Antique Tractor Therapy

by Lee on May 26, 2016


Farmall Super A 130HC with 1A sickle bar mower attached

It’s spring going on summer and around here that means the grass is growing.  As are the thistles.  Time to mow.  Our grass is measured in acres so the typical lawn mower isn’t going to cut it.

Mowing the field

Mowing the back field

There’s something therapeutic about mowing with an antique tractor and a sickle bar mower.  In my case it’s a 1956 Farmall 130HC (the “HC” is for high clearance).  Although OSHA wouldn’t approve (zero safety interlocks), it runs like a sewing machine cutting grass and everything else regardless of height.

Even with an owner’s manual the sickle bar mower was a challenge to learn how to properly set up.  There’s a good deal of “hit-hard-here” to it.

And there’s a reason why I suggested OSHA wouldn’t approve.  Lots of lost fingers, three legged dogs, and headless pheasants are attributed to sickle bar mowers.  I always lock our dog out of fields when mowing.



I came across this book as a result of my continuing research into attaining better health.  Having lost 45+ pounds over the last iodine crisis book picseveral years (depending on where you start measuring), I’m in better shape now than I have been since exiting the Army during the Vietnam era.  That notwithstanding, it seems the more one learns, the more you learn what you don’t know.  Kind of like “you don’t know what you don’t know.”

I’ve become increasingly skeptical (and yes, even cynical) about the allopathic approach of modern medicine.  For those of you unfamiliar with the term, it refers to the “mainstream medical use of pharmacologically active agents or physical interventions to treat or suppress symptoms or pathophysiologic processes of diseases or conditions.”(1)  In other words, treat the symptoms, not the underlying cause of a problem.

The Iodine Crisis looks into the necessity of adequate iodine intake (all your cells need it), the history of the use of iodine (starting 15,000 years ago) as well as possible results of having an iodine deficiency (the list is very long and diverse.)

I’ve always had a fear of iodine (and iodide) and after reading this book now understand why (it has to do with the now discredited Wolff-Chaikoff medical study.)

I found the book a fascinating read although I though the overly prolific use of anecdotal stories as a back-door approach to suggesting cures for various ailments a bit thin.  Nevertheless,  should you suffer from uncured ailments, it’s worth your while to consider whether they may be caused by an iodine deficiency.  Chances are good you may not be getting enough iodine through your food or iodized salt.

This is an easy read and fairly well footnoted (I like to be able to read the underlying studies).  I found it well worth my time.


(1) Wikipedia dictionary



The Real Estate Circus is Back in Town

by Lee on March 4, 2014

At first I thought I might have inadvertently entered a time-warp.

Around our house we sometimes listen to the radio while fixing breakfast. Normally I absent-mindedly tune out commercials, but happened to actively listen the other morning. I thought it sounded like 2007.  I was dumbfounded to hear back to back commercials offering seminars for folks to how to learn to flip houses.  This wasn’t the same ad run twice, it was two ads by different companies!  Both offered to reveal the secret of how to make “fast cash” using “other peoples’ money” with little effort.
[click to continue…]



If you’ve somehow broken off your shower arm, you may find some helpful tips below that will save you some of the grief I experienced.

This is a somewhat detailed and long explanation which will only be of interest to someone with a similar problem.  I’ve written it because I wish I’d have been able to read “how to do it” before I started.

The problem

We are in the process of renovating the family farmhouse in Edgewood preparatory to putting it up for sale.

I noted the shower head in the downstairs bathroom had not been replaced in a long time and had quite a mineral deposit build-up.  So I decided to replace it.  I figured it would be a 5 minute job at most.  But when I tried to unscrew the shower head from the shower arm the shower arm broke off at the drop ear elbow fitting. leaving the the threaded portion of the shower arm inside the drop ear elbow fitting.  (Yes I was holding the brass shower arm securely when attempting to unscrew the shower head.  They get brittle with age and just break)  Have I mention how much I hate doing plumbing repair jobs?

First attempt

Off to the local old fashion hardware store (McClendon’s for those in the area).  I explained my dilemma to the young lady working plumbing that morning and asked did she had any suggestions?  Well, maybe and inside pipe wrench would work.  Sounded good so I bought one.  This is a tool a bit like a socket fitted with an offset cam that pushes against the inside of a pipe as you turn it.  Pretty slick tool, but it didn’t work.  The threads of the shower arm were “cemented in” presumably from mineral deposits.

Second attempt

So I thought I’d try the local Home Depot.  There’s a gentlemen in the tool section that has given me some pretty good advice in the past and I thought I’d seek out his advice.  Yes, he said, pretty common problem in older houses.  He’d been able to use an awl in the past to keep picking at the broken off shower arm (still in the drop ear elbow) until he was able to get an edge up so he could peel the ramains of the arm out.

As I’m commuting from Bellingham to Edgewood to work on the renovation, I don’t have all my tools with me.  So he sells me an awl and I’m back at it working on removing the broken off shower arm .  I worked at it for several hours and long story short, I couldn’t get the broken shower arm out and I managed to mangle the threads of the drop ear elbow.

Old drop eared elbow.

Old drop eared elbow that’s been removed.

So the existing brass drop ear elbow now needs to be replaced.  Gee, I get to do dry wall too!  The mixing valve and standpipe for this shower is located opposite the laundry room wall just above the laundry sink, but before I start cutting drywall I’m off to the old fashion hardware store for the parts I’ll need for the repair.

Third attempt

The same people aren’t working this visit so I explain my problem to the salesperson and he hands me off to the head of the plumbing department.  This guy looks like he was probably there when they opened the store.  No doubt the master plumber who gets all the challenges.

The expert I needed to begin with

I start to explain… and he replies with “Ah yes, the ever popular broken shower arm issue.  Did you try the special tool we made that we rent to remove the broken piece?”

Swell, just terrific.  Now you tell me. (You can appreciate I’ve cleaned up what I really said.)

No.  “Well here’s the parts you’ll need” he said as he handed me a section of 1/2″ copper pipe, a Sharkbite straight coupler and a Sharkbite drop ear elbow.

Damn.  I hadn’t thought of using a Sharkbite coupler (you just push the copper pipe in and it locks, and there’s a little plastic tool that will unlock it as well).  I was really dreading trying to solder a connector inside the wall with water in the supply pipes and located close to the mixing valve.  (Water in the pipe heats and creates steam which makes a good joint difficult to manage especially when you can’t get a torch all the way around.*)

Armed with the replacement parts I was ready to cut an access hole in the wall board.  I started by finding a vertical wall stud using a stud finder.  I centered the right side of a rectangle down the center of the stud.  I measured the height of the control valve to the floor and positioned the rectangle so the mixing valve would be accessible at the bottom of the opening once the rectangle was cut out.

Hole cut into drywall to access mixing valve and standpipe.  This is after repairs were made.  Note hole was cut so right hand of hold aligned with middle of existing wall stud.

Hole cut into drywall to access mixing valve and standpipe. This is after repairs were made. Note hole was cut so right hand of hold aligned with middle of existing wall stud.

I was concerned about being able to access the mixing valve because I wanted to replace it’s innards as it sometime dripped. The plumber who originally installed the shower didn’t secure the mixing valve to any studs (a common practice).  That meant that if I needed to apply any pressure to unscrew the mixing valve cover I would be applying pressure against the unsupported copper pipes which could easily bend/kink.

Anyway, for my purposes, I drew my rectangle tall enough to expose the mixing valve and give me room to cut the vertical standpipe leading to the drop ear elbow.

In the back of my mind I remembered I needed to use a utility knife to cut the wall board as opposed to a saw.  It’s a good thing I did as I may have otherwise cut into a vertical vent pipe I didn’t know was there and could have easily cut into electrical wires for an outlet.

Once the access hole was cut, I was able to have someone get a wrench on the backside of the mixing valve and I was able to disassemble the mixing valve from the shower side.

I cut the vertical standpipe leading to the drop ear elbow about 3″ above the mixing valve.  I would have preferred to use a tubing cutter but there wasn’t room.  So I ended up using a small utility hacksaw which did fit.

The biggest problem

Now that the standpipe was cut all I had to do was unfasten the drop ear elbow which was connected to a cross member between studs.

Unfortunately the individual who originally installed the plumbing used nails instead of screws to attach the drop ear elbow to the cross member between studs.  I guess when you are building you don’t worry about the poor sucker who might have to remove it.

The shower stall has a 6′ fiberglass surround with a 1″ hole through which the shower arm protrudes.  I can see the nails holding the elbow but can’t get to them through the 1″ hole in the fiberglass surround.

This is a lot like trying to work on a ship in bottle through the neck of a bottle.

Newly installed drop ear elbow, shower arm, and flange

Newly installed drop ear elbow, shower arm, and flange

The first ahah.

It is obvious to enlarge the hole in the surround a bit to gain better access.  But not so much it will show past the shower arm flange.  Otherwise I’ll need a larger diameter flange, or I’ll need to repair the fiberglass surround.  Either will look like a kluge.

Finally I figured out that an 8″ extension for a 3/8″ socket will just fit inside the drop ear elbow (with the broken-off shower arm tube still inside).   This allows me to get enough leverage to rock the elbow left-right-left and extract the nails maybe 1/4″.

Using needle nose pliers I tried for 45 minutes to pull out the nails through the enlarged hole in the shower surround.  But no luck.

Have I mentioned how much I hate plumbing repair jobs?

The second and best ahah.

Time for a break.  I was getting frustrated and that’s usually when I create more work for myself.  So I went upstairs for a cup of coffee to ponder the situation.

About the time I started thinking about something else I had an insight.  Down to the barn for a length of bailing wire and three pieces of wood.

Here’s what I did:  I took the bailing wire and bent it in half and used a pair of pliers to crimp the bend a bit.  Then I bent the two strands of wire together at 90 degrees about 3/8″ from the crimped loop.  I was able to put the crimped loop around the head of the nail through the hole in the shower surround.

I twisted the two strands of the crimped loop around the head of the nail to sort of lasso the nail head.  Then I placed a foot

Method to remove nails attaching drop ear elbow through shower surround hole.

long length of wood against the tub surround [A] (so as not to damage the fiberglass), put another block of wood on top of it [B].  Then used the third piece of wood as a lever [C] placing the end of it on top of the block[B], and wrapping the two strands of wire around about a quarter of the way up the lever.  Thank you Archimedes.

Voila!  I pulled on the end of  lever [C] opposite where it rested against the block [B] and out came the nail.

Through the access hole previously cut, I taped the cut standpipe now dangling by the remaining nail holding the elbow in place to the mixing valve.  This was to prevent the stand pipe from falling down behind the wall when I pulled the remaining nail.  Even though damaged, I need it to measure the replacement standpipe.

Once the cut standpipe and attached elbow were secured, I pulled out the second nail the same way as the first and then cut the tape and pulled out the old standpipe.

Removed standpipe and drop ear elbow.  Note tape remnant that was used to retain pipe as last attachement nail was removed.

Removed standpipe and drop ear elbow. Note tape remnant that was used to retain pipe as last attachement nail was removed.

Putting it back together.

At this point it looks like I’m home free.  I take the uncut new copper pipe and place the Sharkbite drop ear elbow on one end.  I’m not sure of the exact length I’ll need so I try to put it in place through the access hole up to the hole cut in the shower surround.

It won’t fit.  The Sharkbite elbow is too big to fit where the old soldered elbow fit.  The distance between the cross member to which the elbow attaches and the tub surround is too short to allow the Sharbite elbow to fit.

Back to the hardware store to exchange the Sharkbite elbow for a soldered elbow.

Soldering the drop ear elbow to the copper pipe is relatively easy when you’re working on the garage floor.  Just be sure you have some steel wool to clean the pipe and inside of the elbow, proper flux, and proper plumbing (not electrical) solder.

Back to measuring the length of the replacement standpipe.

I’d asked what the standoff for the Sharkbite coupler should be at the hardware store meaning how much should I adjust for the coupler.  I asked three times in different ways, but the only answer I got was “the pipe goes in one inch.”

Turns out the new elbow is the same size as the old elbow.  The straight Sharbite coupler is 2″ long (actually a fraction longer).  Each pipe goes in 1″, so effectively (but not quite) the coupler doesn’t take any standoff (save the width of the hacksaw blade).

So using the old standpipe as a guide I cut the new pipe and elbow to be the same length.

I cleaned up both ends of the pipes, placed the new standpipe approximately in place and inserted the ends into the Sharkbite coupler.

Close up of repaired shower standpipe.  Note Sharkbite coupler above shower mixing valve.

Close up of repaired shower standpipe. Note Sharkbite coupler above shower mixing valve.

Perfect fit.

Of course I used screws, not nails to attach the elbow to the crossmember.  Using a magnetic head screw driver and Philips head screws helped.

Installing the new shower arm, flange and new shower head was easy and there were no leaks.

Finishing up.

Repairing the access hole in the dry wall wasn’t as difficult as I’d anticipated.  Since I’d used a utility knife to cut the hole I was able to use the piece removed to cover the same hole.  A perfect fit with gap only the width of the utility knife.

Having cut the hole with the left edge of the rectangle along the length of a stud made fastening that side easy.  I attached a piece of wood to the back of the opposite side of the rectangle t support that side, then screwed in the cover to both sides using wall board screws.  Be sure to sink them below the surface of the wall board so they don’t rust when you sand.

I’d planned to use a spray can of texture and try to match the existing texture.  But since the hole cover fit so well with the very small gap caused by the utility knife, I was able to use very little mud.  In the end I didn’t try texturing the repair prior to painting.

You can see the dry wall repair but only if you know where to look.  And since it’s the laundry room…..

Summary- Key Tips and Recommendations

1.  This is a common problem.  Check if your local hardware store has a special tool designed to remove a broken off shower arm.  Notwithstanding I would have still have needed to cut an access hole to support the mixing valve while disassembling it.  I would have saved myself a lot of time and trouble had I used the special tool I could have rented (had I known about it).

2.  Using a Sharkbite coupler will save you from having to solder in a coupler inside a wall.  The removal tool is cheap and makes disassembly in case you need to refit a snap.  Soldering the drop ear elbow on a garage floor is simple in comparison.

3.  Use a utility knife to cut your access hole and be careful to preserve the piece removed so you can use it to cover the hole.  If you use a saw you run the risk of cutting wires or other pipes if you don’t know what’s behind the wall you’re cutting.

4.  I used bailing wire because that’s what I had on hand at the farm.  If it would have broken, I would have used thin diameter aircraft cable which is much stronger.


*  If you have to solder a joint where there’s still some water in the pipes, stuff a piece of white bread into the pipe to plug it.  When you turn on the water, the bread will become soft enough to shoot through the pipes.