Archive for December, 2010


Two farm trips have come and gone since my last post back in September, and now that I have finally regained my voice here I must say it has been a long three months filled with both tragedy and triumph, and my spirit has been tested.  During the hard parts I could only barely keep pointed in the right direction, and when the pendulum swung back to the bright side I did not have the heart to speak of just the good things happening.  A little hard to explain but that’s the best I can do for now, and must be said however cryptically so I can move on and resume this story.

Better bloggers than I could have kept the thread going throughout; I truly lost my voice and had to trust that it would come back eventually, and that the silence would be understood.   I hope it has, as I’ve missed being here.

I bought this big dually truck in September and we drove him out to the farm this time, three days on the road and mostly through Texas, returning late Wednesday night from Louisville and just missing the torrential rains here in San Diego.    We were pleasantly surprised by the 4 inches of snow on the ground when we rolled into our last fuel stop in Columbia, Kentucky last Tuesday, and despite a couple of days of freezing rains that kept us holed up and the cold temps that kept us bundled up, the week there at the farm was a great success.

Grizzly the Farm Truck is back home in Kentucky now, snug inside the barn with a trickle-charger to keep his big new batteries topped off, and a Kentucky Farm plate on his bumper instead of California’s highway robbery signs.  The year of registration in the Commonwealth will cost a third of what the Golden State would have wanted paid (due again 31 January !) and his insurance is less, too. 

It was touch-and-go on getting the title, which got lost in the CA DMV system, reissued and sent to Taylor County to coincide with our visit.  I made a half-dozen phone calls and talked to some really disgruntled DMV clerks before I realized it wasn’t where it should have been, but the rush reissue arrived (just in time) the day before we had to leave, and I walked out of the county clerk’s office with his new plate and that same huge smile you see in the picture above on my face.  It was a pretty major triumph, since timing is everything with these trips and I could not have gotten him registered without that title getting resent as quickly as it did.

Let me pause here and acknowledge the chuckles about my truck’s name.  Yes, I name every damned thing with an engine, or should I say, they name themselves.   I find it easier to call my vehicles by name, rather than saying “the tractor” or “the big truck.”  And I swear they have personalities, too, so they get names that match.  Griz named himself with his big growling diesel engine and ponderous back-end girth.  It fits, so it sticks.

Along with getting the truck out to the farm and registered in Kentucky, this trip’s major project was building the hearth pad for my little wood stove, which is still sitting out in the barn on the shipping pallet, waiting to be installed where the fireplace once was.  We had removed the fireplace a bit at a time over the past few visits, as it wasn’t exactly a simple demolition nor was it the only project going on.  But this time we finally got all the remnants of fireplace chimney out and I was able to lay the concrete backer board down and tile the corner with slate, with a raised pad for the stove to set on to make loading wood a little easier.

It was a great indoor project for a cold, blustery wintertime visit.  The stones atop the stove pedestal are remnants of the fireplace hearth “stone,” which was really faux stone concrete that I cut apart with a diamond blade saw.  It looks just like stone, so I wanted to save it and re-use it for under the stove, but it turned out to have a core filled with some kind of high-density foam.  Oh, dear, we thought – this won’t work at all.  Then Bear got the brilliant idea to chisel out the foam along the edges of the blocks and fill in with mortar to the level of the concrete parts, making a flat, durable “stone” edge with just a little of the foam core in the middle.  A little duct tape and cardboard for forming the edges and 5# of mortar worked perfectly.  It took more time than I would have liked, but the end result was worth it, and I couldn’t be more pleased with how it turned out.

Here is a picture I found of what the fireplace looked before.  It was pretty useless as a way to warm the house, pulling all the warm air up the chimney with the fire, so the folks never used it, as you can see by the chairs facing away.  It mostly just filled the corner and served as a shelf for knick-knacks.  Their electric bills during the winter, though, reached up past $300 in the coldest months, so I resolved to put a wood stove in for my own use, surrounded as I am by more firewood than I could possibly use in a lifetime.

You can barely see the hearthstone we once thought was four large stones mortared together.  And the “rock” on the face of the fireplace, turned out to be just concrete faux stone, too.  Heavy son-of-a-bitch, that panel was.

The wall behind the stove will be a heat shield, consisting of backer board installed atop 1″ ceramic spacers to create an air space and prevent heat transfer to the combustable wall, tiled with the same slate as the hearth.  Building a heat shield behind the stove allows you to install it closer to the wall – as close as 12″ from the stove back, instead of the 30″ clearance needed without the heat shield.   My stove will sit about 18″ away from the wall, but the heat shield is still a great precaution, especially in a mobile home.  And it will look fabulous, taking that beautiful slate all the way up to the ceiling.

You can see two sheets of backer board leaning against the wall behind the hearth in the photo – what you can’t see is that I had to remove the 1/4″ drywall behind the stove in order to add 2 x 4″ reinforcements between the studs, which weren’t adequately spaced to hang the heavy concrete board with stone tile, mortar and grout added to it.  So, this project will have a second phase, the heat shield wall installation, as well as a third phase, which will be installing a new stove-rated chimney and double-walled stovepipe, and dragging moving the 500 lb stove inside to its permanent place atop the hearth stones.  Here is a stock picture of our stove from the Woodstock Stove website:

I bought this stove two summers ago, when the folks were still living in the little house, and when we spoke about installing it they seemed to think it would be a simple thing to just toss it in the corner.  Bobby actually went out and cut some hickory firewood in anticipation of building fires.  The folks moved to Oklahoma two September’s ago, leaving that stack of hickory firewood to season nicely for my stove fires next year.   As it turns out, these things take time; projects like this don’t get finished (or even started) overnight, and here we are two years later, and I’m just getting the hearth built.  And I’m fine with that, because like I always say to myself, it sure will look good when it’s done.

Back here at Bear and Thistle West, the sun is shining, there’s post-storm cleanup to be done, and I have family coming for Christmas Eve dinner (beef stew and fresh-baked bread – y’all are welcome to drop in!).  It’s time to publish this post and get a move on. 

Merry Christmas to anyone still reading – may your holiday be filled with warmth and love and friendship, and lots of good food!


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