Monday, November 30, 2015

Beaver Jim's

Buffalo River above the low water bridge near Ponca

Long time readers will remember that my parents own land adjacent to the Buffalo River National Park in NW Arkansas and I've spent a significant portion of my life down there over the last 35 plus years. We started out boating the magnificent river but soon expanded to mountain biking and my favorite, hiking. The million plus acres of land has hundreds of miles of trails and I can easily lose myself in the beauty.

So when my wife found out that this year she could have Thanksgiving week off, we decided to spend the week hiking in the park with my brother and his family and our parents. Due to obligations, we couldn't leave until Tuesday morning and were leaving knowing that a significant rain storm was approaching the area. So when we arrived late in the afternoon on Tuesday and the sun which was forecasted to disappear the rest of our trip was still shining brightly, we opted to drive straight down to the river for a couple hours to stretch our legs before heading back up the mountain to the cabin.

Buffalo River above the low water bridge near Ponca

As you can probably guess, the river level at the low water bridge was shallow and not easily float-able. The Buffalo is definitely float-able during periods of high water which is mostly limited to spring runoff. I have often set off in a canoe or kayak at the low water bridge and spent the day floating the river beneath huge sheer mountain bluffs.

Beaver Jim Villines barn

Across the river and up on high ground is the old homestead of Beaver Jim Villines. He is one of the first settlers to this area and his relatives, judging from the number of Villines names on mailboxes, still hold much of the surrounding area not in the park. The park itself was formed around the Buffalo River in 1972 and was the first river declared Wild and Scenic in the United States. It is also one of the few deep canyon rivers in the lower 48 without a dam. After the park was formed, current inhabitants were allowed to live there until dying but then their land was reverted to park land. As a result, many old structures of the previous inhabitants are found throughout the park though they are disappearing rapidly to nature and only those preserved by the park have signs of remaining behind for a significant amount of time.

Barn siding

The chinking in the barn logs has long since disappeared and walking around the barn, it was obvious that they used the best logs for the house construction.

House of Beaver Jim Villine
I'm sure this house was occupied in 1972 when the park was formed but it was built much earlier in the century if not the century before. Life in these remote parts of the world were much tougher.

Beaver Jim's kitchen
The forecast before we came down said that the following day would be cloudy with rain moving in on Thanksgiving day and sticking around until after we left to go home on Saturday. With that in mind, we soaked up the sun and let the kids burn off excess energy from the eight hour car ride before driving back up the mountain to the cabin that we would call home the rest of the week.

View back towards the Buffalo River from Beaver Jim's house

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Murphy's Law Applies To Smoking Turkeys

 Anything that can go wrong will go wrong. I proved it as we were preparing for our trip by smoking a couple turkeys in advance. It just seemed much easier than hauling a smoker all the way down to the Ozark Mountains and wasting an entire day that could be spent hiking or boating keeping the smoker going. So on the morning I had set aside to smoke the turkeys, I opened my eyes and noticed that the light coming in the bedroom window was much too bright. It was reflecting off something bright. A look out the window confirmed that there was six inches of snow on the ground.

So I cleared the driveway and smoking area on the deck to prepare for my day. I knew I had not enough propane to completely smoke the turkeys but wanting to get all the goodie out of my propane tank, I was just going to run the smoker until the propane ran out, drive to the grocery store to exchange the tank and continue on with the process. I hooked the nearly empty propane tank up but due to the cold weather and little volume left, I couldn't get the smoker to light. So I decided I would sacrifice some gas and go get the refill right then and there.

At the store, I paid for the exchange along with a few Thankgivingish groceries and went outside to exchange my tank. The clerk struggled for 15 minutes with the lock and finally gave up saying they would have to refund my money and I would have to get it somewhere else. He was working with an extremely heavy set of wool gloves on his hands and didn't really seem to know what he was doing so I asked if I could try. I certainly didn't want to drive clear across town to the big box store no doubt packed with weekend before Thanksgiving shoppers to make an exchange. I breathed some hot breath onto the lock and found that the slot he was trying to insert his key was actually a groove for a protective slide that covered the actual lock. Less than a minute after I took a stab at the lock, I had it unlocked and was carrying my now full tank back to my car.

Back home I hooked up the tank and lit the smoker. I could hear gas leaking out from around the coupling you see above at the top of this post. I gave it a slight twist to tighten it and that is when it shattered into a dozen fine cracks with gas now hissing out at a good clip. I may have said a few words not of good cheer at this point. I gave up and went into tell my wife that there would be no smoked turkey this year but she asked if I could get a replacement. I told her definitely not. But then I wondered and went out and looked at the issue again. I found that I could get a socket and twist off the metal part of the coupling to free the broken plastic part. Now all I had to do was find a replacement broken plastic part which I thought would be impossible short of the internet and some time which I didn't have.

Never the less, I drove down to the local mom and pop hardware store which I figured was my best chance over the big box stores which probably only sold entire smokers. The mom and pop hardware store had the whole assembly including regulator and hose which I didn't need and it was $20, but the coupling was there and would work. When I got my purchase home, now $40 in the hole for a new tank of gas and new coupling, I tried to get the metal part off the new one using a socket like I had used on my old one but it was some sort of specialty fitting which I didn't have anything to fit on. Again, some more non cheer filled words followed by some head scratching and then I got the hacksaw and just cut the fitting right off at the threads next to the regulator rendering it completely useless for the rest of its life. But I was able to get the coupler off and a few moments later it was installed and my smoker was at last working without leaks.

As you read this, I'm off hiking in the mountains somewhere but write after I wrote this before leaving on our vacation, I made a mental note to make sure I have batteries for my flashlight because after taking all this time to get the smoker up and running, it is going to be a late night. I hope you all had a happy Thanksgiving and I hope it was full of cheerful words!

Monday, November 23, 2015


We spent a Saturday afternoon recently down on the farm celebrating the birthday of my dad and my youngest daughter who were both born on the same day. On the way back home, it was overcast and cooling off due to a front moving in but we decided to pull over at a local park and walk off some of the cake and ice cream. This is my second time to the park and like the first, everywhere I looked felt like a photo opportunity. Perhaps it is just being out in nature that makes me feel that way. I definitely know that I tend to shy away from taking (or being in) pictures with people in them. I am always more interested in a picture of the landscape sans people.

Speaking of landscapes, we decided to head south for Thanksgiving this year and spend it hiking, boating and perhaps a little turkey eating in the Ozark Mountains of Northwest Arkansas. I'm sure I will have some stories to tell everyone when I get back. Until then, hope you all have a great day on Thursday with friends and family.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Building a Flatware Chest

Well I finished my project which as you can see is a flatware chest. As a brief recap for those of you new to my blog, a few months ago my wife and I were invited to a formal dinning group where about once a year, we entertain four other couples in our home and fix a formal meal. My wife and I being fiscally conservative people, have been eating off the same chipped and well used plates we got when we were first married and our flatware were all garage sale/auctions specials that we have picked up over the years. Definitely not up to snuff for such an occasion not to mention, I don't even think we had enough to set a ten place setting without resorting to plastic.

Now it is easy to shell out a lot of money of flatware, especially if you get the real silver kind but it made no sense to us. So we picked out a economical stainless set that looks nice but didn't break the bank. Unfortunately we didn't have any place to store them except in the cardboard box they came in. I got to thinking that I could make a box to store them in and make them look much finer than they actually are all in one go. So I built a flatware chest. There weren't any plans for flatware chests that I could find online but I did find a nice looking humidor/jewelry chest plans that I thought I could scale up and refine for my needs. It was also a different style of building small boxes than I have done in the past. Most of mine have been using dovetail or rabbit joinery. This one involved using mitered corners and splines along with veneer for the top surface which I have never used before. Although the process for building the box took a lot more time, I think it ended up nice and it is definitely a style I will attempt again someday when a need for a box arises.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Fall Potpourri

Fall is definitely leaving for more southern reaches and though I am sad to see it go, we've had a good run this year. It seemed as if we are well into our third month of cool night time temperatures and pleasant daytime temperatures. We had a dry start to fall which put a damper on the leaf color which wasn't as good this year as it can be. It was still nice.

My old cellphone was disappointingly wearing out. For some reason, it didn't last as long as the one I had before it. The buttons were not functioning properly some of the time, there were large dead spots on the touch screen and the battery life was a matter of hours with light use instead of the days long with heavy use that it was in the beginning. All those I was able to live with but it got to wear it was extremely hard to charge. The plug would go in and as long as I pushed it to apply some pressure it would charge but when I let go, it would stop charging. Not wanting to stand there for several hours holding the cable while my phone charged, I would futz with it for several minutes until I got it to charge without me holding it. However, anyone who walked by and bumped the table where we charge our gadgets would disrupt my charging zen and I would come back a couple hours later to get my fully charged phone only to find it with less charge than when I started. So I cringed and bought a new phone. The above picture is the first one I took to check the new and improved camera functionality of it.

It was fairly breezy that day so all the leaves are a bit blurry but it did a good job for being a panoramic photo. As you can see, I'm not big on raking my yard. For starters, I like the free fertilizer and try to mulch them in as much as possible. Secondly, I have a lot of oak trees which hang onto their leaves well into winter and even on into spring so it is a never winning project. Finally, since we live in southern Iowa, are major snow periods are January and February. In November and December, we typically don't get much snow but do get winter winds. Just a few nights ago, we got some 50 and 60 mph winter winds whipping through the area so all my leaves were replaced by those from somewhere upwind of me. It couldn't help but snicker at those that have been out raking leaves for the last two weeks to make their lawns look immaculate. Not only is it time consuming, but they have to pay to buy bags to put their leaves in to get hauled to the recycling center where it is turned into mulch. Now after the wind, they have to pay and redo all that labor to do it again, all so their lawn looks "clean" until it is covered in snow... or the next wind storm undoes it again.