A New Hobby - Model Trains

I think I have liked model trains for a long time. I've never owned one, but always liked the concept. When I was little, we had the Tyco slot cars - and those were a lot of fun, but the small wires strips on the track and the pads on the cars tended to wear out, the controllers would burn out, and the whole affair didn't last long.

Model trains have been around a long time and seem to be a more robust affair. Power is provided through the tracks, collected by the wheels, and so there is a good electrical contact. To be sure, cleanliness is still important for efficient operation.

So, I've started learning about the whole thing; there's a lot to what looks like a simple enough hobby. DC vs. DCC, ballast, and a slew of terms to educate. On the whole, it's not complex unless you're talking about the wiring, which for multi-track layouts seems as though it could be a bit tricky.

I'm starting with a basic loop, however, so I don't have much to worry about! I picked up some Atlas Code 83 (code refers to rail height, larger numbers indicate taller rails) track, and a Bachmann power supply and controller. Since our dear daughter is a fan of Thomas the Train Engine, and since I'm not married to any particular type of rail livery or model of locomotive, I've purchased a Bachmann Percy - with moving eyes! As the train rolls along the track, the eyes move. It's a big treat for her to watch. I also have one carriage to attach to it.

Percy stops for a quick snapshot.

My hope over time is to develop a true train layout, probably in the garage where I can take advantage of the space, and get more locomotives, and get into designing some scenery too. A nice, long-term project!

Low Raised Tunnels - Part 1

Well, somehow we all find ourselves facing October. I don't know where the summer has gone off to, but I really haven't had time to do all I wanted to.

Nevertheless, I've been inspired, in spite of the dry summer we've had, to keep developing the garden as much as possible.

To that end, in order to extend the growing season, I educated myself on low tunnels.

Basically low tunnels are just long, low greenhouses made of plastic. They can be placed on open field to cover crops, or can be used on raised beds. They're used in Alaska and Canada to extend growing seasons into something practical, and certainly used in other lower states to keep fresh veggies flowing almost year round.

Since I put in the raised beds earlier this year, I've slowly expanded them. We now have seven, and I plan to install two more next year for a total of nine.

Raised beds help bring the plants to a more manageable height, and control water

In thinking about the beds, I've mulled over several options for extending the growing season. I had considered a cold-frame box that could be placed over the frame, but it seemed bulky and difficult. Learning about low tunnels, however, has provided a low cost option that is highly portable infrastructure, easily stored when not needed, and multipurpose.

Because the tunnel uses a plastic sheet to block air flow and prevent drying out and freezing of the plants in many cases, you can also replace the plastic with screens to keep out harmful insects during the warmer season - if needed. Hence multipurpose. It's easily stored because the plastic or screen can be rolled up, and the PVC (yes, I'm using PVC, it's cheap and not touching the plants) can be easily stockpiled out of the way when not needed.

Installing the hoops is simplicity itself. For the prototype, I purchased three 1/2"x10' PVC pipes and some 1/2" brackets. Screwed the brackets into the sides of the bed, and then inserted the pipe on one side, bent it over, and inserted it into the other side. Easiest thing I've done all year.

I use a premium outdoor wood screw. 8x1.5" provides enough grip for this job.

I haven't bought the sheeting yet. For ease, I'll probably get 6 mil sheeting at my local brick-and-mortar hardware store and cut it to size. Since all the beds are the same size, I don't need to keep any special track of the parts, and the brackets can stay on year round.

Looks like an old fashioned covered wagon! Hope to put some lettuce and spinach in here 

Putting the hoops on the raised beds forces them to be close together (about 2.5 feet), which is probably ideal for dealing with winter snow loads. If I had a long row of open soil, I might be tempted to spread the hoops out farther apart, which would result in eventual collapse.

Total cost of brackets and hoops - about $10, if I include the screws.

I am super excited to give this a try this winter! I'm tempted at some point to get a thermometer for one of the beds to help me keep track of temperatures. On a warm day, the inside temperature can get too hot for the plants, causing other problems.

Further Work on the 1940 Farmall A

Since we have had pretty dry weather here in New York, my field hasn't needed a lot of mowing. It seems like a good time to undertake some more serious tractor work. Since I want to get everything looking sharp for, hopefully, a parade (I keep hoping this year!), I wanted to dive into the operator's area to do some painting. Since I already have one fender off and painted, I though I could pretty easily tackle the other fender and some of the main chassis. As it turns out, these 76-year old bolts don't turn so easily.

Removed: seat, toolbox, and the Woods belt guard

First, I removed the seat which was not too difficult as the seat springs had been replaced in the not-to-distant past. The seat, as is typical for tractors of this age, has some rust in it, but is not critical - especially with a good seat cover, which I have. The toolbox was a little harder to remove, just by virtue of being difficult to get a wrench around the seat springs.

Taking it all apart...

The seat and toolbox removed, I also sought to remove the operator's platform. This involved moving the cover on the underside of the pedals. It was so badly corroded, I opted to replace it. Several of the bolts holding the pedals to the platform were too badly rusted, so I had to cut them out. Two of the three pedal tension springs were also rusted through and useless.

New parts!

With dismantling finally complete, it was time to start scraping and painting. And scraping. And painting. Lots of dirt, old paint, and rust needed to be cleared off in order to make a new paint job stick and look fairly decent. I think it does - it's not as good as a shop might do, but that fact is this is still a working tractor, and I don't have unlimited time to have it in pieces.

Painting the seat bolsters

Priming the operator's platform

Scraping, cleaning, painting, the accessible portions of the main chassis

Sanding and painting the fender

It was a lot of work, but I feel like it's been worth it. Hopefully I don't have to take this section apart again anytime soon! Copper based anti-seize went on most of the bolts and threads, though, so if I do, it should be a lot easier to disassembler if I have to.