back home

Back home after two weeks in the Panhandle on a working holiday with the family. Came home pulling a U haul with a riding mower and the last few pieces of furniture from storage that will live in the new claim house. Everything was still buttoned up when we got here, had 6 live chickens, 22 cold eggs, almost 2" of rain in the rain gauge (now almost 19" of rain since October) and don't need a mower after all. First thing I saw by the headlights while opening the gate at midnight was a huge pile of fresh cow plop. Trespassing livestock. First light this morning reveals approximately 3.5 lbs of cow shit per square yard of closely cropped grazed grass. East 3 wire fence down in several places. Nice. Guess I'll be fencing this weekend.



The PJG 746 license plates have been assimilated into the collective hive of the gazebo of junk. Resistance was futile. (Hmmm.. PJG : Plates for Jeree and Glenn or Plates from Jeraine and Gina?)
- thanks to our Trekkie friends for the donation.


RIP Colonel

The Colonel, being the only white chicken, ran out of luck yesterday. Visual contrast from the air worked against him evidently and he caught the eye of a large hawk. We came home from a car show in Bastrop to find the dog nervously hovering over the body while the hawk was in a nearby tree angry at Joey that he couldn't carry his meal off. The rest of the flock was nowhere to be seen save for one quivering rooster under the camper so we feared there had been a mass slaughter. A thirty minute search found two more roosters and a lone hen hiding under a cedar tree and the final two hens snuck back to the coop several hours later at bedtime. So the score on the great chicken experiment stands at
Heat - 3 (plus three turkeys)
Coyotes - 2
Hawk -1
Leaving us with three possibly edible roosters and three hens of which only one, maybe two, have laid less than a dozen eggs since March. That's a lot of poop cleaning and chicken feed for 6 or 8 eggs. Oh well; they are entertaining to have around and provide occasional exercise for Joey. At least that's what we'll keep telling ourselves.



If it CAN have KISS on it, it SHOULD have KISS on it." - Gene Simmons

Gotta love him.


Don't count your chicks...

Uh oh. # of eggs laid last night x # of hens x nights / week. 5 x 3 x 7 = 105 eggs / week. We will be eating lots of omelets. Meringue, quiche, french toast , deviled eggs ... fresh eggnog for the holidays!

(don't really expect that many of course, just hope the poor little thing was backed up. Had a scrambled egg sandwich a little bit ago; mmm, mmm good.)


front porch eyebrow & a man and his roof

More rain all last night; another 2 1/4". Water standing everywhere and the pond is so full it just spread out a little more all around, not near the dramatic change of the last floater. Marble Falls and parts northwest of here are searching out gopher wood and tape measures that measure in cubits at Home Depot so they can start building their arks. Posting a new picture of the front porch eyebrow, not deep enough to call it a porch with a clear conscious although folks around here don't seem to bat an eye when they call their 20 acres a "ranch" so dammit; it's a porch. Really, I designed it to provide some added protection from rain and sun over all the eventual glass on the front side. Although the overhang on the west approaches 4' it is at such an angle to shade the clerestory windows at the plateline. The 3d computer models with shadow casting (in Google Sketchup Pro) I did while drawing the plans showed me it would have allowed a little too much late afternoon sun on the front glass doors. The extra modeling seems to have worked: Watching the shadows as we work looks like the glass will at least be half shaded until past 5pm. By then it is cooling down and the trees to the west take over for additional shade while we can still enjoy a sunset view from the kitchen.

The roof we used is a 26 gauge galvalume PBR panel from a local distributor in Bastrop. Inexpensive, it is also simply attractive - even from the bottom - as seen through the exposed framing on the overhangs. Durable with a good warranty. The panels cover 36" wide and designed the roof to be an even 20' long standard length, although most distributors will precut to custom lengths. Installation was straightforward using self-tapping screws with washers and a cordless impact driver. Butyl tape at every seam. Will keep plumbing penetrations to a minimum for less leak opportunities plus the simple shape negates potential problem areas like hips, ridges and valleys.


"Is this end the head?"

And we thought all we had to worry about was getting carried off by the giant vampire mosquitoes that have been thick since all the rain. Got a new camera today to replace the last one that cratered a few weeks back so have been a little lax in the postings. Celebrated the new pix-taking ability by promptly finding a worthy subject - a most unwelcome visitor. The good news is, yes: he is very much headless (but still moving much to Joey's concern) in the photo. A full grown near four footer and bigger around than my wrist with 7 rows of souvenir buttons. No one was hurt - other than a good spooking - and he was about as far away from the house as the property will allow. Jeree saw him first on our evening walk. She took it in stride but promptly left me to deal with him from great distances and to distract the dog. I handled him old school - really old school - caveman style. There was a handy pile of softball size rocks nearby to dispatch him with and an extra long mesquite branch to finish bashing his head flat. We had been gathering rocks and stacking them along the path to pick up later and all of our tree trimming left me with lots of long thick branches to choose from. Never considered that we were stocking an armory. The bad news is with all the rain and sudden burst of growth he may not be the last one to be hiding in the tall grass but since he is the first rattler, or even suspiciously venomous looking, snake we've seen in two years here maybe this will fulfill our quota for a while. Believe the double barreled 20 gauge may be my new "walking stick".

Have built the front porch eyebrow over the front doors on the house that will provide an extra layer of shade late in the day. Finished screwing off the metal roof - truly a thing of beauty to have done - and ready now for a good initial rain test. Still have some counter-flashing to do over the end bay windows and picked up lumber to frame most of the interior walls this coming weekend. Still deciding which direction to slope the gutter and the best spot to place the rainwater collection tank.


fall in a hurry to get here

Fall came on a Friday. When summer is over it's all over, man. We are 3 days shy of the most 100 degree days in a single year. At this rate we will have suffered through the hottest sumer since 1926 and won't even get to brag about surviving the hottest year ever. The insufferable drought is all but a memory too, we have had 6 3/4" since last Saturday. The pond that was bone dry for over a year overfloweth; a good 12' deep. The chickens are growing gills. Ah well, the change is refreshing. Of course we'd had the roofing weekend scheduled for several weeks knowing that it would eventually start raining again someday ... didn't know it would be the very day we picked up the roof. So there it sat, shedding water just like it was supposed to do - only off the bed of the trailer while the house sat nearby getting soaked - again, and again. Doesn't appear to be any water damage now that we have it mostly dried in. We've been putting up sheathing, Tyvek and metal roof in-between showers and now it looks more like a house than ever. Finally it is an opaque, 3 dimensional mass against the trees. We temped in plastic windows and clerestory this morning so work can continue inside. Will finish a few rough roof edges and hang the rain collection gutter as soon as the weather allows.

On an aside: was on the road over labor day weekend and took advantage of a TXDot Safety Rest Area near Hedley on the way home. Have visited most of the facilities and would encourage everyone to stop and see them on their travels and avoid the traditional MickeyDees or DQ pit stop. First rate facilities, regional designs, fine graphics... all around one of the few tax supported programs in the state that is highly visible, truly needed and is accessible to literally everyone.
The stop near Hedley features some sustainable features - as do many of the designs. Graphics outside the restrooms explained the water saving features of the plumbing fixtures and how holding ponds out back convert some of the grey water, runoff and roof collected water to near drinking quality for irrigation with only naturally filtering native plants. Education during your pit stop. How refreshing. Alas; I couldn't help but overhear a young father and his son at an adjacent urinal. "Daddy, it didn't flush." WATERLESS URINAL ALERT - NOTICE THAT THERE IS NO FLUSH VALVE PRESENT! PARENTS PLEASE EXPLAIN TO YOUR KIDS THAT THIS IS A PROGRESSIVE DESIGN THAT ACTUALLY DOES NOT STUPIDLY WASTE A GALLON OF WATER TO FLUSH 2 OUNCES OF YOUR CHILD'S PEE!!!! The father's response? "You're right, it must be broken." Such is the uphill battle faced by the green revolution. Decades of blissful ignorance. Sigh.



roosting roosters

the chickens have taken to roosting on the mesquite tree next to the coopdiminium to beat the evening heat - nice eye level horizontal branch to line up on to receive their petting and get a jump on the morning daylight feeding.


last rafters are up...

now that's how you go about volunteer work

log cabin notes: check
hammer: check
aluminum tags: check
stamp set: check
margarita w/ backup: check
patty griffin on the radio: check


brock cabin

The Brock log cabin sits in Lion's park at Lockhart. Built about 1850 it is a two pen / "saddlebag" configuration made from hand hewn oak logs. It has a full loft, a full width front porch, and a log framed with cedar sided addition across the back. Reportedly it is the oldest building in the county. It was moved into the park from its original location on a creek about two miles north of town as a fairly well done restoration project by volunteers in the 70's. As is pretty typical though, a portland cement mortar was used to "chink" the logs and the unforgiving nature of the mortar along with a badly leaking roof has allowed significant water damage. I believe the original configuration of the house may have been somewhat different - with possibly a fireplace at both ends - but no photos survive showing that. The one old picture we have shows siding covering the entire building, probably to protect the mud chinking, and high windows into the loft each side of the chimney. The present porch framing doesn't look quite kosher and some of the oak logs have smaller round mesquite or cedar elm logs in between them; again - probably not how it was originally. Regardless; the intent of the Caldwell County Historical commission and the Save the Cabin committee, both of which I am now a member, is to raise enough for a proper professional restoration. There is debate whether it should be relocated to a completely different site or just closer to the street for better visibility at its present location. Either way, the structure needs to be surveyed and recorded for reassembly. I volunteered to tag and number the logs; so Jeree and I and a few other committee members started that process last weekend. We've tagged approximately 60 individual logs with stamped aluminum tags held with galvanized nails for a permanent numbering system. Lots more to go. I will record the numbers in sketches using photographic reference elevations and then when the time comes to take it all apart, the builder will have a map of log locations for restacking. A fun project that hopefully will yield good results some day.

more cemetery work

The Hubbard Hill Cemetery was hit with wicked straight line winds during an isolated thunderstorm last Thursday PM. Neighbors say there has never been another wind like it. The poor oak trees around the house survived but a few were shredded to near stumps. The house escaped major damage because scaffolding surrounding the project caught all the flying branches before they got to any windows or restored wood. The old Hill's Prairie post office that the Sartains had just set on a new foundation was rudely shoved about 10' splitting the entire building open at the corners and tossing the porch another twenty feet further north. The trees on the place took the brunt of the damage though. Believe the trees may have been under stress from the drought and so were more vulnerable, the snapped branches looked an unhealthy dry yellow inside. A damned old mesquite in the cemetery shed a 6" thick branch that flew about knee high horizontally east until it met up with the freshly restored cast iron fence. Four headstones were mowed down along the way and one of the blessed little concrete finials was snapped off at the narrowest part of the base by a strategically flying branch. Two other headstones on the north side of the cemetery were blown over; they were the two tallest, flattest, and thinnest designs of the bunch. One of the headstones is of Damaris Pope and her infant child Willie, maybe the most poignant marker there. I had repaired hers for the second time just a few weeks ago after a possible unrepentant act of vandalism had knocked it over and broken it in several pieces. This time the wind blew it in the opposite direction and rebroke the epoxied fracture. Sigh. Another smaller marker of little Louie Hubbard simply toppled off the base at a weak mortar joint atop restored delaminated sandstone layers, a new dowel through the whole mess may be required to fix this one. Seems unfair somehow that the place was in such disrepair for decades and now just after a thorough restoration a freak windstorm comes along to show us who's really boss.


gazebo of junk (fun with links)

This place was ripe with trash when we started clearing nearly two years ago. The Muses had a real talent for trash generation, accumulation and redistribution. Their house had no indoor plumbing but we have discovered pieces of at least four toilets. Piles of metal roofing, all types of livestock fencing, jars and bottles of every description. Condiments and laundry products were abundant around Birdie's house. The house was waist deep in old furniture and bedsprings. Dozens of tires and unidentifiable car parts. Every place the under growth was the thickest was guaranteed to have a pile of old junk fully integrated into it acting as some kind of fertilizer. With plenty of acreage here we thought that possibly we could make some use of it all and avoid numerous trips to the landfill too. Zero waste stream responsibility - even if the waste is not ours (well ok. it is now). Since the majority of the junk is actually vintage from the 1890's up to the 1960's there is no pressing worry about sanitation, the concern is more of an aesthetic nature. However; art history shows us that any old crap in its own context can become a Nevelson, a Rauschenberg or a Duchamp. Our main inspiration is the incredible installation piece in Austin, the CATHEDRAL OF JUNK that we have visited several times. Vince Hannemann has built - over a period of more than 20 years - in his own backyard the Watts Towers equivalent of trash piles. There is no adequate explanation of how awesome it is, it must be seen to be understood. We picked a central location to the rear of the house site, a short walk from the camp site and along the perimeter trail. A grouping of mesquite trees gave us a backbone to start with. All the bedsprings from the house and miles of baling wire provided an easy to expand framework. With only the lowest-tech action of twisting wire together we have formed a three room, three door, nearly enclosed structure composed of nothing but junk. And, just like Vince told us would happen, it has morphed into a breathing organism. A truck load of additional stuff will now absorb into the density of the walls without notice. Several hundred jars and bottles, retired toys, wagon to car parts, bad ceramics, license plates, tvs, shoes, dead chainsaws, skulls and bones, lots of barbed wire and failed cemetery finials. There is a definite post-apocalyptic voodoo vibe about the place, especially the few nights we have sat inside by candle light around the dryer drum fire pit and watched the firelight flicker off of chrome, colored glass and broken mirrors.
Some strict rules have developed:
1. no imports - all that is there has come off of this place only. except for roadkill ( non-animal).
2. do not buy anything to put into the gazebo no matter how cool it would look. unless it is really cheap.
3. donations are accepted.
4. anything in the gazebo is fair game to be used in other places if a better use comes along.
5. for structural purposes, every new item added must be wired to at least two other things.
6. it will never be finished.
7. ignore rules 1 through 6 - there are no rules in art.


be it ever so humble...

Craigslist furnished our 1957 Mobile Scout home office / master bedroom suite. She was built in Arlington, Texas and it saw duty as a field office for the USDA Soil Conservation Service. We are gradually polishing the well oxidized aluminum to a semi-consistent shine but far short of an extremely labor intensive mirrored finish. Have gutted the interior (non-original particle board faux light oak garbage from the 80's) and finished it out with salvaged material from Birdie's house including bead board ceilings for the side walls, T&G fir flooring, a re-sized screen door, lots of salvaged wood and trim for bookshelves and rusted corrugated tin for the ceiling and curved end walls. Also replaced the exterior running lights, rewired for computers and satellite internet and installed new A/C on the back side. Have looked for replacement window cranks without much luck and half finished restoring other hardware but am still needing a few things. Cousin Terry, a recent overnight guest, furnished a fantastic CAD cut vinyl stencil from his Ft. Worth sign shop - Atlas Graphx - for replicating a convincingly distressed official Soil Conservation Service logo and shield on the side. I sent him art work in Illustrator that was based on the barely there ghost outlines of the original decals. Still have some painting of the tongue and frame to do outside and could use some more shade on the hot western exposure. Would like to replace the wheels with some plain painted steelies, better rubber, and half moon hubcaps. Very cozy sleeping. There have been many Netflix movie nights on the iMac, reading in the queen size bed plus me and Ian have spent (too) many hours at the computer desk in the old canned ham so she has really been a good investment.


more framing

So they say this is the hottest driest central Texas summer since the 1920's. Not that we would know any different since this is only our 2nd summer on the place so somewhat encouraging to think that maybe we haven't bought a slice of desert. Oh well; on the bright side there are no mosquitos. We have been sitting out on the floor deck after dark every night and enjoying the stars, watching for satellites, have seen the shuttle and ISS and a rare falling star all completely bug free. After huddling under the A/C until after supper we have been able to get more framing done in a couple of hours before dark. Have the south end bay window framed and started with the clerestory window across the front and a few rafters as I was anxious to see how the roof slope and overhangs will look in proportion to the rest of the house. Liking the forms, feeling the enclosed space and spotting the views out now. Joey likes to stand guard right in front of where the front sliding glass doors will be, can see now there will always be nose prints on the glass. Been fighting crooked lumber (just try and buy a decent 20' 2x8 these days without ordering $$$ no. 1 material) but with a lot more blocking and bridging plus the 1x4's across the roof it should all straighten up nicely. 


some walls are up / chicken bowling

Been triple digits over 30 days so far and not to August yet. Decked the floor framing with 3/4" T&G and quickly put down a coat of white primer to seal it up. Have started standing up 2x6 walls and are committed to generic rough openings for window and door sizes since we haven't bought the actual units yet. Will just count on having to modify a few openings depending on what we end up if it comes to that. Going as planned so far and sticking to the plans as drawn, take-offs have been mostly accurate and under budget so far; what a switch that is. As usual the bigger / smaller phenomenon has already occurred. I've noticed through the years on all construction sites that a project goes through a confusing modulating perceived sense of scale: A staked out building "feels" big. A poured slab feels small. A framed building feels big again. As drywall goes up rooms feel small but once they are floated and textured they seem big again. Finishes hopefully bring the perceived scale to the imagined design but of course any empty room with no furnishings seems big. The goal is to weather through the emotional roller coaster of questioning your sense of scale and once it is ready to move into it will feel just right. The foundation piers seemed like a bigger house was being built, the floor framing looked small but the decking painted white felt like I was building an aircraft carrier. Now that walls are going up and a vertical scale is established it is feeling cozy again, I think once the roof framing goes on it will seem big once again. It has a nice scale and presence among the trees right now though and the focused views out of window openings are nice to see.  
Joey has invented the new sport of chicken bowling. She favors the higher view that the floor deck provides her and her leaping agility gets her a running start at the chickens. When they gather into a tight feeding circle with their backs turned she goes for it full tilt, flying off the deck across the driveway to see just how hard and far she can scatter the 10 chicken pins squawking into the air. A strike every time.  


floor framing, a visitor

all blocked out and ready for decking
The house floor framing is ready to receive decking. Hot yet again; 100 in the shade. Had some friends from Houston stop by to view the place plus had an uninvited visitor early this morning.  Nearly stepped right on the well camoed fellow and had to nearly stick the dog's nose into it before she ever saw him. The pretty little hognose snake was quite the thespian: he coiled up, hissed, spit, flared his neck out like a cobra and when all hope was lost of running us off he flipped over on his back and writhed around in faux agony. I swear he even had one eye open to see if we were still around. After a performance like that we just let him be.


the colonel, earth oven pizza

104 again today, not too hot to enjoy a mesquite fired earth oven pizza though.
The Colonel takes over the adirondack chair.
Grandson Drake does a fire dance, thankfully there hasn't been a fire in there in a while. Now if we can get him to do a rain dance instead. ( Joey looks on from a safe distance.)


house progress

Managed to work around the ridiculous heat and have most of the floor framing done. Triple digits for two weeks and it's only the third week of June. We've lost all three of our turkey chicks and a chicken to the heat. The survivors seem to be doing good in the new chicken ark though. The footprint and scale of the house project has hit home and, although small, it is 4 times the size of the camper that we've lived in for a year now and looks plenty big enough for the three of us. The house will be less than 900 square feet of conditioned space. There will be an attached screened porch and front deck for extended living area and the vintage camper where I am now will still be serving permanent office and guest bedroom duties. There may be several outbuildings including the storage shed, a separate studio and shop, a storm shelter / root cellar, tree house, chicken coop, junk gazebo, etc. Anyways... The pix show a pretty straight forward frame of 2x8s and a triple 2x8 treated sill on the concrete piers. This will put the finish floor about 2 to 3 feet off the sloping ground. Floor areas are blocked out for recesses that will hold vintage bricks under the woodstove and a thicker mesquite tiled floor in the bathroom so they will be flush with all the other floors. The floor cantilevers 30" all around to a total width of 14' and about 4' out for two extended bays in the bedrooms at each end which required some perpendicular framing to handle the overhangs. The chickens and dog will have free rein of the shade under the house and the floor underside will be sealed from critters and insulated. The composting toilet system will tuck under the back side and a grey water tank, plumbing, and electrical risers will also be under there. We plan on plenty of native grasses and planting to help hide some of the foundation although the board formed concrete was an intentional added texture. I want the floating and cantilevered effect to denote how the house sits lightly on the site. Will start floor decking in a few days and may try and raise the walls and roof framing in the next couple of weeks with some bartered help.


chicken ark / coopdiminium

We've built a portable chicken tractor (I prefer the more commonly euro term chicken ark; tractor sounds a little too industrial) to house 12 chicks and 3 turkey chicks. They are about 4 weeks old and getting along smashingly. The ark is framed with 2x2's all ripped from various salvage 2x material and sheathed in salvaged corrugated tin. Our only material cost was new poultry wire and a few hinges; we had plenty of old rusty wire but this new stuff is vinyl coated in a nice dark green color that goes away visually and has fewer sharp points. Two vintage tricycle wheels
(borrowed from our junk gazebo) at one end and a handle to lift at the other provides portability. We scoot it around every other day or so once the chicks have cleaned and fertilized the 4' x 8' footprint of the enclosure. Unlike most other designs we've seen with a coop at one end, I built the coop all down one side and completely elevated to provide more ground area and plenty of shade from the central Texas sun. The ramp up the back side lets them access the coop at night. We've been having to encourage them up to the roost at sundown every night but they are catching on, and come daylight they all come parading down by themselves cheeping for food and water. A popular place seems to be the perch under the coop that also holds up the end of the ramp, they hang out up there under the shade of the house above and scope out the action below for grasshopper activity. A gate on the pen side near the coop door lets Jeree change the water and two large doors on the front gives easy access to 12 nests inside to harvest eggs once they start laying. We don't expect to keep all 12 full grown chickens as layers, they came unsexed so we're not sure yet just how many hens or roosters we've got. We'll deal with harvesting and thinning the flock in a couple of months but expect the place will be plenty big enough for 8 or so full grown birds. The turkeys are just in the ark for their protection now and will be free range soon enough, supposedly the turkeys will not tolerate the chickens when they get bigger. So far their personalities seem to be that the turkeys are more clever and adventurous than the chickens despite all the stories we hear about how stupid the turkeys are. The chickens will be free range when full grown too but just like Motel 6, we'll leave the door open for them to roost.

It's no accident that the design is very similar to our own house design with the pen on the back reflecting the screened in porch. The house shape was derived from vernacular sheds (and chicken coops) with a one way sloping roof to gather breezes and provide natural ventilation, provide shade where it is needed most and to harvest rainwater most efficiently with a single straight gutter along the back edge.