Thursday, September 23, 2010

Headline: TVA Lowers Lakes, Tom Scrapes Yard

Glancing through the paper the other day, a filler article reminded me that TVA would lower water levels in different reservoirs on the Tennessee River after Labor Day to accommodate winter and spring flooding. The information in itself was nothing new because they’ve always done that since most people around here consider Labor Day the end of boating season. “Flooding”, though, got my attention.

Looking out the kitchen window, I remembered when this idyllic scene:

Looked even worse than this:

Starting early last year, Alabama has been getting more rain in every season for the first time since we added onto the house around three years earlier. Until early last year, I had not realized how much the house’s addition changed the rain’s existing drain path. Previously, the backyard drained down either side of the house without issue. Between the Big Tub addition and subsequent grading, the bulk of the water is now directed to the Shop side of the house.

The problem was that the runoff was accumulating near the Shop instead of draining on to the side yard. At one point, the water got so deep close to the house that it overflowed the retaining wall protecting the under-house access door, and flooded the house’s ductwork. In another prolonged monsoon, water got so high around one of the Shop’s big doors that the shop flooded. Standing out in several of the rains trying to figure out a solution did nothing more than get me wet. It was time to survey the yard’s elevation.

After laying out a grid of yellow dots in the yard spaced at two-foot intervals, Daniel and I spent some quality time surveying & recording each dot’s elevation. The transit’s relative numbers were then crunched into absolute elevations relative to the fence gate’s drain point (to Daniel’s right in the image above).

Now that I knew where to look for high spots, it was easy to see why water was not draining. To correct it, though, a wide, shallow swathe of topsoil needed to be scratched off. I thought about renting a Bobcat & doing the work myself. But since I wanted it to look good, a landscaping company, found in the Yellow Pages, was asked to come out & take a look.

“L.A.” showed up a day or two later and patiently listened as I waved my arms and talked about Daniel & me shooting elevations. Then I patiently listened after he said “sure – no problem. But…” and went on to try & talk me into a French drain installed across the half-acre backyard. When he saw I was not biting, he then tried to talk me into an outdoor patio kitchen complete with a sink & running water. After sensing no enthusiasm on my part and seeing Cookie run across the yard with her ball, he outlined plans for a glorious koi pond complete with waterfall, “the dog will love it!”

He ended up spending almost two hours at the house suggesting all sorts of supplemental work before we agreed that all he was to do on this visit was to move dirt around while not disturbing my Victory Garden. At one point, I wished I’d just decided to do the work myself. But after watching how much handwork they put into the job, I was happy it was them sweating, and not me.

To their credit, L.A. & crew ran water in all the scraped areas to make sure better drainage paths had been formed.

Cookie enjoyed the king size bed feeling of all the new straw.

While it had not rained in the days prior to the guys coming over, it rained right after they left, and I ended up doing a little shoveling of my own the next day to correct some minor problem areas. Getting grass to grow was now the priority especially before the next rain. The problem was that just about every day has had a temperature of ninety-something degrees, and grass seed requires a much lower temperature in which to germinate.

L.A. had thrown out some generic grass seed before he left, and a lot of it washed out of position during that first night’s rain. Having heard that Pennington Seed’s “Dense Shade Mix” actually grows in dense shade, I bought a bag of it for the shaded areas, a bag of Kentucky-31 fescue for the open areas, and a couple bales of straw to re-seed & re-straw the effort.

Remember the Victory Garden? At first, I thought it was a cucumber plant. Then the fruit started growing in the shape of a watermelon. After a week or so of daily watering to get the grass to grow, then skins of the two remaining fruits started striating like they were going to split. But they didn’t.

Unfortunately, a day or two later, worm holes were found on both fruits. Cutting one open, it appeared to be some sort of melon even though it smelled like a cucumber.

Maybe the bird that left the seed will leave a genus-species tag next time.

Several yards of really good topsoil had to be removed from the flood plain, and I asked L.A. to spread it in two different places where I was having trouble growing grass due to substandard soil. After over a week of daily watering, the good soil spread on the west side of the house has yet to yield a single blade of grass. It’s just too hot, and most of that area is in full sun.

The east side of the lot, though, got covered with much of the first scrape of established grass, and looks pretty good.

In spite of how hot it has been, there is a decent amount of grass growing near the house

…and downstream of the Shop’s big doors.

Between the extra helping of straw and the grass that has grown, the scraped area should be able to handle a gentle rain.

The almanac says summer officially ended yesterday. Today’s high was 94. But, as Yogi would say, “It’s not over till it’s over”. My yard’s ready for cooler weather, though.

I’m glad we’re headed to Disney World next week to give me a break from agitating over growing grass. But if nothing else, I hope I’m now done with standing in the rain watching everything flood.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

I love the smell of rubber in the mornin'

Well, that's not exactly what Robert Duvall said, but it's close.

The Mighty Suburban got new Michelins today in preparation of the Disney World trip scheduled for less than two weeks away. As I did before the last set of new tires seven years ago, the appliance-white wheels were repainted.

We be ready now.

Oddly, I really do like the smell of new rubber.

Disney: Here we come!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Smoky Mountains

We spent Labor Day weekend enjoying the Smoky Mountains around Townsend, Tennessee. If I had a Lumex something something 10 camera like my buddy Frank, I probably could have shared a more breath-taking image of the surroundings. But you can get the idea from this one:

Since we were scheduled to hit the campground around supper time, Kim and Jared spent the evening before we left cooking the meat for the evening’s meal beef tacos.

I’m sure the Townsend KOA will win the President’s Award for 2010 when the votes are counted. The place was staffed by friendly people, and was incredibly clean, and well maintained.

In what I thought was a nice gesture, they gave us two bags of popcorn after we checked in. Unfortunately, our Airstream does not have a microwave, and since the bags had no oven directions we opted to bring them home with us.

Our campsite was great in that it had, I believe, the biggest concrete patio area we have ever had. As an added bonus it was only two sites away from both the playground and a bathhouse.

Jared got some serious use out of the playground. The Monkey Bars and Log Roll were particular hits this trip.

We spent part of one day doing touristy stuff taking in the natural beauty of the area. We even saw a black bear at one point.

The bear impressed Daniel until I told him it was a ringer hired by the Park Service to wander around and pose for people like us. He thought about it for a split-second before saying, “Daaad!” Then we all had a good laugh.

There was a creek running behind the campground complete with tadpoles.

Daniel preferred the wonder of electronic games.

The pool was great. It reminded me of when I was in the Swim Club, though, because the water was colder than no one’s business. But the Boyz seemed to enjoy it.

Kim enjoyed catching up on her reading while the Boyz swam.

While there were people out tubing on the creek, we decided they were hardier souls than us because the weather that weekend had been unusually cool at night, and the water seemed to mirror the mid-forty degree temperature my thermometer read the next morning. Since the Boyz still remembered tubing on a different river last year we didn’t feel we were robbing them of a new experience.

We had Tom’s famous chicken roll-ups the night before we left.

It was a great vacation capped with an uneventful ride home. I could wrap it up with that, but I’m sure my Aunt Shirley would be distressed if I were to not give the Burb Report.

You may recall that I’ve had several air conditioning issues lately. Fortunately, the Mighty Suburban’s air conditioner held up during the trip, and still appears to be doing well. I did have something else odd happen with the antique truck that put us on alert for a mile or so. Even as old as it is, the truck’s gas tank has a check-valve to let air in, but keep fumes from getting out. Most of the time, the check-valve does not work because gas can be smelt on occasion when walking near the tank. On long hot trips towing the Airstream, the incredible heat generated by the big engine is strong enough to heat the tank and force the check-valve closed as evidenced by the fill-cap being under pressure when we pull into gas stations. Up till now the annoyance of an occasional whiff of gas has not out-weighed the incredible amount of work required to replace the check-valve.

On the way to Townsend, the weather was in the nineties until we drove into a tremendous downpour. It rained so hard we had to slow down to 45 mph or so for a time. It had been raining for around five minutes when I remarked to Kim that the rain was nice in that it cooled the floor down. A few minutes later, we were within sight of our exit when the Mighty Burb started having trouble. “Fuel issue” popped into my head. I didn’t think it was the fuel pump, though, because we were on relatively level ground and the position of the gas pedal did not seem to influence the issue. As I was sorting the clues, I remembered when my best friend from high school and I would take the Geek Boat out (the name is another story). We had to run on portable, marine fuel cells because the onboard fuel cell rusted out years ago. Invariably, we would launch the boat, fire up the Mercury 80-hp outboard, and blast off only to have the engine sputter & quit after less than a minute of enjoyment. We had forgotten to open the fuel cell vent.

The Burb was acting the same way. But by the time we got off the interstate, the problem cleared itself. But I went ahead and topped-off the over-half-full tank & checked under the hood at the closest gas station. I think the truck’s check-valve stuck shut under the heat load, and the rapid cooling of the tank by the rain created a vacuum which prevented the pump from supplying fuel to the motor. Regardless, we continued the trip without further mechanical incident. “Ride quality”, on the other hand, plagued us the entire way there.

Near the end of last camping season, the Suburban’s steering was acting funny enough for me to take the truck to the tire shop who installed the tires seven years ago. Since the front tires were found to be cupped, I had the guys balance & rotate all four tires in addition to aligning the front end. Other than the cupped tires making more road noise in their new location, the problem was fixed. I later replaced all four shock absorbers.

Over this summer’s course of camping, all had been well until returning from our trip to Stone Mountain a low speed vibration was noticed. Since the tire shop had warned me cupped tires would need more frequent balancing as the cupping wore, so I was not overly concerned.

Leaving the tire shop, while everything was better, unfortunately it was not totally fixed. Knowing the root cause was cupped tires, I continued on home. As I was still in the process of validating the latest air conditioning repair, enough miles were accrued at various speeds without incident to make me think the Mighty Burb was ready for the Smoky Mountain trip - even with nine ounces (over a half-pound) lead weights on the LR wheel.

Unfortunately, due to the weight distributing hitch, the Suburban rides differently with the Airstream in tow, and a vibration showed up at 65 mph – our normal cruising speed. I think the issue bothered Daniel the most because he was in charge of constantly adjusting the camping gear stowed in the back of the truck to keep it from rattling. Before we left the campground, the wheel-of-many-weights was swapped with the spare tire, and we were able to return home with no additional wear & tear on Number 1 son.

I took the wheel back to the tire shop hoping their balancing machine had just had a bad day on the last visit. No such luck – I was standing at the machine when it read out “0.0 ounce needed”. Oh for the days when tire shaving (or “truing”) was common. I called around and could find no one who still had that equipment.

We’ve got a trip planned to Disney World at the start of next month, and the tires will have to be replaced before then instead of at the start of next camping season like I had hoped for. Maybe Michelin will hear about this and send me new tires as a goodwill gesture…