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Pulling off limbs, with a few chunky ones like the one landed in the creek.

Feller work shown is where E gets bored and grabs the camera. Not pictured is all the fun stuff, like; putting up the 12 new Bluebird houses, checking all the other bird houses and finding lots of chicks and getting pushed off of the last few houses by a bossy bull; switching out road bikes for mountain bikes (E’s birthday present) and cycling in the morning up over Kibbey Ridge to find a guy from SLC making breakfast from the back of his truck on his way to Glacier, then a twilight ride down the road a piece to spot Elk (singular this time) and seeing the Snipe fly from the marsh below the corral upon our return, as well as loading them onto the truck and heading up Belt Canyon past Neihart to ride a dirt road alongside a mountain stream (same that we had skied last year); enjoying a big hours long mountain thunderstorm from the front porch (while Nora chatters her teeth until slipping into a pill-induced bliss); Xander and Voices kill at minimum 14 mice (all-time record) plus they ate a few…; the house was swarmed by a sudden Gypsy’s curse of fat flies, hundreds roaring and driving against the doors and windows (while the kitchen door was in triage and before the storm door had been resealed)- followed by me with the big shop-vac removing the scores that forced their way in; dinner down at our cousin’s ranch outside of Belt; the whole time it felt like the 1970’s or 80’s- just cool nights, mild days, rainstorms- and finally a big fire in Helena sent the now-seasonal smoke billows on our last day, reminding us that the arctic is 30 degrees or more above normal and the collapsing jet stream is why our weather seemed “normal”; just as we near the foot of Malad pass in Idaho we watch from under the dark twilight of a churning storm ahead as the craziest verga down force of violent wind and rain hits from directly above in a hovering smoke that levitates with violent speed over the hillsides and mountains, and we are soon facing a wall of ripping waves that dwarf the truck, then we punch into the wall with a gale pushing hard from the side and down, as we pass through the whole truck lifts for a dizzying moment, then into the sideways car-wash zone with cleansing hail set to new-dent-level we motor up the steep pass with the highway transformed to a standing waterfall upheld by screaming wind. The most different weather I’ve ever been through, and I’ve been in some pretty different weather up on the 14er peaks.

Lawn mowed (with both new-this-summer mowers), edged, and weeded; time to jerk dead branches from the willows with the cutting pole.
More passable airspace for the birdies.
A feller might as well grind down and paint the old beehive, as it is covered over and has no bees. Next ladder work is bondo-ing up a gap under the soffit around the house at the gutter over the kitchen window (I already solved the drainage problem), then onto the roof again at twilight (the porch bees are all back in the hive for the night) to seal up a leaky spot.
Kitchen door is missing (just the storm door remaining)? I replaced the air-bump strip across the bottom, and the door could no longer shut. Obviously, this has always been the case. Off the door comes.
After a few passes with the circular saw on a rigged up square jig, the door is rehung and fits perfect on one end, so two more thin cuts aligns both sides, and the door is rehung to find it fits perfectly snug over the air dam.
The door jamb / portal is beat up and needs wood glue with clamps, scraping with blades, removal of old felt & nail air seal, and bondo over old holes from long gone hardware as well as old hardware still in place that I removed. Eventually all corners and edges are square and clean.
Might as well make the door square and clean while I’m at it, at least the inside of the door (the outside will have to wait).
The oscillating paint stripper churns up the old lead paint by heating it into a sludge and pulling it away from the wood in weird sticky glorps.
I’d spent 4 hours organizing the wood shed a few days back, and had moved this mystery cinder block to the big garage. I remembered what it was for as the door cleared up: eroding the sticky paint off the sanding burr. E ran across the county road and retrieved it from the garage.
Ready for orbital sanding: 60 grit / 80 / 100 / 120.
The yard Bluebird doesn’t have a door on his house, just a narrow slot. Lucky fellow. His chicks chirp a loud chorus about bugs, bugs, bugs!
I need a fat log to mount a new tool on, and so pull half of the remains of our beetle kill yard pine out from under plastic in the ice house. All lined up for the Chopper One axe.
Bees tasted the sap seepages.
I leveled the log with a wood grinding head on the grinder, pre-drilled holes into the log, then used some fat bolt screws as anchors. But what is that thing?
It’s tech from New Zealand- a kindling splitter.
A friend’s dad was sitting at a campfire splitting kindling on his knee and drove his hatched into his knee. I’m not saying I’d never be dumb enough to do that, but now we don’t have to find out.
Yeah! Idiot proof!
Winter likes to plant a snowbank on this edge of the porch, so I strip and repaint it, along with the post and along the roofline as well.
Big clouds poofed up as evening shadows pushed the sun out of the valley. Time to jump up to top for a sunset tour.
This big thunderhead sat over the valley to the east.
Almost dramatic….
Really close to getting spectacular.
And it all slips away.
Close up of the new air dam that started the door project: the gray rubber fit into the aluminum rail.
Refurbished door jamb in bluebird-roof blue & white, with new rubber-poly weather sealant in brown. The hinges are stripped of their thick layers, spray painted white, and sport new screws.
The bright blue is like a UV light bath as you come through the doorway. The storm door is now mostly air tight again as well.
The refinished door with a bit of dash. I didn’t trust stripping around the big window without flexing the door and snapping the old glass, I also had to dig out and bondo over big cracks in the three wooden panels after cutting away the thick layers of paint. The panel boards had to be painted to cover the triage (and the panel wood was really basic stuff), but the door was pretty nice and matched the wood trim we’d already exposed. So the old gal is now a bit “aged mountain hippy”. Make sure to pull her closed tight!
I rounded up all the old batteries and oil, and here had just drained the oil from the derelict Chevy Viking.
The siphon pump came up with nothing, as the gas cap was gone and the gas had evaporated out. One less thing.
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Stormy sunset of electric blue, periwinkle, rose, and static yellow.
Cold front rolls over the ranch, condensing from the Little Belt Mountains.
The setting sun is just touching the high grasslands along the East side of the ranch, with the Highwood mountains poking up from far down on the great plain of the Missouri River.

Up at the Montana ranch for the last 10 days of July, spanning our 10th wedding anniversary, and E’s birthday. The hills and pastures were still green. The little front pictured here dropped our night temps to 38 degrees, with daytime highs in the 70’s with a few “hot” days in the 80’s (our overnight lows in SLC are about the same as the daytime highs at the ranch).

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.

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.