When Finn was a tiny baby one of my favorite things was to get her fed and changed, put her in the backpack, and sneak out of the house while Jen slept in to hit the local yard sales. Catonsville has a reputation for epic yard sales because there are scores of big old houses with attics and basements and garages filled with decades of stuff. Finn would sit up above my shoulders and sing and talk to herself, and I’d walk from house to house and look, occasionally stopping to stuff something into the pack and occasionally panicking as I realized I was going to have to drag three lawn chairs and the baby a half-mile home by myself. Usually it all worked out.
The historic section of our town (basically all the houses across the street from us) were doing their community sale on Saturday morning, so I snuck out of the house with Hazel, a backpack, a wad of cash and my AirPods, letting the girls sleep in. We headed across the street in a thick fog and strained to see where the sales were through the muck. My guess is that many houses who planned on selling probably took one look outside and passed; the pickings were slim at first. Hazel and I found that most of the offerings that were out were junk; ugly decorations, Christmas stuff, glassware and fake flowers, uglier lawn furniture. One house toward the end of our route had some period bike gear I briefly considered—as well as a Specialized Rockhopper of the same vintage as my Cannondale. Discouraged, we headed downtown for coffee and triple ginger muffins, and on the way back I played a hunch and headed down the one street we hadn’t tried. Through the fog we came upon a huge sale in one of the old victorians by the Catholic Church and I guided Hazel up the driveway toward the back, where a bunch of old tools sat. For $12 I got a handful of box wrenches and this sturdy Craftsman toolbox:
With a little cleanup this will replace a modern plastic toolbox with a flimsy caddy that folds in half.
Sunday morning the girls and I put 32 hardened tomato
seedlings plants into bins in the greenhouse. I wound up buying 20 bags of soil for all of the containers, and we jammed all of them with as many plants as we thought might fit.
There are more varieties this year, and I expect all of them will try to get huge, but I’ve told Jen I’m going to be merciless about keeping them cut back to focus on producing. I’ve still got to get the rain barrels organized—the one under the garage gutter is leaking slowly, so that will have to get tossed—but the other two look like they’re in fine shape and will get pressed into service directly.
Meanwhile, the hand I burned smoking meat last weekend is looking worse and worse as the damaged skin peels off; the knuckles have been in bad shape all weekend (I did wear nitrile gloves while planting) but now the other skin is beginning to let go. The whole thing needs a soak and some Vitamin E. Don’t play with fire, kids.
Hazel was up to pee at about 7:10 so I put on some warm clothes and snuck her out of the house to let the girls sleep in. It was brisk outside. Yesterday was 80˚ but overnight it dropped into the 30s and it was only just beginning to warm up as the sun rose. Hazel and I wandered over behind the school and down the hill to the Junction, where I tied her up in front of the local café and ordered some breakfast and a coffee. I was the second person in the door this morning. Usually there are a crowd of eight or ten people at the tables on their second cup discussing the paper or news on the TV, but today it was empty. It was strange.
We walked back home up the trolley trail and by the time we got home the girls were awake, so we all ate breakfast in the living room and played with the dog for a little while. I then went downstairs and set up a seed starter for three varieties of tomatoes in the hopes that I’ll have more luck this year than I did a decade ago when I tried it on the workbench. I’m going to build a platform for them under one of the basement windows so that they’ll get daily sunlight and hope that a warming pad will regulate the temperature under the plastic properly.
Then I went outside and assembled our new pressure washer, 1/2 of which is my birthday present from Jen. I got a Craftsman gas model on sale—electric pressure washers are crap—and had it clearing green mildew from the garage doors in about a half an hour. I went around to the front steps and cleaned all the green off the Trex, rinsed the siding, and anything else that needed a wash. We get mildew on the front of the house yearly because it faces north, so I’ve rented or borrowed a pressure washer for the past five or six years to clean things up. After I’ve put this one to use this year cleaning the rest of the siding, washing the engine and undercarriage of the Scout, cleaning the back deck, lawn furniture and Finley’s playset, I think it will have paid for itself.
I’ve had trim for the bathroom waiting to be picked up for a week, so I headed into Columbia to grab that before they closed and then circled up to the gucci Giant to stock up on some essentials—a little bird told us that statewide lockdown is imminent. I was able to get most of what we needed, but the paper product and soap shelves were empty (we could use more hand soap but we’re generally OK for now) and the frozen breakfast aisle was wiped out along with all the ice cream. Then I stopped at the liquor store and stocked up some extra beer.
At home we set to work putting it away; one of the first things I did was go to the garage and plug in our old fridge. It took a little to get going, but began cooling itself down quickly after that. Then I stuffed the extra beer and groceries inside. It’s been a pain to fit in the limited space available, but now I’m glad I didn’t Craigslist it like the last one.
After a quick break, I broke out all of my brewing equipment and fired up the burner in the backyard. I’ve had a Shiner Bock knockoff kit sitting in the basement since last fall, and I got tired of waiting for my neighbor to get his act together to brew with me. By 7PM I had it in the carboy and all of the dishes piled on the back porch, but it was time for dinner by that point.
Now I’m settled on the couch in the den with a cold beer in hand, Hazel snoring at my feet—the first time she’s been calm all day—and Fallout 4 loading on the Xbox. Time to relax.
Monday I had off from work, and I intentionally made it as laid-back as I could. I spent a quiet morning with Jen while Finn was at school. We relaxed around the house until about 11 and then she ran out for errands while I walked Hazel down to the local café for a bite to eat. The two of us sat in the sunshine and watched the cars pass, and I fed her a little bacon from my sandwich, and then we walked home the long way, up the trolley trail.
I then drove the Scout into Baltimore to the local Grainger storefront, where I had a pair of rocker switches waiting for me. About three weeks ago I was using the bench grinder in the garage for something and the switch on the front broke in my hands. I flipped it on its back and did some surgery to pull the broken switch, then sourced a couple of articles online about a bench grinder with the same issues. From there I was able to find a rocker switch which mostly matched my needs.
While I was in the city I stopped and took some beauty shots of Peer Pressure in an urban environment. The best two setups I found were a line of loading docks facing a huge empty apron of concrete, and an access area adjacent to the train tracks, surrounded by warehouses. The sun was out and the day was warm so I shot about 100 pictures, about a quarter of which I’m happy with.
Back at home, I fiddled with the grinder until I’d sorted out the pins on the switch, and filed the opening on the front out until it accepted the switch housing cleanly. The original switch had a circuit where a lead for the power and a lead for the light shared the same pole, but I couldn’t find a switch that matched it. I went with a three-pole switch and hooked the light up to the center pole, so that it’s always hot (simply leaving the light disconnected prevents the circuit from closing) and unscrewed the bulb. In the summer I’ll solder the power and light leads to the same wire but for now it’s back up and running.
Up in the bathroom I continued painting and finishing small bits of trim. The baseboard behind the toilet is the last major piece to go in, and I’m having issues getting it in cleanly—I should have put it in before the toilet. I cut a test piece and I think I’ve got the shape down, and I’ll have to loosen the cabinet one last time to get it in place, but once that’s done the rest should be easy.
I did some more repairs to the greenhouse and got the irrigation system back online; a new hose bib to replace the UV-cracked original, and five new 5GPH misters over the tomatoes for backup watering are now in place. But what I’ve been reading is that overhead watering isn’t good for tomato plants–it will promote disease. This isn’t a problem, because I planned for drip irrigation when I put the misting system in years ago, so it’s just a matter of switching my hoses around.
The tomatoes themselves are all doing very well. I restaked and tied all of them because they’ve grown 6″ in a week with no sun, and there are blooms on all but one–there’s even a tomato! I’ve got to go out and manually pollinate them all, and then pinch off the new growth to keep all of the energy in the fruit.
Finn and I snuck out in the Scout during some sunshowers and picked up two more containers, three cherry tomato plants, and more potting soil to start covering the second bench in back. I have to split out the cucumbers into a second container because they’re getting leggy and crowded.
We saw a matinee of Solo: a Star Wars Story on Saturday and the whole family really enjoyed it. Jen made a good observation that in their initial scenes the actors playing Solo and Calrissian did an excellent job of imitation, and then dialed it back for the rest of the movie up until the end. It was subtle but very well done. The story seems to be that it’s a bomb (compared to other Star Wars movies) but I honestly don’t see why.
I got a $7 rebuild kit in the mail for my Plomb ratchet on Friday and couldn’t wait to see if it would work. Disassembly was pretty easy, aided by some PBlaster to loosen up years of crust, and all the guts of the ratchet fell out easily. I found a YouTube link for a rebuild and within about 5 minutes had the old parts cleaned and new parts installed.
The one roadblock was understanding how to attach the selection lever to the cam inside the ratchet, but I read somewhere that you’ve got to use a ball-peen hammer to mushroom the top of the cam nub over the lever. Once I’d done that I used some heavy duty gear oil to lube the whole thing and buttoned it back up. Now it’s ready for another eighty years of service in my toolbox.
There hasn’t been a Sears near us for a while, but anytime I venture into the one, I’m amazed they’re still in business. I read a Businessweek article a few years ago about the crazy Ayn Rand disciple CEO who is running it into the ground, but the news that he’s going to sell Craftsman off to Stanley/Black & Decker is a shock. I have a couple different sets of inherited Craftsman tools (read: 20 years old) in my collection, and with the exception of anything I’ve bought from them lately, I know they stand for quality. As a hedge fund manager, the CEO is going to make out fine either if he saves Sears or if he craters it, but hopefully the folks that make and sell Craftsman tools will come out OK.
This morning I found myself at the entrance to Crazy Ray’s just after opening, tools in hand, looking for a Saturn of comparable vintage in order to pull the moonroof switch and motor. I had almost given up finding one in the GM section when I stumbled upon a dark green SC-2 tucked away next to the motorcycle heap, and as luck would have it, it had a moonroof.
Pulling the switch was a 5-minute project, but getting the motor out was another thing entirely. I wasn’t worried about saving the headliner, so that came out easily with a boxcutter, but the mounting nuts were small and hard to access, and I didn’t have a socket set. some elbow grease and the pliers on my Leatherman started the nuts, and within ten minutes I had it in my hands.
I had a little time to kill, so I browsed the SUV and import section for anything that might be useful for our existing fleet, and to see if there was anything new and interesting, but pretty much struck out.
After paying $21 for the switch and motor, I returned to the parking lot and plugged the new switch in to see if it worked; unfortunately, there was no response. The winding screw does work, so I’ll have to have Jen help me push the glass up the track while I wind the motor in order to close and seal the top completely.
Early Saturday morning, Finn woke up from a bad dream and called to us from her crib. I went in (Mama has weekends off) and soothed her, laid her back down and tried to leave quietly, but she wasn’t having it. After I settled her down again and laid on the spare bed in her room, she snuffled her way back to sleep, leaving me to try and catch a few more Z’s before dawn broke. I’d just found my way back to REM sleep when it was time to get up for some breakfast, and we went downstairs to find Mama was already out the door on her mission for the morning: to check out the nearly new sale at the Howard County Fairgrounds. No sooner had I hit the bottom step when she called in to check on us; she’d seen a used red wagon that had been snatched from her grasp at the last second and wanted to know if we’d left the house yet. Finn and I wolfed down some breakfast, changed into dayclothes, and hit the road for our mission: picking over the community yard sale across the street.
In years past, we’ve found all sorts of useful things for sale in the surrounding area, from cameras to toys to cars. We were hoping to fill some of the small gaps in Finn’s wardrobe and maybe find some larger used items so that we weren’t paying full dealer price; the depreciation on little red wagons is atrocious as soon as you’ve driven them off the lot. Because we’d gotten a late start, she and I didn’t hit the bricks until 9:30, a full hour and a half after the official starting bell, so much of the good stuff was gone by the time we made the rounds.
This year’s sale seemed to favor fussy wingback chairs, Christmas decorations from the Reagan era, a metric ton of stupid glassware (always with the glassware, these people) and ramshackle pressboard furniture, but little or no interesting or useful stuff. There were some isolated deals on children’s books, and when Mama joined up with us, we scored a pair of $.50 Converse lowtops with room to grow in for the girl, but otherwise the local selection of kids items was thin. Perhaps the biggest surprise, then, was when Jen pointed out a sign at an otherwise uninteresting sale which mentioned radiator covers. Curious, we followed the seller back and peeped out a metal cover in excellent condition stored in the back of a garage; we hurried home with measurements and a phone number, and confirmed that it was perfect for our dining room.
After returning home, we bundled up the girl and headed out to her swim lesson. She’s doing really well with the stuff that scared her the first couple of weeks, like being underwater and floating on her back. She still has a look of confusion when she comes back out of the water, but she’s not as prone to crying about it like before. We played together until I could feel her shivering in my hands, and then it was time to go home. But not before checking out a fire engine in the parking lot! The local volunteer department brought it down for kids to check out, so Finn got to sit in the rear jumpseat and poke around the cabin while we chatted up one of the firemen.
Saturday afternoon I started working on cleaning up the clutter in our basement, first by hauling our old kitchen cabinets from of the center of the floor and hanging them on the back wall of the garage. At that point I realized the garage was in far worse shape than the basement, and commenced to organizing and cleaning as much as I could in there. Into the cabinets went the piles of debris from the workbench, a crate of motor oil, and a crateful of garden fertilizer and tools. I pulled the remainder of the rodent-chewed insulation off the walls and bagged it for disposal, reorganized the handtools, and put parts spares up into the attic. Nothing is going to make the floor any cleaner, but having the raised portion cleaned up is very nice. And when I’ve got a dumpster parked outside for the side porch, I’m going to find a way to disconnect the old gas stove and make that disappear as well.
One of the things I keep running into as I’m working on our cars is an unorganized toolbox filled with an explosion of wrenches. I’ve got two sets of SAE and one set of metric box-heads, and being able to find them quickly would be really helpful. After looking through the organizational section at the Home Depot and coming away unimpressed, I decided something simple would be the best solution—I’ll be happy to buy a couple of these when our budget allows. I’ve also got to find a way to organize sockets by size and type so that I’ll wind up with the correct handle for the right socket.
Sunday was just as busy. Finn’s friend Stella turned 2, so we stopped by her birthday party and sang, danced, painted, and played games with a group of other children the same age. By the time we left, she was pooped, and slept pretty much the whole way home.
While she was down I continued working outside, getting the back lawn mowed for the first time, then doing some battery swapping with the Slattern. It looks like the battery I bought last fall to replace the original is bad, but I’m not 100% sure; I replaced it with the Jeep battery and the car seemed to fire over a lot more happily. I also switched out the taillight wiring on the off chance there was a short in the original, but I’m going to try to see how well Pep Boys honors their 1 year replacement warranty this evening before I call this fixed.
As a gesture of appreciation for finally receiving a new taillight, the Saturn has decided that it doesn’t want to start. I noticed the available gusto with which it usually cranks over its sewing-machine engine was a bit lacking the other day, and yesterday morning it simply sat and made the click-click-click noise that cars make when the battery is either almost dead or connected with a wire dripping with corrosion. I’m currently borrowing my neighbor’s charger in order to get the Scout’s battery working again (that saga has taken another negative course correction, BTW) so I pulled the Saturn’s four-month-old battery last night and hooked it up, thinking the alternator isn’t providing a charge anymore. But after about 15 seconds, the charger reported the battery as being full.
So this morning, I dropped it back in, cleaned the contacts off (the positive side was, indeed, flaky) and tried it about four times with no success. Last night I was really bummed, because I noticed for the first time that the alternator is buried behind the transversely mounted engine block and under the cowling, making its replacement more than this shade-tree mechanic is able to take on right now. But now, I’m just perplexed. If it’s not the battery, then it’s either the starter solenoid or the relay.
The plan to diagnose is as follows:
- Try using the Jeep battery to start it.
- Try jumping it from the Jeep.
- Check or replace the starter solenoid.
- Check or replace the starter relay. ($~11)
Update: Jumped it almost immediately off the jeep. So I’m thinking it could be the battery. I have to do some more sleuthing.