As November began to draw to a close, I realized I had not yet decided what sort of wooden toy I was going to make for our youngest son as his Christmas present. In the world of wooden toys there is an inexhaustible list of possibilities. Then we found out that a very generous family member had offered to give us a set of wooden tracks from their child’s Thomas the Train set. Because we are trying with all due diligence not to fill our home with iconic characters and toys, we would need trains for the tracks. I had my answer, he was going to get a wooden toy train!
I wasn’t sure at first just how to go about this project, but then I found plans for just this sort of train here at the AOK Corral. The information on this site was exactly what I needed, but I thought it would be of added benefit to see if anyone else had built such a train. What I discovered was an entire hobby of various people experimenting and successfully building all manner of wooden trains that work on these popular tracks. Once I found a number of sites, Evan Stephens blog on wooden trains became my got resource as he lays out his designs and links to many others as well.
I started with some very basic lumber: a 1x6x8 piece of poplar, a 3/4″ pine dowel and a 1/4″ dowel.
I decided I would make an engine, coal car, two freight cars and a caboose and set out to cut the lumber to the appropriate sizes. The most difficult cut was to get a clean length of 1/4″ thick board, but witha little bit of thought and preparation I succeeded in making the cut.
Getting the axle holes drilled properly with the set of tools at my disposal was a bit tricky, but I created a system that was accurate and was easy to duplicate. I set a wooden fend on the base of my Dremel, drilled the holes and then bored them out with a larger bit by hand.
The longest phase, to my surprise, has been the painting. I don’t have a lot of spare time for working on this project, but found it necessary to apply the acrylic paint in several watered-down coats so as to reduce the possibility of brush stroke marks. I followed up the painting with several coats of clear Shellac. Although it took longer that I had originally planned, I am very pleased with the result.
To say that not much has happened on the WhirldWorks Farm in 2014 can be quite misleading. In fact, at the beginning of 2014, the farm was just an idea. It was something we had put a lot of thought and research into, but in January it was just some words and numbers written on a piece of paper or bouncing around inside our heads.
January and February quickly passed us by, but in March we had found and purchased the land that is and is yet to be WhirldWorks Farm. We have spent many ours enjoying the exploration of our new property and imagining what we can do with it.
We established a sort of base camp on the property from where we can enjoy the time we get to spend on it and can honestly say that each time we get to do so, it is harder and harder to pack up for home. The next goal we met was to clear a path along the perimeter fence line. Without any power tools it was quite a bit of work, but it was oddly enjoyable to see progress even with only a brush axe and pruning saw.
Another fun project was to install a front gate on the property. We did this during the summer and it too was a lot of fun, hard work. We cut down a Cedar tree with a newly acquired chainsaw, divided it into posts and removed the bark with a draw knife. We sunk the poles three feet in the ground and drilled the holes for the mounting hardware with an old bit-brace I inherited from my dad. The new gate looks and works great!
Without water or electricity we made the difficult decision to not visit the farm over the rest of the summer months and can say that that was very hard for us. As the weather began to turn though, we headed back out and performed a little experiment with cutting and baling hay by hand. This was yet another example of some very hard work which felt fun and rewarding. We were indeed able to cut and bale some hay by hand and now we know more about the process.
Not long after, a long-time friend sold us his riding lawn mower and a wonderful assortment of tools, fence posts and wire fencing. It came just in time as we were planning to host Thanksgiving dinner on the farm. We were able to mow down a large area of grass for a garden area and parking for family. The riding mower also gave the older kids something fun to do while we prepared for dinner, which went over very well considering the lack of “modern conveniences.”
This is where we find ourselves now at the end of 2014. 2015 looks to be a VERY exciting year on the WhirldWorks Farm! We have ordered the materials for a 20×20 pole barn and have submitted our house plans to several builders for their consideration and bids. We certainly cannot say with certainty that all of these things will come to pass in 2015, but they are our hopes and prayers.
Thank you to everyone who has been watching our progress and it is our greatest hope that we will have much more to share with you in the coming year!
Before we dig into today’s topic I’d like you give a quick update for those following our progress. I wish I could say there was good news on the selling of our city home, but unfortunately I cannot. For whatever reason the house remains on the market and we are anxiously awaiting a buyer. The longer this drags on, the further out our moving date will be due to the added expenses of paying for two homes. Now, with that out of the way, here is today’s topic:
Our goal has always been, and probably will be for quite some time, to operate the farm as frugally as possible. Without a big purse available for purchasing things such as tractors, implements and the like, our intent is to look to the past for solving today’s challenges. One item we know we will need on the farm is fresh hay, cut and baled from our own field. Without fancy contraptions such as sickle or disc cutters and tractors, the natural solution is a hand powered solution. A suitable degree of research online yielded two devices that appealed to us. These are a hand-held scythe and a home built hand baler.
There are surprisingly numerous options available, even today. Choosing a particular style of scythe wasn’t easy but the choices were narrowed to either the American Scythe or the European Scythe. Ergonomically, the European Scythe appears to have the advantage between the two, but weight was also a huge consideration. Knowing that I am not in the physical prowess of a full-time homesteader, I believed the most important factor was to find the lightest weight, yet best rated scythe out there, that we could afford. Through my research I settled on an American Scythe composed of the Seymour SN-9 Aluminum Snath and the Seymour 2B-42G30 30 ” Grass Scythe Blade. Combined, these two items are about 9 pounds lighter than their traditional wooden counterparts.
While on the farm and just after a hearty breakfast, I headed out to a section of our pasture that had the most consistent area of good, tall grass and set to work. Let me say that the YouTube videos out there that show people using a scythe make this look deceivingly simple. Either that or our grass is much stronger than the grass harvested in those videos. I will also attest that the sharper the blade, the easier the task. I currently do not have a nice wet stone grinder to sharpen my blade and thus had to rely on the hand-held scythe stone. The more attuned I became to the simple nuances of the stone and blade, the sharper it became and the easier it cut. Still, once I had cut about a 50×50 foot area of grass, I was done for the day. We spread the hay out to dry for several hours, then began piling it up for the next stage in the process.
The Hand Baler
Choosing a hand baling method was another interesting research project, but in the end I settled on building a version of the Pine Straw Hand Baler. This version appeared to be the prominent choice of the numerous hand baling videos and discussions I found. It also helped that the website that describes this baler included a link to plans on how to build it. I downloaded those plans and coming from a background working with engineers and designers, what they provide as plans aren’t necessarily just that. They include a picture of the baler and an incomplete list of materials needed.
Because this was to be a prototype of what is to come, provided the trial was a success, I opted to use materials I already had on hand, which included a few sheets of OSB planking. I wholeheartedly do not recommend building a hand baler from the particular parts I chose, especially if longevity is the goal, but the materials I had helped me decide how to better build a later design I have in mind.
Overall, the hand baler worked like a charm with a few caveats that have been noted for version 2.0. We piled in the hay (even our 2 year old got in on that action), compressed it with the plunger and tied it off. The very first try yielded what actually looked like a bale of hay! It wasn’t as compact as I thought it should be though, so for the next bale we added even more hay. I was concerned that perhaps the plunger might not hold up under that amount of pressure, but in the end there was actually room for more, should we so decide later.
I didn’t do a good job of videoing the action because I was more focused on whether or not this idea would work, but here are some pictures to give you an idea of the fun we had this weekend baling hay by hand:
Cutting the Hay
Baling the Hay
(This list is compiled by the author from their experience and is not legal advice on selling a home)
Long before you ever “pull the trigger” on selling your home, there are some very important steps to consider. Motivation is at the top of the list. If you don’t know why you want to sell your house or set expectations for its sale, the stage for failure is already set. Once you have clearly outlined your reasons for selling the home as well as the goals you have set for after the sale you can begin working through the following list.
Still no homestead news as we have yet to close on the sale of our city home. The deal we had in June ended with a terminated contract in July which you can read about in our previous post. It took some time to unravel the details of the contract termination, but we did finally get the house back on the market.
About two weeks passed by and we ended up with several offers on the table. Yesterday we accepted what we think was the best of them and we again have a signed contract. I am hopeful this time we will go to closing, but due to the unforeseen drama of the previous contract we are throttling back our excitement.
We haven’t been out to the homestead in over two months because we have been so busy putting this house sale together and making it ready for a buyer. We realize there isn’t much we could do out there in this Texas summer heat when we have no power or water, but we just love putting our eyes on the prize. Hopefully we will get out there again soon!
I had hoped to have more news from the homestead this week as we had planned a weekend getaway to the property. Unfortunately we had to change plans due to the mold issue that came up last week in our home for sale.
We examined the area of concern and found very little to actually be concerned about, then we turned around. As we examined the outer walls of the sunroom we did find some mold, not bad mind you, but it was there. The worst problem was not mold, but wood rot. Thankfully the structure is supported by the limestone walls because if it had been directed on the wooden frames, this thing would have surely collapsed.
Knowing what we had to do, we sucked it up and went straight to work on the problem. We tore out all the existing wall framing, improved the design and rebuilt everything with pressure treated wood. We replaced regular sheetrock with greenboard to further protect against any future attempt by mold to gain a foothold in that room.
Next step is the gutter, which unfortunately needs to be done by a licensed contractor. We could probably tackle it ourselves, but due to the severity of the issue we think it prudent to have someone who really knows gutters take care of this unique design challenge.
We had to extend the closing date for the sale, but I am hopeful that this time it will actually happen. If it doesn’t it has not been due to a lack of effort on our part.
For the past week we have been tirelessly moving into our rental and working to get our home ready for the new buyers. It has been a week full of late nights and early mornings, but we remained energized with the excitement of being able to move to the next phase. Then the curtain came crashing down.
It is almost 10am and right now we are supposed to be closing with the new owners. Instead, we sit here in a state of awe and wonder whether or not this is actually going to happen. The buyers appear to have changed their minds because there was a small amount of mold detected in the sunroom of the house.
Now, I don’t blame the buyers for being skeptical and I was quite surprised to learn of the discovery. However, rather than trying to work with us to remedy the situation they simply want to walk away. The amount of mold found is on an exterior wall to the house and isn’t really all that detrimental, but they apparently refuse to listen to logic or reason and are opting for an emotional exit.
This is putting a great deal of stress and pressure on our family as we have already signed a year lease and moved all of our worldly possessions to a new home. For the time being we will now have two house payments and will need to repair the damaged area before relisting the house and starting all over again.
This IS a nightmare! We do believe we are following the path that God has laid before us and are trusting Him to help us in this sudden reversal. Being human though does have its drawbacks, because although we trust Him, this is a scary situation to be in. We welcome your prayers.
When we first began preparing to move from our house it sure didn’t look like we had a lot of “stuff.” After a week of revisiting the old house to pick up “odds and ends” every single day I have come to the conclusions that we do indeed have too much stuff!
Of course this truth is exacerbated by the fact that we moved from a 2400 square foot house into one that is almost 1400 square feet. The rental garage is absolutely full of our accumulated belongings.
The house we plan to build is a little bigger than the one we are now renting, but only by about 300 square feet. Perhaps this exercise will help us to pare down our worldly goods so that the move to the farm will be less painful than this experience has been. I just hope that we can get all this stuff organized within the next year 🙂 I don’t want to have to try to give away or sell things once we move out to the farm since there aren’t many people out there.
Here comes the weekend and it is time for a yard sale!
I picked up the U Haul truck early Saturday morning and by 8:30 am our “hive” was buzzing with activity. The day sure went by fast, but once I returned the truck and the sun started to fade my body tried to tell me it was time to take a break. I pushed through the overwhelming desire to collapse on the couch so we could arrange enough furniture to make the rental feel like home.
The dogs have already taken to the place and they sure enjoy chasing all the little bunny rabbits that frequent our back yard. Our littleman was so cute throughout the day, trying to find ways to be helpful. I’d give him a can of peas or a couple of his books and he would proudly take whatever he was given and help load up the new house.
I also managed a chuckle when I brought over the second load of furniture. The rental was in a great state of disarray, as to be expected, but I glanced in my teenage daughter’s room and she already had everything in place, the bed put together and made up with her new sheets and blankets.
We still have a few trips to make between the two homes to pick up small and stray items left behind (as well as all my tools), but we accomplished great things in two days. Of course in the midst of all the excitement I managed to come down with a sinus infection, but had to work through it. When you are on a deadline like this there are no sick days!
Once we get settled in to the rental we’ll begin another round of purging and organizing so that when the time comes to move to the farm we will be able to do it in one trip. We won’t have the luxury of being so close so multiple trips is out of the question.
I have honestly been surprised at how many people are actually happy and supportive of our decision to leave city life behind. However, for every four or so people who love the idea there is one who asks, “Why in the world would you do that to your family?” ; “How are you gonna make that work?” — or something to that effect. I do have to be realistic and admit that I have asked myself these same things, but doing so has really helped to shape our decision-making into an even firmer picture.
Here are a few of the reasons (not in any particular order other than what pops into my head first):
Modern life is nothing short of chaotic. Corporate employment, the demands of public education, and organized sports used for the purpose of giving kids “something to do” are among the short list of activities pulling families apart.
Even when we incorporate family dinner at the table to discuss family and activity issues, the minute the food is done everyone scatters to their next event.
The conceptual design of modern life has so many ways to escape from what is real that reality itself almost becomes a myth. The idea of something being real become so abstract that people seem to have to make uninformed decisions on what is real and what is not. These concepts become rooted in a societal soup that is so contrived and manipulated it is no wonder that families don’t know their members (and perhaps even themselves) very well.
A return to a rural farm is what we believe will help bring a family back in touch with each other. We will have to work together and communicate about concepts and ideas that are truly important and based upon things that are tangible, not peripheral and inconsequential.
Unless one buys their food from a local farmer’s market, the question about the source of what is on the table is always in question. How was it grown, how were the people who grew and harvested it treated, what is or is not in the food that we are eating?
Those questions are no longer in doubt when you bring your own food to the table. If there are hazardous chemicals in it, the fault is your own. Sure there are the real possibilities that a crop could fail, but wise planning and stewardship can prevent total disaster.
God is alive and well, but He sure seems to get a back seat in the normal day-to-day of “civilized society.” When a population derives its hope from corporations and governments, their view of God’s hand upon their lives is twisted and skewed.
On the other hand, when we can escape the sterile confines of brick and sheet rock walls to the expanse of nature’s grass, trees and weather, our understanding of forces bigger than us becomes much more tangible. We can see the intricate beauty of creation happening right in front of our eyes.
This builds a connection between the seen and unseen that goes almost unnoticed in a life that strives to artificially subdue the environment.
Nature is not silent, however, the natural noises of wind, rain, birds and other animals do not reach the ear in the same way that sirens and car alarms do. Most people find time in their schedules to escape from the chaos of urban life, but why not make urban life the anomaly rather than the other way around?
This is not the narcissistic pride that puffs one up artificially. This is a real sense of personal satisfaction that occurs when you see something you have done with your own hands. Food always seems to taste better when you know how hard you had to work to bring it to the table yourself. When you see the smiling faces of your family enjoying the fruits of YOUR labor and not someone those of some unknown stranger, there is a satisfaction that cannot be duplicated anywhere else.
Who knew I could cut down a tree and turn it into a beautiful new gate for our property? People in the city have so much untapped potential it is almost a travesty to see it go to waste. In the city we spend so much time trying to get from this activity to the next that we lose the ability to truly try new things. We don’t experience our limits because we don’t often get the opportunity to challenge ourselves. Failure is certainly an option, but it is in the trying that we learn and grow.
Existence, to me, is not an hour on the couch watching television because my mind is too exhausted to create new adventures.
Not everyone thinks this way, nor does everyone have what it takes to make this kind of transition. Believe me, even with all the previous reasons, without the desire to see it through, this would be a ridiculous move on our part. The reality is that we DO have this desire and it comes deep from within. It has been there all along, but we just didn’t know what to do with it. We tried to adapt to “civilized life,” but there was always a yearning to do things differently. Because we share this desire, we are willing to take our family on this journey, together.
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