Saturday, October 19, 2013

Lookie, Lookie, Lookie…

For a variety of reasons, I do my own home pest control.  Usually, all this entails is spraying the kitchen baseboards at the beginning of summer with ant killer, and crawling around under the house every year or so with a garden hose hooked to an insecticide sprayer dispensing joy to all the stuff I’d rather not have living under there.

This summer was different. While moving something around out in my Shop, I found evidence of a dormant termite path.  It surprised me because I had had the ground under the monolithic slab treated with phenomenal amount of termiticide before the concrete was poured, and there is a termite shield bridging the gap between the foundation block & veneer brick.  Since I was not there the morning the brick layers started laying the Shop’s veneer brick, I must assume there is a disconnect somewhere with the termite shield.

Long ago, just before we purchased our house, we were told the garage had once been treated for termites but all was well now.  Out of curiosity, I followed up on termite treatment methods, and found the most effective method of preventing/treating termites is drilling through the veneer brick’s mortar, and injecting the space between the brick and foundation block with a prescribed amount of termiticide.  Although our house had this treatment, neither the addition we added later nor the detached Shop had.  It was clearly time to do it.

Due to the sheer volume of termiticide that was going to be required, a 35 gallon mix tank was purchased from Tractor Supply to dilute the many gallons of concentrate needed for the effort.  Since it needed to be portable, but was too big to fit in the wheel barrow, the wheel barrow was modified.

But on a wet run with the tank filled with just water, the ~280 pounds was found to be too much weight to safely push around.  Fortunately, since there’s been no rain lately my truck was able to stand in for the effort.

While the Internet listed many suppliers of store-bought termiticide injectors, everyone wanted a surprising amount of money for the simple device.  It is times like these I am happy for my coffee cans full of spare parts.

After a couple of setbacks, the Termiticide Station was finally ready for prime time.  The delivery pump for this effort is the original PAR water pump out of my ’67 Airstream.  While it works okay, because it leaks it was mounted over a drip pan.  The pump runs off of 12 VDC.  If I had had a spare trailer electrical plug lying around, the pump could have been easily powered off of the Silverado.  But since I didn’t, the Airstream’s original Univolt, hooked to an extension cord, was used instead.

To access the areas of interest a ¼” hole was drilled every two to three feet with a masonry bit attached to a hammer drill.  In my case this worked out to every fourth brick.

While the main house already had the holes, many of them were now found to be plugged with mud dauber nests.  Fortunately, it was easy enough to poke the holes open with a metal rod.

During the wet run, the pump’s flow rate was determined with a kitchen timer and a one-gallon milk jug.  So, after the holes were drilled, each opening was injected with a timed amount of termiticide which corresponded to quantity guidelines established by the Ag department of the University of Nebraska.

The effort finished up early enough in the day that Kim did not mind reminding me about how many cockroaches she had noticed lately scurrying for cover every time she turned the lights on at night in the garage where she parks.  Cave crickets appeared to be making a comeback, too.  She thought the roaches were living in the woodpile, and I figured the crickets were hiding out under the water heaters where they did last time.

So everything within reason was pulled away from the walls so that the perimeter could be swept & sprayed.  For this effort, I used the same stuff I use under the house.  A respirator has to be used due to the chemical’s choking odor.


That evening, I went out to the garage and found at least 20 dead or twitching cockroaches spread out across the entire floor.  The carnage was swept up the next morning after the floor dried, and Kim had a chance to see the bugocide.

Like the Christmas decorations that get pulled out once a year, the mix tank & injector now quietly wait on a shelf in the garage for their next use.

Hopefully, it will not be anytime soon.


Friday, September 13, 2013

Humpty Deere Had a Great Fall

The other day, I had just popped the hood open on my riding mower to check the oil when my wife came out to ask something. After no more than a sentence or two, there was a sick-sounding noise followed by the John Deere’s plastic hood cracking into pieces on the concrete floor.

The King's Men scooped up the mess for a repair trip to my shop.

It appeared the hood’s left-hand pivot point had failed.

The other side’s pivot point had been repaired about three years ago and was still in good shape.

The root problem is that the 18 year-old plastic is getting brittle. In fact, it appears to be more brittle now than it was during the last repair. At ~$600, a new hood is out of the question.

To kick off the repair, the broken pivot piece was Superglued in place before damming off the general area with RV putty in order to really pack in a lot of resin and Fiberglas. The front part of the side above the pivot was strengthened with more glas & resin at the same time.

Repairs to the top of the hood were made in a similar fashion. Due to the number of small pieces, the joints were sealed with masking tape to keep the resin from seeping out.

A lot of Natty Lite was required due to the number of sloped surfaces.

Due to the scope of the repair, the grass had to be cut once without the hood. I don’t normally wear hearing protection while cutting grass. An exception was made in this case because the engine is really LOUD without a hood. My neighbor even noticed the extra noise.

Small holes were drilled in some of the plastic pieces to afford the resin anchor points. For whatever reason, the resin did not seep into all the holes and joints as much as I wanted it to. So a syringe full of resin, minus needle, was used to fill in irregularities.

While this was never planned to be an undetectable repair, the really rough-looking areas were sanded down a bit. I did skip the Bondo, though.

After being sprayed with a half-can of paint, the hood turned out looking okay.

The yard has been cut a few times since the repair, and the hood seems to be holding up well. I even checked the oil … once. Hopefully this will be the last hood repair I ever do on the mower.


Saturday, July 27, 2013

Recalibrating the Presto Electric Skillet

While cooking any given meal in a cast iron skillet is my usual preference, I have found that an electric skillet does a fine job of cooking pancakes & hoecakes.  Not just any ole electric skillet, though – it HAS to have a bare-metal surface because the Teflon® coated versions tend to produce a leathery-skinned product.  Since non-Teflon® coated electric skillets are a scarcity nowadays, I was thrilled to find an antique one during a trip to Branson Missouri last year to keep in the Airstream so that the house’s skillet did not have to be loaded for every trip.  But after the last camping trip, I finally decided that the skillet just was not getting hot enough - it was time to recalibrate the skillet’s thermostat.

After opening up the thermostat to locate the calibration screw, I noticed the cover had a removable plug directly over the screw.  That’s something you don’t see on newer models.

So after removing the plug & reassembling the thermostat, the skillet was set up in my shop with an 1/8-inch of peanut oil, a timer, and a temperature probe.  Sure enough, after about five minutes, the skillet cycled off after only reaching 370 degrees instead of the dialed-in 400 degrees.

While hanging out & drinking beer, the thermostat’s screw was gently tweaked until the skillet heated to the requested temperature.

I managed to stretch it in to almost a three beer project.  Of note, the thermostat appears to be designed for a 25 degree differential (the temp difference between cycling ON & OFF).

What an improvement!  The hoecakes cooked that night came out great in a short amount of time, and went well with the pork chops.

It looks like we are going to have perfect pancakes & hash browns on our upcoming trip to Topsail Hill in Florida.  I can hardly wait!

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Cinder Block BBQ Pit Smoker

One thing I have always wanted to experiment with has been BBQing food in a block pit smoker.  Since my last yard task entailed re-stacking all the concrete block in my brick pile, I decided to seize the opportunity, and restack the block without mortar in the shape of a smoker.

The cool thing was that the project cost nothing out-of-pocket – The brick lintel was left over from building my shop, and the cooking grate was borrowed from my Brinkmann smoker.  The grate is supported on a couple pieces of flat steel fished out of my metal bin.  The stainless steel lid was originally one side if a stove we used to have and the log grate was borrowed from the house’s fireplace.  Its location at the corner of our lot kept it from detracting from the house.

With a cooking temperature between 250 & 275 degrees, the pit did an outstanding job of smoking thighs & kielbasa.

In another experiment for that night’s meal, I made a loaf of bread with French’s® French Fried Onions as the secret ingredient.

While the bread had a good flavor, the size of the onion pieces made it kind of chunky.  Fortunately, the BBQ stood well on its own.

The only problem with the smoker was the small size of the cooking surface.  It was obvious that fitting slabs of ribs on it was going to be just as problematic as it was on my Brinkmann smoker from which the small grate had been borrowed.

Although the flavor always turned out well, I would rather the ribs lay out straight & horizontal.

Since I wanted to get better at both ribs, and cooking with hickory over a block pit, the pit was re-stacked to be a half-block wider.

This yielded a cooking area measuring 16” X 24”

A pork butt was chosen for the inaugural meal because I want to get better at controlling the non-charcoal fire before trying ribs.

Another improvement was adding a thermometer to the middle of the lid to make it easier to monitor the smoke’s temperature.

While I’ve still got a lot to learn about ‘caveman cooking’, it has been a lot of fun so far.


Friday, June 14, 2013

Family Trip to Washington D.C.

For our big vacation trip of 2013, we hitched up the Airstream and, over the course of two days, drove to a campground in College Park, Maryland where the Overlander was parked for a week while we took in the sites & museums of the D.C. area.

The campground was nice that, in addition to two pools, it had bus service to D.C.’s subway system.  This trip marked a first in that this was the first time Jared, Daniel or I had ever negotiated a subway system.  The Metrorail was old hat to Kim because she used to travel to Maryland on business all the time.

The Air and Space Museum is almost mind boggling with the amount of stuff it has.  It was great finally seeing a lot of stuff that I had, in the past, read, “…and it now resides in Smithsonian Institution”.

The interactive displays were neat -Everyone appeared to get something out of them.

We drove the truck back & forth to the campground’s bus stop every day.  While the truck cannot hold as much stuff as the Suburban, it did do a good job of keeping the dirty clothes basket out of the Airstream.  But at one point, the basket got so heavy that we just decided it could ride shotgun while I chauffeured everyone.

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue:  If you look closely in the window above the door, you can see the President waving at us.

Visiting Arlington Cemetery certainly put a perspective on how many American lives have been lost in war.

While we were hoping to see the changing of the guard at the tomb of the Unknowns, there was apparently another event happening there at the same time, and due to the sheer number of people, we could not get close enough to see anything.

Through Kim’s careful pre-planning, we got to meet Mo Brooks, one of our Representatives.

His Interns then took us on a tour of the Capitol.

We had lunch at whatever was convenient to the day’s activities.  Breakfast was enjoyed at the Airstream as well as supper on most nights.  The little Weber grill purchased for the Florida Keys trip has turned out to work well when it is just the four of us.

While I have seen countless pictures of the Lincoln Memorial, it is a wholly new experience to see it in real life.


The Natural History Museum was great.  I was impressed at how friendly some of the exhibits were.

Since I am somewhat of a minor league WWII naval history buff, I thought the WWII memorial’s layout was neat.

Both the Vietnam and Korean War Veterans Memorials were other sobering reminders of the human cost of war.

I really wish we had been able to tour the Washington Monument.  But it is still closed for earthquake repairs.

The morning of our final day found us at the B&O Railroad Museum in Baltimore.  I love steam locomotives, and this museum did not disappoint.  The HO scale model train layout was a pleasant surprise – It was extremely well done.

The museum also had a kiddie train ride through the land of Choo Choo Blueville that Jared probably would have enjoyed had the ride not been closed due to rain.

But the rain did not hamper one of my personal highlights of this vacation – I got to meet professional Airstream Restorer Frank Yensan whom I have known via Internet forums and phone conversations for years, but had never met in person.

Frank motored down in bad weather to sit under my Overlander’s awning, and talk shop & drink beer with me.  He’s a super talented person.

But all great trips must come to an end, and breaking camp started after Saturday’s breakfast.  While the overall trip had been great, we had a little black ant problem the first couple of days which surprised me because I had sprayed the entire trailer at the start of warm weather this year.  I ended up having to spray bug spray inside the fridge/stove countertop cabinet (I usually only spray at floor level) to resolve the issue.

I think I found the ant’s nest just before we left town – While winding up the power cord, ants came swarming out of the electrical connector.

Actually, they only swarmed in the time it took me to retrieve the Raid.  After that the ants immediately became a study in still life.

The weather was beautiful at our Wytheville, Virginia layover stop.  It was perfect for drying the previous day’s rain off of the awning.

We left really early the next morning, and made it home before lunch.

It was a fantastic trip, and undeniably one of our best-ever vacations.