Ranch goings on, summer 2013 update #1

Greetings friends, family and loved ones!  As I type this we are at one of our favorite campgrounds, Centennial RV Park which is about 10 miles south of Montrose, Colorado.

San Juan Mountains

Looking south from the coach to the San Juan Mountains

As I look our our large salon window I can see the peaks of the beautiful snow-capped San Juan mountains, always a gorgeous sight to behold.  We will be here for about five more weeks so we will get our fill of Jeeping around the mountains with our club, the Western Slope 4-wheelers.  (There are several wildfires in Colorado but fortunately none near us.)

We have been blessed with rain at the little ranch this year – not a lot but it is always

Young buck going to auction

Young buck going to auction

coming down at the right time to keep the grasses and flowers growing – prayers are answered!  Assuming we continue to regularly get a little rain, our feed bill should be way down this year.  Speaking of feed, we have had a good year (so far) with the blackbuck antelope.  We sold several at auction, and are in the process of having the remaining bucks darted and sold off with the idea of bringing in a new breeder buck for genetic diversity.  We did have a very, very nice buck die for no obvious reason this spring, it was such a sad

Mature blackbuck male

This is the beautiful male that died for no obvious reason

event to see one of the nicest males in the herd die – he needed to be on another ranch and we could have used the money to offset prior years’ feed bill.  On a positive note, all of the three or four babies born this year are doing well unlike the last couple of years.

Since we are trying to be good stewards of our ranch, we have been active in an effort to rid the place of prickly pear cactus; after a three year spray program (Surmount) we have the cactus about 98% controlled (compared to it covering maybe 50% of the property at purchase!)  Now it’s time to aggressively tackle our thistle

Thistle flower

Thistle flower

population, we have been actively fighting them for years with some progress but if you leave a few thistles, they will produce thousands and thousands of seeds, so it seems like a losing battle.  After a chat with our animal trapper and lamenting about the thistle problem, he said he has Rhea birds (like an Emu or Ostrich) that eat the thistle heads and eventually the thistles completely disappear since they can’t produce seeds.

Lesser Rhea

Lesser Rhea

Sensing an opportunity for natural control instead of herbicides, we ordered two Rhea birds from the trapper to be delivered as soon as possible so we will be adding more exotic critters to the place.  John wants a couple of donkeys so don’t be surprised if we make that announcement one of these days.

On a very tragic note, we found out that one person of the two man trapper team we use was recently killed apparently in a domestic violence event with his wife just a few days after we received our proceeds from the antelope sale.  The sheriff found the man’s wife with a stab wound in the leg and he was dead of a gunshot wound.  Story goes that there was a long history of marital strife in that family but it’s profoundly sad to see that sort of violent conclusion to a marriage.  (The picture with the two guys and the young male on the ground was not the fellow that was killed.)

After we leave the Montrose area we are headed to Leadville, Colorado for the annual All-4-Fun off-road event and then we haven’t figured out where to go next.  We might wander up to the Yellowstone area, but no definite plans yet.  We’re very blessed to be here and never forget to give thanks 🙂 .

Review of the Northern Tools NorthStar 3-Pt. 55 Gallon Broadcast and Spot Sprayer — Two stars out of Five

This is a first, a product review on our blog.

The reason is that Northern Tools rejected (actually didn’t even have the courtesy to respond) my less than favorable review of their sprayer I just purchased for the ranch, so problem solved.  I’ll simply publish my own review.  Since Northern Tool didn’t like my review, you have to wonder how many other unfavorable, honest reviews also went on the chopping block.  I am now very suspect of their preponderance of favorable product reviews.

Bottom line: I would not recommend this product to a friend unless improvements are made.

On to the review..

Even with our diminutive ranch (by Texas standards) there are lots of weeds and undesirable flora to control and it has turned out to be way too much acreage for spot spraying so hence the need for a larger sprayer that’s tractor mounted.  Not wanting to spend $1,200-1,500 on a larger PTO driven boom sprayer, this product caught my eye at the Northern Tool website.  It seemed to be just what I needed and at a fairly decent price (although it has a 12 volt pump and not a PTO driven pump which means less output), so order placed and sprayer delivered by truck freight a few days later.

Assembly went quickly, you just have to add the legs, a few miscellaneous parts, the

Way too short power cord

Way too short power cord

hand-held spot sprayer and you’re ready for business. It became very obvious almost immediately that the included 12V cord (on-off switch and alligator clips to clip to the battery terminals) was way too short to use with a real tractor.  The battery in my Kubota is all the way forward so the cord was about six feet (yes, six) feet too short.  Apparently the product brain trust at Northern Tool thought the 12V cord that worked for their ATV and lawn tractor sprayers would work for this product.  Uh, fellows, did anybody actually think this through?  It doesn’t work for a real tractor.  So I had to add about six feet of 14 gauge wire before I could make the product operational.

I mounted it to the Kubota’s 3-point hitch, added a few gallons of water and tested it for function and leaks.  It seemed to work fine and didn’t have any leaks so the next morning it was time to spray Grazon PD on our thistle and other undesirables.

A side note when you’re figuring out your application rate and driving speed to get the right amount of herbicide applied: the little 2.2 GPM pump will only produce about 35 PSI of pressure so the only line in the application rate chart that’s used is 35 PSI.  The broadcast spray nozzle has to be 36″ off the ground for the full spray width and for the chart to be valid.

After I got everything figured out, I started spraying.  Well, almost started spraying.  I immediately found a leaky fitting that I could not completely stop from leaking.  That’s just great, my expensive chemicals leaking on the ground and no easy way to off-load the 30 gallons of product so I could leak-chase. I decided I had to live with the leak and started spraying.

While spraying I discovered a design flaw (first of several.)  The pressure gauge is mounted way too low for it to be easily seen from the operator’s seat.  It’s important to

The difficult to see pressure gauge

The difficult to see pressure gauge

keep an eye on the gauge to be certain you’re at the right pressure and that the spray nozzle hasn’t packed up, so I was constantly craning my head and twisting my body to get an occasional glance at the gauge.  When I did manage to see the gauge, I discovered the pump was cycling and off – it should have been operating continuously at 35 PSI.  Great – what now.  After removing various fittings (while losing more chemicals) I traced the problem to the broadcast spray nozzle filter screen insert – it was almost completely blocking the product flow.  Why I have no idea, there was zero detritus caught in the filter.  Solution, remove the filter and spray.  Then things started to finally go my way 🙂 .

Ye Olde Missing Drain Bung

Ye Olde Missing Drain Bung

After spraying my 30 gallons of Grazon, it was time to clean up the sprayer.  At that point, I discovered serious design flaw #2.  Northern Tool was too cheap to install a one dollar drain bung in the tank!  There is no drain bung.  What?! The product designer/planners must not have ever used a large sprayer before, I suppose they think you can clean out and drain a 55 gallon tank by crawling under the sprayer and unscrewing a little 1/2″ hose fitting.  To put it mildly, I was astounded at this oversight.

While I’m ripping into the product, there is another area for improvement.  As they have it

Where they expect you to drain the tank

Where they expect you to drain the tank

plumbed, the spot sprayer (the hand held wand) is always active, i.e., there is no three-way valve to throw to select either broadcast spray or hand-held wand.  I discovered this when I saw one of the hose clamps on the spray wand leaking.  This was an easy fix fortunately.  On the positive side, I really liked the spray wand although it needs to be a foot or two longer.

Where to from here, or after a complete re-work, turning this Two Star sprayer into a Five Star sprayer….

I’m going to completely re-plumb the sprayer with 3/4″ hose, change the little 2.2 GPM pump for a 5.5 GPM (I already have the pump), add a three-way valve to either select  broadcast spray or the spray wand, replace the spray wand with a better model and replace the short PVC hose on the wand with a 25′ rubber version.  I’ll weld on a bracket for the pressure gauge (I’ll look for a larger diameter gauge while I’m at it) to bring it up to operator eye-level.  If I get industrious, I might also make a couple of spray booms for it.  The big issue with a single broadcast spray nozzle is chemical drift if there’s much wind blowing – the nozzle is 36″ off the ground which is actually quite a bit.  Boom sprayers are much less sensitive to this problem because the nozzles aren’t nearly as far from the ground.

What? It’s 2013 already?

Let’s see, where were we at last update…  It was fall and we participated in the Black Hills Jeep Jamboree.   Then elections happened and 51% of the voters decided we needed four more years of Barry & his buddies.  (Lord, please deliver from these feckless idiots in Washington.)

Since we’re (okay, John is) turning into off-road fanatics, it just seemed right to participate in the Family Motor Coach Assn (FMCA) 4-Wheeler’s

Trail repair - I tied a shock up and out of the way

At the Golden Vally FMCA 4-wheeler rally, I pulled out the left-rear shock from its mount

Thanksgiving event in Golden Vally, Arizona (near Kingman).  We joined the club several months previously but our schedules didn’t mesh until this event.  So we made another trip out West (we love the open spaces) and had to stop by Las Cruces, New Mexico to see our dear friends, the Topleys and John made his usual shopping foray at Harbor Freight tools.

We had a great time as usual in Las Cruces and then headed to the NW corner of Arizona

iPad taking video of a Jeep

We thought this was a very cool picture that Jane captured at the FMCA 4-Wheeler’s Thanksgiving rally

and had a great time with all of the old 4-wheel codgers like us <grin>, the rally and trails were very well organized, managed and we had a great time.  I was impressed at how much planning effort went into this production, this is what happens when you have a bunch of talented people with a lot of spare time on their hands 🙂

Since we pulled the left-rear shock absorber from its upper mount at this event, it was time to completely redo the rear axle shock mounting system and make certain that couldn’t happen again.  Since John

Rolled Jeep

A rolled Jeep at the FMCA 4-Wheelers 2012 Thanksgiving rally @ Golden Vally, AZ.  Everybody was okay

does 99% of the work on the Rubicon, it was necessary to buy a plasma torch to cut off the old parts.  Darn, another tool taking up space 😉  This work was quite involved since John fabricated new shock mounting brackets to be welded on the axle and relocated the upper coil spring mounting perch (via a kit.)

Then winter happened.

Fortunately it was a mild winter and all of our blackbuck antelope babies survived (four or five of them), we did have some animals netted and sold last fall but the herd is still at about 23 or so animals, plenty for our acreage.

Rock crawling buggy on 54" tires

Spotted at the Chili Challenge – a buggy on 54″ tires lined up for one of the extreme trails. What an amazing rig

Then we did two more Jeep events, the Chili Challenge (Las Cruces, NM) and the Texas Spur Jeep Jamboree for the third year in a row.

On a more domestic note, our house AC/heat pump decided to croak – it was diagnosed as a bad compressor.  A bum compressor isn’t necessary a hugely expensive repair ($1,000 which is a lot if you don’t have the money!) but the government has complicated things significantly with the elimination of first R-12 Freon, and then R-22 Freon which is what all household AC units used until two or three years ago.

The refrigerant now is the “earth friendly” (right) R-410a for home units.  The dirty little environmental secret that you won’t hear discussed is the fact that R-410a is not as efficient as R-22 and has to operate at far higher pressures (like twice as much) as good old R-22 and “however, it has a high global warming potential (1725 times the effect of carbon dioxide), similar to that of R-22.”  So, we’re using more energy to produce as many BTUs of cooling or heat but we’re saving the ozone while producing just much carbon dioxide.  Huh?  Time to send the environmental wackos and junk ‘scientists’ to a place where everything is.. Happy.  Yes, Happy Land where we’re saving everything from .. everything.   Ah, that feels so good..

Okay, done with that rant.

Back to the AC problem.  After a lot of discussion with our AC guy, we decided it was more

Rusty & leaking AC evaporator

Rusty & leaking AC evaporator (in the air handler)

practical to replace the entire system with a high SEER unit – this meant a totally new outside unit and a completely new inside unit (the air handler and evaporator.)  It was an expensive operation and it took three guys about 9 hours to make the change but we now have an “earth friendly” AC system (I’m so overwhelmed.)

The new AC system is working great (as we expected) so the new system should last many, many years (finger’s crossed.)

John got interested in Amateur Radio (WB5THT is his call sign) again after being inactive for many years so he’s back on the air.  Since everything was in the “I’m not going to work” mode, his old radios that were stored away for many years didn’t work of course, so new radios were ordered and he’s back on the air in the digital modes (like Teletype) and has communicated all over the world with a simple antenna, radio and PC.

As this update is penned (with a keyboard <grin>) we are in Balmorhea, TX at a cheapo campground with overflowing sewer hookups – never a dull moment when you’re on the road.  There aren’t a lot of choices out here unfortunately.

Thank you dear reader for following along with us as we travel, ranch, do stuff to and with the Jeep, and spend money 😉  As always, may God Bless.  -Jane and John-