February 10, 2022
I started this communication last Thursday, a week ago, but two paragraphs into the writing I was hijacked by an ice storm. I became gently apprised of what lay ahead when the electricity went out that day at 4 PM.
After half an hour of both denial and hope, I finally accepted that the electric heater in the pump room at the dairy wouldn't be able to provide heat and if I didn't want that expensive pump to freeze and crack, it was time to elevate my fanny. The propane heater in the pump-room hadn't been working and I had been ignoring the problem for the past year, but could no longer. With roads becoming ice-filled and temperatures dropping quickly, I headed out in search of Leroy Weaver. He is a master repairman, especially in emergency situations, and was miraculously to be found at home. Within an hour he had performed multiple surgeries on the heater to resuscitate it and bring it into function. That was a stroke of fortune, and was the first of numerous problems to be solved over the next three days.
The second was three empty houses now without electricity but with plumbing-pipes full of water. The propane heater in the basement of Lark Hill, where our commercial kitchen resides, did ignite and thus secured that house, as above.
The other two houses rely on wood stoves for back-up heat. But given they are now empty, no generous pile of cut wood stood ready for use. It suddenly became apparent I was in the wood-cutting business! Piles of old locust posts and discarded oak planking provided the means by which the chainsaw, maul, and I carved up firewood for three long days. I gradually began to observe that as soon as wood was placed in the stoves, it disappeared, down a red hole. The chainsaw and its partner found themselves presented with the ongoing challenge of feeding two stoves every two hours. Sometimes we failed and fires went out, and I would have to ignite them anew. Starting fires is like rocking a baby to sleep; it requires patience and finesse. That proved a challenge at moments, for being low on both.
In the meantime, we had to consider water for livestock. Since the electric pumps were down, we activated county water. This past fall we installed a connector between the east and west ends of our farm, so county water could be delivered to the east end, in the unlikely event power should go down. It was thus with great satisfaction I turned several valves to transport water, under county pressure, to the east end of the farm, where the beeves are located. That problem was solved. Aren't we smart!
Then I began to wonder what would happen if the two houses with wood stoves should spring a leak in the middle of the night, when their fire would be out. County water has no shut-off mechanism, as do pumps pulling from wells and cisterns. Censors tell those pumps to stop when level of water recedes far enough. Not so with county water; it just keeps running. I had visions of walking into one of those houses to find a room full of two feet of water, frozen solid. So, I turned county water off at night and on in morning, creating several extra steps to the day.
During this time, Susan's and my house was being supported by a whole-house generator, so we had electricity on the first floor. We were thus relatively insulated from being without power, until county water suddenly disappeared, around 6:00 Saturday night. That had happened once before when the tap out by the main road froze, due to extreme temperatures. I was then able to reactivate it with an application of hot water. Saturday evening I accordingly ventured forth with flashlight, thermos, and confidence, and found the tap, but it was not frozen. Just in case, I poured hot water over it, which, of course, did no good. We thus spent the night without water, and so did livestock, notching up anxiety in both quarters. I called the water company in the morning, hoping for the best.
On my way out to the beeves that morning, I passed our pump house and noticed a stream of water gushing out the drain pipe. Being deductive, I followed the stream to the pump house, opened the door, and was greeted by two inches of water on the floor and a fountain of the same blasting against the ceiling. I reached through the fountain, turned off the county water, and stood back to assess, beneath a dripping ceiling. The brass pressure-valve had been blown off its lodging. If you notice below, a small screw resides at the bottom of the brass compression fitting, which tightens a collar and provides final resistance to water pressure. It had never been tightened, despite being installed by professionals. So, the whole piece finally loosened, bounced off the ceiling under pressure, and landed on the floor across the room.
This was an easy fix, once diagnosed. I reinstalled the pressure gauge, tightened the compression fitting, tightened the collar at the bottom, and turned county water back on. We were back in business. Marital relations would again be on the upswing, as would those with livestock in the fields.
Another concern during this time were the walk-in freezers. We have four of them, also supported by a generator. Last winter, when we experienced a power outage, the generator couldn't power up the four freezers at the same time. So, this summer we had installed a process where each freezer comes on one minute later than its predecessor. That worked beautifully this time, and the generator ran the whole three days, keeping meat frozen. The irony is we could have shut off the generator and opened the doors of the freezers to keep the meat frozen instead. But if this were to happen in the summer, we would be reliant upon this system and now know it works.
Ice on hot wires impeded flow of electricity, but the beeves did not test them fortunately, as long as they had enough to eat. Ice on polywire and the reels made it difficult to roll the wires up and work the reels. I stopped trying to do so, and resorted to unrolling hay for livestock, in abundance. When animals are under stress, extra feed improves their well-being, as does extra cake for humans.
This is the water tub from which the cows were and are receiving water. This picture was taken Thursday morning, before temperatures began to fall. By the next morning, everything had turned to ice, making for treacherous walking and the need to break and remove ice from the top of the tub.
I was very busy, between feeding hay to three groups of animals, breaking ice on three tubs, managing water to be turned on and off, cutting and splitting firewood, and stoking two wood stoves 16 hours a day. After three days of this intensity, I found myself totally expended, more so than in a long while. Our whole-house propane generator ran out of fuel on Sunday afternoon, and our house went dark. That aforementioned uptick in marital relations quickly began to wane. Fortunately, one hour later, electric power came back on, and we felt as if we had made it through the eye of a storm. I was quietly elated at how well our back-up systems worked, despite being fatigued. Next year, we will install two more whole-house generators to eliminate stoking wood stoves.
Part of what we were dealing with was downed branches and trees everywhere. It was in fact dangerous to walk beneath a tree. A ten foot limb wrapped in 1/4 inch of ice weighs an additional 30 lbs. If the limb is longer or ice thicker, weight quickly increases. Fortunately, this branch of the maple tree fell away from the house rather than on it. It could so easily have been the opposite. We have cleared a number of trees away from houses for this reason.
As always in nature, much beauty accompanies challenges, and that was the case last weekend. The crystalline aspect of the weather was striking.
The only costs to the siege of ice were we regretfully missed the market on Sunday and during the blizzard I backed my truck, with tailgate down, into a telephone pole. The tailgate will need to be replaced but the telephone pole is doing fine.
If you are looking for football food for Sunday evening, we have plenty of chicken wings plus all of our prepared foods. Below are tacos with our Aztec Taco Meat, enhanced with guacamole and tomato salsa. Excellent eating and easy to prepare.
In the release after three full days.