Archive for July, 2013

Hitting the deck

July 31, 2013

In my Killer day post, I showed the beginning of the deck rebuild.


As a reminder, the shot above shows the view from the back door, more or less, after taking up the high part of the deck. The brick pillar to the left houses a drinking fountain that has been inoperable since the first winter, when the pipe froze. Moomph!

Running diagonally through the picture, a line for the sprinkler system. It leaks, and we’ll replace it. We’ll replace it, in fact, in a way that provides future access without having to tear apart the deck, just in case it needs to be replaced again someday.


Here’s a second view from the back door, the lower level, but with the boards removed only where I wanted the drywell.


And the drywell, after a day of hard work. The concrete protruding into the hole is the apron around two of the piers that support the joists. Its presence complicated the excavation.


How the drywell looks today, dug another foot deeper (thanks to the gardener) and filled with light gravel salvaged from the roof, with a perforated tube running down its center and connected to the rain downspout.


Today’s view from the back door, drywell at the far right. The high part of the deck has been reinforced with new joists because the deck surface will be 1-inch manufactured lumber, rather than 2-inch redwood. In the background, holes for the concrete piers that will support joist interleaving for the lower deck. We’re doing the deck in two phases because it’s good to have access to the part just outside the door as soon as possible.


We cut off the pipe to the drinking fountain.


Where it froze, lo those many winters ago. The temperature was probably into the upper 40s, F. In the rebuild, we will insulate the pipe.


I invited the gardener to dig out the holes for the piers, and he did a great job. This is hard adobe soil, filled in some places with rock and scrap concrete from when the house was built, and is a lot more work than it might appear at first glance.

I’ll undoubtedly update the blog with at least one progress report.

Razing the roof

July 31, 2013

The house has a moderately pitched shake roof on the north side, which is in reasonable shape, given that it’s upward of 25 years old. But the south half is topped by a gently sloped tar and gravel roof. Four solar hot water panels add to the stress, and a musty smell had developed inside the house. That’s certainly bad news; better to take care of it now than wait for the roof to collapse.

I don’t have a picture of the before situation. The shot below shows the roof after the solar panels were lowered to the ground and the old roof stripped off. I asked the roofers to save the gravel for me; I used it to fill a drywell I dug for one of the new rain drains to be installed, and also to fill several other low places around the yard.


The ratty looking areas are places where water leaked in around the solar panel fittings over the years. Dry rot galore! Notice that the stucco below the clerestory windows has been broken out. We will also have a painting job in a couple of weeks.


Same view, after removing the plywood sheathing.


And a close-up of the dry rot. That ragged looking vertical surface is a rafter! Ewww!


Here’s how it looks a day or two later. As we see, the rotten sections have been cut out of the rafters.


… and replaced with reinforcement. This needs to be built up as strong as it was originally, because the solar panels will go back into the same place.


A couple days later, the roofers delivered the material for the new surface. A large truck with a conveyer belt boom, and they backed it carefully to the edge of the house, the boom operator steering the boom through the trees and past the corner of the house.


I shot pictures continuously, just in case I needed evidence of an expensive misstep. But there were no missteps.


Here’s the guy offloading hundred-pound rolls of material. He told me he was a firefighter in a previous life. Notice the harness centered at the middle of his back. Falling off a two-story roof would be seriously bad news without that.


The excitement was up top, but on the side, they also replaced the old and worn shakes on a couple of first-story extensions.


A view with the mounting blocks for the solar panels installed.


Here’s how they look, close-up. Seals all around, and the lag screw head covered with a wooden block.


A day or two later, with the flashing around the blocks. Yet one more layer of roofing will go on, the final layer above the flashing metal. And there’s another steel cap that goes down onto the whole thing.


The guys nearing the finish. The final surface is white again, but is not covered by gravel.


Next step: get the solar panels back up. Paint the new stucco. Relax and enjoy.

Bighorn canyon national recreation area

July 20, 2013

Friday 12 July 2013

We stopped at the Bighorn canyon visitor center in Lovell, just to see what there was to see, and to soak up some calories in the shady picnic area. Overheard the docent telling some people that they had come this far, and certainly shouldn’t miss Bighorn canyon, which was only half an hour away.

Well, okay. We didn’t want to arrive in Billings too late to find a motel, so I got on my cell phone and booked a room at the Best Western Clocktower Inn. Blind shot, but I guessed, correctly, that the clock tower moniker suggested a central location, rather than boondocks. Now, with a guard against late arrival, we drove out to see the canyon.


Open desert country, pretty enough in its way, but hot. The canyon is of course down and out of sight from anywhere not close by.



We liked the varieties of lichen, each competing for its little place in the sun, but with many places in the sun not being desirable enough to occupy.


As to the canyon, there are many views, but this is arguably one of the better sights.


There are, of course, a few small animals visible to the alert eye. This robber fly has just caught a moth.



How often do you get a nose-on view of a robber fly?


Jacky doesn’t like heights, so the fence is an important prop for this shot.

We stopped at a number of points, did a couple short hikes, then declared victory and drove to Billings.

Without a map, Billings gets a bit confusing. We pulled over into a shady spot and pulled up street maps on our cell phones. That, with a note of the motel address, got us sorted out. Walked out to the old train station area, which is fairly yuppified. Nearby warehouses are in the middle of conversion to expensive loft apartments and streetfront businesses.

We ate and dined and called it another good day.

Killer day, zero miles

July 20, 2013

Saturday, 20 July 2013

I don’t know about this house! We built it in 1984, moved in in 1985. Not even 30 years old yet, not quite, and it seems like it ought to still be a new house. But it demands its share of care and feeding.


One of several current projects is to replace the back deck surface. Here’s a view from near the back door; the frame is okay, but the new surface will be only 1x lumber, and requires intermediate joists that will have to be built into this structure. To the right, another section of deck that hasn’t yet been pulled apart.


In theory, the old deck boards just come up and we’re done with them. In fact, these galvanized nails have a death grip on the wood. Roger, who’s the brains behind the operation, ran a circular saw down the length of the frame, leaving behind only the bits that are nailed down. Someone — guess who! — now needed to volunteer to split the remaining wood with a mallet and chisel, and extract the nails. The scraps of broken wood are what we see littering the scene here and in the first photo above. The best nails just come out; the worst lose their heads, and will need to be extracted with a vise grip, or maybe just hacksawed off and left in place. Oh, joy!

So I was already well and truly sore before today, from the stress on unaccustomed muscles, not to mention whacking my chisel-holding left hand with the mallet when my attention wandered. Ow! Ow! Ow!

But one of the other concurrent projects is to replace the south-facing roofs, two shake sections and a tar-gravel section. The roofers will be here next week, just after the solar people remove the solar hot water panels from the roof, which happens just after the tree trimmers extract a couple thousand dollars from my bank account.

Part of the roofing project is to rejigger the rain drains, and I want a drywell under what will become the new deck surface. I imagine filling the drywell with gravel salvaged from the tar-gravel roof.


So Roger obligingly cut away another chunk of the deck, and I went out this morning to dig it out. It was cool and overcast when I started, all the better to get in some work. Quiet time for the neighborhood was disturbed only by the trickling of sweat, a sound that doesn’t carry very far.

I used just about every tool I could find; some were better than others, but none was very good. It’s hard, dry fill, full of stones, clay, sand. At least I didn’t have to contend with a maze of roots, but I gained a new appreciation for why miners and civil works professionals blast the underlayment loose before moving it out. Ideally, it would have fractured into fist-size chunks that could just be lifted out, but much of it had to be pulverized (pulver: the German word for powder), which requires a lot of work for zero benefit.

I started by filling a wheelbarrow, but after a couple loads, learned that a small bucket was a better choice, both to be able to break up the work a little bit and because I didn’t have to lift dirt (with my back) from the hole to the wheelbarrow.

I am already sore in places where I didn’t even know I had places, and tomorrow is not going to be better.

We broke at 10 for a quick trip to a carpet store to talk about yet another of the continuing projects. Then back for another go at the hole.


The photo shows how it looked when I broke for lunch. The concrete projecting into the hole is the bedding material for two of the footers supporting the deck frame. It is yet another chore to dig around and under this stuff!

I took it down another foot or so after lunch, before declaring victory for the day and abandoning the field. It actually did become a bit easier, once I got past the worst of the embedded stones. I’d like the drywell to be on the order of 1M deep, and at 1 cm of progress per dig, that’s a lot of work. Well, as it gets a bit easier, I may get as much as an inch per dig cycle.


In the small animal department, I discovered an insect in the pile of spoils over at the side, probably prematurely emerged from its pupa. Unfortunately, it was a bit too premature, and didn’t survive (and no, I didn’t kill it).


I also saw an alligator lizard near the spoils pile. It probably decided I was too big for lunch, or maybe too sweaty, and scurried back into the woodpile.

And a shower, a beer and a nap were heaven indeed.

Bozeman: renting a bike

July 15, 2013

Monday, 15 July 2013

I have not been getting anywhere near as much exercise as I like, so today I rented a bike. Choice of road, mountain or something in between, and I decided on a road bike.

Nice Felt carbon-fiber bike. Helmet and lock cable included. They put toe-clip pedals on it, so I can ride with running shoes. No rackpack, so I had to wear my own computer baggie backpack. Well, I can manage that. Not many photos, though, because I have to stop the bike, take off the backpack, fish out the camera, and it just gets to be too much trouble to do very often.

Guy at the Chalet Sports shop suggested riding south from downtown to get onto Kagy, east on Kagy to Fort Ellis road, then Kelly Canyon to Bridger Canyon, out further on Bridger Canyon until I was ready to turn back, and return to town on Bridger Canyon road, which becomes Rouse St. That’s what I did; Google maps says it’s 22 miles. Not much traffic, some climbing but nothing extreme. Good choice for a nice little ride.


I stopped in at the fish hatchery, which we had noticed yesterday, looking down from the M. We can see the M across the road and up the hill, at the top, just left of center in the picture above. From here, you’d think the M was near the top of the mountain.

The fish hatchery had a pond with eating-size trout.


When I arrived, someone was buying  a package of fish food from a dispenser. He started throwing handsful of food into the water, which exploded each time.


He remarked that these fish are probably the best fed in the world, but they act like they’re starving.

I asked him if there was anything else here to see. He thought I might get a guided tour by asking at the office, so I did. No, grump, grump, we don’t do guided tours. Well, it cost nothing to ask. My taxes pay their salaries, so why should I expect them to even be polite, much less cooperative or deferential?

Bozeman and the M

July 14, 2013

Sunday, 14 July 2013

While waiting to start the day’s festivities, we went across the street to the laundromat, where Jacky took the opportunity to shoot me with her cell phone, and I took the opportunity to shoot the steel buffalo next door.




The idea was to hike to the M on the hill, M referring to the local university of Montana.


Here, we see the M, embarrassingly low on the mountain, considering how much work it was. (Actually only about 800 feet of gain, but steep and hot enough in the sunny parts.)


Jacky and I walked to Andrea’s house, where Pat and Gary met us.


Here are Gary, Andrea, and Pat. Andrea is a strong hiker; I could not have done this hike at her speed, while carrying 30 lb of  backpacked Bentley.


Bozeman from the M.


One of the interesting small animals to be found on the hill was a large caterpillar. I actually saw two of them, and these photos are of the two different individuals.


I like the way it wraps its hind legs around the vegetation, while it snarfs up lunch with the aid of its forelegs.



We took a wrong turning on the way down, and found ourselves scrambling around the end of this knife-edge formation, very steep, and a challenge for those who don’t like steep downhills and those carrying babies in their backpacks. Let’s see… one way or another, that would be all of us.

Our friends dropped us off at the library, which turned out to be Sunday closed. We found a place for some lunch, wandered back to the motel for afternoon naps, then took Pat and Gary to dinner at the Montana Ale Works, pictured in the M photo above. I can recommend the Hippy highway oatmeal stout.

Gillette coal mine tour

July 14, 2013

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Crossing into a new state always requires a stop at the first tourist information stand, because no state wants to whoop up the attractions of its neighbors. And so it was when we entered Wyoming this morning from South Dakota. Jacky noticed a coal mine tour at Gillette. Free of charge, which is the right number, although there is a donations bucket, and we gave our guide a nice tip at the end of the tour.


We pulled into the Gillette tourist info stand about 8:55, and learned that there were spots available on the 9:00 tour. We must be living right. There were around 20 of us, I suppose, on a small bus.


In her current life, our tour guide is a 7th grade teacher, but she worked the mines herself at one point, so she knows whereof she speaks. The mines pay well, but operate 24×7 on rotating 12-hour shifts, and the schedule made it difficult to maintain a reasonable family life.


For the most part, we are required to stay on the minibus, but we started with a viewing area, where we also find a few artifacts. Here, one of the excavation buckets.


Jacky with one of the tires. The tire is chained down so the souvenir hunters don’t tuck it into their back pockets and run off with it. As to the Jacky, she has already been run off with.


The trucks on which these tires are mounted. Our guide talked about driving a 240-ton truck, but they go up to 400 tons per load.


Some of these are conventional Diesel mechanical-drive trucks, but some are also Diesel-electric, as in locomotives.


All of the vehicles, trucks, scrapers, shovels, dozers, have fully enclosed cabs with air conditioning, Sirius radio, and of course site radio. The tour bus was also equipped with site radio, so our guide could tell what was going on, and of course be warned of any safety issues that might arise.


The coal seams are on the order of 250 feet underground, if I understood correctly, so the first order of business is to remove about 50 feet of topsoil and another couple hundred feet of subsoil to expose the coal. When the coal has been removed, the overburden is restored, and the land returns to desert grassland, just one or two hundred feet lower than before. The road we drove to the mine site traversed one of these restored areas, and it looked fine.

Above, we see a mining operation that is working its way to the left, and will continue to do so for many years to come. There is a road off the picture to the left, which will eventually have to be relocated, and even more eventually, restored.

To get an idea of the scale, click the picture above and notice the angled drilling rig projecting above the horizon to the right, and to its left, the enormous earth-moving machinery. We’ll zoom in on some of these machines below.


Even during the mining operation, it’s not hopelessly ugly. Clearly industrial, but nothing worse than would naturally be expected.


Ok, that’s the setting. How about the operation?


This is a drilling rig, not the one in the photo above, necessary for blasting the rock and coal into chunks small enough to shovel into trucks.


Here is one of the machines we saw in the site overview above.


A different site, a shovel loading a truck. As we would expect, there is more overburden haulage than actual coal extraction. The shovel fills the truck in two bucket loads.



Some of the trucks back right up to the edge of the berm to dump their loads. I’d say that requires good judgment and a certain amount of bravery. Other trucks dump their loads near the berm and the dozer pushes it down. At least the dozer driver is facing forward!



Above and below, two more zoom views from the site photo above.





Here, we have a truck that’s actually carrying coal, rather than overburden. It passed under the road and headed for the silos where it can be elevated and loaded either onto rail cars or highway trucks for delivery. Coal is mined on demand, so it doesn’t sit around in piles or silos, waiting to be shipped.



As we arrived at the truck unloading station, truck 416 was just leaving, while 361 was just arriving.




After our guide told us that she had driven 240-ton trucks herself, it shouldn’t be a surprise to see a woman driving this one, but I have to admit that my sexist prejudices won out. Cool!


Around on the other side, we see where coal is loaded onto rail cars. As with all industrial tours, what we see depends on what’s going on. We’re in luck today: a train was just in the process of being loaded. The bus stopped in an optimal viewing position, and although we cannot get off the bus, the driver opened the door, and the bus windows can also be opened for better photography.


The loks come through first, of course, at a steady continuous speed of 0.5 to 0.6 miles per hour.


The rounded piece is the bottom of the shaft down which coal is loaded. Below, we see the coal just starting to fall.


We’re told that one truckload is enough to fill two rail cars.


As the car fills, the top of the load is nicely rounded off, which explains the shape of the component.



Some customers want the coal sprayed with water (or something else, maybe?), some don’t. There’s not all that much dust from a coal train, because the fine material sinks to the bottom, leaving only the coarser chunks at the top. Settling also reduces the height of the load.

This mine ships around 80 trains per day, each train on the order of a mile long. We saw many of them — not necessarily from this mine — on our trip through Nebraska, full trains going east, empties returning west.

Just over two hours, one of the best industrial tours we have ever experienced. If the word had not been overused to the point of losing all of its meaning, we would have to say that this was truly awesome.


July 14, 2013

Saturday, 13 July 2013

We had breakfast at Stella’s, next door to the motel. Good, but more than enough, as is standard in all of these places. On the road for a short drive to Bozeman.

The road goes along the Yellowstone river for quite a distance, a beautiful river valley. The distant terrain is mountain and grassland, but near the river, water is cheap and there are irrigation monsters.

Arrived in Bozeman midmorning, dropped off our luggage at the Lewis & Clark motel. We need to drop off the rental car before noon to avoid a $$$$ delta, but we had time to walk around the town. Nice place, and at 4000 feet, considerably cooler than Billings and other such lowland places.


Stopped at an outdoors store where we learned that bikes can be rented, complete with helmets and locks, and that there are lots of trails around here. We’ll see.

It was fast to drop off the car at the airport, but it took quite a while to get our ride back into town sorted out. Pat picked us up, and many thanks to Andrea for also offering to. We went back to Pat’s place to meet Gary and have a bit of lunch.


Then we four drove to the Sourdough canyon trailhead, where we walked an old railroad or logging road, now a recreational trail. Pretty popular, pedestrians, dogs, mountain bikes. Nice walk along a stream, and where there is a seepage near the road, we get incredible colonies of butterflies.



We saw several of these big black and white butterflies, one of which was romantically attracted to the pattern on my shoe.


Back to Pat’s, where she fixed really good chicken fajitas. Andrea and Jeremy came over with baby Bentley, and no one went away hungry.


We got a ride back to our motel, went out to wander the street for a few minutes. Stopped at Copper whiskey bar and grill, where we tried bourbon stout. Interesting, but not an instant favourite. The sky was pretty dark by the time we left, and a block before the motel, it began to rain. Of course: the one time I didn’t have a plastic rain bag in my pocket to protect the camera. Tucked it into my shirt and ran for the motel.

Nice day, nice town.

Sheridan and Bighorn mountains

July 13, 2013

Friday, 12 July 2013

We decided to drive from Buffalo to Sheridan for breakfast. Nice town, Sheridan; too bad it’s named after a fairly unsavoury character: the only good Indian is a dead Indian.


The town is full of street sculpture. From the labels, it appears that these can be either lent out or purchased on demand. The one below is offered at $10 000.


The label on this one is something about old eyes calling for bigger (fishing) flies.



As to activities, we arrived while the pancake breakfast was still on (although we ate at a restaurant). As we started wandering the street, a starter’s gun signaled the beginning of what we think must have been a 5k race, based on the fact that the finishers came  back around in only a few minutes.


Some of them with a great deal of style and vigour.

We decided not to wait for the bed races or the big parade, but drove on, taking highway 14 and 14A west over the northern part of the Bighorn mountains.


I have wanted to photograph an irrigation monster, as we call them, for a while, now. Today was an opportunity to pull off the road and get a shot. There are several slightly different designs, but they generally suggest prehistoric monster skeletons.


We drove up the steep and picturesque road to the high point, almost 10,000 feet, where there is little forest, and beautiful alpine meadow instead. Tiny wildflowers of all colours. Overcast, cold, blowing. We were glad to put on jackets for our outdoors time.



The descent is equally precipitous. Here’s the view from the bottom, back up the grade. The gray wedge halfway up marks road built into the nothingness of the mountain, today under active repair because of continuing slow slides that cause the road to slump and fracture.

We went on to Lovell, where we first stopped at the wild mustang visitor centre, then went on to the Bighorn canyon visitor center. I’ll blog the Bighorn canyon later, but here is the place to document the birds we saw, while sitting in the parklet outside the visitor center. Doris says this is a kingbird, and I can hardly deny her.







Buffalo and Bighorn mountains

July 13, 2013

Thursday, 11 July 2013

We left Spearfish and headed for Wyoming along I-90. Stopped at a tourist info stand to see what might be interesting, and Jacky noticed a coal mine tour at Gillette. An outstanding adventure, which I will write up in a separate blog post.

We thought we would spend the night in Sheridan, but Buffalo seemed like a pretty nice little town, so we ended up staying there instead.


We start with the gauge that shows how high the creek is. The upper mark coincides with the lower structure of the bridge.


There is an interesting pair of bronzes, related to the idea that free-range calves were the property of whoever got there first, versus the ranchers who considered that the offspring of their cows were their calves. This particular historical incident resulted in arrests but no conviction.


It was nearing triple-digit temperatures in Buffalo, but there is a road over the mountains just west of here. Not only that, but the woman in the information office had maps of the forest service roads and trails.

Still in the low 80s, even at 9000 feet, but much better. There was a breeze, and much of the pine and fir forest was shaded, so we had a nice little hike on trails 127, 128, 129.


Beautiful blue flowers carpeting the forest, and lots of butterflies. The little blues (below) are hard to photograph because they rarely perch in one place for more than a second.


We ate at a busy bee restaurant that was worse than mediocre, and the hotel we chose was well below minimum standards, so the town did not please us as much as we would have hoped. But it’s okay; we survived. And the sky (below) did in fact result in a little desultory rain overnight.




Black Hills of South Dakota

July 10, 2013

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

The hotel had a good breakfast buffet, starting at 6, so we ate well and early and got on the road. We drove south from Rapid City, past Mt Rushmore.


It turns out that, although our park passes give us free admission to the national monument, car parking is a national parks concession, which is not included in the pass, and costs $11. So we skipped the formal site, and just drove around the back way.

Some beautiful scenery, including a profile view of Washington.


Had I been responsible for all of this, I would have had grave misgivings about the fractures in the rock of the mountain. It’s granite, however, so presumably will last a long time in its current condition, fractures or no.

We stopped at one or two places, hiked for an hour in the pine forests. But the sky was dark and there was a lot of thunder, so we didn’t want to get too far afield. As it happened, there were a few raindrops and the day cleared up and eventually turned hot.

The next stop was Hill City, which has a railway museum and an 1880s steam train.


We started with the railway museum. I thought it was interesting that these drive wheels had only a small flange, furthermore on both sides of the rail. I bet modern locomotive wheels aren’t shaped like that.



I stopped in the washroom, and was delayed coming out because a spider had fallen into the sink and couldn’t get out. It took me a minute or two to a) photograph it and b) rescue it.


Then over to the tracks where the steam Lok was getting ready to pull the first load of tourists out. Interesting to watch, and as well as photos, I got two or three movie sequences, one of the coupler fitting as the Lok connected to the lead car.


Our next stop was Lake Sheridan.


When I was in scouts, we came here every summer for a week of camping. I had the idea it was in Wyoming, and had looked for it several times on the map, without success. So it wasn’t Wyoming after all! Pretty place.


As we left the observation area, four motorcyclists came along. The first tried to turn in, a 135-degree descending right turn, got his wheel too far over, and crashed. The second one tried to turn outside the first, but also missed the turn and crashed. The other two stopped on the road and waited, ready to help uprighting the bikes and getting things sorted out.

No injuries, as far as we could tell, but some damage to the bikes. And they will have stories to tell, if they’re brave enough.


By the time we reached Deadwood, the day was getting hot and we were getting tired. We walked the town, a long strip between steep hills. There is a statue of Wild Bill Hickok, who was murdered here, and is buried up the hill, a 300-foot climb we skipped in light of the 90-degree heat.

We drove on to Lead (pronounced Leed), which is home to Homestake mining. As I understand it, the company no longer exists, but there is a continuing effort to clean up the sites, probably government funded. Nothing like an endless makework project!


We stopped at the Homestake headquarters. There are some exhibits, which we enjoyed; the Lok above is powered by compressed air. Makes sense: undergound combustion just isn’t going to work out.


The Pelton wheel is the most efficient form of turbine for high-head water power generation.


Above, a view of the Homestake surface mining pit. The mining tour cost $8 per person, which was beyond our ambition level. We went on into the town of Lead proper, where we saw another compressed-air Lok. Notice the heat fins on the cylinder.


From Lead, there is a wonderfully scenic route through Spearfish Canyon to Spearfish.


We made several scenic stops, but the best was the Roughlock waterfall. As well as the fall itself, there was a beautiful little bird splashing around in the shallows and having a wonderful time.


Doris tells me this is a black-headed grosbeak.


Finally, Spearfish. We had thought perhaps to go on into Wyoming today, but it’s a hot day and we’ve been in the car long enough.


Spearfish calls this statue Vision. My impression was that he should have been holding a telescope, but it got somehow omitted from the sculpture.

We found a motel, wandered into a pub, where we had 1554 dark ales (not bad) and a guy who was seriously into falconing told me all about it while Jacky listened on. Then we sought out a restaurant and called it a day.

SD badlands and Rapid City

July 10, 2013

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Up and out, we headed north from Valentine. Not a whole lot to see until we reached I-90 in South Dakota and turned west. Before long, we spotted a tortoise crossing the freeway, scurrying along at full speed, maybe one foot per second. It was in the fast lane already, heading for the median, and there wasn’t much traffic, so it had a pretty good chance of making it. Don’t know whether it planned to spend the rest of its days in the median strip….

We saw a few other torti later, but withdrawn into their shells, possibly dead, certainly not moving. It’s a tough life out there.

Turned off to see the SD badlands, which are reputed to be far better than the Nebraska badlands. After spending most of the day there, we agree.


This is reminiscent of the formations in the sandstone of Utah, just without the hard edges and deep colour. Utah is better, but this isn’t bad.




There are signs warning of rattlesnakes. If only! We actually did see a snake, but it was dull green, and disappeared into the grass before I could get a photo.


The fossil centre showed various things that had come from here. Jacky says the oreodont was an animal that fed entirely on chocolate cookies. And who could deny her?





I think it’s interesting that a dragonfly’s wings are open on the leading edge. I’m sure that has dramatic aerodynamic effects, although I cannot predict what.


We stopped for the night in Rapid City, which lies on Rapid Creek. Had the name been Rapids, instead of Rapid, its origin would have been obvious, but no such luck. Found a classy hotel right downtown, checked in, and went out to walk in the heat.

We found the Firehouse brewery and pub straightaway. Much better!


I have to regard it as questionable taste, but Rapid City, and others around here, feature the presidents of the USA. Bronze statues on all of the street corners downtown, tricky Dickie not least among them.


We turned down an alleyway when we saw some fairly talented graffiti art. Maybe officially frowned upon, but nice to see it anyway.

After wandering around for a while, we went to the Kathmandu Bistro, Nepalese and Indian cuisine. They had four special Nepalese entrees on the menu, one of which was chow mein! Of the other three, we ordered two, dumplings that were really won-tons, and goat curry. Not bad, and we’re spoiled again.

Smith Falls and Valentine

July 9, 2013

Monday, 8 July 2013

Smith Fall, Nebraska (not to be confused with Smiths Falls, Ontario) is the highest waterfall in the state, about 70 feet. On our way into Valentine, we decided to have a look.


It is on the far side of the Niobrara river, and about 50 canoes had just launched as I crossed the bridge. Obviously a popular outing.


The waterfall itself is another popular place.




I always like to shoot falling water with the fastest possible shutter, to see the amazing patterns.


From the waterfall, there was a nature trail, all of which I hiked — only a mile or so — but Jacky did just the first part because she hadn’t changed to trail shoes.


Back at the visitor center, we found a wonderful moth sitting on the screen of the window. No idea what kind it is, but impressive.



At Valentine, we found a motel, dumped our stuff, went out to see the town.


We saw ceramic sculpture in Lincoln that has to be by the same artist. Very nice.


There were storm warnings, but we got only a few sprinkles in Valentine. We wandered a little, looking for sights to see.


I had something in front of my eyes, too close to see. Took off my cap, and found on the green underside of the bill, a little insect, offering its services as a model. Well, of course, and thank you, little guy.


Neligh mill historical site

July 9, 2013


Monday, 8 July 2013

We were not in a big hurry on our trip from Lincoln to what turned out to be Valentine, stopping whenever and wherever we saw something that looked interesting. The mill at Neligh was not open, but we wandered around the grounds and gave ourselves a very worthwhile tour from the outside.


From the road, it looks like just another elevator, albeit deserted.


We go around to the side, where the red-brick mill is visible, connected by chutes to the elevator. We also see a now-disused rail siding where, once upon a time, grain could be brought in, and flour and animal feed could be shipped out.


Continuing on around, we see the river side of the mill.



An old bridge spans the stream, and a flume diverts upstream water from a dam that no longer exists, through the mill wheel.


The waterwheel is horizontal, and turns a shaft through a bevel gear to drive a horizontal shaft with a pulley onto which a long belt would once have been fitted. One of the old photos shows all of this, including the belt, in a wooden shed. Makes sense.



One of the first interesting things is that the teeth on the horizontal gear were wooden. I suppose this would soak up misalignment that would otherwise jam, wear or break iron teeth. But who would have thought!



Peering down into the well, we see the top of the waterwheel housing.


The control rods would be for regulating the force of water into the wheel.


From here, the long belt would have run up the grade to a matching wheel at the mill. We can see the outline of the erstwhile wooden shed in the different colour of the bricks around and below the centre window.


I cannot see how the existing wheels at the mill could have engaged in this arrangement. The wooden shed must have contained substantial additional mechanism to turn the belt 90 degrees, or possibly just to transfer power from the long  belt to a much shorter belt here at the mill, for example through another bevel gear.



I’m sorry it wasn’t open, but what we were able to see from the outside made it well worth the half hour we spent there.

20 July: PS

I sent an email asking for comments and corrections to my writeup, especially the dubious deductions about the power drive arrangement. I got the following very kind response from Harv Ofe:


Sorry for the delay in answering your email, I’m the only fulltime employee that we have here and I got busy with a couple of projects. Due to budget restrictions, we are closed on Mondays in the summer and open Tuesday thru Sunday.

I have just a few notes about your comments on your blog. The water wheel as you refer to it is a 64” turbine housed in what is called a penstock. The belt from the penstock went through the basement wall where the piece of corrugated steel is, and connected with a pulley inside the basement of the mill. The two pulleys on the outside of the basement were put in after the mill stopped using water power and were powered by motors located just west of the pulleys.

The mill was one of the ten largest flour mills in Nebraska from 1900 to 1920 with a peak production of 98,000 lbs. of flour per day.  It operated as a flour mill until 1959 and ground up livestock feed until 1969. It produced electrical power for the town of Neligh from 1900 to 1925.

Today the mill is the only known 19th century flour mill in Nebraska to still have all of the original equipment still in place.  Hopefully you will be able to stop by some day when we are open and see the inside of the mill. Thanks for sending me your photos of the mill that you took.


Don “Harv” Ofe

Lincoln: Wilderness park

July 7, 2013

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Jacky spotted a leafhopper on my camera strap. With a certain amount of twisting and turning, I was able to point the camera at its own strap.


This morning, Jacky and I met Loren and hiked Wilderness park.


In contrast to yesterday’s open, windy grassland prairie, today’s hike was forested, full of poison ivy and other low ground cover, and replete with mosquitoes.


As always, we kept an eye out for small animals, and even found a few.



One of the high points was the nest of spider hatchlings.


The black dots are eyes; it’s easy to see four and, depending on your imagination, six or maybe even more.





Here (above) we see four main eyes and a pair of running lights on the side.




The wolf spider has two headlights, four parking lights, and two rear-window lights. It’s hard to sneak up on a spider!


I thought this bee was terrific, as it hugs itself onto the flower.


But the real discovery of the day was harvestmen. I have been watching for them constantly, but these are the first I have seen in Nebraska. There were so many that I eventually stopped photographing each new one we came across. Nice!


We came back into town for a quick fast-food lunch, then went our separate ways for the afternoon. We’ll meet Loren’s new wife Sandra at their house this evening, along with Allison.

Spring creek, small animals

July 7, 2013

Saturday, 6 July, 2013

Jacky and Allison and I went to the Spring creek prairie Audubon center, where we found a number of interesting things. I posted some of the photos separately; here’s the remainder of the noteworthy ones.

The prairie is near Crete, Nebraska, windy hills with tall grass, a couple of ponds, and trees in the low places near the ponds. There are a few miles of trails that have been mown through the grass, more trails that have not been mown, and a lot of real estate that is not intersected by trails at all. Electric fences to control the theoretical cattle.


No sooner had we started off when a helicopter came along, a large camera capturing everything in sight. In the next day’s newspaper, we learned that it’s U.K. Skyworks, doing a Nebraska documentary, partly for their own entertainment, but also on behalf of the University of Nebraska, the parks people and who knows whom!


Very pretty, the little butterflies.



Also a little gross!


There are prairie birds around, perching wherever opportunity presents. Because of the wind and the extreme zoom required, I shot hundreds of photos in burst mode, then discarded about 95% of them.

Doris says these are dickcissels. I never heard of them before. Sounds vaguely obscene, doesn’t it!




And this is a gray catbird. Thanks, Doris.


I have been watching for brochymenas, my favorite little six-legged carnivores, and Allison was good enough to spot a plant that sponsored about a dozen of them.



Really cool! I love their armored structure.



Here (above) is the armored underside of a brochymena.


And of course, the insex are busy doing what comes naturally. We’re shocked, shocked!





Not all is beer and skittles, however. I accumulated four ticks. Pretty little guys, but I was happy to give them the brush-off.

I flushed a grouse from the tall grass. It ran ahead of me for some distance, then took to the air. It veered to the left and flew head-on into a nearby quonset building. Quick 180, and off it went in the other direction. Takes real talent to slam into one of the very few buildings anywhere around.


And finally, looking again at the tiny guys, we find an aphid colony. Some of everything.

Haymarket, Farmers’ market

July 7, 2013

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Instead of breakfasting at the B&B, we went to the Haymarket area, where we met Marsha, Pam and a couple of other women for the Saturday morning farmers’ market. That’s what they call it anyway, although farmers would be a distinct minority. No matter; it was fun.


We start with a big truck displaying a sticker: Had enough? Vote Democrat, and then a couple of other stickers that provide ample evidence for a claim that Nebraskaners are hopelessly reactionary, conservative, and ignorant about basic economics.


The stalls open at 8, and we did the rounds.


Some very nice rocks here. At perhaps the other extreme was the booth specializing in various goat cheese varieties. Nice.


At the end of what was the old train station, we find a really nice ceramic mural. Marsha and Jacky standing here enjoying the little square.


P1040922     P1040908

We find a string quartet, putting in their hours, the infinite time needed to become pros. There was a flautist over in another area.


Don’t they say you need to do 10 000 hours of practice (not just repetition) to become world-class? Makayla Urbauer, above, had already put in several thousand of the necessary hours.

Wasps in the sidewalk

July 7, 2013

Saturday, 6 July, 2013

Jacky and Allison and I went to the Spring creek prairie Audubon center, where we found a number of interesting things. Many photos, so I’ll display only a few in each of several blog postings.

This particular series comes from the sidewalk in front of the visitor center, where a wasp had discovered a soft spot in the concrete and decided to excavate a nest.


Allison and Jacky spotted it first, buried to the waist in its excavation. It backed out, carrying a bit of dredge spoils, deposited its load, and returned for more.







I imagine the visitor center people will be less than pleased when a nest of wasps develops at their front entrance.


July 5, 2013

Friday, 5 July 2013

After breakfast, we meandered over to the rose garden and took the rec trail south.


When I was an engineering student, I had a summer job at Kansas City Power and Light. They built their substations with aluminum tubes, something like this, with an absolute minimum of angle-iron construction. I have described this to several electrical utility engineers since then, none of whom had heard of the technique. So I was pleased to see it here, and to get a photo that illustrates the principle for the next time I talk with someone on the topic.


We stopped at the veterans’ memorial park, which offered a paucity of small animals.


From there to South street, along on the side streets, eventually to end up at Roy’s house, where we talked with him and Camrin for a while, until Camrin had to leave for the airport.


An interesting totem along the way. We stopped for a quick lunch, returned to the B&B for a nap, then went to see Allison, who was good enough to offer her laundry facilities.


We started with an introduction to Dancer, so-called because of her exuberant enthusiasm at meeting (and sniffing) new people.


While we waited on the laundry, we toured Allison’s yard, hoping to find a garter snake. Not today, sorry. But we did find black wasps enjoying the bees’ balm.


Once the laundry was sorted out, we drove into town for drinks at Lazlo’s.


Just down the street is a humourous bronze, which any number of people sit beside for photos.

We went to AAA to get some maps for the rest of our journey, then to an Indian restaurant, Sher-E-Punjab, where Allison very kindly treated us to a feast. Very nice, greatly appreciated!

Colby to Lincoln

July 4, 2013

Thursday, 4 July 2013

We were late waking up — almost 6:30 — but the motel had cereal and yogurt and bananas and coffee, which we ate, and biscuits and gravy, which we didn’t.

On the road before it was too hot; we took highways 24, 83, 383 in Kansas, then went north in Nebraska to Alma, where they were just getting ready for a parade — everyone in town arrayed out along the curb — on to Holdredge, and pretty much straight east from there to Lincoln.

We thought we might stop at Minden to see the pioneer village, but their asking price of admission was twice what we were willing to pay, so we settled for wandering around the town instead.


Today’s one and only entry in the small animals department, a toad we found in the gravel of the campground parking lot. Well hidden, and at first I thought it had been flattened by a car, but when Jacky nudged it with her toe, it stood up and posed for us.


Modern art department, rural style. I was thinking how much investment  is tied up idly, not just at dealers, but also the equipment owned by farmers, contractors and everyone else, most of which stands idle almost all the time.

As Linden points out, an impoverished culture is one in which people are cheap and stuff is expensive, and a wealthy culture is the reverse. The latter is much to be preferred.


There are grain elevators everywhere, mostly along railroad tracks. We saw long, long, long trains of grain cars, idle today, waiting to be loaded with grain. This train came by while we were waiting to cross the tracks into Minden town, hauling empty cars.


Minden is another of these moderately nice little towns, a large square defining the center of town, a courthouse defining the center of the square, and just about every business and institution in town on the streets immediately surrounding the square.

We came into Lincoln via Crete, the southern route, and found the Rogers house B&B, where we’re staying.


Jacky called Roy and made arrangements to see him and Camrin tomorrow. I called Allison, who came over. We went out walking, through the architecturally distinctive neighborhood surrounding the B&B.


From there, we went to the Sunken Garden and the Rose Garden, where I found no more small animals to photograph. Then downtown to the Haymarket district, the old railroad station and surrounding warehouses in the process of transformation into upscale pubs and restaurants and such, where we dined on Mex food.

Long day; glad we don’t have extensive driving in our next few days.