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13 houses of similar design; by the last three I had it figured out.
A flip-open lid for quick nest inspection, and a side door for seasonal cleaning. Two cedar fence panels (5.5″ x 6′) makes 3 houses, and with the hardware each house costs about $5. There are cheaper ways, but these get hit by bears and cows and hail and blizzards.
The little brass hooks pin the lids and doors closed. The metal D-rings (a pair near the top, and at center bottom for stability) provide sturdy metal-to-metal contact points for the hanging wire.
Slot openings rather than holes. The process moves right to left for prototypes to show model. The first four originally were side-door only and have turn screw doors that pin into a matching cylinder mounted in the door.
These door-hinge-only houses were the first, and at the end I went back and added roof hinges made of bicycle inner tube (one long $10 hinge cuts into 4 double hinged houses- and I ran out of hinges before I ran out of houses). I also ran short on D-Rings, so went old-school with wide-head screws.

It seems that every two years I have to make a new bluebird house design. I hope these answer all the issues the prior designs haven’t addressed.

Two different designs of the past were my Zero Profile https://dangerhart.wordpress.com/2017/07/13/zero-profile-bluebird-houses/ which are only used by tree swallows, my redwood house designs began here https://dangerhart.wordpress.com/2015/06/ which led to https://dangerhart.wordpress.com/2015/07/12/mountain-bluebird-house-upgrade/ and then a series of 6 slot houses https://dangerhart.wordpress.com/2015/07/16/mountain-bluebird-condos/ that the bluebirds have used successfully.

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E spotted this online for free, and thought tandem bagging mowers at the ranch.
Husquivarna 7021P, with a Honda GCV 160 Easy Start motor ( spark plug BPR5ES; blade 5802581 size 20 7/8″ center star, commercial mulching- I have yet to find one)

Does this look like a free lawn mower? It looked and ran in the “free” category when I picked it up last weekend. No “before” picts (I thought it might just be a hopeful fail), and though it had belonged to an urban lady with a tiny yard, it looked like it had been used to cut fire breaks along stream beds, set low to the ground and run over rocks, winding the wettest tall grass, and binding it all on the deck with a spray of oil, then left in the Utah sun to bake it all in, with a bag full of whatever it ran over, turning the bag sickly pink and rust. And it ran rough and burned oil- but it ran.

I took the carburetor apart, cleaned and refitted it, snapping off a lead to the fuel petcock in the process and had to order one in. It arrived after a few days and I parted it out, changed the oil & spark plug and air filter, and put in non-ethanol gas. And I sharpened the blade and refitted it while the machine was empty of oil and gas. It fired right up, blew a last little cloud of smoke as it warmed up, then settled out and ran clean.

Now it just has to make the 530 mile jump to Montana.


Here comes the arctic front with days of hail, rain, and mountain snow.
A detail of the bluebirds in the storm pic. They finally decided to move from the garage to the new (2 years ago) nest box on the old power pole by the garage.
Clearing old nests from a bluebird house, and these eggs were a few nests down. E blew them clean and brought them home to SLC.
Xander inspects the groceries, while I get to work with the new hardware outside.
Last year the bees moved their hive three planks up, and a wren built her nest in the old hive. All empty now, so I foam them all closed. I also triaged the pecked and bored out corner planking with a long run of angled metal sheathing.
Up at the corral iris bed, before adding in ground cloth to the first two levels. A project abandoned after too many snakes under the rubber tarp made us wonder if ground cloth is just asking for more snakes.
All the weeds are piled on the old rubber pond liner, which in turn is piled on a nest of Garter Snakes and a fat Bull Snake. Clue: there is a discarded snake skin top L under the RR tie that E and I had startled ourselves with earlier. Of course I pulled the liner back just where the Bull Snake was coiled up. I used a rake to pull the tarp back more and Garter Snakes went everywhere. I went into snake overdrive and killed the Bull Snake with a shovel; even after seeing he had no rattle. They will flatten and widen their heads when threatened, to look like a rattlesnake, and he struck at the shovel after my first attempt wounded him. Glad he wasn’t the real thing, as it took me a sec to line up the second kill blow. A real rattler on a hot day (it was barely 50) would have had me- probably when I pulled the liner back. No more rubber liner tarps.
When E and I were up for Xmas we were visited by a whomp on the roof, and the clatter of little feet. Not Santa. A packrat knew to jump from the big pine to the house and had one or three entrances at three eve overhangs. I baited the basement trap and killed him, then reset the trap and it remained empty. Still, I need to block up those holes. I need to make a hook ladder. I’m not sure how long to make it, so I go with overlong at 16 feet. I use 2×3’s to keep it light, but strong. The rain and chill is about to shut me down for the day.
The next morning I create the hook, using bolts to secure the 90 degree angle protruding through the top. The legs will fit over the peak of the roof- and I will have to cut them down in-situ to fit the opposing angle of the connecting roofline.
Nora gives me some advice on rooftop safety.
The peak delta needs both ends capped, and to the R where the roofs overlap each other is the third critter problem. This will require the ladder be moved a few times. The plan for blocking critter access is first to push expanded metal into the gap, then fill everything with dense spray foam. This needs to set for about an hour, which means it will probably definitely rain on me when I’m up there, and rain lots more when I get down. Then I head back up for more rain and cut the excess foam away, and cap it with bondo heavy body. Weather permitting.
AL ladder is braced with webbing to the deck support, keeping it from kicking out when I’m on the second little ladder laid flat on the deck roof (this one is there mainly for descending from the wooden hook ladder). Then the hook ladder is pushed up over the crest and flipped over so the arms brace against the other side.
I also invested in this roofing climbing harness in case my wooden ladder wan’t as clever as it seemed.
I’ve screwed a support beam into the tool shed, and will climb up, toss the rope to E, and she will tie me off from the other side of the house.
Up we go.
Nora knows her plan is solid, and doesn’t even need to watch.
It might also hail a bit once you get up there.
Then hail a bit more.
Then sock in for a few days of 40 degree temps raining hard enough to send Nora hiding under the bed all night, while it snows on the mountains.
The hail slides off the roof in sheets.
In between storms I move the ladder and do the other side.
The bondo matches the color of the steel roofing; each end of the delta is backfilled and capped off. Just the last overhang to go. I thought I’d be able to scrape and paint while I was up, but the weather barely let me get my real fix done before we timed out and and had to leave. I did tighten down and add in many more roofing screws.
While the foam was curing up on the roof, I decided that one of my little improvements might get a feller killed- in blocking off the steps to the basement from packrats I had created a perfect rattlesnake den. I backfilled it with rocks and capped it with foam panel and wood sheeting. Next I lined the wood sheeting with cling wrap, closed the door, and sprayed in expanding foam. This will stick to the door and not to the panel for a perfect fit, and I foamed beneath the foam panel as well.
Here I’m cutting away the excess foam of the seamless fitting for the now snake-proof door. When closed it looks like an ice-cream sandwich. I will buy a bunch of chip rock granite and backfill the area I’m standing in, and a few others as well- just to make a smooth surface that allows no snakes to hide: E had a garter snake tell her a thing or two from the sandstone portion.
The view from the top on our way back to SLC- let me zoom in for you…
Mount Baldy is to the R in the distance, covered in fresh snow, now a few days old. We take the pretty back route over Bridger pass into Bozeman for more June snow.

Grant deadlines have kept E busy ’til now, and lucky for us, the weather up North has been cold and the spring has been slow. We saddled up the truck and jumped out of town in a hurry, as soon as E could break away. After a cool and blustery drive up, I unloaded the truck in a twilight rain squall.

June 17th at the ranch. Job #1 is always The Yard. We have arrived three weeks late for our spring mow. The overall season for Montana is 20 days behind the average, and up here the lilacs have just bloomed and the Iris are coming in.

The morning’s high grass needed to dry out from last evening’s rain before mowing, so I set about fixing the water heater, frizted during last fall’s hunting party, replacing both elements and the bottom thermostat. The elements were really stuck in there, and took some ranch-ineering to create smooth enough application of leverage to break loose without breaking. Got it all figured with a thick old bent nail and a section of pipe.

The cold & wet spring convinced us to forego the bicycles, and instead we brought up my lawn mower to live out its golden years helping this brush mower keep the yard in check (E found a used electric mower for our little postage stamp of lawn in SLC). Once I knocked it all down, we let it dry and E followed up with the bagging mower. The bag would fill at every turn.
E pulls wagon loads of weeds from the flower beds while I make the initial pass of the brush mower.
Nora helps me keep the old brush mower set at its highest level- the front end likes to drop from its pins.
Many late freezes have nipped the lilacs, blooms are still emerging.
We take a yarding break for some Bluebirding: many nest boxes are full- 6 chicks in most nests. My white pvc cylinder nest boxes are all full of Tree Swallows.
This was a busy deer bed two nights ago; two days of yarding to address the lawn.
Imagine if the 400 iris I planted a few years back hadn’t all disappeared.
E and I have just finished weeding the bed, to the right is the mass of weeds on a now infamous rubber mat.

-from E’s letter home: Last fall, Dan had put down a used rubber pond liner to deter weeds there at the edge of the iris bed where the foot bridge ends over to the corral gate. He pulled back the liner and discovered where all the garter snakes were living and a larger snake that looked like a rattle snake without a rattle. Eghads what a greenhorn mistake! Nine or ten garter snakes (each 24 inches in length) slithered away, but the other snake stood its ground. We had both been walking all over the rubber surface and stepping on the snakes, so that added to the weirdness of the discovery. Dan was pretty freaked out and decided to off the larger snake to be on the safe side. Internet searches when we got home confirmed that we killed a bull snake. They are difficult to distinguish from rattle snakes and flatten their heads to resemble rattle snakes when threatened, which is just what the snake did. So, we feel pretty bad ….. but with treatment cost of rattle snake bites coming in at $100,000 – $120,000, we thought better safe than sorry. 

It is warmer along the S wall of the house, and the lilac garden is in full bloom.
The bigger Iris bed in front, expanded last summer, will begin to bloom by week’s end.
This year’s cold spring have kept my hard trim of 7 lilac bushes looking ratty. The two in the middle are beginning to fill out. Later in the week I trimmed the suckers around 5 and laid ground cloth around one. It takes a whole lot of cloth to go around a bush, and I wanted to save some for the big iris bed at the corral (all prior to the discovery of the rubber mat snake haven).
Last summer’s White-Faced Wasp nest is now the home of our friendly Wren.
The willows are off to a slow start with frost pinched tips. On our last morning two pair of Bullocks Oriels arrive- double our previous nesting population!
The creek is running clear and strong, as we’ve pulled debris and cleared the shores for the past few falls. (and the cattle are up on the hill as yet)
A little marsh ends here at the bridge, a Mallard and his mate flushed from just around the bend.
The mower and I freed the poppies from the overburden of grass and weeds. Just through that shadowed spot at center is our Rhubarb patch.
Nora with the rhubarb.
This section of the yard is left wild. In 2013 I removed all the metal scrap that been heaped for years, which was replaced by weeds and wild carrot that I knocked back, and now it is finally looking healthy.
The Cedar Waxwings, Robins, Wrens, Bluebirds, Goldfinches, Calliope Hummingbirds, Kingbirds, Oriels, Bats, and bunnies are all pretty happy with the digs. No sign of our house bees, although the sub-letting bumble bees are busier than last year. I just learned of the Old World tradition of “Telling the Bees”- informing the household bee hive of any deaths, births, or marriages; best done through rhyming song sung softly at their entrance.

Just after dark a funky short semi truck drove past, and a bit later E saw bright lights up the coulee. It was our bee keeper, dropping off hives while the bees are all home for the night. He headed down and placed hives at the neighbor’s as well.

This pair of swallowtail butterflies kept busy in the lilacs.
As big as my hand and always here or there or drifting in between.

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Core Oven: refractory board rated to 3,000 degrees.

I thought I’d make my own super-efficient Rocket Mass-Heater for the ranch, to replace the dangerous old cast iron wood stove. A Rocket Mass-Heater burns about 80% less wood than the old stove, can run on pellets as well, produces no smoke, few gasses, and will keep the house warm all night with no fire burning. It provides a radiant heat source via a stainless steel bell, as well as a large radiant mass that warms to a few hundred degrees which then radiates heat for 8 to 10 hours after the fire has burned. It can heat the house for 12 to 24 hours for one hour of burning- depending on how well my mass structure absorbs and retains heat. I will build that up at the ranch, using aircrete; concrete blended with super foamed soapy water. This reduces the weight of the concrete mass by 60-75 percent, and allows the heat to permeate the mass.

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This is the Walker J-Stove design. I bought the layout plan for $20 online. Brilliant.

The interwebs are awash with bad Rocket Stove designs. Many cores are created with bare steel using old gas canisters. At 1500 to 2000 degrees in an oxygen depleted environment, steel undergoes a process called spalling. Essentially it rusts without oxygen, or more precisely it is the effect of reshuffling the iron molecules wherein they lose covalent bonds and layer like sheaves of paper. Refractory material is the only media that can survive the temperatures in the core and stack. I found the best understanding of the forces at work were from Masonry Stove builders, in particular Walker Design, who offers a J-Rocket core design to keep us diy dinks from burning down the ranch house. My design is a hybrid, as the stove will stand alone, as will the mass-heater. This is borrowed from another solid innovator, The Honey-Do Carpenter. I’ll be using his specs to create the concrete foaming gun, and modifying from his prototype of a light weight mass heater separate from the rocket stove.

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I added this air-flow channel, bringing fresh air to the riser to encourage the venturi and oxygenate the superheated gasses for a complete burn.

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The air splits into three channels, that combine into one, with the three channels still delineated at the top. This opens directly into the stack.

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I found this round refractory tubing rated to 1500 degrees, perfect for a venturi stack, or chimney. The Walker design uses the same media as the core, so that stack is square, which limits the gyre.

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I wrapped the stack in heavy perf aluminum, and tied it with stainless steel wire. 

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Now I wait for the fireplace brick splits order to arrive, to line the inside front of the firebox. This protects the delicate refractory media from the wood fuel.

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The fire brick arrives, and I run a hot burn to temper / shrink all of the media, prior to spackle with high-temp mortar.

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As the fire climbs to temperature, there is an initial column of smoke.

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In a few minutes we are at temperature, and the smoke is gone. All wood is reduced to gas, and even the gasses are burned. Her core temperature is 1,500 to 2,000 degrees (hot enough to melt bronze and steel). I can hold my hand against the walls, they are warm to hot.

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Operating at full burn. 

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Only the bottom end of the wood burns. These board-remains were 4 feet long, and slowly digest into the jet of flame. The soft roar of the air to flame is why this is called a Rocket Stove.

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The remaining cinders are the remains of the last few cooler minutes of burning, as the full incinerating force drops.

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This is after the next step; encasing the delicate refractory core in a heat-safe and tough shell.

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The refractory core is bedded in rock-wool, a fireproof spun silica insulation that allows no air movement. The outer shell is hardy backer board with a tough outer shell, ready for tile. I used an industrial cement and seam-webbing to join the board. 

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20 feet of angle iron, and a few steel scraps, welded into a sturdy frame. 

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The stainless steel 15 gallon drum goes over the chimney column. This acts as a heat radiator. 

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I cut this perfect circle to sleeve over the chimney. Next I will cut a small hole on the outside for a stove pipe connection, and another to fit to the mass heater (another build for another day). 

Lots more to do: support the stainless drum; put on low legs; create gravity-assist wood feeder of wide square-stock tubing that is removable; resolve the stove piping; tile it; maybe make a pellet feeder. Then design up the mass heater for assembly in Montana.

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View of the ranch coming in the high route, still passable with little snow.

Elizabeth and I took the pets (Nora, and her cat brothers) for a Xmas closer to Santa, up at the Montana ranch.

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Nora insists walkies be taken up on top.

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Snow is sparkling out of thin air.

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Cold air from the plains meets the warmer air over the mountains with cloudy drama.

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Snow-virga drops toward the pyramid shaped Iron Mountain.

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Some xmas loot under the little ranch tree. E e-bayed ranch themed ornaments.

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A leather saddle, fur covered chaps with matching boots,  cowboy with lasso, a Rudolf tree topper, and many more!

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Egg ornament with tiny stage coach.

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Nora shares her bed with Xander, awaiting Santa.

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The constant wind directly evaporates the blowing snow, lees and gullies collect what they can.

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The ladies.

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A patch of sun down on the Highwoods illuminates the mountainside near my cousin’s ranch. We went over for a visit, and looked out their picture window framing the other side of the peak.

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This black-faced wasp nest was sited to eat the caterpillars infesting the willows last summer. Friendly wasps, as long as everyone respected a bit of personal space.

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One of two contraptions made in SLC for a specific ranch issue: any guesses?

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Unit one in position.

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Unit two in position.  guesses?

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This is a view of mystery wiring in the root cellar that should never have worked, but did until it didn’t. The white unit at the bottom is a ceramic light fixture with an electrical plug. The electrical plug connected an extension cord into the kitchen, via a hole drilled in the floor, to power the refrigerator. The metal box holds the incoming electrical line, where it splits to go upstairs and to power the old defunct central heating system. The hot wires are the black wires bundled together with electrical tape, the neutral wires are the yellow and white. Note that the power to the light bulb and the fridge’s plug-in have no hot wire to power them. The ceramic fixture acts as the conduit for the neutral wires, and this somehow powered the fixture. Yikes.

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I connect the wires without the fixture to make a correct circuit, then use the wiring to the old heater to run through the floor to the fridge.

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I wire in this shiny new floor plug, and below it can be seen 4 of 21 holes to the basement I patched years back. At top is the extension cord we had run from a wall plug to power the fridge.

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With the fridge working, I add a pig of wiring to the light fixture and tie it in to the corrected wiring- and it works. I remember an upstairs light switch that has the switch removed and wires bound together with athletic tape, and find the hot and neutral wires wound together under the tape (rather than bound separately  and taped together). I end them correctly and many other upstairs lights that have never worked, work. And the fridge runs better, and the ceiling lights are all brighter. Since we’re looking at the water heater, it doesn’t work again as the elements were all burned out by a mistaken breaker throw on Rodney’s hunting trip in the fall. I couldn’t find my pull-tool for the elements, so this will be a summer fix.

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Our first two nights we heard a whomp on the roof as this packrat jumped from a big pine tree onto the roof. I found his interior access to the rooms and blocked it, and he headed through the walls and into the basement. Where I had baited the trap. E heard his squeal as the trap hit him at midnight, then he dragged the bucket around for hours keeping her awake. I slept through it all, then gave him a quick end in the morning with the axe. Usually if you think there is one in the house, well, a few summers back we trapped/killed 13.

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Packrats are poorly named, as they are more like a bunny-squirrel. I buried him in the corral, using the pickaxe to break the frozen ground.

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We decided to come home three days early, as a massive arctic front was moving in. We drove back ahead of the arctic air mass with hard effect for 400 miles (of 560 miles) of pre-storm storm: hitting us with 80mph winds that closed roads to semi traffic, past plows that had slid off the road, through long sections of unplowed mountain roads with road edges defined by locals missing the edge and somehow making it back on track, in Idaho we hit freezing drizzle shifting to black ice on the highway and glazed the windshield, and a final 100 mile run of headwind that dropped the truck to 10mpg. Still, better than driving back in or after the actual storm.

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-15 up north on our route is +15 here, 30 degrees warmer is still plenty freezy. The Utah yard pond waterfall emerges from under an icebrella.

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Overnight drops to 7 degrees F and waterfall is nearly ice-encapsulated by morning.

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Another single digit night and waterfall encapsulation is complete. Inversion is at a dangerous 159ppm, bright yellow air is hazy across the back yard and the surrounding mountains are smeared out.

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Utah cold sometimes requires a jacket. (Mystery Fix Answer: nesting deterrent for Robins and Wrens at power lines to the house and tool shed.)

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My next project demands that I safeguard these two residents of the house; our friendly garter snakes (introduced a few blogs prior). I’m gonna wreck their little haven to save the house.

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The snake is slithering along the concrete footer added sometime mid 20th century. He just emerged from under the thick plank that runs the entire length of the house, forming his residence of a large gap between the concrete footer and the house. I think the concrete was put in as an idea of support for the old field stone foundation from the push of ground water rolling down the valley. Let’s say it is a good idea, and it just needs some upgrade. 

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Upgrade number one: remove the long run of board. It only traps moisture into the seam, and gathers any and all rain that runs down the face of the house, and any spillage from the (now repaired) gutter and drain (and repaired soffits that were acting as drains as well).

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I sawzall this section to protect the high speed internet cable brought underground to the house. As incongruous as Google Fiber equivalent sounds up here, that really is true. I don’t think we’ll ever connect, but there it is.

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Fat barn nails hold the rail in place, and I have to take care not to shatter the thin cladding of the house.

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E helps me spot the nails that won’t relent, and so keeps me from maiming the house.

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Looking down the gap we see a metal flange that has pulled away from the house, making two troubling gaps.

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Our housemates note that the front door of their house is missing.

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He checks to see if went up here…

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He falls back into the safe gap to contemplate this questionable remodel.

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He pops out where Walt and I cut out a trial section, at the worst of the gutter runoff damage, backfilled with foam and impassible for snakes.

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He didn’t like the noise and disturbance at all, and tells me he will be touch with our HOA about all of these changes that he certainly didn’t vote for.

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He heads off to his favorite corner restaurant to gather his nerves.

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I use the industrial shop-vac blower to clear the debris out of the gap while he is at dinner. I wind up tossing a few of his discarded skins out on the street. Here he returns from his evening on the town, and wonders whether he’ll be able to recover any of his belongings; he complains that he wasn’t given any notice prior to his eviction. 

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He’s never felt so low.

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Using roofing screws, I seal the metal seam against the house while E keeps an eye on the snake. 

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With the tenants out and the gap cleaned and tightened up, I lay in many cans of expanding foam. This white foam is a special high density foam- I wish I’d gotten more of that type. 

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Earlier in the day I’d repaired ‘ol Shotgun, who needed a new section of roof and a new entrance-hole faceplate. As the foam cures in the gap, E and I drive the birdhouse back to the top of Kibbey Ridge while the sun sets into a blood red wall of wildfire smoke (CA plus a Missoula blaze). I set him on a new sturdy pole on the other side of the road, as his ancient pole had finally snapped. 

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If a snake even touched this gunk while it was wet it would probably kill him. It had skinned over, but was gooey on the inside, when the snake emerged from under the porch to try to return to his lair. No harm, well, no physical harm. The emotional turmoil was obvious. 

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The next evening I use my vibration tool to slice the foam, forming a clean cap.

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I use the caulk gun to squeeze 4 tubes of roofing tar and E spreads it like stinky black frosting to capture and seal the entire gap, capping the foam. 

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I run through all the tar, and end with exterior silicon caulk, in black and that runs out, so in white as well. Ranch fix, cuz Home Depot is an 80 mile round trip.

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I let the tar cure for 24 hours, then head in with my paint grinding wheel to zip-clean the weather-beaten old siding that had languished behind the do-worse-than-nothing plank. 

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I grind out many other problem areas, then head in for a first of two coats of linseed oil white paint.

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Can you hear the house soaking in the paint?

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“Take care of Grandmother’s roses” says Ghost Dad, the roses persist here because the runoff of two pitches of roof overshoots the gutter and gives them just enough water.

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The roses, and the shattered concrete from the gutter overshoot, and down in the cellar- well, lets not look at that again until after a year with these fixes in place.

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2,000 pounds of dirt from the cellar rebuilt this drooping corner of the yard where the stream bends. E and I put the last three viable RR ties in the truck, displacing two big garter snakes from one tie (that I thought we’d scared away, but had scared into their hidey space in the tie, and they both wound up in the back of the truck and quickly slithered out in a panic), and disrupting a big ant colony in another tie. I had three rebar stakes and four giant fencing screws to set the ties in place and to each other, then a remnant of ground cover from SLC made an interior skirt along the ties and pegged to the ground, with enough remaining to cover the dirty pile of cellar dirt.

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Lyle rock oversees the new retaining wall down at the far end. 

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Here is June’s retaining wall, with the grass seed filling over the dirt nicely, Lyle rock in the midground, and the new retaining wall down at the bottom.

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Just down from Lyle Rock I added in this little section of waterfall, made from the thin layers of shattered fieldstone that had once been the corner support at the porch fix. It may get swept away by spring runoff…

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Nora just got a drink at the expanded falls here at the old footbridge as well.

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It was a bobcat job years ago to create one level of falls here, and with a few freeze-shocked sections of the porch-fix field stone, the falls becomes three tiers. Now the voice of the stream is multifaceted as it rolls through the tree canopied back yard, and the open windows of the bedroom gather in it’s reverberations from the box-canyon wall of the house, altering it’s course just enough to flow to the inside of dreams.