Sunday, December 6, 2009

Installment #8: Lemons to Lemonade--The Barn is Finished

Vacation time used up, we were now forced to use Hubby's 34-hour breaks from truck driving to finish the barn.

The reason I call this "Lemons to Lemonade" is that we used the aluminum siding off the ruins of the housetrailer for the siding on our barn. So we'd strip off a little siding and nail it to the barn frame and then go back to the old trailer for some more.

Uh, about that rain! It was back! And this time so was the infamous Central Texas prairie winds--probably around 35 mph not counting the wind gusts. Hubby on the roof, I would push the pieces of sheet metal roofing up to him as best I could from the ground as he tried to hang onto it in the high winds long enough to haul it the rest of the way onto the roof. More than once we had to haul the same piece back up on the roof if the wind gusted and it took off again.

Then, provided if and when Hubby could get the sheet metal in place, I would attempt to hang onto one corner of it from a second ladder as Hubby kneeled on top of it and tried to nail part of it down to keep it in place. I also attempted to nail down my end whenever I didn't need both hands, elbows and body weight to keep it down in the wind.

More than once, my war cry was "I'm losing it!!!!" and Hubby would belly-flop on top of the sheet metal piece to keep the wind gust from carrying it off. If it hadn't been so serious, I think I would have fallen off my ladder laughing. You have to understand, Hubby was nicknamed "Q-tip" by some of the locals here because his body forms a long rail-thin connection between his white hair and his white tennis shoes he was famous for wearing in those days. So here was Hubby, all 120 pounds of him, belly-flopping on the sheet metal to keep it down. I had visions of him and it taking off across Limestone County like Aladdin and His Magic Carpet.

Luckily, his efforts worked and he stayed on the roof!

And then we worked in a mist of rain most of the time, just enough to make the sheet metal slick. Wonderful!

Well, we are both still here, so obviously we survived the high winds, and the slick, wet and flying sheet metal.

Thank goodness for small favors, finishing the three stalls inside was rather uneventful. The big barn allowed us to give our three horses 11x22' stalls and a 10-foot run-in the length of the barn in front. I found at my previous stable a big long stall is generally easier to clean than your average 10x10 or square stall. The horses tend to use the back part as a "potty pan". As long as the stalls are diligently cleaned daily, it's easier to clean up than poop that's been ground in under a horse that has no other place to get out of his own dung.

Anyway, barn complete! Horses happy! At least now on our treeless 16 acres, the horses had a place to get away from the hot sun and the bad weather. Uh...well...for now...

Stay tuned!

Installment #7: The Working Vacation

Vacation time!

Some vacation. We spent it working our butts off. Ever try to build a barn in five days?

OK, like I said, we already had one wall of the barn in our "Stubborn Storage Trailer" (see previous post). We would have a great deal of our barn siding by stripping the aluminum off the old ruined house trailer.

But we still had to build a frame. So that's what this week's project was to be, building a frame--for a 32'x36' structure. We rented a post hole digger, bought the lumber and bags of concrete to support the four x fours and we were off and running like we knew what we were doing.

Both my husband and I are under 5'4". My husband is 120 pounds soaking wet. I won't tell you my weight (wish it was 120!), but neither of us have the strength of an average adult generally much taller. The post hole digger was presented to us as being easy to operate by one person. Ha! There's that deceptive word "easy" again!
It was all the two of us could do to drag it from one location to the other let alone use it. Somehow, with aching backs, we managed.

And in Central Texas where it rarely rains, where rain is normally a blessing when it does occur, the rain came as a curse every day on us to keep us miserable and make the concrete mixing/drying slow and difficult.

Nevertheless we managed! The frame was built, but at an unbearable cost. We were sooooo tired, overworked and not thinking clearly. We had all our cherished pets with us, including my six parrots, more precious to me than any pets I've ever owned. Somehow, some tragic way, in the midst of the madness, I accidentally gave two of them bad food. We could not find a bird vet in time to treat them. We found one dead in the cage and the other died in my arms as I was trying to leave the property to race him to Waco. I never would have made it anyway. They are buried on the farm and I can't even approach that little patch of our farm without my eyes welling up. I lost my two very best friends ever that day. No exaggeration. They were precious beyond words and the best company anyone could ever ask for. They were pets I thought I'd never have to bury and thought would outlive me. Some of life's cruel ironies.

We had about $2,500 materials invested in the barn in materials at this point, but the cost in their precious lives, my guilt and sleepless nights, is immeasurable. I still wake up many nights in tears though it's been three years. I'm crying now as I write this. I will forever miss them.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Installment #6: The Stubborn Storage Trailer

We came up with a unique way to build our horse barn, we thought. We needed a weather-proof building for hay, tack and feed storage, and also an area to store our household goods as we made the transition from our city home to the country.

We would purchase and move in a 32-foot storage trailer, minus the wheels and underframe, and that would be the north wall of our barn. In other words, we would build and attach the barn to this trailer.

We purchased the trailer in Dallas and made arrangements with the yard owner to deliver it.

He talked to my husband to determine if he had to go by any D.O.T. check-points between there and our farm. Hmmmmmm, was this an omen??

About two hours later than the agreed delivery time, after dark, we get a call he is crawling along our farm-to-market road, not sure where to turn. So hubby takes his 1993 Dodge three-quarter ton truck to lead him the rest of the way to the farm.

I wait and watch as I see Hubby's Dodge turn down our gravel road followed by an old diesel 18-wheeler that probably should have been ground for scrap ten years ago.

I open the gait as the guy pulls the trailer into our acreage with a trail of diesel smoke and sounding like a 747 trying to taxi down the runway with a bad engine.

That was just the start of Murphy's visit to our farm that night.

We had a nice spot all staked out where we wanted the trailer, even well-covered with lime to discourage termite invasion of the wood floor that would sit on the bare earth. He carefully lined his trailer to drop the storage unit. It wouldn't budge off his flatbed.

In desperation the two men came up with a new game plan. They attached a big chain to Hubby's Dodge. I watched in horror as the three-quarter ton pick up and the 18-wheeler performed a tug of war over the storage trailer. Hubby's truck was jerked, pulled and yanked backwards like a tin can tied behind a car marked "just married" and leaving the church. The Dodge was smoking as bad as the big truck. The sky was so full of black dirt from Hubby's spinning wheels, we were all coughing.

"I'm calling the neighbors," I yelled. They owned a number of large tractors.

"No, not yet," Hubby said.


So I agonized some more until they finally stopped to re-assess the situation.

"The king pin lock is stuck on the flatbed," Hubby said to the driver.

Then Hubby didn't think calling the neighbors was such a bad idea.

It was 10 p.m. We made the call. The wife answered. She said her husband was asleep and she wasn't going to wake him. We pleaded. It was an emergency. She wouldn't budge. No help was coming.

The tug of war resumed. How the Dodge stayed in one piece, I'll never know. Finally, with my nerves shot and both men exhausted, the trailer gave and hit the ground with a mighty thud after midnight.

I could only hope the mighty thud shook those neighbors right out of their bed.

The stakes we had so meticiously measured and positioned were ground to dust and the trailer hit the ground where it chose. But it was on the ground--all that mattered at this point--after close to five hours of effort.

Installment #5: The House Next Door, a New Hope

A glint of hope!

After the destruction of our house trailer, we longingly looked at the house and acreage with which we shared the fence line. It had been for sale for two years at $125,000. Suddenly, it looked good to us, solid brick and had managed to stay in one piece through the storms that had destroyed Hubby's house-building effort and the house trailer. It had however been sold just before the trailer was destroyed to a man in his 80's. He was forever absentee. And the property had a realtor's "For Sale" sign on it the same high price.

We went to a farm loan company. The agent visited the property and told us he couldn't justify a loan over $85,000 as that is all the property was worth.

We decided to go around the realtor, whom we purposely never contacted to keep him and his commission out of the equation. We tracked down the owner's address and drove the some 120 miles to visit him.

He said he would consider our offer if the house did not sell before the realtor's contract ran out.
We gave him our number and recontacted him some three months later when the contract ran out, but he still wouldn't budge on the price. We resolved to keep in touch with him just in case he should change his mind.

Meanwhile, we had fixed the fences best we could and moved the horses to the farm. Our stable had gone up in price considerably.

We decided we needed to make lemonaid out of the lemon the last storm had handed us, the lemon being the ruined house trailer,. We stripped the aluminum siding off the old mobile home to build a horse barn.

And Hubby scheduled a week of vacation for the barn raising.

Some vacation that was going to be....

Monday, November 16, 2009

Installment #4: The House Trailer

Tonight's post will be short because it's 10:30 p.m., I've been up and down on my knees all day planting garlic and one of my parrots just bit my toe.

Well, that all sets the mood for this devastating chapter in our lives anyway.

Yes, about that house trailer mentioned in my last post...

With the horses safe in a stable near our house 100 miles from the farm, and our having no real plans for that 16 acres yet, other than we wanted desperately to relocate there where we could have the horses with us, we had little reason to go to the farm very often at this point.

This was a particularly long stretch that we were absentee from our acreage--from April to August that particular year. My faulty memory tells me this was our second year of marriage.

That May, the trailer was hit by 80-90 mph straight-line winds. It broke the straps, moved the entire trailer three feet off it's blocks and ripped off the roof. No one called us, even though three people had our number, so what the storm didn't destroy, three months exposure to the elements did.

Little humor in tonight's post. This was a sad saga in our lives. One house and one trailer later, and there was still no living quarters to move to even if Hubby had been able to pull off the transfer he had been trying for.

It was not a good summer!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Installment #3: The Camper Caper and Infamous Frito Lay RV

OK, no more $30 tents. So what do two newly-weds w/snow on the roof and limited funds do? Others in our Saddle Bags and Saddle Bum group drove big RV's more expensive than my house. Out of our budget!

Our answer was to buy two old truck campers from EBay. Both were eleven-footers. We asked a couple of people whose judgement we trusted that these would work with our horse trailer. Our game plan was to use one for horse camping and sell the second to pay for the first. The first we bought in Minnesota. Hubby accompanied me that time in a rushed trip between his driving assignments and a couple of days of vacation.

It was pretty nice. The second I went after by myself. Well, it wasn't quite as advertised but didn't look that bad. And real fun driving it through windy Kansas.

Unfortunately, I learned we had made a bad mistake. The eleven-footers were just too dangerous to use with a horse trailer in tow. We made the decision to sell both and get something different.

After a lot of hard work, we managed to sell one. The other had developed a really bad leak in the ceiling and just wasn't repairable at any salable price.

That's when we spotted an old 20' 1980 Frito Lay stepvan, commonly called a "bread truck", on EBay for a good low bid. We discussed it and thought we could tear up the bad camper to build a small RV with this van.

The ad said, "You can drive this truck anywhere!" We swallowed the bait like a couple of brainless fish and bought it. I bought a Greyhound Bus ticket to California to pick it up and contacted a longtime penpal for a visit as well. This was all in far northern California where I probably would have driven on my own through mountains to get there or to come home.

The old Chevy van started overheating about 2/3 of the way to my friend's home. So I was shutting it down every few minutes, letting it cool down and restarting again to get there. A call to the jerk I had just bought it from didn't get me very far at all.

Lucky for me, my penpal's husband is one of these amazing men that can perform engineering feets of magic with a glue gun or a screw driver. He traced the problem down to a leaking radiator and used "glue" to repair it. He said it would either not hold at all or hold forever. He also put a fan switch on it to keep the fan blowing either on auto or manually or off altogether. I'll forever be indebted to them both for their help as well as their hospitality.

They also advised me not to go back to Texas the route I'd planned. That would have been through mountains and some pretty desolate areas. They directed me to drive the length of California to Bakersfield and then head south-east to Texas.

BLESS THEM! The truck began overheating very badly in Bakersfield again, this time it seemed to be a different kind of problem. It was late at night. I was in a strange place. It's the only time my auto roadside service couldn't help me immediately. Instead they located a Chevy dealer and said I best "limp" over there in the morning.

OK, the van was enclosed. You couldn't seen in. I had a light blanket with me. No coat. It wasn't that cold, right? I tried to sleep on the bare metal of the van. And wondered why in sunny California I couldn't get warm. After shivering on the bare metal with only a pillow and light blanket, I learned the nighttime temperature had dropped into the 20's. I can pick the greatest weather to rough it, huh?

Next morning, I managed to "limp" the truck to the Chevy dealer who diagnosed a bad water pump and he didn't know if he could find one for a bread van that old. I was having a nervous breakdown in the waiting room as they made the effort. Praise God, they found one! Many hours and about $500 later, I was on my way with no more overheating problems.

The other interesting thing I learned was the old van had a speed regulator on it, probably to keep their Frito drivers from speeding in the city. I couldn't get it faster than 54 mph most of the time, all the way back to Texas.

The old diesel bare-metal van, no a.c., was one noisy, hot ride all the way back to Texas but I made it!

For almost two years, we stripped the old camper and built the RV conversion. I did what I could, the carpeting, gluing in the insulation, the siding, the ceiling, but most admittedly was on poor Hubby to do on his 30-hour breaks. But we were very proud of our creation and it was pretty darn economical with a 4-cylinder diesel cummins engine. We had a few fun horse camping trips out of it before it sat and began gathering dust.

It was our recreational vehicle only. We lived in my city home of some 29 years. We had little reason to visit the farm as the horses were in a nearby stable, and if we so desired a weekend in the country, we still had Hubby's old house trailer at the farm, right?

Well....stay tuned!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Installment #2: "His", "Mine", and "Ours"

OK, are you sitting down? Hubby and I are a couple who met online and made it work. Yes, we did!

Our first date, after many IQ conversations over the internet, and a few phone conversations, was meeting at the Fort Worth Zoo. Hmmmmmm, there was something prophetic about that, as my critters, whom I refer to as my "babies", and his one critter, his "son", were destined one day to form a family, sort of a furry version of the Brady Bunch.

This included an over-the-hill quarter horse named Chico that a neighbor had lent or given him, depending on the neighbor's whim at the moment. Chico was future-Hubby's way of working on my heart. Chico was his avenue to accompany me on a horse-camping trip with a group called the Saddle Bags and Saddle Bums, what a name, huh? Well, here was a single man who loved horses and was willing to endulge my horse-habit, love of the outdoors and desire to camp. I was a goner. OK, I'm simple!

That camping trip near Thanksgiving was pretty eventful. Beautiful place, Ebinezar State Park, which we refer to as the "Enchanted Forest," at least as close as you'll get in Texas. It was great company, beautiful weather during the day, and a wonderful Thanksgiving meal.

Because Chico was so slow first day out, and not that cooperative with future-Hubby, I offered the second day to trade horses with him. I trusted my beloved Fargo, a gaited horse, to him and took Chico, being the more experienced rider. Well, if the engine has bad cilinders, your not going to get much "horsepower" and that old, old horse sure didn't have much "horsepower." He wore me out trying to keep him moving!

We took our usual quarters that night: he slept in his truck with a plug-in heater to keep warm. I slept in my $30 Walmart tent, on the ground, in my coat and sleeping bag, with an oil-filled plug-in heater. That night the temperature dropped down in the twenties. I shook and shivered all night and woke up in the morning throwing up my guts.

Needless to say, I didn't ride the next day, and future-Hubby got Fargo all to himself and Chico got out of having to work.

It was the last time we camped so crudely, the marriage to soon follow. Chico had to go! Luckily, the owner decided he had not given the horse to future-hubby and took him back. Yippee! But Hubby had to have a horse. Afterall, that's why I married him--so I'd have someone to ride and camp with!

OK, that's not the only reason but certainly was a big part of our relationship. That's when we added an "Our Kid" to "His" and "Mine."

Enter "Duece" (Dutchboy's Final Review), a beautiful black and white spotted Tennessee Walker. I tried to post a picture here of the two of them but I haven't learned the ropes here yet. Let me suffice it to say, they are an interesting pair, my Hubby at 5'3" and Duece who is a very, very big boy! We lovingly call Duece "The Brontosaurus" if that gives you an idea of his size.

OK, you probably think I have digressed from my claim this is a journal of our natural farm. Not really. You need compost, more crudely put, POOP(!) for a natural farm. Duece is one of our valuable "poop machines."