done to Justus’s MTD, but my mower didn’t have a good battery, so I cut one end off an old set of jumper cables and attached them to the mowers battery cables. Then when I wanted to use the mower I just hook the jumper cable clamps to the battery on my ATV.

They worked great, but Justus now has a tractor with a mower deck that he attaches to the back and the motor in mine lost all the oil one day and blew up. But it’s all good. It was still a fun project.