Construction Journal Entry Week of 8/26/18

8/28-30/18 I went up to Camp Serendipity for 3 days: Tuesday through Thursday.

This was a delightful and noteworthy week: Dave visited me and spent Tuesday night in the cabin. On the way up, I stopped at Costco and bought some salmon for our evening meal. Ellen had planned and prepared the rest of the food for us in order to make up for my utter lack of culinary skills.

Before I arrived, I stopped in to visit with Earl. I found him looking healthy and strong, although still pretty wobbly since he was about due for his pills. He was working on his car. After a short conversation, I proceeded on to Camp Serendipity from there.

I arrived about noon and brought all my gear, including the food, up to the cabin. I hoisted the flag and then checked the traps in the crawl space. Neither of them had sprung but both of them had been moved a little. The bait on one had been removed and the other one had been nibbled on. I figured that it was either a very gentle and delicate mouse or it was a shrew, but it was clear that some animal was in there.

After having my lunch and my usual nap, I went out on the back porch and began fabricating the tenon on the big end of the lower rail log. I started by drawing a line around the log 2 inches from the end. The tenon is going to be 2 inches long. Then, using a hand saw, I cut a kerf all the way around the log on that line. The kerf was 1 1/8" deep because that is how much greater the radius of the log is than the radius of the tenon.

Next, I started making the chamfer from the long side of the log down to the bottom of the kerf using a hammer and chisel. I hadn't gotten very far when I realized I could speed the work up by using the bulldog. I got it out and finished the chamfer in no time. Then I went in for my shower.

I was half-way through my shower at 5:30 when Dave showed up. He let himself in and I finished my shower. He was hungry, and it was my dinner time, so we got started on the dinner right away. Dave is a good cook, so he directed me in preparing the baked potatoes, the salmon, and the salad. When it was ready, we had an excellent meal.

It was still light outside, so we went out to see some of the sights. We went up to the cedar grove so Dave could see the results of the logging activity on the bluff and the irrigation system for the cedar trees. Then we turned on the valve to water Brian and Dan and we proceeded on to the sequoia grove. We looked at the trees Dave, Earl, and Ellen and just a glimpse of John. Then we turned around and took the trail past Bill, Cam, Brian, and up to Andrew.

Then we decided to go up and look at the springbox. Good thing we did. We found that there was no water whatsoever coming out of the overflow pipe, and that the screen covering the pipe had come off and was lying in the pool. There were three punctures in the screen that looked like tooth marks. The valves were undisturbed and there was no evidence of human vandalism, so it appeared that some animal had torn the screen off.

The screen would be an easy fix, but it was a problem that the water level was so low. Fortunately, the level was still higher than the service pipe, so I still had my water supply to the cabin. But I didn't like the trend. If the level dropped another 3 inches, or so, it would cut off my supply. Plus, there was no longer any skimming action with the level below the overflow pipe. I decided that I definitely need to try to seal up the leak under the springbox with bentonite.

It was getting pretty dark, so we hightailed it out of the woods and back to the cabin while we could still see. When we got back, we each had a piece of the blackberry pie Ellen had made and which we piled high with whipped cream. My contribution had been to pick most of the blackberries which are the little mountain berries and not the big seedy Himalayan berries.

We were having such a fun conversation that we stayed up way past our bedtime. Dave was still on Florida time, so we were both ready when we finally went to bed.

On Wednesday morning, Dave fixed a great breakfast of eggs and salmon. I operated the toaster which is one of my few cooking skills. We had another great conversation over breakfast. I took a picture of him. Then Dave packed up his gear and took it down to his car. I went with him and showed him Robert's jammer and the rigging he had used to skid the logs from up on the bluff and down to the road.

We looked the machine over in detail and I explained how the clutch on one of the drums had failed and how Robert had had to use some jury-rigging to pull down the last of the logs.

Dave left at about 9:00 so he could make his next appointment in Brewster. I went back up to the cabin and resumed work on the rail tenon until lunch time. After lunch and a nap, I cut a piece of screen to replace the damaged one and took it up to the springbox. On the way, I watered cedar #12, Dan, and Brian, and then took a bucket of water up to Andrew. From there, I continued to the springbox and replaced the screen. I also gave a lot of thought to how I was going to go about plugging the leak.

Since I am going to be out of action for two or three weeks after next week for surgery, that would be the ideal time to have the springbox shut down while the bentonite works its way down into the gravel. I had decided to take the advice of a YouTube commenter who suggested plugging up all the outlet pipes and letting the water level rise as high as it would while the bentonite was placed in the bottom and let to work its way down and plug up the leaks. Leaving it in that condition for a couple weeks should let the bentonite do its work and let the spring freshen back up. That meant that I will need to devote all next week to getting all that set up.

I went back to the cabin and finished making the tenon and getting it to fit into the mortise hole. That's as far as I am going to get on that rail project for several weeks.

On Thursday morning, I found that one of the mousetraps had moved again and the other one was missing. I got a flashlight and put on my kneepads and proceeded to look for the runaway mouse who had taken my trap. After a little searching, I found it, disposed of the mouse, and then made tethers for the two mouse traps using mason's string and small screw eyes. I hate it when they run away with my traps. I have a third trap in the crawlspace that is already tethered but the bait has been missing for many months. After getting the two new tethers installed, I baited and set all three traps.

I spent the rest of the morning on the springbox problem. I had had enough experience with bentonite to know that it is very hard to work with. I have 50 lb. of it and it is in the form of a completely dry and extremely fine powder. It looks and feels exactly like cement. But it behaves differently when you add water. Water wets cement almost immediately, and you have no trouble mixing up a batch of mortar or concrete. But when you add water to the bentonite powder, some of it gets wet, but a lot of it just floats around and seems to repel water. And the parts that get wet, form stiff clumps that won't take on any more water.

With this much understanding, I figured that I needed to make a heavy-duty mixer to mix up a slurry of bentonite in a bucket and then pour the slurry into the springbox. It will already be all wet, so I won't have floating powder, and there won't be any lumps that would just sit on top of the gravel. My mixer would be a 1/2" drill motor driving a rebar mixing paddle.

I used Dr. Dick's rebar cutter/bender to fashion a mixing paddle out of a length of #3 rebar and then went to work mixing bentonite. I started with a couple quarts of water in the bottom of a five-gallon bucket and then dumped in a small amount of bentonite powder. It floated and clumped just as I expected. But I stuck my rebar mixer in the bucket and hit the trigger just momentarily. The paddle spun around making a lot of splashing, but it was confined to the bucket. Then after a few more short bursts like that, the floating powder was all wet. I added more powder and kept mixing. It soon was a slurry full of small wet lumps.

I kept adding water and powder from time to time, depending on which I thought it needed and as the mixture in the bucket got deeper, I learned how to operate the mixer and get the bentonite mixed.

It was lumpy most of the while, but as it got deeper and thicker, I was able to run the drill at full speed with the paddle completely submerged and it began to look like a kitchen mixer mixing up cake batter.

I ended up with a near-bucket-full of very smooth slurry. But the bentonite absorbs so much water that I had to keep adding water because it was always too stiff. I got it to the consistency of mayonnaise and then kept adding water until it was almost the consistency of heavy cream. It wouldn't quite pour, but I called it good enough and set it aside for next week. I'll add more water and do some more mixing next week.

Even though the bucket is probably 40 or 50 lb., it is mostly water and only 10 lb. or so of bentonite. I still have a big supply of powder. I'll have to think about whether one bucket will be enough. If I need more, at least I now know how to make it.

Now that I have a plan for the bentonite, I can turn my attention to the problem of stockpiling jugs of water, opening up the springbox, reconfiguring the plumbing, placing the bentonite, and doing without running water at the cabin. I'll have to think that whole process through and decide when I will be able to take my last shower up there before I leave.

I left for home at 12:40 very happy about the progress on both the rail and the spring problem, and especially happy about Dave's visit.

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