Saturday, April 25, 2009

In which we go to ridecamp, visit Iraq, and the Peeps grow some wings

We loaded up the SS Illegible on Friday and headed out to ridecamp at the Milwaukee Rail Trail Ride in Kittitas, WA.

This is an old picture of the Illegible--we didn't take horses with us on this trip, just humans and dogs. This time we didn't go to ride, but merely to volunteer at the vetcheck and socialize with our friends: mostly horses and people and dogs...but also mules.

Jim and Willy drove the water truck in the early morning hours, ensuring that every horse and rider would encounter a full water tank on their 25, 50, or 75-mile journey. Any rider who has ever encountered an EMPTY water tank (as I have) knows how vital the water truck guys are. As far as I'm concerned, water tank guys deserve to get two t-shirts plus as much of the Pirate's rum as they can find in my camp.

The water tank task requires a reveille of 5am, so it's not very popular.... I didn't participate in the water tank stuff, so there aren't any pictures of it. Instead, I got to sleep in to a luxurious 6am and took some pictures of a few riders leaving camp to start their first loops.

The wind was so strong in camp that we couldn't hear the horse's hearts through the stethoscopes until we built a windbreak to hide around. Because we had limited tools and materials available for building, we just stacked up horse trailers until the wind couldn't get through.

The most challenging thing for me about pulsing horses is doing the math : you count the horse's heartbeats for 15 seconds, and then multiply that number by four to get the beats per minute. When I get tired, math is the first skill-set to abandon ship. Fortunately, I have a cheat-sheet available.

The US Army uses the desert terrain surrounding this portion of the Iron Horse Trail to practice their "sneaking around" skills. In years past, I've had my trusty mount point out the soldiers in the bushes with his ears...they may be too sneaky for humans to detect, but the Toad's nose is nearly 2 feet long; he knew EXACTLY where they were, and he'd point his ears right at them whenever they were close to the trail.

If I'd been riding Story on that trail, she would've figured those guys with guns were hunters, and she would've wanted to veer off trail towards them; Story's experience with hunters led her to believe that they always carry candy and beer and are always willing to share with a horse who asks them sweetly to share with her.

The Army guys have added to the training routine this year: they've built weird little Iraqi villages in the middle of the eastern Washington State desert so they can practice more Army-guy skills before they ship out to the Sandbox. The village "houses" are shipping containers (like you see on trucks and trains) with fake siding added, and windows and doors cut in. There were also some fences, and even a burnt-out "car" to practice with before they ship out to cope with the real thing. It looks like they're even practicing their graffitti vocab and spraypainting skills. Anybody out there want to translate this for me?

This sign gave us endless giggles. Since the majority of endurance horses are Arabians, the joke in camp was that the Arab horses had to go around the circle, and all the other horses could just walk past it.

Here's the biggest and best reason for riding this sport: often, the country you can only see from the back of your horse is the most beautiful view in the world.

Returning to camp from the trail, I am always amazed at our own funny little village. If I look closely, I can pick out the Illegible, (far left margin) as well as the rigs of my friends. For a few days each month during the season, camp is my home.

Then we return to our real home on the farm, and discover that (like teenagers who seem to grow 2 feet overnight) our Peeps have sprouted wings, complete with the barred markings of adult hens. They are growing up so quickly.
Next thing we know, they'll be wanting to borrow the keys to the car.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

In which horses try to follow me home, and we get a blue tractor

I didn't get to keep any of the horses, just so you know the most important information immediately.

I was driving home on Highway 530--a rural 2-lane road that runs between I-5 and the furthest outposts of civilization on this side of the mountain--when what to my wondering eyes should appear but a bunch of dumb horses with no-one to steer.

True thing: somebody left the gate open on one of the larger horse and cattle farms near Oso, and the horses decided to find out for themselves if the grass really IS greener on the other side of the fence. Unfortunately, traffic on the "other side of the fence" travels at 55mph+ and is not interested in slowing down for any reason...not even to make way for a 1,200 pound animal blocking the lane.

Fortunately, it was easy to see which gate was open, and the horses were quite willing to be herded back into their lush grassy pasture, and as soon as they were safely inside with the gate properly closed, the owner showed up and thanked me profusely. Like, I could see 15 horses beside the highway and just keep driving? Uhm, no. But thanks for the appreciation. I know I appreciate people who help stray critters, so it's okay.

No photos, sorry. I was too busy making sure nobody got hit by cars.

Meanwhile, Jim and Willy were out shopping for tractors.

We've looked at a couple of really old tractors, but they were mostly SO huge that they were actually too big for the job...and then there would be the problem of where a huge tractor would sleep at night (I know, I know: anywhere it wants to). After doing some research and some more creative financing, Jim negotiated a good deal on a used Misubishi D1650 tractor.

For those who want to know the mechanical details of the tractor, this paragraph is for you (everyone else can skip down). The D1650 is a grey-market tractor about 9 feet long from stem to stern, not including the loader which adds another 3-4 feet to the length. It's a 20 horsepower, 4-cylinder diesel tractor (and will run on biodiesel, if we ever get organized enough to make some) with 9 forward gears and 3 reverse gears. The tractor we're buying is a 2-wheel drive with about 745 hours on it, and it has a loader on the front. The tires have longer "paddles" than a normal agricultural tractor tire--these are apparently called "rice paddy tires"...which seems appropriate for a tractor in the Swamplands!

We will have to buy a 5' brush hog attachment for it, if you know anybody who is selling one.

Jim located youtube video of a similar tractor working somewhere in Eastern Europe (Poland? I can't tell what language is indicated by the notes!) You can watch that tractor here. The tractor in the video would probably have benefitted from rice paddy tires--that soil is very deep!

For those who don't care so much about the mechanical stuff: It can bucket up dirt, rocks, haybales, and snow. We need to get the attachment for mowing the fields. And we'll rent the attachment for drilling post holes.

It's blue.

We haven't named it yet.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

In which we build a Peep Tractor, 'till the garden, and battle more vines

Jim built a Peep Tractor!

If you missed the original explanation about Chicken Tractors, it's located here. Today, Jim built a itty-bitty tractor for the Peeps. It is very cute...and quite fascinating not only for the peeps, who love scratching in the dirt with their little feet, but also for people and dogs to watch.

The funniest thing on the face of the earth is watching 4-day-old chicks with a worm: the chick with the worm holds on tight and runs like hell, followed by all the other chicks in a no-holds-barred wormball rugby game. The wormball gets passed around and streeeeetttched very long, and eventually almost all the chicks get a peck at it.
Mimsy's new favorite thing: Peep TV.

Our wonderful neighbor Herb showed up today with his tractor, and rototilled our new garden space!

I could only watch and grin as he turned a grassy yard (yuck) into a wonderful space for all the vegetables to grow.

Look how straight the lines and square the corners are--I don't think I could do this with a ruler and a protractor, and he did it with a TRACTOR. That is just so cool.

Willy and I decided to extricate some of the t-posts from the Great Blackberry Vine Wilderness this afternoon.

At one point I dropped the t-post puller, and lost a very essential pin. Fortunately, the pin attaching the utility trailer to the riding lawnmower is EXACTLY the right size! My mom, Queen of Making Do, will be so proud.

We also used a junk wheel (found deep in the weeds) as a platform to stand on while chopping vines. "Make do," Mom says, and I do it.

It was hard work, and hot, too--Luna insisted on sharing my water bottle.

At the end of the day, I spend a little time watching Peep TV.