My Birthday Truck – Optimus Not-So-Prime

craig with beater truck
I am now the semi proud owner of not 1, but 2, 1986 beater Ford F150 trucks. I was born in 86, so I feel a connection to these trucks. If I were a truck… the first one looks how I felt when I got out of the military; tired, beat up, and in need of a new heart. This veteran farm truck was with me for a year before it died. The second truck would be the equivalent to if I had started doing meth… when I was 8. That truck is a complete POS, but has a working engine, some great tires, and unlike the farm rig, has a windshield that doesn’t resemble a spider web.

Now how did I come to have my own junk yard starter kit? The “rebuild” of my farm truck ended before it even began a few weeks ago when I found a huge hole in the cylinder block. For those of you who don’t know car parts, (me 6 weeks ago) that means the big piece of metal that makes the car go vroom vroom was broke.
Hole in cylinder wall
This left me with 2 choices; scrap my farm truck, or replace the engine block. I didn’t really want to sink a lot of money into this project, but at the same time replacing the engine would be a really good learning experience. So the craigslist search began.

I found the beater listed for $600, so I called the ad and scheduled to come check it out. The truck was like a Tinder date… it looked way worse in person. My dad helped me inspect it and the engine seemed to meet his approval, but that was about it. It had several parts we could use to doctor up the farm truck (tires, windshield) but the body looked like it had been sitting in front of Babe Ruth’s batting practice. The stock door handle was missing and its replacement had been rigged from a bent strip of sheet metal. As I climbed inside I accidently knocked off the arm rest which was fashioned from an old scrap of 2 by 4. About this time I realized, I didn’t want to pay full price on this truck. Then comes the part I’m not good at, the price negotiation.

Anybody who posts something on Craigslist knows there is an unwritten rule that you never get full asking price, but the honest business person in me hates low-balling people. I know it is part of the dance, but it’s just not me. Luckily I had done copious research in haggling (I watched like 3.5 episodes of Down East Dickering), and went with the best line I’d seen. “What is your bottom dollar on this truck?” Then silence. I wanted him to low ball himself… and bingo.
“I’d like to get $500.”
“I have $500 cash on me right now.”
And just like that, I now had a rusty piece of shit.

The truck was described to have issues with the steering. Not a big deal unless you want to do stuff like, you know, turn. I figured it would be best to tow it just to be safe. My Dad and my friend Brett came with me the following day to tow it, and the truck didn’t fit on the trailer. It was a few inches too short. Story of my life. Brett, who is quite the car enthusiast was there to give me the encouragement I needed. “Just drive it home.” Technically it was drivable, it was merely a safety thing. I turned to my Dad who stood next to me and he gave me his usual ‘I told you that yesterday’ shrug, and it was decided.

My dad hopped in the Beater while I followed him in his Bronco. Things were going well until about halfway through the trip the beater truck died right as we were pulling through an intersection. This typically isn’t a big deal, unless the truck you are driving needs to be jump-started every time, and that the registration tags on said vehicle are expired. Both of which applied to us. We were definitely ridin’ dirty.

My heart was racing. I could just imagine the local sheriff turning the corner at any second. Cut to me with a frowny face as I fork over my birthday card money from grandma to pay the fine. I was determined that the po-po was not going to get me today. Not on my birthday! We pulled his Bronco up on the curb alongside the Beater. I sprang from the truck, popping the hood and had jumper cables hooked up in 90 seconds. The truck fired to life and we were back on the road, Dukes of Hazard style… if the Dukes were a dad and his son, and they drove a broke ass truck instead of the General. (For those who are wondering, yes, at 29 my grandparents still send me birthday money.)

We were almost home when my dad pulled the beater off the side of the road into the drive of an old farm. I followed in suit and jumped out to see what was wrong just in time to hear the engine die. No no no. Not again! “What’s wrong?” I yelled half expecting flames to start bursting from under the hood. We had run out of gas. I guess the seller forgot to mention none of the gauges work. Thanks Charlie.

Luckily we were only 5 minutes from home. I returned shortly with a gas can and filled the tank, but now we had to bleed all the air that had been pumped from the empty fuel tank into the fuel lines. Trucks have a valve under the hood like the one on a bicycle tire to get air out of the gas line so that fuel can once again reach the engine. For my car challenged people, that means it makes it go vroom again.

Finally we got the truck back on the road and parked it at my parents’ house. My dad headed inside to pour himself a drink, while I laughed about our luck, imagining the day when this truck would make it to its final destination, the scrap yard.Craig with engine

Even when everything that can go wrong seems to go wrong, I wouldn’t have my life any other way. It truly was a Happy Birthday.

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Primitive Survival Traps

I’ve been wanting to practice primitive trapping techniques and finally got the chance. I was joined on this project by my Army buddy Mike.
Craig with Snare
We started by rigging snares.
Mike Setting a Snare
The basic principle is that a slip knot noose is tied to a branch. The branch is then spring loaded by bending it downwards and kept in place by a trigger. When the trigger is tripped the branch is whipped upwards into the air, tightening the noose and capturing your prey.
Snare with fatal funnel
The snare should be located on a game trail. By poking sticks into the ground or building up brush along the trail one can theoretically funnel animals into the snare.
The noose can be held open by placing small forked sticks at it’s edges.

We made a short video of our snare in action.

Figure 4 Deadfall Trap Version 2
We also practiced a figure 4 deadfall trap. This one required some primitive machinist skills to notch the sticks correctly. The flat rock is balanced precariously on the sticks so that if the bait stick is disturbed, the rock will crush whatever critter is underneath it. We used peanut butter to cover the tip of the bait stick.
Figure 4 Deadfall Trap
We enhanced our initial design by adding more weight in the form of a cinder block, and placed a rock base to make a better crushing surface. We tested the effectiveness on an empty beer can and feel this could easily handle small game such as squirrels.

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Winter Babies – Goats, Rabbits, BSF Larvae

As I was preparing my house for the rental market I figured I’d give the rabbits some time outside in the yard. They cleared up all the weeds and ate the remainder of the winter kale. They also made some new additions to the farm.
Baby New Zealand White Rabbits 1 Baby New Zealand White Rabbits 2 Baby New Zealand White Rabbits 3
It’s been a fairly mild winter in the Northwest however we’ve had some really cold nights. I was pleasantly surprised to see we had lots of new Black Soldier Fly Larvae in the bins beneath the rabbit cages. The composting rabbit poop seems to be putting off plenty of heat. I transferred them into the composting pile. We will see how they fair as the weather warms up. You can ream more about BSFL here
Baby Kiko Goats Baby Kiko Goat 1
Our Kiko goats had several babies in the last 2 weeks. Our mama goat Luna had triplets, and her twin daughters each had twins of their own. Unfortunately one of the 7 babies died. Of the other 6, 4 are females and 2 are males. These are purebred Kikos and will be available for purchase in the Spring if you are interested.
Baby Kiko Goat 2
This little lady was the runt. When she was born she was too weak to even stand, and was having trouble sucking hard enough to get milk from her mother. Luckily Julie’s brother Bill came to the rescue and got her to feed off of her aunt, who had her babies a few days earlier, and had a better milk flow. She spent the night indoors with Bill, chillin’ but is now back with her mother.

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No Power? No Problem – Survival Project for Kids babybel cheese candle - 1
In recent months we have had severe wind storms in the Pacific Northwest that knocked out power in several homes in my area.

Odds are if you are in your house and the power goes out, you already have some food, water, shelter, and security but one can always use more light.

With one wheel of Babybel cheese from the fridge and one square of toilet paper you can make a candle with a burn time of roughly 20 minutes. babybel cheese candle - 3
Step 1: Eat the cheese but save the wax coating and the plastic wrapper.

Step 2: Place the wax center piece in between the two wax halves from the cheese wheel and flatten them together.

Step 3: Cut or tear a piece of the toilet paper approximately 3/4’” by 3 inches. Then peel the two layers of the tissue so that you have 2 identical pieces.

Step 4: Twist each piece of tissue individually. Then twist the 2 pieces together until they form a wick.

Step 5: Press the wick into the center of the flattened wax, and then wrap the wax around the wick forming a candle shape.

Step 6: Place the wrapper under the candle to catch the melted wax. Then press the bottom of the candle down against a hard surface to flatten the base allowing it to stand on its own.

Step 7: Light the candle and enjoy the satisfaction of watching your child turn garbage into a useful project every time you buy that cheese. babybel cheese candle - 2
I actually came up with this while sitting at the kitchen table with my girlfriend’s kids after they had eaten a few mini cheese wheels. I hated to throw away the wax and thought this would be a practical way for them to practice their cordage skills by making wicks.

Note the method for making the wick is the same method for making rope/cordage out in the forest, except you’ll substitute tissue paper for grass, bark, sinew, or another fibrous material.

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Primitive Pottery

I’ve been wanting to make another container for boiling water besides a burn bowl. Making pottery seemed like a good method. I sourced some clay from the riverbank and mixed it with sand to act as a temper (Temper helps keep the pot from breaking during the firing process). I used one hand-sized ball of clay with 1/2 a cup of sand. This was just a guess for the first trial.
Craig clay river bankCraig ball of river clay 2
The clay was very moist from being on the riverbank so I left some chunks out on the counter to dry out a bit.
Craig balls of river clay
After a day of drying, I shaped the clay into small pinch pots.
Craig Primitive Pottery
I waited a few days for the pots to dry completely, and then made a fire to preheat the pots. I then placed the pots inside a large ring of fire.
craig firing pots
After they had been in there for an hour or so I added wood to the top of the fire so that they could cook the rest of the way.
firing pots in firefiring pots in coals 3

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After several hours the coals had burned down, allowing the pots to slowly cool.
firing pots in coals firing pots in coals 2
The larger of the two pots had a piece crack off early during the firing process however the main portion was still useable. Unfortunately once the pots had a chance to cool completely I realized they both had a hairline crack running through them.
craig finished fired pots with cracks craig finished fired pots
Obviously I wish they hadn’t cracked, but overall I’m very pleased with the results. I was able to whip these out from local clay that I had found and harvested myself. While they will leak water, I’m sure I can find some other uses for these pots. I may try to temporarily seal them with some pitch or wax from my bee hives so I can enjoy a bowl of Lucky Charms…

I plan on using this experience to create some fancier coil pots, and to experiment with different amounts of temper mixed into my material.

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Veteran’s Day Shenanigans – Aluminum Foundry and Blacksmithing

I’ve wanted to do some metal work for a while now but have had issues getting the coals hot enough to heat the metal for blacksmithing or a foundry.

My first foundry attempt last December didn't get hot enough to melt the aluminum

My first foundry attempt last December didn’t get hot enough to melt the aluminum

My first attempt at a foundry failed miserably. The air flow was not properly directed at the coals, so the heat did not circulate effectively and wouldn’t melt the metal in the crucible.

Don’t know what I’m talking about?
A foundry is used to melt metal to liquid for pouring into molds.
A crucible is a container (typically made of graphite) that holds the molten metal.

Metal working has been around for thousands of years and it’s not like they had modern day equipment. Instead they built bellows to supply air to their coals, getting them hot enough to work the metal.

I didn’t have a bellows, but it was one of the windiest days we’d had in years. Theoretically if I dug a fire pit and filled it nearly to the brim with coals, the 60mph winds would superheat those coals to the necessary temperature for metal work.

Safety Note: I live in the Pacific Northwest where it has been raining quite frequently. All the surrounding area was damp and there was little to no risk of a fire spreading via the wind.

craig and mike basket weaving and foundry

Mike (left) melting cans in the crucible while I weave a basket fish trap out of grape vines

In Veteran’s Day fashion, my Army buddy Mike came out to work on survival/self-reliance skills with me.

We dug two coal pits as we would be conducting several projects simultaneously;
– Melting aluminum cans (soda/beer cans, ok mostly beer) in a crucible
– Blacksmithing a railroad spike into a knife
– And firing some pottery I’d made from river clay

We inserted the crucible as deep as we could into the coals with about an inch of clearance at the top to prevent coals from getting in with the molten metal. It took about 2 hours for it to really get going. Once molten aluminum forms at the bottom of the crucible melting cans only takes a matter of seconds.
mike with foundry melting cans
Our first mold was made of bamboo and the molten aluminum burned a hole through it. Our failed attempt was thrown back into the crucible to re-melt.
mike pouring molten aluminum into spearhead mold
The second mold was crafted out of river clay and was much more successful. We made an aluminum spear tip that we could later attach to bamboo shaft.
spearhead mold mike with foundry spearhead

Tools needed for Foundry

Crucible Tongs // Widgets

While on my adventure in California I had found some railroad spikes. While this is not the highest quality of steel, the idea was, “Could I blacksmith a cutting tool from something I scavenged with limited tools and resources?”
Railroad spike
I inserted just the tip of the metal into the hottest portion of the coals and with some help from the wind it turned to a bright cherry red. Using channel locks I pulled my heated piece from the fire and was able to flatten it out using a large hammer.
craig blacksmithing
I didn’t have time to finish this piece, however I will try to post pictures at a later date when I have a chance to finish it.
craig blacksmithing 2
The great thing about this experience was the cost. The hammer and anvil were only $55 on sale at Harbor Freight and I used a pair of channel locks from my tool box. Typically a forge costs at least several hundred dollars so this was a great way to do it for cheaper.

Tools for Blacksmithing
Anvil –
Hammer –
Vise Grip or Channel Lock

Firing Clay Pots
This was somewhat of a success. You can read more about this project here.

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Swimming With the Fishes – The Death of My Aquaponics System

Craig with new fish tank - insulated IBC
Here in the Pacific Northwest our climate is not conducive to growing Tilapia, but I wanted to try it anyway. Unfortunately keeping the water temperature warm enough for the fish was not practical in our outdoor system and with the imminent move to the farm in the near future I don’t want to add to my existing system. In hindsight I would have buried our IBC tank to use the thermal mass of the Earth to help regulate the temperature, but these are the things you learn when you do projects like this.

The fish had outgrown their aquariums and needed a new place to live, so my father and I rigged up an IBC tote as their new home. This tank holds 300+ gallons of water and stays about 74 degrees F inside of the garage with a 300watt aquarium heater. It is hooked to the filter of an old swimming pool along with a filter from my aquarium.
Craig's new fish tank
The tank is insulated with 2 rolls of r29 insulation which is held on by cellophane pallet wrap from Home Depot. Thus far the fish seem to be enjoying their new home.

The water is pumped into the blue 55 gallon drum which acts as a sump for the fish waste to settle. The water then travels through the pool filter and back into the tank.

We are currently in the process of modifying the pool filter to allow for better water flow.

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