The year is nearly over now, so here’s another lengthy blog post to catch up.


There was still a weekend of classes left at the Lumpy Waters Symposium after the Friday surf class that my previous blog post covered. On Saturday, Karl and I taught a class for beginners to get used to rock gardening, and rescuing each other in that environment, and we got to play in a little surf at the end of the day, too. The mouth of the Salmon River in Oregon is a really, really beautiful place. I will definitely go back there again sometime.

getting out

On Sunday, Amanda I and I led a small group of beginners on a trip to the Three Arches Rocks at Oceanside. There was a strong northwest swell and a building north wind, so we stayed on the south side of the rocks, but we did get to check out the largest arch, and get a little taste of the swell and wind.

checking out the big arch

Once the last Road Scholar trip of the year was over, I moved into the early deer season and started hunting every afternoon. I actually took a shot at a deer this year, for the first time ever, but missed. Mostly, what I brought home every day was chanterelles, which were plenty tasty, but not venison!


I also hunted all eleven days of elk season this year, and got close to elk a few times, but not close enough to see my way to a good shot, and I ended the elk season empty handed, too, except for some great pictures and more chanterelles.


Next year, for elk season, I’m putting together a small posse, instead of going it alone again. It’s nearly impossible to push an elk towards you, when you’re hunting alone.

Devil's Club

busy beavers were here

I hunted all four days of late deer season, too, but got faked out by an older, smarter buck, who waited for me to sneak past him, and then doubled back around behind me and vanished. I guess that’s why he’s a four point now.


Looking down at Skamokawa valleys

smoked turkey

We went to Seattle again for Thanksgiving, and for fun, we took the ferry over to Bremerton on the way home.

downtown Seattle

The weekend after Thanksgiving is when the Solstice Forge Hammer-In is every year, with good food, beer and coal fired fun.

Solstice Forge Hammer-In, November 26, 2011

The timber company that owns the land behind me sent a crew in this fall to clean ditches and maintain roads. They took out a bunch of alder along the road where it passes through my land, so I borrowed the Farmi logging winch from my neighbor Krist and spent a few afternoons bucking and skidding firewood logs into a pile in the pasture. I think I may have about four or five cords of firewood there when I get it all split and stacked. I sure love the Farmi winch. Someday I need to own one of these.

Tractor Logging with the Farmi winch


Tractor and Farmi logging winch

Way back last February, when Alice and I were on our way back from visiting colleges, my beloved, well-worn Subaru started making horrible engine noises, and when I got home, I parked it with the suspicion that it had a timing belt pulley going bad.

I ended up driving the Mercedes all summer, and putting the Subaru on the back burner, but then in early November, Shannon flipped and totaled her Toyota when she hit some black ice on KM Mountain. I ended up giving her the Mercedes to get back and forth to town, and finally was forced into dealing with the Subaru.

Bad bearing

It turned out I was right about the timing belt, and a couple of days and $300 later, I had my Subaru back on the road again. I am so happy to have this car back, with its ipod capable stereo, heavy duty roof rack, working cruise control and all wheel drive. Yay!

new timing belt


Every year, the Saturday after Thanksgiving, Karen and David Curl in Naselle host a Hammer In party at their shop, Solstice Forge. I think this is the fourth or fifth year that I’ve gone. Sometimes I bring along something to work on, or just fool around making something out of scraps that Dave has laying around. This year, when I arrived, there was already a lot of people there, and three different projects being worked on out of two fires, so I just hung out, ate some great food and took a lot of pictures.

Riley watching the fire

coal and tongs

hands working


coal fire

hammer and anvil


hot metal

Another long break in between blog entries…. I guess I haven’t been doing anything interesting enough to blog about!

After the end of hunting season, the days seemed to get shorter very quickly, and I kind of went into hibernation mode, feeding wood into the stove, reading, working on next year’s schedule, and conserving energy.


I stopped off at Solstice Forge’s annual Hammer-In party in November, but I forgot to bring along the project I wanted to work on, so I just visited, and watched other people beating on hot metal instead.

red hot

December brought an unusual hard, cold freeze to Skamokawa, with the thermometer reading about 9 degrees F every morning for over a week. I kept the taps running day and night, and even at that I had the water partially freeze up one night. I lucked out and got it thawed and flowing again pretty quickly, and didn’t suffer any broken pipes.


The Skamokawa Center wasn’t so lucky though, and pipes broke in most of the buildings there. At least this time, I didn’t have to fix it all.

ice on the window

After about a week and a half of subfreezing weather, a Pacific front moved in and warmed everything up. So far, we’ve not had a repeat of the snow event from last year. I never even got around to putting the studded tires on the car this year; even the K-M Mountain pass has been clear and bare all winter.

change in the weather

I went out for the Christmas bird count again, on a very cold and windy day. Not very many birds wanted to be out in that weather, but I did my part, and went out to Jim Crow Sands (yes, it is really named that, officially…) and found a pair of Horned Larks for the count.

sandy island in the river

Last month we had a little Burns Dinner at my brother’s house in Seattle. He ordered a haggis from the Swinery, a meat shop in West Seattle and made up a delicious lamb stew, and the traditional neeps and tatties to go with it. Guests each brought a bottle of single malt scotch, and Paul even brought two! Next year we’re thinking of doing it a little bigger, but my brother went so far this year as to recite the “Address to a Haggis” with a reasonable good Scottish accent.

single malts

After a very long period of uncertainty, Skamokawa Center was finally foreclosed on by the bank this month, and now the bank is looking to sell it off as quickly as possible. At this point, there doesn’t seem to be a long line of potential buyers waiting for their chance to own a quaint little inn and cafe out in the middle of nowhere. We’re hoping that in the meantime, Columbia River Kayaking can continue to rent and operate the paddle center like we did last year.

kayaks and sky

I have always been interested in machining technology. My very first job after high school was working in a machine shop, but I got laid off in the slow winter, and never got back around to that career path. But every now and then I’ll pick up a book or a magazine about machining and read it.

The lathe was the first basic tool of the industrial revolution; with it, you can make all of the other tools: milling machines, shapers, drill presses, etc.

One of my brother’s friends had taken an old lathe and some miscellaneous tools as payment on a debt, and he recently offered it all to my brother and I, so we purchased this 1936 South Bend Model 415 lathe, and a few boxes of tooling and other junk, along with a cheap Chinese drill press converted to milling service. I welded up a heavy steel table for it, and, a few hours at a time, I’ve been cleaning it up, researching its operation and hopefully I’ll be able to turn some metal in it soon.

South Bend lathe model 415

So, a couple of weeks back Brian and I got around to milling up those logs we dragged out of the Nehalem River last winter. Brian is getting ready to build himself a cabin, so most of the lumber stayed with him, but I did keep some nice clear spruce for planking a dinghy that I hope to build one of these days. Unfortunately, somebody stole the other raft of nice cedar that we had tied up in the river; when Brian set out to move it to the boat ramp the night before I got there, all he found was a couple of pieces of rope, cut short, hanging at the side of the river where our logs had been. Those were the nicest of all the cedar we had, too. Grrr…..

cutting cedar

When we got to the huge log, we couldn’t load it onto the mill in one piece, so we set up to rip it lengthwise with the chainsaws first. Brian wanted to try out the big Husqvarna 372, so once I got the cut started, I handed off the saw to him. Here he is, handing me a small piece of metal that he saw laying on top of the log. “Hey, is this part of your saw?” he asked. I took it from him and looked at it while he kept cutting. In another moment, just as I recognized it as a piece of a needle bearing, the saw made a horrible clanking noise, and started throwing sparks everywhere. Brian shut it off, and I found that the clutch had flown to pieces, taking out the bar oil pump on its way out.

"hey, is this part of your saw?"

We finished the cut with Brian’s smaller Stihl; fortunately the cut was already more that halfway through the thickness of the log. My Husky is currently at the shop in Longview, awaiting repairs…

Here’s Brian, pretending to have ripped this mighty log with a 14″ Echo tree service saw.

mighty log slayer

Brian and big log

Wherever there is fresh lumber being sawn, you will soon find a host of various insects, attracted by the strong smell of wood. This is some kind of bark beetle, which there were several dozen of all over this log as I cut it up.


The last log in the stack got made into big beams for Brian’s cabin, which neither one of us was very excited about lifting and carrying to the stack at that point. I loaded up the little bit of clears that I kept and headed home. Brian is probably in the middle of building his cabin right now. Next up for me is the task of building Alice a Greenland style kayak. I just started tonight, and will be posting pictures and comments soon.

growth rings

alder lumber

After many many weeks of no movement, I finally got the mill all put back together this week. I changed out the big drive side bearing, new up and down chains, new lumber scale and pointer, cleaned up the blade guides and put all new adjustment hardware on them.

I still have a little welding to do before it is all back in service, but after several hundred dollars and many hours of work later, I am making boards again. These boards are alder, from some logs I brought home from a neighbor’s house. Next stop is Brian’s shop, to mill up the logs we pulled out of the river this winter.

guide adjustments

blade guide

When I started this blog, I had no idea how mechanical it would turn out to be! But when you own several old and tired pieces of machinery, as I always have, then mechanicking is something you have to do a lot of sometimes. However, this winter has been way crazier than usual in that regard.

After the tour with the Eco-Gals was over, I went back over to Astoria the next day and towed the broken-down Subaru home. I spent days looking for an engine, and found a few equally tired ones in junkyards, but many of them had almost as many miles on them as my dead one did. Then I stumbled across a clean, allegedly rebuilt 1994 Subaru EJ22 on Craigslist, for $800. It was complete and sparking clean. All I would need to do is swap my new clutch and flywheel onto it and drop it in. So I drove down to Portland and bought it, before someone else did.

After I picked up the engine, I ran around town and did some other errands and ended up stopping for pizza at Bella Faccia on Alberta Street. While munching on my pizza, I was absentmindedly looking at the living section of the newspaper and scanned my horoscope. “Not a good day for making major purchases, what you might buy today won’t turn out to be as good as you thought,” or something to that effect. Not exactly what I needed to hear right then, so I just folded up the paper, pushed it away and pretended I never saw it. Jeez!

The new engine is super clean and has obviously been rebuilt, with everything on it, alternator, wiring harness, and all the fuel injection parts. I started working on it on Friday after spending hours moving other mechanical projects out of the way so I could use the engine hoist. I finally got started on the engine swap at about 3 PM.

engine out

I was feeling pretty competent and I had thought of taking pictures as I went along at various stages and timing myself. It took an hour and 15 minutes to have the engine dangling in the air, and I was on the path towards a running car that evening. That is, until I noticed that the plugs that plug the engine into the car were totally different on the new engine. Damn that horoscope! That shiny new wiring harness was no good at all to me, so I spent the next two hours changing it out with the old one. Right about dark, I had the new engine in and bolted up, but not yet running.

one of these things is not like the other...

The next day I was able to get everything hooked up right and running, but had to change back to my old alternator after a quick trip to the gas station left me with a dying battery. That cursed horoscope again! Fortunately, that was about a ten minute job at the most.

I have to say, even with all the troubles I’ve had with this particular very high mileage Subaru, I am impressed with the design and layout of this series of Legacy. The ergonomics are great; everything is exactly where I want it to be. The engine is a very compact and simple design and pretty easy to remove and reinstall. There is no distributor either, the ignition is computer fired from a four way coil on top of the engine. When I was first learning how to work on cars, I was amazed at the Rube Goldberg-ness of the distributor on gasoline engines. It is a remarkable and convoluted device, and as much as I admired the ingenuity that went into inventing it, it is a complicated mechanical part that wears out over time and creates trouble. Even when it doesn’t wear out, it still needs regular adjustments and parts replacements. So I am liking this engine and its lack of a mechanical distributor. Maybe I’m just getting old…

The EJ22 engine, up to 1995 anyway, is a non-interference engine. This means that if you were to break your timing belt, the car would stop running, of course, but the pistons and valves would not collide with each other, and you would only need to change the timing belt for a new one to be on your way again, unlike many modern engines, whose tolerances are so tight that there is no room for things to miss each other in the event of a broken timing belt. Also, without considering the air conditioning belt, the EJ22 engine has only one accessory drive belt, running the alternator and power steering pump. The water pump is actually driven off of the timing belt, so as long as the timing belt is intact, your water pump is turning. Also a good design feature.

subaru running again!

A short postscript: Today, in the middle of the day and with no obvious cause, or warning, that dang transmission that I just put in a couple of weeks ago starting making a new and troublesome noise. Will it ever end? I guess that’s what I get for $90. Fortunately, this still has a warranty on it. If I can’t figure it out right away, I will exchange it next week for another. Crikey!

Well, it’s been a busy week! I finally got the new transmission in the Subaru the other day, after another trip back to Portland for more parts. For the first 100 miles or so, it was really stiff and noisy and not shifting smoothly, and I was starting to wonder when my bad car luck would end, if ever. Then, I guess the oil got to all the little places inside that it needed to and things quieted down somewhat and the shifting got much better. So, other than a host of other small problems like any car with over a quarter million miles on it might be expected to have, I have a decent car for daily driving again. Whew!

Here’s the new clutch all installed just before the transmission goes back in. The old clutch fork was just about worn through from lack of grease, and the axles were all loose and wobbly. I replaced those too, and now, with a quieter transmission, I can hear the noisy wheel bearings. Heh heh…

clutch cover

* * * * * * * * * * * *

The other big project this last week or so was getting shiitake logs inoculated. I went out into a little corner of woods by my barn and cleared out a bunch of small diameter alder, and cut it into 42″ lengths. Shannon and the girls stacked it up neatly and I ordered the sawdust spawn from Northwest Mycological Consultants in Corvallis, OR. It came about a week ago, and after I helped my neighbor Levi with his logs, I spent a day with Alice working on my logs and we got through one bag of spawn and about three dozen logs. Yesterday, Levi came over and we knocked out the rest of the spawn in a couple of hours. I still have some logs left over, so I will probably order another bag of spawn, maybe maitake, or one of the many oyster mushroom strains that are available.

It feels good to have gotten those things done, and just in time, since my work season is about to start in earnest. The first Elderhostel kayak tour of the season started Sunday night.

alder logs

I searched all over the place for another engine for my diesel VW, but I found nothing that I could use. I will eventually rebuild this one, but in the short term, I need something to drive besides the big truck. So back to car shopping for me. I decided that I wanted a wagon, and after the snowy cold winter we had here, and all the trips I made to Astoria over snow covered K-M Mountain, I decided to get an all wheel drive wagon. I considered Toyota All-Tracs, but they aren’t easy to find, and neither are parts for them. Subaru, on the other hand, has been making 4WD and AWD cars for a long time and Subaru wagons are pretty easy to come by. Plus, out of the seventy-odd cars I’ve owned in my life (truly! I counted them!), I’ve never yet owned a Subaru, so it was time.

My meager budget, though, narrowed the field considerably. I found a few beater Subarus on Seattle Craigslist for $1000 or under, but only one person would return my emails, so I caught a ride up north with my brother and bought this beauty for $860.

my new car

It has 255 thousand miles on it, which is a lot, but not necessarily fatal for a Toyota or a Subaru. This one had commuted from Roslyn to Seattle 4 days a week for years, so the mileage was mostly highway. The interior and body are pretty straight, the engine runs great, but the transmission has a strange noise in second gear. Which is how I managed to buy it for only $860.

This car drives great and it fits me perfectly; everything is in just the right place, unlike some other cars I’ve owned. But that second gear problem needed some attention, so I changed out the fluid to see what was up in there. On the drainplug magnet was a bunch of metal filings along with a few larger pieces. So this thing has a bad bearing and bad bearings don’t usually fix themselves. Fortunately, this transmission was way easier to find than a replacement for the Jetta was. The U-Pull-It yard on SE Foster in Portland had a half dozen manual transmission Legacies, and they only want $90 exchange for a transmission. So on Thursday, I made a pilgrimage to the wrecking yard.

u-pull it yard

I should say a few things here about my relationship with wrecking yards. When I was in high school, I used to drive out to the wrecking yards on weekends on the pretext of needing a part for my ’61 Ford pickup, and then spend the day just wandering around looking at cool old cars. I learned a lot about engines and transmissions this way. Later on, I started working in wrecking yards when I was 20 years old, and by the time I was 25 it had become my main career. I worked both as a “dismantler” and a parts counter guy. I also liked to take pictures in wrecking yards, and I once came across a very old yard in the Portland area that was just stuffed full of old European cars. I took a lot of cool pictures in that one.

But today, I had to stay more focused on the task at hand, so I didn’t get a lot of cool pictures. I found a Legacy wagon like mine with a transmission that appeared to have been rebuilt at some point, and the fluid inside was sparkling clean, so I set to it and a couple of hours later had this transmission on the ground.

new transmission

I also rounded up a bunch of spare power window switches and whatnot, a couple of new door handles and latches to replace sticky ones, a pair of door panels to replace the tattered ones in the back seat, a new speedometer head and a few parts for my brother’s Camry wagon. While removing a rear hatch handle, I found the remains of this automatic transmission in the back seat. A side note to Subaru owners: all the manual transmission Legacies in the yard were wrecked, but the automatic Subarus were not. Hmmm….

transmission parts

Well, there was no putting it off any longer, and a couple of days ago, I finally faced the task of assessing my diesel VW’s engine troubles. I was expecting the worst, and I wasn’t disappointed. I pulled the cam and the lifter in question and there was nothing wrong with the lifter at all. Uh oh!

I went ahead and pulled the head and found that one of the valve heads had broken off and fallen into the cylinder while I was zipping along on the highway. The damage was extensive! I’m guessing that the new head did not have OEM German valves in there, but some cheaper substitute.

I am now looking at a total engine rebuild, starting with another new head. In the meantime, I am looking for a Subaru wagon or a cheap Toyota to get me around while I slowly rebuild the diesel.

The next blog entry should be a cheerier one!

broken valve

piston carnage

Last week I went to northern California to visit some friends and to install a small solar electric system for a friend of a friend. I used to live down there, in Humboldt County, about an hour south of Eureka on the coast. It was the first real road trip in the recently repaired diesel Jetta that is featured elsewhere on this blog.

I like going down there at this time of year. Everything is so green and flowers are starting to pop up everywhere. And the coastline is beautiful.

ocean and rocks

On the way into California, along highway 199, the road drops into the Smith River drainage and follows it down towards Crescent City on the coast. I have a favorite stop that I make almost every time, a little turnout where you can walk down and sit by the river.

smith river canyon, california

I took this picture underwater with the little waterproof Pentax. The color of the water is just about perfect for steelhead fishing.

under the surface

South of Crescent City, there are numerous places where you can see elk herds. I actually pulled off this time and took a couple of pictures of the elk and their warning sign. Do not approach on foot! Yeah, no kidding…

do not approach on foot!

While waiting to meet the person who needed the solar panels installed, I took a little drive through one of the many redwood groves, and got out and hiked around a bit. This forest type is very different than what I am used to in Washington. The dominant softwood of course is Coast Redwood, and the main hardwood is Tanbark Oak, not a true oak in the Quercus genus, but it produces acorns like an oak tree. Its latin name is Lithocarpus Densiflorus. It is the only Lithocarpus outside of Asia. I used to work at a small sawmill that was focused on making lumber and especially flooring from tanoak, which is considered by the mainstream softwood industry to be a “trash tree”. We made a lot of really beautiful boards from this “trash tree”. Other hardwoods include oregon white oak, black oak, canyon live oak, bay laurel, and madrone. One of the few things I miss about living in California is the smell of woodstove smoke from all these spicy hardwoods. Lovely!

tanoak and redwood forest

Saturday night, I was all done and headed back to Portland. The car had been running flawlessly the whole trip, and I had done my 1000 mile head gasket retorque the day before. I was zipping along south of Albany, OR when it suddenly started running ragged and quit. I got over to the shoulder and tried to get it going again, but to no avail. It took a $400 tow truck ride to get to Portland, where the car is sitting right now at a friend’s house. I will head over there tomorrow to pick it up. Once again, I curse my failure to have purchased AAA towing insurance!

Initially I was hoping it was just a plugged fuel filter, but it seems to be more serious than that; I wasn’t able to get it going again even after a new filter. I’ll tear into it again when I get it home.

Ah, the joy of owning and working on old cars!

tow truck