The Ring of Fire

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Me, burning poop, circa 2014.

We made a quick trip to the bus just after Christmas.  I wanted to pick up bones for carving and my wife wanted some alders for making wreaths.  I picked what was forecasted to be the nicest day of the week, with temperatures in the 20s with no wind.

Upon arrival at around noon, the temperature was -15 (f).

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Cold.

As much as I’ve come to hate the cold weather, I was born for it.  Colorado has softened me.  The strong sun after even the heaviest snows tends to melt everything quickly.  Where I grew up in northern Maine, not so much.

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My children aren’t afraid of the cold.  They bundled up and ignored it, which is what I want them to do.  They may not be as tough as kids from northern Maine, but I’m trying to teach them how to endure.  Try all I want, children are naturally resilient.

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When we first bought the land in 2013, the first thing I did was build a fire ring.  Aborigines build a fire wherever they are.  It promotes a sense of place and home within them, no matter where they are.

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Unfortunately for us, the fire danger at the land is usually high.  I keep a spark arrester on our stove in the bus and generally don’t have fires outside.  As a matter of fact, I’ve had a fire in the ring once.  And I burned dung.  Just to see if it could be done.

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Being that there was plenty of snow this time around, I decided to officially christen the fire ring.  No tea, no marshmallows.  Just warmth.  And it was good.

Mike, Oscar, Hotel….out.

 

 

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Lego character stand

I wish I had detailed plans for my readers, but I’m willing to bet just about anyone who reads this blog could slap this puppy together with their eyes closed. Basically, my wife helped me strip out an old pallet (Sawzall with a metal cutting blade is your friend here) and she used some of the wood to make this gem. 

  
She made a frame, filled in the middle, then painted the whole thing white (with odor sealing paint. I don’t trust some of these old pallets). She then procured a ton of skinny green 2X8 Lego blocks and glued them into place with E6000. 

The tricky part was matching the guys up. Years ago, BC (before children), we collected blind Lego packs. We even knew the codes the manufacturer used to tell the contents apart. But then we had children, and our toys were played with. 

For the purpose of the presentation, we attempted to put the correct accessories with the correct character. 

However, when we got to the bottom of the pile, bottom of the evening, and bottom of my whiskey glass, it became time to stick leftovers together and invent fun back stories. Here the kids actually come in handy, because it takes a 5 year old’s imagination to explain why a knight has a .45 in one hand and a trident in the other, along with surfer pants and a head with eyeliner and lipstick to go with his beret. 

Get Away Land (Part 3, The School Bus Conversion)

Converting the bus was fun.  I can’t lie, I love working with tools, cheap or expensive.  I’d like to tell you that I had a plan, but I tend to play fast and loose and let visions evolve as things happen.

The first order of business was removing the seats.  There were a lot of them.  It’s a 64 passenger bus.  Most of the seats were in rough shape.  Years of gum, slime and soda were stuck in the cracks between the seats and wall of the bus.  The bolts were rusted and most were stripped.  I bought a grinder at Harbor Freight and got to work.  The kids helped me scrape up all of the rubber flooring, which is what makes a bus smell like a bus.

What’s under the rubber floor?  I’d love to tell you a metal subfloor, but it’s actually plywood.  Years of moisture hadn’t penetrated the wood much, so I decided to seal it by painting it.  We happened to have a few gallons of yellow paint hanging around, so that’s what we used.

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Using recycled lumber that I got from the dump, I made a counter top over one of the wheel wells.  I sided it with pallet wood and put a curtain over the front.

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Using my neighbor’s torch, I chopped up the seats for a new purpose.

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They are now convertible benches and beds.

My neighbors also helped me frame up and build the bathroom.  I’ve got a toilet lid for a 5 gallon bucket.  We use sawdust and empty it after each stay.  It actually works pretty well.  We also installed carpet tiles.  We’ve got four kids, so if somebody craps on a carpet tile, we just rip it up and replace it.

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I also installed a utility sink.  It drains into a three gallon bucket below and we dump it when it’s full.  My mom painted it red like a hooker’s fingernails.  To boot, the brand name is Homart.  I laugh every time I look at the logo.

Above were the initial photos.  It has morphed into a real comfy place now, with fold out couches, futons and bookshelves.  Here are recent pics.  Pardon the clutter.

We’ve utilized solar desk lamps from Ikea for lighting, as well as fold out tables and a fold out couch.  I cut the bottoms off of pallets and made them into book cases.

It’s about 140 square feet.  Believe it or not, it’s comfy, even with six or seven people.  But you have to like each other.  And we do.

Next up – the functions of staying at the bus and some scenic pictures.

Mike, Oscar, Hotel….out.

Get Away Land (Part 2, Alternatives to a Cabin)

We had the land.  The next question was how to get a structure on it so we could stay there.

I thought about a camper.  I would only be able to afford an older one.  I knew that it would likely be prone to mouse infestations.  The winds can be high in our area and I don’t think the thin metal of a camper would hold up in the long run.

Then, we discussed a Tuff Shed.  Funny, right?  Have you seen the tiny house movement?  It’s a great idea.  Our original plan was to save for a 10×12 Tuff Shed with a loft and make it into a small cabin.  As we were saving our mo, we started researching county laws and found out that in order to have a shed on your land, you first need a permanent structure of 600 sq. ft., a septic system, and a well.  Crap.

I work for a non-profit and have four kids.  Most days I have lint and pennies in my pocket. The pennies mark a good day.  Realistically, the pennies are actually half-chewed breath mints that my kids put back in my pocket.  Putting that much money into a piece of land so we could stay the night was absolutely cost-prohibitive.  We had to back up and punt.

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I started looking into school buses.  Why?  Structurally, school buses are built to roll.  That was idea number one.  They’re built well and rust isn’t much of an issue out here.  Number two?  The county can’t tax you on a mobile structure.  And it’s my right to park my vehicles on my property.  The taxes on the land are currently $75 a year.  I’d like to keep it that way.

I found a group of 1986 GMC Bluebird school buses for sale on craigslist in Elbert, which is a long drive from where we live.  We went and looked at them anyway.  They were all fleet maintained school buses, each with their individual problems, from bald tires to cracked bell housings.  That didn’t matter much to me, as the plan was to get the bus to the land and leave it there.  I gave the guy $2,800 and got behind the wheel of a school bus for the first time.  Mind you, I’m not licensed to drive one.

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By the time I hit the town of Parker, I knew there was something wrong with me.  I have lots of food allergies and thought I was having a reaction to something I ate.  My lips, hands and feet were numb.  I pulled over and my wife started giving me water and told me to walk.  In ten minutes, I felt better.  Turns out, the old bus had a biblical-sized exhaust leak.  I opened all of the windows and the slider door and drove home.

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The conversion was……fun.  I really can’t say that enough.  I spent about 40 hours and $400 on the conversion.

Next up:  The Conversion.

Mike, Oscar, Hotel….out.

 

Hello Santa, goodbye old friend. 

My son and I just completed our Christmas tradition. Every Christmas Eve, we light a paper lantern and send it up, so that Santa knows where we live, and remembers to stop by. 

  
It reminded me of another tradition. It’s a Hotel family tradition, and one that I’ve asked to be included in. Mike can fill you in with more details than I can, but I know the important bits. When a Hotel family member passes on, after the official funeral, a few members of the family step aside into the woods, carrying a pair of firearms. First, one is raised in the air (at a 45 degree angle – one funeral at a time, thank you), and touched off. That’s ‘one to lead you home’. Then the second one is raised and fired – that’s ‘one to let you know that we’re not far behind’. 

   
 
Mike and I’ve been friends for a long time. 

   
 
I’m pretty sure Mike and I will leave this world at the same time, probably taking care of our cremation at the same time. If I do shuffle off from this mortal coil before he does, he has instructions on which guns to use (the one his dad traded me the house trailer for, and the one the FBI was chasing me through the Denver Airport to get back) and where to do it (Ten Bear’s cabin). 

Sorry if this was a dark turn for Christmas Eve! But my point is this – be a part of a tradition. Be a part of someone’s memories. Be a part of something big. Be cool. Send someone off. Let Santa know you’re home. 

Have a merry Christmas. Thanks for reading our thoughts, plans, memories, and brilliant ideas. You guys and ladies are great. I hope Santa finds your homes, and I hope you find traditions to make life more real. 

Get Away Land (Part 1, Buying Boonie Land)

I grew up in northern Maine.  It seems that every family has a “camp” or cabin that they can go to there.  My family has two.  B&A’s family has one.  We’re talking shotgun shacks in the middle of nowhere where you can play cards, hunt and read.  There’s really nothing like it.

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Photo Credit: Bill Nixon

That doesn’t much happen in Colorado unless you have money.  Then you get a condo in Aspen and pay twice what I paid for my house for a place you can stay once a year.  Yeah, I’m not doing that.  It’s stupid.

My wife and I started looking for get away land in 2010.  We looked all over the central and southern half of Colorado without much luck.  Our budget was for $1,000 an acre, which is unheard of on the front range (near Denver) where we live.  We wanted a place for the kids to run and where we could get out of the craziness of the metro area.

Most of the land we found in that price range was completely flat with no trees in areas with high winds.  That simply would not do.  We suspended our search in the summer of 2012 because of the lack in options.

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We went back at it in 2013.  I found a piece of land on realtor.com.  It was out of our price range.  We drove to it and it was very remote (me likey) and hard to see from the road (me likey even more).  It was three acres.  Instead of $1,000 an acre, it was $15,000 for three acres.

I wanted to make an offer.  My wife, ever the sensible one, noted that we would have to take out a loan on the property and that our agreement was that we would pay cash.  Crestfallen, I relented and the search continued.  On the way home that day, my wife told me that she had found another parcel worth looking at and that we could see it the following weekend.

True to her word, we went.  As we drove to it, she was excited and I was withdrawn.  I wanted the remote land.  When we arrived, she was blown away.  Five acres, areas to build, views, hills and a few trees.  It was amazing.  To boot, it was $8,100.  Still out of our price range.  I got over the remote land and called the realtor.

She met us the following week and talked to us about the history of the property.   She was from the area and very knowledgeable about the local and geographical history of the area.  After sleeping on it that night, the Mrs. and I made an offer.  We offered what we had, which was $6,100 in cash.  We didn’t get our hopes up.

The realtor called us back and explained that the seller wanted $6,500.  I was psyched.  She said that the seller was the widow of a rancher that had bought many parcels of land in the 70s, sight unseen, and that she had never set foot on the property.  She was happy to take our money after hearing what we were going to use it for.  We accepted the counter offer.  We closed on Independence Day, 2013.

The next question?  How could we get a structure on the land so we could stay there?

Next up:  Skirting Building Codes.  Stay tuned.

Mike, Oscar, Hotel…..out.

 

 

 

 

Hidden costs of deployments

I received a call; the cat got into the bathroom, then my son closed the bathroom door. My wife went to open the door, and the cat had climbed into the cupboard under the sink and slid a drawer out in front of the door, so now the bathroom door opened an inch. On one side of the bathroom door was a cat trapped in the bathroom, on the other side, a little boy that needed to number 1. 

I tried to offer different solutions, such as a coat hanger, safety wire, or peeing outside and bidding adieu to the kitty. 

A short time later I received this series of photos. 

   
 
So when I get home, it appears that I need to buy a door. 

Otherwise, they’ll be able to see that the majority of my time in there is less about bowel movements and more about serenity and reading. 

All Those Bones….

We’ve got pretty much unlimited access to cow bones.  I want to start crafting with them and see if we can sell them for a profit.  Specifically, making leg bones into candle holders and cribbage boards.

This weekend I picked up a rotary tool at Harbor Freight and scratched out a design on a jaw bone.

First, I cleaned it up with the wire wheel bit.

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Then, I drew on a design.

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Then I got to grinding.

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Then I filled it in with a pencil and hit the pencil with the wire wheel to blend it.

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I was going for a cave painting feel.  This is going to take some practice, for sure.

Here, I worked on some lettering.  What, might you ask?  My favorite word, of course.

Mike Oscar Hotel….out.

Lakeside Small Double Bit Axe Restoration

double bit camp axe

I picked this one up a few years ago.  It’s a small double bit, marked “Lakeside”.  My uncle told me that was the name brand for axes released by Montgomery Ward.    In my experience, old hardware store brand axes are worth holding onto, pre…..oh, let’s say 1990, give or take.

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The thing that intrigued me about this one is the fact that it is a small double bit.  You can find them, but they certainly aren’t as common as single bits.  I would say that this is camp axe size with a 28″ handle.  The head weighs 2 1/2 pounds, though the head is marked with a 2.

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I kept this in my tool box on the back of my truck and hadn’t done anything to it, other than put it in there.  It was my just in case axe.  I’m not a fan of double bits; I like poll weight on my axes, but I thought this one was worth keeping around.

I’m not sure what I’m going to do with it, purpose-wise.  I hit a coyote with my truck on the way to work the other day and he was on the side of the road, not quite dead.  I went for this axe, but had already taken it out of the tool box.  Being that I only had my hatchet, Mr. Coyote got a painful reprieve.

So, this is the project.  I’m going to attempt to save the handle, mostly because small double bit handles aren’t that easy to find, and the ones that I have found have had grain issues.

I started by loosening the head off of the haft.  I did some wiggling and tapping with a hammer, though lightly.  I soaked it in a white vinegar bath.  If you haven’t heard about this method for rust removal, it works really well.  You’ve got your warning, though – wear gloves.  Below is the head soaking in vinegar.  12 to 24 hours is sufficient for most projects.

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I donned my wife’s pink gloves and started in with 00 steel wool.  Notice the differences in color?  Those are temper lines.  I *think* the darker areas contain more carbon.

 

Vinegar bath for rust removal

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When you finish with the scrubbing, you should have a nice grayish blue color.  Notice the bottle of WD-40 beside the head?  After the vinegar bath and scrubbing, it’s important to get some kind of lubricant on the head immediately.  Vinegar does a great job eating rust, but left to its own devices, it will flash rust the head.  I’ve used anything from olive oil to motor oil.  Just something to inhibit the rust from developing.

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The haft isn’t in great shape, as I’ve already mentioned.  There were no obvious splinters and the wood is good wood, so I decided to sand it down.

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I started with a really aggressive grit and moved smoother in succession.  It doesn’t look great, but the handle is smooth.

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I threw it in the vice and lit into it with the file.  It is pretty decent metal and a worthy tool.

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Hopefully we’ll find a few more coyotes to knock out with this one.

Mike Oscar Hotel…..out.

 

 

 

I’m still alive!

B&A Stowaway here! I’ve been busy at tech school in Texas, sorry I haven’t been checking in. Any readers from the Wichita Falls area? I have to get back to homework, but I wanted to share a picture of what my neighbor ( back in Michigan) once referred to as a ‘cord of wood’. The guy that sold him this ‘cord’ may have taken advantage of him a bit. 

“A full cord is a large amount of wood. It measures four feet high by four feet wide by eight feet long (4 ft. x 4 ft. x 8 ft.) and has a volume of 128 cubic feet. The amount of solid wood in a cord varies depending on the size of the pieces, but for firewood it averages about 85 cubic feet. The rest of the cord volume is air space.” (http://www.woodheat.org/cord-wood.html)