Maine Farmhouse Journal

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The Coming Of Winter

October 17-18, 1999

We lived in California for 7 1/2 years, in the Sierra Foothills east of Sacramento. The winter rains usually started in November, and lasted through March each year. Winters were mild - light jacket mild, and temperatures rarely dipped into the 20oF range, even at night. Only twice in the years we lived there did we have snow at our home, which was located at 1,500 feet elevation. Our winters were defined as Mediterranean.

Living in the foothills, we could always drive to winter for skiing or snowshoeing. Anytime you needed winter, a 45 minute drive to 6,000 or 7,000 feet elevation brought you to all the snow you could want. Good cross-country skiing at Kirkwood or Iron Mountain, or alpine skiing at Sierra Ski Ranch, Heavenly, or Tahoe was only 1 1/2 to 2 hours away.

Driving to winter, however, meant that you missed out on one of life's great experiences - growing into and then living in winter. Living in New England and other northern climes, you are part of the annual transition of the seasons from autumn to winter. Not only do nature's creatures adapt to shorter days and colder temperatures, but humans also adapt. I am convinced that my tolerance for cold weather is much greater if my body goes through the seasonal transition, than if I suddenly subject my Mediterranean-conditioned system to the shock of winter by driving to winter.

Fall colors now,
but winter is coming

Now that we're back north, I realize how much I missed the change of seasons. Here in Maine people adapt to winter as the seasons transition (except for the "snowbirds"). Slowly, but perceptibly, temperatures at night begin dropping - into the 30's, then the 'teens. The days are crisp, and the sun's light is golden on the fall colors. As the seasons change, the days begin to get a bite in them, and sweaters and flannel shirts give way to jackets. Leaves drop and the days grow shorter.

As temperatures fall, the ground cools, getting ready for the winter snows. We stop from the fall harvest of apples and pumpkins to listen to the sound of geese overhead, flying south. Then, one morning you awake, and there is a heavy frost on the field, and the ponds have picked up a fringe of ice.

Once in a while, the snows come early, in October or early November. Usually in Maine we have at least one good storm by Thanksgiving, but snow doesn't stay. The ground is generally not cold enough for the snow to stay until sometime in December. (Although there are sometimes exceptions - I remember getting snowed on at a July 4th picnic one year in Sanford, ME, but the snow was gone almost as soon as it landed on the ground.) Indian summer is a pleasant anomaly that may last a week or two, but doesn't break up the rythm of the change of seasons.

As nature gets ready for winter, so do Mainers. We dig out the woolen shirts and winter boots, wool caps and gloves. Those last cords of wood need to be bucked, split and stacked under cover. We check the antifreeze in the cars and tractor, and take care of those last few outdoor chores. If we time it right, everything that we don't want to freeze is drained, put away, and stored for spring before winter comes.

Closing The Pool

Paul and I had a number of chores to get ready for winter at the Farmhouse. The swimming pool needed to be cleaned, the cover put on and the lawn furniture stored in the pool shed. This was, you could say, a learning experience for us. Last year, I had watched our tenant do the close down, and had taken notes. Armed with this and some instructions we found in the pool shed, Paul and I stumbled our way through all the steps to drain, blow out, disassemble, winterize and plug everything that needed to be done.

The new pool cover, compliments of our NY landlord's connection with his friends in York (see "Crabtree Family Reunion"), was a welcome replacement to the ratty, leaky cover that came with the pool. This spring it was a herculean chore to pull it out of the pool where it had sunk to the bottom under tons of leaves. I had vowed that we wouldn't repeat that again! This new cover floats on pieces of styrofoam insulation on the lowered surface of the pool, anchored with 4x4s around the edges.

An added feature is a leaf cover that we stretched out over the surface of the pool. We have been watching the oak leaves fall from the trees around the back yard - they fall on the leaf net, and then blow away. Last year, they all fell into the pool and by the beginning of winter we'd accumulated two feet of them. I think that next spring is going to be much easier to open up the pool than it was this year.

The new pool cover and
the test pool heater

Paul has also been tinkering with a solar pool heater. The temperature in the pool hung around 72oF most of the summer, with a few spikes to near 800F this summer. That's a brisk swim for me. 72os is not in Penny's comfort zone, however, so she didn't get much use out of the pool this year. I thought that if we could just raise the temperature a few degrees it would be more comfortable for all concerned. The insulated night cover that I picked up helped a bit, but not enough. I checked into buying a pool heater, and we decided that there had to be a simpler, cheaper way. Paul made a pilot solar heating unit about 4x10 feet out of some old storm windows and 1/2 inch PVC pipe. After painting everything flat black, and hooking it into the pool filter system, we were able to achieve a couple of degree increase in the pool temperature. This was with only one unit, and with the shorter days of fall where the sun is lower on the horizon. The prospects with more units, operating during the heat of the summer, were encouraging. We'll play with the numbers, and a method to turn the flow through the heater, and then build another couple of units over the winter to use next summer. Paul and I drained the pipes, and moved the test unit over against the back fence out of the way for the winter.

There is one technical glitch, however. Paul called up on the phone after returning to the Farmhouse after a week off -

"Guess what happened to the pool heater" he said.

"I have no idea - it looked fine when I was there last week."

"The sun's heat on the empty PVC tubing has melted all of them. I had no idea that there would be so much heat this time of the year. Without any water in them to draw away the heat, the temperature rating of the PVC must have been exceeded in the solar box."

"Then we'll probably have to cover the panels when not in use?" I suggested.

"Or use copper instead of PVC." he thought.

Clearly there are some bugs to work out of the system, but I think we've proven the concept. Over the winter, we'll rework the first unit and make 2 more. Next summer we'll have a warmer pool to swim in.

Replacing The Roof On The Barbershop

The room that will be our dining room used to be where Ephraim cut hair for people (Ephraim and Lunetta lived at the Farmhouse from 1930 to 1947). This "barbershop" has had a leaking roof for years. During a hard rain, we have buckets to catch the leak over the middle of the room; a driving rain will bring water from several places at once. Once, after several days of hard, driving rains from the west, a piece of the ceiling fell down from the weight of water and wet insulation. The leaks have been getting worse, not better, over time.

The problem is the roofing. The pitch of the barbershop roof is not steep enough to carry shingles, so rolled roofing has been installed. We patched the cracks, but without success. Over the years, the rolled roofing has been patched and repatched many times - we concluded that it really needed to be replaced before snow flies. Also, it looks like the barbershop has settled, and a crack between the main house and the addition has gotten bigger. Paul and I discussed the option of rebuilding the roof with a steeper pitch, but the windows on the west wall of the bat room would have to be removed, or much smaller ones installed to provide the needed room for a steeper roof. We settled on replacing the old roof, and putting down a new membrane under rolled roofing. The membrane would go well up the side walls of the house, to seal any places for water to get in.

The new roof and membrane
on the barbershop

During a several day period, where he had to dodge the rainshowers, Paul removed the old roofing, put down new plywood, and installed the membrane. The proof of the pudding was the next heavy rain - even though the house was lashed with a hard, driving rain and high winds, not a drop came through the membrane. The next job to get done before winter is the installation of the rolled roofing to finish the roof - but we need a stretch of warm sunny weather to do so. Paul is hoping for an early Indian Summer this fall. The winter job will then be to pull down all of the old ceiling and insulation, re-insulate, and replace the ceiling. A jack under the corner of the barbershop will arrest any further settling.

A New Farmer's Porch and Kitchen Roof

I was in the kitchen last winter when we heard a loud "Rumble" from the back of the house. Looking out, I saw a big load of snow and ice slide off the house roof. When the sun hits the metal roof, the accumulation of snow loosens and slides off into the back yard. By mid winter, the snow pile is easily 3 to 4 feet deep, and the back kitchen door is unusable because of all the snow piled up against it. If the dogs or one of us were out on the back walkway when the snow slid off the roof, we could easily be seriously injured.

The metal roof on the carriage house over the kitchen bay window has also been a favorite spot for our male bats to come and go from their roosting spots in the second story of the carriage house. The way that the corregated metal has been constructed over the bay window, there was no way that we could block up all the entry holes to keep the bats out.

Paul and I discussed several ways to resolve both problems, and he suggested building a farmer's porch with a new roof that would protect the back kitchen door from snow slides. The new roof would run from the carriage house ridge line, to give a moderate pitch, and in the process we would remove the old metal roof on the carriage house. The new roof and soffits will have no entry holes for bats.

Our new farmer's porch
and snow roof

Paul framed up a farmer's porch right off the back kitchen door - just the right size for a couple of chairs and a small table to sit at in the morning for coffee. Russ came up to help Paul strip off the old metal roof and build the new roof. The stringers run all the way from the ridge of the carriage house, and extend well out over the porch. There will be no snow build-up against the door this winter, and we can use the door all year round. When I arrived, on Sunday night, they were just finishing up the coat of tar paper. The prediction was for rain on Monday, so the shingles will have to wait till there is a day of good weather.

I am very pleased with the way that the new porch and roof changes the appearance of the kitchen corner, and makes it more interesting. We've decided that the bay window will come out, and will be reinstalled in Penny's study on the second floor of the house so that she can overlook the back yard and the flower gardens. Penny and Paul picked out a new transom-style thermal picture window for the kitchen that will fit nicely into the bay window opening.

Our New Sailor!

"How will we recognize Derek?" someone in our group asked.

I quipped - "He'll be the one in the white sailor cap", but the humour was lost on our group as we scanned the ranks of new sailors before us.

We had travelled to the Great Lakes Naval Training Center, north of Chicago, to be on hand at the Recruite Graduation Pass-In-Review ceremonies of Jim and Alison's son Derek. Dereck, along with 903 others, had completed his nine week boot camp, and was about to become one of the newest sailors in the U.S. Navy. I had flown into O'Hare Airport on my way back from a business trip to Colorado, and drove up to Waukegan to join Jim and his wife Alison, daughter Kim, Alison's mom Jackie, and Derek's girlfriend Mandy. The Recruit Training Command is the Navy's only boot camp, and is located on 140 acres on the western side of the Naval Training Center. It has been in operation since 1911, and now includes 45 buildings, including 15 100-person barracks, two dining halls and four large drill halls. Nearly 50,000 recruits are trained here each year.

Derek with proud dad and grandad

Alison got us all up at 5:00 a.m (or 0500 hours). the morning of graduation, so we wouldn't be late. There didn't seem much danger of that, since our motel was only about 10 minutes from the base. Despite six people taking turns showering and shaving in two bathrooms, we were still at the base when the gates opened at 0700. We were herded with hundreds of other parents and families to the visitor reception center at 0815 hours, where we waited until they escorted us all to a huge assembly hall. The nearly 4,000 visitors were directed to bleachers according to the unit that their sailor was graduating from - we were lost in the cavern-like space. Promptly at 0945 hours the units started marching in, accompanied by a brass marching band and flag detail. Although we knew his unit, since it was arranged with the tallest sailors in front, about all we could see of Derek way in the back during the ceremony was his right ear! And his white cap.

904 new sailors graduated
from the Great Lakes Navy Training Center

Derek had joined the Navy after graduating from Wells High School (see the writeup of Derek's graduation in "Score: Bats - 90, Al - 1"), and had just completed his basic training as part of Division 395, Ship 11. I was impressed with the large number of female sailors, including unit leaders and officers. When I asked Derek, he said that the female recruits are assigned to separate floors in the barracks, but all the training is combined. All of the recruits undergo the same training and have to meet the same tests. All of the sailors looked sharp. Ceremonies included demonstrations by the drill team, flag team and marching band. The reviewing officer, Rear Admiral Mullen, was piped aboard with a 13-gun salute. The colorful ceremonies concluded with all the units passing in review. Parents and visitors were then allowed down on the deck to greet their sailors.

Although my background was US Air Force, some things in the service never change. I learned from Derek that recruits in the new volunteer Navy still get to pull guard duty, have to keep their shoes spitshined, and have long hikes in full gear. The recruits have about nine hours of physical training a week during their course. Under the title of "Ship's Work Training" the recruits learn the joys of mess cooking, messenger duties and working parties. I was suprised when Dereck said that the bathrooms (i.e. - heads) are cleaned by contractors, not recruits. However, in good barracks style, most of the johns and sinks were left unused, to make it easier to get ready for barrack inspections. I never asked him about peeling potatoes or scouring the trash cans - other typical delightful duties of boot camp - but I'm sure he learned all about it during "Ship's Work Training". Along with these drills, recruits also have a heavy load of academics, weapons and military drill, Navy traditions and customs, basic seamanship, etc. Derek's final test at boot camp was a 24-hour battle stations drill, where he was put through the paces of firefighting, seamanship, physical fitness, survival at sea, and first aid.

Oliver Hazard Perry Class Frigate

Derek has now received his orders, and will be reporting to the Oliver Hazard Perry Class Frigate USS Sides (FFG14) in San Diego after a brief home leave. Once there, he will receive more training on board. He is hoping to be able to get over to Japan while he is stationed on the west coast. We're all really proud of him, and know that he's going to go far.

Allen and Penny Crabtree

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Last updated October 29, 1999