Things that work #1 - Trailer Mover - 11/30/2017
This is the first of what I hope will become a series of projects that produced a tool or process that has
worked for us. For some time I had wanted an easier way to move our two trailers around without endangering
my back or having to hook them up to one vehicle or another.
I had seen a couple of possibilities on the Internet and got some ideas then headed out to the shop.
Using an old, 1-7/8” hitch ball, some scrap steel (a piece of an old, large saw blade and a short
piece of ¾” ID steel tube), our 40-year old hand truck and here’s what I came up with.
The whole rig is based upon using that old hand truck without making any alterations to it.
The unit’s backing plate (the saw blade part) slides down over the bottom of the hand truck’s
base plate with the tube running on the top side. There is a large fender washer on a ¼” bolt that
secures the bottom of the tube with a wing nut.
1) I brazed the shaft of the ball into the end of the steel tube.
2) The backing plate was brazed onto the bottom flange of the ball, spaced out a bit more than
the thickness of the hand trucks base plate.
3) Two triangular gussets were brazed between the ball flange and backing plate to strengthen
4) I drilled a ¼” hole through the lower end of the tube, just below the lower edge of the
hand truck’s base plate.
5) The fender washer was bent and shaped to fit the side of the tube.
Here is a drawing of the unit. Hopefully it will make some sense of the above.
In use I slip the ball under and into the trailer coupler and lowering the handle of the hand truck to
raise the tongue.
I can then wheel the trailer around easily, parking it in a back corner of the garage or whatever.
I have not tried to move any really heavy loads but this unit easily handles our 150 lb. boat on its trailer.
This tool is especially handy when parking the trailers inside for the winter, stuffing one in a corner of the
storage building and kind of nesting the other tightly beside it.
HOMESTEAD - PUMP - February 27, 2017
Last week during that extended warm spell we had some days of good wind so we
could pump water with our windmill. The water is pumped into a nearby 1200 gal
tank (earth covered) and in the winter we can only pump when temps are above
freezing, and, of course, when we have a good but not gale force winds. We fill
the tank in late fall/early winter before temperatures drop and then usually a
few days during winter to top it up. This year we had ample opportunity. We
thought. So when it was both warm and windy we turned the windmill on and let it
pump for a few days. The level in the tank was down to less than 400 gals so we
were happy for the pumping weather. When we checked the water level again,
expecting to have pumped at least 200 gals, we found it had added only about 20
been here before, many, many times over our 40 years here. We knew what was
wrong, and what needed to be done. Leathers. Our pump is rather like an
oversized old fashioned
“pitcher pump” but a deep well version with leathers since our well is 105 ft deep.
We can pump it by hand but we much prefer the windmill do that job. At the
bottom of the drop pipe is a brass cylinder, and inside that runs the
leathers assembly attached to about 95 feet of 3/8” stainless steel rod in
12 ft sections. It really works very well. But we have hard water, very
tasty but full of minerals that coat the rod and eventually trickle down to
lodge in the leathers. Which spreads them out, wears them out, and can jamb
up the whole business. In this case, the main leather had worn through and
the water was simply not being pumped up to go into our tank.
In our early years we had a regular steel drop rod which would corrode and
add its own supply of sediment. Back then we had to pull the rod and replace
the leathers many times a year. We got very good at it, and quite tired of
the job, especially when it happed in the winter. Eventually we installed
stainless steel drop rod, much heavier but much “cleaner”. And Steve figured
out the best configuration for the leathers. Now we’re down to pulling,
cleaning, changing leathers (and connectors which wear down against the well
pipe) about once every five years. It had been six years since the last
time. And it was obvious if we wanted to pump water now we had to pull the
rod. This is done by hand. Our hands. And we much prefer to do it in the
warmer months. We could moderate our water use and probably get by until
spring. Or we could do it now. And we had this two day window of relatively
warm weather to do it in.
wanted plenty of water; we didn’t want to have to stint. So...we pulled. And
we discovered that the stainless steel drop rod had not gotten any lighter
over the last six years. And getting the pieces apart hadn’t gotten any
easier. So as we pulled up and disassembled the rod, piece by piece, we
discussed that we really needed to find a way to make this job easier. But
soon (relatively) it was done. The 95 feet of rod was piled up in 12 ft
pieces against the side of the windmill tower.
Now we had years earlier scrounged all the local supply of leathers and
finally ordered online some that were close in size. The best we could do.
So Steve modifies them to fit. That was fine; we had some on hand. When we
pulled the rod we discovered that the connectors were badly worn and had to
be replaced. Unfortunately, we didn’t have those on hand but we hoped to get
(Manistique), or at least in Escanaba. It was getting late but there was
still time to get in town so we
went inside and starting calling. First Hoholik’s in Manistique. They kindly
went and checked. Yes, they
had some in our size - hurray! -- 4 of them. Oh. We needed 8. No way around
it. So we called all around Escanaba. Nothing. Simple common rod end
connectors but not common in our size. One place said they might be able to
get an order in yet that day and they’d arrive the next day. Maybe. We would
simply have to
wait until the truck came in to see if they came in. We ordered.
So the next day, a beautiful warm day, we simply had to wait. Well, not
exactly ‘just wait’. Steve went
to work on the leathers while I cleaned up the drop rod. The phone call did
finally come. The connectors were on the truck and we had just enough time
to get to Escanaba to pick them up . But not enough time to get home before
dark. The weather forecast was iffy for the following day but nothing to be
done but hope for at least above freezing temps for the hands that had to
hold that drop rod as it went back down the pipe, piece by piece, with the
fresh new connectors holding it all together.
it was indeed above freezing, and a simply beautiful day with the sun poking
through the clouds now and then to cheer us on. The gods do smile down on we
homesteaders more often than we remember sometimes! Steve arranged a block
and tackle up in the windmill tower to help us lower the last, heavy (since
you’re now holding the previous 60 feet of rod), pieces so it was
stress-free and quite pleasant. We enjoyed being outside, working together
on a homestead project that we’d done so many times before. We knew the
drill. And we were confident it would work. Well, fairly confident...
was together, the pump rod down, the pump back on, the tools gathered, the
windmill rod connected. There was a real nice breeze; it was still above
freezing. We let it pump. Steve opened the faucet on the side of the pump.
Water!! He closed it and I ran up to the top of the tank and put my ear to
the small opening we have into the tank (to measure the water level)......ker
splash, ker splash, ker splash. Ahhhhh, what a wonderful sound, water
splashing into the tank. It pumped all evening. And the next day. And I
measured almost 700 gals of water in the tank before the temperature and the
wind dropped. Life is good. We have water. And we are full of appreciation.
Homestead Electronics -- PanelCam: Installment #1 -- 12/27/2016
One of the realities of powering our homestead in the north-woods with power from the sun is that in the
winter there will be
times when the solar array is covered with snow. Even a light dusting can make a significant reduction in power production.
An inch of snow will effectively shut the panels off.
The obvious solution is to hike on out to where you can see the panels – they are about 400 feet from the house –
and if they are snow-covered gently scrape them clear with our handy-dandy long handled, foam-edged panel scraper.
Often, however, we get out where we can see the face of the array only to find that they are clear. Not a big thing,
really, just a brief snowshoe hike for the exercise.
This is all setting the scene for my current project: a Wi-Fi camera mounted out in the garden area, facing the array.
The camera will, upon request, fire up and transmit a nice clear image of the panels back to any device hooked up to
our home network.
Bill of materials (Specifications):
- Outdoor Wi-Fi Video Camera - (9 – 12 Volts DC powered, removable antenna)
- Wi-Fi Range Extender - (DC powered, removable antenna)
- “Cantenna” Wi-Fi Directional Antenna – (Homemade, increases signal ~12 dB (~400%))
- DC to DC Power supplies for both camera and extender
- Small Lead-Acid Battery to run the camera
- Two Arduinos with Wi-Fi units configured to turn camera on/off to save battery power
- Low-loss antenna cable & misc. wiring for powering all units
Are we done yet? Actually, all these items are readily available on-line and not terribly expensive.
The Cantenna’s main component is a tin can about 3-1/2” in diameter and 6” tall (empty).
The parts are ordered, except for the ‘can’, and the fun will begin soon.
To be continued!
Homestead Electronics -- PanelCam: Installment #2 -- 2/7/2017
Well, the 'Array-Cam' is finally up and running. Click a
switch, push a button and check the snow conditions out on the solar array
on a computer or tablet "...in the comfort of your own home". Of course,
many days we get to hike out and clear the snow off the panels but mostly
is just fun to see what's happening out there. The photos below are:
Antennas mounted on the house roof, Camera box and its solar panel, Front
and back of the camera switch circuit board and finally, the view from the
(February 19, 2017 Update)
I have including details of this project including a few more photos and
Arduino microcontroller code on a new web page. Click for the complete
Homestead Electronics – Arduino - 12-5-2016
And you thought that I hibernated all winter! I have been amusing myself this fall/winter by
designing and building small electronic gizmos based upon Arduino
microcontrollers. This all started, as many homestead projects do, with
being frustrated by the fact that neither our solar charge controller nor
inverter can handle diversion loads.
There are many times, in all seasons, when the sun is out bright and the
batteries are fully charged. Sometime this happens early in the day and
the potential energy from the solar panels for the rest of the day is
just wasted. The charge controller sees that the batteries are full and
says, "I'll do my job of protecting the batteries from overcharge by
reducing the power I'm sending to them".
If we are around and
notice that the controller has been in float mode a while, we can
manually turn on a one or two circuits that power electric heating
panels. This has the potential to reduce the amount of firewood we burn
- a good thing.
So, back to the electronic things. I am
designing a pair of circuits that sense battery voltage and charge
current and some software that runs on an Arduino that will turn on/off
relays that control those two heating panel circuits. I think I forgot
to mention that I have not always had a lot of luck with electronic
stuff. I have smoked many a home-made device. I figured that with that
background I’d start with something a little simpler; an Arduino-operated
greenhouse fan controller. This sort of thing is commonly known as a
‘thermostat’. Wheel reinvented!
Here’s what the fan controller
looks like inside…
All kinds of fun components and wires seemingly running everywhere! By
the way, it works just fine. The display shows the current temperature
as well as upper and lower set-points, which are adjustable. The unit
has been working well for a few weeks now. No smoke at all!
on the main project as it evolves… Steve.
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© by Susan Robishaw and Stephen Schmeck