May 2011

As usual, the month has gotten away too quickly for me. We returned from Victoria and as planned, came straight to Gundaroo to settle in, albeit almost a whole day later then expected, but having spent some time with Des at Bunnings in Wangaratta, we came armed with 100m of poly pipe for a water supply hose and 3 small rolls of chicken wire designed to make up into a pet pen. I laid out the poly pipe and was pleasantly surprised that the 100m was enough to reach from the tap at the bore pump all the way almost to the bus, where it could be connected into the usual fresh water hose. On Tuesday, Julie was offered work for the next 3 days, so on Tuesday afternoon, it was a mad scramble while we still had daylight to construct a dog run from the chicken wire. On Wednesday, when we both went to work, Kelly could not be trusted to not break out of the pen and thereby allow Angel to escape, so unfortunately he spent all day in the bus. When we got back, he took a pee that apparently lasted a full 30 seconds. I didn’t see that, because I had got out at the gate to go and turn the water on for a top up. See, we have a system already!

It was the same on Thursday, and that night, we strengthened the pen a little with wooden stakes and decided that Kelly could go in it on Friday. Friday morning, Julie found herself scraping ice off the mirrors and windows with a credit card and harked back to her youth in Spokane. That afternoon, Julie got off work half an hour early, so we arrived back in daylight, to find Angel IN the pen and Kelly OUTSIDE it. Obviously, he had indeed escaped, but not in a way that allowed her to get out. We were very thankful that he had stayed around the bus to “protect” it. Meanwhile, the property owner has been around in the area, as he has fixed the mounting to keep one of the shed doors closed, sometime in the last couple of days, so he knows what we are doing.

Saturday, our first full day onsite and we are loving it. A cold, frosty, foggy morning gave way to a beautiful sunny day, perfect for drying washing, so the washing machine got a hammering and I had a couple of trips to the tap to top up the tank. The battery in the Zook will definitely need replacing soon, as it was really feeling the cold this morning. After a loooong jump start from the Ford to get it started, I took a trip to the rubbish tip (aka rubbish dump or waste depot) to see what materials could be recycled. Answer: Glass of all kinds, plastic milk bottles, plastic soft drink bottles, steel cans, aluminium cans. That’s it. Most of what I took over, came back, to go into the dumpster at work on Monday! We’ve had a good day and most importantly, we HAVE survived. I would have taken some pictures, but the battery in the camera has died and I haven’t yet found the charger.

FYI, our GPS location is -35.01962,149.26463 – Nope, we’ve moved, now at -35.01960,149.26462 – We figured out that the prevailing wind from the west was cutting right through us and everything else, and any rain would come in sideways under the awning, threatening to destroy the awning itself and getting everything under it wet anyway. So we have moved the bus so that we are side on to the wind, facing south, so that the awning will provide a dry area to step out onto, and we are more or less protected from the wind. We had thought that we would lose all of our views, but they are just as good, just in a different direction, and Julie can see when I arrive home too. And the dog pen has been attached to the nearby fence to give it a bit more stability. Even so, I actually watched Kelly claw down the top of the pen and simply walk out over the chicken wire.

I have also bought a new battery for the Zook and developed a process of cold starting it, using the “Start, Ya Bastard” spray that we bought after we drowned it. We now have enough cranking power to keep turning it over, plus the added incentive for it to start. Next step is to teach Julie how to do this, if she ever needs to! Poor bugger, she’s been stuck out here all week (her new job starts on the 31st), so she’s run out of smokes and has now gone without them for 3 to 4 days. I am really hoping that by the time she goes shopping on Tuesday, she won’t need to buy any more. And yes, she does need to go shopping. We are down to pasta and tinned sauce!

Sunday, and we did go into Gungahlin today. Trying to get Kelly to “stay” was, to say the least, “interesting”. If we had already opened the gate and could have driven straight through and got out of his line of sight, we might have had half a chance of escaping without him following us. We didn’t and he did! After a couple of attempts to get him to “stay” in the pen (he just walked over it as before), we had to leave him in the bus again. Julie’s job over the next 2 weeks will be to train him to stay consistently. Meanwhile, we have braced the pen at strategic points with guy wires and stakes, and he can no longer escape quite so easily.

So, we went down to Gungahlin to get a script made up and grab some hardware essentials. We picked up a tap timer, so that I can go out to the tap and set a run time and walk away, knowing that it will be (roughly) enough to refill the tank. Funny how your priorities change. The things we bought included a paper towel holder (which had to be mounted on a non-wallpapered surface and NOT right behind the stove!), a dog kennel to go into the pen, and catches to hold the blind on the entry door all the way down and stop the freezing blast coming up from the bottom of the stairs. Julie’s job will also involve convincing Angel that she can actually go into the kennel and keep warm, as well as putting Kelly into the pen and encouraging him to stay.

Meanwhile, Julie found Kelly today rolling in a pile of horseshit. She had been wondering why the bus was starting to smell of dog and had previously suggested that we air it out while we were out. Now she knows why! She remembers what some of her previous pets got up to. Getting him to stay will be quite a challenge, as he adores her and wants to be with her to protect her.

I must say that I am impressed and proud that she decided not to buy smokes while we were in town. She has now gone about 6 days without smoking (apart from the occasional desperation butt) and it would appear that she is almost over the worst of the quitting process. Remember that she is unable to use any of the chemical-based treatments, as they may affect her stomach. Sitting around here with only the dogs to talk to (and the all-encompassing silence) with not a lot to do, it must be pretty tough. Hopefully, by the time she goes shopping on Tuesday (my payday), she won’t need any more.

Meanwhile, during this week, we have watched large loads of very large rocks being delivered and placed into the river bank, to shore up the bank against floods. At this stage, we are still semi-invisible, although it’s pretty hard to really hide a 10m brightly coloured bus! The owners are still very busy with their working life and have not interacted with us since we moved in. Which is probably good, because it means we are low key and not causing any issues. I’d like to attack the job of organising the shearing shed, but need guidance from them first.

And finally, I have to mention the stunning sunsets that we see almost every night. Now that the bus is facing south, we get a panoramic view of the sunset over the paddock through the right side windows every night. Kinda makes it all worthwhile.

OK, we are now officially convinced that life is definitely not dull for us. Julie called me at about 16:20 to say that there was a sound like a hot air balloon taking off and lots of smoke coming from the direction of the house. (This turned out to be a gas fire roaring and the gas refilling man who had been working on it was injured.) I figured it was time to get home, but first I left a message for Colonel Phil and then called him as I was leaving. Apparently, my call was the first of about 25 calls to him. He flew past me on the road about 5 minutes out from Gundaroo. Knowing that the area around the house would be closed to traffic, I parked the Zook at the oval and continued on foot. The house has been gutted and several hours later, the Fire Brigade are still working on putting it out completely.

Of course, our power comes to us via the house and we are without power. Worse. the bore pump needs power, so we have no water as well. Power we can supply by firing up the genny. The water is going to be an issue. So right now, we are in camping mode, limiting our usage of absolutely everything. I can’t even publish this update because we can’t connect to the mobile data network, hopefully because it’s just busy.

That was Monday. Thursday, an update. We have established a pattern of when and for how long we run the generator, usually morning and evening. Morning of course to get some heat into the bus, as well as charging the electronics. Evening, first call is to plug in the 100m (yes, 100m) extension cord out to the bore pump, to run the pump for a while and deliver some water back via a 100m hose to the fresh water tank, followed by again charging the electronics. The (relatively) good news on the house is that it was not completely gutted, although between half and two thirds of it has been destroyed.

Driving the Zook into town on a sub-zero morning has proved to be a “character definition improvement” activity. Remember, it has NO heating. First, while still inside the (sort of warm) bus is to get dressed in suitable layers, such as snow jacket, warm hat, 2 layers of gloves, 2 layers of socks inside my Canadian Mukluks. Next job is to scrape the ice off the windows. I have found that an old club membership card is great for this. Then get the Zook to start. If necessary, lift the bonnet, remove the air cleaner, and turn the engine over with the ignition key while spraying some “Start Ya Bastard” into the air inlet. Ensure that it has started, because it will stall a couple of times, but will usually start again after that. When finally ready to leave, get enough revs up to actually move it from its “dug in” spot in the grass, and proceed to go out through the gates, opening them as you go. Remember to turn your lights on as you get to the road. Proceed to drive as close to the speed limit as the poor little bugger will allow, while being overtaken by faster traffic, while trying to keep the windscreen from freezing over. Walk into work dressed like that and respond appropriately to all the derogatory comments. Fortunately, I don’t have to take the Zook every day, just those days when Julie needs the Ford.

Kelly has proven to be a very dedicated guard dog. On occasions, he has followed us (mostly Julie) out the gate and up to the second gate. One night, I was home first and was expecting Julie home from a temp job at about 6. So Kelly and I went for a walk, so that we could meet her coming in and shut the gates behind her. Once he found out at the first gate to be closed, that she was in the car, there was no stopping him from following her in the car. I have at least developed a process of: get everything ready and in the car, with the car poised ready to go and all of the gates already open, then distract him with a treat, jump in the car and GO! We are reasonably certain that once we have escaped successfully, he will return to the bus and guard it. Now we just have to figure out how to achieve all of this when we both have to leave at the same time, in the same car.

Meanwhile, we have been advised by the farm hand of the neighbouring property that we will soon have some cows in the paddock bordering ours. Judging by Kelly’s first reaction to the horse (where he sniffed at its foot, then looked up, and up, and up, and decided he was NOT going to bark at this thing), we don’t expect him to be of any consequence to them. He’ll be too busy guarding the bus anyway. Angel, meanwhile, plays all day in her pen, and doesn’t give a crap about anything else, until the treat lady comes home, of course!

Still haven’t put any photos up, but I do have some good ones to share.

The good news continues. We have seen the inside of Julie’s new workplace and it is very nice. The new carpet is down, the phone is on and some of the furniture to arrive. Frank & I are doing the data cabling and will coordinate that with the builder doing the internal walls. Training on the new computer system is due to start in early June.

I managed to get some heat in the Zook! On the weekend, flipped the bonnet open and located the hot water valve that is supposed to be activated by the hot/cold slide from inside the cabin. It was stuck rather tightly on cold, so I simply move it to hot and that will do for now. And now that the engine is getting a reasonable workout a couple of times a week, it starts much easier.

We’ve had a visit from the owner of the horse (whose name is Clover, not Chester – pity – Chester seems a much better name for him), who came to see us and explained that there would be stock coming back into both paddocks soon. He said that if we were at all concerned, he could easily put some strips of white tape across our area. I suspect that most of the animals associate the white tape with an electric fence and stay away from it.

The generator has taken a substantial hammering over the last week or so, often running for up to 6 hours a day. We have figured out that we can leave on the “small stuff”, like chargers for laptops, phones and iPads, but the big power draw items like the bore pump, the heater and the main battery charger must always be operated separately. So it becomes a bit of juggling act as to which is more important at the time – top up the water tank, heat the bus or ensure that the fridges and lights continue to work, without flattening some very expensive batteries. Tough call sometimes!

The other good news is that I finally took the battery out of the genny and took it in to Battery World (where I go for all of my batteries), found an exact replacement, and made good use of the dying sunlight last night to fit it, together with some genuine bush mechanics to get the choke button to work (yep, you guessed it, fencing wire), with the very successful result of Julie being able to remote start the genny, complete with choke when necessary, from inside the bus. This gives her much more power over the heat/cold equation and she is very happy about that. Although it was a little more challenging tonight when the petrol tank ran dry. The fuel pump is a little 12V pump that is powered by the output from the genny itself. So once again, out came the can of “Start Ya Bastard”, which was copiously squirted down the throat until there was enough petrol pumped over from the tank, which is on the other side of the bus, for it to run on its own fuel. Note to self: try not to let the tank run dry. A bit tricky without a gauge.

All in all, we are doing very well, despite the challenges. The real test will come when we have to leave the dogs for a 10-hour day, with questions such as:
How cold will it be today? Will we have rain or sunshine?
Can Angel survive outside, with or without her waterproof coat?
Is Angel smart enough to figure out that this funny looking kennel thing is something she can shelter in?
Do we keep them inside or outside the bus all day?
Can we escape from Kelly each morning without him following us?
Do we put Kelly in the pen, knowing that he will escape within minutes?

We do at least know that Angel is happy to play in the pen outside, and if she gets cold, will actually curl up into a tight ball and stay warm (usually). And that Kelly, once he has given up trying to follow us, will return to the bus and guard it.

The property owner dropped by today to get something he needed from the shed. Julie must have been outside having a smoke and he startled her. We are quite sure he now has no illusions about her being a “lady”. However, he did say that he expected the mains power to be back on within a few days. He had previously told me that he would get an electrician to install a temporary pole and switchboard near the street and get it connected to the underground service to the sheds. When the builders start demolishing and rebuilding, they will need the power anyway. His wife also expressed the opinion that it would be useful to have someone onsite (us) to keep an eye on things while the house is being rebuilt.

Our first attempt to drain the black tank into the owner’s septic tank from a distance of about 40m away, which is about the closest we can get to it without scratching the bus, was a disaster. We just ended up with poopy water on the grass and a full black tank. This was the Monday after the house fire and just happened to be the day that the tank decided it was time to overflow. No warning, just smelly water running onto the grass under the bus. And the fresh water tank was dangerously low as well. Julie had temp work that day, so I called work in disaster mode to say that I would be in late and proceeded to address the issues. I was in the process of taking the bus into Canberra, to dump the tank at the ONLY dump point in the whole of the ACT, when I drove past the local oval and thought “fresh water”. Pulled up to the dunny block and there was a very conveniently placed tap. Proceeded to fill with fresh water – don’t know whether it was tank or bore, and quite frankly, didn’t really care. Was standing there contemplating the toilet block, thinking that it must have a septic tank somewhere nearby, and spotted a familiar concrete shape with a couple of inspection plugs in it. A quick poke with a screwdriver revealed the “holey grail” so to speak. Turned off the fresh water fill process, backed the bus up into a better position and proceeded to fill and empty at the same time. Took the bus back to the paddock and went to work.

So I had a look around on the net and acquired a brass bodied, flexible impeller, 12V pump, which fortunately arrived in the mail at the house in Holder in time for me to collect it before the following weekend. The brass body means that it is durable. The flexible impeller means that it can deal with some lumps in the water and still keep pumping. Then went to the nearest hardware store to get some fittings for it. The half inch brass fitting was the easy part, and luck went my way when I discovered that the other end of the brass collar would screw really nicely into the drain hose. So over the weekend, I fitted the spare black hose to a spare drain connection, cut the hose at an appropriate point and with much screwing, twisting and cursing, managed to get the pump inline in the hose, on a completely separate hose to the one we are currently using for our grey water (which means I can leave that one at the paddock when we go down to the house to do the black tank). A bit more wiring and I had it all connected up to battery clips and the next day, we were ready to test the whole system. Lay out the conduit connected end to end, all the way to the septic, then attach the hose, turn on the tap, turn on the pump and let ‘er rip. To my great surprise and delight, it worked. It can now be said that we are capable of pushing shit uphill. Literally. And the rinse process is also easier (especially dealing with about 40m of conduit that also must be rinsed clean, by shoving water down the drain connector and switching the pump on again. I also checked the pump itself later on, by removing the brass side plate and checking for bits on the inside. There were none, as the impeller also has quite a gap between its blades and the internal body of the pump. All its does is to provide an impetus for the “material” to make its way down the hose and conduit.

Life in the paddock continues to be both challenging and relaxing. On Friday afternoon, the power to the sheds was turned back on. Not only did we reconnect ourselves to the mains, but I also took a walk down to the bore pump and plugged the bore back into the mains. But it sounded like there was water running through the filter, so then I took an even longer walk up to the house, to find a tap gushing water. Turned that off and all was well with the water supply. Then proceeded to open the shed and reel in the 100m extension cable that I had made previously.

The house of course is disconnected from the mains power. I know this, because it went off again just after midnight and on Saturday morning, having started the genny yet again to get the heater going, I walked up to the house (again) and checked out the switchboard. Being the well trained techo that I am, I turned every circuit breaker off, then on again, finishing with the main switch. When it went on, one of the usage wheels started turning, so I knew I was onto something! Yep, power is now back on again and the missus has visibly relaxed. The week’s worth of washing went to the laundromat, but she has done some more since then.

Sunday morning, and I could see Phil over at the small shed trying to get his old Land Rover started, as he has sold it and had promised that it would run enough to get it onto a trailer when the new owner arrives to collect it. So I trundled over there in the Zook, figuring that he would eventually need a jump start. The end result was that we made good use of my super duper jumper leads, used nearly half a can of starter stuff, put a few litres of fresh petrol in the tank, used the Zook to haul it out of its carport area, and finally got it started. So good to be in a position to help those who have helped us.

And Tim became our first official visitor. He came out to check out the new surroundings and enjoyed lunch with us. Thanks for coming out here, Tim.

Now that the dogs have been clipped, they look like small sheep, as our orders were to keep them long around the body, but to trim underneath, around the feet and around the face. Pictures below, along with some that Julie took of the house fire from her phone. Also some that I wouldn’t have believed if she hadn’t captured them, of Angel exploring territory other than just a floor level. Our baby is finally growing up a bit!