Monday, May 25, 2009


A robin built a nest on top of one of the ladders hanging in our shed. I've been sending Max updates on the eggs (what a pretty blue color!). Checked on the progress when I got back from the cabin today -- three of the four eggs have hatched, probably just today. And here's a short movie that shows how quickly they learn to open their mouths so Mom can feed them their worms.

Sunday, May 10, 2009


Okay, I'm probably a little old to say this is a mid-life crisis. And it's certainly not a Corvette. But, truth be known, I've often thought of buying a vintage vehicle and I've often looked at tractors on eBay and craigslist. On Saturday, for the grand sum of $450 I was able to satisfy both urges.

This red beauty is a Speedex garden tractor, model S24. In 1935 Harold Pond founded the Pond Tractor Company and built Speedex tractors. The first tractor was a Model B, which was the first four wheel garden tractor in America (what happened to Model A?). In 1949 Pond officially changed the name of his company to Speedex Tractor Company. The S series was introduced in 1959; the S24 was the last of the series. I'm guessing mine was probably built in 1968 or 1969. The company was later sold several times and finally went out of business in 1997. In its heyday, the company built about 1,500 tractors per year.

Driving home with my new purchase riding happily in the back of the truck, most drivers were oblivious to the bit of tractor history they were passing. But several people did double-takes and at least two people got pretty excited: One guy did a fist-pump and another gave me a big thumbs-up.

I'll let you drive it the next time you visit!

Speedex tractors have a totally unique drive system. They use belts. But unlike any other tractor, the engine slides forward when the pedal (far left of the picture, below) is pressed. As the engine moves forward, it increases tension on the belt. Voila!

And, the engine! It's a 10hp Briggs & Stratton. Big, heavy (cast iron), and in this model it's a manual start that uses the old wrap-the-rope-around-the-starter-and-pull method. Hard work, but effective.

Thursday, May 7, 2009


Getting a new heating and hot water system for the house may not sound like a very exciting development. We're happy to have it, though.

The old boiler was a contractor-grade system installed when our house was built 20+ years ago. It was never very efficient and there were constant problems. And, although it was a fairly well-known brand, parts were difficult to find and often had to be jury-rigged. I should also point out that the boiler and all the plumbing in the house were installed by a guy whose nickname (we later found out) was Leaky Dick. Suffice to say that his work left something to be desired.

Fast forward to the days of high oil prices and the chance to get a tax credit for more efficient systems. We decided now was the time to replace that old boiler.

Lots of design changes, super-heavy insulation, more efficient pumps, and computer controls. It even uses outside air for combustion. They advertise a 40% reduction in heating costs, a claim that was born out by several people we checked with including a ConVal teacher. It's yellow, too!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

New Trees/Plants

In addition to getting rid of all the trees and branches damaged during the ice storm, we've been working on other parts of the the yard -- re-building the front garden; adding some accent trees; etc. We also wanted to do something in the space where the big maple that fell on the house once stood.

We first added a Bloodgood Japanese Maple to the back treeline. Should get to be 15'-20' high with beautiful deep red leaves. We've always loved Japanese Maples. Glad to finally have one.

Next, we added a Redbud in the garden near the screened porch. Close to where the big maple was. Redbuds were quite prolific in Missouri and we've always talked about having one here. We decided that since no tree we planted would get big enough in our lifetimes to shade the porch, we might as well put in a fairly large ornamental that we could enjoy.

Sue had torn almost everything out of the front garden last fall. I had put in a trellis with climbing roses on the garage and then added a short stone wall as an accent. This spring we added 5 yards of compost. Ready for planting. The first thing was to add 3 Boxwoods. They will grow into a natural hedge that will add balance to the stone wall.

But, the most interesting addition is a new one to us -- a Harry Lauder's Walking Stick tree. It'll get to be 8'-10' tall. But the limbs and branches are all twisted (similar to the walking stick that Sir Harry Lauder carried with him on stage). Lots of visual interest. It is supposed to be especially beautiful in the winter when the snow piles up on the twisted branches.