Friday, December 31, 2010

A year gone wonderfully by

We finished up our Valentine remote power installation Wednesday night. I was a little surprised that we used 700 feet of 3-conductor wire, but I was just doing a little research and the average home uses thousands of feet of wire.  I guess I just had not kept track until now. I have lots of photos to post, I'm just several miles away from the files. We were glad to be back home catching up on our other jobs and chores.

Everyone should expect another year of interesting projects and hopefully more videos with our neglected Canon HF-10.  We are getting a better set up and getting more reliable computer equipment in the upcoming weeks. We wish you all an excellent New Year!


Sunday, December 26, 2010

New Advancements in Chicken Ranching Technology!

We put some of the finishing touches on the new coop today, which meant we were finally able to transfer the chickens. Chicken Transfer We were also able to hook up version 1.0 of our Chicken Guzzler.  This waterer fills automatically from a 100 gallon reservoir.  When the rains come again, the reservoir will be fed directly off the coop roof. Viola! Self watering chickens (part of the year)!

Chicken watererWe are going to complete our Valentine solar power / house wiring job tomorrow.  This time Sara, Sprocket, and I will be going together, so staying in touch with each other should be easier. 

That's all for now; see y'all on the flip side!

Friday, December 24, 2010


Sara and I have been having an enjoyable, productive holiday. Many of our projects are getting wrapped-up, and new ones are beginning. One accomplishment that has yet to continue to move forward is an invention I call a Fire Safety Switch (FSS) - something I developed over 6 years ago. It's a smoke and heat sensor that cuts the power to anything you would like, if smoke or excessive heat is detected. Turning of a malfunctioning device early can often prevent fires and even death.

I feel it's the best thing since the sprinkler, but I may be biased.

So I have a reliable working prototype, but that's were the progress stopped. I have yet to pitch my idea to any company, and they are not even interested without a patent(s). So I am stuck -- I have attempted the patent process many times. I am even in the middle of a provisional patent application that does not seem to end. My though process seems to be limited to Research - Design - Build. I have a YouTube video demonstration of my idea, and I am hoping that maybe the right person will watch it.

Well enough of that I hope everyone has a great Christmas and holidays and don't use faulty lights. 

Monday, December 20, 2010

Flew the Coop

Coop RoofCasey, Arick, and I have been working together on "the farm", as Casey calls it.  The project this weekend was moving the chicken coop from one end of the property to another.
Relocated Coop
There are also some design improvements on the nesting boxes in the form of poured adobe walls.

 Nesting Boxes Poured Forms

A great deal of our fiberglass insulation has been installed, but the nights have been quite warm lately (not even 40 degrees F).

It is so dry here right now, we're all getting colds, sniffles, sore throats, and such. But we are all having great winter and a fun holiday with our friends.


Monday, December 13, 2010

Friday, December 10, 2010

Remote power success

Our most remote photovoltaic install to date was a success. We made quick friends with rancher Jim White, who has a wide variety of skill sets including a thorough understanding of plumbing (cows have to drink too).

The 1890 adobe was very comfortable, and the attic space was a lifesaver for running wires (though extremely dusty). The home did not have one ounce of wiring, so much of the time was spent adding lighting and outlets. This was our first time using a MPPT controller and boy was it worth every penny.  We wired the KW array for 80 volts at about 15 Amps, and we were able to get the most out of the Sharp 170s.

We will be going back to install the inverter, water pump and more lighting in the next few weeks.

Sorry to anyone who was worried about us -- cell service was an hour drive, so we stayed put and worked from dawn to dark for three days to get the job done. But we definitely need to get a portable satellite phone from Big Canyon TV in Alpine. Sara and I were very glad to see each other again, and next time we'll make the trip together.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The other nowhere

Our Valentine solar install is finally happening. Arick and I are headed out on Monday.  We will try to bring everything possible, as Valentine is a four-hour drive. I think it will be good because it is predominantly a DC installation, and uses a MPPT controller. We'll be sure to post some pictures. We are going to pour our remaining bathroom knee walls Saturday morning.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thankful for Family

I hope our friends and family are having a pleasant holiday. We are, and here it seems to be very busy on the ranch. We even had to go attend to several auto break downs, all of which were electrical.That electric bike we took in for repair had a failed solder joint, we re-soldered it and added some silicone glue to act as a stress relief.

Elecric Bike Swich

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Transmission impossible

Lately I have been repairing things for myself and others. I made our slightly-used air compressor work, after some fresh oil and a carburetor rebuild.  Now we have compressed air which makes my air tools happy.  Air
Today I planned on doing a transmission R&R in a 95 one-ton Ford for a mechanic friend of mine, but when it came time to put the new transmission in, we found out that the other trans was just a tad different. So there was no way it was going fit. Luckily we found this out after only trying for a half-hour.

I've had a few repairs dropped off and one of the more interesting ones was an electric bicycle which has a main power switch problem. Bicycle
These have come a long way and have a 10-50 mile range.  In two years expect 100+ mile ranges.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Disembodied heads

Not much going on here.  Everyone is doing well, humans, canines, and birds.  Lots of wasps lately, but now that we have screened windows, it's a lot easier to deal with them than it was this time last year!


Friday, November 19, 2010

Sprocket Returns!

Sprocket finally came home last night, at about midnight.  We are very happy to have our family unit restored.  He was covered in thorns, but otherwise fine.

Thursday, November 18, 2010


Casey found a flashlight in his truck.  Well, not in his truck cab, but in his truck's left front spring.  Apparently that was one of the noises we had been hearing in the suspension.  He found it when he replaced the wheel bearing today.  And yes, it still works -- it took quite a beating.


We skipped pot luck this month because I have a cold, but I smelled
Dori's chili cooking in the office today, and I'm sure everyone went
home with a full belly.
Also, Sprocket is missing.  We left him home to go feed the neighbor's dogs, and when we got back he wasn't around.  We have been calling him now for a while, and still no dog.  We'll go out and look for him after this post goes up.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Communications though outer space

Thumbnail image for IMG_0818.JPG
We have been running our satellite phone/Internet alot lately, well because its necessary to communicate. One dilemma is it has had trouble starting in the cold mooring (for me 40 deg f should not bother anything) in technical terms "the dog is not locking in on the bird" . So are good friend Danny from big bend tel came by, he had some novel advice "leave the phone on". As some of you out there already know we would love to, but our power system which does everything we need to do, does not completely power the 2kwh a day satellite. BBT is getting a 24 volt updated sat board for us to try soon So we are trying to work with big bent tel to do a 24 volt satellite only power system with our 100% free labor and as many parts as we can afford to donate. We are also going to try to work on some power management for the beast, the first steep of course is direct DC power.
So are friends, family and fans of this site will be happy we are improving our communications as soon as possible, or in west Texas time the next several months.  

Monday, November 15, 2010


Did the body bushings on our truck, the originals (pictured right) were no longer isolating the cab from the frame. Cab Bushing

I also replaced a faulty water pump and while I was at it I changed the timing belt.

Ford OHC

Friday, November 12, 2010

Looking back

Removed the bathroom wall forms today and the walls turned out great. Spent the rest of the day working online and refurbishing my truck. My truck project turned out to be a can of worms-- I thought it'd be a simple body mount replacement, but Ford's press-fit sleeves are one-time-use only.

Stumbled across some of of early photos from  
Woodgas Truck

imag0023.jpgWe can't wait to get back to our own experiments with syn-gasification. For now we have been doing consulting work on the technicals. Once we get a very much needed shop completed on our property we will be back to fabricating/experimenting. 

Thursday, November 11, 2010

No news is good news

Not much to report here. 

We've been busy with house work, honey-do lists, web research, side projects, et cetera.

I saw multiple dust devils in the office parking lot, but they're so fast and capricious (read: hard to photograph) that I've never managed to get a good photo of one. 

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Home made walls

Today we poured two of our four bathroom knee walls, using gravel we got withing a mile of our home and a few bags of Portland cement. Using a 18% Portland mix and the project took 11 full mixer loads.

First two bath walls.
Tomorrow we will remove the forms. Once again my Toshiba is in disrepair and this time I am going to repair it myself and as soon as possible replace it with another brand.


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

DC current did not necessarily lose the war.

When you work with alternative energy you tend to work with DC (direct current) and when you store electricity with batteries it's DC. So naturally you power as many things as possible with the DC current. Many installations use DC inverted to AC (at ~10% power loss) and only rarely are alternative, DC appliances or lighting used. I always stress to my customers the importance of DC power use in terms of reliability and overall efficiency. In our house, we are in the process of finalizing our DC wiring, and right now we are working on the DC lighting circuits. For this we are using a centrally located switching control that is operated by a wireless remote. I have used wireless switch controls before with good results, but this time around I am trying a new supplier and I will let you know the results. To be continued...

Until then


Monday, November 8, 2010

Recent Adventures


Once again, we apologize for being lazy bloggers.  We have decided to try to make a post everyday from now on, even if it's just one sentence or a photo.

Here are some snapshots from recent adventures:

IMG_4042.JPGYet another sunset photograph! I bet some of you are getting tired of these, but we never do!  The evening we took this photo, the radio host on KRTS Marfa named it one of the best sunsets of the year!  A few minutes after this picture, the sky became much more dramatic, with bright gold clouds and a pink & purple sky.  I like the sedate pastels of this skyscape, too though.


IMG_4053.JPGI love watching the wildlife, and at work we get a veritable parade of animals past the office as critters stop by for a drink at the troughs.  Quail, javelina, and lots of mule deer love to visit us daily.

Of course, hunting season is now open on mule deer, and the hunters are starting to pour in.  Poachers have already been caught on the Ranch, and I'm sure many more will follow.  We have two game wardens on the Ranch this season, and many people have asked for their number already. 

I try to let everyone know that while BOW season opened early this month, GUN season doesn't open until the 26th of November.  So anyone out hunting with guns, or hunting from the roads, is breaking the law.  Anyone caught breaking the law could lose more than just their license -- there are huge fines, and also anything used to break the game laws (guns, vehicles, and other paraphernalia) can be seized by the wardens.

Also, FYI, it is a longstanding and dearly held MYTH that property owners can hunt anywhere on the Ranch.  While this was never a de juro rule, it was a de facto rule early in the Ranch's existence.  Back then, the population in this area was much smaller, and a lot of the land was as yet unsold by the developers.  There used to be Hunt Parks that POs could utilize, but these parcels were sold to individuals a while back, and are now private property.  But these days, we must all follow the law of the land and hunt only on our own tracts, and always obey the hunting regulations.

IMG_1025.JPGCasey spent a weekend building this rack for his pickup truck.  Now we can transport long board and sheetrock more easily.  It's wonderful what you can do with a little conduit, a welder, and some ingenuity.  This is a great step toward finishing the house.

Casey and Arick spent an afternoon hauling gravel, and now we have gravel around 75% of our house.  It really keeps the dust down, and looks cool too!

Weather-wise, it's been getting cooler here.  The days still get up into the 80s, but the night drop down to the 30s and 40s.  Our heating system will be installed in the bathroom, so we have to get that project finished soon. 

My new chick-a-dees are doing well despite the late season.  The broilers are getting fat in their chicken tractor, though one is already limping.  Leg problems are common in this breed because they get so fat so fast, but I don't think this injury is related to that (of course, I could be wrong -- it has happened once or twice).  He will either heal up, or become ostracized by the other birds and probably die.

I did bring one of the new Brahma babies into our home last night.  This little girl broke the tip of her beak off somehow, and the injury was attracting a lot of attention from the other chicks.  I decided it would be better to take her home until the beak healed, than to leave her to be pecked by the other birds.  Sometime a small injury can become lethal, thanks to the nature of chickens to exacerbate each others' injuries.
I have decided to name this little pullet, since she is a layer and not a meat bird.  While all the layers are named Henrietta (just a nickname I've given to all my hens), I will call this little girl Buffy, the Buff Brahma with a Broken Beak.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

An Excellent October

At the beginning of this month my good friend Arick arrived for a few months' stay on the Terlingua Ranch. Arick originally guided us to this place and he also has a lot of input on the micro-windpower technology.

We have been working on a few projects, and one of the more fun ones was building adobe nesting "caves" for the chickens. This was Sara's design that we had been wanting to try.  We managed to pour a footing with 8% Portland in the adobe mix, and also lots of old bottles and cans. Chicken Cave
The wall is 18" thick. We used a bucket for the form and we plan on making a slightly thicker mixture so that we can shape the rest of the wall by hand into some interesting curves.

My parents Kathie and Robert arrived on the 13th and stayed for a very busy and exciting seven days. We started their trip off by visiting the Cottonwood Spring and exploring Smugglers' Notch.
Notch My parents also looked at some property on the Ranch, and one of the more notable pieces is picture below.
Tract NC 869 My father, Arick, and I were lucky enough be taken to the Agua Fria Ranch by TR GM Frank. It was an amazing tour! This place has a rich history, mainly due to the spring which feeds the area. The ride took us through beautiful pasture, but the highlight was the spring and its surroundings. Simply amazing.
Agua Fria Ranch
Spring House
Spring's source

Ancient petroglyphs
Some of the friendly locals
Dad and I hacked out a new, circular driveway, and in doing so we pulled out a ton of the invasive greasewood (aka creosote bush). Using Dennis' patent-pending greasewood popper:
Grease wood Tool We finished off my parents visit with a trip to the underground bar and grill La Kiva
(L to R): me, Arick, Dad and Mom

Sara at the Reo Grande To finish off our evening we made a trip down to the Rio Grande at Lajitas to watch the sunset.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Tires a tiring scenario

Our truck has never had the right tires on it since we have been here and I have completely eaten through two sets on these dirt roads. For the third set I thought I would try something different than a car tire, I needed a light truck tire, but since I have 14" wheels that is not an option. So I needed 15" wheels and tires and after a lot of research and money I ordered tires and wheels through the mail.

I had everything on hand last Friday and proceeded to mount the tires on the wheels Saturday.  Getting them mounted was easy, but getting them seated/inflated on the bead was impossible with a small air compressor. As far as I could see it, I had two options: give up and bring it to a shop on Monday; or use the last-resort, ether-explosion method.

Being a DIYer I chose the explosive technique but I couldn't make that work either.  Phil discovered that the technique seemed to work best if the tire was vertical, sitting on the tread. So we attempted to mount all four tires that way, with ether and a spark. 

It worked!

The tire upgrade is working out fantastically, and I have been all over the Ranch this past week running service calls. Our automotive repair business has been busy, and I always love figuring out the correct diagnosis and how to fix things.

It also seems to be solar power season!  We completed an install this week and have 3 or 4 more coming up. 

Well that's it for now -- I will add some photos soon but until then I am getting some Zs.   

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Terlingua Time: a Local Phenomenon

It's hard to imagine that a week has gone by already, but there you have it.  All in all, we're pretty busy these days, but sadly not on our own projects right now.  To make up for it, we try to keep our project list interesting, and enjoy every accomplishment.

Monday night we had a rare night out and took advantage of the Monday burger BOGO at the Starlight.  Good food and music, but $4 for a margarita is too much.Starlight_01.JPGStarlight_02.JPG
Thursday was Casey's birthday and the community potluck.  Turnout was fair to middling, but as always the food and company was great.

potluck_9-16.JPGLeaving the Bad Rabbit Cafe, we stopped to watch a thunderstorm dumping rain on the Chisos Mountains, the heart of the Big Bend National Park.  The Chisos often create their own weather patterns, and are home to a huge variety of plants and animals.

Chisos_Mtns-Big_Bend_Nat_Park.JPGThough we didn't get much rain from the storms, we did get a double rainbow in the evening and another big one the next morning.  Too bad our little mountain house isn't quite as lovely as the rest of the scenery.

Rainbow9-17.JPGSaturday evening I spotted a blacktail rattler crossing Lake Ament road and stopped to watch it for a while.  It was a perfect photo-op, but I didn't have my camera on me, so the photo below is from Wikipedia

blacktail rattlesnake.jpgBlacktail rattlesnakes are not endangered, but they are less common out here than the western diamondbacks.  The one I spotted was very greenish, which is why I stopped, thinking it might be a mojave (aka "emerald death") which are out here but in limited numbers.  Besides their green color, mojaves are known for having a seriously bad attitude, even chasing people and cars.

But the blacktail was pretty mellow (as far as rattlers go, at least) and they are pretty snakes with bold patterned skin and stripes across their eyes.

Saturday was also my sister's birthday, so I snapped some pictures of her birthday sunset:

It was an exceptionally beautiful sky, with pink and purple clouds blanketing the horizon.  Happy birthday Liz!

Today we are working on adobe.  Messy stuff, but very rewarding.