I got out of bed at a reasonable hours this morning. After breakfast, Jonathan, Beth, and I went to the church to take down the garage canopy I set up for the Memorial Day yard sale. It was not a minute too soon either. I’ve been trying to get the canopy empty for months so I could take it down. I finally did get it empty enough to take it down, but then I tried to sell it (I guess for too much since it did not sell). Meanwhile, someone stowed a bicycle in it. I’m sure it was intended as a yard sale donation, but man… I don’t want to house stuff over the winter – I want the canopy down!

On top of that, we have a blizzard on the way now. We’re forecast to get about a foot of snow tonight, and the snow is flying now. I hope we do get a foot too, because I’m tired of looking at brown, and I have almost finished refurbishing the snowshoes I bought last week.

Maybe I’ll post on that tomorrow.

When we got to the church, Jonathan noticed that the driveway had been sanded – and there was no reason for that. We have not had even a quarter inch of snow on the lot at church yet this season. Last year we weren’t sure, but thought that we were being overcharged for parking lot plowing and sanding. It seems we were correct. This year we are documenting it so we can make a complaint. When we questioned our bill last year, the contractor suggested that we take notes – he seemed to think that he might have hired some rascals. I think he is right.

I took 16 Pathfinders (including myself and two other adults) to camp in Bar Harbor, Maine this weekend. We set up the camp kitchen I wrote about last week, and it performed admirably.

I did use a bigger tarp, and I made sure I had two-foot eaves on either side. We also added side walls.

Camping Kitchen

Camping Kitchen

Another modification was that I took the 3′ cutoff’s from the shorter PVC pipes and slipped the ropes through them to make them more visible. It must have worked, because no one tripped over them all weekend.

We did not actually use it as a kitchen though, but as a combination dining room/living room. I had forgotten about an older pavilion we had that we used to use as a kitchen before we started using the garage-style canopy a few years ago. It is not in perfect condition and required a couple spots of duct tape, but it is still very serviceable. It took half an hour to set up though. The tarps took ten minutes (even with kids helping).

The first night of our campout, the wind was really whipping too. According to wunderground.com (which has historic data), the winds were “only” gusting to 20MPH on Saturday. They were 26MPH at my house when the structure collapsed. However, the ground at the campsite was much more solid than it is at my house (which has 2″ of topsoil over sand). So I think it would have held up even if the winds had hit 35 or so.

I looked at it again late Sunday morning after it had been standing for a while, and it was in great shape. I am very pleased with this design.

Dennis, one of our Area Coordinators just happened to ask me if I had invented anything for camping lately, so I gave him the nickel tour. I have no idea why he would have asked me that though. He also liked it very much, and pointed out one advantage I had failed to consider. If a part breaks on this structure, I can buy a replacement at any hardware store. I absolutely cannot do that with the pavilion thing we were using for our kitchen. Instead, we have to effect any required repairs with duct tape.

When the campout was over, I had the kids take down the tarp structure. It took them about five minutes. It took at least 15 to take down the kitchen. Stake removal turned out to be a job for the adults though. Dennis suggested that I develop a stake puller, and I think I like that idea. Not sure I have the skills to pull it off though.

We didn’t have any heavy rain, but we did have rain. I’m convinced this thing would have shed a downpour with no problems. I did tighten up the tautline hitches a couple of times during the trip, but that is a knot that is meant to be adjusted, and its main use is in anchoring tents anyhow. hose knots are supposed to give in high winds, and somehow that’s supposed to be better for tents. I suppose it is better for the lines to give than for the canvas to rip.

Maybe next time I’ll try the trucker’s hitch instead, but I know that with that particular knot, it would be easy to over-tighten the tarp and rip out a seam and/or a grommet. Because I’ve done that before. :-/

I might experiment with other tarp configurations to see if I can make a larger tent with the same number (or fewer) tarps. I have some ideas, but I need to work the kinks out.

In the past, my Pathfinder Club has used an “instant” garage canopy as a kitchen for when we camp. However, the one we’ve been borrowing is in tatters now, so we needed to do something different. I looked into buying a new garage, but most of the ones I’ve seen take about three hours to put up, or they cost $600 or so. Ouch.

So I decided to engineer my own with stuff I mostly had on hand. Last year I bought eight 10′ PVC pipes marked at 1.25″ diameter. I imagine that’s the inside diameter, as that’s a more useful measure in the plumbing industry. We needed these for a Pathfinder activity that was postponed twice and then cancelled. I don’t think that activity is coming back, so I had eight lengths of fairly sturdy PVC to work with. I decided that if I had some end caps, washers, bolts, and nuts, I could turn them into nice poles that would slip into the grommets of a large tarp (which the club has plenty of). So I went to Lowes and bought six of each.

Step one was to cut four of the PVC pipes down to seven feet long. Then I drilled a hole in the center of each end cap.

The purchased items

The purchased items

The bolt is 2″ long by 5/8 inch diameter. Unfortunately, the nuts were metric, and I didn’t notice that until I got home. I was able to round up three 5/8 nuts, but that was only half of what I needed, so I went back to Lowes and got a few more. While there, I found that they did not have any 5/8″ flange nuts in the drawer where the 5/8″ bolts were stored. They had metric nuts, metric bolts, and the 5/8 bolts I bought. Grrr. I ended up getting regular galvanized 5/8″ nuts instead of the flanged ones.

Then I slipped the washer into the end cap and popped the bolt through the hole.

End cap with washer

End cap with washer

Then I fastened the nut on the outside.
End cap assembled

End cap assembled

I tightened the nut on with a socket wrench (had to use a deep socket to accommodate the bolt). Then I slipped it onto the PVC pipe:
Onto the pipe

Onto the pipe

The thought here was the the bolt would go through the grommet on the tarp, and then a rope would slip over the bolt to hold the whole thing in place like this:
Post, tarp, and rope

Post, tarp, and rope

The hat trick was in pitching the structure. I wrestled with it for 20 minutes or so all by myself and managed to get it to stand up. The other thing I bought was a half dozen steel stakes, each 18″ long. I drove those into the ground to anchor the ropes to. Here’s what it looked like when it was finished:
Outdoor Kitchen Shelter

Outdoor Kitchen Shelter

I don’t think I can really describe how I got the thing erected. I started with the two center poles, staked and tied them, accidentally let them fall, raised them again, moved the stakes, let them fall again, rinse, repeat. Finally I managed to keep them standing while I anchored one of the corners and then another. Still, I was able to put it up in about 20 minutes alone. I expect that with kids helping, it might even go up quicker (but kids being kids, this might not be the case).

I used a figure-eight on a bight to form the loop that goes over the bolt, and then used a tautline hitch around the stake. Since I had several short lengths of rope on hand, I had to tie several together to get long enough ropes to reach from the top to the stakes, and for that I used sheet bends. I may bring different rope when we camp next weekend though.

Penny was outside bringing me sticks to throw for her about every thirty seconds the whole time I was working on it. Once I had it up, I threw one for her and she whirled around and ran smack into the center pole head first. The whole tent shook, but it stood fast. Penny shook too, and then tore across the yard after the stick as if nothing had happened. I was pleased that it withstood her collision (which was pretty substantial), and I was also pleased that she recovered so quickly. She might have a sore head tonight though. I suppose I could ask her if she did, but smart as Border Collies are, I don’t think she’d answer.

What I like about this other than the cost (about $15 for the six stakes, and maybe another $10 for the end caps and hardware) is that I should be able to use it with a nearly any size tarp, depending on how big I want the kitchen to be. We have a much bigger tarp that I will use when we get there, and that should make for a bigger kitchen. I may try it with more tarps to form side walls which should keep out the rain more effectively, or I might sink another $80 into a new tarp. But that part of the investment may come later.

Today after work I went to the church to set the garage canopy thing up again. The first time I did that I had help, and the next day (or was it two day?) we had 45MPH wind gusts which uprooted it and threw it into the trees, bending several of the steel joints beyond all hope of repair.

Luckily, I had a full second set of hardware, and asked the guy who hauled it away if I could rummage through them again for replacements. I found enough replacement parts, and today was the day I chose (based mostly on the weather forecast) to work on it again.

I replaced the parts, stretched the canvas over the frame, and anchored it with several 18″ steel stakes. That should hold it. Next step is to move some pallets into it and then move yard sale junk on top of the pallets.

While I was there I also set up a broken computer that I had taken home to fix. I ended up swapping out the power supply. Hopefully that will do the trick.

Some local geocachers found Beth’s cache today and left some very nice notes. I emailed them back thanking them for their kind words. It’s kinda neat that they were able to find it so quickly.

Jonathan got back to us sometime between when I left the office and when I got home. Sounds like he’s having a good-but-not-TOO-good time. Just what I wanted for him. 😉

Today I got a call from Jonathan around 11:00. He had registered for a class for the summer semester and needed someone to come and pay for it. So I drove over there and bought him some more education.

Then we headed back, and I stopped at a boat launch on campus and grabbed a geocache. Yay. Then we went to a Chinese restaurant for lunch and went back to the office. I was just getting settled in when I got a call from one of the church members.

The garage canopy had been picked up and hurled into the trees by the wind. And I can say that it was gusting pretty hard too. We had staked it down with tent stakes, but that was obviously insufficient. I was worried that it might be. I should have listened to the doubts.

Jonathan and I immediately went to Home Depot and bought $15 worth of steel stakes. Then we went over to the church to assess the damage.

Three of the joining members were bent badly – two doubled over completely. I did have an extra set of hardware that had been through a similar bit of stress, but I had made it known that I wanted it gone. And it is gone. If I can track it down, I’ll try to salvage some spare parts from it.

We disconnected the (now torn) canopy and rolled it over. I removed the two badly bent joints and shortened the structure by six feet. Then we staked it down, but I decided to put off reattaching the canopy. We dragged that into the building out of the wind and folded it up.

That was heartbreaking.

Before we finished with that, Va showed up to collect Beth from school. Jonathan went home with her, and I went back to the office. I had to work late because I missed such a huge chunk of my day.

Then I went shopping for food for the camporee this weekend. I got most of what we need, but I’m holding off on a few items.

My Mom came home from the hospital. They figured out that the TIA’s were being caused by a sudden drop in her blood pressure when she stood up. Her doctor is adjusting her meds, and she should be right as rain again.

The mystery plant from yesterday turned out to be False Hellebore (Veratrum viride). This one has been in my Unidentified file for a couple of years now, so it’s good to finally know what it is.

Veratrum viride

Veratrum viride

It also turns out to be a pretty interesting plant! First, it is highly toxic, so it’s a good thing I didn’t decide it was close enough to cabbage that I could eat it (I would never eat an unknown plant though, and I highly recommend that no one else do that either). It usually causes vomiting, but if it doesn’t, it will be fatal. Some Native Americans used to have potential chiefs eat the root (which contains the highest concentration of the toxin), and which ever one was last to vomit – he got to be the new chief! I wonder if they ever accidentally killed their two best men with that approach.

I took a walk through my woods again today. I was surprised to find these:

Gaywings (Polygala paucifolia)

Gaywings (Polygala paucifolia)

I like these plants. Once those blooms open for business, they look like a little airplane, with a fuselage, propeller, and wings (thus the common name, I suppose). I’ll look for them again tomorrow to see if they’re open. This is another species that has bloomed two weeks early. Last year they bloomed on May 4.

Around 1:00 I headed over to the church. We had planned a closet clean-out for today. I set up the canopy I scored in December. I had help setting it up this time, and between forgetting the instructions at home, and having almost two sets of all the steel parts, it took a while to figure out how it went back together. A bit over two hours in fact. And that was in 70 degree, sunshiny weather (unlike the blizzard I fought when I took it down).

On the way there I stopped and took several shots of the hobblebush again. I’m still not happy with any of my pictures of this plant. Here’s the best from today, featuring some sort of insect I have not yet attempted to identify:

Hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) blossoms

Hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) blossoms

I might need to talk to my friend Paul about what I can do to get a better shot. Maybe I just need to bring the tripod along, I dunno.

Me with frozen "exhaust" in my beard


I went and got that garage canopy today. There were some logistical gymnastics involved. Ken and his wife swapped vehicles so I could go to Concord Hospital and get his truck, as that’s where she works. I left my office at 10:00, drove to the hospital, and then traded my car for Ken’s truck. Then I drove to Barnstead. The guy with the canopy asked me to be there at 11:00, and I arrived at about 11:10. No one was there, but the canopy was. I went inside of it and looked. To my horror, it was held together with nuts and bolts. I was not expecting that, and I brought no tools with me. But Ken had a multi-tool in his glove compartment, and it had pliers on it. So I got to work.

It was about 10 degrees, and the wind was from every direction, gusting at 30MPH I would guess. It was COLD. This canopy must have had its frame replaced at some point, because there was an extra frame that had obviously suffered a roof collapse. He said I could have that too. It’s mostly in good shape, and I might be able to do something with it, but that remains to be seen. I will probably recyle it somewhere. I loaded the “extra” frame in the truck first. Then I set to work loosening nuts and removing bolts.

I was able to do this from inside the canopy where I had a modicum of protection from the wind. Then I released the canopy and stuffed it into the truck. Luckily, Ken had the cap on the bed so I didn’t have to worry about securing everything in the back to keep it from flying out. Once I had the canopy off, I took the frame apart and laid it in the back of the truck on top of the canopy.

While I was doing this I got a call from Mom telling me that her brother-in-law had died. He had been in the hospital for about a week and wasn’t doing too well. I’m not sure I ever met him, as he and my aunt were married as an “older” couple. I couldn’t talk long since I was standing in the middle of a gale trying to get that canopy apart before I froze to death. (Sorry Mom).

It was a lot of work! I could feel ice forming in my beard, and took the picture I posted up there when I got in the truck. Then I drove back to Concord, arriving just before 2:00. I dashed over to Constantly’s to get some pizza, and the proprietor let me have what was left on the bar for free. Cool! That’s what happens when you show up at 2:00 if you’re a regular. I very much appreciated the free pizza. I wolfed it down in my office and then headed off to a meeting. I got three calls on my cell phone during the meeting, and luckily had the good sense to mute the phone after the first one.

After the meeting I drove Ken’s truck to the church and unloaded the canopy, putting most of it into the Pathfinder trailer. I will most definitely have to reorganize that, because it’s just piled up in the center aisle right now, in one big jumble (old frame and new frame). I know I will regret mixing the two later, but I really only have one place to put both sets. Such is life.

I took the canopy into the church so I could fold it out of the wind and cold. About that time Cliff showed up and helped me fold it, and I was thankful for his help.

Then I called Ken’s wife so we could swap vehicles again. While I waited for her, I started taking some of the longer poles apart (having dragged them inside for this purpose). I managed to get them apart and loaded into the trailer before she arrived.

I’m not sure we’ll be able to use this canopy for camping or not. It is a lot of work to set it up and take it down, and it is a wee bit complicated. We’ll see. If we can’t use it for that, we can still sell it at our annual yard sale. Or maybe use it as a storage shed for donated yard sale goods, assuming we can keep the snow off the roof and prevent collapse.

I got home around 6:30, and I am utterly exhausted.

Meanwhile, I have made arrangements with a stranger for him to come and buy my snowblower tomorrow. Jonathan will be home to take his money and help him load it up. I sure hope he shows!